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Previews of a 151-page report from two parliamentary select committees appeared on October 12, 2021.

Jeremy Hunt, chairs the Health and Social Care Committee, and Greg Clark is chairman of the Science and Technology Committee. The report represents the unanimous conclusions of the 22 Conservative, Labour and SNP MPs serving on them.

Whilst one can appreciate the hours of work it took to create a report out of many hours of testimony since 2020, it might as well have been compiled from newspaper reports.

I have not yet found the full report online, but media reports have been appearing throughout the morning.

In summary, although the vaccine rollout was a great success, the Government made a lot of mistakes: not locking down sooner (!?!), neglecting the elderly, being late in creating a test and trace system and relying too much on SAGE:

Guido Fawkes looked at the criticism of SAGE (emphases in the original):

… What caught Guido’s eye in the report, however, was how critical it is of the scientific advice that dictated the government’s response at the start of the pandemic:

“In the first three months the strategy reflected official scientific advice to the Government which was accepted and implemented. When the Government moved from the ‘contain’ stage to the ‘delay’ stage, that approach involved trying to manage the spread of covid through the population rather than to stop it spreading altogether […] The fact that the UK approach reflected a consensus between official scientific advisers and the Government indicates a degree of groupthink that was present at the time which meant we were not as open to approaches being taken elsewhere as we should have been.”

In other words, the government was wrong to consistently accept the scientific advice, and should have challenged SAGE’s input more often. Quite the departure from the Twitterati’s squawks that the government should always and only “follow the science”…

The report later adds:

“We accept that it is difficult to challenge a widely held scientific consensus. But accountability in a democracy depends on elected decision-makers taking advice, but examining, questioning and challenging it before making their own decisions.”

The government made lots of mistakes last year, yet it’s clear they were also being guided by ill-informed voices. Of course, that’s bound to happen in the chaos of a pandemic; it was a novel virus and no one really had all the right answers. Hindsight makes this look a lot easier. Still, this hardly vindicates Whitty, Vallance, and SAGE – and going forward, as the report says, there should be an effort to “include more representation and a wider range of disciplines” when making these decisions…

The Times picked up on ‘group-think‘:

“Group-think” among ministers, scientific advisers and civil servants meant that a lockdown was not brought in quickly enough early last year, ranking as “one of the most important public health failures the United Kingdom has ever experienced”.

However, the Daily Mail reports that Chief Scientific Adviser Sir Patrick Vallance hit back, especially about ‘following the science’ (emphases mine):

Ministers shouldn’t have said they were being ‘led by the science’ throughout the Covid pandemic, Sir Patrick Vallance has said.  

No10’s chief scientific adviser claimed science doesn’t decide nor does it ‘lead the way’, insisting that there were other complex matters that needed to be factored in for crucial decisions.

He said No10 should have stuck to the phrase ‘informed by science’, rather than implying they were ‘slavishly following’ evidence ‘because science doesn’t have all the answers to these things’.

In his first in-depth interview since the virus hit the UK, he also said he doesn’t ‘sugar coat’ information for the Government.

Sir Patrick, who became a household name during the course of the pandemic due to his frequent appearances at daily televised press briefings in Downing St, said he views his job as ‘giving scientific advice, like it or not, to the Prime Minister and Cabinet to enable them to make decisions’.

And he revealed that his mantra has always been to act early when adopting lockdown restrictions to thwart the spread of coronavirus.

Did Vallance ever advise the Prime Minister and Cabinet ministers against saying ‘follow the science’ or similar? It would appear not, as they said it dozens of times in press conferences and in Parliament.

Dominic Cummings took advantage of the report to lambaste Boris again. The Mail reported:

Speaking to Sky News outside his home, the Prime Minister’s former chief adviser said: ‘Me and others put into place work to try to improve the system in 2020 after the first wave.

‘Unfortunately, the Prime Minister being the joke that he is has not pushed that work through.

Mr Cummings, who has been a vocal critic of Mr and Mrs Johnson since he left Downing Street, added: ‘Now we have a joke Prime Minister and a joke leader of the Labour party, and we obviously need a new political system.’

The report recommends better planning for the future. Ho-hum. The Government had a chance to do that following a 2016 report and the three-day-long Exercise Cygnus on how better to manage influenza. Jeremy Hunt, one of the authors of today’s report, was Health Secretary at the time. He didn’t do anything about the recommendations then. Therefore, it’s a bit rich for him to criticise now, yet, he heads the Health and Social Care Committee and that’s part of his job. 

A formal inquiry on the UK’s response to the coronavirus pandemic is expected to begin in 2022.

As I write, Prime Minister Boris Johnson is on holiday in Spain.

He, his wife Carrie and their young son Wilfred left for Lord Goldsmith’s holiday villa after the Conservative Party Conference ended on Wednesday, October 6.

It is a well-deserved break. His stay in Cornwall in August lasted 24 hours before he had to return to Downing Street to deal with the fallout from Joe Biden’s abrupt withdrawal from Afghanistan.

Despite Britain’s crises of fuel and food, he needed a break before Parliament resumes next week.

However, a pivotal personal event also occurred during this time: the death of his mother, Charlotte Johnson Wahl, whose funeral was held on September 28.

A Remainer campaigner sent a nasty tweet asking who was in charge of the Government:

Boris’s sister replied:

Boris has not taken any bereavement leave until now.

However, with every lamented death comes new life. Carrie Johnson will be giving birth again in a few weeks’ time, which will be a consolation to the Prime Minister.

Budding artist

Charlotte Maria Offlow Fawcett was born in 1942 in Oxford to Frances (née Lowe) — ‘Bice’ — Fawcett.

Her father, James Fawcett, was a barrister. Three decades later, Sir James Fawcett assumed the presidency of the European Commission for Human Rights.

Years later, Charlotte described her childhood family and friends as ‘rich socialists’. She never voted Conservative, although she told Boris that she did vote ‘Leave’ in the 2016 Brexit referendum.

Charlotte’s mother, Bice, was close friends with a woman from another prominent family, Elizabeth Pakenham. Elizabeth and her husband had a baby girl, Rachel.

In a tribute to her friend which she wrote for The Times, Rachel Billington said (emphases mine):

In May 1942 our mothers, Bice Fawcett and Elizabeth Pakenham, both had babies in Oxford and walked our prams side by side. Her family, the Fawcetts, were clever, artistic and international; the Pakenhams were political and literary. Charlotte and I were fat little girls together, waving our Peace in Europe flags and trying to keep up with our siblings. She ended up with four siblings, while I had seven. When both families were in London, I was jealous of music in her house and the sense of an intellectual world beyond my grasp. And she was jealous of my rumbustious life, with a house in the country and horses. Not that she had any wish to ride.

Rachel Billington says that Charlotte attended Catholic school and said her prayers every night, kneeling at her bedside. This religious education might well have imparted the wisdom she gave to Boris, who remembers her talking about ‘the equal value of every human life’.

The Fawcetts moved to the United States for a time. Billington recalls:

When her family went to live in America and her youngest brother acquired an American accent, I realised she inhabited a wider world.

The family returned to England. By then, Charlotte was interested in painting and pursued her artistry at Oxford, the university that Billington also attended. Charlotte was reading English:

At Oxford, her intensity was reflected in her small college room where the objects were ordered as if already in a painting. She was painting and drawing complicated faces and patterns. Her essays were remarkably short and there was never anything regurgitated from “further reading”. She discovered her views from the text and from her imagination.

Meeting Stanley at Oxford

Charlotte met her first husband, Stanley Johnson, at Oxford.

In a 2015 interview, she recalled how they met at a university dinner:

… she told Tatler magazine in 2015: ‘I was engaged to somebody called Wynford Hicks, who was extraordinarily beautiful to look at but actually quite boring.

‘Anyway, [after the dinner] Stanley sent me a note asking if he could come to tea and go for a walk. 

‘So a few days later we went for a walk and he suddenly said, ‘Love is sweet. Revenge is sweeter far. To the Piazza. Ah ha ha har!”, which made me laugh so much I fell in love with him.’

When he earned a scholarship to study in America, Charlotte accompanied him. They married in 1963 and their first child, Alexander Boris, was born a year later.

Billington explained his middle name. Stanley and Charlotte were on holiday in Mexico City at the time:

The name Boris, incidentally, arose when they ran out of money at the airport on the way to New York where Charlotte was to have the baby, and an impatient passenger in the queue offered to pay what they needed. “That’s terrific,” Stanley said gratefully, “We’ll call the baby after you if it’s a boy. What’s your name?” “Boris,” answered the gentleman. In fact it is our prime minister’s second name; while he was at Eton Alexander was dropped in its favour.

However, Boris is still known to his nearest and dearest, Billington included, as Al or Alexander.

Charlotte painted a portrait of her son as a young boy, who grew up with shoulder-length hair:

The casually dressed, floppy-haired boy looks up from his painting. He is relaxed but serious, his complexion fair.

The Johnsons returned to England for a time. Charlotte and Rachel resumed their friendship:

Nothing seemed impossible to this glittering couple and Charlotte returned to resume her degree with Stanley and Alexander while also pregnant with her daughter Rachel. Through these perambulations and my own, Charlotte and I remained close; I was Al’s godmother and later Charlotte was my eldest son, Nat’s. Friendship was very important for Charlotte and she had the kind of loving warmth that made even newer friends bond to her for life. And tell her their stories and listen to their jokes and laugh. Lots of laughter.

It seems likely that Charlotte named her daughter Rachel in honour of her friend.

Charlotte completed her degree at Oxford as the first married female undergraduate at her college, Lady Margaret Hall.

Ruined marriage

Stanley received a transfer back to the US to work at the World Bank in Washington DC.

Billington was also in the US, working for ABC television in New York.

She remembers meeting up with her friend, the mother of four:

With the Johnsons living in Washington, where Stanley was working at the World Bank, enjoying a highly sociable life, plus now having four children, it seemed extraordinary that Charlotte’s painting life could continue. Yet when I visited from New York where I was working for ABC TV, she still had the energy to go down to Rehoboth Beach [Delaware] and bebop with the rest of us.

In the 1970s, the Johnsons’ marriage began to break down once the family returned to London.

The Mail alleges:

Mrs Johnson Wahl had an unhappy marriage to Boris’ father Stanley, who was accused of breaking her nose in the 1970s.

Charlotte’s mental state disintegrated, to the point where she had to be admitted to the Maudsley Hospital in London.

Billington visited her:

… suddenly I was visiting my brilliant friend in the Maudsley Hospital suffering from the problems that pressure and an obsessional nature can bring, properly called obsessive compulsive disorder. While the children ran round in the garden, Charlotte and I talked and I discovered that every day she was painting for hours at a time. Eventually, nearly 80 paintings were exhibited in the hospital, terrifying pictures of people in despair, agony or just misery. Yet also implying hope in the vibrant beauty of the colours and quite often a kind of wry humour, as if saying, “This is my life at the moment.”

The Times obituary notes:

She had already become “extremely phobic . . . terrified of all forms of dirt”. Eventually she had a breakdown and spent eight months at the Maudsley hospital in south London as a patient of Hans Eysenck, the influential psychologist.

While Charlotte was in the Maudsley, Stanley was transferred to Brussels. He took the children with him.

Charlotte discussed the difficult marriage in a 2008 interview:

“My husband and I were not making each other happy, to put it mildly. It was ghastly, terrible,” she told the Daily Telegraph in 2008, tears filling her bespectacled eyes. “The children used to come over from Brussels to see me in hospital. They’d run down the passage and it was sickeningly painful because then they’d go away again. It took me a long time to recover.”

Once Charlotte recovered, she was able to move to Brussels and, during holidays, welcome guests at the family farm in Exmoor in Devon. Billington remembers her stays with the Johnsons:

As Charlotte recovered, the family moved to Brussels, but when they were in England I would join them in the house on Exmoor that Stanley inherited from his father. It was a glorious cold comfort farm, but friends, if they survived the long pot-holed driveway, were fed hugely and taken on challenging treks that usually included river swimming and mountain climbing. Well, hills. It was hard for Charlotte to paint there, yet the pictures of her children and her friends’ children prove she was still managing. I have three from that period.

The renowned journalist and author Tom Bower has written a biography of Boris, The Gambler. The Mail‘s obituary of Charlotte recaps how Stanley treated her:

A biography of the Prime Minister claimed her marriage became ‘irredeemably fractured’ due to her husband’s ‘neglect and philandering’.

The Gambler, by Tom Bower, alleged that doctors spoke to Stanley ‘about his abuse’ while the couple’s children were told a car door had hit their mother’s face.

The most shocking claim was that in the 1970s Stanley hit the Prime Minister’s mother in a domestic violence incident that broke her nose and left her requiring hospital treatment.

Mr Bower describes Stanley’s first marriage, to Mr Johnson’s mother Charlotte, as violent and unhappy, quoting her as saying: ‘He broke my nose. He made me feel like I deserved it.’

It was claimed that the incident took place in the 1970s when Mrs Johnson Wahl was suffering from obsessive compulsive disorder and had ‘flailed’ at Stanley, who broke her nose when ‘flailing back’.

Stanley, now 81, is said to have deeply regretted the incident and denied he had been violent on any other occasion

By the end of the decade, the couple separated. They divorced in 1979.

Billington lived five minutes away from Charlotte, once she separated and could really throw her energies into painting:

After her separation from Stanley, paintings poured out from her flat at the top of a large building in Elgin Crescent in Notting Hill, London, happily just five minutes’ walk from me.

The Mail says Charlotte refused financial support from Stanley:

After moving to a flat following her divorce, she refused to accept money from her ex-husband and made a living selling paintings. She later recalled she was ‘very hard up’.

Dr Nick Wahl, second husband

Charlotte found happiness with her second husband, Dr Nick Wahl, an American professor. They married in 1988.

The Times obituary tells us how they met in 1982 and summarises their life together:

… she met Nick Wahl, an American academic. “We were at a dinner party in Brussels given by [the diplomat] Crispin Tickell and Nick asked could he see my paintings,” she told Tatler. “He was on a trial separation from his wife. There was an immediate connection. I flew out to see him and he came to see me. There were an incredible number of crossings of the Atlantic.” They married in 1988, by which time her youngest son was in his final year at Eton, and lived on Washington Square, New York. Wahl died from cancer in 1996 and she returned to London, settling in Notting Hill in a flat that, according to one visitor, resembled “an Aladdin’s cave with exotic carpets, a dolls’ house, flowers, cherubs on the wall and oil paintings everywhere, including several of the flaxen-headed children”.

Billington recalls those years:

That was a great period of creativity that was reinforced by her marriage to Nick Wahl and a double life in London and Washington Square, New York where Nick was professor at the university. It gave her a chance to play with the Manhattan skyline and the sardine tin of the subway to dazzling effect, sometimes on giant canvases. In London, she modestly remarked, “I just paint what I see”, but Elgin Crescent had never looked so dramatic. My son Nat snapped up one, which I visit just to see what she made of a fairly ordinary London street.

As her beloved children grew up and made their own paths, and she no longer had the constant responsibilities of motherhood, I saw a painter at the peak of her powers. Now when I visited Manhattan, we ate out for every meal, feeling young and independent, both of us with four adored children, but free to do what we wanted. She painted, I wrote, and of course Charlotte had a whole lot of fascinating New York friends.

Unfortunately, around the time Charlotte met her second husband, she was diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease. That was in 1982, when she was only 40 years old.

Her quality of life diminished until 2013, when she underwent state of the art treatment in London.

The Times obituary says:

A cocktail of drugs helped to slow the progress of the disease, but the quality of her life was impeded. “The worst thing is a terrible stiffness,” she said. “When you want to walk you can’t — you freeze and your feet become attached to the ground.” In 2013 she achieved something of a medical breakthrough when Ludvic Zrinzo at the National Hospital in Bloomsbury introduced two electrodes into her brain and linked them to a battery in her chest. “It means I don’t jerk any more and I can go to the cinema and the theatre again. It’s bliss,” she said.

Political opposites

The Mail‘s obituary states that Charlotte was amazed to be the mother of four children who are all Conservatives:

She was described in a 2015 article in the Evening Standard as ‘left-wing’.

Boris Johnson’s sister, Rachel, said in the article, about two-party families, ‘We are a very mixed-race family politically and my father tends to marry socialists.

She later described her mother as ‘the only red in the village when we lived on Exmoor’And she herself once admitted that she had never voted Conservative, despite two of her sons being Tory MPs.

She told the Radio Times in 2015: ‘I find it extraordinary that I should have married a Tory and have four Tory children.

‘I’ve never voted Tory in my life. My parents were very socialist – rich socialists with three cars and two houses, but they were socialists in the days when that happened’

Along with Boris Johnson, she was also the mother of former Conservative MP Jo Johnson, journalist Rachel Johnson, and entrepreneur Leo Johnson.

The Prime Minister’s son Wilfred was her 13th grandchild. 

Charlotte had several exhibitions of her paintings, and she sold many. She was also commissioned to paint celebrity portraits, which were equally well received.

May Charlotte Johnson Wahl rest in peace. Hers was a life well lived. Most importantly, she was able to overcome adversity.

Sources:

Boris Johnson’s mother Charlotte Johnson-Wahl dies “suddenly and peacefully” at the age of 79, Daily Mail (includes family photos)

‘Charlotte Johnson Wahl was my best friend’, The Times

‘Charlotte Johnson Wahl, the prime minister’s mother, dies aged 79’, The Times

Yesterday’s post discussed the first three days of the Conservative Party Conference.

Today’s entry will look at Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s speech on Wednesday, October 6, 2021.

It was still content-light, but at least he explained what ‘levelling up’ is. More on that below.

But first, let’s look at what happened the night before, the last opportunity for MPs and the party faithful to get together on the dance floor.

Tuesday, October 5, after hours

Pensions minister Thérèse Coffey had a great time as the temporary £20 Universal Credit boost came to an end.

A cold fish at the despatch box at the best of times, Coffey showed us a different side of herself as she, a chemist by training, belted out ‘Time of My Life’ from Dirty Dancing (video credit to the Daily Mail):

The Mail reported (emphases mine):

The cabinet minister in charge of Universal Credit was slammed today for belting out Time of My Life at a boozy Conservative party Conference karaoke bash hours before cutting payments to six million people.

Work and Pensions Secretary Therese Coffey enthusiastically belted out the 1987 power ballad from the film Dirty Dancing in a duet with fellow Will Quince – a former welfare minister.

It came as a £20-per-week Covid uplift payment was removed from UC for families across the UK.

The Government has pressed ahead with the cut despite concerns – including from Tory backbenchers – that hundreds of thousands of people will be plunged into poverty.

From today, no assessments will include the uplift, meaning that from October 13 – a week later – no payments will be received that include the extra money.

I don’t know what I think about removal of the £20 uplift. The Government always said in Parliament that it was temporary and stated months ago that it would end in October 2021. I feel for those families. On the other hand, the last thing I want to see is Universal Basic Income, and if this £20 were maintained, it would have been a slippery slope along that road.

Furthermore, there are plenty of job vacancies and salaries are going up. Note the decrease in people clicking on the vacancies, however. Hmm:

Two other MPs, Levelling Up minister Michael Gove, in the process of divorcing his wife, and Tom Tugendhat, danced together. Guido referred to this season’s Strictly Come Dancing:

It was only a few weeks ago that Gove spent the early hours of one morning dancing in a nightclub in Aberdeen, his home town.

The Mail reported:

Michael Gove has been spotted rocking the dance floor again – this time busting moves to Whitney Houston’s I Wanna Dance With Somebody and belting out Bonnie Tyler’s Total Eclipse Of The Heart at the Tory party conference. 

One hilarious clip shows the Levelling Up Secretary, 54, arm in arm with Tom Tugendhat as he throws his finest shapes to a cover of the 1987 hit while wearing a suit and tie – just a month after his infamous night out in Aberdeen.  

Newly-single Mr Gove, and Mr Tugendhat, MP for Tonbridge and Malling, are seen taking turns to spin each other as they go all out at the gathering – which is not usually known as a hotbed of hedonism

In a second clip shared by The Sun, Gove can be seen passionately singing along to Bonnie Tyler’s hit 1983 anthem with his mouth wide open, hands interlocked with an unidentified woman in front of him.

Meanwhile, at another Conference party event, Liz Truss danced to Beyonce (video credit to Guido Fawkes):

Wednesday, October 6

Wednesday was Boris’s big day.

He abandoned his diet temporarily:

Guido Fawkes has the calorific coffee order:

Sat in the conference exhibition hall ahead of Boris’s speech Guido was astonished to overhear the Speccie’s Katy Balls being told by a barista that Boris’s aides turned up at his stall yesterday to fetch the boss a coffee. The coffee order in question was a stomach-churning triple shot flat white, with extra caramel syrup with three sugars – an astonishing departure from the diet Carrie supposedly put him on after his Covid hospital trip.

Later, an appreciative crowd gave their Party leader a standing ovation:

Guido has the full text of Boris’s speech, which was not much shorter than Keir Starmer’s last week but was delivered in half the time: 45 minutes compared with 90.

Before going into Boris’s speech, Keir Starmer’s speechwriter dived in to say that his went on ‘absolutely’ too long:

Guido reported that Philip Collins, Starmer’s speechwriter (and Tony Blair’s), said the policy sections were ‘a bit baggy’ (red emphases in the original, purple one mine):

Philip Collins, the man who drafted Sir Keir’s epic 90-minute address at Labour Conference last week, has admitted the speech “absolutely” went on too long – and even claimed the sections on policy (such that they were) were “a little bit baggy” and yes, “boring“. This is a speech he wrote only a week ago…

Speaking on Politico’s Westminster Insider Podcast, Collins said:

“It’s always the same bits […] the policy bits are very, very difficult to bring to life. If you don’t include them, everybody will write that you have nothing to say, that you’re empty […] those bits, if I’m critical, could have been tighter, could have been more compressed. I think they were a bit long, a little bit baggy.”

Which in view of criticisms of Boris that his conference speech was light on policy detail, suggests he made the right call. Collins, who was also Tony Blair’s wordsmith, goes on to say that while he thought Starmer handled the inevitable heckles well, the interruptions and subsequent applause (“people enjoyed it far too much!“) contributed to the running time, claiming Starmer “was getting standing ovations for things that were just basically boring lines that were meant to just take you to the next stage of the speech“. “It got ridiculous”, Collins said…

Returning to Boris, Guido also has videos of his speech.

It was clear that Boris, a former journalist, penned the words himself.

He opened with an amusing put-down of former Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn, recalling the 2019 election:

Isn’t it amazing to be here in person, the first time we have met since you defied the sceptics by winning councils and communities that Conservatives have never won in before – such as Hartlepool. In fact it’s the first time since the general election of 2019 when we finally sent the corduroyed communist cosmonaut into orbit where he belongs

Then he threw in a joke about Michael Gove:

The Mail was on hand to give us Gove’s reaction:

Prime Minister Boris Johnson later referenced Mr Gove’s disco moves at his conference speech today, branding him ‘Jon Bon Govi’ – prompting the minister to turn bright red.

Here’s Guido’s video:

Boris said:

… for months we have had one of the most open economies and societies and on July 19 we decided to open every single theatre and every concert hall and night club in England and we knew that some people would still be anxious, so we sent top government representatives to our sweatiest boîtes de nuit to show that anyone could dance perfectly safely and wasn’t he brilliant my friends? Let’s hear it for Jon Bon Govi, living proof that we, you all, represent the most jiving, hip, happening and generally funkapolitan party in the world.

Tom Harwood, a Guido alum now working for GB News, gives us tweeted highlights.

Despite the rise in National Insurance tax, Boris insisted that Britain would move towards a low-tax economy:

Boris then had a go at Labour:

He then went on to slam Insulate Britain, which had blocked the roads for ten consecutive days at that point (12 as I write):

He discussed immigration from Afghanistan and Hong Kong …

… adding:

We are doing the right and responsible thing and, speaking as the great grandson of a Turk who fled in fear of his life, I know that this country is a beacon of light and hope for people around the world, provided they come here legally, provided we understand who they are and what they want to contribute, and that is why we took back control of our borders and will pass the borders bill, because we believe there must be a distinction between someone who comes here legally and someone who doesn’t, and, though I have every sympathy with people genuinely in fear of their lives, I have no sympathy whatever with the people traffickers who take thousands of pounds to send children to sea in frail and dangerous craft. And we must end this lethal trade. We must break the gangsters’ business model.

He made reference to 2022’s general election in France and the newly-conservative outlook on the EU and immigration from our Brexit negotiator:

And is it not a sublime irony that even in French politics there is now a leading centre right politician calling for a referendum on the EU. Who is now calling for France to reprendre le controle?? It’s good old Michel Barnier. That’s what happens if you spend a year trying to argue with Lord Frost, the greatest frost since the great frost of 1709.

Boris then illustrated what he means by ‘levelling up’. Different areas of England will get solutions to their specific needs:

I will tell you what levelling up is. A few years ago they started a school not far from the Olympic park, a new school that anyone could send their kids to in an area that has for decades been one of the most disadvantaged in London. That school is Brampton Manor academy and it now sends more kids to Oxbridge than Eton. And if you want proof of what I mean by unleashing potential and by levelling up, look at Brampton Manor, and we can do it.

There is absolutely no reason why the kids of this country should lag behind, or why so many should be unable to read and write or do basic mathematics at the age of 11. And to level up – on top of the extra £14 bn we’re putting into education and on top of the increase that means every teacher starts with a salary of £30k – we are announcing a levelling up premium of up to £3000 to send the best maths and science teachers to the places that need them most.

And above all we are investing in our skills, skills, folks. Our universities are world beating. I owe everything to my tutors and they are one of the great glories of our economy, but we all know that some of the most brilliant and imaginative and creative people in Britain – and some of the best paid people in Britain – did not go to university. And to level up you need to give people the options, the skills that are right for them. And to make the most of those skills and knowledge and to level up you need urgently to plug all the other the gaps in our infrastructure that are still holding people and communities back.

As I’ve been saying over this wonderful conference to you when I became leader of this party, there were only, can you remember, what percentage of households had gigabit broadband when you were so kind as to make me leader? 7 percent, only 7 percent, and by the new year that will be up to 68 per cent. Thanks to Rishi’s super-deduction the pace is now accelerating massively as companies thrust the fibre-optic vermicelli in the most hard to reach places.

On that topic, he had a witty go at Scotland’s Ian Blackford MP, a multi-millionaire who gives the impression he has nothing. This bit is about the remote video connections Parliament had during the pandemic:

It’s wonderful, for years SNP leader Ian Blackford has been telling the Commons that he is nothing but a humble crofter on the Isle of Skye. Well, now we have fibre optic broadband of very high quality that we can inspect the library or is it perhaps the billiard room of Ian Blackford’s croft. And that is levelling up in action.

Boris wants to get Britons back in the office:

And my friends it is not good enough just to rely on Zoom. After decades of ducked decisions, our national infrastructure is way behind some of our key competitors.

It is a disgrace that you still can’t swiftly cross the Pennines by rail, a disgrace that Leeds is the largest city in Europe with no proper metro system, a waste of human potential that so many places are not served by decent bus routes. Transport is one of the supreme leveller-uppers and we are making the big generational changes shirked by previous governments.

We will do Northern Powerhouse rail. We will link up the cities of the Midlands and the North. We will restore those sinews of the union that have been allowed to atrophy: the A1 north of Berwick and on into Scotland, the A75 in Scotland that is so vital for the links with Northern Ireland and the rest of the country, the North Wales corridor. And we will invest in our roads, unblocking those coagulated roundabouts and steering-wheel-bending traffic lights, putting on 4000 more clean green buses made in this country, some of them running on hydrogen.

And as we come out of Covid, our towns and cities are again going to be buzzing with life because we know that a productive workforce needs that spur that only comes with face to face meetings and water cooler gossip.

If young people are to learn on the job in the way that they always have and must, we will and must see people back in the office. And that is why we are building back better with a once in an a century £640bn pound programme of investment.

And by making neighbourhoods safer, by putting in the gigabit broadband, by putting in the roads and the schools and the healthcare, we will enable more and more young people everywhere to share the dream of home ownership, the great ambition of the human race that the left always privately share but publicly disparage.

And we can do it.

He discussed rewilding Britain:

We are going to re-wild parts of the country and consecrate a total of 30 per cent to nature. We are planting tens of millions of trees.

Otters are returning to rivers from which they have been absent for decades. Beavers that have not been seen on some rivers since Tudor times, massacred for their pelts, and now back. And if that isn’t conservatism, my friends I don’t know what is.

Build back beaver.

And though the beavers may sometimes build without local authority permission, you can also see how much room there is to build the homes that young families need in this country.

He talked about the housing crisis and the importance of home ownership, especially for the young:

He praised the success of the coronavirus vaccine rollout and the contribution of private enterprise:

He wittily criticised Labour’s reluctance to accept the Government’s pandemic strategy:

Boris discussed the Labour Party conference and Sir Keir Starmer. This is classic Boris:

Did you see them last week, did you watch them last week in Brighton? Hopelessly divided I thought they looked.

Their leader looked like a seriously rattled bus conductor, pushed this way and that by, not that they have bus conductors any more, unfortunately, like a seriously rattled bus conductor pushed this way and that by a Corbynista mob of Sellotape-spectacled sans-culottes or the skipper of a cruise liner that has been captured by Somali pirates desperately trying to negotiate a change of course and then changing his mind.

He discussed getting a trade deal with the United States, especially our export of British beef:

He touched on AUKUS …

… and Labour’s opposition to that alliance:

He also addressed political correctness, which, frankly, has only worsened under this Government. He really does need to tackle it, so I hope he means what he says here. On a lighter note, he mentioned Michael Gove again:

We are led by our values, by the things we stand for. And we should never forget that people around the world admire this country for its history and its traditions. They love the groovy new architecture and the fashion and the music and the chance of meeting Michael in the disco. But they like the way it emerges organically from a vast inherited conglomerate of culture and tradition. And we Conservatives understand the need for both and how each nourishes the other. And we attack and deny our history at our peril. And when they began to attack Churchill as a racist I was minded to ignore them. It is only 20 years ago since BBC audiences overwhelmingly voted him the greatest Briton of all time, because he helped defeat a regime after all that was defined by one of the most vicious racisms the world has ever seen.

But as time has gone by it has become clear to me that this isn’t just a joke. They really do want to re-write our national story starting with Hereward the Woke. We really are at risk of a kind of know-nothing cancel culture, know-nothing iconoclasm. And so we Conservatives will defend our history and cultural inheritance, not because we are proud of everything, but because trying to edit it now is as dishonest as a celebrity trying furtively to change his entry in Wikipedia, and its a betrayal of our children’s education.

He closed by paying tribute to England footballers, Emma Radacanu and Team GB’s Olympians and our Paralympians, who did so well this year:

The spirit of our Olympians. It is an incredible thing to come yet again in the top four, a formidable effort for a country that has only 0.8 per cent of the world’s populationbut when we come second in the Paralympics as well – that shows our values, not only the achievement of those elite athletes but a country that is proud to be a trailblazer.

To judge people not by where they come from but by their spirit and by what is inside them.

That is the spirit that is the same across this country, in every town and village and city that can be found. That can be found in the hearts and minds of kids growing up everywhere.

And that is the spirit we are going to unleash.

The crowd loved every minute:

Tom Harwood interviewed party members afterwards, all of whom gave Boris’s speech rave reviews:

I could go into the pundits’ analyses, but why bother? So many are disgruntled Remainers, still licking their wounds over Brexit, which means that they will attack any Conservative policy.

As a former boss of mine used to say: ‘Onwards and upwards!’

The Conservative Party Conference took place in Manchester from Sunday, October 3 through Wednesday, October 6, 2021.

It was the first one since 2019, which was two months before their victory in the December 12 election that year.

UK in crisis

This year’s conference took place during the ongoing petrol supply problems and shock record-breaking hikes in gas futures on Tuesday and Wednesday:

On top of that, on Wednesday, Reuters reported that the UK’s petroleum regulator rejected Shell’s plans to redevelop the Jackdaw gasfield in the North Sea (emphases in purple mine):

“We’re disappointed by the decision and are considering the implications,” a Shell spokesperson said.

It was unclear on what grounds the Offshore Petroleum Regulator for Environment and Decommissioning (OPRED) refused to approve the environmental statement for the field’s development.

The Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy, under whose umbrella OPRED operates, did not immediately reply to a request for comment.

Maddening.

The supply chain crisis for food continues. On Wednesday, The Times reported The National Pig Association warned retailers that 120,000 pigs would have to be slaughtered because of a lack of butchers. Some pig farmers are closing down altogether.

Some supermarkets are also suffering from empty shelves. Tesco, however, is bucking the trend. The Times reported that the supermarket chain is:

often highest up the pecking order when it comes to suppliers committing to make the business a priority …

Good for them.

Conference theme disappointing

The conference theme was … Build Back Better.

How awful.

Here it is draped across Central Station Manchester:

The Conservatives riffed on this in a Bake Off-style event. Pictured with Prime Minister Boris Johnson is Home Secretary Priti Patel:

Having listened to some of the speeches and read excerpts from others, they were all light in content. Most of them were pep rally or visionary statements rather than what plans Cabinet ministers have for the nation.

As The Telegraph‘s Madeline Grant wrote:

Never at a Tory Conference has so little been said, by so many, to so few.

Sunday, October 3

As the conference opened, rumours circulated about three unnamed Labour MPs thinking of crossing the aisle to the Conservatives, as the Mail on Sunday reported:

Guido Fawkes had more on the story (emphases in red Guido’s):

… this is due to disillusionment with Starmer’s leadership, with the MPs already having opened up “lines of communication” with Tory whips. In related news, a senior Labour MP was spotted by a co-conspirator chatting with two Mail on Sunday hacks and three senior Tory advisors at a conference bar last night…

The day’s big event, according to The Spectator, was the drinks party that the 1922 Committee of backbenchers held, sponsored by ConservativeHome. Interestingly, a long-time Labour MP for north-west London — Barry Gardiner — was in attendance:

… the main focus of the night was the 1922 drinks with ConservativeHome in a room stuffed full of parliamentary talent and, for some reason, Barry Gardiner.

Strangely, Boris did not appear, leaving a gap which Chancellor of the Exchequer Rishi Sunak ably filled (video):

While Johnson was not scheduled to make an appearance here, Prime Ministers have traditionally done so in the past to pay tribute to their colleagues. His ‘disappointing’ absence – in the words of one disgruntled backbencher – left a vacuum for Sunak to fill, in a room full of MPs who will presumably one day decide who Johnson’s successor should be.

The Chancellor leapt to the stage to tell fellow Tories about what he was most looking forward too at conference: Michael Gove dancing, the PM running in a full suit (not just a shirt) and ‘machine like message discipline from every single one of you – and that means you too Cabinet.’ He added that ‘I’ve got your back’ to anxious MPs in the room and that ‘for the record I too am a low tax conservative’ – welcome words for those party donors who Mr S[teerpike, columnist] understands attended a ‘tense’ meeting earlier at the Midland, amid considerable unease at the recent NI [National Insurance] hike.

In such circumstances, perhaps it’s understandable that Boris would stay away.

According to The Telegraph, senior Conservatives have warned Boris not to dream up any more future tax hikes:

Earlier that day, Boris gesticulated wildly at the BBC’s Andrew Marr, saying, ‘You have no fiercer opponent to tax rises than me’. This probably means more tax rises are on the way:

The Spectator has more on the interview.

On tax hikes, Sir Desmond Swayne MP told talkRADIO’s Julia Hartley-Brewer the raw truth. He added that lower taxes will enable greater economic growth:

Another event that Boris avoided was the one by the Tory Reform Group (TRG), which wants the Conservatives to move closer to the centre politically. They are Remainers. The Spectator reported:

Theresa May’s former deputy Damian Green welcomed attendees

Green, a mainstay of various causes on the left-ish wing of the party over the past two decades, told activists that it was their task to ‘make sure that the voice of moderate conservatism, centre-right conservatism is as strong as possible within the party’ – a job ‘never more important than today because there are times when I slightly feel that it is only people like us that stop this party drifting back to being seen as the nasty party.’ A tacit rejoinder to Priti Patel perhaps?

But then it was time for the speaker and the great white hope of Tory moderation. Tom Tugendhat, the chairman of the Foreign Affairs Select Committee, took to the stage to ecstatic applause and, like Green, was under no illusions about the awesome responsibility he and his One Nation caucus members share – to keep the Conservative party effectively sane …

There was also ample time for several potshots at the current Tory leader Boris Johnson, with whom Tugendhat is said to enjoy a wary relationship.

Foreign Secretary Liz Truss, tipped to be a future Party leader, also made the rounds that day (video):

The fringes were packed last night as Tory ministers did the rounds. Liz Truss, the darling of the free market think tanks, appeared at the Think Tent equipped with a magnificent blow dry and an applause-winning speech which castigated cancel culture as ‘fundamentally wrong.’ That and other jibes at identity politics in her conference address lead the Daily Mail this morning to ask whether she is in fact the new Mrs Thatcher.

Several reporters wrote about her new hairdo, which, to me, didn’t look much different from the old one.

Returning to the mysterious Labour people who might want to change parties, here’s Manchester mayor Andy Burnham, a former Labour MP, heaping praise on Michael Gove, the minister in charge of Boris’s levelling up programme. Burnham spoke to Trevor Phillips on Sky News that morning. Hmm:

Neither Andy Burnham nor Barry Gardiner is a Conservative. Crossing the aisle for ideals they don’t believe in seems a rather rash way of getting their own back at Keir Starmer.

Boris made four appearances at conference that day, including one for the Scottish Conservatives. Guido captured his wit along with audio:

The PM warned of a “crackpot coalition” between the SNP and Labour – “the only way they could” kick the Tories out.

He described the Labour conference as “a total rabble”, saying it had the air to him of “a seriously rattled bus conductor” facing an “insurrection on the top deck of the bus”, or the “captain of a Mediterranean cruise ship facing insurrection by a bunch of Somali pirates”.

Douglas Ross MP/MSP also addressed Scottish Conservatives. As party leader in Scotland, he wants to position the party as that of the nation’s working class. It’s a good move, as The Spectator reported:

Like all good fables, Douglas Ross’s speech at Tory conference had a beginning, middle and end. Act One detailed the many iniquities of the SNP, from their dysfunctional vaccine passport scheme to their Hate Crime Act, and most of all their agitation for Scotland to break away from the UK. Act Two took the sword to Labour, bemoaned its abandonment of working-class voters and its internal divisions over the constitution. Theirs was not the party to take on the SNP. Only one party was and it was the subject of Act Three, in which Ross deepened a theme begun under Ruth Davidson’s leadership: the Scottish Conservatives as the party of the Scottish working-class.

He hit all the familiar notes about the SNP’s failings in government, the ones that never seem to stick longer than two or three news cycles and are invariably forgotten about by the next election. He also hinted at an interesting theme that, if teased out carefully, could come into greater play. It is the perception, no longer wholly limited to unionists, that Nicola Sturgeon is a bit… off. Out of touch. Superior. Maybe even a bit of a snob.

In other news, last week, Labour’s Angela Rayner called Conservatives ‘Tory scum’. Feisty Dehenna Davison MP, representing Bishop Auckland as the constituency’s first Conservative, had ‘Tory Scum’ badges made.

This harks back to 1948, when Aneurin ‘Nye’ Bevan said the Conservatives were ‘lower than vermin’. Following that, the Conservatives formed the Vermin Club. Club member Margaret Roberts — who would become Margaret Thatcher — also had ‘Tory Vermin’ badges made, as Nigel Farage told Dehenna Davison on GB News:

Party chairman Oliver Dowden pledged that the Conservatives would do away with ugly new housing developments by strengthening planning laws.

He also assured the public that they would have turkeys for Christmas, referring to ongoing supply chain problems.

Monday, October 4

Monday opened with the latest ConservativeHome popularity poll.

Liz Truss is at the top. Other MPs pictured are (left to right) Defence Secretary Ben Wallace, Leader of the House Jacob Rees-Mogg, Chancellor Rishi Sunak and Education Secretary Nadhim Zahawi:

Guido analysed the results, excerpted below:

The turn round in her fortunes from last year when she was being tipped to be sacked from the Cabinet is quite something. Liz is one of the increasingly rare consistently free market voices around the Cabinet table…

Rishi Sunak is down by some 10 points and moves from second to fifth place. Rishi’s tax hikes have clearly taken the gloss off him with the true blue believers. 

Grant Shapps [Transport] and Priti Patel are bumping along the bottom in barely positive approval territory. Shapps has been doing fairly well with the incredibly difficult transport brief. Patel is suffering because she has failed to do the seemingly impossible – stop the cross channel migrants. Tory activists are unforgiving, they don’t want excuses, they want results.

It was the turn of Rishi Sunak to address the party faithful.

A rise in council tax would not go down well. Meanwhile, protesters pelted Sir Iain Duncan Smith MP with a traffic cone:

Some at conference are disappointed with Sunak, whose budget comes up in a few weeks’ time. Steve Baker MP is pictured in the second tweet:

Boris was out and about in Greater Manchester. He spoke to an interviewer about policing and said that the Government needs to change its culture, which has become misogynistic, particularly in light of the Sarah Everard murder earlier this year, committed by … a policeman, who recently received a life sentence.

In other news, Justice Secretary Dominic Raab plans to reform UK human rights legislation and do away with the ties to EU human rights legislation we are still under.

With regard to the Labour mystery, Manchester’s mayor, Andy Burnham, had a conversation with Levelling Up minister Michael Gove, whom he had praised the day before. The Mail reported that Burnham was also due to address Conservatives at a fringe event sponsored by Transport for the North the following day. Hmm.

The cervix question that appeared at Labour’s conference was also brought up with Conservatives. Dominic Raab responded by bringing up both misogyny and misandry in a highly confused way (video):

Two MPs decided to have a bit of fun with the issue as they drove to Manchester together:

Guido recapped their amusing exchange:

Health-conscious Conservative MPs Marco Longhi and Lee Anderson don’t want to fanny about when it comes to their well-being. Marco, according to their road-trip video, made sure to receive a cervix exam before heading to conference this week. Always better to be safe than sorry…

Why is it that no one ever asks if women have a prostate gland?

On the subject of health, Desmond Swayne told Julia Hartley-Brewer why he is firmly against vaccine passports:

Lord Frost (pictured on the right) threatened the EU over the post-Brexit trade issues with Northern Ireland. Outside of the conference, pig farmers protested over the inability to get their stock to market. Boris had said that government cannot solve every issue, referring to the supply chain problem. He also told British businesses to hike staff salaries, which did not go down well, either:

I think they should give the meat away. A lot of poor families would appreciate it.

Tuesday, October 5

Boris began the day with an interview to LBC’s Nick Ferrari. Extinction Rebellion offshoot Insulate Britain had blocked some of Britain’s roads for the ninth consecutive day.

Despite injunctions from Priti Patel’s Home Office, their human blockades continue.

Boris told Ferrari they are ‘irresponsible crusties’ (video). The question remains whether Extinction Rebellion gets any Government funding:

Dominic Raab confirmed in his speech that he would be reform the Human Rights Act to free it from EU hackles.

Guido’s post includes a quote and this summary:

They will detach it from the ECHR, enabling quicker deportations of convicted criminals and swifter action on domestic abusers …

Raab’s successor at the Foreign Office, Liz Truss, confirmed a trip to India later this month, ahead of COP26 in Glasgow in November.

Guido had a chat with her:

Among other topics, the foreign secretary confided in Guido she was finding the new department’s mandarins to be “a bit ‘Yes, Minister’”…

Rishi Sunak addressed the Northern Powerhouse Leaders’ Lunch.

Guido says:

Sunak claimed that there is a “new age of optimism” in the north thanks to Red Wall Tories, and heaped them with praise for “helping to change our party and change our country“. “In me, you have a Chancellor who is going to be with you every step of the way,” he added.

See? I told you these speeches were content-free.

Later in the day, he appeared at a fringe event where he was asked about the cost of Net Zero. This was his alarming answer:

Health Secretary Sajid Javid promised another reform of the NHS, which mostly involves digitisation. I can think of more pressing NHS concerns and agree with Guido:

… pouring in taxpayers’ money without checking how it’s being spent isn’t enough. That cash needs to be put to good use. Reviewing the eye-watering pay packets of some NHS diversity managers would be a start…

The Telegraph‘s Christopher Hope interviewed Oliver Dowden, who is thinking about resurrecting the singing of the National Anthem at conference, calling it a ‘splendid idea’.

Hope also took the opportunity to present Dowden with a ‘Tory Scum’ badge, which he put on and said he would wear for the duration of the interview. Hope suggested he wear it until the end of conference.

This video shows the badge exchange. Hope gives us more information on the aforementioned Vermin Club:

Guido says that the badges were most popular. Dehenna Davison had to order more:

Many conference-goers have spent the last couple of days asking Davison for one of her badges, only to be disappointed upon being told she’d run out. Good news however, after Davison put in an emergency order for 400 more given their popularity…

The most outrageous session of the day — and a British first — was an address by the Prime Minister’s wife to Party faithful. No Prime Minister’s spouse — we’ve had two husbands in that role — has ever made a party political address until now:

Never mind the subject matter: was it the right thing for Carrie Johnson to do — even if she is a very good public speaker? Boris watched from a distance.

Polling stable

I’ll review Boris’s closing speech in tomorrow’s post.

Post-conference polling is stable. YouGov’s was taken on Tuesday and Wednesday:

Sir Desmond Swayne explained to Julia Hartley-Brewer that Boris’s popularity and the lack of ideas from the Opposition have buoyed the Conservatives:

What Government should do next

Health Secretary Sajid Javid needs to keep a gimlet eye on NHS spending, especially on things like this:

Guido says:

The NHS is recruiting a supplier to deliver “compassionate conversations training” to 14,000 front facing NHS staff in a publicly funded contract worth a mind-boggling £3 million. The contract tender, which was published yesterday and closes on 5 November 2021, says the aim is to equip NHS staff with “the skills they need to handle challenging situations with compassion whilst ensuring they feel able to look after their own wellbeing if needed”. Guido assumed that doctors were already taught about the importance of a good bedside manner…

It’s almost ludicrous to think that this weekend Javid promised a forensic review of the NHS’s management and leadership whilst the NHS continues to recklessly splash cash on diversity roles. Just six months ago Guido revealed that the NHS was hiring eight more ‘diversity, equality and inclusion managers’ across the country, with salaries up to as much as a whopping £62,000. If Javid is going to cut down those waiting list times he needs to focus taxpayers’ money on the clinical front line, not nonsense make-work contracts and diversity roles…

Guido says it is also time for Boris to reconsider the current Government moratorium on fracking:

If Boris wants to energise Britain, domestic gas production should be part of that mix; it would provide energy security when Britain’s energy needs are being threatened by the Russians and the the French. Boris is now in a position to do something glorious, to stop pussy-footing around and leave no stone unturned or unfracked. So get on with it…

This is what Boris had to say on the subject while he was Mayor of London:

I won’t be holding my breath on either of those propositions.

Tomorrow: Boris’s keynote speech

On Tuesday, September 21, 2021, Prime Minister Boris Johnson met Joe Biden at the White House:

He and Foreign Secretary Liz Truss arrived in the United States on Monday for discussions about trade and climate change.

The two spent a day in New York then travelled by Amtrak to Washington, DC:

New York

On Monday, Boris gave a speech at the UN Climate Roundtable in advance of COP26 to be held in Glasgow in November:

The full text of his speech is here.

This short video shows Boris summarising his message to world leaders:

COP26 will be the biggest single political event that the UK has ever hosted. I hope that Glasgow is ready:

The Prime Minister met with President Bolsonaro of Brazil and President Moon of South Korea. He also met with Martin Griffiths of the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (UNOCHA) and, for whatever reason, with Jeff Bezos of Amazon:

There was speculation on what Boris and Bezos discussed:

In fact, they did discuss tax as well as the Bezos Earth Fund:

They discussed the upcoming COP26 Summit and agreed that there was an urgent need to mobilise more public and private money to help developing countries protect biodiversity, including through the LEAF Coalition.

The Prime Minister welcomed the Bezos Earth Fund’s commitment, announced tonight, to give $1 billion to protect forests and remove carbon from the air. The Prime Minister and Mr Bezos agreed to work together to see what more could be done in the run up to and at COP26.

The Prime Minister raised the issue of taxation, and hoped progress could be in implementing the G7 agreement on tax.

Beth Rigby from Sky News was in New York to interview Boris. They talked over each other for two minutes:

I wish he had mentioned her suspension from Sky for flouting coronavirus rules last December:

Boris’s interview for the Today show went much better. He was diplomatic about Joe Biden’s withdrawal from Afghanistan, even when Savannah Guthrie pressed him on the subject:

Guthrie asked Boris about President Trump. Again, Boris was diplomatic, saying that prime ministers have to get along with US presidents. In fact, Trump was mentioned very little in Parliament, including by Boris. I do not get the impression that Boris was sorry Trump lost the election. In fact, he has said in the Commons — as he does in the clip below — that he considers Biden a ‘breath of fresh air’. Biden’s name gets mentioned quite a lot in Parliament, by the way:

Boris also discussed family life and his unwavering belief in American ideals:

The Sun‘s Harry Cole was on hand to broadcast for Sky News from New York:

He said that New York hasn’t yet bounced back from coronavirus:

The British press pack then travelled to Washington DC:

Washington DC

On Tuesday, the day that she and Boris went to Washington, Liz Truss’s office issued the following tweet about the special relationship between the US and the UK:

Hmm.

Truss held a press huddle on the train:

While Truss met with her American counterpart Secretary of State Antony Blinken, Boris met with Kamala Harris at the Eisenhower Building:

Downing Street issued this summary of their meeting. Topics included the new AUKUS alliance, climate change and humanitarian efforts. Boris also expressed his gratitude to the US military for their leadership in withdrawing from Afghanistan.

British journalist Hugo Gye objected to the Eisenhower Building’s architecture:

Then it was time to meet with Joe Biden.

Biden arrived by helicopter, no doubt from Delaware:

Unlike the Trumps, the Bidens do not greet their guests at the door:

Liz Truss accompanied the Prime Minister:

Hugo Gye has a summary of the meeting and brief press conference in the Oval Office. Anne Sacoolas is an American ‘diplomat’ who was in a road accident in England leading to the death of a young man, Harry Dunn:

My American readers will be very familiar with the Amtrak anecdote, which Biden used on the campaign trail last year:

In the end, the chances of a trade deal appear slim. Trump would have definitely been open to one.

Boris took two questions from the media, one from Harry Cole and the other from Beth Rigby.

Biden pointed to Harry Cole first:

Biden and Boris gave this answer on the Harry Dunn case:

Biden did not solicit questions, even though there were plenty of reporters in the Oval Office. When the session adjourned, they started shouting various questions at him. He apparently answered a question about the southern border, but the reporter could not hear the answer over the din. The reporters filed a complaint with Jen Psaki, who once again replied that the president takes questions ‘several times a week’:

Downing Street issued a summary of the private meeting which followed:

… The President and Prime Minister agreed that the new AUKUS alliance, announced last week, was a clear articulation of the UK and America’s shared values and approach to the world. They underscored the important role the alliance will play in promoting peace and stability around the world, harnessing British, American and Australian expertise to solve future challenges.

The leaders welcomed the close cooperation between our countries during the NATO withdrawal from Afghanistan. The Prime Minister expressed his condolences for the American servicepeople killed during the operation. The Prime Minister and President Biden agreed that the best way to honour all those who gave their lives to make Afghanistan a better place will be to use all the diplomatic and humanitarian tools at our disposal to prevent a humanitarian crisis and preserve the gains made in Afghanistan.

To that end, they discussed the progress made since the G7 meeting last month to coordinate international action on Afghanistan. They agreed that any international recognition of the Taliban must be coordinated and contingent on the group respecting human rights.

The Prime Minister welcomed President Biden’s leadership on the issue of climate, and his announcement today that the US would double its climate finance commitment. The leaders agreed on the need for G7 countries to deliver on the promises made in Carbis Bay, particularly with regard to phasing out the use of coal and supporting developing countries to grow cleanly. They agreed the Build Back Better World Initiative would be crucial in achieving this. The Prime Minister said he looks forward to welcoming the President to the COP26 Summit in Glasgow.

The Prime Minster and President Biden also agreed on the need to increase international vaccine access to deliver on the commitment made in Cornwall to vaccinate the world by the end of next year. They noted that the success of the British and American vaccine rollouts has been instrumental in allowing UK-US travel to resume. The Prime Minister welcomed the US announcement that they will allow double vaccinated British nationals to enter the country from November, a move which will allow families and friends to reunite and will help stimulate our economies.

The Prime Minister updated President Biden on the developments with respect to the Northern Ireland Protocol since they last met in June. The leaders agreed on the importance of protecting peace in Northern Ireland …

Not surprisingly, it is unlikely we will get a trade deal with the US. Biden is concerned about the post-Brexit Northern Ireland protocol disturbing the peace agreement between that nation and the Republic of Ireland:

Return to New York

The Telegraph reports Boris Johnson remained in Washington on Wednesday to meet with:

US politicians at Capitol Hill, including senators Chuck Schumer and Mitch McConnell, US Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi and House minority leader Kevin McCarthy.

Afterwards, he visited Arlington Cemetery before returning to New York to deliver his climate change speech at the UN:

He will then travel to Arlington Cemetery to lay a wreath at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, before returning to New York, where he will give his climate change speech to the UN General Assembly in the early hours of the morning UK time.

Liz Truss was in New York on Wednesday to address her counterparts on the UN Security Council:

Sky News reported:

She will chair talks with foreign ministers from the US, France, China, and Russia – the countries that, along with the UK, make up the five permanent members of the United Nations security council – in New York later.

UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres is also expected to join the discussions.

Ms Truss’s aides say she will be promoting greater cooperation among the so-called P5.

This will include encouraging Beijing and Moscow to “act as one” with other international military forces to prevent Afghanistan from once again becoming a home for global terrorists following the Taliban’s takeover last month.

But “un peu riche” (a little rich) may be the French retort as the diplomatic rift deepens over a new security pact between Australia, the UK and the US that leaves France out in the cold and China smarting.

Trade might be off the table for now, but, no doubt, both Boris Johnson and Liz Truss will make progress in other areas.

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

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

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

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

Highlights of the reshuffle follow.

Dominic Raab no longer Foreign Secretary

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

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

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

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

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

Liz Truss becomes new Foreign Secretary

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

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

She also remains minister for women and equalities.

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

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

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

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

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

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

She can even ably dodge camera equipment during an interview:

Nadine Dorries moves from Health and Social Care to Culture Secretary

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

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

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

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

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

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

John Whittingdale returns to backbenches

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

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

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

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

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

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

Newsnight argument over Dorries

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

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

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

But I digress.

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

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

Guido Fawkes has the highlights:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

At least she supported Brexit.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

New Education Secretary

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

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

Other appointments

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

Some MPs have transferred to other departments:

Others will be returning to the backbenches:

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

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

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

House of Lords

Reshuffles can affect the House of Lords, too.

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

Baroness Evans

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

Lord Frost

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

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

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

Speaking on the reforms this afternoon, Lord Frost said:

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

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

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

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

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

One thing I did like was this:

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

Robert Peston’s misguided predictions

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

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

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

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

Conclusion

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

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

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

It had to happen at some point.

For the first time since January, a poll has shown that Labour is more popular than the Conservatives.

YouGov took the following poll on September 8 and 9. September 8 was the day of the parliamentary vote on an increase in National Insurance to fund the NHS and, from 2025, social care.

YouGov are also pro-Conservative.

This is a warning to Boris and his team:

The full results are here. They reveal that a high percentage of respondents — 19% — do not know for whom they would vote. That figure was 20% in the previous week’s poll.

Those who would not vote in the next election, some years away, rose from 9% to 12%.

Boris Johnson is keen on polls. He should take this to heart and tell his new wife to stop running the country.

LBC’s Nick Ferrari interviewed Conservative MP and Cabinet member Oliver Dowden, who said that polls go up and down:

Guido Fawkes’s accompanying post says (emphases in the original):

It will have been nigh on impossible for co-conspirators not to have already seen last night’s bombshell YouGov poll that sees the Tories end their 149 consecutive leads over Labour, slipping back five points down to 33% versus Labour’s 35%. Dowden unsurprisingly put on a brave face, saying “polls go up, they go down”. How much further down is the main question…

Meanwhile it’s not just the polls that see the Tories in the mud. Guido learns that even a Tory bigwig fundraiser on Wednesday, at Mayfair’s Wallace Collection, couldn’t get hands reaching into pockets for the party, despite cajoling from both Boris and Rishi. Who knew Tory donors weren’t keen on an enormous tax hike?

Guido’s readers listed a litany of complaints against the Conservatives — and rightly so:

  • too much taxation and spending;
  • too green — also at the cost of the taxpayer, including electricity and gas bills going up dramatically this year and next;
  • too many economic migrants crossing the Channel from France;
  • too woke.

Guido also received a lot of comments to this tweet:

The public will not appreciate that Downing Street is defending the NHS in hiring more managers with outrageously high salaries:

Guido quoted a spokesperson who briefed the press (Lobby):

The public will rightly expect every penny raised by the levy to be spent on cutting Covid waiting times and finally fixing the care crisis … NHS England is already working to be more efficient and cut waste.

The spokesperson said that the NHS was already being more efficient. Guido’s post says:

… there were initially “211 commissioning organisations”, so the 42 executives running the new Integrated Care Services ‘significantly reduce[s]’ the total number of managers.

And, no, Downing Street said these managers are not ‘bureaucrats’:

No. 10 also pushed back on calling these managers “bureaucrats“, claiming “these individuals will be responsible for a population of around a million people with billion pound budgets, and so we want highly qualified people who can deliver for the public.” A reminder that some will earn 80% more than Boris himself…

Guido spotted another YouGov poll on how the imminent rise in National Insurance is going down with the public:

Here are the poll results:

Opinium’s results on the same question showed that a clear majority oppose the rise:

In related news, Chancellor Rishi Sunak is suspending the triple-lock on pensions for one year, meaning that state pensions will not rise with inflation. That has not gone down well, either. Admittedly, nearly half of those polled do not know what the triple lock involves. Maintaining the triple lock was also part of the Conservative manifesto, as was the commitment not to raise National Insurance:

Boris is fortunate that Labour’s Keir Starmer is so unpopular:

Boris polls way above Starmer:

That said, his popularity might not hold out in the long run.

Some pundits are beginning to refer to the Conservatives as Blue Labour.

However, Paul Embery, who really is Blue Labour, a Labour party member who likes aspects of conservatism, explains how pundits are misusing the label (emphases mine):

There is little sense either that the government understands the value that Blue Labour attaches to relationships and community. Where is the recognition of the family as the bedrock of society and the plan to strengthen that institution? How does the government propose to revitalise our disempowered local and relational institutions — the little platoons that fill the space between market and state and are the lifeblood of our civil society: credit unions, friendly societies, faith groups, co-operatives, and other voluntary or campaigning groups.

All of this stuff matters, and any government genuinely concerned about fostering the deepest social solidarity, reinvigorating democracy and restoring a true sense of community, while making our nation more just and equal, would place these questions front and centre.

But it won’t happen under a Boris Johnson government. That’s because, at heart, the prime minister, economically and socially, remains an instinctive libertarian. Blue Labour’s “socialism with a small ‘c’” runs counters to this. Johnson may have the nous to recognise that the movement’s message plays well. But he doesn’t really believe in it.

I agree with Paul Embery that a Conservative emphasis on family would be a good start, but Boris cannot espouse that without looking hypocritical.

As for Boris being ‘an instinctive libertarian’, I disagree. He’s about as instinctively libertarian as he is Blue Labour.

In any event, Boris should consider these polls a wake-up call. He did say in December 2019 that the overwhelming Conservative votes were ‘on loan’. Now he has to find a way to keep them.

Last weekend, the biggest news in Britain was a proposed permanent tax rise on National Insurance (NI) to finance the NHS backlog from coronavirus, then social care.

The NHS needs £10bn within the coming months to begin to take care of the missed appointments, treatments and operations caused by coronavirus. In 2025, the revenue will go towards social care, legislation for which is non-existent at present.

For a low-tax party, the Conservatives have managed to increase taxes to their highest level since the Second World War. Britain has had Conservative prime ministers since 2010:

This is the current situation:

The TaxPayers’ Alliance posted a petition against the NI tax rise:

The TaxPayers’ Alliance has been keeping a gimlet eye on public sector expenditures, including ‘golden goodbyes’ for senior civil servants.

On Sunday, September 5, the Telegraph‘s Christopher Hope reported (emphases mine):

More than 1,000 senior civil servants have received six-figure “golden goodbyes” worth over £100 million since MPs passed a law five years ago to outlaw them, The Telegraph can disclose …

The Enterprise Act – which was passed into law in May 2016 – expressly put a £95,000 cap on exit payments in the public sector.

However, it was not actually implemented until Nov 2020. It was in place for just three months before a court challenge overturned it.

This has allowed senior civil servants to continue to pocket payments of more than £100,000 each.

Analysis by the TaxPayers’ Alliance of severance payments in departmental annual reports in 2017/18, 2018/19 and 2019/20, as well as including those reports filed so far for 2020/21, found 1,032 civil servants had received the sums.

In the most recent year The Treasury – which is in charge of the policy – was one of the biggest offenders handing £100,000 payouts to seven civil servants.

Returning to the NI tax rise, Hope retweeted the link to his article on Tuesday:

On Monday, September 6, it appeared that a number of Conservative MPs would rebel on Wednesday, the 8th, when the vote on the measure was held.

Christopher Hope reported on the fact that this tax is likely to affect low-income earners much more than the wealthy:

One Cabinet minister described it as “a tax raid on supermarket workers and nurses so the children of Surrey homeowners can receive bigger inheritances”

Former minister and Tory MP Jake Berry told the BBC that the rise would disproportionately affect working people “on lower wages than many others in the country”, who would end up “paying tax to support people to keep hold of their houses in other parts of the country where house prices may be much higher”.

Robert Halfon, chairman of the education select committee, and a former deputy chairman of the party, added that “it’s going to hit the low paid, then I think that would cause me huge worries”.

On Tuesday, the day when Boris Johnson introduced the proposal to MPs, various think tanks said the same thing. Paul Johnson of the Institute for Fiscal Studies said why NI was being targeted instead of, say, income tax. Both employer and employee will pay a quick and consistent source of revenue:

A levy of 1.25% on employee earnings and on employer wage costs (so a 2.5% overall increase in the tax rate on earnings), will raise £14 billion a year. The extension of this levy to those over state pension age and to dividends is welcome, but this remains a tax which will be overwhelmingly borne by workers with very little coming from pensioners. This continues a trend seen over many decades of the burden of tax being shifted towards earnings. The creation of an entirely new tax will mean yet more quite unnecessary complexity.

CAPX had more on tax disparity, especially for young people, and public sector inefficiency:

… raising NI has been called a ‘reverse Robin Hood’ tax. The beneficiaries of hikes to NICs would be the already wealthy and their relatives, especially as you don’t have to pay NI on income from investments or rental properties.

Meanwhile a 1% rise would see the average earner’s tax bill go up by £204 and those earning over £50,000 a year will pay an extra £404 a year. Worst of all, unlike income tax, those on the very lowest wages still have to pay NI. That particularly rankles coming from a party that has spent so long talking about ‘taking the lowest paid out of tax’ by increasing the personal allowance …

As set out in a previous Adam Smith Institute paper, social care is already cursed with being run by inefficient government bodies. With staff shortages, an ageing population and an inundated NHS, this is a sector facing myriad problems that a tax hike alone won’t get near solving. As the ASI’s Eamonn Butler puts it, throwing money at the sector without fixing its underlying problems is ‘like pouring oil into a rusty engine – it still gets you nowhere’.

That said, if you are going to raise money for the sector, there are some obvious places to look before raising taxes on working age people. We could start by means-testing some of the universal benefits given to pensioners, such as free bus passes and the Winter Fuel Allowance. If the Government is determined to fund it through NICs, at least change the system so that working pensioners pay it as well.

Sadly, as The Sun‘s Harry Cole tweeted, this tax will only increase:

Worst of all, at the moment, NI revenue doesn’t stay segregated. It is used for all and sundry expenditures, as the i paper’s Mark Wallace pointed out:

It isn’t an “insurance” scheme at all. It’s just a second income tax.

There is no “pot” being paid into, no “contributions” in any meaningful sense, and no deal by which what you pay in buys you the benefits that are supposedly purchased. When you “pay in”, your money just goes into general taxation, to be spent on whatever the government of the day wants

At best, the money you pay goes back out of the door in the form of pensions and benefits to an earlier generation of workers. Fulfilling the salesman’s promise with the fees of new customers is a Ponzi scheme tactic that Bernie Madoff himself would recognise.

As well as being immoral, this framing distorts our political debate. The confusion makes NI easier to exploit than plain old income tax – as YouGov found in a recent poll, raising the former is sizeably more popular than raising the latter.

Prior to Boris’s announcement to MPs, the Government issued MPs with the plan for health and social care funding:

He also sent a detailed letter to the First Ministers of Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, whose nations will also benefit from this revenue.

In his statement to MPs, he explained why he broke his party’s manifesto commitment not to raise NI contributions:

He concluded his statement with this:

After all the extraordinary actions that have been taken to protect lives and livelihoods over the last 18 months, this is the right, reasonable and fair approach, enabling our amazing NHS to come back strongly from the crisis; tackling the covid backlogs; funding our nurses; making sure that people get the care and treatment they need, in the right place, at the right time; and ending a chronic and unfair anxiety for millions of people and their families up and down this country. I commend this statement to the House.

Sir Keir Starmer, Labour leader, gave the Opposition’s response, which was negative. Labour, incidentally, were in power for 13 years — 1997 to 2010 — and never came up with a social care plan, needed then as much as it is needed now.

Boris Johnson responded:

He added:

Let us be in no doubt: if we did what we have heard from the Labour party over the past few weeks, we would still be in lockdown, because the right hon. and learned Gentleman opposed coming out of stage 4; we would have absolutely nothing by way of dealing with the NHS backlogs; and after decades of inertia from the Labour party we would have absolutely no way of dealing with the anxiety of millions of families across this country who face the prospect of catastrophic social care costs.

This Government are dealing with those things—we are dealing with all of them. We are getting on with it. We are taking the decisive action. We are doing it all together. This is the Government who get on and deal with the people’s priorities; this is the Government who tackle social care; and, indeed, this is the party of the NHS.

The House of Commons voted on the NI increase on the following day, September 8.

That morning, some in the business world grumbled (Rishi Sunak, Chancellor of the Exchequer, pictured below):

Health Secretary Sajid Javid vowed to make every penny count …

… however, the NHS plans to press on with hiring more useless managers who earn much more than the Prime Minister:

By the time the debate before the vote took place, most Conservative MPs had calmed down.

The New Statesman, a Labour-supporting magazine, explained why:

What has changed? The main thing is the Tory sense of pragmatism that has seen the party shapeshift, change leaders and directions time and again to electoral advantage. One Conservative MP says they understand that this health and social care levy is a “flagship policy” of the government – not one they can rebel on lightly without inflicting serious harm on their own brand. A cynic might also wonder if rumours of a cabinet reshuffle before Conservative Party conference … have helped to inspire loyalty in the Conservative ranks.

There is a second factor that has influenced those on the back benches. Conservative MPs have reluctantly concluded that they will be in a weak position to ask for more money for the NHS in their constituencies if they oppose a levy designed to raise funds for it. Tory MPs are competing against each other for money from the towns fund, levelling-up fund, and for a piece of the pie in new funding for NHS hospitals. They know their negotiating hand is weakened if they rebel.

The third factor in squeezing the rebellion is, quite simply, that Tory MPs think the Prime Minister’s plan is better than they had initially feared. The proposal was first reported over the weekend, before the government had decided the final details of the policy, leaving critics time to get ahead of the story without anyone from No 10 making the case for it. Expanding the national insurance levy to include pensioners in work has done something to allay Tory fears that this is an unfair tax on younger people, as has the dividends tax hike.

In the end, the NI increase was voted in comfortably — 319 to 208:

Only five Conservative MPs voted against the bill:

However, 37 Conservatives abstained.

The public are divided on increasing NI, according to Opinium (more here):

However, YouGov’s poll results were much closer:

It will be interesting to see what happens in 2025, when the NI increase is shifted from the NHS to social care, because the NHS always demand more money:

And what happens if Labour are in charge again someday?

I might not like it, but I hope this works, for Conservatives and the UK.

Both houses of Parliament returned from summer recess today.

The Commons debated on whether to raise tax on National Insurance (Social Security, to my American readers) by 1% to meet ‘social care’ needs. I put that in quotes because, as ITV’s Robert Peston wrote on Sunday, September 5, there is no social care programme from the Conservatives yet, so proceeds from the tax increase will be used for the NHS, post-pandemic. Emphases in purple mine:

Election manifestos are contracts with voters. Under our parliamentary system, their promises are supposed to be broken only in exceptional and extreme circumstances.

Boris Johnson‘s manifesto, his contract with us that he effectively signed in December 2019, said “I guarantee we will not raise the rate of income tax, VAT or National Insurance“.

barring a full-scale cabinet revolt that forces a climbdown – he will break that guarantee, with a rise of 1.25% in the rates of national insurance paid by employees and employers to raise more than £10bn a year.

So does the Covid-19 crisis, and its deleterious impact on the public finances, represent the kind of crisis that most people would see as rendering the manifesto null and void, as in effect triggering what in business would be called a “force majeure” clause?

Strikingly, I cannot find a single member of Boris Johnson’s cabinet who argues national insurance should rise

This does not look like laser-like targeted help, a rare example of benign hypothecation. For most ministers, the NI rise is billions being poured into a huge and fuzzy health-and-care black hole, without even the fig leaf of a half-plan to ensure the money is spent properly.

Spending the money properly is an important consideration. The NHS, laudable as it is in principle, needs looking at with regard to how it runs on a day-to-day basis.

Last week, an NHS blog post for senior management made the rounds in the UK. Guido Fawkes picked up on it today.

Amazingly, it was written by a senior manager at the Nursing and Midwifery Council. She has a degree in American Studies.

Perhaps I’m dated, but aren’t nurses and midwives there to care for patients’ health and new mothers’ wellbeing?

If tax has to be raised, then let us ensure it is spent on patient care.

Returning to Robert Peston’s article, here are the three reasons why government ministers are concerned about this tax rise:

On the one hand, it is supposed to put the social care system – long-term care for the elderly and frail – on a sustainable financial footing.

Which would be all very well, except there has been no published government report on Johnson’s watch of the social care sector’s needs, despite his assurance that such a plan exists.

Second, most of the new billions will be going in the first few years to the NHS, to help it catch up with the backlog of millions of operations, procedures and treatments, that have been delayed by the invasion of Covid-19

Third, ministers and the PM’s MPs recognise that national insurance is not necessarily the fairest tax to use to raise funds for services that are predominantly of use to the oldest, since it isn’t levied on those who reach retirement age, and is levied even on young people with very low earnings.

This matters, given that both the financial crisis of 2007-9 and the Covid-19 crisis had the most damaging economic impact on young people, and the finances of the older generation largely improved.

Johnson wants to be seen as a One Nation PM.

But in taxing the young disproportionately, he looks like someone penalising younger Labour voters to protect older Tory ones.

Incidentally, today’s debate on the National Insurance Contributions Bill was unrelated to the proposed tax rise:

Returning to financing the NHS with a rise in National Insurance: an increase of 1% sounds small, but it isn’t. The first tweet is from the Economics Editor for the Financial Times. James McKintosh is from The Wall Street Journal:

No one interviewed on GB News — whether Liberal Democrat, Labour-leaning journalists or Conservatives — thought that raising tax on National Insurance was a good idea.

On Sunday morning, Dehenna Davison, the first Conservative MP for Bishop Auckland in the north of England, held up a copy of the 2019 party manifesto which clearly says that the main three taxes will not be increased. Arlene Foster, former DUP MP, must be happy she’s out of Westminster:

Guido Fawkes has come up with more opposition:

Robert Peston says that Boris is likely to get his way and use a cabinet reshuffle as a threat to comply:

The rumours of a Thursday reshuffle may be the PM’s Stalin-lite threat to colleagues to back him or risk demotion or even exile to the backbenches.

But even without that threat, Johnson’s not in serious trouble. Remember he picked his cabinet for loyalty not backbone.

Boris is gambling on Keir Starmer’s weakness as Leader of the Opposition.

However, Starmer won’t always be Labour leader. The next one will remember this and pin it on low-taxation Conservatives at the next election; we can be sure of that:

Johnson will get his tax. And whether he likes it or not, it will always have his name on it.

Boris, a keen student of history, would do well to remember what happened to Bush I when he ran for re-election in 1992. In 1988, he promised ‘no new taxes’. Taxes went up under his watch. Bill Clinton won in 1992 with ‘It’s the economy, stupid’ and served two terms.

My message to Boris is ‘Danger, Will Robinson. Danger’.

The short answer is that they think they can work with the Taliban.

Sure. Pull the other one.

American and British troops have left Afghanistan. The countries’ embassies there are now closed.

Yet, they pledged at the weekend that evacuations would continue. How?

British general criticises withdrawal

General Lord Dannatt, who once commanded the British army, criticised the withdrawal, according to the Times on Monday, August 30 (emphases mine):

General Lord Dannatt, the former head of the army, called for an inquiry into the handling of the withdrawal, accusing the government of being “asleep on watch” despite having had months to prepare. He told Times Radio: “We should have done better.”

He accused ministers of putting Afghanistan on the back burner only to find “when the Taliban took over the country in the precipitate fashion in which they did, it fell off the cooker straight on to the kitchen floor”.

The deaths of 457 British military personnel were not in vain, he said, because progress had been made in Afghanistan. He said, however, that “the precipitant decision by Joe Biden to end the operation of all international forces quickly meant that the gains we had made crumbled pretty quickly”.

Meanwhile, the same article said that Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab continues to come under fire for having been on holiday in Crete during the weekend of August 14 and 15. He appeared before the Commons Foreign Affairs Committee on Wednesday, September 1. I haven’t watched the hearing yet; it can be found here:

Senior government sources predicted that Raab would lose his job in the next reshuffle because of his handling of the crisis. They said the foreign secretary was a “control freak” who struggled to entrust work to officials despite controversy over his decision to stay on holiday in Crete as Kabul fell to the Taliban.

However, Raab’s allies defended him:

insisting that it was “laughable” to blame him alone for the hurried retreat from Afghanistan.

They blamed the Ministry of Defence for failing to anticipate the speed with which Kabul would fall and hit out at the Home Office for failing to finalise details of the Afghan resettlement scheme. The absence of clear criteria was hampering Britain’s ability to negotiate with other countries over refugees, the sources suggested.

The UK government plan to rescue refugees

I do not see how the British plan to rescue more refugees will work in the cold light of day, especially with a terror threat clearly looming.

The Times article says that foreign aid will be part of the plan:

Britain’s key initial demand is that the Taliban allow thousands of refugees safe passage out of Afghanistan but the focus is likely to shift soon to preventing the country from becoming a haven for terrorists, as it was in the late 1990s.

Aid will be used to encourage good behaviour. Ministers see Afghanistan as a first test of their decision to abolish the Department for International Development so that aid could be better aligned with foreign policy goals.

Officials believe that the Taliban see the looming humanitarian crisis as a threat to their legitimacy in the eyes of Afghans and think that western aid will be needed to mitigate it.

Sir Laurie Bristow, Britain’s ambassador to Afghanistan, thinks the embassy in Kabul can be reopened:

Sir Laurie Bristow, the British ambassador to Afghanistan, was among those who returned home yesterday. On the runway at RAF Brize Norton in Oxfordshire he promised to reopen an embassy as soon as possible and to “do everything we can to protect the gains of the last 20 years”.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson is nearly ready to make a deal with the Taliban. Some think that there could be a Taliban embassy in London in future. Good grief:

Warned that the risk of terrorism would increase, he promised to “use every lever we have — political, economic, diplomatic — to help the people of Afghanistan and to protect our own country from harm”.

He hinted yesterday that the Taliban could win diplomatic recognition if they kept terrorism in check and allowed western allies still in Afghanistan to leave. “If the new regime in Kabul wants diplomatic recognition . . . they will have to ensure safe passage for those who wish to leave the country, to respect the rights of women and girls, to prevent Afghanistan from again becoming an incubator for global terror.”

His words raise the prospect of a Taliban embassy in London, which officials said would happen only as part of a joint approach with G7 allies after a new government was formed.

The UK government accepts that it will have to deal with a new Afghan government dominated by hardliners and has adopted a carrot-and-stick approach now that troops have left.

International plea for release of Afghans

On Sunday, August 29, in a joint statement, 90 countries asked the Taliban to commit to releasing more Afghan citizens:

Britain was among 90 governments that released a joint statement yesterday saying that they had a “clear expectation of and commitment from the Taliban that [Afghan allies] can travel to our respective countries”.

The Daily Mail has more on the statement:

The statement said: ‘We have received assurances from the Taliban that all foreign nationals and any Afghan citizen with travel authorization from our countries will be allowed to proceed in a safe and orderly manner to points of departure and travel outside the country.’

I cannot see that happening, even though I hope it does.

I am not alone:

many senior figures in the West fear the Taliban will fail to live up to the pledge amid concerns the number of Afghans left behind who may be eligible for resettling is actually far higher than initial Government estimates.

Too right. The Taliban will agree to anything then renege.

How evacuation schemes work

There were three evacuation programmes in place in Afghanistan during Britain’s Operation Pitting, which ended at the weekend. Approximately 15,000 people had been evacuated over the past fortnight.

Foreign Office Minister James Cleverly MP explained to Sky News how the evacuation schemes worked:

Asked how many people were left behind, Mr Cleverly told Sky News: ‘Well, that’s an impossible number to put a figure on. We had three methods by which, or vehicles by which, people could leave Afghanistan.

‘Obviously British nationals, we have a much better idea of how many British nationals were in AfghanistanThe vast, vast bulk of British nationals have now left Afghanistan.

The Arap scheme, those Afghans, interpreters and others, who had worked directly for us and with us, have their scheme.

But also we extended to Afghans who were at risk of reprisals and there was no set number of people in that third group.’

He admitted that many people were not evacuated:

Mr Cleverly did not deny reports that hundreds of emails sent to the Foreign Office from people trying to get out of the country had been left unopened

He said: ‘Well, you have got to remember that when we extended our evacuation efforts to Afghan nationals we of course received a flood of requests and those were worked through and they will continue to be worked through.

‘But I know my own inbox had a huge number of emails came through, some duplicates, and of course we focused on the people who were at the airport who were being processed and who we felt that we could get out through Kabul airport whilst we still had security of Kabul airport.

‘We will of course continue to work through applications from people who have contacted us, people who are still trying to get out of Afghanistan.’  

Cleverly told Sky News that the UK government is sceptical of the Taliban but is committed to working with them:

‘Well, we have always said, I think the Prime Minister has said very recently, that we will judge the Taliban by their actions,’ he said …

Obviously we are sceptical about those commitments but we will continue working with them to an extent, based on their conduct, to try and facilitate that further evacuation and repatriation effort.’

The American approach

On Sunday, Joe Biden looked at his watch while the coffins of 13 American servicemen from last week’s bombing at Kabul’s airport arrived at Dover Air Force Base in Delaware:

The Daily Mail reported:

President Joe Biden is under fire after appearing to look at his watch just seconds after a salute honoring the return of the 13 US servicemembers killed in Thursday’s ISIS-K suicide bombing in Kabul. 

The president made the unannounced trip to Dover Air Force Base in Delaware on Sunday morning as the caskets of the 13 service members killed in the attack were brought back to the United States.

He stood in silence, his right hand to his chest, as a succession of flag draped transfer coffins were carried past him from a C-17 Globemaster plane.

But during the ceremony, Biden appears to jerk his left arm up and look down at his watch.

The 13 killed on Thursday were Navy corpsman Max Soviak, Army Staff Sergeant Ryan Knauss, and Marines Hunter Lopez, Rylee McCollum, David Lee Espinoza, Kareem Nikoui, Jared Schmitz, Daegan Page, Taylor Hoover, Humberto Sanchez, Johanny Rosario, Dylan Merola and Nicole Gee.

Biden’s stupidity rightly attracted a barrage of criticism from military veterans and Republican politicians.

After a US drone strike killed two ISIS-K men, Secretary of State Antony Blinken is currently co-ordinating international efforts for the days ahead. This began with a virtual meeting on Monday, August 30:

On Monday, U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken will host a virtual meeting to discuss a coordinated approach for the days ahead, as the U.S. completes its withdrawal from Afghanistan following the Taliban takeover of the country.

The meeting will also include Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, the United Kingdom, Turkey, the European Union and NATO.  

Biden stuck with his decision to have a full withdrawal by Tuesday, August 31.

US-led evacuation flights took more than 114,000 people out of Afghanistan. Troops and diplomats followed.

National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan:

pledged the US ‘will make sure there is safe passage for any American citizen, any legal permanent resident’ after Tuesday, as well as for ‘those Afghans who helped us’.

Air strikes will continue:

He said the US would continue strikes against IS and consider ‘other operations to go after these guys, to get them and to take them off the battlefield’

He added: ‘We will continue to bring the fight to the terrorists in Afghanistan to make sure they do not represent a threat to the United States.’ 

There are no plans to reopen the embassy in Kabul, although there are plans for some diplomats to be present:

The administration’s plan ‘is not to have an ongoing embassy presence in Afghanistan’, Mr Sullivan said. 

‘But we will have means and mechanisms of having diplomats on the ground there, be able to continue to process out these applicants, be able to facilitate the passage of other people who want to leave Afghanistan.’ 

————————————————

I will be most interested to see how American and British plans work out. I cannot see the feasibility at the moment.

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