You are currently browsing the daily archive for September 17, 2021.

Boris Johnson is now into his third year as Prime Minister.

On Wednesday and Thursday, September 15 and 16, he reshuffled some of his cabinet and ministerial posts, signalling that he is more than halfway through his premiership. In other words, this will be the major reshuffle to lead the Conservatives into the next general election.

I hope that Boris does not go for a 2023 election, unless it is late in the year. The coronavirus crisis will have put much of the Conservative manifesto agenda on hold for two years. As such, not much has been accomplished to date, as Andrew Neil, who recently resigned from GB News, says:

Boris has appointed more Leave ministers as well as more minority and female ministers, which will not matter to most small-c conservatives:

Highlights of the reshuffle follow.

Dominic Raab no longer Foreign Secretary

It looks as if dithering over Afghanistan while holidaying in Crete has finished Dominic Raab’s days as Foreign Secretary. He had to do the walk of shame after his demotion:

That said, Boris has found a new job for him as Justice Secretary.

Raab will also continue to be Deputy Prime Minister, a role he handled extremely well in April 2020, when Boris was hospitalised with coronavirus.

Defence Secretary Ben Wallace defended his fellow MP and the move in an interview with BBC Breakfast:

Wallace said of Raab: “Dominic is by trade a lawyer, he started his life in the Foreign Office as a human rights lawyer and he’s gone to the Ministry of Justice, which is actually a very, very important role and a role he desperately understands.”

Liz Truss becomes new Foreign Secretary

Former Trade Secretary Liz Truss replaces Dominic Raab as Foreign Secretary, with Anne-Marie Trevelyan taking her place.

Post-Brexit, Truss has made various trade deals with other nations, notably Australia and Japan.

She also remains minister for women and equalities.

Truss is popular with grassroots conservatives and her name has often been mentioned as a future party leader and Prime Minister.

She succeeded not only in trade but also in refusing wokery in 2020 …

… and in 2021, as Guido Fawkes reported on June 16 (emphases mine):

Liz Truss tells Times Radio most people aren’t interested in the culture war…

My role as equality minister is to make sure everybody in Britain is treated equally regardless of their sex, their sexuality and their race. What we have seen over the past few years is the development of identity politics where there has been division created. People are described as being members of a group rather than for their own personal, individual humanity and dignity… We have just launched for example a big data project looking where are the gaps in education, employment and enterprise across the country, and how we can fix those. That is the approach we need to take… I think some of the identity politics we have seen focus on symbolism over real results has been divisive… I think most people aren’t interested in this socalled culture war, what they’re interested in is, “Am I being given a fair chance? Do I have a good chance of getting a job? Am I treated fairly by public services?” And that’s why I think our equality agenda should focus onthose bread and butter issues that are of concern to everyone in the country.”

She is consistently among the most popular of the Cabinet members. This survey is from March 2021:

She can even ably dodge camera equipment during an interview:

Nadine Dorries moves from Health and Social Care to Culture Secretary

In what is hoped to please grassroots small-c conservative voters, Nadine Dorries now heads Digital, Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS), replacing Oliver Dowden, who, as new co-chairman of the Conservative Party, will formulate a strategy for the next general election.

Most of these grassroots supporters are fed up with the BBC. Will Dorries take on Auntie Beeb?

I do not put much stock in that possibility. Resurrecting Dorries’s tweets from several years ago are no indication of her current willingness to oppose the BBC on anything much:

The BBC have just appointed a firmly left-wing executive editor of BBC News, Jess Brammar. At least one Conservative MP, Brendan Clarke-Smith, was unhappy about the possibility of her appointment back in August:

I will not be holding my breath for Dorries to take her on, although others in the left-wing and anti-Brexit political establishment are angry about Dorries’s appointment, as Guido Fawkes reports; he has screenshots of her past tweets (emphasis in the original):

She’s been in the job for 17 hours and is already annoying all the right people… 

John Whittingdale returns to backbenches

I have doubts about Dorries because one of the DCMS ministers, John Whittingdale, was supposed to take on the BBC in 2016 and never did. He also washed his hands of removing free TV licences for most over-75s, saying it was a decision for the BBC. Is this why he got the sack?

During the Euro 2020 soccer tournament this year, Whittingdale told Kay Burley of Sky News that travel restrictions were lifted for ‘important’ people associated with the matches:

Speaking on Sky News, John Whittingdale was asked why players, officials and others coming to London for the Euros final on 11 July should be allowed in without self-isolating.

He said: “We’ve always said that for some people who are important, players, for instance …”

The presenter, Kay Burley, interrupted him, saying: “So people who want to go on holiday are not important. Is that what you’re saying?”

Whittingdale’s last pronouncement, standing in for his boss Oliver Dowden, was about a proposed mandate to make all BBC and ITV output ‘distinctively British’. That was on September 16. It will be interesting to see whether Nadine Dorries will insist on it.

Newsnight argument over Dorries

Nadine Dorries was the subject of an argument between Conservative MP Charles Walker and former Conservative MP, Remainer Anna Soubry, who lost her seat in December 2019.

By the way, this was Anna Soubry with Nigel Farage either just before or just after the Brexit referendum in June 2016:

https://image.vuukle.com/53c514e6-2ea5-43ee-8d62-ab3605e89230-4b7901f5-a9d3-4364-8bc8-df6af8f09a3c

But I digress.

The discussion between Soubry and Charles Walker took place on the BBC’s Newsnight on September 15:

Here’s the video, with Labour MP Peter Kyle sitting at the desk with presenter Emily Maitlis:

Guido Fawkes has the highlights:

Nadine Dorries provided the biggest clash, as the eternally bitter Soubry ranted that her appointment “actually says everything that’s wrong and rotten about this prime minister’s stewardship of this country”. Charles Walker had some thoughts:

“Nadine Dorries has been a health minister, a minister of state, at an incredibly difficult time for the department of health; has been an extremely good minister for mental health; and really to come onto this programme and just trash her like that is just not a very nice thing to do to be perfectly honest”

Responding to Soubry’s claim that people don’t really care about reshuffles in the real world, Walker pointed out “Why is it the lead story on Newsnight, and why are you appearing on Newsnight?” Why indeed…

However, there is a personal reason why Anna Soubry is angry with Nadine Dorries.

On July 1, 2016, one week after David Cameron stood down as Prime Minister and Conservative Party leader because of the Brexit referendum result, tensions were running high not only in the Commons but also among the public.

Soubry went out near Parliament to address her fellow Remain supporters. Dorries tweeted that Soubry was under the influence. Soubry demanded that Dorries retract the tweet. The Times has the full story, which ends with this:

Update (25.07.2016): Following publication of this article, Nadine Dorries MP has withdrawn her tweet about passing Anna Soubry MP leaving the bar before she attended a rally of Remain supporters in central London. Ms Soubry has confirmed that she had not drunk any alcohol before speaking at the event.

Another reason why I am doubtful about Nadine Dorries is because she did not question the Government’s coronavirus restrictions when she was at Health and Social Care. Does she really believe everything she hears? Here she responds to Conservative Woman‘s co-founder Kathy Gyngell. Dorries and her mother had the virus at the same time, and her mother recovered first. Even so, not questioning lockdown earns her a black mark from me:

At least she supported Brexit.

Michael Gove moves to Housing, no longer Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster

Michael Gove, who is in the process of a divorce and was a recent party boy in an Aberdeen nightclub, is no longer the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster.

Stephen Barclay, formerly Chief Secretary to the Treasury, replaces him in that post. Simon Clarke replaces Barclay in the Treasury role.

Michael Gove replaces Robert Jenrick at the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government and is in charge of Boris’s ‘levelling up’ agenda.

A first attempt at a new acronym for the department has produced DULL:

Guido reports on the problems with acronyms for government departments in general:

The Sun’s Harry Cole reports the initial proposal for a new “Department for the Union and Levelling Up” is no longer a flyer after realisations its acronym, ‘DULU’, sounds too much like “Dull”. It’s a shame a change was needed, given it was pointed out yesterday that Michael Gove the first MHCLG Secretary with all the letters of the department in his name

Guido will leave it up to cleverer minds to work out an acronym that includes all the letters of Gove’s new remit (MHCLG + Union + Levelling Up + Elections) though it’s not the worst reshuffle acronym problem encountered by a PM. As Alan Johnson recounts, in 2005 Tony Blair came up with a plan to rename the department for Trade and Industry as the “Department of Productivity, Energy, Industry and Science”. Thankfully Johnson was used to it by that point however – he’d already been Minister for Higher Education and Lifelong Learning, and headed up the Sexual Health Advisory Group…

Although this looks like a demotion for Gove, it involves a hefty budget with pan-govermental reach, something that should definitely appeal to him:

New Education Secretary

Nadhim Zahawi, formerly in charge of the coronavirus vaccine rollout, is the new Education Secretary, replacing Gavin Williamson, who likely got the sack because of the school exams fiasco during the coronavirus crisis.

Zahawi has achieved the British dream, having arrived in the UK as a child refugee who could not speak English:

Other appointments

Guido Fawkes has full reshuffle information for September 15 and 16.

Some MPs have transferred to other departments:

Others will be returning to the backbenches:

Jesse Norman tweeted that he was happy to return to the backbenches:

The new role for Nigel Adams is said to be a ‘fixer’ appointment in order to get things done:

More information and analysis can be found at The Guardian, The Telegraph, GB News , The Spectator and The Times (here, here and here).

House of Lords

Reshuffles can affect the House of Lords, too.

Fortunately, two of the stars there are still in place.

Baroness Evans

Baroness Evans, composed and competent, will remain as Leader of the House of Lords.

Lord Frost

Lord Frost will remain Cabinet Office Minister for Europe, in charge of EU negotiations and changes to relevant legislation:

On September 16, Guido wrote about Frost’s plans to rid the UK of EU laws (emphases in the original):

Lord Frost has announced the government’s plans to finally capitalise on the freedoms of Brexit and remove the “special status” of all individual EU laws still on the UK’s statute books. There are also plans to invest heavily artificial intelligence, transport, and farming over the Parliament. Now if we just pair deregulation with lower taxes we may actually get somewhere…

Speaking on the reforms this afternoon, Lord Frost said:

“From rules on data storage to the ability of businesses to develop new green technologies, overbearing regulations were often conceived and agreed in Brussels with little consideration of the UK national interest.

“We now have the opportunity to do things differently and ensure that Brexit freedoms are used to help businesses and citizens get on and succeed.”

Lord Frost will begin with a review of so-called “retained EU law” – the huge amount of EU legislation still on the UK’s statute books; removing its special status so it’s no longer a distinct category of UK domestic law, and ensuring all courts have the full ability to depart from EU case law. He describes it as finalising the process of “restoring this sovereign Parliament”. There’s a reason he’s popular with the Tory membership…

Guido’s post has more detail, much of which involves digitalising everything from share (stock) certificates and driving licences.

Hmm. I hope that when his proposals reach MPs that they are not taken too far. First, not everyone is online. Secondly, think of the hacking opportunities this could provide. Finally, and perhaps most importantly, digitalisation can lead quickly to establishing a Chinese-style social credit score.

One thing I did like was this:

Permitting the voluntary printing of the Crown Stamp on pint glasses and reviewing the EU ban on markings and sales in imperial units and legislating in due course, none of which were possible within the EU.

Robert Peston’s misguided predictions

Sometimes, it is better to wait for the final outcome rather than tweet silly predictions:

On September 16, Guido noted witheringly of ITV’s Robert Peston:

While yesterday may not have been great for Dominic Raab, at least he can take solace in the fact he had a better reshuffle than Robert Peston. ITV’s senile senior political reporter spent all day tweeting every thought process, speculation and briefing with the acumen and insight of a first-year politics student.

Guido’s article lists Peston’s tweets. Perhaps ITV should buy him a new crystal ball.

Conclusion

I still think that most Conservative MPs are half-hearted. It’s a shame that Boris did not promote any of the 2019 intake, especially the feisty ones from the North of England.

Fortunately, last week’s horrible poll results have been reversed. Participants were polled during the reshuffle days of September 15 and 16:

Onwards and upwards to Boris’s promised ‘sunlit uplands’, I hope.

From the beginning of the coronavirus crisis, anyone who doubted Big Media’s narrative was branded a conspiracy theorist.

Strangely, most of what notional conspiracy theorists spoke and wrote about in 2020 has come true.

Last week, I read two articles of interest about the virus, the New York Times (NYT) and China.

The NYT, China and the virus

On August 2, 2021, Ashley Rindsberg, the author of The Gray Lady Winked: How the New York Times’ Misreporting, Distortions and Fabrications Radically Alter History, wrote an article for UnHerd: ‘Did the New York Times stifle lab leak debate?’

What an eye-opener it is. Excerpts follow, emphases mine.

Rindsberg has done a lot of research into the history of the paper, nicknamed The Gray Lady in the United States.

He says that the paper’s relationship with China has been going on for over a decade and explores its dubious ties with totalitarian regimes of the 20th century:

Researching and writing my new book, I discovered that the Times has a dark history of inadvertently helping authoritarian regimes with its reporting, including the Nazis, the Soviet Union and Fidel Castro.

In the case of China, this appears true to an alarming degree. For over a decade, the Times has nurtured a special relationship with the CCP — though we can only speculate as to whether this influenced its editorial output. Still, the Times certainly appeared unconcerned about the appearance of impropriety as it took millions of dollars from Chinese propaganda outlets, most prominently China Daily. In exchange for this badly needed revenue, the Times has published hundreds of “advertorials” written by Chinese propaganda outlets, including China Daily, which promote CCP messaging on the most serious topics, such as a double-page spread on the hotly contested Diaoyu Islands brazenly titled: “Diaoyu Islands Belong to China.

But the paper’s advertising relationship with Chinese state outlets is only the visible part of the iceberg. In 2012, seeking to capitalise on China’s burgeoning middle and upper classes, the Times launched a Chinese edition of its daily paper followed by the launch of a luxury lifestyle magazine. “The appetite for New York Times journalism in Chinese has never been stronger,” a company press release stated at the time.

In investing so heavily in China, the Times unintentionally handed the rapacious CCP an editorial lever to sway coverage. The Times learned this first-hand when, in 2012, the CCP blocked Chinese access to the Times online in retaliation for an unfavourable article on the family finances of China’s outgoing premier, Wen Jiabao. The Times set out on a year-long “lobbying” effort to restore coverage that included meetings with Xinhua, the parent of China Daily.

In early 2020, the lab leak hypothesis was roundly condemned in Big Media, especially the NYT.

Rindsberg leads us through the timeline and the narrative:

Of course, over the past year newspapers across the world have fallen for the CCP’s distorted Covid-19 narrative. And there is no evidence to suggest that the CCP did put pressure on the Times. But when it came to the lab leak debate, the Times was relentless. Starting in early 2020, when little was known about the virus — and nothing about its origins — the Times adopted a stridently anti-lab leak stance. In its first report on the topic, a February 17, 2020 article covering comments made by Sen. Tom Cotton, the Times stigmatised lab leak as a “fringe theory”. Once the story was published, its reporter took to Twitter to describe it as “the kind of conspiracy once reserved for the tinfoil hatters”.

Only one week prior, another outlet made strikingly similar claims. In an editorial, the CCP-owned China Daily thundered that Cotton’s decision to spread “malicious rumors” shows “how irresponsible some are in their haste to attack China”. The Times, echoing China Daily, also cast the lab leak hypothesis as a “rumor”.

Over the months, the Times’s coverage grew even more strident — and more in line with Chinese propaganda. In February 2020, it gave a platform to zoologist Peter Daszak, publishing an opinion piece by him which claimed that the pandemic was caused by “road-building, deforestation, land clearing and agricultural development”. Daszak argued that “discovering and sequencing” viruses like Covid-19 in labs like the one in Wuhan should be a priority.

The Times, which used Daszak as a key source in over a dozen articles, has never mentioned that Daszak’s organisation funded the Wuhan lab, in particular research into bats and coronaviruses, a flagrant conflict of interest. Crucially, there was no mention of this when a reporter interviewed Daszak this February, following his return from a heavily criticised WHO investigation into the virus’s origins. (Danszak later recused himself from the investigation because of the conflict of interest.)

But the Times also never revealed that Daszak was a favoured source for another outlet: China Daily. The state-owned media organisation, along with Xinhua and sister outlet Global Times, repeatedly quoted Daszak to assure readers of China’s full cooperation in the search for the virus’s origins — and to discredit the possibility of a lab leak.

The NYT‘s coverage was so supportive of China that Chinese publications began quoting it:

In April 2020, for instance, the Times published an article claiming the Trump Administration’s investigation into a lab leak “has echoes of the Bush administration’s 2002 push for assessments saying that Iraq had weapons of mass of destruction.” Within minutes, a China Daily columnist retweeted the story and parroted its central claim.

With more information coming out about a possible lab leak, the NYT has changed tack:

Today, however, just as the tide is turning on the lab leak debate, so too is the Times’s approach to the subject. Last summer, the Times abruptly ended its advertising relationship with Chinese state media outlets and scrubbed all trace of the advertorials from its archive. And in recent months, it has published a handful of articles quoting scientists who believe we should take seriously the prospect of a lab leak.

But does this excuse the paper’s behaviour at the start of the pandemic?

I do not think so. The NYT is one of the world’s most influential newspapers. Everyone takes what it says as gospel truth. It is hard to disagree with Ashley Rindsberg on his conclusion:

Only time will tell whether the lab leak hypothesis is true or false. But whatever the result, what a tragedy it would be if the Times’s coverage delayed that verdict.

Lab leak update

On Friday, September 10, 2021, UnHerd posted the latest on a possible lab leak in Ian Birrell’s article, ‘Is this proof of lab leak lies?’ Birrell is an award-winning foreign reporter and columnist.

Over the past several years, the United States, Britain’s Peter Daszak and France were all involved at some point with the Wuhan labs.

Birrell tells us:

we do know one thing now beyond debate: speculative “gain-of-function” experiments on mutant bat viruses were taking place in Wuhan laboratories.

This research, carried out in labs that did not have maximum level of biosafety, was increasing the infectivity of laboratory-created diseases by constructing chimeric coronaviruses — despite strong denial of such practices by the key Chinese scientists. And the bio-engineering was being funded by United States taxpayers — channelled through a charity run by a British scientist — despite similar denials from America’s most senior public health officials that they supported such science fiction activities in Chinese labs.

This information was uncovered via freedom of information requests made in the United States by The Intercept, which is devoted to investigative reporting:

The Intercept obtained 900 pages of documents detailing two research grants in 2014 and 2019 from the National Institutes of Health (NIH) to EcoHealth Alliance. This is the charity headed by Peter Daszak, the controversial Briton who led efforts to squash “conspiracy theories” about a possible lab incident after spending years hunting viruses with Shi Zhengli, the now-famous “Batwoman” expert at Wuhan Institute of Virology (WIV).

While some of this information was already circulating, The Intercept was able to obtain updates on the relevant projects:

… these documents include the original proposals along with project updates, so significantly flesh out what we knew. They highlight how US funding bodies outsourced risky gain-of-function research to China, even over a three-year period between 2014 and 2017 when it was banned in their own nation. They also show, with new clarity, the kind of work taking place in secretive Wuhan labs. These disclosures fuel the mystery over the pandemic origins, while also sparking fresh concerns over top scientists in both China and the West who sought to suppress inquiries into the lab leak hypothesis.

The NYT had a role to play here in defending the Wuhan Institute of Virology (WIV):

A $3.1m grant, according to the documents, was awarded to understand “the risk of bat coronavirus emergence” through screening thousands of samples collected from the nocturnal creatures. This included a chunk of funding worth $599,000 for WIV. Bear in mind that three months ago, Shi, director of its Centre for Emerging Infectious Diseases, angrily protested over the world “pouring filth on an innocent scientist” when emphatically refuting that they carried out gain-of-function work. “My lab has never conducted or co-operated in conducting GOF experiments that enhance the virulence of viruses” she told the New York Times.

Birrell gives us the NIH’s definition for ‘gain of function’ (GOF):

the term gain-of-function research describes a type of research that modifies a biological agent so that it confers new or enhanced activity to that agent.

The following are real life examples of GOF:

Analysis of these papers show US funds supported construction of new chimeric Sars-related coronaviruses, which combined a spike gene from one with genetic material from another — and then showed the resulting creation could infect human cells and mice engineered to display human-type receptors on their cells.

One new virus had increased pathogenicity over the original virus and three new viruses increased viral load in lung tissues up to ten thousandfold, which is most definitely “enhanced activity.” As scientists pointed out to me, these results demonstrated increased pathogenicity of SARSr-CoVs with different spike proteins in humanised mouse models. And similar construction work was proposed to be done with another type of deadly pathogen — the Middle Eastern Respiratory Syndrome coronavirus, which first flared up in Jordan nine years ago after spilling over from camels and has since cropped up in 27 countries, causing 858 deaths.

Dr Fauci is also involved:

Anthony Fauci, the US infectious diseases expert and presidential adviser, insisted earlier this year that his country “has not ever and does not now fund gain-of-function research in the Wuhan Institute of Virology”. His stance led to a furious clash in Congress with Senator Rand Paul, who gleefully tweeted after The Intercept published its article on the papers: “Surprise surprise – Fauci lied again. And I was right about his agency funding novel coronavirus research at Wuhan.”

Paul was backed by Richard Ebright, the bio-security expert and professor of chemical biology at Rutgers University, who has long been a fierce critic of such work since he argues that the risks of creating new diseases in laboratories vastly outweigh any potential benefits. The documents make it clear that assertions by Anthony Fauci and the NIH Director, Francis Collins that the NIH did not support gain-of-function research or potential pandemic pathogen enhancement at WIV are untruthful,” he said.

Birrell discusses France’s involvement with Wuhan:

Buried in the documents are two more intriguing details. First, the experimental work creating mutant chimeric coronaviruses was carried out at WIV’s biosafety level 2 lab and then the work analysing them in humanised mice performed at the biosafety level 3 Wuhan University Center for Animal Experiment, not at the new maximum level 4 WIV lab built with French assistance. The cluster of labs at the university hospital, incidentally, includes a breeding centre that created at least 1,000 types of genetically engineered animals from mice to monkeys. So this means the details in the papers accord with a previous statement by Shi that their coronavirus research is “conducted in BSL-2 or BSL-3 laboratories” — although a level 2 lab has, some say, barely higher safety standards than a dental clinic and certainly few safeguards against an lethal airborne virus.

As for Daszak, while he defended China, his charity warned about viral infections from animals encountered in fieldwork:

while Daszak has been condemning supposed conspiracy theories and defending his friends in China with whom he has collected thousands of samples, his own charity was pointing out the major risk of accidental infection faced by researchers when collecting such specimens in a project he led. “Fieldwork involves the highest risk of exposure to SARS or other CoVs, while working in caves with high bat density overhead and the potential for fecal dust to be inhaled. There is also some risk of exposure to pathogens …while handling bats, civets, rodents or other animals, their blood samples or their excreta.”

Accidental viral infection via animals was another point mentioned early last year which the media summarily dismissed.

The story of the origins of COVID-19 continues to unfold.

I look forward to reading more in future and covering it here.

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