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On Monday, June 14, 2021, I posted about the launch of GB News, a channel that offers balanced content.

On June 15, Guido Fawkes posted the new channel’s preliminary ratings demographics — 70% male viewers and 62% middle and upper middle class viewers:

Guido wrote (emphasis in the original):

According to BARB figures for the first full day on air, GB News averaged over the 18-hour day 74,000 viewers, just behind Sky News’ 78,000. BBC News was well ahead with 138,000. Andrew Neil’s show drew 150,000 for his hour, down from Sunday’s opening 262,000.  Let’s see how things settles down in a few weeks. Today the audio technical problems were noticeably fewer… 

GB News has been taking some flak over the past few days. It must be over the target.

Someone in the media sniped at Andrew Neil, the channel’s chairman, who has a weekday evening news roundup:

Unfortunately, advertisers are beginning to withdraw their sponsorship, claiming they had no idea their adverts were being shown on GB News. How can that be?

Kopparberg Cider (never heard of it) was the first:

Guido’s post says that Koppaberg pulled their ads because of an appearance by Nigel Farage on Dan Wootton’s first nightly show:

In a bizarre business move, Swedish cider company Kopparberg has suspended all their GB News advertising after a left-wing Twitter user complained they’d hosted Nigel Farage as a guest. Guido has no doubt Kopparberg will also be suspending ads for … ITV and Sky, who have all interviewed Nige’ on numerous occasions… 

Nivea is another former sponsor:

Nivea has also apparently announced a boycott, though Guido’s altogether less familiar with brands of moisturiser. Imperial Leather moisturiser seems an appropriate alternative brand…

Guido has contacted Kopparberg for comment.

Then came Ovo Energy:

The thread received this reply:

ITV News must have been rubbing their hands with glee. It’s hard to discount the possibility that the main channels want GB News to fail:

ITV’s article listed more former sponsors (emphases mine):

An Ikea spokesperson told iNews the company “has not knowingly advertised on GB News” and has suspended all paid display advertising while it investigates.“We have safeguards in place to prevent our advertising from appearing on platforms that are not in line with our humanistic values and vision to side with the many people,” they added.

We are in the process of investigating how this may have occurred to ensure it won’t happen again in future, and have suspended paid display advertising in the meantime.”

Beer producer Grolsch said in response to a message from a campaigner it would “do everything we possibly can” to stop its adverts appearing on the channel.

The controversy comes from the channel’s aims to fight “cancel culture” and present news to audiences that in their view are not reflected in the current British broadcast media landscape.

ITV says that a left-wing campaigning organisation is behind the boycott:

Stop Funding Hate, which has been campaigning to get businesses to pull adverts from GB News said OVO Energy, Ikea, Nivea, the Open University and Grolsh have also all reportedly stopped working with the channel.

Andrew Neil had a go at Ikea, as did one of his followers:

What is wrong with the content and ‘values’ of GB News?

Did advertisers object to the Who’s Roger Daltrey’s take on today’s culture?

Were they upset with Andrew Neil’s ‘Woke Watch’ which explored the new culture at the National Trust?

Neil did take issue with the anti-lockdown protesters who chased the BBC’s Nick Watt in London on Monday afternoon:

The following are Wednesday’s stories on GB News. What is objectionable?

There is a story on council tax hitting those in northern England more than those in London:

A Labour MP criticised the Home Secretary Priti Patel for not helping legal immigrants more:

Liz Truss MP talked about Britain’s new trade deal with Australia:

Sajid Javid MP, former Chancellor of the Exchequer and former Home Secretary, explained why he would like to see the increase of the legal marriage age to 18:

Where is the problem?

Guido Fawkes alleges that an ex-BBC producer could be behind the advertising boycott:

Her company has allegedly created a website, Boycott GB News.

Guido’s post says:

The website BoycottGBNews.org, which has spent the last 24 hours celebrating various corporate boycotts, says it is a “campaigning website from Ripples”. A quick search of Companies House shows Ripples Campaigning was co-founded, and is run, by Louise Wikstrom. Louise, who appears to be their only employee, was a senior content producer at BBC Worldwide for three years.

He included a photo from her Facebook page indicating that she is a supporter of the former Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn.

Guido adds (emphases in the original):

Co-conspirators may have theories as to why someone closely linked to the BBC’s commercial arm might want GB News to fail?

… Whilst Guido hadn’t heard of Ripples, it’s clearly a petition site exclusively for left-wingers and FBPEers. They laughably claim that due to their petitions, they prevented: a cut to universal credit; MPs receiving a £3,000 pay rise; an extension of the furlough scheme; and preventing the government from “breaking international law” on Brexit. These past claims are clearly absurd. Their latest busy-bodying attempt is far more malicious…

In closing, I have bought print advertising in the past. There is no way that anyone buying advertising doesn’t know what is going on. It isn’t done independently. I was told what publication to contact for my employer’s ad and how to negotiate the price.

It is disingenuous for these sponsors to say that advertising was placed without their permission. That cannot happen. Yet, if you read their statements, they all claim they did not know they were advertising on GB News. 

No doubt Andrew Neil will know how to deal with this. I wish him all the best.

On Sunday evening, June 13, 2021, Andrew Neil’s GB News channel (Freeview 236) launched in the UK.

Andrew Neil has had a long career in broadcast and print journalism, having helped launch Sky News in the UK. He presented political programmes for the BBC for many years and is also chairman of The Spectator.

The satirical magazine Private Eye refers to him as Brillo because of his hair.

The channel began broadcasting at 8 p.m., with a one-hour introduction from Neil laying out the agenda and introducing the viewing audience to its presenters and regional reporters:

Neil was broadcasting from London, rather than his home in the south of France, as he has done during the pandemic for Spectator TV.

My far better half and I watched this and one hour of Dan Wootton’s show, which followed at 9 p.m.:

Dan Wootton’s show had a few glitches, with guests’ online connections dropping and a synch problem between video and audio.

Nonetheless, the channel’s first night ratings were good:

Their audience share was treble that of Sky News:

Guido Fawkes posted a summary of the reviews in the press. Incidentally, Guido’s Tom Harwood resigned a few months ago to become the Westminster correspondent for GB News.

Guido’s post says, in part (emphases in the original):

It’s all systems go for GB News. Opening with a one hour mission statement from Chairman Brillo (from a tiny, under-lit set which someone on Twitter described as looking like “the inside of a PlayStation“), the fledging news channel finally started broadcasting at 8pm last night. Inevitably, there were teething problems: dodgy cuts, out of sync audio, odd camera angles etc etc. Dark clothes against a dark set just doesn’t work visually. Television is hard.

The aesthetic problems will undoubtedly be ironed out over time. For now, the initial reaction from social media and the punditry went about as you’d expect; Owen Jones tried to dunk on it, the Telegraph gave it four stars. Here’s the full round-up:

    • The Guardian wasted no time in writing it off. No doubt reviewer Stuart Jeffries beamed ear-to-ear as he called it “utterly deadly stuff”, and declared he “give[s] it a year” before it’s taken off-air. He gave it one star, obviously.
    • The Times were more generous: three stars for a channel which “may yet bite“, though marking it down for the obvious technical shortcomings. A running theme amongst most reviews…
    • The Telegraph’s four star review praised its “no sneering” attitude, and that in spite of the glitches, “GB News is already speaking [the] language” of those frustrated by lockdown. They also made the point that opening with Dan Wootton was probably a mistake, given his opening diatribe about lockdown: “What the channel cried out for was the firmest hand on the tiller from the go. If you were unsure about GB News’s claims of impartiality, you needed Brazier or McCoy to take your hand on the first night. Wootton will have scared a few nervous horses” …

GB News were pleased to say launch night saw them average 164,400 viewers with Sky News garnering only 57,000 viewers. Can they surpass Sky News regularly?

I hope so. My better half thought it was too amateurish. As Guido says, ‘Television is hard’, especially on launch night. I will definitely be tuning in when BBC Parliament is showing a rerun.

Speaking of Parliament, Conservative MP David Jones liked it:

The channel also has half-hourly weather forecasts from the Met Office:

A live stream is on their website. Selected videos are posted there and on YouTube.

GB News took well over a year to reach its launch:

Their signature tune came first:

Investors had to be found:

Britons were eager for a news channel that represents their interests:

On January 28, 2021, Dan Wooton left talkRADIO for GB News.

A week later, people were attempting to boycott a channel that hadn’t even launched, including Jolyon Maugham, director of the Good Law Project:

This was Andrew Neil’s response:

At that time, Neil wrote an article for The Express explaining why he was launching a new channel (emphases mine):

I’m proud to be the chairman of GB News and, as you may have read, I have left the BBC after 25 years to host a nightly programme on the channel.

I’m doing it because I believe the direction of news debate in Britain is increasingly woke and out of touch with the majority of its people.

I believe our national conversation has become too metropolitan, too southern and too middle-class.

Some journalists and commentators seem too confident that their liberal-left assumptions must surely be shared by every sensible person in the land.

But many of those same sensible people are fed up.

They feel left out and unheard.

There’s a restlessness, a sense that they’re being talked down to; that much of the media no longer reflects their values or shares their concerns.

GB News is aimed squarely at those people.

The Mail‘s Michael Crick empathised and had a go at Jolyon Maugham:

The channel began attracting broadcasting talent: Sky News’s Colin Brazier, Channel 4’s Liam Halligan, the BBC’s Simon McCoy, conservative commentator Mercy Muroki and Times Radio’s Gloria De Piero (also a former Labour MP and presenter on an ITV breakfast show).

By April 27, Rupert Murdoch decided not to launch a similar rival channel, News UK:

At least one journalist is rankled that GB News has overseas funding:

On May 21, Press Gazette revealed more about GB News:

The channel’s director of news, John McAndrew, is a 25-year industry veteran who has worked for the BBC, Sky News, ITN and NBC.

Interviewed by Press Gazette three days ahead of the channel’s launch, he said: “My view of our channel, and certainly how it’s going to be, is that it will be a very warm, inclusive channel where disagreements will be had, tough subjects will absolutely be taken on, but they’ll be taken on in a classy and courteous fashion.

What this won’t be is a hate-filled divisive shout-fest that some people seem to have characterised it as, which is 180 degrees away from where we want to be.”

Speaking to the FT Future of News conference Neil revealed that GB News plans to launch in other countries after the UK and has been looking at Spain and Eastern Europe. He said: “They will be distinctive news channels for distinctive markets. We still believe news is national.”

On May 25, Ryan Bourne from the Cato Institute wrote a column for Conservative Home about the channel:

it’s perfectly within the Ofcom rules to build a news channel that will run different stories or perspectives – and Neil wants to run “good news” stories and shift away from assuming every problem has a government solution. You are allowed to hire, as GB News has, card-carrying conservatives, ex-Labour MPs or people from outside of London with very different assumptions in thinking about what news is important. And, yes, you are free to have colourful presenters with attitude to liven up discussions, provided you still showcase various perspectives.

Why, then, are some on the left so afraid of this pluralism? Maybe they don’t accept biases exist on other news channels (Channel 4 News, really?), and so think any stated attempt to counter them is retrogressive. Perhaps they simply fear a politically strengthened  conservatism. For others, no doubt, there is a concern that the Government’s mooted appointment of Paul Dacre to Ofcom is a precursor to watering down impartiality rules as well.

But given that no such policy has been signalled, and we have not yet seen GB News in action, we must judge them at their word. Neil himself thinks, rightly, that a “British Fox” riding roughshod over Ofcom rules just wouldn’t be successful. “Overwhelmingly, Brits value impartiality and accuracy and, during recent years, in fact, the proportion of Brits thinking the BBC and ITV provide an impartial service has fallen.” GB News is keen to harness that particular audience, yes. But having spoken to numerous staffers, they are determined to avoid political bias, and to be robust in providing respectful disagreement more broadly too.

The Evening Standard‘s Insider posted an in-depth article on June 10. Susannah Butter’s piece covers a lot of ground, including on the channel’s investors.

This seems to have been the initial title (h/t Guido Fawkes reader who posted it):

https://image.vuukle.com/afdabdfb-de55-452b-b000-43e4d45f1094-716e6930-ce55-4715-b47e-1910e025a9f2

Susannah Butter interviewed Andrew Neil, who had returned from France and was quarantining:

Neil is speaking to me from quarantine in West London, having recently returned from his house in the Cote d’Azur where he has been for the past year with his wife, Swedish engineer and communications executive Susan Nilsson, 52. They married in 2015 and Neil has 14 godchildren but no children of his own. He is straight-talking if occasionally gently cantankerous, saying he only agreed to speak because I “caught him at a weak moment” – and he wants to get one thing clear: GB News is not the British Fox News. “That is an easy, inaccurate shorthand for what we are trying to do. In terms of format we are like Fox but we won’t be like Fox in that they come from a hard right disinformation fake news conspiracy agenda. I have worked too long and hard to build up a journalistic reputation to consider going down that route.” There is a “strong editorial charter written into everybody’s contracts saying that if they spread fake news and conspiracy theories they will face disciplinary action”. Neil’s hope is not to destroy the other channels, more to provide variety and raise the bar. “We are in a competitive environment they know that. I suspect [our rival TV channels] will up their game, that’s fine, the only winner is the viewer.”

This is how the channel began:

GB News was not Neil’s idea – the founders are Andrew Cole and Mark Schneider who both come from a business background – but Neil has been wanting to do something like this for a long time

Cole and Schneider contacted Neil last summer when he was “in the middle of rather, err, meandering negotiations with the BBC”. His interview show had been cancelled and Politics Live was taken off air; he has said that “what [the BBC] did was unnecessary and I left with a heavy heart… but what’s done is done.” By September he was convinced because he “rather liked the idea of being chairman as well as prime time presenter. At The Spectator, my pride and joy, I have a business angle too, as chairman”.

Early hires include former Associate Editor of The Sun Dan Wootton and The Apprentice’s Michelle Dewberry, who was a vocal Brexit supporter.

Piers Morgan will not be joining the GB News lineup, at least for now:

“It would be nice to have him,” says Neil who is in discussions with Morgan about joining and adds diplomatically: “But he’s got his own idea of what he is worth and we have a slightly different idea of what he’s worth. He is in a lucky situation because ITV are continuing to pay him a tonne of money so he doesn’t have to do anything in the short run. I don’t think he’s going to go anywhere else in the UK. If he has a huge American offer that’s a different matter. No one in the UK can compete with that but if he’s going to do more UK news TV I hope it will be with us.”

The channel will have a regular five-minute feature called ‘Woke Watch’:

Neil enjoys its alliterative title and says while he is “poking fun”, he is seriously concerned about its implications. “Cancel culture is insidious, it stands against everything we have stood for since the enlightenment onwards and that is why it is serious,” he says. “The original meaning of woke was somebody who was aware of social justice issues and who can complain about that? But it is not about social justice anymore, it is about conformity of thinking and it exists in many of our elite institutions from NGOs to the National Trust and parts of our media. Of course it is making huge inroads into our places of higher education. It is not the view of the British people but if it is the view of all these elites in favour of it could become very powerful.”

… He takes a breath. “Look this is a five minute segment in an hour long show but it will be an important part of the output. Humour is a good weapon especially when you are up against po-faced people who take themselves too seriously.”

The channel’s output will target those living outside Britain’s metropolitan areas:

GB News aims to attract two kinds of viewers, people who already watch the news and “may be a bit unhappy with the existing channels” and people who have stopped watching or don’t. “GB News will be more non-metropolitan than existing channels, more provincial which is a good thing. The provincial voice has not been powerful enough in Britain. We are for people who think the existing channels don’t quite represent how they see things.”

Neil discussed the channel’s investors:

Neil says they were overwhelmed with offers of funding but were selective about which ones they accepted. He wants to talk about their leading investor, the Discovery Channel, but money has also come from Sir Paul Marshall, a Brexiteer hedge fund manager and founder of the Right-leaning opinion site UnHerd, and Legatum, a Dubai-based investment firm. Legatum’s chairman Christopher Chandler, a New Zealand-born billionaire and international financier, is a partner of Legatum Group, a funder of the separate Legatum Institute, a Mayfair-based think tank which is dedicated to finding “pathways to prosperity” and was one of the most prominent advocates for a hard Brexit.

Neil will only say that he “didn’t want any sovereign wealth fund money”. “I didn’t want stuff from Abu Dhabi or Qatar. I said I’d take Norwegian wealth fund money because I don’t think we would be worrying about them but they weren’t offering. And I was reluctant to take money from investors who see themselves as the next Rupert Murdoch because I have already had one Rupert Murdoch in my life. That ended 26 years ago and I have never seen him since. At this stage in my life I am not having another one.”

Neil, quite rightly, does not understand why people would object to the name GB News:

“I am not sure why calling it GB News would be awkward,” he says, responding to those who have objected to the name. “We are British, I am British; I don’t think there is any embarrassment in it. Indeed it is the opposite, we are proud to be British. We will be fair and accurate but we won’t start out from that default position among the incumbents that whatever Britain does must be useless. That was heightened by the Brexit debate and we don’t want to reflect that. We will report all the faults and weaknesses of this country but we also take a certain pride in being British and our successes, the vaccine rollout being one example.”

All this patriotism is well and good but doesn’t Neil now live mainly in France? “This is my country, just because I don’t live here full time anymore doesn’t mean I don’t care,” he says.

Neil’s regular one-hour show will also have a segment called ‘Media Watch’:

“All journalists get things wrong and it is important that we move to put them right quickly and put our hands up and apologise. We have a go at politicians for not admitting their mistakes and then we do the same thing.” GB News will not be immune from Media Watch.

The channel will not be featuring a blockbuster interview immediately:

They have actually decided against launching with a big interview, “because then the story becomes the interview and I would much rather the story becomes the channel, we will get to the interview”. “Times Radio launched with a big interview with Boris Johnson. We’ve decided not to go down that route.”

Neil is not yet ready to retire:

It all sounds like a lot of work – does Neil ever want to retire? “You are right. Lockdown has made me appreciate the virtues of retirement or at least semi-retirement more than I thought I might. I thought I had one more big gig in me and this is it. If we can make a success of GB News that’s when I’ll declare victory and go home.” I doubt he would disappear though. He says: “I would continue to do the odd bit of TV and writing and I certainly want to keep going with The Spectator. It’s quite good at some stage to get to a situation where you can do whatever you want to do from wherever you want to be.”

I ask Neil, one of the best interviewers in the business, if I have left anything out? “I think you know more than enough,” he says. “Can I go now?”

Although Neil very much enjoyed his 25 years at the BBC and was particularly grateful to the help and support from the staffers there, he has objected to some of the recent programming output. On May 30, The Express reported:

Mr Neil has never shied away from controversy on or off screen during his time at the broadcaster.

Never was this more clear than when he called the BBC out – while working for the broadcaster – for airing a specially crafted version of Horrible Histories, using archive episodes to create a song to mark the day the UK left the EU

Mr Neil commented: “This is anti-British drivel of a high order.

“Was any of the licence fee used to produce something purely designed to demean us?”

On June 11, Simon McCoy discussed his departure from the BBC and revealed that he voted Leave in the 2016 Brexit referendum. The Telegraph reported:

“People had whiplash by 2 o’clock. Because for three hours it was: ‘Oh, he’s leaving, the A4 Royal watcher, how sad.’ And then, ‘The b—–’s going to GB News! What a right-wing gammon.’” He gives a mock sigh. “I was rather enjoying a couple of hours of adulation.”

Some valiantly tried to give McCoy the benefit of the doubt, but hang on: “I think it’s interesting that people think: ‘He’s gone to GB News to balance it out because he’s a leftie BBC journalist.’ I’m certainly not.” He’s even willing to lay his cards on the table: yes, Simon McCoy voted Leave

When he talks about Brexit, it’s in measured tones. “We’re a Brexit country. I do think we need to embrace it and, for all its faults, we’ve got to make it work.”

He joined GB News partly because he fancied the challenge: “I loved the BBC; the job was great, but I just thought, ‘Here I am, nearly 60 – do I want to stay here, probably not getting any further? Or do I want to try something new?’”

And he also has a conviction, after 15 years at Sky News and 17 years at the BBC, that those news providers are focusing on the wrong things. “If you watch other bulletins you’ll know very much what’s happening in Idlib or Tel Aviv or Washington. This is about the UK,” he says.

“Rather than obsessing with what’s happening abroad, let’s just look at what’s happening within the UK. While I don’t want to sound jingoistic or insular or Little Englander, I think we could all benefit from just knowing about our own country a little more.”

Neil Oliver, a Scot who presents television programmes on archaeology, is fiercely pro-Union and a vocal critic of the SNP’s First Minister Nicola Sturgeon. He will have his own GB News show. The Express carried the story:

Last month, the BBC’s veteran presenter of a string of history shows, Mr Oliver, was announced as having joined the lineup.

The archaeologist and historian has become a central voice in Scottish politics and, like Andrew Neil who he will work alongside, is a fierce critic of Nicola Sturgeon.

He has previously accused the Scottish First Minister of “making a fool of Scotland” and said she had made him “sick to my stomach”

He talked of history being viewed as the lifetime of a person, and that people today are the children of this person, in this case, the British Isles.

This was vital to understanding how interwoven the devolved nations are, he argued, and explained: “More and more we dare to patronise the place, treat the person like a doddery old soul who cannot cope alone, who might even need to be taken into care.

“To me, the truth is altogether different. This place, these islands have taken care of us since a time beyond the reach of memory. Treated properly, they will continue to do so

“The story of the British Isles is one every single one of us should know and give thanks for.”

On June 2, The Express reported:

The freelance archaeologist will host a new weekly current affairs and interview programme. Mr Oliver’s show will focus on “the people from all walks of life who make Britain great”, according to the announcement put out by the broadcaster …

Commenting on joining GB News, Mr Oliver said: “My career has always been driven by my fascination with people, whether it’s trying to understand ancient people through archaeology or living ones through journalism.

“Debate in this country has been stifled for so long that GB News feels like opening a window and letting some fresh air, fresh perspectives and fresh voices.

“I never imagined my career would take this turn but I’m hugely excited that it has”

Before the 2014 independence referendum, Mr Oliver stated in an interview with The Herald, that he was “proud of Britain”.

He also noted his dislike of the forthcoming referendum, saying he found “this kind of internecine squabbling puts my teeth on edge. I would rather that it would just go away – or that it had never happened”.

He went on to say that he “liked the status quo”.

As a result of his comments, when he was appointed President of the National Trust for Scotland, thousands signed petitions calling on him to resign.

In December 2020, Mr Oliver reasserted his apparent personal opposition to Scottish independence, describing the uncertainty caused by the prospect of a second referendum as a “cancerous presence”.

Neil Oliver appeared on Sunday:

On the launch day of GB News, The Express reported that a spokesman for the channel alleged that the BBC was trying to restrict their access to news footage:

Britain’s public service broadcaster was attempting to “ambush” and “damage” Sunday’s launch of the right-leaning television channel, a spokesperson for GB News has claimed. A GB News spokesman said: “This is an ambush by the BBC designed to damage the launch of GB News. It is an attempt to protect their dominance of UK news broadcasting.

“We will fight it.

“And our launch continues.”

This has happened before when the Press Association said in 2010 it was unable to access footage from “single-camera assignments” that were categorised as coming under the ownership of the UK Broadcast Pool.

The UK Broadcast Pool comprises the BBC, Sky News and ITN.

The launch was successful.

True to their pledge, GB News is focusing on what matters to Britons, such as this lady from Birmingham:

In closing, Tom Harwood says that GB News are aware of enhancements that need to be made, including the addition of a live stream on YouTube:

I’m thrilled to bits for GB News and do intend to become a regular viewer.

Episode 14 of Andrew Neil’s Spectator TV was broadcast on Thursday, December 3, 2020.

He interviewed Trevor Phillips, past head of the Commission for Racial Equality and chairman of the Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC), the succeeding organisation. Since then, Phillips has held a number of other appointments in human rights, the arts and retail. He is currently managing director of Webber and Phillips, a data analytics provider.

Neil also interviewed Mark Harper, one of my favourite Conservative rebel MPs, who has spoken out against coronavirus lockdown and restrictions. Harper has served as the MP for the Forest of Dean constituency in Gloucestershire since 2005. He has also served as a junior minister in the Cabinet Office, an Immigration Minister and Minister for Disabled People. He was the Chief Whip for the Conservatives in the House of Commons between May 2015 and July 2016. His tenure as Chief Whip ended when Theresa May became Prime Minister.

Emily Gray, managing director of Ipsos MORI Scotland, also appeared on the programme:

By the time the show aired, the mass purchase of the BioNtech/Pfizer coronavirus vaccine was finalised, announced and is now on its way to the UK.

A vote on the new tier restrictions after England’s second national lockdown was held on Tuesday, December 1. Mark Harper was one of the rebels who voted against the Government.

Conservative rebels

The Spectator’s political editor James Forsyth said that the rebels’ vote against the Government, while not toppling the final result, ‘was the biggest of Boris Johnson’s premiership’. Had the Opposition (i.e. Labour) not supported the Government, Boris and his Cabinet would have lost.

Forsyth pointed out that the number of Conservative rebels ‘has been rising consistently’. There will be a vote in January on renewing the tier restrictions. Currently, many English constituencies that started out in Tier 1 before the national lockdown are now, arbitrarily, in Tier 2. (Kent is a good example: communities closer to London have higher coronavirus infection rates than those along the east coast of the county.) If these discrepancies are resolved for in a local way — splitting counties into two different tiers — Forsyth sees more Conservative MPs voting against the Government next year.

He said that vaccine roll out might help to quell the rebellion if it’s efficient. However, if the roll out is ‘bumpy’ and restrictions persist, the rebellion will increase.

Deputy political editor Katy Balls came on next. She said the Government tried to reduce the rebellion, through a Zoom call asking for unity, but that did not succeed as Prime Minister Boris Johnson, who hosted the call, had hoped.

Economics editor Kate Andrews summarised the retail losses — up to £2 billion a week — coupled with retailers Debenhams and the Arcadia Group going into administration was a real problem. Pubs are in severe difficulty, too; only two per cent of them are in Tier 1.

Forsyth thought that the Government might make the tier classification more local but said post-Christmas restrictions present real concern, including the return of university students.

Forsyth did not see any easing of the rebellion until February or March 2021.

Mark Harper, leader of the Covid Recovery Group, was on next. He did not think that the Government had been as ‘transparent and open’ as they should have been. He has questions as to why hospitality was singled out as a danger sector but has received few answers. He wonders if it makes sense to have a lockdown, then a relaxation over Christmas only to be followed by further restrictions for a month.

Harper said that he wants to support the Government but cannot do so right now.

However, he has noted a change in the tone from the Prime Minister. Letters to the Covid Recovery Group have been more ‘collegiate’.

That said, there is nothing of substance in them, e.g. clinical evidence and a ‘coherent narrative’. He noted that the scientific experts’ opinions differ to those of the Government.

Neil asked Harper what policy change he would like to see. Harper said that the impact of the first lockdown and the recession it caused would have a worse impact on quality of life years (QALYs) than the coronavirus deaths themselves.

Harper says he sees no balance from the Government between health and economic issues during the crisis.

While he appreciates that this is a difficult time with ‘no easy answers’, he is frustrated with the lack of openness from Government ministers on how they arrive at their decisions.

He hopes that the Government will start showing the criteria on which they base their decisions and ‘a proper roadmap’ by the end of January 2021.

Scottish independence

The latest support for Scottish independence has risen to 56%.

Emily Gray from IPSOS Mori showed a series of slides demonstrating that Nicola Sturgeon’s Scottish National Party (SNP) is far and away the most popular of any political party north of the border.

While Scots admire Sturgeon’s handling of the coronavirus crisis, Brexit is another factor in the preference for independence. Scots trust the SNP on all major issues, from the two that I named through to the NHS and education.

Conservatives and Unionists are not doing well in Scotland. Part of the reason for this, she said, was that they were not making a compelling argument for the Union, i.e. being better off together than as separate nations.

Neil pointed out that the SNP have not done well in terms of equality in health and education. Gray said that Sturgeon’s ratings have remained high throughout the pandemic. She has calmed their fears; therefore, any shortcomings are not in the forefront of people’s minds.

The Scots voted two-to-one to remain in the European Union. Brexit is deeply unpopular there. Neil said that some Scots would vote for independence as revenge for Brexit. Forsyth acknowledged that such a point of view is a problem.

Gray, however, made it clear that the pandemic was a greater factor in the yearning for independence than Brexit.

James Forsyth said that the SNP will win the local 2021 elections handily.

He added that Boris Johnson will have to address this issue of independence sooner or later. Perhaps the Unionists have to wait for ‘something to turn up’ in order for them to make their case. They would do well to ‘buy time’, he said.

Katy Balls agreed with Neil when he said that Boris does not ‘poll well’ north of the border, however, Rishi Sunak does. She said that a Labour government would have a easier time dissuading the Scots from voting for independence.

Forsyth said that a successful UK government vaccine roll out might change Scots’ minds against independence. Visiting relatives in different parts of the UK this Christmas might also help to reinforce the benefits and commonality of the Union.

Equality

Equality was the last topic of conversation when Neil interviewed Trevor Phillips.

Critical race theory — yes, Neil used those exact words — was the topic of conversation.

Phillips did not deny the use of critical race theory and said that he, too, was sceptical of the term, saying that it serves only to feed white nationalism.

He also says that it downgrades education. It is, he said, based ‘on anecdote, narrative, “my feelings” … none of which will change a single thing for people of colour’.

He called it a ‘scam’.

He said it is wrong to make the issue of race ‘entirely about white people’ with people of colour as ‘bystanders’.

Neil, somewhat apologising for his skin colour, pointed out that much progress has been made in race relations but that the theory does not acknowledge any of that progress.

Phillips said that Neil did ‘not have to apologise for being white’.

Phillips said that the UK is not the United States. He noted that a number of families in Britain have bi-racial antecedents or parents since the Second World War. He said that no other nation in the world has that number of black and white familial unions. Britain, however, does.

Neil objected to the modern treatment of the telling of American independence, which he said purported to promote slavery. Phillips agreed, calling it ‘complete drivel’. Phillips then brought up slavery in the US — tobacco and cotton-based — versus slavery on the Caribbean plantations, which he said was much larger, on a ‘factory level’.

Phillips said we should think of the current movement as we do Extinction Rebellion. He noted that Cuba, with all its black residents, has never had a black leader. He said the current movement is a front to ‘overthrow things as they are’. He said that, if they want to change things, ‘do it honestly’.

Neil asked if Malcolm X would have been a supporter. Phillips doubted it, because he would have disliked ‘the indiscipline of the movement’. However, he acknowledged that, he might have done in the middle of his life. Later, Phillips said, Malcolm X dropped the idea that ‘whites are intrinsically bad’.

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Charles Stanley Wealth Managers sponsored the programme.

Episode 13 of Andrew Neil’s Spectator TV aired on Thursday, November 26, 2020.

As you can see, the main topics were coronavirus and Brexit:

I haven’t tuned into the episodes following the US election, because everyone is so anti-Trump.

The Chancellor’s spending review

Andrew Neil opened the programme with the UK Government’s spending review.

We are heading towards a national debt of £3 trillion and a budget deficit of nearly £420 billion.

There will be few spending cuts but tax rises will help to fill the gaps.

Kate Andrews gave us more information about Chancellor Rishi Sunak’s statement. She had updated data from the Office for Budget Responsibility (OBR). The economy is set to contract by 11.3%, the biggest fall in 300 years. I wrote about that earlier this year, so it came as no surprise.

We will not even start to recover until 2022. Andrews said that some believe this is too pessimistic, even if the OBR says they took into account that we would have a vaccine. Well, we have that vaccine now (the week after the programme aired), which means that we could reopen our economy by the middle of next year. That said, we do not know how long the vaccine programme will take. Unemployment will rise by 3.5% to 7.5%, 2.5 million people.

Even by 2025, our deficit will still be around £100 billion. There will be a £15 billion increase in social spending, but Rishi will have to start to raise money. We won’t find out how until early next year, possibly at the end of the year.

Andrew Neil said that, so far, the Chancellor has ‘kept his powder dry’. James Forsyth, political editor of The Spectator, said there is too much up in the air right now to make any firm predictions.

Katy Balls, The Spectator‘s deputy political editor, said that a few areas of the statement have raised questions. However, Rishi’s decisions might look more reasonable next year. Some cuts, e.g. foreign aid, will be popular with Conservative voters, including those in the North of England.

Forsyth said that as we spend more on defence, it is logical that something will have to be cut: foreign aid (which, in reality, is not being cut by that much).

The 2019 intake of Conservative MPs have formed the One Nation Caucus, who could rebel against the Government, but, as Katy Balls noted, there are various shades of conservatism that do not automatically amount to mass rebellion.

Andrew Neil asked Kate Andrews about the OBR’s four scenarios, especially the most optimistic one. She said that we do not know how effective the vaccine will be and how quickly the roll out will go.

Neil asked her about the lack of specifics from the Treasury. Andrews said that he is probably looking at all the options, especially positive ones that might prevent higher unemployment next year.

Forsyth said we will know how much more we need to spend on COVID-19 compensation plans by March 2021, but the Chancellor will have to decide on policy by 2022, well in advance of the next election in 2024. He added that the Chancellor will have to put clear water between the Conservatives and Labour on spending. Currently, there isn’t much difference.

Coronavirus tiers in England

Coronavirus tiers came up next. England was still in its final days of the second national lockdown, which ended on December 2.

Only Cornwall, the Isles of Scilly and the Isle of Wight are in Tier 1. That wasn’t known at the time of broadcast, but it was already expected because of indications from the Prime Minister and our national medical experts who warned that most areas in Tier 1 before lockdown would end up in Tier 2.

Neil asked Forsyth whether a relaxation over Christmas for family celebrations wouldn’t start bumping up contagion rates. Forsyth said that, in Canada, after their Thanksgiving in October, rates started to soar. He also mentioned the warnings going on in Scotland: be sensible and try not to take advantage of Christmas celebrations.

Katy Balls talked about the backbench Conservative rebels on lockdown, particularly about the new tier classification. Many counties with low rates are in Tier 2. However, those rebels are not of large enough number to cause the Government to lose a vote on further restrictions. That vote was held on Tuesday, December 1. Balls said that Boris has Labour’s votes on his side, so he will win now and in future.

Coronavirus vaccines

Neil announced that the Government had pre-purchased doses of various vaccines so that two-thirds of the population could achieve ‘herd immunity’. Dr Stuart Ritchie, a behavioural scientist at Kings College London, gave his views on the subject.

Neil asked Ritchie about vaccine scepticism. Ritchie said that more and more Britons were sceptical about taking a vaccine. He found the polls ‘worrying’. He said that there is a new term replacing ‘anti-vax’, which is ‘vaccine hesitancy’. He said that people are rightly worried, especially when they perceive a political element to vaccination. The rapidity of the vaccine development is one factor, the lack of information about it being another. He admitted that there are things we just do not know yet until the vaccine is rolled out.

Neil asked about mandatory vaccinations. Ritchie said that France has several vaccines that are mandatory, as do the US and Australia. Ritchie does not think this will be a question in the UK, because, despite the polls, there is still an eagerness among the public for vaccination. He thinks the Government should pay people around £200 to get vaccinated as an incentive.

Changing people’s minds could be less successful, he admitted. Neil pushed Ritchie on no admittance to restaurants or on flights. Neil clearly is gung-ho on this, sadly. Ritchie agreed, saying that people would feel safer if mandates such as these were added to our everyday lives. (Pathetic.)

Forsyth said that the Government wants 75% of target groups to be vaccinated but added that scepticism would be a problem. Ritchie said making it compulsory would only make people more suspicious. That said, he purported that the vaccine was truly safe.

Ritchie looks very young to me and he was most enthusiastic on vaccination. I would like to see him as a 60+ giving such views.

Katy Balls said the vulnerable as well as front line health workers will be at the top of the vaccination priority list. However, she does not doubt that Conservative rebels will be on the case, depending on the vaccination issue of the day.

She said that one poll showed that the public would be more likely to take the vaccine if their MP took it first. (Excellent idea.)

Ritchie said that vaccine efficacy will determine future uptake.

Brexit

The final topic was Brexit. Neil spoke with Sir Ivan Rogers, the UK’s permanent representative to the EU between 2013 and 2017. He worked closely with former Prime Ministers David Cameron and Theresa May on this issue. Neil asked Rogers about Brexit talks as they stand. Rogers said they were ‘very fraught’. Time is running out, and decisions now have to be made. Rogers thought the markets were too optimistic on the EU and UK arriving at a deal.

Rogers said that Boris’s government is not ‘classically Conservative’, meaning Thatcherite. He added that we are also in the coronavirus crisis, which has added another dimension to EU-UK negotiations.

Neil said that British politicians never considered how difficult Brexit would be to negotiate. Rogers said that ministers knew about the difficulty and discussed it privately during his time. He agreed that ministers did not have a vision as to how they wanted to negotiate an exit. He added that he had real doubts from the beginning about Theresa May’s deal, which he never thought would succeed.

Then there were disagreements about what a ‘Canada+’ deal actually meant. He said there were ‘huge misreadings’ on both sides. He warned about the ‘++’ element for that reason. The final deal will be much stronger on goods than on services, he thinks, which is a centuries-old priority.

Neil asked if these negotiations could go on and on in smaller ways, even with a deal. Rogers thinks there will be modifications in the years to come. Some of these are already under discussion, he said, which is making a final deal more evasive at this time.

After the interview, Forsyth said that fishing is the biggest issue right now, especially as the French — Emmanuel Macron, specifically — baulking at the UK’s reclaiming our national territories.

Forsyth stated that, even with a deal, future EU-UK negotiations will continue ‘for the rest of our lifetimes’. He said these will be a ‘constant for the rest of our working lives’.

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Thanks to Charles Stanley Wealth Managers for their sponsorship of the programme.

Below is Episode 10 of Spectator TV’s The Week in 60 Minutes, broadcast on Thursday, November 5, 2020:

As per their YouTube blurb, Andrew Neil’s special guests are:

David Spiegelhalter, Winton Professor of the Public Understanding of Risk at the University of Cambridge [and] Ece Temelkuran, a Turkish journalist who was fired from her publication for criticising the government.

Andrew Neil began with the US election. Neil clearly loathes Trump. This is why I have not listened to or posted the previous two broadcasts.

He did mention that the state legislatures have a big part to play in deciding whether their election counts are legal or if they can take other action. Political Editor James Forsyth said this was not the predicted Blue Wave Democrats and pollsters predicted. As such, the Republican-dominated Senate will put a check on how much Biden, should he become president, could do.

Economics Correspondent Kate Andrews, who is American, said that to Trump supporters, the incumbent represents ‘normality’. She is not a Trump fan, by the way. She said that Trump will not go down without a fight in the courts, especially after the Democrats have dogged him since 2015. She also pointed out how wrong the polls were.

Neil said that the Democrats never seem to learn their lessons, beginning with Hillary Clinton in 2016. He also said that Biden made a mistake in offering a huge concert featuring Lady Gaga; it looked to ‘Flyover Country’ as if he were pandering to multi-millionaires.

Forsyth pointed out that there is still deep division in the way that Americans think. Neil mentioned the upcoming litigation from Team Trump and mentioned voter fraud, including mail-in ballots. Forsyth said that Establishment Republicans, e.g. Mitch McConnell, will not want him to move into the territory of ‘vexatious lawsuits’.

Neil noted that Democrats are hardly triumphant, particularly because of Biden’s age: 78. Kate Andrews replied that their mandate will be unclear for a one-term president. [They are both assuming Joe’s going to last for four years.] She disagreed with Forsyth about coronavirus being the reason Trump didn’t get more votes; she thinks that Trump came on too strong in the first debate. [The presidential debates are supposed to sway the undecided.]

Andrews think that Biden will ‘work across the aisle’ if he becomes president. However, she says there’s a long road ahead before the president is decided.

Forsyth says that chances are good that Republicans will continue ‘Trumpism without Trump’, building more links with the working class and those on lower incomes. He thinks Democrats have more work to do here than Republicans.

Neil said that the Midwest could take the coastal areas over as the deciding region in future elections — for both parties. Andrews said that people there really appreciated the 2017 tax breaks. The economy, from what she has seen in exit poll issues, was much more important than coronavirus.

Neil said that if Biden becomes president, he will face a Republican-controlled Senate and a majority-conservative Supreme Court. [Neil and Andrews haven’t allowed for him to stack the Supreme Court.]

At that point, both Neil and Forsyth started showing their vulnerabilities as pundits on US politics. So, I’ll move on to the next topic.

The next topic of discussion was the second coronavirus lockdown in England, paralleling the one in Wales and something similar in Scotland. It started the day of the broadcast.

The Spectator‘s editor, Fraser Nelson, talked about the ‘debacle’ of spurious data from SAGE that appeared at the press conference on Saturday, October 31, which 15 million people watched. He pointed out that there are nowhere near 4,000 daily deaths from coronavirus. The magazine has been tracking the data daily.

Nelson also mentioned Sir Patrick Vallance’s exaggerated projections from September, which were not at all true. Nelson said that it looks — even before lockdown — as if the Government’s localised tier system is working. Liverpool’s case numbers decreased by 48%, he said, in the second half of October. He concludes that the Government pushed lockdown based on modelling rather than reality, i.e. ‘scary charts’. [I couldn’t agree more.]

Prof David Spiegelhalter appeared remotely. Neil asked him about these strange statistics and scary scenarios. Spiegelhalter, a statistician, said that he would be speaking personally, not professionally. He said that the ‘4,000 deaths’ were ‘completely unnecessary’ to make a case for a second lockdown. He pointed out that, in more moderate areas of the country, e.g. the south-West, cases are going up. He said that, even as R is decreasing, we are only stabilising the situation temporarily. The situation we are in now is still putting pressure on the NHS to carry out routine treatments. That could have been explained and that would have been reason enough for the public to accept a second lockdown.

Nelson broke in to say that he thought showing alarmist statistics to an early evening audience nationwide on a Saturday was irresponsible. Spiegelhalter agreed, saying that the graph was ‘inappropriate’. He added that it had been produced under earlier, out-of-date assumptions — and was never part of an official document.

Nelson asked for a more balanced view with regard to public statistics. He was also concerned about false-positive test results. Spiegelhalter replied that the true false-positive result is very low. However, we are moving on from the PCR (swab) test we have been using. [A trial with a new test in Liverpool started a few days ago.] He said that the new tests would need to be further evaluated for false-positive rates.

Neil has been talking to the True Blue (Conservative) faithful and they have been growing increasingly ‘hostile’ towards Boris Johnson’s premiership. James Forsyth said there could be a vote on a third lockdown later in the winter. He predicted that there would be an even bigger Conservative backbench rebellion than there was on Wednesday, November 4, when the new lockdown was voted in. Andrews said that the public have not seen enough done during the summer to prevent a further coronavirus crisis. They are also edgy and frustrated about an ever-extended furlough scheme, recently extended to the end of March 2021.

Talk then turned to the ongoing disagreement between France and Turkey, which saw two terrorist incidents in France recently. Ece Temelkuran, an award-winning Turkish journalist and author, was the final interviewee. Neil asked her if Turkey’s President Erdogan was an ‘authoritarian’. She replied, ‘Definitely’. However, she added that the move away from secularism started in the 1980s with members of the military and went on from there. She explained that part of that move was against the Cold War. After the Berlin Wall fell, the military leaders were ‘jobless’ and looked for something with which they could occupy their time. Twenty years ago, after 9/11, Turkey became the ‘model, the exemplar country’ for ‘moderate Islam’, which emerged after 2001, and became stronger advocates for the cause.

She does not think that Erdogan has a plan, that he merely wants power. She says that Erdogan perceives — along with some Turks — that the ‘West has lost its moral superiority’ with the refugee crisis that began in 2015.

She said that Erdogan is increasing his control over various Turkish institutions, ongoing over the past four years. She said that things will get worse before they get better.

Charles Stanley Wealth Managers sponsored the programme.

Andrew Neil, veteran BBC journalist and chairman of The Spectator worldwide, hosted Episode 7 of The Week in 60 Minutes on Thursday, October 15, 2020:

A summary follows.

Not surprisingly, given events of the past week, coronavirus led the news.

Andrew Neil began with England’s increasing number of regional lockdowns. It would seem that Prime Minister Boris Johnson is no longer following the science. The Labour and official Leader of the Opposition, Sir Keir Starmer, wants another national lockdown. The political editor of The Spectator, James Forsyth, said that, whatever coronavirus crisis measures Boris Johnson takes, he’s ‘damned if he does, damned if he doesn’t’ and has to deal with the damage of lockdowns.

Across the Channel in France, Emmanuel Macron has been following a similar strategy to that of Downing Street and is very concerned about COVID-19 in all respects. Neil asked about last week’s contretemps in Ireland. Forsyth said that Ireland’s dispute between their government and medical experts was played out in public; by contrast, in the UK, it was in private. In any event, he said that scientists are now in a position of ‘negotiation’.

The magazine’s deputy political editor, Katy Balls, was on next to discuss Labour’s position on coronavirus. Labour MPs disagreed with Keir Starmer behind the scenes, a move which she said has united the Conservatives. That said, it seems England could well be heading towards a short ‘circuit breaker’, although that would be very difficult for Conservative MPs to stomach.

Forsyth said that this is a very dangerous time for the Government. Starmer could even emerge victorious. (‘At some point’, I might add, as Boris has a majority of 79 [from 80], and no general election is due before 2024.) At this stage, it’s too soon to tell. He said that no one knows if a circuit breaker would actually work in England.

The Spectator‘s editor Fraser Nelson was up next. He said that Boris was pretty well on to the way to a national lockdown, adding that he lacks the way to fight off SAGE, having been  ‘outmanoeuvered’.

Neil asked about a recent poll showing approval for more coronavirus restrictions. Ben Page from IPSOS-Mori explained the polls, which showed that 62% of respondents thought that stricter measures should be taken. Page indicated that these were somewhat alarming results: ‘quite astonishing in some ways … across the piece’.

Forsyth noted that 19% of Conservative voters in England oppose increased restrictions, which poses a problem for Boris because it creates a North-South divide. Ben Page countered that the polling support for Labour and Conservative has been fairly stable this year. Labour haven’t been able to gain much ground since December 2019.

Jake Berry MP, a Conservative representing the northern constituency of Rossendale and Darwen in Lancashire, spoke next. He said that, although their regional lockdown had been relaxed recently, they are now on Tier 2. He said that people are largely ignoring the Government guidelines and will comply only with what they think is appropriate. He does not favour a national lockdown but supports a local circuit breaker ‘based on the data’, so that it becomes less political for the public. He believes that the Government could have ‘handled the North better’ and that recent weeks have proven a ‘very dangerous moment for Parliament and the North’. That said, he added that Labour ‘is in quite a lot of trouble over this as well’ and said Starmer committed quite a big mistake this week when calling for a national circuit breaker.

Berry further advised that we need to give this new two-week regional lockdown the benefit of the doubt which might lead for in-and-out local lockdowns.

Neil then changed tack, moving across the Channel to France, with its local 10 p.m. coronavirus curfews (some of which are now at 9 p.m.) and a campaign against extremism.

Ayaan Hirsi Ali, speaking to the latter point, was the next guest. She was sceptical about any success against extremism. She said that extremists have convinced French immigrants they are living within another type of state to which they do not feel they naturally belong. She added that this is enough to subvert the French nation. She also said that the same narrative is going on in other Western nations, because leaders remain silent and refuse to admit what is really going on.

Talk then turned to Brexit arrangements, which were to have been concluded that day. James Forsyth said that the EU threw the ball into the UK’s ‘court’. That leaves the situation whereby Michel Barnier wants to carry on talks but neither side wants to back down.

Forsyth expects there will be a deal to be done ‘but with a twist in the tail’. Fraser Nelson said that Boris and Macron communicate with each other quite closely and expected that Britain will budge over fishing rights. It will be, he predicted, one for revision: ‘a process rather than an event’.

Forsyth said there could be a November deadline, even though neither side wants an early deadline because they do not want any changes to the deal. He predicted a last minute November 15 deal.

The last part of the programme concerned protecting the triple lock pension with Katy Balls affirming that Boris is ‘committed to it’.

The panel noted Boris’s ‘unstrustworthiness’ problem with voters. Questions from listeners followed for the last ten minutes. Ben Page said that the Labour Party is very unpopular even if Keir Starmer is popular in the polls.

Viewers are grateful to Charles Stanley Wealth Managers for sponsoring the programme.

Andrew Neil’s Spectator TV posted its sixth episode of The Week in 60 Minutes on Thursday, October 8, 2020:

Guests included Prof David Nabarro, World Health Organization special envoy for Covid-19; Andy Preston, mayor of Middlesbrough; Pat Leahy, political editor of the Irish Times and a few Spectator journalists.

The programme began with the status of coronavirus measures in Ireland.

Pat Leahy, political editor of the Irish Times, says that the Irish government was surprised by the recent recommended lockdown which they ultimately rejected. The Irish government were highly critical of the proposed measures, privately and publicly. Leahy explained that the head of the public health advisers has been off work because of compassionate leave, then, last Sunday, he returned and recommended another lockdown. The Irish government took it as, he says, a ‘power play’.

The government objected to the health experts’ very quick meetings amongst themselves and with government officials. Leahy said that the government were ‘annoyed’.

The government did not disagree with the recommended measures per se, but there was a fine balance to be achieved. The minister of finance warned of employment and social consequences, because a number of jobs would not be coming back. He and his staff needed to consider if other measures could be taken instead.

Neil mentioned today’s minimal COVID-19 deaths in Ireland. Leahy agreed and said that the so-called second wave has much less severe than the first. That said, the admissions to hospitals have been rising dramatically. So, there is a question about whether the second wave is different from the first. The Irish government felt they could weigh the statistics, adopting a wait-and-see approach. Leahy said that Dr Leo Varadkar, a physician who was formerly the prime minister and is now the deputy prime minister, essentially threw the nation’s chief medical officer Tony Holohan ‘under the bus’.

Leahy said that the part of Ireland’s problem was assigning decisions to scientists and doctors in the first wave earlier this year. Currently, scientific advice ‘is only one factor’ in the decision making process that the Irish government will take with regard to coronavirus measures. Leahy said that time will tell whether the public will back the government. The economic factors are such that things could change in the weeks to come.

Katy Balls was up next, advocating Swedish models that a number of Conservative MPs back. A number of backbenchers disapprove of Drs Whitty and Vallance.

Conversation then turned to the WHO’s Prof David Nabarro who says we are still in a bit of the first wave and we’re not over it, so we need to learn how to live with the virus without lockdown and the ‘closing down of economies’. What he calls ‘the middle path’ requires holding the virus at bay while allowing the economy to resume in order to make certain we can put safeguards in place, so that we can stop the virus whilst getting local ‘actors’, as well as testing and tracing, involved as much as possible and a common commitment to each other to keep everything as safe as possible. He said that lockdowns serve only to give a health service some breathing space.

Nabarro said that is what South East Asian countries are doing, also Germany and Canada. As lockdown lifts, nations can deal with increased cases ‘elegantly’.

As for Ireland, Nabarro sided halfway with the Irish government and halfway with the scientific advisors. He did caution that public buy-in was necessary for any success.

Nabarro predicted many more weeks of uncertainty but that we would feel ‘much more comfortable’ in the New Year.

Neil asked Nabarro about Prof Sunetra Gupta’s views on a milder lockdown. Nabarro said that the WHO do not advocate lockdowns as an absolute principle. (UK government: please take note!) He cited the damage done to the Caribbean and Pacific tourist industry. As a result, many more people could lapse into poverty.

Neil brought up Scotland’s coming lockdown and a possible one in the North of England.

Kate Andrews had current statistics, comparing them to Sir Patrick Vallance’s alarming case graph from the third week of September. So far, we are not close to Vallance’s projection, but the UK is higher than France’s and Spain’s cases, respectively.

The effect of local lockdowns showed a skyrocketing in positive tests (‘cases’).  According to statistics, it is possible that Leicester should have already been taken out of lockdown.

Kate Andrews showed graphs that revealed that hospitality was responsible for a very low number of cases: around four per cent, not dissimilar to this pie chart, which I cited last Friday.

Nabarro intervened, saying he preferred ‘local integrated responses’, because breaking the virus involves input from every institution, be it a factory or a house of worship. He praised Leicester for its diversity, holding it up as a model for the world.

The Spectator‘s political editor, James Forsyth, came on to comment about the former Labour ‘Red Wall’ in the North. Much of that Red Wall voted for Conservatives in December 2019. Forsyth said that lockdown will be viewed as flooding has been in recent years: even if measures taken are not political, they look as if they ARE political. Northerners see that London and the surrounding Home Counties will not be locked down, and, as a result, will suffer fewer socio-economic casualties.

Andy Preston, the Independent mayor of Middlesbrough, was the next guest. He has been positively incandescent about lockdown. The transmission is a bit choppy, but Preston said that many of his residents didn’t personally know many people who had or died of COVID-19. He added that Middlesbrough’s residents have paid more in tax whilst losing out locally. He felt that ‘the Government is doing stuff to us’.

Preston has asked for a temporary ban on in-house socialising but supports frequenting restaurants. He said that local government and the UK government need to work together on measures.

Preston said that he thought there was an ‘inside group’ of advisers to the government, with no one from Middlesbrough involved.

He said that this type of decision making could go ‘very badly wrong for the country’.

Talk then turned towards the American vice presidential debate. Freddy Gray covered this segment. He said that Mike Pence is ‘a very accomplished performer’, ‘intelligent and he spoke very fluently’. He disclosed that he has never been a Pence fan but predicted that he could be the next Republican nominee in 2024.

Neil said that a Trump-Biden virtual debate would not be the first. Nixon broadcasted in 1960 from Los Angeles. Gray said that no one knew what is going on in Trump’s mind and said that the American president had gone ‘full gonzo’.

Viewers’ questions came next.

The first had to do with successful measures against COVID-19. Nabarro commented on coronavirus success in South East Asia, which he attributed to community buy-in and no delay in taking action, which can result in more problems later.

Another viewer said that England’s mayors needed to come together with regard to England’s lockdown. Andy Preston said he would back Manchester’s Andy Burnham, a former Labour MP.

A third viewer wondered about the vote coming up this week on England’s 10 p.m. curfew. Katy Balls said she doubted whether Labour would oppose the vote, but Conservative rebels might have their chance in the weeks to come to succeed in voting against the Government. (Personally, I don’t think it will happen. Most of the Opposition support lockdown measures and restricting civil liberties.)

James Forsyth says that half the Conservative MPs really detest the Government’s coronavirus restrictions. He cited the communications surrounding them and questioned what the £12bn poured into the ‘test and trace’ programme has actually achieved. He said it was ‘not delivering’.

Andrew Neil asked about the Great Barrington Declaration, which Prof Sunetra Gupta and many other physicians signed a week ago in Massachusetts. Kate Andrews said that Prime Minister Boris Johnson said there would be a ‘game changer’ with no social restrictions a year from now. As such, time is not a big deal for Boris. Neil said that Boris sounded like Chauncey Gardiner. I don’t like saying this, but I tend to agree with his assessment. Boris seems off the rails right now.

Leahy had the final word, measuring the rising positive tests with closed pubs and other measures. The Irish government, he says, needs to give these new measures time to work, including buy-in from the public to avoid another lockdown. He predicts another two to three weeks.

The final question came to Nabarro about the origin of the virus. He said, in short, that there was no definitive answer. ‘You [have to] bring in independent actors’, therefore, the WHO would need ‘to bring in other staff to help’.

Hmm. Interesting.

Then, in an abrupt change of tone, Nabarro sounded a blast at certain countries, including Belarus and Spain, saying that a second wave could come soon and that no nation should be complacent.

Hmm.

Charles Stanley Wealth Managers sponsored this week’s programme. For that, we are most grateful. Agree or disagree, Spectator TV is manna in a desert of dry, one-way MSM broadcasts.

Below is Episode 5 of Spectator TV’s The Week in 60 Minutes, which aired on Thursday, October 1, 2020:

It was another hour of informative television, hosted by Andrew Neil.

Discussion points prove that a week is a long time not only in politics but also where coronavirus is concerned.

Although the first segment is now dated, as thousands of extra ‘cases’ (positive test results, for the most part) were discovered missing from English coronavirus stats last Friday, The Spectator‘s economics correspondent Kate Andrews reviewed Chief Scientific Officer Sir Patrick Vallance’s alarming graph from two weeks ago. The English stats were flat when Andrews gave her commentary.

This is a graph from October 6, showing actual data plotted against Vallance’s:

This is also worth noting, including the comparison of hospitalisations from earlier in the year:

Kate Andrews said that France and Spain are levelling out. Nearly one week on, that is continuing. Spain’s positive test numbers/cases are falling noticeably:

In any event, Andrews rightly pointed out that COVID deaths are still far fewer than flu or other causes. In fact, she said, 51% of Britons now worried about the economy, particularly in light of lockdowns across a growing swathe of England in the North and the Midlands.

Spectator editor Fraser Nelson thinks Boris has created some space to evaluate COVID measures, as he will now be meeting with Vallance and Chief Medical Officer Dr Chris Whitty once a week.

The magazine’s political editor, James Forsyth, said that the hotspots are more regional now and that Tory MPs from regions with lower positive test rates will ask for easing lockdown restrictions with more focus on improving the economy. That has happened in Parliament but not to a great enough extent to make a difference when it comes to voting on coronavirus restrictions. The Government won the vote on the Rule of Six hands down this week.

Kate Andrews says economists now think recovery will take longer because of new restrictions.

They are absolutely correct. A lot of businesses in the hospitality and entertainment sectors are likely to suffer during the winter months. Restaurant and banqueting venue owners do not know whether they should take bookings for Christmas parties. Businesses — their customers — are also loath to make large Christmas bookings. At the weekend, Boris predicted that the coming months would be ‘bumpy’ through Christmas ‘and possibly beyond’, perhaps ‘until Easter’. Boris and much of his Cabinet are banking on a vaccine appearing on the market by that time. Oh, dearie, dearie me.

The best part of the interview was the segment with Prof Sunetra Gupta, an infectious disease epidemiologist and a professor of theoretical epidemiology at the University of Oxford. Last weekend, Prof Gupta signed the Great Barrington Declaration in western Massachusetts, opposing the current form of Western lockdowns. Those who wish to watch that segment separately can tune in below:

She doubted the validity of Vallance’s graph which, she said, still applies to the first, rather than a second, wave. She said that what we are seeing is in line with the way viruses work in the autumn. She thinks that governments and scientists should move away from lockdowns because of other equally urgent issues involving human life. She also said that lockdowns serve only to delay more COVID-19 cases. She believes that we need to learn to live with the virus and added that it should settle down eventually, as with the flu. She says this is called endemic equilibrium. She told Neil that she recently met with Prime Minister Boris Johnson. Unfortunately, she said, Boris told her he disagrees with her scientifically reasoned request to return to normality.

That makes it even more obvious that Boris is all in for a vaccine, nothing less. How sad.

Talk turned to the appointment of a new chairman of the BBC. Charles Moore, a long-time conservative journalist and former Spectator editor, was thought to be the likely candidate last week. Andrew Neil interviewed Claire Fox from the Institute of Ideas, who spoke about Charles Moore and the BBC, which many Britons believe is biased against conservative ideas. Claire Fox said that we have to have a national discussion and ‘shake up’ about what we expect from the media, because people think there is a one-sided narrative and ‘groupthink at their core’.

Fraser Nelson said that conservatives don’t really play that game, to their detriment.

In the days that followed, Charles Moore indicated that he would not apply for the job at the BBC (more here from The Telegraph):

Andrew Neil discussed the US election debate, which had taken place earlier last week. Matt Purple of The American Conservative, probably the only anti-Trump journalist at that publication, said it was ‘a Chernobyl’, largely because Trump does not correct his errors. He said that Biden is ahead in the polls. Neil asked about the undecided voters watching the debate. Purple said that Trump’s ‘temperament’ is the issue. He also thinks that independent voters see Joe Biden as a ‘better package’. He added that incumbents have a record to defend and that Trump ‘burned the most’.

I find it incredible that Matt Purple thinks Trump is a bad president. I wonder why he works for The American Conservative, which Rod Dreher, a solid conservative, edits.

In any event, Purple’s words were music to Andrew Neil’s ears. Like most middle- and upper-class Britons, he loathes Trump, for whatever reason.

Neil asked Kate Andrews, an American, whom she preferred. She said that, although she is conservative, she was leaning towards Joe Biden. No surprise there.

Neil said that Trump is going to lose both the popular and Electoral College vote. He mentioned a plethora of court cases to be settled afterwards.

Looking into American history, Neil mentioned the controversy surrounding Rutherford Hayes’s election in 1876, which took four months to resolve. Purple agreed, predicting more violence in the streets.

Andrew Neil ended the hour by reading out questions from viewers.

John Prescott (not the retired politician) asked about coronavirus metrics. Gupta said that health officials need to look at deaths and the correct number of cases versus the number of tests then benchmark those data against other infections.

Roger Murphy asked about reversing lockdown. James Forsyth said that we will see in a fortnight, because this is the first time we have seen local pushback to lockdowns. Fraser Nelson said that Boris is missing the point. Lockdown, he added, will not help strengthen the Red Wall that the Conservatives won in the North last December. Locking down London is another possible sticking point.

No doubt this week’s Spectator TV broadcast, to be filmed on Thursday, will cover Boris’s speech at the Conservative Party conference and rebel Conservative MPs who want lockdown rules to be changed. I’ll post that video soon.

There are two more increasingly popular Spectator TV videos to view, brilliantly presented by Andrew Neil.

Each of the episodes below is one hour long, but it is unlikely that those seeking real news and analysis will be bored.

As a supporter of President Trump, I was somewhat less impressed with Episode 3, from September 17, which downplayed his chances for re-election as well as his foreign policy, as many of us consider it a peacetime triumph:

Sweden’s state epidemiologist Anders Tegnell was the first to be interviewed about his nation’s handling of coronavirus. As we know, they had no lockdown.

Tegnell regretted not having controlled the many deaths in care homes — similar to those in other Western nations. There were also other lives that could not be saved because of co-morbidities. He said that a lockdown would not have saved them.

The problem in the care homes related to their separation from a national health care system, again, not dissimilar to the tragic result seen in other nations, particularly the United Kingdom and the Netherlands.

He indicated that Sweden wanted to ensure that care home fatalities were resolved going forward as well as those among minority populations. He said that an EU commission was looking into those challenges.

Neil asked why Sweden was one of the few countries that ignored the projections from Imperial College London earlier this year. Tegnell replied that Imperial’s models were ‘quite extreme’ and ‘doubtful’. He added that models are not made ‘for prognosis’ because ‘you don’t really know’ what is going to happen.

He said, ‘This is not a competition’ and expressed his desire for more international collaboration and discussion to find a common pathway towards fighting the a second wave of the pandemic as well as agreement on testing.

He said that Sweden had been conducting 80,000 tests a week with no recent deaths.

Good for Sweden. They did well considering they bucked all the odds.

In case the interview is difficult to listen to because Tegnell is on a train, here is another transmission:

Episode 4 of Spectator TV, from Thursday, September 24, covered a multitude of health, economic and political topics:

Kate Andrews talked about the broadcast that Dr Chris Whitty and Sir Patrick Vallance made about coronavirus last week. Rishi Sunak, Chancellor of the Exchequer, gave a statement last week on a winter economic programme. It focussed on a change from furlough, which expires in October, to a jobs subsidy for viable employment. She said that there is no doubt that unemployment will rise in the UK in the coming months.

James Forsyth echoed that and said that Rishi Sunak’s plan is to retain as many current jobs as possible but also to create many more.

On that note, Katy Balls said that there is some tension between 10 and 11 Downing Street. Boris errs on the side of health and personal safety. Rishi is more focussed on the economic numbers in order to keep Britain afloat.

With regard to coronavirus, Dr Flavio Toxvaerd, an economic epidemiologist from Cambridge University, said that epidemiologists do not have a good estimation of human behaviour. He did not believe that we were likely to see the latest coronavirus predictions from Whitty and Vallance’s graphs come true. That said, there is a delicate balance to be struck between health and the economy in dealing with COVID-19. Both are critical at this time. Neither can be viewed in isolation.

With regard to his eponymous amendment anticipated to be brought before the House of Commons, Sir Graham Brady said he felt confident that any future coronavirus-related statutory instruments would have to be brought before the House of Commons for debate and a vote prior to implementation.

Questions have been raised as to Boris Johnson’s future as Prime Minister. Katy Balls and James Forsyth both thought that he would not be gone by the end of the year, as many have predicted over the past several days. Leaving the EU, they predicted, will put fuel in the tank for 2021, so to speak.

Turning to the upcoming US elections, Dominic Green said that a Biden administration would favour the EU more than the United Kingdom emerging from Brexit. Again, this assumes that Joe Biden will win the election. Green rightly warned that polls are unreliable. (We saw the same situation four years ago with the polls and the ‘Trump can’t win’ theme. We are seeing it again now.)

Thousands of us are grateful to the NatWest Group for sponsoring these useful broadcasts.

Last Monday, I wrote about the debut of Spectator TV, from The Spectator‘s editors and writers, presented by Andrew Neil.

A lot of viewers loved it:

It’s now on YouTube:

If you missed the first episode …

Episode 2 came out on Thursday, September 10:

Enjoy:

The most interesting parts were with Dr Elisabetta Groppelli, a virologist from the University of London, who has been participating in a coronavirus vaccine trial and explains the complications with said trials.

She said that the UK has pre-ordered the Astra Zeneca vaccine, depending on its success. She added that the UK also has interests in other vaccines that are being tested. She said that she thought that it will be unlikely that any of the successful vaccines will be mandatory but that there will be ‘discussions’ to persuade people to have them.

Katy Balls expressed the Government’s concern about university students socialising and possibly spreading coronavirus with partying, even with the ‘rule of six’ people to any one gathering.

Freddy Gray was as pessimistic as he was in 2016 about a Trump win. He was wrong then. Will he be wrong now? We shall see. He thinks the election result, as the Democrats said at their party conference, will be delayed.

With regard to Brexit, James Forsyth says that the biggest problem we will face is around fish. The French will not want to see a drop in their catch. He also thinks that Angela Merkel will step in at a time that suits her interests.

The questions in the second episode were mostly fronted by Andrew Neil, with a large degree of anonymity.

I enjoyed the first Spectator TV episode more than the first, however, viewers will find much to digest in both.

Once again, well done.

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