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It is apposite to follow my posts about Lee Anderson with a series on his fellow Red Wall MP Marco Longhi.

Among other things, they have in common a dislike of Steve Bray, the noisy anti-Brexit protester who had his amplifying equipment taken by police this week.

Steve Bray

This is where I left off yesterday:

I’ll get to the debate in which Marco Longhi said those words.

First, however, Steve Bray reappeared in the area around Parliament on Wednesday, June 29, 2022, with a new boombox:

Guido Fawkes had the story and a video:

His post says (emphases in the original):

Just when you thought it was all over, Steve Bray’s back for an encore. With his boombox ripped from his hands yesterday by a swarm of Met officers, it looked like it was finally time to say bye, bye Bray-by. Not so much.

Undeterred, and as promised during a BBC interview yesterday afternoon, Bray is back on his island outside Parliament, having found a new boombox to blast his tunes at full volume as MPs walk past. He’s also picked up a gang of new supporters to chant along with him. Presumably they don’t have jobs to go to either. Chopper [The Telegraph‘s Christopher Hope] even claims he’s seen pedestrians hand Bray some cash in solidarity. It’s not like Met officers have far to commute given New Scotland Yard’s just metres away…

On May 11, Marco Longhi mentioned Steve Bray, although not by name, in a parliamentary debate, Preventing Crime and Delivering Justice.

Guido covered the bit about Bray:

Guido wrote:

… Speaking in the Chamber yesterday afternoon alongside Bray’s arch nemesis Lee Anderson, Longhi said:

I will not dignify his existence by tarnishing Hansard with his name, but there is a noisy man outside who dresses up as a clown and harasses and chases Members of Parliament and our staff from his little camp on the crossing island on Parliament Street. He is someone else who serves no public benefit whatsoever… This person needs to have his loudspeaker system confiscated and to be moved on. Personally, I would like to see him locked up in the Tower with a loudspeaker playing “Land of Hope and Glory” on repeat at maximum volume. The Met really should deal with him.

Labour’s Lloyd Russell-Moyle intervened to offer swapping offices with Longhi so that “there will be no problem and we will not need to shut down free speech either”…

Guido concluded by saying that, like Lloyd Russell-Moyle, he has no problem with Bray’s braying as it shows we tolerate free speech.

Personally, I disagree. After six years of his daily noise, the Met should put a stop to it.

Returning to the debate, which took place after the Queen’s Speech in May, Longhi discussed the people from his constituency, Dudley North, and their concerns, among them Brexit and re-establishing law and order (emphases mine):

I was going to confine my speech to the Public Order Bill, but I will follow up on a few comments that the right hon. Member for East Antrim (Sammy Wilson) made. The more I listen to him, the more I think he speaks a good deal of common sense. I would like him to know that I for one, and a number of my colleagues, agree with much if not everything of what he says, and we have a steely resolve to make sure that we are one United Kingdom. That is what we voted for when we voted for Brexit.

My daughters, for some unfathomable reason, sometimes describe me as a grumpy old man. I really do not know why. However, there are a few things that can make me a little bit miserable, and one thing that has really grated on me in recent years is the minority of protesters who have pretty much used guerrilla warfare to disrupt the everyday lives of the vast majority of our constituents—not just mine, but everybody’s.

The good people of Dudley North are ordinary folk, working hard to make a living, a living that is increasingly harder to make in the current climate. I cannot fathom how the privileged and entitled few think it is acceptable to stop our carers and nurses from being able to get to work to care for our sick and elderly, or to blockade a fire appliance from getting to a serious fire burning a local business to the ground—or, more tragically, perhaps preventing people inside the burning building from being saved. Of course, that applies to any blue light service, not just the fire service. That minority of criminals truly disgust me. They have no concept of the real world out there. They have no concept of the misery they bring to those less fortunate than themselves.

I hope that you, Mr Deputy Speaker, and those on the Front Benches will join me in making working here more bearable for our staff, myself and my colleagues. I will not dignify his existence by tarnishing Hansard with his name, but there is a noisy man outside who dresses up as a clown and harasses and chases Members of Parliament and our staff from his little camp on the crossing island on Parliament Street. He is someone else who serves no public benefit whatsoever.

Lee Anderson intervened:

I know the character my hon. Friend alludes to, and I have witnessed some ferocious verbal attacks on my hon. Friend from that character, who patrols Whitehall like a public nuisance. May I suggest telling him that, if he is interested in changing things in this country, he should come to Dudley North and stand against my hon. Friend at the next general election?

Longhi replied:

In fact, that invitation has already been made. I am going to print off a set of nomination papers, but I wonder about the 10 people this person might need for the form to be valid.

My staff cannot hear distressed constituents on the phone through the awful racket he causes. All our staff who have offices in 1 Parliament Street suffer considerable stress and anxiety from the disruption he causes to their, and our, work. I doubt that staff in the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport and Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs, the buildings opposite, would say anything different—[Interruption.] Is someone wanting to intervene? I do not know. I heard some noises. It is like a Hoover—an irritating thing in the background. I do not know what it is.

This person needs to have his loudspeaker system confiscated and to be moved on. Personally, I would like to see him locked up in the Tower with a loudspeaker playing “Land of Hope and Glory” on repeat at maximum volume. The Met Police really should deal with him. He is causing misery to hundreds of staff, he is intimidating many

Then Labour’s Lloyd Russell-Moyle, who is quite the leftie, intervened for a bit of to-ing and fro-ing:

Russell-Moyle: No, he’s not!

Longhi: I think someone wants to intervene, Mr Deputy Speaker. This person intimidates many who are passing by, going about our business and representing our constituents—

Russell-Moyle: No, he doesn’t!

Longhi: Would the hon. Gentleman like to intervene?

Russell-Moyle: The hon. Member clearly does not know how Parliament works, but we often make sounds across the Chamber when we disagree with someone, and I disagree with him. I am happy to swap offices: I will take his office and he can have my office. Then there will be no problem and we will not need to shut down free speech either. Win-win!

Longhi: I am actually very comfortable for the hon. Member to come to Dudley North and make those very arguments, because he would be out of office completely. Please do come and make those very arguments. I am not going to allow this kind of behaviour from someone outside, who is a public nuisance, to force us to have to make changes for him.

Our police, whether in Dudley, the Met or elsewhere, need the tools to better manage and tackle the dangerous and highly disruptive tactics used by a small minority of selfish protesters to wreak havoc on people going about their daily lives. Our police already have enough to be doing without the unnecessary burden of a privileged few who seek to rinse taxpayers’ money.

It will come as no surprise that I wholeheartedly support the Public Order Bill. If that disruptive minority want to glue themselves to anything, maybe the Bill should make it easier for them to have their backsides glued to a tiny cell at Her Majesty’s pleasure. They would be most welcome.

Kit Malthouse MP, the minister for Crime and Policing, concluded the debate. Malthouse, incidentally, worked for Boris Johnson in a similar position when the latter was Mayor of London:

… We have had a variety of contributions this afternoon, falling broadly into three categories. First, there were the constructive contributions. My hon. Friend the Member for Bracknell (James Sunderland) talked about antisocial behaviour in his constituency, a theme we heard from several hon. Members. The three graces—my hon. Friends the Members for Ashfield (Lee Anderson), for Peterborough (Paul Bristow) and for Dudley North (Marco Longhi)—expressed strong support for the Public Order Bill. The general theme was expressed pithily by my hon. Friend the Member for Peterborough:

“We want criminals to be scared of the law. We do not want the law-abiding majority to be scared of criminals”—

a sentiment with which the Government heartily agree. My hon. Friend the Member for Stoke-on-Trent North (Jonathan Gullis) made his usual vigorous and wide-ranging contribution, illustrating neatly why his part of the world is becoming more of a Conservative stronghold with every month that passes

I wrote about Jonathan Gullis in April.

Malthouse ended with this. I do hope he is correct when he says:

As my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary set out earlier in this debate, the first job of any Government is to keep their people safe, which is why we are delivering ambitious reforms to do just that by cutting crime, delivering swifter justice and making our streets safer. We are backing the ever-growing numbers of police with the tools and support they need, making sentences tougher for violent and sexual crimes, strengthening victims’ rights and restoring confidence in the criminal justice system. We will ensure that we strike the right balance in our human rights framework so that it meets the needs of the public and commands their confidence, strengthens our traditions of liberty, particularly the right to free speech, adds a healthy dose of common sense and curtails abuses of our justice system. I commend the Government’s programme on crime and justice to the House.

In the beginning

Marco Longhi was born in the Midlands town of Walsall, Staffordshire, on April 22, 1967, to an Englishwoman and an Italian airline worker. He grew up in Rome.

He took after both parents in his personal choices.

Following his father’s interest in airlines, he trained as a pilot. Later, following the example from his mother’s family, he entered politics.

In between, he studied at Manchester University and worked in the oil and gas industry. Later on, he became interested in real estate and was the director of the lettings (rental) firm Justmove. He also owns ten houses in Walsall.

His grandfather Wilfred Clarke was mayor of Walsall in 1978. Longhi became a Conservative councillor for the town in 1999 and served two terms as its mayor, in 2017 and 2018.

Dudley North

Longhi ran successfully for election to Parliament in 2019, after the much-admired Labour MP, subsequently Independent, Ian Austin, stood down for Dudley North.

The constituency of Dudley North was created in 1997. Labour’s Ross Cranston served as its MP between 1997 and 2005. Afterwards, Ian Austin succeeded him until 2019. Austin became an Independent in February 2019. He resigned from Labour because he was troubled by its anti-Semitism, which prevailed in some factions of the party under Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership. Austin’s adoptive father Fred was a Czech Jew who was adopted by an English family, hence the surname change from Stiller to Austin. Fred Austin was the headmaster of The Dudley School from its foundation in 1975 to his retirement in 1985.

In December 2019, Marco Longhi handily defeated Labour’s appropriately named Melanie Dudley with a majority of 11,533, a swing of 15.8 per cent.

Maiden speech

Longhi gave his maiden speech to the Commons on February 26, 2020, during the debate on the Environment Bill.

Although coronavirus was seeping into the news narrative, getting on with Brexit was still the main topic of discussion among Conservative MPs. The debates were marvellous, imbued with optimism.

Everyone was also happy with the relatively new Speaker of the House, Sir Lindsay Hoyle, who was a breath of fresh air compared with his predecessor John Bercow who did so much to try and thwart Brexit.

Longhi’s speech tells us about Dudley and his hopes for the historic town:

Let me start by thanking you, Mr Deputy Speaker, for allowing me to present my maiden speech today, and to thank your staff—and, indeed, all staff on the estate—for keeping us safe and looking after us so well and with such professionalism. I should like you to convey my more profound thanks, if that is possible, to Mr Speaker for the way in which he has signalled that he will carry out his office as Speaker of the House, in complete contrast to his predecessor. The conventions and integrity that he is restoring in such an unassuming way are having a much greater impact in restoring faith in our democracy than any commentators may be giving him credit for, which is why I want to do so today.

It is the convention to comment on one’s predecessor in a maiden speech. I shall do so, but not for that reason: I will because I want to. I am certain than many in this place will want to recognise Ian Austin for his integrity, and for the brave way in which he decided to stand up against antisemitism. There is not a person in my constituency to whom I have spoken who does not speak well of Ian, even when they disagreed with his politics. So I want to thank him for his efforts as a local MP, and for the example that he has set for many of us, on both sides of the House, in standing up to prejudice and hatred. I suspect that some of my colleagues on this side of the House—myself included—may wish to thank him for other reasons too.

I say with a degree of both pride and humility that I am the first ever Conservative Member of Parliament for Dudley North, the first ever Member called Marco, and the Member holding a larger majority than any of my predecessors in this seat. For that, I thank the people of Dudley, who, like the people in the rest of the country, decided to tell the House—yet again, at the umpteenth time of asking—what they wanted us to do.

The Dudley North constituency is made up of the town of Sedgley, the suburban areas of Upper Gornal, Lower Gornal and Gornal Wood, Woodsetton, and other conurbations around Dudley town itself. It has several attractions of national significance, including the Black Country Living Museum, Dudley Castle and Dudley Zoo.

Dudley has been a market town since the 13th century, and its fortunes over the centuries have ebbed and flowed with the economic cycles of the heavy industry that its coal-rich mines supported. This also means that it has suffered much since the decline of the traditional industries, which is why a focus on skills and future jobs is crucial if the economic prosperity of the area and the wellbeing of Dudley people are to be secured for the coming decades.

Dudley is also credited with being the birthplace of the industrial revolution, with the advent of smelting iron ore using coal instead of charcoal, which is manufactured by burning trees and therefore much rarer and more costly to obtain. Abraham Darby introduced this revolutionary method, which meant that iron and steel could be made in much larger quantities and more efficiently and cheaply. He effectively kick-started the industrial revolution, so Dudley’s heritage and legacy are second to none—notwithstanding what other people in this House might say! However, I will say that competing with Magna Carta and perhaps alienating a doctor might not be my smartest move. Abraham Darby was born in Woodsetton in 1678 and is reported to have lived at Wren’s Nest, which is now a site of special scientific interest—I had to practise that—and, since 1956, one of only two national nature reserves assigned on geology alone because of the variety and abundance of fossils found on the site.

However, although the new industrial revolution brought wealth, it also resulted in the area being named the most unhealthy place in the country in the mid-19th century, because of the dreadful working and living conditions. That led to the installation of clean water supplies and sewerage systems. Dudley had the highest mortality rate in the country. In the 21st century we are faced with the fourth industrial revolution, characterised by a range of new advancements in the digital and biological worlds, but with a different impact on human wellbeing.

Improving health and wellbeing and seeking to tackle mental ill health are some of the areas on which I wish to focus during my time in this House, for the benefit of everyone at home and in their workplaces. If we tackle the issue of poor mental health at its core and in its infancy, we can prevent crisis moments and the devastating consequences that they can have. That it is also why having an environment that we can all enjoy, which supports us in our own wellbeing and that we can leave as a positive legacy to our children and grandchildren, is so important. Mother Nature has been talking to us for some time, and it is time we did more than simply listen. It is time to take action as well, which is why the Bill is so welcome.

Mr Deputy Speaker, if you ever come to Dudley, the capital of the Black Country, you will be warmly welcomed, because that is the nature of Dudley people. You will also feel a sense of expectation—a feeling that change is about to happen, a feeling of optimism—and this is another reason why I am so privileged to represent the town and its people. In the near future, we will be seeing the demolition of the infamous Cavendish House in the town centre to make way for many new homes, the metro extension and I hope—subject to consent—a very light rail system.

Like many high streets around the country, Dudley’s has suffered much. Nobody has a silver bullet to fix that, but increasing footfall by attracting more people feels like part of the solution. If attracting more people into the town centre is part of the solution, and if the focus on skills for future jobs is key, I would like to see our plans for a university campus on the edge of Dudley town centre finally being delivered. I am pleased that the Prime Minister agrees with me on that. These game-changing plans were drawn up before my arrival, and some have been spoken about for many years. Now is the time to turn words into action and to deliver for Dudley. My pledge to all Dudley people is that I will fight every step of the way to make things happen and bring about the change that they want. It is Dudley’s turn now.

On May 12, 2021, he rightly objected to lefties trolling him over Brexit in the Better Jobs and a Fair Deal at Work debate, which followed that year’s Queen’s Speech:

“Your name isn’t English, why don’t you go back to where you came from?” That is a recent Facebook comment from an articulate but clearly limited left-wing activist, so I took some pleasure in replying in Italian “Che in realtà sono nato da un minatore di carbone del black country”—that I was in fact born to a Black Country coalminer.

More condescending left-wingers recently said this:

“You’d think Marco would understand why Brexit is bad. He’s lived in Italy and EVEN his Dad is Italian. Why is he such a strong Brexiteer? He must be stupid.”

Well, brownie points for working out that my dad is Italian. I did explain at length why Brexit is vital, but it became clear to me that there was a limit to their thinking, too—I mean Marco, Italian, therefore remainer, otherwise stupid is a bit of a “micro-aggression”, and is rather limited thinking isn’t it, Mr Deputy Speaker?

Here is my suggestion for the Labour party: set up an internal limited-thinking focus group to eradicate it from among their ranks, because how can they represent people who are clearly not limited? They may want to start in Amber Valley where the Labour leader blamed voters for their election results; it might prove more useful than rearranging the deckchairs on their Front Bench.

So, yes, my name is Marco, and, yes, my father is Italian, but here I am. How did I get here? Two words: opportunità e lavoro—opportunity and graft. My grandfather’s story is one of rags to riches and my parents are examples of blue-collar workers who for years lived hand to mouth. They bent over backwards to give me opportunities, and I put in the work.

Opportunity and work are two pillars of Her Majesty’s Gracious Speech. People out there do not want handouts; they want a hand getting back on their feet. More than anything, they want opportunities to do well. The lifetime skills guarantee is a massive investment in education and apprenticeships, readying people for the jobs coming their way. We may remember the Prime Minister—or “our Boris” as they say back home—visiting Dudley and going to the site of our new Institute of Technology, where he delivered his “jobs, jobs, jobs” vision. The pandemic has shown that fish can be necessary, but fishing rods are what people really need, and that institute will provide the rods.

The Queen’s Speech contained a vast array of steps that will take us out of the clutches of the pandemic, freeing us to be even stronger than when we entered it. The commitment to our NHS and continuing with our investment in the vaccination programme and in private sector life sciences are huge bonuses that this country will benefit from.

The roaring ’20s are upon us. Dio salvi la Regina—God save the Queen.

I hope he is right about the roaring ’20s being upon us.

One year on, and it’s hard to see. However, that is no fault of Marco Longhi’s.

I will have more on this gently witty and highly incisive Red Wall MP next week.

Our Creator broke the mould when he made Lee Anderson.

Of all the Red Wall MPs, he is the most candid and colourful.

Lee Anderson represents his home constituency of Ashfield, Nottinghamshire, which, since its inception in 1955, has always had a Labour MP, except for a brief period between 1977 and 1979, when it had a Conservative MP because of a by-election.

Lee Anderson was Labour born and bred. He was a card-carrying Party member. He served as a local councillor for Ashfield’s Huthwaite and Brierley ward from 2015 until 2018. He also actively campaigned for his parliamentary predecessor, Gloria De Piero, in 2015 and 2017.

De Piero decided not to run for re-election in 2019, having been Ashfield’s MP for nine years at that point. Prior to entering politics, she was a presenter on ITV’s breakfast show GMTV (as was) and is now a presenter on GB News at lunchtime.

Another famous Labour MP representing Ashfield was Geoff Hoon, who served between 1992 and 2010. He is a former Defence Secretary, Transport Secretary, Leader of the House of Commons and Government Chief Whip.

Returning to Lee Anderson, he was a strong supporter of Brexit and backed the Vote Leave campaign preceding the June 2016 referendum.

In 2018, he left Labour for the Conservative Party. In May 2019, he was elected as Conservative councillor for the Oakham ward in nearby Mansfield. It was a position he held until early 2021, when he resigned.

In December 2019’s general election, he won Ashfield with a majority of 5,733 votes. An Independent candidate placed second, with Labour a distant third.

Maiden speech

Anderson gave his maiden speech on Monday, January 27, 2020 during an NHS funding debate.

Emphases in purple mine below.

As is customary, he paid tribute to his predecessor and pointed out that Nottinghamshire had voted Conservative:

I am bursting with pride as I stand here as the newly elected Member of Parliament for Ashfield, but I want to pay tribute to my predecessor, Gloria De Piero, who was the MP for Ashfield for nine years. I am sure everybody in the Chamber will agree that she was well respected on both sides of the House. I also want to pay respect to my seven colleagues in Nottinghamshire, who were all elected on the same day as me last month. They did a fantastic job …

Also customary is to praise one’s constituency and throw in a few quips. Note that Anderson worked as a miner for some time, partly because of Labour’s abysmal education policies:

Ashfield was once voted the best place in the world to live—by me and my mates one Sunday afternoon in the local Wetherspoons. It really is the best place. Ashfield is a typical mining constituency. To the south of the constituency we have Eastwood, birthplace of D.H. Lawrence, to the north we have Nuncargate, birthplace of our most famous cricketer, Harold Larwood, and further north we have Teversal, which is where D.H. Lawrence wrote probably his most famous novel, “Lady Chatterley’s Lover”—a book I have read several times. We have many other great towns and villages in Ashfield, such as Sutton, Kirkby, Annesley, Selston, Jacksdale, Westwood, Bagthorpe and Stanton Hill, but the place that is closest to my heart in Ashfield is the place where I grew up, a mining village called Huthwaite.

Like with many villages, when I was growing up in the 1970s most of the men in Huthwaite worked down the pits. I went to a school called John Davies Primary School, and I was always told at school in the ’70s, as many of us were, “Work hard, lad, do well, take the 11-plus, go to grammar school and you’ll not have to go down the pit like your dad and your granddad and your uncles.” Unfortunately, a couple of years before we were due to take our 11-plus, the Labour Government at the time withdrew it from our curriculum, so I was unable to go to grammar school, and none of our school went as a consequence of that. Just a few years later I was down the pit with my dad—working at the pit where my granddad and my uncles had worked. I did that for many years and I am sure my dad, who is watching this right now—a decent, hard-working, working-class bloke—did not want me down the pit. He wanted better for me, but that was taken away. I cannot help but think that, had children in my day had the chance to go to grammar school, they would have had more opportunities and probably a better life. Because I am telling you now, when I worked down those pits in Nottinghamshire, I worked with doctors, with brain surgeons, with airline pilots, with astronauts—with all these brilliant people who never a chance. The Prime Minister is quite right when he says that talent is spread evenly across this country but opportunity is not, and my constituency is living proof of that.

People of Ashfield are a straight-talking bunch—a bit dry, a wicked sense of humour, a bit sarcastic sometimes—but that is borne out of our tough industrial past. You have to remember that we were the people who dug the coal to fuel the nation. We were the people who sent our young people—our young men and women—to war to die for this country. We were the people who made the clothes that clothed the nation. And we were the people who brewed the beer that got us all persistently drunk every single weekend.

In 1993, under a Conservative Government, we reopened the Robin Hood line in Ashfield, and all through the county of Nottinghamshire, which created endless opportunities for passengers to travel for work, for play and for jobs. Standing here as a Conservative MP in 2020, I am proud to say that this Government are once again looking at extending our Robin Hood line to cover the rest of the county. They are also looking at reopening the Maid Marian line, which will again carry passengers to the most isolated and rural areas of our country. It is all well and good having good education and good training, but transport means just as much to the people in my community.

My friends, family and constituents have asked me every single day what it is like to be down here in Westminster. I say, “It’s brilliant—amazing. We’ve got great staff—the doorkeepers.” Every single person who works here has been absolutely brilliant to me. It is an amazing place. I have met all these famous people—I have met MPs, Lords and Ministers—but the best moment for me was last Wednesday night, when I got invited to Downing Street, to No. 10, for the first time ever in my life. I walked through that door and there he was, the man himself—Larry the Cat. [Laughter.] Told you we were funny.

I was born at the brilliant King’s Mill Hospital in Ashfield. King’s Mill was built by the American army during world war two to look after its injured service personnel. After the war, the American Government gave King’s Mill Hospital—the buildings and equipment—to the people of Ashfield as a thank-you gift. What a wonderful gift that is from our American cousins—absolutely stunning. I cannot praise the current staff and management at King’s Mill highly enough. They have really turned things around. Just 20-odd years after the American Government gave King’s Mill Hospital to the people of Ashford, I was born there, and later my children were born there.

It is not just our hospital in Ashfield that means a lot to me; it is the fact that it has saved my wife’s life for many, many years now. My wife was born with a condition called cystic fibrosis. She was not diagnosed until she was 18, and for anybody, to be told that they have cystic fibrosis is like getting an early death sentence. But undeterred, my wife—my beautiful wife—went to work for a year. She then went to university, she studied, she became a teacher and she taught for 10 years, until she got to her early 30s, when she could not really carry on any more and gave up work. All that time, our brilliant NHS staff looked after her and kept her alive—I cannot thank them enough—but things got really bad in her mid-30s and she had to go on the list for a double lung transplant. She was on that list for two years, and we had five false alarms before we finally got the call on 19 December 2016. The operation was 14 hours and she spent three days in critical care. I thank my lucky stars for our brilliant NHS. They looked after her, they have kept her alive, and last year she was elected as a Conservative councillor in our home town.

I am incredibly proud, and when people say that this party is a party of privilege, I say to them, “I’m privileged to be in this party.”

Cost of living crisis

Two years later, Anderson was still firmly in the Conservative camp. In the January 11, 2022 debate on Household Energy Bills, he skewered Labour:

Now then, if Labour Members really wanted to help the poorest people in society, they would not come to this House with a motion to cut somebody’s bill by £61 a year. There were Labour MPs drinking in the Terrace bar last night who spent more than that on a round of drinks.

Do I want VAT removed from our energy bills? Of course I do. Everybody does. That is why last week I signed a letter to the Chancellor, asking him to cut the VAT on bills. I also want the removal of levies on domestic energy, which are nearly a quarter of an electricity bill. That sort of saving is a real saving, which would make a real difference to the people in Ashfield and Eastwood, but of course there is not much of an appetite for that in this place as we strive to be net zero in record time.

No one disagrees with what we are trying to do to save the planet, but a lot of us are sat here on over 80 grand a year—and some people have second jobs—and we are telling poor people that they must pay more to heat their homes. Frankly, when it comes to heating homes, people do not care where their gas or electricity comes from, in the same way as they do not care where their petrol or diesel comes from when they go to fill up their cars. All people want is to be able to afford their bills—that is all.

Labour Members are trying to play politics with people’s lives so that they can get a cheap social media clip saying, “The nasty Tories are voting against a cut in VAT.” They rely on the great British public not knowing how the process works in this place. It is a pitiful way of conducting themselves.

Let us be honest, this is not a vote to help poorer people pay their bills. It is a vote to take over the Order Paper so the Opposition can return us to the disastrous days of a few years ago that almost cancelled Brexit. There is no doubt that people are struggling and the cost of living is increasing with the increase in fuel prices, but who is to blame for that increase? We cannot just blame the pandemic, as we are all to blame. Successive Governments have never taken this seriously. We closed all our pits and we do not produce gas like we used to. Both Conservative and Labour Governments, let us be honest, have ignored this for years.

I see Labour Members shaking their heads, but they are not really interested in helping people in places like Ashfield, which has been ignored for decades. Ashfield has had no investment at all, but so far under this Government we have had £70 million, two new schools coming and hopefully a new railway line. We have millions of pounds coming to Ashfield, and what is Labour’s answer to levelling up Ashfield? A saving of £1 a week on energy bills. That is absolutely disgraceful, and Labour Members should hang their head in shame.

Labour and the SNP

Few MPs are as outspoken about Labour and Scotland’s SNP as Lee Anderson.

On Tuesday, November 30, 2021 — St Andrew’s Day — the Opposition Day debate was all about Boris. The Downing Street parties had just come to light: ‘Conduct of the Right Hon. Member for Uxbridge and South Ruislip’.

As expected, Labour and the other opposition parties painted themselves whiter than white, including Annelise Dodds MP, who led the debate. She said, in part:

the current Prime Minister is, unfortunately, falling short, the Conservative Government are failing to get a grip, and working people are paying the price.

Anderson intervened:

The hon. Lady talks about honesty and integrity. Could she please confirm how many Labour MPs have ended up in the nick over the past 10 years?

Dodds brushed over the intervention, but Anderson was undaunted. He signalled the answer:

Here’s Guido’s video:

He also launched broadsides at the SNP, the Commons’ third largest party. For months — and well over a year now — the SNP have refused to say what has happened to £600,000 from their donors. At first it was ‘ring fenced’ (their words), then it seemed to have gone into other funds. However, what actually was done with the money remains a mystery.

Anderson said:

On this happy St Andrew’s Day I have had haggis, Irn-Bru and an SNP debate; I can recommend two out of the three any time of day.

Since arriving here in Parliament in 2019 it has always struck me that the SNP is just a one-trick pony, ignoring its own failings on health, education and the economy to put its own selfish case forward for independence. But it is losing the argument—we know that by the poll results—so SNP Members have adopted a new tactic: to besmirch the good name of our great Prime Minister. Maybe they should tell us where the missing £600,000 is and explain why senior members of their party stood down from its national executive committee earlier this year. Their own MPs are asking difficult questions yet the leadership remains silent. Maybe they should apologise to the people of Scotland for the state of their education system, which is failing thousands of Scottish children while they bang on about leaving the Union and rejoining the European Union. Maybe they should explain to the people of Scotland why, despite being in power for 13 years, they have the worst health statistics in the world. Frankly, they should be ashamed of themselves, instead of wasting parliamentary time on a pointless debate that will achieve nothing, and they should explain why after 13 years in power Scotland is going backwards.

A back-and-forth with SNP MP Marion Fellows followed. Fellows objected to Anderson’s allegation about Scotland’s health statistics.

He came back with this:

I might make a slight correction here: perhaps I should have referred to the drug deaths, which are the worst in the western world.

What we need to chat about is the Westminster leader of the SNP, the right hon. Member for Ross, Skye and Lochaber (Ian Blackford), who has been very quiet about the £270,000 he has rinsed from outside earnings since he was elected to Westminster in 2015. It would take the average worker in Scotland 11 years to earn that much money yet he stands over there every single Wednesday talking about poverty when his greedy snout is firmly in the trough; and remember this is on top—

He ended up having to apologise for mentioning another MP — Ian Blackford — in debate without his permission.

However, Anderson returned to Labour who previously mentioned they wanted the British military to turn into a gentle peace-keeping force:

I am going to stop picking on the SNP, because I want to talk about the massed ranks of the Labour party. I am struggling to see them at the moment. Despite pretending to be bothered, they could not be bothered to turn up today. They seem to think that there is a war raging in France at the moment and that it is acceptable for thousands of illegal migrants to cross our channel every single day. They really need to get a grip.

Another sign that the Labour party has lost the plot is that it wants to replace our armed forces with “human security services”—a shift from the classic armed forces to a gender balanced, ethnically diverse human security services tasked with dampening down violence. Imagine that, Madam Deputy Speaker: a peace-loving British tank

Madam Deputy Speaker put a stop to Anderson’s interventions and called on another MP.

One week later, on Wednesday, December 8, Anderson openly criticised Labour’s Ian Lavery, MP for Wansbeck, former chairman of the Labour Party and, before he entered politics, former president of the National Union of Mineworkers. This was during a debate on Rail Investment and Integrated Rail Plan:

Guido Fawkes had the highlights and the video (red emphases in the original):

Lee Anderson returns to once again slap down misbehaving Labour MPs in the chamber … Lavery kept his jeering off-mic, interrupting Anderson’s speech by calling him “a scab“. Anderson returned the favour by reminding Lavery he could help miners get a “fair deal” by “handing back the £165,000 he stole from them”…

This relates to a news story from 2017. On October 20 that year, the BBC reported (bold emphasis in the original):

MP Ian Lavery received £165,000 from the 10-member trade union he ran.

We have learned this from the trade union regulator which has now released a report into Mr Lavery’s actions as general secretary of the NUM Northumberland Area.

He will now face questions on his record over a number of disputed payments by the union he ran.

Mr Lavery, who is the chairman of the Labour Party, denies any wrongdoing.

Ian Lavery is a coming power in the land, Jeremy Corbyn’s general election joint co-ordinator and chairman of the Labour Party. If the Conservatives fall, he’s most likely destined for high office. But, perhaps, for one thing: his refusal to answer a simple question asked by BBC Newsnight last year: “Did you pay off the mortgage?” BBC Newsnight asked him nine times without getting a reply.

The answer, it turns out, is no. He didn’t pay off his mortgage. The union of which he was general secretary for 18 years, the NUM Northumberland Area, paid it off and paid him much more besides.

Last year, both Jeremy Corbyn and the parliamentary watchdog cleared Mr Lavery. He denies any wrongdoing.

The reason we know more about Mr Lavery’s peculiar mortgage arrangements is because the trade union regulator, the Certification Officer, Gerard Walker, examined the books after investigations by BBC Newsnight and the Sunday Times. Mr Lavery ran the NUM Northumberland Area for 18 years until he stepped down in 2010 to become the MP for Wansbeck.

The regulator’s findings are available online

I’ll leave it to readers to get the rest of the story, which involved a lot of money over various periods in time.

Ian Lavery is still a big deal in Parliament.

This is what Lee Anderson said in the Integrated Rail Plan (IRP) debate:

Let us remember that until a few years ago, the red wall seats like Ashfield had several things in common. They had above-average deprivation, failing town centres, lower life expectancy, poor transport links and lower aspirations; but the main thing that places like Ashfield, Mansfield and Bolsover had in common was Labour MPs and Labour-run councils. What a shocking track record that is. [Interruption.] Rather than chuntering, Opposition Members should be ashamed of the legacy that they have left us new Conservative Members in places like Ashfield. [Interruption.] The hon. Member for Wansbeck (Ian Lavery) might want to concentrate on giving back the £165,000 that he stole from the miners on his own patch. He is an absolute disgrace.

What does this world-class plan mean for the people of Nottinghamshire? It means a high-speed line from the west midlands to the east midlands, providing direct high-speed rail services to Nottingham, Derby, Chesterfield, and Sheffield. Journey times from London to Nottingham will be cut by a third to just 57 minutes. Journey times from Sheffield to London will be cut by a quarter, to just 1 hour 27 minutes. Journey times from Nottingham to Birmingham will be cut by two thirds, to just 26 minutes. Even Labour in the north is backing the plan. According to the leader of Rotherham council, “It is a victory for common sense”.

It is a pity that that lot have no common sense.

This is all good news. The Mayor of Doncaster welcomes the plan, and even the next Labour leader, the Mayor of Manchester, welcomes it. It would appear that the members of the parliamentary Labour party are out of touch with their friends in the midlands and the north, who back the IRP. It is a good job that Conservative MPs are sitting here today speaking out for the Labour voters of yesterday.

As the furore about the Downing Street parties raged, and despite Boris’s apology to MPs in the chamber in mid-January, then-Conservative MP Christian Wakeford, who represents Bury, crossed the aisle just before Prime Minister’s Questions on Wednesday, January 19, 2022 to sit with Labour MPs.

Anderson was disgusted. His former boss, Gloria De Piero, interviewed him for GB News:

I have much more to write about Lee Anderson, one of the most refreshing Conservative MPs we’ve had in ages.

To be continued …

To follow this series, it is helpful to read parts 1 and 2.

We left off on Sunday, May 8, 2022. That day, Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer had cancelled an appearance at an Institute for Government event on Monday in advance of the Queen’s Speech on Tuesday.

Labour’s campaign beer and curry event took place on April 30, 2021. The Sun made it public soon afterwards, but it did not get traction from other papers, namely The Telegraph and the Mail, until January 2022. Durham Constabulary only decided to really investigate it on Friday, May 6, 2022. Starmer took legal advice and cancelled his public appearance on Monday, May 9.

Journalists and pundits noted the length of time between the event, its wider coverage, the internal memo about the event leaked to the Mail on Sunday and Starmer’s reaction to the press coverage it received. No one forgot Starmer’s spending from December 2021 to May 2022 calling for Boris Johnson’s resignation over Downing Street events:

With the shoe being on the other foot, Labour supporters wanted Starmer’s event, held in Labour MP Mary Foy’s Durham office, to disappear from the public consciousness. Didn’t we know there was a war on in Ukraine? Didn’t anyone care about the cost of living crisis? Suddenly, breaking coronavirus restriction rules was something no one should care about unless it had to do with Boris and Downing Street.

Mail on Sunday journalist Dan Hodges noted the hypocrisy:

A YouGov poll published on Monday showed that the public thought Starmer should stand down if he gets a fine:

Guido Fawkes has YouGov’s breakdown of the public’s opinion on both Starmer and Boris. Not surprisingly, more people think that Boris should resign. That said, Conservative voters are more forgiving of Starmer than are Labour voters. That’s because most Conservatives believe in repentance.

Guido says a majority of the public think that Starmer broke the rules:

The general public is firmly of the view that Starmer should resign, at 46% agreeing versus 32% opposing. They also comfortably believe Starmer either did definitely or probably break the rules (54%) to probably didn’t or definitely didn’t (21%).

Guido conducted his own poll on Monday, May 9. Just under 50 per cent thought that the Labour leader — and Leader of the Opposition (LOTO) — should resign using the same standards that he applied to Boris:

Earlier on Monday, Starmer decided to issue a short statement to the media at 4 p.m. that day. By the time Guido closed his poll, there was a half hour left before that small, select event took place.

Guido’s post on the poll says (emphases in the original):

With Sir Keir expected to make a statement on Beergate at 4pm today, Guido asked co-conspirators how they’d advise Starmer if they were by his side in the LOTO office over the weekend. Resign right away? Wait for the police investigation? Tough it out…?

Thousands voted, and it turns out readers are divided. Half (49.6%) think Starmer should resign at the podium today – given he called for Boris’s resignation the moment the police launched their inquiry – 28.9% think he should resign only if fined, with a further 21.5% saying he should tough it out regardless of the police outcome. Guido’s own view is that the latter choice is politically impossible given his approach to Partygate. Demanding Boris and Rishi resign over a birthday cake set the bar incredibly high for his own behaviour – a bar he hasn’t met. If he’s not going to resign today, then his only real option is to promise he’ll go if Durham Police whack him with a fine…

Starmer invited only three journalists to hear his statement.

He said he would resign if fined.

Guido analysed that statement and said there was more to it than one might think:

Seeing as Charles — now Lord — Falconer is advising Starmer, Blairite tactics could come into play:

Sir Keir has just confirmed he will resign in the event of being given a fine, an unprecedented announcement from a Leader of Her Majesty’s Loyal Opposition … Guido can see another obvious tactic at play from the pound shop Blair wannabee

In 2007, when under investigation for the Cash For Honours scandal, Tony Blair’s team warned the Metropolitan Police that the PM would have to resign if interviewed under caution, forcing them to back off under such immense political pressure:

Sources close to the inquiry said that there were difficult discussions before a political intermediary made senior detectives aware of the serious implications of treating the Prime Minister as a suspect.

“Make no mistake, Scotland Yard was informed that Mr Blair would resign as Prime Minister if he was interviewed under caution,” said a source. “They were placed in a very difficult position indeed.”

On Saturday, when Guido exclusively revealed Lord Falconer has been tasked with putting together out Sir Keir’s legal defence, he didn’t expect Blair’s Justice Secretary to copy the tactic used by his old party boss so like-for-like. Unfortunately for Starmer one of his team accidentally explained the quiet bit out loud to ITV’s Daniel Hewitt, briefingit puts some pressure on Durham Police who are being leant on in one direction”. Former DPP [Director of Public Prosecutions] Sir Keir knows a thing or two about letting police forces fudge an investigation and letting the culprit get away…

Hmm:

It will be interesting to see how a campaign team can justify alcohol at a notional working event, especially as a few overdid it:

Guido was referring to a Politico article by Alex Wickham, who wrote that he received no denials of the following account containing mentions of drunkenness:

On Tuesday, May 10 — Day 13 of Beergate — the Mail led with Starmer’s alleged piling of pressure on Durham police:

That day, fallout followed Starmer’s cosy Monday afternoon session with only three journalists.

The Sun‘s political editor Harry Cole was left out in the cold. ‘Lobby’ refers to the media:

Guido said this was but another episode in a long-running period in which Labour have not been transparent with the media:

Guido has been tracking this issue for some time:

Guido’s campaign to get Labour to publish their shadow cabinet meetings with media proprietors and editors, as pledged following Leveson, seems to be going nowhere, despite repeated promises from Labour HQ to pull their finger out. Yesterday Labour’s relationship with press transparency got colder, when Sir Keir invited just three tame broadcasters into the room, blocking any hacks who may have asked difficult questions from attending. GB News’ Tom Harwood was told this was due to “limited space”. Guido is old enough to remember when the Lobby was collectively outraged when only selected broadcasters were invited by Lee Cain [Boris’s former Downing Street Director of Communications] for a briefing… 

Now Guido’s spotted another press frontier on which Labour’s dropping the ball: publishing press releases. Labour’s website hasn’t published a press release in over 40 days, the most protracted period of policy publishing paralysis since Starmer took over …

Perhaps not a good look when even the Labour-supporting press is starting to suggest Sir Keir needs some policies to win, not just claims of personal sainthood…

That day, YouGov published a new poll taken on May 5 and 6 that shows the Conservatives were one point below Labour. Other polls still show Labour in the lead, but here is YouGov’s take:

Guido wrote:

Margin of error territory as the public no longer perceives Sir Keir as “Mr Rules”. One poll so far so will be intrigued to see if this is a trend…

Prince Charles delivered the Queen’s Speech that morning for the State Opening of Parliament.

In the afternoon, both the Commons and the Lords began separate debates on the 38 proposed bills in the Queen’s Speech.

In the Commons, at least, the week-long debate, called the Humble Address, begins jovially, and it is an honour to be the MP selected to open it.

The lucky MP was Graham Stuart (Conservative), who represents Beverley and Holderness.

He cracked a joke about Keir Starmer as he reviewed Labour’s dominance in the North of England prior to the Conservatives’ breaking through the Red Wall in 2019 (emphases in purple mine):

Robert [Sir Robert Goodwill], of course, won selection in Scarborough. He then went on to overturn Lawrie Quinn’s 3,500 majority, and was, I think, along with my hon. Friend the Member for Shipley (Philip Davies), the only Conservative candidate in the whole of the north of England to take a seat from the Labour party at that election. The Leader of the Opposition must wish it was so today. Instead the only thing opening up for him in the north is a police investigation. [Laughter.]

Guido has the video. Look at Starmer’s painfully forced smile:

Stuart had another go when discussing the corruption in his constituency in the 18th and 19th centuries:

Obviously the law did change. Free beer and cash inducements were the electoral controversies then, rather than, say, beer and curry today. Never in the history of human conflict has so much karma come from a korma.

Some time later, it was Boris’s turn to speak, introducing the important bills. Labour MPs intervened until he put a stop to them.

Of the energy bill, he said:

The energy Bill will create hundreds of thousands of new green jobs, taking forward this Government’s energy security strategyit is about time this country had one—with £22 billion—[Interruption.] Labour did not want a single nuclear power station. Come on, be honest. Look at them, the great quivering jellies of indecision that they are. Our £22 billion UK Infrastructure Bank is supporting the transition to net zero and vast new green industries, in which our United Kingdom will again lead the world.

Boris quickly moved on to the economy and the Channel crossings of illegal migrants, during which he added a quip:

We are using our new freedoms to control our borders, with a new plan for immigration so that we can fix our broken asylum system, tackle the illegal immigration that undermines the legal immigration that we support and crack down on the vile people smugglers. I know that the Leader of the Opposition—perhaps I should, in deference to his phrase, refer to him as the Leader of the Opposition of the moment—likes to claim he opposes these plans …

Guido has the video, which is much more entertaining than reading the transcript. Boris was at his best:

That evening, The Guardian reported that Labour MPs were already talking about a change in leadership. Speaking personally, so far, Wes Streeting is the strongest candidate they have:

The majority of shadow ministers said they were grimly resigned to Starmer’s pledge – but said there were likely to be internal consequences. “I think once you start talking up the prospect of your own resignation you are on dangerous ground,” one said.

Another veteran MP, a Starmer loyalist, said they suspected ulterior motives from some shadow cabinet members. “If you fancy Keir’s job, this is win-win,” they said.

Rule changes pushed through at last year’s Labour conference mean a fifth of MPs must nominate any candidate for the party leadership in order for them to be put to a members’ postal vote – a higher threshold than under Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership and a move that was seen by those on the left as intending to disadvantage their candidates.

One MP said a snap leadership contest would put ascendant shadow cabinet ministers such as Wes Streeting, the shadow health secretary, in an advantageous position. “[Starmer’s] disappearance now would obviously benefit the Blairite right – [the mayor of Greater Manchester, Andy] Burnham couldn’t stand, Sadiq Khan [the London mayor] couldn’t stand, Angela would be out of the picture for the same reason as Keir because if he goes on this she has said she will go too.”

If both Starmer and Rayner are forced to resign, there is no obvious interim leader. The most senior members of Starmer’s shadow cabinet – Rachel Reeves, the shadow chancellor; Yvette Cooper, the shadow home secretary; David Lammy, the shadow foreign secretary; Streeting; and Lisa Nandy, the shadow levelling up secretary – are all potential candidates in a contest. The party’s national executive committee would have to vote to designate an alternative member of the shadow cabinet.

A source close to Starmer said he was relaxed about the ambitions of his shadow cabinet. “I don’t think anyone is actively trying to undermine him. It says a lot about our party that there are so many potential candidates – look at the contrast again with the Tories. If people are ambitious, let them be.”

An ally of Streeting said: “Wes was on the media batting for Keir three times over the weekend and into Monday. He’s one of Keir’s most loyal and vocal supporters. After a great set of a local election results there is everything to play for at the next general election thanks to Keir’s leadership. This is no time for introspection.”

Senior figures in the Labour leader’s team are understood to have felt reluctant to advise Starmer he should raise the prospect of his own resignation.

On Wednesday, May 11, The Sun criticised Keir Starmer’s response to the Queen’s Speech. When responding to Boris on Tuesday, Starmer had no Labour policies to present. He merely criticised the Government at length and ended with this:

It does not have to be this way; it will not always be this way. A Labour Government would tackle the cost of living crisis head on, get Britain growing again after 12 years of failure, and improve public services so that they deliver for the people paying for them. A Labour Government would rise to the moment where this Government have badly failed.

The Sun‘s editorial, ‘Holey agenda’, said (bold in the original):

IS Keir Starmer chasing the wrong job?

He has no ideas anyone can detect, as his vacuous response to the Queen’s Speech proves. He clearly thinks it’s enough to be ‘decent’ and ‘honourable’.

Tribal Labour voters may lap up his preening sanctimony. Millions of others prefer leaders with vision and drive.

You’re auditioning for PM, Mr Starmer. Not Archbishop of Canterbury.

That day, digging around, Guido raised the matter of an early pandemic violation in Durham: that of Boris’s then-adviser Dominic Cummings at Barnard Castle in the Spring of 2020.

Durham Constabulary said at the time that there was nothing to investigate. They also stated that they did not issue retrospective fines.

As punishment, Boris made Cummings hold a lengthy televised press conference to explain himself. It lasted well over an hour and was most peculiar. At the end, after having asked many questions, one by one, reporters and broadcasters walked up individually to Cummings’s table to tell him what they thought of him.

Cummings’s press conference was his public penance.

Then again, parts of it were theatre for the public, most of whom didn’t know he is friends with many of those journalists, as is his wife. He addressed only one by his full name: Gary Gibbon from Channel 4 News.

Two years on with Starmer — and other Labour MPs in the frame — the Party’s ire was rising in Durham.

Mary Foy MP, who hosted the Durham gathering in 2021, had written a lengthy letter to Boris on May 28, 2020 about Cummings, who is pictured below in the background. The letter beneath it is recent. It is from the leader of Durham’s Labour Party to Red Wall Conservative MP Richard Holden, who had written to Durham Constabulary a few weeks ago to enquire as to whether they would investigate the 2021 Starmer event:

Mary Foy’s letter would have been better addressed to Durham Constabulary. It was up to them, not Boris, to take action against Cummings.

However, Foy took issue with Boris’s refusal to sack Cummings. In the event, he resigned a few months later for other reasons and was gone by the end of 2020.

Guido wrote about Foy’s letter, which can be viewed in its entirety on his post:

Now that Sir Keir is feeling the heat from his boozy lockdown curry night, Labour MPs are bending over backwards to explain why their leader’s Covid rule-breaking is somehow completely different to Boris’s, and why it’s right that Starmer remains in post provided he isn’t fined. One particular MP who might have some trouble with this is none other than the Honourable Member for Durham, Mary Foy…

Foy is probably best known for hosting the Beergate bhuna session in her constituency office, laughing and drinking merrily with her colleagues while the country was still in stage two of lockdown. She then went on to scream at Richard Holden for his asking Durham Police to reinvestigate the event. It turns out, however, that when Durham Police announced they wouldn’t fine Dominic Cummings over the infamous Barnard Castle trip, Foy had a few ideas about what should happen next. None of which involved Cummings keeping his job…

Here’s what Foy wrote in a public letter to Boris after the Cummings story:

The vast majority of constituents who have contacted me have expressed the view that Mr Cummings’ actions have been insensitive and unacceptable at best, and many feel that they warrant further investigation by the police.

While I understand today’s decision by Durham Police to take no further action, many of the constituents who have written to me would like Mr Cummings to resign or be sacked. Clearly, whether you stick by him or not is a matter for you, but the perception from my constituents, and I would hazard a guess that this is a common view across the North East, is that you are currently putting the interests of your chief adviser above that of the people of the region and the country as a whole.

Even though Cummings received no fixed penalty, and the police decided they’d take no further action, Foy still took the time to write a two-page letter informing the Prime Minister how upset her constituents are, and politely suggested Cummings lose his job. Presumably her office is inundated with similar letters now, all demanding Sir Keir does the honourable thing…

Labourites criticised Times Radio’s Lucy Fisher for mentioning Cummings and Starmer in the same tweet:

However, it would be wrong to think that Durham Constabulary never issued any fines — fixed penalty notices — for coronavirus violations.

On Thursday, May 12, The Times informed us of a fine Durham Constabulary issued to a bereaved woman in November 2020:

Some of Starmer’s supporters have assumed that detectives would not issue a fixed-penalty notice because they decided not to take retrospective action against Dominic Cummings, the prime minister’s former adviser.

However, the force’s approach appeared to harden later in the pandemic and it issued a £10,000 fine to a woman who organised a balloon release in memory of her father-in-law, who died of Covid.

Vicky Hutchinson held the gathering on November 11, 2020, in a field opposite a church in Horden, Co Durham, where Ian Stephenson’s funeral was due to take place a few days later. Her £10,000 fine was reduced to £500, based on her ability to pay, when she attended Peterlee magistrates’ court on April 23 last year, a week before the Starmer incident.

A court report by The Northern Echo revealed that Hutchinson, in her mid-thirties, had urged friends and family to wear masks and stay socially distanced at the balloon release. It said that police did not attend the gathering of about 30 people and there was no disorder.

However, it appears that there was a retrospective investigation after a complaint. Durham police analysed a livestream video of the event before issuing the fine, the report said.

The approach to Hutchinson’s case raises fresh questions about how the Durham force might handle the case of Starmer, who has denied wrongdoing …

Durham police did not respond to requests for comment.

Also on Thursday, Guido returned to Dominic Cummings, specifically what Keir Starmer said about the incident in 2020:

Guido has the quote:

Here’s what he said of Cummings back in 2020 – before the police had even launched their investigation:

This was a huge test of the Prime Minister, and he’s just failed that test. He hasn’t sacked Dominic Cummings, he hasn’t called for an investigation, and he’s treating the British public with contempt… that’s not a reasonable interpretation of the rules, and the Prime Minister knows it. One rule for the Prime Minister’s advisers, another rule for everyone else… If I were Prime Minister, I’d have sacked Cummings.

One rule for the Prime Minister’s advisers, another for Sir Keir…

And finally, London’s Metropolitan Police confirmed that they have now issued more than 100 fines for Downing Street events. Neither Boris nor his wife Carrie received one in this tranche:

Guido wrote:

A month on from their last update on Partygate, paused thanks to the local elections, the Met’s confirmed “more than 100″ fixed penalty notices have now been handed out. Downing Street say Boris has not received another fine…

Later that afternoon, GB News’s Colin Brazier and his guests discussed the Met’s issuing of fines to people who were at Downing Street gatherings.

It’s a bit rich for Brazier’s contributors to say that the Met want to channel their resources elsewhere. There are few police forces these days, including the Met, who want to investigate actual crime. This massive dispensing of fines also looks rather selective:

There is also the issue of double standards which irritate many members of the public:

Personally, I think the way the pandemic was handled was dystopian. I don’t know what to think about these fines. Part of me wants to see all of them refunded and any related criminal record for violations erased.

On the other hand, it seems only right that, if Labour have done wrong, they, too, should be fined.

So far, only the Conservatives have been. The Met have made them look positively criminal. Well, that’s par for the course in Labour-controlled London.

I’ll update this in due course.

End of series

In 2020, millions of Britons stood outside their houses at 8 p.m. on Thursday nights, prompted by television adverts, to applaud the NHS.

Here’s then-Health Secretary Matt Hancock on the first Thursday of the embarrassing two-minute applause sessions on March 26, 2020:

Two years later, on April 27, 2022, The Spectator‘s Tim Knox reported that public opinion of the nation’s best loved institution has fallen to a 25-year low (emphases mine):

While MPs compete to shout the loudest in their support of the UK’s health services (‘save our NHS!’), the British public has fallen out of love with it. More people are now dissatisfied with the NHS than are happy with it. This is true across all ages, income groups, sexes and voters of different political parties. Support for the NHS is now at the lowest level for a quarter of a century.

The public is right, the NHS is just not that good. Compare it, as I have done in a new report published today, with the health systems of 19 similarly well-off countries and it is hard to come to any other conclusion. UK life expectancy is down at 17 out of these 19 comparable nations. Our cancer survival rates are shockingly low. We are the worst for strokes and heart attacks. We are one from bottom for preventing treatable diseases. We are third from bottom for infant mortality. The only thing we top the charts on is helping diabetics avoid amputation. Sadly, despite the great efforts of NHS staff, our health system does not match the success rates of other nations: we come bottom of the league tables four times – more than any other country – and are in the bottom three for eight out of the 16 measures.

Tim Knox advocates for an insurance model. No, thanks. It is apparent that Knox has never lived under an insurance model. I have. Premiums and inefficiencies would only rise in the years to come.

Here’s a better idea for the NHS: root and branch reform.

The problem is that most NHS workers are unionised, so they can go on strike. Another is that they are trained to be part of an inefficient health delivery system, which would have been much better had it stuck to the basics as it did when it was founded, e.g. emergency care, broken limbs, heart problems and cancer treatment.

This tweet comes from a former NHS nurse who has since become a barrister. Her tweet from April 11, 2020, which disapproved of the applause during the pandemic, attracted many insightful replies:

The same day that Tim Knox’s article appeared — April 27, 2022 — The Spectator‘s Isabel Hardman wrote about the High Court ruling on what happened in care homes during the coronavirus pandemic.

Before going into that, Hardman raises a good point about the NHS and why the new levy on National Insurance will not help care homes. No, it won’t initially. My understanding from parliamentary debates is that the first two years’ of proceeds from the levy will be going to the NHS instead:

The phrase ‘protect the NHS’ was a powerful one in the public health messaging in the pandemic. It was also a description of where the focus lay in government. The health service was the priority, not the care homes these patients went into. There are lots of reasons for this, but one is clearly a political calculation that the NHS matters to the public in a way care of the elderly does not. That is why successive governments have been able to shirk proper social care reform. That includes this government, by the way, as its levy does nothing to improve the quantity or quality of care …

It is debatable that the NHS itself was really protected throughout the pandemic.

So, our lockdowns were all for nought.

Last month’s High Court ruling implicated former Health Secretary Matt Hancock and the erstwhile Public Health England, so it is rather useless in order for any action to be taken against either. Why did it take two years for this ruling to be made?

That said, it could come in handy for any public inquiry into how the UK Government managed the pandemic.

Hancock denies that he said that the Government was putting ‘a protective ring’ around care homes, but I watched or listened to every one of the coronavirus briefings as well as his statements in Parliament. He did use those very words, time and time again.

This is what Hardman had to say about the High Court case regarding care homes during the pandemic in 2020:

The High Court’s ruling today that the government broke the law on the discharge of patients to care homes in the early days of the pandemic further undermines the claim by the then Health Secretary Matt Hancock that ministers had thrown a ‘protective ring’ around the sector.

The case was brought by two relatives, Cathy Gardner and Fay Harris, of care home residents who died after testing positive for Covid. Their argument was that six policies in place at the start of the pandemic represented ‘one of the most egregious and devastating policy failures in the modern era‘. The fathers of Gardner and Harris were among the 20,000 people in care homes who died after testing positive between March and June 2020. The pair argued that one of the worst failures was the mass discharge of 25,000 patients from hospital to care homes without Covid testing or proper isolation arrangements in place, meaning the virus rampaged among vulnerable and frail populations. They also cited poor – and initially non-existent – advice on PPE which made it even harder to protect the residents of the homes.

The discharge policy is something politicians and NHS figures have been squabbling over for some time, despite Hancock’s ‘protective ring’ line. Was it conceived in Whitehall or in the NHS itself? The rationale behind it was that it would free up beds in hospitals ahead of the anticipated wave of Covid patients. But because some of those being discharged from hospital had Covid themselves, this led to a wave within care homes: a deadly one.

The UK was far from the only country that experienced problems in hospitals and care homes during the first wave of the pandemic in 2020. Even Swedish officials were sorry for what happened in their care homes at that time.

Something must be done, not only about the NHS but also care homes, the Cinderella of health care.

However, who in Government will take on the nation’s favourite institution? No one.

There was little of an Easter recess for some British parliamentarians, especially Boris Johnson.

That said, the relatively short break proved once again that a week is a long time in politics.

The Archbishop

The Archbishop of Canterbury’s Easter sermon continued to rattle cages last week. Boris was the last to chime in on Tuesday, April 19, when he spoke to Conservative MPs after making another apology in Parliament for being fined in relation to a Downing Street lockdown gathering.

The Times reported that Boris defended the new policy of flying illegal immigrants to Rwanda for processing (emphases mine):

Boris Johnson took aim at the Archbishop of Canterbury last night as he criticised senior members of the clergy for having “misconstrued” the policy of sending some asylum seekers to Rwanda.

Sources close to the prime minister said he told Conservative MPs in a private meeting that it was a “good policy” despite some “criticism on the BBC and from senior members of the clergy”.

Johnson said that some clergymen “had been less vociferous in their condemnation on Easter Sunday of Putin than they were on our policy on illegal immigrants”.

Justin Welby, the Archbishop of Canterbury, used his Easter Day sermon to condemn the policy, in which some migrants will be flown to Rwanda on a one-way ticket. He said it raised “serious ethical questions”, contradicted Christian values and would not “stand the judgment of God”.

On Wednesday, The Times reported that the Church of England fired back:

John Bingham, the Church of England’s head of news, said: “If true, a disgraceful slur.” He highlighted Welby’s recent criticism of the invasion as a “great act of evil”. Some of the country’s most senior clerics today joined Welby in condemning the Rwanda policy.

Why is it a ‘slur’ and a ‘disgraceful’ one at that? Boris’s words were polite enough.

The Times article also said that Boris was critical of the BBC. Hmm, I wonder:

At the private meeting of Tory MPs Johnson was also critical of the BBC’s coverage of the asylum plans, claiming it had misunderstood the proposal to send migrants on a one-way flight to the African country as early as next month.

The Telegraph put the story of alleged criticisms of the BBC on their front page, which Keir Starmer picked up on at Prime Minister’s Questions on Wednesday. Apparently, there was a misunderstanding between reporters and Downing Street:

The Spectator‘s Melanie McDonagh, a practising Catholic, explained why some sort of policy was necessary, particularly to stem the daily multiple Channel crossings to England from France:

Certainly, as the reading that preceded the Gospel in the service today [Easter] makes clear, ‘God has no favourites’. By this was meant Jews and Gentiles, but by all means, make the point that asylum seekers are of equal worth to Spectator readers. But it doesn’t follow that this prescribes any particular asylum policy. When the Archbishop says that the deportation to Rwanda policy ‘cannot carry the weight of our national responsibility as a country formed by Christian values’, he’s being a little disingenuous. When Britain was far more overtly Christian than it is now – say, a couple of generations ago – it actually had a far more restrictive approach to immigration and asylum. The concept that anyone who wanted to come, should be able to come, is pretty well a product of the Blair government’s opening the floodgates from 1997, 25 years ago. Before that, yearly immigration levels were in the tens of thousands; asylum claims were far lower than now but were probably dealt with more individually than at present.

As I say, declaring that ‘the details are for politicians’ leaves an important question hanging: should anyone who wants to come to Britain, and can get to Britain, be allowed to stay? Who should be returned? Of the 600 a day who arrive here by boat alone (leaving out of account every other means of entry), only two per cent have passports; should they by virtue of abandoning their identity documents automatically be granted leave to remain? When is it right to return people either back to where they came from, or indeed to Rwanda? (He doesn’t suggest they will be persecuted there.) And what about the EU countries on the frontline of the asylum influx (on a scale that far surpasses Britain); are they ever justified in turning back boats? How many people must European countries admit? And if the Archbishop thinks there can be no sending back asylum seekers or economic migrants, he must say so. But he must also acknowledge the consequences for the host countries.

I am not so stupid as to suggest that clergy should stay out of politics; the Archbishop was speaking in Canterbury cathedral where Thomas Becket was killed for taking issue with the king. But the Archbishop – like Pope Francis in other contexts – is being disingenuous in criticising a government policy as unChristian without any attempt to acknowledge the scale and nature of the problem it is designed to address.

And there is no denying that the C of E is political. GB News’s conservative commentator and former teacher Calvin Robinson is an Anglican ordinand in the Diocese of London, which claims it cannot give him an assignment, even though he has had offers:

Here’s an interesting exchange on that tweet:

On Easter Monday evening, the Archbishop of Canterbury’s name came up on Dan Wootton’s GB News show, and one of the panellists, Emma Webb, nominated Calvin Robinson for Greatest Briton. Patrick Christys, filling in for Dan, chose Nathan Dunne, who is raising money for charity by walking across the country barefoot:

The Prime Minister

On April 12, Tuesday in Holy Week, Boris Johnson received a fine from the Metropolitan Police for an event during lockdown nearly two years ago. So did the Chancellor, Rishi Sunak.

Both men paid their fixed penalty notice — ‘It’s not a fine!’ — promptly.

Naturally, Boris had to apologise before the House of Commons again, as he did earlier in January this year.

There was a feeling of déjà vu about it all:

let me begin in all humility by saying that on 12 April, I received a fixed penalty notice relating to an event in Downing Street on 19 June 2020. I paid the fine immediately and I offered the British people a full apology, and I take this opportunity, on the first available sitting day, to repeat my wholehearted apology to the House. As soon as I received the notice, I acknowledged the hurt and the anger, and I said that people had a right to expect better of their Prime Minister, and I repeat that again in the House now.

Let me also say—not by way of mitigation or excuse, but purely because it explains my previous words in this House—that it did not occur to me, then or subsequently, that a gathering in the Cabinet Room just before a vital meeting on covid strategy could amount to a breach of the rules. I repeat: that was my mistake and I apologise for it unreservedly. I respect the outcome of the police’s investigation, which is still under way. I can only say that I will respect their decision making and always take the appropriate steps. As the House will know, I have already taken significant steps to change the way things work in No. 10.

The only difference was the mention of the Ukraine conflict:

I travelled to Kyiv myself on 9 Aprilthe first G7 leader to visit since the invasionand I spent four hours with President Volodymyr Zelensky, the indomitable leader of a nation fighting for survival, who gives the roar of a lion-hearted people. I assured him of the implacable resolve of the United Kingdom, shared across this House, to join with our allies and give his brave people the weapons that they need to defend themselves. When the President and I went for an impromptu walk through central Kyiv, we happened upon a man who immediately expressed his love for Britain and the British people. He was generous enough to say—quite unprompted, I should reassure the House—“I will tell my children and grandchildren they must always remember that Britain helped us.”

But the urgency is even greater now because Putin has regrouped his forces and launched a new offensive in the Donbas. We knew that this danger would come. When I welcomed President Duda of Poland to Downing Street on 7 April and Chancellor Scholz the following day, we discussed exactly how we could provide the arms that Ukraine would desperately need to counter Putin’s next onslaught. On 12 April, I spoke to President Biden to brief him on my visit to Kyiv and how we will intensify our support for President Zelensky. I proposed that our long-term goal must be to strengthen and fortify Ukraine to the point where Russia will never dare to invade again …

This Government are joining with our allies to face down Putin’s aggression abroad while addressing the toughest problems at home, helping millions of families with the cost of living, making our streets safer and funding the NHS to clear the covid backlog. My job is to work every day to make the British people safer, more secure and more prosperous, and that is what I will continue to do. I commend this statement to the House.

The Commons was lit, especially the Opposition benches, more about which below.

Going back to June 19, 2020, grateful conservatives were happy that Boris was even alive to celebrate his birthday, which The Times reported on the following day. No one said anything negative at the time.

Boris had survived coronavirus but was far from well. It took the rest of the summer for him to recover. Even in September, he still looked and sounded somewhat peaky.

Furthermore, some pundits and MPs have said that Downing Street is a Crown estate, thereby exempt from the rules.

We will have to see what transpires from the Metropolitan Police and civil servant Sue Gray’s respective reports.

The Opposition

After Boris apologised on Tuesday of Easter Week, a number of MPs on both sides of the aisle were talking animatedly.

Keir Starmer responded for the opposition benches, which agitated his side even more:

What a joke!

Even now, as the latest mealy-mouthed apology stumbles out of one side of the Prime Minister’s mouth, a new set of deflections and distortions pours from the other. But the damage is already done. The public have made up their minds. They do not believe a word that the Prime Minister says. They know what he is.

As ever with this Prime Minister, those close to him find themselves ruined and the institutions that he vows to protect damaged: good Ministers forced to walk away from public service; the Chancellor’s career up in flames; the leader of the Scottish Conservatives rendered pathetic. Let me say to all those unfamiliar with this Prime Minister’s career that this is not some fixable glitch in the system; it is the whole point. It is what he does. It is who he is. He knows he is dishonest and incapable of changing, so he drags everybody else down with him. [Interruption.] The more people debase themselves, parroting—[Interruption.]

The Speaker, Sir Lindsay Hoyle, interrupted:

Order. I cannot hear what is being said because there is so much noise.

There were also cries of disagreement about Starmer’s labelling Boris dishonest:

Withdraw!

The Speaker agreed:

Order. What I will say is that I think the Leader of the Opposition used the word “dishonest”, and I do not consider that appropriate. [Hon. Members: “Breaking the rules!”] We do not want to talk about breaking rules, do we? I do not think this is a good time to discuss that.

I am sure that if the Leader of the Opposition withdraws that word and works around it, he will be able—given the knowledge he has gained over many, many years—to use appropriate words that are in keeping with the good, temperate language of this House.

Starmer accepted the Speaker’s direction and said:

I respect that ruling from the Chair, Mr Speaker. The Prime Minister knows what he is.

Starmer then launched an attack on the Conservative MP for Lichfield, Michael Fabricant, without naming him. If you wish to mention an MP by name, you must ask their permission beforehand:

Last week, we were treated to a grotesque spectacle: one of the Prime Minister’s loyal supporters accusing teachers and nurses of drinking in the staff room during lockdown. Conservative Members can associate themselves with that if they want, but those of us who take pride in our NHS workers, our teachers, and every other key worker who got us through those dark days will never forget their contempt.

Casting our minds back to January — and Boris’s first apology — Michael Fabricant suggested resurrecting an idea of Tony Blair’s: an Office of Prime Minister, which would allow Boris to control No. 10 the way the US president does the White House. The context of Fabricant’s intervention was in response to Boris saying that he was going to improve the way Downing Street is run:

On Tuesday in Holy Week, Fabricant suggested that Downing Street get a bar so that staffers would not need to wheel luggage to the local shops in order to bring alcohol back to No. 10:

Guido Fawkes had the story and accompanying audio:

Expertly reading the room, Michael Fabricant used an interview on 5 Live in the wake of Boris, Rishi and Carrie receiving pre-notices to defend staffers wheeling in suitcases of booze to Downing Street during lockdown:

There is no bar in Downing Street… That’s the only way you can actually get any alcohol into Downing Street.

He then went on to argue the suitcase claims makes the argument for a bar being installed in No. 10, like there is in the Houses of Parliament.

It seems reasonable enough, provided the room is under lock and key until after hours.

The next day, however, Fabricant went further, which is what Starmer was talking about:

Guido’s tweet brightened my day. It goes so far in explaining why the UK and Ireland used to be so much fun, once upon a time. Unfortunately, that fun ended by the mid-1990s as we imported an increasingly American mindset.

A terrific exchange followed his tweet, with others recalling similar memories of secondary school:

But I digress.

I don’t remember how many times Boris apologised after MPs’ comments.

Earlier that day, the Speaker announced that Starmer had approached him about Boris’s fixed penalty notice, the lockdown ‘parties’ at Downing Street and the issue of parliamentary privilege:

Before we come to today’s business, I wish to make a short statement. I have received letters from a number of hon. and right hon. Members, including the right hon. and learned Member for Holborn and St Pancras (Keir Starmer), the Leader of the Opposition, requesting that I give precedence to a matter as an issue of privilege. The matter is the Prime Minister’s statements to the House regarding gatherings held at Downing Street and Whitehall during lockdown. The procedure for dealing with such a request is set out in “Erskine May” at paragraph 15.32.

I want to be clear about my role. First, as Members will appreciate, it is not for me to police the ministerial code. I have no jurisdiction over the ministerial code, even though a lot of people seem to think that I have. That is not the case. Secondly, it is not for me to determine whether or not the Prime Minister has committed a contempt. My role is to decide whether there is an arguable case to be examined.

Having considered the issue, and having taken advice from the Clerks of the House, I have decided that this is a matter that I should allow the precedence accorded to issues of privilege. Therefore, the right hon. and learned Member for Holborn and St Pancras may table a motion for debate on Thursday. Scheduling the debate for Thursday will, I hope, give Members an opportunity to consider the motion and their response to it. The motion will appear on Thursday’s Order Paper, to be taken after any urgent questions or statements—hopefully, there will not be any. I hope that this is helpful to the House.

Incredibly, the Speaker — a Labour MP — granted five and a half hours of debating time. Some weeks back, the Opposition benches were allowed a generous two or three hours of debating Boris’s suitability for office in light of these ‘parties’.

How much debating time does one need?

It started at 11:30 a.m. and ended at 4:30 p.m., so, five hours in length. Here‘s the transcript. I saw about a third of it. Again, much like Boris’s second apology, this was much like listening to the other debate from earlier this year.

What more can they reasonably say? Not a lot.

Most people I know would like for the media and the opposition to leave Boris alone. As I said above, he wasn’t well at that point in 2020, was taking advice from other people upon whom he relied heavily — rightly or wrongly — and would have trusted the person(s) who said that having a short birthday get together was permissible.

It lasted around ten minutes, apparently, and the cake was left unopened in its Tupperware container.

Returning to last Thursday’s debate on privilege and Boris. A division — vote — was expected, but, in the event, none took place.

The end result was that the matter will now be referred to the Committee of Privileges pending the release of the Metropolitan Police report. Chris Bryant (Lab) chairs the committee, which is cross-party:

Resolved,

That this House

(1) notes that, given the issue of fixed penalty notices by the police in relation to events in 10 Downing Street and the Cabinet Office, assertions the Rt hon Member for Uxbridge and South Ruislip has made on the floor of the House about the legality of activities in 10 Downing Street and the Cabinet Office under Covid regulations, including but not limited to the following answers given at Prime Minister’s Questions: 1 December 2021, that “all guidance was followed in No. 10”, Official Report vol. 704, col. 909; 8 December 2021 that “I have been repeatedly assured since these allegations emerged that there was no party and that no Covid rules were broken”, Official Report vol. 705, col. 372; 8 December 2021 that “I am sickened myself and furious about that, but I repeat what I have said to him: I have been repeatedly assured that the rules were not broken”, Official Report vol. 705, col. 372 and 8 December 2021 “the guidance was followed and the rules were followed at all times”, Official Report vol. 705, col. 379, appear to amount to misleading the House; and

(2) orders that this matter be referred to the Committee of Privileges to consider whether the Rt hon Member’s conduct amounted to a contempt of the House, but that the Committee shall not begin substantive consideration of the matter until the inquiries currently being conducted by the Metropolitan Police have been concluded.

It should be noted that no other British political leader or minister serving during the pandemic has been fined or censured for breaking lockdown or violating other coronavirus restrictions: Nicola Sturgeon (Scotland, twice); Vaughan Gething (Wales, once), Michelle O’Neill (Northern Ireland, once) or Mark Drakeford (Wales, once).

Only Boris, our Prime Minister, is in trouble.

And that trouble could become very deep, indeed.

A week really is a long time in politics.

More to follow tomorrow.

The first part of this series was yesterday’s post: … from the sublime John Donne.

Today’s entry looks at the current Archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby, who has been in that post since 2013. He is the 105th Archbishop of Canterbury.

There could not be a greater contrast with John Donne, who was followed all over London by people who wanted to hear him preach.

It is unlikely that people would follow Welby around the capital.

In 2015, he told Michael Gove MP, who interviewed him for The Spectator‘s Christmas issue that year (emphases mine):

I suppose I struggle with a sense that I’m the wrong person for the job. An imposter syndrome, that’s the phrase I’m looking for.

He was not concerned about the severe decline in Church of England (CofE) worship over the past few decades:

Church attendance in this country has fallen hugely both in absolute terms and as a proportion of the population. The number of Christians around the world has risen hugely since the nineteenth century and continues to rise at an extraordinary rate: it is over two billion now. So we’re seeing a change in the pattern of where the church is: the Anglican Communion is essentially global, as much for a sub-Saharan woman and not just someone in a church in England.

You can find a vast range of churches in the Church of England with examples of growth and examples of decline. Sometimes it is simply circumstances: populations move. Sometimes it’s that people feel the church is not welcoming, there is not an ethos which makes them look outwards to those around them. Where they grow it will usually be because they relate extraordinarily well to their communities and that the circumstances are there, there is a clear spirituality, there is a clear sense of what they are about.

Although Welby is pleased with the proliferation of the social gospel at the expense of evangelism, this is where he and others before him have been going wrong:

This is one of the most interesting changes from the 50s and 60s and 70s, where social gospel was for one part of the church and evangelism for another. The two are absolutely inextricable now.

Yes, and most Sunday sermons from CofE priests sound as if they came from The Guardian‘s op-ed pages. Therefore, why not simply stay in bed and read a newspaper? Oh, wait, they already do.

In 2022, he told the BBC’s Michael Buerk in an interview for the Radio Times (‘There’s an end to darkness’, 19-25 February 2022, pp 19-23):

‘None of us want to see the thing go down on our watch’, he says. He talks of ‘bad moments’ when he has a sense of ‘oh, my goodness, am I going to be the one who they’ll say finished the Church of England off?’ He pauses. ‘Then I realise it’s God’s problem, not mine.’

Wow. Welby, along with other clerics, will be held accountable on that fateful day of the Last Judgement. They are supposed to evangelise, as Jesus Himself instructed the Apostles in the Great Commission (Matthew 28:16-20):

The Great Commission

16 Then the eleven disciples went to Galilee, to the mountain where Jesus had told them to go. 17 When they saw him, they worshiped him; but some doubted. 18 Then Jesus came to them and said, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. 19 Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 20 and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.”

Perhaps Welby thinks that applied only to the eleven remaining Apostles at that time. If so, how sad.

In December 2019, he gave an interview to the Big Issue before the general election that year, when Boris’s ‘Get Brexit done’ slogan won an 80-seat majority for the Conservatives.

Days after the election, the BBC carried highlights from that interview. Welby said:

“I’m not saying we are in a crisis”, he said. “I’m just saying the direction of travel is not what we want.”

He batted away a question about Prince Andrew:

Archbishop Welby was also asked about the controversy involving the Duke of York’s ties to Jeffrey Epstein.

He refused to comment on any particular member of the Royal Family, but said it was wrong to expect them to be “superhuman saints”.

He intimated that those who voted Conservative were consumed by fear:

The interview – which was conducted before last Thursday’s general election – concluded with the Archbishop quoting from the First Letter of John in the New Testament, which says that “perfect love casts out fear”.

He said that people should reject fear and, instead, accept that love of God which – he said – “changes the world dramatically”.

Brexit was largely a huge no-no for CofE clergy, from the top to the bottom. Pewsitters, on the other hand, wanted to leave the EU, as The Economist reported in April 2019:

Justin Welby’s dilemma over Brexit is all the more difficult because he was a declared Remain voter in the June 2016 referendum, while 66% of self-identified Anglicans opted for Brexit.

Yet, there were still some clergy who wanted to part from Brussels, including a former Dean of St Paul’s Cathedral, the Revd Giles Fraser:

Giles Fraser, an Anglican cleric who is a prominent figure on the religious and intellectual left, is a convinced supporter of leaving what he sees as the capitalist European club. “The emotional core of Brexit, and the reason I remain a passionate Brexiter, despite all its problems, is that it seeks to collapse the distance between power and ordinary people,” he wrote recently.

True!

This was Welby’s prayer as the UK exited the EU for good at the end of January 2020. I agree with the reply:

Yes, that’s the eternal essential, not Brexit. However, the prayer shows where Welby’s priorities lie. They do not appear to be with evangelism.

We had just left the EU when coronavirus hit.

This could have been a huge moment for the CofE. Had John Donne been Archbishop of Canterbury, no doubt he would have recognised this.

But Justin Welby thought otherwise and went along with the decision to close Anglican churches, a closure that even forbade priests from entering their own churches for a moment of private prayer or even cleaning for several weeks. Many vicars were distraught.

Welby issued the closure tweet one week before lockdown:

Welby told the Radio Times this year (p. 23):

If I had the time again, I would be more cautious about closing the churches. At the time, we were being told the virus can stay on surfaces for ages and that it could kill 30 per cent of the people who caught it.

It wasn’t just me. It’s not a dictatorship. I am not the Pope. But I had an influence and I’m not sure I got that right.

No, he definitely did not get that right. People were bereft. They would have loved to actually enter a church and worship in person, even if socially distanced and even without Communion. Morning Prayer services would have sufficed for the first few months. Masks were not mandated until the first lockdown was lifted.

Sure, there were Zoom services later in the Spring …

… when participants were erroneously told to consecrate their own piece of bread and sip of wine for Holy Communion. That is not a tenet of the CofE.

Welby could have called for a National Day of Prayer, but he didn’t:

What happened in June 2020 was startling. It was as if the pandemic never happened. Here he was, responding to an American issue. Once more, I agree with the reply:

If Welby wants to feel guilty for physical characteristics that God gave him, then, by so doing, he disgraces God, who chose him to be created as he is.

On June 8, he wanted to create a collective sin, when what he accuses the majority of Britons of has been rare in recent decades. His job is to preach the Gospel, not identity politics:

At the end of June 2020, Welby pledged that the CofE would review its monuments in place at Canterbury Cathedral and Westminster Abbey. Readers will not be surprised to find that I agree with the replies:

The following day, Welby tweeted again. A layman has a better perspective than he does:

On June 28, The Telegraph‘s Nick Timothy wrote an excellent editorial on Welby’s pronouncements, far more numerous than any he ever made on the pandemic, which was still very much a concern in Britain. Churches continued to be closed.

Nick Timothy shows he understands Christian theology better than Welby:

Nobody personifies the madness of our times, and the moral cowardice of our leaders, like the Archbishop of Canterbury.

On Friday, under pressure from precisely nobody, Justin Welby climbed atop his chosen pulpit – an interview on BBC Radio 4 – and announced a review of statues and commemorative names in Anglican churches and buildings. “Some will have to come down,” he said, and “some names will have to change.”

Welby seems to believe Britain, and all white people, carry collective sin specific to them. He recently invited us to pray for “white Christians [to] repent of our own prejudices”. On Friday, he said: “For this country and for this country in the world, there’s got to be a generosity … there’s got to be that new life which is always on offer.” Britain, and specifically Britain, he believes, must repent its unique sins to be born again.

When a Black Lives Matter activist called for statues of Jesus to be pulled down because they portrayed Him as a white European, Welby had the chance to draw the line. Jesus is depicted in different ways the world over, the Archbishop explained. He might have gone on to say that the significance of Jesus is spiritual, not political or racial, that Jesus was God made flesh, and that we are all made in God’s own image. Instead, he agreed that the depiction of Christ in Western countries should change and criticised the “sense that God is white”. Jesus was “Middle Eastern, not white,” he later reiterated, studiously avoiding the more accurate description that Jesus was a Jew. But then Middle Eastern Jews, or Israelis as we also call them, are these days an unfashionable minority to defend.

In this strange fusion between a belief in collective national or racial guilt and Christian forgiveness, Welby articulated a new – and utterly incoherent – account of forgiveness and mercy. “There can be forgiveness [of those from the past we commemorate],” he said, “but only if there’s justice: if we change the way we behave now.”

There is, of course, an unanswerable Christian case for treating all our fellow beings with respect and love. There is still racism in our society, and great disparities in the experiences of people from different ethnic backgrounds, just as there is for people from different class backgrounds. There is a Christian case for seeking to address all such disadvantages. But there is no such case for the conditional forgiveness he proposes.

The Bible tells us “a son will not bear the iniquity of the father, and a father will not bear the iniquity of the son.” We are responsible before God for the trespasses we commit, but not for the trespasses of others. And just as God will forgive us, so we should forgive others. “Pardon, and you will be pardoned,” Saint Luke tells us. There is no biblical justification for making the forgiveness of one generation conditional on the actions of another, just as there is no biblical justification for a presupposition of collective national or racial guilt.

Whether you are a Christian or not, this departure from scripture is profoundly worrying. Christianity’s promise of redemption, and the idea that we are each accountable for our own sins, has shaped our civilisation. We are members of families and communities large and small, but we are more than just featureless components of some greater group identity. This is one reason why we have equal political and civil rights, and stand equal before the law.

Our Christian heritage – and our associated history of bloody religious conflict – also inspired another important Western principle. The realisation that clashes between different values, beliefs and interests are inevitable gave rise to the essential liberal idea of pluralism. We should accept and tolerate difference, while agreeing laws and processes to mediate clashes, guaranteeing rights for minorities, and protecting the norms, traditions and institutions that foster a common, unifying identity to build trust and reciprocity.

Now this principle is also under attack. The more our society boasts of diversity and inclusion, the more it becomes illiberal and intolerant. Businesses, public services, universities and other important institutions are engaged in an organised hypocrisy, closing down debate, sacking people with the wrong opinions, and participating knowingly in a politically correct doublethink …

Such nonsense and nihilism is possible because through ignorance and cowardice our leaders have allowed the pillars that support our society – built up through time by thinkers and statesmen upon foundations laid in part by Christianity – to crumble. Time will tell if we are worthy of our inheritance, but one thing we do know. A civilisation that ceases to believe in itself is doomed to self-destruction.

The next day, The Telegraph published several letters in which readers expressed their disapproval with Welby. The first three are from Scotland:

SIR – Nick Timothy (Comment, June 29) rightly points to the most recent example of the divisive leadership of the Archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby, in his response to the Black Lives Matter protests.

The Archbishop has often talked of “reconciliation”, but his latest comments seem to continue a trend of the divisiveness of his leadership in a whole range of matters, from Brexit to Covid-19.

It’s a terrible shame: the Church has missed a multitude of opportunities to be an institution that can unite the population.

———–

SIR – About 25 years ago, as a white, middle-aged, middle-class, mildly overweight woman, I had the supreme privilege of training for ordination under the authority of Archbishop Desmond Tutu.

I wish the Archbishop of Canterbury would seek advice from him about the kind of discourse that leads to real truth and reconciliation, and forgiveness and justice. Each life matters.

———–

SIR – Regarding church memorials, if we wiped from history everyone who has done great things but might have done something politically incorrect in the past, the list would have to include Moses (murder), Jacob (deceit), Rahab, an ancestor of Jesus (prostitution), and King David (adultery and murder).

———–

SIR – The Archbishop of Canterbury, instead of worrying about the colour of Jesus’s skin, should perhaps be concerned about how Jesus would react to being charged £12 to enter Canterbury Cathedral, the House of God, and having to exit via the shop.

———–

SIR – In his haste to jump on a bandwagon, the Archbishop of Canterbury contradicts himself. He says the Church is guilty of portraying Jesus as a white European, but he celebrates his portrayal as black, Chinese, Middle Eastern and Fijian.

Is not the portrayal of Jesus as white in Europe the same kind of legitimate cultural contextualisation as his portrayal differently in other societies? Unless we confine ourselves to depicting Jesus as a first-century Middle Eastern Jew (whatever that might have been) we are bound to portray him in the various ways he has been throughout history. And it cannot be otherwise since he is the Saviour of people from all nations.

Later in 2020, the Government and scientific advisers put us on track for a winter lockdown, which started early in the New Year. This time, Welby proposed that churches be allowed to remain open, with coronavirus measures in place:

On February 27, 2022, Welby admitted he was not very good at attracting more worshippers to Anglican churches in Britain.

Now, John MacArthur considers unbelievers to be his ‘mission field’, which is very true. So, one would think that the spiritual head of a denomination with millions of members the world over would think the same.

Not so. The Daily Mail reported on Welby’s interview with an atheist on Radio 4:

The Archbishop of Canterbury has accepted responsibility for failing to attract more worshippers into the Church of England, with numbers hitting record lows in recent years.

In a BBC radio interview being broadcast today, Justin Welby makes his admission to Dr Susan Blackmore, a psychologist and atheist, after she expressed doubts about whether she would ever convert to a faith.

The Most Rev Welby, 66, said: ‘As you can tell from numbers in the Church of England, I don’t persuade many people.’

He almost wears that admission as a badge of honour. It’s ridiculous and heinous in equal measure.

He has an odd sense of his relationship with God:

The Archbishop also said there were times when even he questioned God.

He described one encounter with a warlord, whom he did not identify, as the only time he had come face to face with evil.

A warlord?

Anyway:

Asked how he coped with those situations, he said: ‘I go back to the Psalms, the Psalms of protest and lament, and say to God, “This is all wrong. What do you think you are up to?”‘

He told Michael Buerk more about his spirituality and devotions in the Radio Times interview.

He never mentioned Jesus Christ, not once.

He began speaking in tongues while he was at Eton (p. 23). Note that this is not the type of speaking in tongues that the Book of Acts describes — foreign languages understood not by the speaker but by listeners — just mere ululating:

… in what he describes as both a process and a moment of awareness, he says he opened his heart to a God he ‘didn’t even know existed’.

From that moment, Welby began speaking ‘in tongues’, producing a stream of sounds, often involuntarily, that have no obvious meaning, but which Pentecostalists, in particular, regard as a sign of the Holy Spirit.

The Archbishop continues to do so to this day, which has raised eyebrows in the more conservative ranks of his church. He plays it down. ‘It’s unduly controversial, and not really as interesting as it sounds.

‘I get up very early in the morning and, after making a cup of tea, I go into my study, read the Bible, and speak in tongues. I don’t pray in a language I know. I do it quietly — it’s before six in the morning, remember — with no sense of ecstasy or excitement at all. I’d rather be in bed.

‘It helps me focus’, he says, perhaps defensively. ‘It’s not something that leads me dancing or clapping, or waving a tambourine.’

He gave few details on his journey from Eton to Cambridge to being an oil company executive to the Church, other than to say that his bishop at the time told him:

There’s no place for you in the Church of England.

The bishop was not wrong.

Yet, Welby ‘persisted’ and, somehow, reached the heady heights of Lambeth Palace in London, the Archbishop of Canterbury’s official residence:

I’ve been surprised to be here every single day of the nine years I have been doing the job.

So have millions of us.

Most of the interview has some political bent to it, and he told Michael Buerk that he allows Boris Johnson to jog in the Lambeth Palace garden, which is near Downing Street.

Buerk tried to press him on the matter:

‘It’s such a live party-political issue, it’s not for me to step into it too much,’ he maintains. I say I thought having a moral view on public life was what he was paid for. ‘Not exactly,’ he replies, a little sharply. ‘I am paid to talk about God.’

Really? Interesting response. Where does talking about Jesus fit into his job description?

Strangely, perhaps, he is also on antidepressants. I still do not understand how so many clergy can be depressed.

I can appreciate that Welby is still grieving over the death of his seven-month-old daughter Johanna who was killed in a car crash in 1983, but, surely, over the years, a closer relationship with God would help him to reconcile that in his mind.

Welby told Buerk that consolation (p. 21):

eventually came from friends, which he regards as coming from God anyway, even if indirectly. ‘There’s an end to darkness. There’s light but you might be surprised by how it comes,’ he says.

Indeed, the Archbishop makes no secret of his lifelong battle with depression: ‘Only last week, I really messed up something in a way that really left me down for several days.’

In the past, Welby says he would have denied it was a problem. But dark moods, which he likens to what Churchill called his ‘Black Dog’, made him feel ‘hopeless’.

He’s open about it now, though. ‘I’m on daily antidepressants, which work quite well, but it is a struggle. Certain things trigger it, principally about myself, and sometimes it comes out of the blue. But it’s a lot better than it used to be,’ he says.

The other major disappointment for him was finding out that the man he thought was his father — Gavin Welby — wasn’t (pp 21, 23):

DNA tests have shown that his biological father was actually Churchill’s private secretary, Sir Anthony Montague Browne.

Welby’s mother, Jane Portal, had been Churchill’s personal secretary. She came from a long line of well-connected, prominent people.

I am sorry that Justin Welby is such a tortured soul. I’m even sorrier that he feels the need to project his insecurities on most of the Anglicans in Britain.

I hope that his relationship with God and Jesus Christ, in particular, improves.

May the Lord grant us a better Archbishop of Canterbury someday. We haven’t had a good one in decades.

Continuing my series on Red Wall MPs, this week’s post is about Jacob Young, who represents Redcar in North Yorkshire, formerly Cleveland.

Redcar, by the way, is pronounced ‘Red-kr’.

Of the Redcar constituency, Wikipedia states (emphases mine):

The constituency was created in 1974 and was held by the Labour Party from then until 2019, except during a period between 2010 and 2015 when it was held by the Liberal Democrats. In the 2019 General Election, Redcar was the largest Labour majority overturned by the Conservatives, being represented since by a Conservative MP.

Well done, especially as he was only 26 at the time! He had a majority of 3,527, representing a swing of 15.4% from Labour to the Conservatives.

Incredibly, Jacob Young started running for Parliament at the tender age of 22, as Wikipedia tells us:

Young stood as the Conservative candidate in the Redcar constituency at the 2015 general election, but finished in fourth place behind the Labour Party, Liberal Democrat, and UKIP candidates.[8] He campaigned for Brexit prior to the 2016 United Kingdom European Union membership referendum.[4] At the 2017 general election, Young contested Middlesbrough, a safe seat for the Labour Party, and finished second to their incumbent MP, Andy McDonald.

Young’s story is a case of ‘If you don’t succeed, try, try and try again’.

Although he did not win Middlesbrough in 2017, he made local history by becoming the first Conservative councillor elected for the Coulby Newham ward in the city.

He stood down in 2019, as he had moved out of town to Saltburn-by-the-Sea. That year, he ran for the Saltburn ward on the Redcar and Cleveland Borough Council but came fourth.

Young joined the Conservative Party at university. He became interested in conservative philosophy by working at a food bank in his native Middlesbrough and the charity Christians Against Poverty.

Of the experience, he said:

“Christians Against Poverty was more about teaching people how to budget using the money that they had and how to pay back some of their debt over an extended period of time. That attitude drew me to the Conservatives – the idea that if you work hard and you want to succeed that you can.”[7]

Young holds a Higher National Certificate in chemical engineering and worked as a lead technician for a petrochemicals company.

It is always a pleasure to watch Jacob Young debate, as he expresses an enthusiastic love for his constituency.

After the 2019 election, it took months before all the new MPs could be slotted in to give their maiden speeches. According to the House of Commons rules, one is not allowed to participate in debates until the maiden speech is given.

Maiden speeches must graciously mention one’s predecessor regardless of party affiliation, provide a historical view of one’s constituency and contain the odd witticism or two.

Young delivered his maiden speech on March 9, 2020, most of which follows:

I am immensely proud to be in this place, representing my community. I have lived in Teesside my whole life, and Redcar is where I went to college, trained as an apprentice and cut my teeth in the chemical industry.

For a lad from Teesside to stand in the House of Commons is all a bit overwhelming. Most people down here think PPE is a degree course; where I come from, it is what you wear to work

I stand here by the grace of God. My constituents have put their trust in me and, like my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister, I know that their votes are only lent. During my time here I will work hard to make my community proud to have elected its first Conservative Member of Parliament.

Our constituency is Redcar, but it is not just Redcar. It is Eston, South Bank, Marske, New Marske, Ormesby and Nunthorpe, to name but a few. Over the years the Redcar constituency has had many different names. From 1290 to 1832, it was part of the Yorkshire constituency. After that it was the North Riding of Yorkshire, and before it became Redcar it was Cleveland, but many of my hon. Friends will now know it as “Bluecar”.

As well as being proud Yorkshiremen, we are proud Teessiders and sit as part of the Tees valley in England’s north-east. We are a people with an affinity for industry and an economy based on hard graft and global trade. Although the villages of Marske, Nunthorpe, Lazenby, Lackenby and Kirkleatham go back as far as the Domesday Book, life in the Redcar constituency as we know it today started in 1841 with the discovery of iron ore in the Eston hills. Suddenly, the sleepy fishing village of Redcar and its neighbour Coatham started to grow into the Redcar town that we know today. This discovery kick-started a housing crisis in the old hamlet of Eston, due to too much employment in our now booming industry. This prompted a new neighbouring settlement to be formed, named California. Perhaps it was a sunny day in Teesside.

A number of other new areas were formed at this time, including South Bank, Normanby, Grangetown and Dormanstown, which was named after the steelmaker and former Conservative candidate, Arthur Dorman. It was these thriving towns, alongside a growing Middlesbrough, that led the parliamentary titan and free trade pioneer William Gladstone to call us the “infant Hercules”. From the banks of the Tees came the industrial revolution, and Teesside became an exporting capital that built the world. From the Sydney harbour bridge to Lambeth bridge and from the Indian railways to the London underground, cities, towns and communities around the world exist today because of Teesside steel.

Our area has moved on from ironstone mining, and our steelworks closed in 2015, but industry remains our flesh and blood. Our chemical industry in Teesside still employs more than 7,500 people locally. The Wilton International site forms part of the largest chemical cluster in the UK and the second largest in Europe. At this point, Mr Deputy Speaker, I must declare an interest, having worked and trained in the Teesside chemical industry for the past nine years. I left a job as a single-use plastics producer to become a politician. I am not sure which is more popular right now, but I am sure I will find out.

We do not just make plastics. We are home to world-leading innovation centres, including the Materials Processing Institute and the Centre for Process Innovation. We are the largest producer of bioethanol in the UK, and we also notably produce more than half of the UK’s commercially viable hydrogen, which is why I am pleased to be chairing the all-party parliamentary group on hydrogen as we look to further the hydrogen economy in the UK. For the people of Redcar and Cleveland, industry is our past and our present, and it will be our future. It will not be coal-fired or carbon-heavy; it will be the clean, green industry of the 21st century.

In this decade, I want Redcar to become home to sustainable steelmaking again, and I am supporting Tees Valley Mayor Ben Houchen’s pledge to bring a clean electric arc furnace to Redcar so that the people who made steel for the World Trade Centre and the Shard can make steel for the world’s next great buildings … In this decade—indeed, in this parliamentary term—I want Redcar to become home to one of the UK’s first post-Brexit free ports

I would also like to thank my predecessor, Anna Turley, for the work that she did for our community and for this House. Her work to bring about tougher sentences for animal cruelty is particularly commendable, and I am pleased to be supporting the private Member’s Bill of my hon. Friend the Member for West Dorset (Chris Loder).

There is a lot more that I wanted to mention—parmos; lemon tops; Redcar racecourse; the Zetland, which is the UK’s oldest lifeboat; Winkie’s Castle, which is a cottage turned folk museum; and Ben Houchen saving Teesside airport—but I will have to save it for another time, as I want to use my final few moments to mention Redcar’s famous MP, Mo.

Dr Marjorie Mowlam was one of the political giants of our age. To this day she is well thought of in Redcar by people across the political spectrum—I cannot count the number of times I have been told, “Mo was the best MP we ever had.” She had an ability to see through the fog of partisan politics and recognise good intentions and great achievements on all sides. In fact, in the BBC’s “100 Greatest Britons” competition, it was her advocacy for a Conservative Prime Minister that gave Winston Churchill his rightful place as our greatest ever citizen. Her co-operative spirit is something that British politics is sorely lacking today, and something that I will do my hardest to emulate.

Therefore, to finish in the spirit of co-operation, I offer my new colleagues, of all parties, some slightly paraphrased advice from the great Mo herself. There is more hope than despair, and by working together we can overcome many obstacles, often within ourselves, and by doing so we can make the world a better place.

Jacob Young has made local news on several occasions, too many to include here. A few mentions follow.

In July 2020, he was thrilled to be able to return to the barber for a haircut.

He tweeted, including before and after photos:

More Tory cuts…before and after shots.

Across the country our #barbers and #hairdressers are back and #OpenForBusiness.

With new safety guidance, disposable gowns & towels and extensive new hygiene practices – we can safely go back to getting our mops chopped!

Unfortunately, Middlesbrough’s Labour MP Andy McDonald and a former Redcar and Cleveland Labour councillor did not find it funny, as the BBC reported:

Mr McDonald said: “It was a crass and insensitive comment and far from being funny for thousands of people in Redcar and across the Tees Valley who have suffered as a direct result of the political choice of his Tory party to impose austerity,” he added.

The tweet was also criticised by Labour’s former Redcar and Cleveland Council leader, Sue Jeffrey, who said: “I do wonder just how low these people will sink.  

“Did he really think it is okay to joke about Tory austerity policies that have ruined so many lives and left our NHS and care services so ill equipped to deal with the Covid-19 crisis?”

In April 2021, Young welcomed Home Secretary Priti Patel to Teesside. The announcement on his website said, in part:

The two sat down to discuss the Domestic Abuse Bill, immigration reform, rural crime (including the off-road bikes impacting local Eston Hills), extra funding for violent crime and the upcoming elections.

Since 2019, Cleveland Police have benefitted from 185 new police officers – with more on the way.

Thrilled by the visit, Jacob stated: “It was great to sit down and chat to Priti Patel about the people’s priorities here in Redcar and Cleveland.”

On January 12, 2022, when Boris was in trouble for his lockdown parties, The Northern Echo reported:

Calls of ‘resign’ and ‘go’ reverberated around the House of Commons earlier today leaving the Prime Minister, who repeatedly apologised and referred members to the official inquiry, looking deflated.

Just two North East Conservatives replied to our request, Peter Gibson and Jacob Young, who accepted the PM’s apology.

But the three County Durham Conservatives, Dehenna Davison, for Bishop Auckland, Paul Howell, for Sedgefield, and Richard Holden, for North-West Durham, failed to respond …

Jacob Young, Conservative MP for Redcar, said: “My grandad died without us on 16th April 2020. We held his funeral on the 1st May, where only 10 people attended. It was one of the hardest days of my life, and made worse because I didn’t hug my Mam and Dad.

“I understand the upset and anger felt by many in the country following the latest revelations from Downing Street.

“I’m grateful to the Prime Minister for his apology and his brief explanation. The inquiry should now be allowed to do its work and establish the full facts of what happened.

“We must never let our loved ones die alone again.”

Six weeks later, with the lockdown party scandal still making the news, The Northern Echo‘s poll from the end of January projected that Young would lose a re-election bid:

The latest constituency results show Labour has an 82 per cent chance of winning Redcar, while Mr Young has an 18 per cent chance.

A study has shown Mr Young is expected to win 32.7 per cent of the vote, while Labour is expected to win 47.1 per cent of the vote.

We shall see. A week is a long time in politics. The more that Boris leads the world with regard to the conflict in Ukraine, the better he looks, especially next to Labour’s Keir Starmer.

In the 2021 local elections, three Conservatives were elected to Redcar and Cleveland Council. Tees Valley’s Conservative mayor Andy Houchen won re-election, and the Police Commissioner is also Conservative.

That said, this year’s cost of living is expected to explode, which might affect voting intentions accordingly when the next general election.

The much-vaunted levelling up plan for Teesside did not appear to offer much that was new, according to Teesside Live on February 2, 2022:

It’s been long awaited but the white paper on “Levelling Up” has now been published.

What’s in it for Teesside?

The region made it into the second line of Michael Gove’s foreword as seeing a “rebirth of a high-tech, high-growth, high wage economy”.

However, no new money was unveiled in the long-awaited report.

And mentions of the region were used more as examples of work which was going on – or had already started – rather than for the announcement of any new hallmark schemes based here …

Middlesbrough’s north-south divide was mapped out – showing its large disparity in income.

It was also named among badly performing ex-industrial towns with less than half of 16 to 64-year-olds having Level 3+ (A Level equivalent) qualifications alongside Redcar and Cleveland borough …

Levelling Up Funding for Yarm and Eaglescliffe, Towns Fund allocations for Darlington, Hartlepool, Thornaby, Redcar and Middlesbrough as well as Future High Streets cash for Stockton were also listed.

Some of the comments to the article, however, were much more positive, especially about Ben Houchen, who said:

he was “incredibly proud” of what they’d achieved across Teesside, Darlington and Hartlepool – referring to the new freeport and promises to bring 18,000 “good quality jobs” in the next five years.

One of the comments said:

As long as we have Ben we’re in a good place, done more than lefties in 60 years!

Let’s hope that good will extends to Jacob Young in two years’ time.

It should do, especially as EDF Renewables UK announced plans for a pioneering project, Tees Green Hydrogen, which includes a new solar farm to be built near Redcar.

On March 9, the Northern Echo reported Young’s enthusiasm. He said:

This is a fantastic investment from EDF Renewables which highlights just how new green technology can help create and secure jobs in existing industries, as well as enabling the UK to decarbonise.

Producing green hydrogen, using the power generated by off-shore wind, and then being able to offer that hydrogen to companies like British Steel is exactly the sort of investment we want here in Teesside.

And given the current uncertainties in gas prices, it’s vital that we see more projects like this which demonstrate diversity in our energy sector and embrace the fuels of the future, like hydrogen.

At this point, I cannot see why or how Jacob Young could not win another term in Parliament.

I wish him all the best in his career. He is one of the brightest — and most positive — MPs in the Commons.

My series on Red Wall MPs continues.

Last week’s post was about Mark Jenkinson, who represents Workington.

Today’s is about North West Durham’s MP, Richard Holden.

This is the first time ever that North West Durham has had a Conservative MP. The constituency has a long, albeit interrupted, history.

Between the years of 1885 and 1918, two Liberal MPs represented it. Liberals were very much about representing the people, focusing on mass appeal. Wikipedia says that this brand of politics:

was epitomised by David Lloyd George whose People’s Budget in 1909 led to the supremacy of the House of Commons over the House of Lords in 1911, [and] national pensions under a basic welfare state (but without a National Health Service).

When the constituency was recreated in 1950, voters elected Labour MPs exclusively. Between 1964 and 2010, two members of the Armstrong family served as MPs: Ernest from 1964 to 1987, then his daughter Hilary, beginning in 1987.

Pat Glass represented North West Durham between 2010 and 2017.

Laura Pidcock was the last in the line of the constituency’s Labour MPs, serving a short term between 2017 and 2019. She lost her seat to Richard Holden in 2019. He had a majority of 1,444, which was slim but significant.

On March 9, 2022, Guido Fawkes reported that Laura Pidcock will not be seeking a return to politics:

Guido has the content of her statement and additional commentary. She is on the far left of the Labour Party.

Guido concludes (red emphases in the original):

In 2015 Labour in her constituency had more than double the vote of the Tories, five years later Pidcock gifted Richard Holden a Tory majority. A stunning performance. The parliamentary road to socialism is not for her…

Richard Holden was born in 1985 and grew up in Lancashire. He attended the London School of Economics where he earned a BSc in Government and History in 2007. He worked in hospitality during his time at LSE.

He went to work at Conservative Campaign Headquarters in 2007 as a data entry officer. By the time he left in 2012, he had been in several other posts there, the last being Deputy Head of Press.

His first attempt at becoming an MP began in 2015, when he was the Conservative candidate for Preston, traditionally Labour. He lost to the present incumbent, Sir Mark Hendrick, who has been the city’s MP since 2000.

After his election loss, he worked for Lord Privy Seal as an adviser, then Leader of the House of Lords Baroness Stowell of Beeston and Baroness Evans of Bowes Park.

In 2016, he worked on Theresa May’s successful Conservative leadership campaign.

Afterwards, Holden worked for several MPs.  He was a special adviser to then-Secretary of State for Defence, Sir Michael Fallon. Then he worked in the same capacity for Chris Grayling, who was the Secretary of State for Transport. He worked on Boris Johnson’s leadership campaign in 2019 and, before the election that year, he was a special adviser to Gavin Williamson, Secretary of State for Education at the time. Prior to his selection as Conservative candidate for North West Durham, Holden returned to CCHQ.

As an MP, Holden serves on several committees: the Public Accounts Committee, the European Statutory Instruments Committee, the Executive of the 1922 Committee and the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Gambling-Related Harm.

Holden also writes a fortnightly column for Conservative Home. On December 7, 2021, he expressed his disappointment in the slow recovery response following Storm Arwen, our first of the winter season. It hit the North of England badly. He wrote, in part (emphases mine):

The question being asked is: ‘would this have happened in the Home Counties’? In some ways, that’s a bit of an odd question to ask. Nowhere in the South East of England is as rural or as isolated in parts. Nor is it as hilly, as snowy, wet or cold. To put it in perspective, North West Durham and Bishop Auckland alone are roughly the same size in terms of land area as Greater London.

They’re not the same. And it’s true that people in our communities are more used to inclement weather; they are hardy and used to putting up with difficulties. But that’s too easy a get-out.

It also doesn’t explain how my constituents and those of my neighbours in Bishop Auckland, Hexham, Berwick and across the North East and Cumbria were left without power for not just a day or two, but for days on end. It doesn’t explain why it took five days for the local council to declare a major incident, and another day to request military assistance. The complaint of “This wouldn’t have happened down South” started to not just relate to the weather, but also the response from the authorities.

Storm Arwen hit hard – causing powerlines to be blown over on the coast or damaged by falling trees. In some inland areas – such as around St. John’s Chapel – [causing] freezing rain to form on the powerlines, turning the normal thin cable into something four inches in diameter.

In these circumstances, each 80-metre span of wire between wooden pylons weighed half a ton per inch of ice. The pylons snapped like matchsticks. Over 400 are having to be replaced across the North. An unprecedented number.

Northern Powergrid declared an internal major incident on the Friday night, but didn’t tell Durham County Council they’d done this until Wednesday. Five days after the storm. Would this have happened elsewhere? I doubt it. It’s unforgivable – and we’re lucky that people didn’t die as a result of it.

In Parliament, he has supported increased drugs testing in prisons, the bill for which passed in 2021. He campaigned successfully for the reversal of the increase in vehicle excise duty on motorhomes in 2020. He was also successful in cutting the draught beer duty rate in 2021.

However, his big campaign has been for a ban of virginity testing and hymenoplasty, a subject he became interested in after hearing a radio report on BBC Radio 1. He has been working on this since he entered Parliament and, most recently, tabled two amendments to the Health and Social Care Bill in the current 2021-2022 session. He has overwhelming support not only from MPs across the house but also several charities as well as the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists and the Royal College of Midwives. The Government has pledged to outlaw both practices.

Currently, Holden is working on the prohibition of allowing people without driving licences to purchase motor vehicles. This followed the tragic death of one of his constituents, Andrew Rowlands. Holden debated on this topic in January 2022, with members of the Rowlands family in the public gallery. He vows to continue the campaign until legislation is enacted and passed.

So far, so good.

However, it hasn’t been all plain sailing for Richard Holden.

In July 2020, after the first wave of coronavirus — and Dominic Cummings’s dubious trip to County Durham during lockdown — Holden was not allowed to become a Friend of the Durham Miners Gala. The tweets below discuss the impressions that people in Durham had of Cummings, whose family lives in the county:

Perhaps Durham’s miners saw an early television appearance of Holden’s from January 2020, wherein he pointed out that the Labour PM Harold Wilson closed the local mine in Consett in 1967; it was excluded from the renationalisation programme. Labour MP Thangam Debonnaire said that it was the Conservatives who closed the mine. Not so:

Guido Fawkes said (emphasis in purple mine):

New Conservative MP for North West Durham Ric Holden wiped the floor with Labour’s Thangam Debbonaire on today’s Politics Live. When she claimed Consett steel works were closed by the Tories, Holden explained that it was Harold Wilson’s 1967 renationalisation plan that excluded Consett. For good measure he added more coal pits closed under Wilson’s governments than Thatcher’s. Sounds like Holden understands his area better the metropolitan Labour MPs who occasionally make the trip up for the gala…

In July 2020, Guido posted on the Durham Miners’ snub regarding their gala. Excerpts follow:

A culture war of an entirely different kind is raging in the North East as new-intake Tory MP Richard Holden has been blocked from becoming a registered Friend of the Durham Miners’ Gala after a personal intervention from the head of the organisation blocking his application. In rare socialist behaviour, he at least got his money back…

A few months ago, new-intake Durham MPs made headlines when they were told by Union Secretary Alan Marghum there was “no chance” they would be welcomed and he would “rather die in a ditch” than see them turn up. Difficult to enforce given there are now more Tory voters in County Durham than Labour…

Regardless, Holden applied to become a ‘Marras’ — a Friend — of the parade and sent in his £24 fee.

The Chair of the group wrote to Holden, refusing his application:

It is very much a ‘by the people, for the people’ event and has been since 1871 when the nascent Miners’ Association held the first on in the City of Durham… It is on this point I write to you personally. It was felt that you should have the opportunity to fully acquaint yourself with the founding principles of the organisation … I am returning your £24 donation (cheque enclosed).

Holden posted his disappointment on Facebook, objecting to the Chair’s

high-handed and patronising prose.

He requested that his application be reconsidered:

It appears that you fail to understand that I couldn’t have been elected without the widespread support of both Trade Union members and their families.

Guido mentioned the aforementioned video about Harold Wilson closing the Consett mine:

After Holden dared point out more mines were closed under Labour than the Conservatives, Guido can understand why the left-wing jamboree might want to keep his heresy away from its remaining attendees…

Holden ruffled a few feathers on Twitter with his defence of the Immigration Bill in 2020. I’m of two minds about it, particularly the preferred salary levels and education qualifications:

Returning to Consett, on Tuesday, March 8, Holden had the Adjournment Debate, opposing a new waste incineration plant in the town. Stuart Andrew, responding for the Government, pointed out that local opposition continues, so there’s still a chance that Holden and his constituents will succeed:

I know that an appeal against Durham County Council’s refusal of planning permission for the scheme has been lodged with the Planning Inspectorate, and there will now be a public inquiry into the proposal overseen by an independent planning inspector.

I hope they win.

Best wishes to Richard Holden in his parliamentary career.

On Monday, February 28, 2022, The Telegraph released the findings of their Freedom of Information request concerning modelling that SAGE and other scientists in the UK used to promote the case for 2020’s initial lockdown.

The Telegraph reported (emphases mine):

Scientists did not have accurate Covid case numbers, and were unsure of hospitalisation and death rates when they published models suggesting that more than 500,000 people could die if Britain took no action in the first wave of the pandemic, it has emerged.

On March 16 2020, Imperial College published its “Report 9” paper suggesting that failing to take action could overwhelm the NHS within weeks and result in hundreds of thousands of deaths.

Before the paper, the UK coronavirus strategy was to flatten the peak rather than suppress the wave, but after the modelling was made public, the Government made a rapid u-turn, which eventually led to lockdown on March 23.

However SPI-M (Scientific Pandemic Influenza Group on Modelling) minutes released to the Telegraph under a Freedom of Information request show that by March 16, modellers were still “uncertain” of case numbers “due to data limitations”.

The minutes show that members were waiting for comprehensive mortality data from Public Health England (PHE) and said that current best estimates for the infection fatality rate, hospitalisation rates, and the number of people needing intensive care were still uncertain.

They also believed that modelling only showed “proof of concept” that lockdowns could help, and warned that “further work would be required”.

The team was also encouraged to look for collaborators and resources outside of the infectious diseases network.

Well, that never happened. They stayed within their closely knit group and never ventured outside of it for data sources from other scientists and clinicians.

For the millions of us around the world who had been looking at the data from the Diamond Princess cruise ship in Asia and thinking that coronavirus was no big deal, it was a shock to find that those data had not been considered in the Government’s strategy.

Those waiting for a certain hapless modeller’s name to appear need wait no longer:

Imperial College held a press briefing about its model on the afternoon of March 16, and on the same day, Boris Johnson ordered the public to avoid pubs, restaurants and non-essential contact and work from home if possible.

At the briefing, Prof Ferguson told journalists that the new conclusions had been reached because “the last few days” had provided “refinements” in the estimates of intensive care demand and hospital surge capacity.

But the minutes now show that SPI-M did not believe the data were complete

Minutes from the following day, March 17, also show that the Department of Health wanted to know whether Prof Neil Ferguson had referenced other papers in the Imperial model.

And both Imperial and the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine (LSHTM) were asked to renew modelling ahead of a Sage meeting on March 18 which would “include reviewing the commonality of assumptions” and look specifically at a London lockdown, where cases were rising more quickly.

All of Neil Ferguson’s predictions, going back to the Millennium, have been wildly wrong. How the Government could not have questioned these figures is beyond me. To make matters worse, the modelling went around the world, including to the US and to Sweden.

Good grief. What a global shambles.

Furthermore, Ferguson couldn’t even keep to the rules himself, having visited his mistress who lived on the other side of London to him and his wife.

These modelling inaccuracies went on through 2021. The article has more, but, in short, the minutes recorded that blame for incomplete data belonged to NHS Test and Trace on one occasion, to NHS England on another and Public Health England (PHE) on a third.

Last year, the Government planned to lift the post-Christmas lockdown on June 21 but waited another month. Modellers:

did not use the most up-to-date figures, which was criticised by MPs at the Science and Technology Select Committee.

That means that June 21’s Freedom Day could have gone ahead! Instead, we had to wait until July.

Two scientists who have never been invited to share their views on coronavirus with SAGE or the modellers told The Telegraph what they thought. Prof Carl Heneghan and Dr Tom Jefferson are colleagues at the University of Oxford:

Prof Carl Heneghan, the director of the centre for evidence based medicine (CEBM) at the University of Oxford, said: “This has always concerned me about the modelling. Throughout the two years there has been systematic error, consistent over-estimation and a tendency to go directly to the media with conclusions, without validation or peer review.

“It’s clear from the SPI-M minutes there were issues with the data, it wasn’t robust. And it shows that they should have been looking for additional outside expertise.

“What concerns me is if we don’t fix these problems we will end up being bounced back into restrictions or end up spending money in ways that detracts from the healthcare problems at hand.”

Dr Tom Jefferson of the CEBM at Oxford branded the early pandemic modelling “irresponsible”.

“They should have said ‘I’m sorry, we do not have the data,” he said. “Any forecast based on limited data is just a guess, it’s unethical and reckless, and we can now see the consequences of this behaviour with people dying because of the destruction of our services.”

One of the people just as upset, if not more so, with Neil Ferguson and the other modellers is the MP for the Isle of Wight, Bob Seely.

He has been sounding off on this in Parliament for a few months now. My guess is that he wants modelling to be included in the UK’s coronavirus inquiry.

He told The Telegraph:

The arguments for and against lockdown are complex, but what is becoming clear is that the evidence that the Government saw was incomplete and potentially inaccurate.

This is a national scandal. No question about it. The data that petrified politicians was inaccurate.

The Daily Mail also covered this story. The blue sidebar discusses Ferguson’s modelling:

The scientific paper published by Professor Ferguson and his colleagues on the Imperial College COVID-19 Response Team was credited for persuading Boris Johnson’s Government to ramp up their response to the coronavirus.

The paper, released on March 17, and titled Impact of non-pharmaceutical interventions (NPIs) to reduce COVID19 mortality and healthcare demand, predicted that the Government’s original plan to ‘mitigate’ the outbreak instead of trying to stop it could have led to a quarter of a million people dying.

Using data from Italy and China, the scientists predicted how different Government measures would have different impacts on the outbreaks. 

If no action at all had been taken against the coronavirus it would have claimed 510,000 lives, the team’s report saidHad the Government stuck with their strategy of trying to ‘mitigate’ the spread – allowing it to continue but attempting to slow it down – with limited measures such as home isolation for those with symptoms this number would be roughly halved to 260,000

If the strictest possible measures are introduced, the number of deaths over a two-year period will fall below 20,000, the scientists said.

Even reading those numbers in a newspaper report is dumbfounding. They do not make sense.

Returning to Bob Seely, he first started mentioning Ferguson’s modelling on December 14, 2021, when MPs were asked to vote on a few new coronavirus measures, including a Christmas lockdown in England because of Omicron, already known to be mild. Fortunately, 101 Conservative rebels voted against the lockdown. As news was emerging about Boris’s Christmas party during the previous year’s seasonal lockdown and the fact that the Conservatives were tanking in the polls, another year of Yuletide misery would not have gone down well with the public.

This is what Bob Seely said on December 14, 2021, when Health Secretary Savid Javid was at the despatch box during the debate:

I strongly support getting vaccinated. I had my booster jab two weeks ago. I thank all Islanders who are engaged in the vaccination process in my constituency. I congratulate the Government on an ambitious booster programme. When it comes to the vote tonight, I will accept and trust what they say on face masks and on the daily tests, which seem infinitely more sensible than locking people down in hotels. I will not support them on passports or mandatory jabs. Threatening the jobs of 73,000 NHS staff seems an odd way to support the NHS.

I want to raise a wider issue with those on the Front Bench, which has somewhat coloured my judgment. I have heard nothing to reassure me on the following points. I am fed up with dubious forecasts and ridiculous extrapolations the kind of which many hon. Members have talked about. Academics—I am not quoting myself—have talked about Imperial College London’s forecast being “hysterical”, “inflated”, “consistently over-confident”, “lurid”, “flawed” and “spectacularly wrong”. What do the Government have to say about the incredibly questionable extrapolations that they have used?

I am tired of all the leaks. It was leaked that omicron could kill 75,000. It could, but it may not. All these doomsday forecasts, leaked at critical moments, erode public trust.

Thirdly, we are told we have to follow the science. Of course we have to follow the science, but it is a misleading statement as science is shaped by the inputs and by the desired outcome. For example, we had 70 pages of evidence from Scotland on vaccine passports, but there was no evidence to support their value for uptake, so why are we introducing them? We are doing so because of the precautionary principle. That is not science.

One of the most disturbing things is the lack of context for the statistics that have been used. Was that to increase knowledge or to increase fear? My right hon. Friend the Member for New Forest West (Sir Desmond Swayne) said that between 500 and 1,000 people die each day in this country, and people die of flu all the time. It is about putting this information in context, and I fear that the result of too much of this has been to scare people, especially the old and now the young. They are petrified of covid without taking account of more genuine and potentially more damaging threats such as the appalling impact on education.

I will vote against the Government on two of the motions tonight, but my decision to do so has been coloured by the past 18 months of policy, which we need to improve.

On January 5, 2022, Boris Johnson gave Parliament an update on the Omicron variant’s effect on health in England.

Seely said:

I congratulate the Prime Minister on his balanced approach, unlike that of others in this House. There is increasing concern among epidemiologists, modellers, oncologists and scientists about the use of modelling and forecasts. Among the comments are that the forecasts we may have been using over the past two years are “almost hysterical,” “lurid,” “spectacularly wrong,” “consistently overconfident” and “substantially inflated.” Those comments are from scientists, not journalists or politicians. Does the Prime Minister trust the modelling he is getting, and will the Government consider an inquiry into the use of modelling and forecasts, many of which have been found to be unrelated to reality?

Boris did not like that one bit. I saw the debate.

He replied:

It is important for everybody to understand the limitations of models; they are not forecasts, but mathematical projections based on the data the modellers currently have, particularly when it came to Omicron, about the severity of the disease. That is why, when we feed assumptions about severity that are excessive into the models, we get results that are excessive; that is what my hon. Friend is driving at. Some of the models or calculations are much closer to what is happening now, and models are useful and cannot be dispensed with as we need to have projections, and we in this House should not in any way try to undermine or attack the independent scientists, whose independence is absolutely vital for our ability to handle this disease.

Oh, please!

On January 18, Seely led a motion at a Select Committee chaired by Sir Edward Leigh MP:

I beg to move,

That this House has considered forecasting and modelling during covid-19.

This was a rather heated debate, not so much by Conservatives but by the left-wing MPs responding to Seely’s lead contribution.

Excerpts follow:

Thanks to some questionable modelling that was poorly presented and often misrepresented, never before has so much harm been done to so many by so few based on so little questionable and potentially flawed data.

I believe that the use of modelling is pretty much getting to be a national scandal. That is not just the fault of the modellers; it is how their work was interpreted by public health officials and the media—and yes, by politicians, including the Government, sadly. Modelling and forecasts were the ammunition that drove lockdown and created a climate of manipulated fear. I believe that that creation of fear was pretty despicable and unforgivable. I do not doubt that modelling is important or that there has been some good modelling, but too often it has been drowned out by hysterical forecasts. I am not, as Professor Ferguson implied, one of those with an “axe to grind”. I do, however, care about truth and believe that if someone influences policy, as the modellers and Imperial College London have done, they should be questioned. Frankly, they have not been questioned enough.

Above all, I want to understand why Government, parts of the media and the public health establishment became addicted to these doomsday scenarios, and then normalised them in our country with such depressing and upsetting consequences for many. I do not pretend to be an expert; I am not. I defended my own PhD at the end of last year, but it is not in epidemiology and I do not pretend to be particularly knowledgeable about that. But depending on time—I know others want to come in as well—I will quote from 13 academic papers and 22 articles authored by a total of approximately 100 academics.

Seely went into Neil Ferguson’s history of poor modelling over the past 20+ years, which had disastrous results for British farmers in earlier epidemics, then the greater populace during coronavirus:

This is a story of three scandals, and the first one took place 21 years ago. In 2001, we faced the foot and mouth emergency. We reacted drastically by slaughtering and burning millions of animals, and farmer suicides and bankruptcies followed. That policy was allegedly heavily influenced by Imperial College modelling and Professor Ferguson. Since foot and mouth, two peer-reviewed studies examined the method behind that particular madness. I quote from them now to show there are practical and ethical questions over modelling going back two decades.

In a 2006 paper, and I apologise for these wordy, long titles, titled “Use and abuse of mathematical models: an illustration from the 2001 foot and mouth disease epidemic in the United Kingdom”—they are not that catchy—the authors confirmed that Ferguson’s model

“probably had the most influence on early policy decisions”

and

“specifically, the introduction of the pre-emptive contiguous culling policy”.

That is the mass slaughter of animals near infected farms. The authors said that the consequences were “severe” and

“the models were not fit for the purpose of predicting the course of the epidemic”

—not a good start. They remain “unvalidated”. Their use was “imprudent” and amounted to

“the abuse of predictive models”.

Devastatingly, the authors wrote

“The UK experience provides a salutary warning of how models can be abused in the interests of scientific opportunism.”

It is difficult to find a more damning criticism of one group of scientists by another.

A 2011 paper, “Destructive tension: mathematics versus experience—the progress and control of the 2001 foot and mouth disease epidemic in Great Britain”—bit of a mouthful—by four academics said the models that supported the culling policy were “severely flawed” and based on flawed data with “highly improbable biological assumptions”. The models were

“at best, crude estimations that could not differentiate risk”.

That is not a very good “at best”. At worst, they were “inaccurate representations”.

Sadly, the paper said, impatience for results

“provided the opportunity for self-styled ‘experts’, including some veterinarians, biologists and mathematicians, to publicise unproven novel options.”

Some of the scientific work—some of it modelling, some of it not, with some modelling by Ferguson and some not—was cited as “unvalidated” and “severely flawed”, with inaccurate data on “highly improbable assumptions” leading to “scientific opportunism”. Is anybody reminded of anything more recent that would suggest the same?

I scroll forward 20 years. As with foot and mouth, with covid we had a nervous Government presented with doomsday scenarios by Imperial—the 500,000 dead prediction—that panicked them into a course of profound action with shocking outcomes. After the lockdown had gone ahead, Imperial publicised on 8 June a study by, I think, seven of them arguing the justification for lockdown. It claimed that non-pharmaceutical interventions saved more than 3 million lives in Europe. Effectively, Imperial marked its own homework and gave itself a big slap on the back.

That work is now being challenged. Because of time, I will quote only a small selection. In a paper entitled, “The effect of interventions on COVID-19”, 13 Swedish academics—Ferguson ain’t popular in Sweden, I can tell Members that much—said that the conclusions of the Imperial study were not justified and went beyond the data. Regensburg and Leibniz university academics directly refuted Imperial College in a paper entitled “The illusory effects of non-pharmaceutical interventions on COVID-19 in Europe”, which said that the authors of the Imperial study

“allege that non-pharmaceutical interventions imposed by 11 European countries saved millions of lives. We show that their methods involve circular reasoning. The purported effects are pure artefacts, which contradict the data. Moreover, we demonstrate that the United Kingdom’s lockdown was both superfluous and ineffective.”

I am not saying that this stuff is right; I am just saying that there is a growing body of work that is, frankly, taking apart Imperial’s. Remember, we spent £370 billion on lockdown that we will never get back. I could continue with other quotes, but I think Members get the flavour.

Moreover, a substantial number of other papers now question not Imperial per se but the worth generally of lockdowns. A pre-print article by four authors, “Effects of non-pharmaceutical interventions on COVID-19: A Tale of Three Models”, said:

“Claimed benefits of lockdown appear grossly exaggerated.”

In another paper, three authors found no clear, significant benefit of lockdowns on case growth in any country. Other papers continue that theme. I will quote one more, on adults living with kids. Remember: we shut schools because we were scared that kids would come home and infect older people, who would then die. This paper, in The BMJ, found

“no evidence of an increased risk of severe COVID-19 outcomes.”

We shut down society and schools just in case, doing extraordinary harm to people’s lives, especially young people. I am not a lockdown sceptic, as Ferguson casually describes some of his critics, but I am becoming so. Do you know why, Sir Edward? Because I read the evidence, and there is a growing body of it. In fact, there is one quote that I did not read out. There was a study of lots of countries that had lockdowns and lots that did not, and the data was inconclusive.

The third element of the scandal is the recent modelling. Swedish epidemiologists looked at Imperial’s work and compared it with their own experience. Chief epidemiologist Anders Tegnell said of Imperial’s work that

“the variables…were quite extreme…We were always quite doubtful”.

Former chief epidemiologist Johan Giesecke said Ferguson’s model was “almost hysterical”. In the House of Lords, Viscount Ridley talked of a huge discrepancy and flaws in the model and the modelling. John Ioannidis from Stanford University said that the “assumptions and estimates” seemed “substantially inflated”.

There was a second example last summer. In July 2021, the good Professor Ferguson predicted that hitting 100,000 cases was “almost inevitable”. He told the BBC that the real question was whether we got to double that or even higher. That is where the crystal ball starts to fail: we got nowhere near 200,000, and we got nowhere near 100,000. There was nothing inevitable about Professor Ferguson’s inevitability, and his crystal ball must have gone missing from the start. In The Times, he blamed the Euros for messing up his modelling because—shock horror—people went to pubs a lot to watch the games during the competition. When the tournament finished—shock horror—they did not. That seems to be the fundamental problem: where reality comes up against models, reality steamrollers them because models cannot cope with the complexity of real life. To pretend that they can and even that they are useful, when so many of them have proved not to be, is concerning.

Ferguson is only one of many people in Independent SAGE especially, but also SAGE, who did not cover themselves in glory. Raghib Ali—a friend of my hon. Friend the Member for Wycombe (Mr Baker), who I am delighted is present—is one of the heroes of covid. He noted that many left-wing SAGE members

“repeatedly made inaccurate forecasts overestimating infections”.

Very often, they were falsely described on the BBC.

After a brief intervention of thanks from another Conservative MP, Seely continued, mentioning another member of SAGE who seemed to appear regularly on the BBC:

Just for the record, the communist Susan Michie, who is quoted quite often by the BBC, is not a medical doctor, a virologist or an epidemiologist. She is a health psychologist, so why on earth is she talking about epidemiology?

The third scandal took place this winter. Imperial, the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine and others—I think they included Warwick—predicted 5,000 daily covid deaths, with 3,000 daily deaths as the best-case scenario. They were hopelessly inaccurate, and at this point the tide really begins to turn. Dr Clive Dix, a former vaccine taskforce head, said:

“It’s bad science, and I think they’re being irresponsible. They have a duty to reflect the true risks, but this just headline grabbing.”

As I say, the tide is turning. Oncology professor Angus Dalgleish describes Ferguson’s modelling as “lurid predictions” and “spectacularly wrong”. The great Carl Heneghan, another scientist who has emerged with great credit for his honesty and fairness of comment, says:

“it’s becoming clearer all that ministers see is the worst-case scenario”.

Professor Brendan Wren says:

“Dodgy data and flawed forecasts have become the hallmarks of much of the scientific establishment”

what a damning quote!—

“which has traded almost exclusively in worst-case scenarios…this must stop now.”

I agree.

I will wind up in the next two to three minutes—I will speak for no longer than 15 minutes because other people wish to get in, and I am always mindful of that. What is the result of all this? The result, as UCL’s Professor Francois Balloux notes, is a

“loss of trust in government and public institutions for crying wolf.”

That is just it. We have had hysterical forecasts, models taken out of context, and worst-case scenarios normalised.

In the Army, there is something called the most dangerous course of action, and there is something called the most likely course of action. To sum up in one sentence how we got this wrong, we have effectively taken the most dangerous course of action and collectively—the politicians, media, scientists and health professionals—presented that as the most likely course of action, but it was not. Why did politicians say, “Follow the science” as a way of shutting down debate, when we know that science is complex and that our outputs are dependent on our inputs? It was down to public-health types, whose defensive decision making would only ever cost other people’s jobs, other people’s health, other people’s sanity, other people’s education and other people’s life chances.

We know that the Opposition supported lockdown from the word go, but a little more opposing might have been helpful. The BBC and the Guardian have been salivating at state control and doomsday scenarios. Against this tsunami of hysteria and fear, thank God for The Spectator, The Telegraph and, yes, the Daily Mail for keeping alive freedom of speech and putting forward an alternative, which is now being increasingly scientifically vindicated. I accept that lockdown was understandable at first—I get that—but I believe the continuation of lockdown after that first summer was an increasingly flawed decision.

In wrapping up, I have some questions. To Professor Ferguson and the doomsday modellers: why are so many of your fellow academics disputing your work and your findings? To the BBC, as our state broadcaster: why did you so rarely challenge Ferguson, SAGE or Independent SAGE? Why did we misrepresent experts, and why did the BBC allow itself to become the propaganda arm of the lockdown state? To the Government: how could we have been so blinkered that we thought that following the science meant shutting down scientific debate? Why did we never use other datasets in contexts with the British people, or even in contexts in which these profound and enormous decisions were made? Why did we think that it was in our nation’s interests to create a grotesque sense of fear to manipulate behaviour? SAGE and Independent SAGE kept on getting it wrong. To the public health types, I quote from Professor Angus Dalgleish again:

“Flailing around, wallowing in hysteria, adopting impractical policies and subverting democracy, the Chief Medical Officer is out of his depth. He has to go if we are ever to escape this nightmare.”

He is not a journalist; he is an oncologist—a senior oncologist.

Twice in 20 years, we have made some pretty profound and significant errors of judgment, using modelling as a sort of glorified guesswork. I suggest respectfully to the Government that, after foot and mouth and covid, never again should they rely on dubious modelling, regardless of the source and regardless of the best intent. I am sure that Imperial and all these other people do the best that they can, and am very happy to state that publicly. However, why has so much of their work been described—and I will use the words of other academics—as “unvalidated”, “flawed”, “not fit for purpose”, “improbable”, “almost hysterical”, “overconfident”, “lurid”, “inflated”, “pessimistic”, “spectacularly wrong”, “fraudulent” and as “scientific opportunism”?

On January 26, the Daily Mail published his speech as an article, which was a great idea. Only political geeks, myself included, watch Parliament in action. This is information the public need to know.

I read the comments following the article. This one caught my eye:

The only accurate data analysis of Covid19 remains the Diamond Princess incident where an entire population were analysed and it showed that Covid19 was not the severe threat to all population that it was made out to be and even more interesting now is that if you rerun the incident again yet pressure that cruise ship population was vaccinated, you get statistically the same results.

Hmm.

To think that millions of ‘ordinary’ people knew about the Diamond Princess early in 2020, yet very few ‘important’ people ever brought it up in the media — or in political settings.

It’s no wonder that many of us think that we were severely taken advantage of over the past two years.

Last week, I posted a series on the effect of London’s metropolitan elite on England’s voters in 2015 and 2019.

Those who missed it can read Parts 1, 2 and 3.

On December 12, 2019, a surprising number of staunch Labour voters in the North and the Midlands lent their votes to the Conservatives for the first time.

Those constituencies in England that switched from Labour to Conservative either for the first time or for the first time in decades are known as the Red Wall.

The Conservative MPs who represent them are local people familiar with the issues that concern their constituents.

These MPs are a far cry from the Sir Bufton Tuftons from days of yore.

When the new intake took their seats in the House of Commons, spirits were high on Conservative benches as the UK exited the European Union.

In debates in January 2020, we heard them discuss the hopes they had for Boris Johnson’s levelling up plan concerning rail, roads and industry.

What follows is what is on the minds of Red Wall voters and their MPs.

Tax

Five days before Chancellor Rishi Sunak presented his dynamic budget to the House on Wednesday, January 16, 2020, a pollster surveyed Red Wall voters for their views on taxation.

Guido Fawkes has a graph and summary of the poll results: 36% wanted cuts to council tax; 29% wanted cuts to income tax and 22% wanted cuts on fuel duty.

However, Guido found that the voters surveyed contradicted themselves (red emphases in the original):

According to Opinium Research for Lansons, 42% of the famed ‘Red Wall’ new Tory voters state the priority measure they would like to see for this afternoon is a rise in their take-home pay being introduced in the Budget – an income tax cut in other words. That is because 41% of the new Tory voters think taxes are too high and errr, 40% of the same new Tory voters think government spending is too low. Workington, we have a problem….

If the coronavirus is an economic hit on the scale of the credit crisis, a temporary halving of VAT to 10% would incentivise spending, immediately and effectively….

Sadly, because of coronavirus, most of Rishi’s budget had to be binned.

Levelling up

In September 2020, Conservative MPs created a taskforce to level up, i.e. reduce regional inequalities between the North as well as the Midlands versus the South.

The BBC reported that these poorer constituencies now have Conservative MPs:

A report produced for the taskforce says Conservatives now hold more seats in the lowest paid areas than Labour

In the 2019 election the Conservatives won a number of seats across the Midlands and the north of England previously considered to be Labour strongholds, also known as ‘the red wall’

Now this new group, the “levelling up taskforce” – which includes many of the new “red wall” MPs – is urging the government to set itself three key tests as part of its drive to reduce geographical inequality.

It says those areas that have seen the lowest growth in earnings, should see earnings rise faster than they have in recent years; areas with the worst unemployment rate should converge with the national average; and areas with the lowest employment rate should also catch up with the national average.

It also calls on the government to set out geographical analysis of how tax and spending changes impact different areas

Analysis produced by the Onward think tank for the new group found that of the bottom quarter of seats in Britain with the lowest earnings, more are now held by the Conservatives (77) than Labour (74).

The following month, Northern Red Wall MPs formed a new group to ensure that Boris Johnson keeps his campaign promises:

The BBC reported:

… the 35-strong Tory group say they want to ensure the government delivers.

It includes several MPs who won seats in traditional Labour heartlands – the so-called “Red Wall” – at last year’s general election.

Paul Howell, who won Tony Blair’s old seat, in Sedgefield, Simon Fell, the MP for Barrow-in-Furness and Sara Britcliffe, who at 24 became the youngest Conservative MP when she won Hyndburn, in Lancashire, are among those who have signed up to the group provisionally named the Northern Research Group.

Ms Britcliffe said: “I don’t need to join a group to speak up for Hyndburn but I have also the responsibility of making sure that we do deliver on our promise.”

The group’s leader Jake Berry, who has been the Conservative MP for Rossendale and Darwen since 2010, said it was not “about giving government a bad time”.

He told BBC Radio 4’s The Week in Westminster: “There are arguments that we collectively as northern MPs make together, to create a compelling case for the government to invest in the north”.

These include “making sure that this government delivers on its promise to ‘level up’ the north, deliver that Northern Powerhouse and create wealth across the north of England,” he added.

“We don’t form a government unless we win the north.”

Mr Berry is the former minister for Northern Powerhouse, which was set up by former Chancellor George Osborne to redress the North-South economic imbalance, and to attract investment into northern cities and towns.

The problem with levelling up is that some of the local councils most in need of funds are Labour-run. As I have been writing this post on Friday afternoon, February 25, 2022, I have heard Philip Davies, who represents Shipley, tell his fellow MPs that Bradford Council has not even put together a bid in order to get levelling up funds from the Government. Other Red Wall MPs had similar complaints.

This took place during a Private Members’ Bill debate on the Local Authority Boundaries Bill, urging reviews of local council boundaries and making such changes easier. Kemi Badenoch, the minister representing the Government, said that the bill would need significant rewording in order to be considered. She will work with Robbie Moore, also a Red Wall MP, to revise his proposed legislation.

Bradford Council is not the only Labour council that has been under the spotlight.

In October 2020, another Red Wall MP, Chris Clarkson, made known his concerns about Andy Burnham, the Mayor of Manchester.

That brought about a furious backlash from Angela Rayner on the Labour benches. She allegedly called him ‘scum’ …

… and was given a dressing down by Deputy Speaker Dame Eleanor Laing.

Paying for coronavirus

In March 2021, a pollster asked Red Wall voters how they wanted the Government to handle the cost of coronavirus.

Most Red Wall voters opposed higher taxes, preferring lower spending instead:

Guido’s accompanying post says:

Research from Public First’s Rachel Wolf has revealed that when asked to choose between higher taxes, borrowing, or spending cuts, a plurality of the public back spending cuts over the other options. Tax rises are most popular with high social status white collar ‘AB’ voters, and least popular with working class ‘DE’ voters, who overwhelmingly back spending cuts. Working class constituents in the red wall aren’t typical Islington socialists…

Also:

The other finding is that people are less opposed to taxes they think they don’t have to pay, and more opposed to taxes they think they do have to pay. In reality this translates to taxes they have to pay directly. Any tax that is indirect on business still has an economic cost that is borne in the end by individuals, for example dividend taxes reduce your pension income, business rates and carbon taxes increase consumer prices. The more taxes are understood, the less popular they become.

True. We have tax rises coming, so there will be dissatisfaction in these constituencies.

Net Zero

Another plan that will not go down well is the drive to reach Net Zero. The cost is upwards of £1.5 trillion:

This tweet from 2021 encapsulates the thinking of Red Wall MPs (ignore Michael Fabricant, who was commenting on the wrong thread). Click on the image to see all the comments, especially from Jackie Doyle-Price, who mentions the metropolitan elite:

Minimum wage

In November 2021, Rishi Sunak presented a more sombre budget as the nation was still grappling with coronavirus.

One of the more positive points was his commitment to raising the national minimum wage.

On the face of it, it would seem to appeal to Red Wall voters. However, The Spectator‘s Patrick O’Flynn was less sure, asking if Sunak understood them properly. Raising the minimum wage does not lift those in more responsible positions. In fact, the latter have been earning less over recent years (emphases in purple mine):

In his recent Budget, the Chancellor committed the government to several eye-catching policies, including a big uplift in the minimum wage, these days rebranded as the ‘national living wage’. But something that went unremarked upon was reaffirmation of a target of raising the minimum wage as a share of average pay.

A 6.6 per cent uplift this year would, said Sunak, keep the government ‘on track for our target of two-thirds of median earnings by 2024.’ Many Tory MPs beamed with happiness, no doubt thinking this would further bolster the working-class parts of their new electoral coalition. But will it?

According to the OECD, the UK minimum wage was worth 34 per cent of mean earnings and 41 per cent of median earnings in the year 2000. It has since risen steadily as a share of these averages, hitting 48 per cent of mean earnings and 58 per cent of median earnings in 2020.

Think about how this must feel to workers on roughly median earnings. Two decades ago they earned two-and-a-half times as much as minimum wage workers. Now they earn less than twice as much. By 2024, Sunak has decreed that minimum wage workers in entry level roles will be earning two-thirds of the amount that median earners do. This will represent a massive compression of wages within a single generation.

For those working people who put in a lot of effort in their schooldays compared to their more idle classmates, or who perhaps underwent apprenticeships on very low earnings at the start of their careers, this is highly unlikely to feel like progress.

When you consider the extra responsibilities higher-earning working class jobs typically entail compared to minimum wage roles – and the fact that various welfare entitlements may further reduce the net advantage – this government policy is coming close to rendering the entire hardworking ethos pointless.

This issue of earnings relativities between different grades of workers has long been a highly sensitive one in industrial relations, often more so than the level of raw pay per se. Indeed, it was the cause of countless strikes in the 1970s.

Instead of anticipating a celebratory mood among new working-class Tory voters, ministers should be on the lookout for restlessness and resentment. Indeed, the former Downing Street pollster James Johnson has already spotted the first stirrings of this in focus groups with participants grumbling that too much help is being directed to those at the very bottom.

Sunak has no parallel policy of ensuring that median earnings catch up as a proportion of the top 10 or 1 per cent of earners. In other words, his approach defies logic. Those in the modest middle of the pay scale have every reason to feel victimised

One can’t help feeling that Margaret Thatcher and her advisers had an altogether better innate understanding of what makes the ambitious working classes and lower middle classes tick than Boris Johnson’s administration. Which is why her flagship policy of bringing in the right-to-buy their council houses at a discount scored an electoral bullseye with aspirational voters

If Tory MPs in red wall seats think this policy is going to delight many of their constituents then I predict that they are about to be disabused of that notion.

It is still too early to tell what most Red Wall voters think of a rise in the minimum wage, but Patrick O’Flynn’s arguments make sense.

Guido Fawkes agrees with O’Flynn and thinks that Red Wall voters would benefit from a reduction in basic income tax rates. Guido took issue with an article in Politico. ‘UC’ stands for Universal Credit:

Sleaze

In November 2021, the then-MP for North Shropshire, Owen Paterson, faced accusations of sleaze via his lobbying. He was forced to resign the seat he had long held. A Liberal Democrat won the by-election.

Some Conservative MPs tried to save Paterson from a 30-day suspension. However, Red Wall MPs were not among them. They objected to having a whipped vote to give Paterson a reprieve. Some voted against the Government, and rightly so.

The rest of the nation also disapproved. This was the beginning of low polling results for Conservatives. It wasn’t long afterwards that Labour began leading in the weekly polls. They still do.

Not only did Red Wall MPs disapprove, so did their voters, as the Daily Mail explained:

Boris Johnson is struggling to contain mounting fury on Tory benches today as a poll laid bare the damage inflicted by his bungled effort to save ally Owen Paterson from punishment for lobbying.

Research by YouGov carried out in the wake of the dramatic Commons vote to suspend the standards system showed the Tory poll lead plunging by five points.

The party is now just one point ahead of Labour, after dropping from 39 per cent to 36 per cent in a week, while Keir Starmer has seen a boost to 35 per cent, according to the survey in The Times.

Education Secretary Nadhim Zahawi tried to cool the growing backlash among MPs this morning, admitting that the government ‘made a mistake’ in retrospectively tying Mr Paterson’s case to wider reforms.

Meanwhile, a blame game is in full swing over who was responsible for the meltdown – which culminated last night when Mr Paterson resigned from the Commons after the PM cut him loose. His exit was made official this morning when he was appointed Steward and Bailiff of the Manor of Northstead – the traditional way for MPs to quit the House.

As well as a wave of anger about Mr Johnson’s lack of judgment, many Tories have been pointing the finger at chief whip Mark Spencer, saying he should have realised that the tactic would not ‘fly’. One MP told MailOnline that Mr Spencer had not done his job properly. 

‘If the PM was told about the extent of disatisfaction then he wouldn’t have pushed it,’ they said. ‘You could tell there was a problem because the whips were literally running around the Commons.’

Mr Johnson’s media advisers are thought to have warned that the tactics were high-risk, but those pushing the political benefits of shoring up Mr Paterson and reforming the standards regime won the internal argument.  

The premier is said to be ‘p****d off’ that the crisis has distracted from the progress being made on climate change at the Cop26 conference in Glasgow. Senior MPs said he was also ‘livid’ about triumphalist interviews by Mr Paterson in which he claimed he would not change anything about his past behaviour

One Conservative MP who spoke to The Mail said:

‘I had two marginal male MPs from Red Wall seats in tears looking at their social media feed, looking at their emails coming in after the vote, going ‘what the hell have we done?’.’

… ‘The chat on the WhatsApp groups is that the whips can stick their whipping up their a***. It’s now every man for himself,’ they said.

Chief Whip Mark Spencer recently became the new Leader of the House as Jacob Rees-Mogg moved to a new Cabinet position for Brexit opportunities.

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Many Red Wall MPs were incensed to learn of the Downing Street parties during lockdown.

Some began joining forces on January 18, 2021, when Boris apologised to Parliament:

As someone tweeted, this could have been about damage limitation for themselves:

Boris met with his own MPs that evening:

Lee Anderson is a former Labour councillor. He often confronts Labour benches with their own dismal record in local and national government.

The Red Wall MPs’ plot to write letters of no confidence to Sir Graham Brady became known as the Pork Pie Plot, because their alleged leader, Alicia Kearns, represents Rutland and Melton. Melton Mowbray is home to England’s famous pork pies.

Steven Swinford, The Times‘s political editor, spoke with a member of Cabinet who found the rebellion a disgrace:

The Red Wall plot to remove Boris Johnson – with Tory MPs meeting to discuss submitting letters – is not going down well in Cabinet

‘It’s pretty sickening. They were only elected because of him. Most of them are a load of —-ing nobodies. It’s nuts’

Hmm:

With the current situation in Ukraine, the Pork Pie Plot seems like a long time ago. Then again, a week is a long time in politics.

The next thing Red Wall residents can look forward to is a Northern branch of Conservative Party Headquarters in Leeds, which is not part of the Red Wall, but it’s close enough. Pictured is Party chairman Oliver Dowden MP:

Guido Fawkes wrote that this had been a promise from Government since 2020:

The Tories look set to imminently boost their red wall presence – and given recent polling, not a moment too soon. A party source tells Guido that their long-awaited Leeds campaign headquarters – first announced by Amanda Milling way back in September 2020 – is set to open in mere weeks …

… staff are already at work following a prolonged recruitment drive and the project will get up to full steam when work-from-home guidance is lifted. Another source suggested given recent events the party will be keen for the moment to be noticed by the media. Guido looks forward to Dowden’s forthcoming ribbon-cutting…

I will have more on the Red Wall coming soon: profiles of those MPs with the most spark.

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