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

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

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

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

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

Mail on Sunday journalist Dan Hodges noted the hypocrisy:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Starmer invited only three journalists to hear his statement.

He said he would resign if fined.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Hmm:

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

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

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

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

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

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

Guido has been tracking this issue for some time:

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

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

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

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

Guido wrote:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Of the energy bill, he said:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

IS Keir Starmer chasing the wrong job?

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

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

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

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

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

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

Cummings’s press conference was his public penance.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Durham police did not respond to requests for comment.

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

Guido has the quote:

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

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

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

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

Guido wrote:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I’ll update this in due course.

End of series

When Boris Johnson won the December 2019 general election, the Conservative theme of which was ‘Get Brexit Done’, he said that he was grateful for the votes from former Labour constituencies, noting that those votes were ‘on loan’ to his party.

How true and how wise of him to recognise that, a gift which gave him a stonking majority of 80, the highest for the Conservatives in 33 years.

Boris was Prime Minister prior to that election, having been elected as Conservative Party leader in July that year after Theresa May’s resignation.

He should have known the knives would be out for him. He had unsuccessfully tried to prorogue Parliament that September. He ended up having to apologise to the Queen after Baroness Hale, she of the spider brooch and a Remainer, ruled against it.

With all that in mind, one would have thought that Boris could be more aware of the optics surrounding his premiership moving forward. Remainers — the Left and the media — have had a beady eye on him and Downing Street.

Boris’s majority is now 74: whip withdrawn from three MPs, two by-election losses to the Liberal Democrats (Chesham and Amersham, North Shropshire), one win from Labour in Hartlepool last year and one defection (Christian Wakeford).

Furthermore, it is worth noting that Boris’s resounding popularity with the public (until recently) is not reflected in the parliamentary Conservative Party.

Unlike Labour, the Conservatives do not hesitate to depose their leader. They got rid of Margaret Thatcher in the autumn of 1990. The ‘wets’ she so roundly criticised for their lack of political backbone proved they had spines after all.

Therefore, a Conservative Prime Minister faces threats from without and within.

The Opposition and the media want the UK to re-enter the European Union. The Conservatives have disgruntled candidates, past and present, who want to lead the party in a more conventional, less maverick, style. None of these groups is friendly to Boris Johnson’s premiership and would love nothing more than to see it brought down.

On Friday, January 14, 2022, the veteran journalist and author Charles Moore wrote a perceptive column for The Telegraph on Boris’s travails with lockdown parties: ‘For all his faults, there is no other Tory politician who has Boris Johnson’s political reach’.

Moore’s editorial appeared two days after Boris apologised at the beginning of PMQs (Prime Minister’s Questions). He said (emphases mine):

Mr Speaker, I want to apologise. I know that millions of people across this country have made extraordinary sacrifices over the last 18 months. I know the anguish that they have been through, unable to mourn their relatives and unable to live their lives as they want or to do the things they love. I know the rage they feel with me and with the Government I lead when they think that in Downing Street itself the rules are not being properly followed by the people who make the rules.

Though I cannot anticipate the conclusions of the current inquiry, I have learned enough to know that there were things that we simply did not get right, and I must take responsibility. No. 10 is a big department, with the garden as an extension of the office, which has been in constant use because of the role of fresh air in stopping the virus. When I went into that garden just after 6 o’clock on 20 May 2020, to thank groups of staff before going back into my office 25 minutes later to continue working, I believed implicitly that this was a work event, but with hindsight, I should have sent everyone back inside. I should have found some other way to thank them, and I should have recognised that even if it could be said technically to fall within the guidance, there would be millions and millions of people who simply would not see it that way—people who suffered terribly, people who were forbidden from meeting loved ones at all, inside or outside—and to them, and to this House, I offer my heartfelt apologies. All I ask is that Sue Gray be allowed to complete her inquiry into that day and several others, so that the full facts can be established. I will of course come back to this House and make a statement.

Sue Gray, an eminent civil servant, is still investigating the May 20, 2020 gathering and several others held in Downing Street during the lockdown periods in England. She could be some time.

On January 12, Opposition leaders and MPs piled on Boris. To an extent, I agree with them. Boris set the rules. Boris gave us the rules, either by himself or through his ministers, on television during the coronavirus briefings. Now he says he was unaware of them or should have been more mindful of them?

However, Downing Street is also a Crown property, meaning that it is exempt from certain laws that apply elsewhere across the country.

That said, the Queen scrupulously abided by the coronavirus restrictions during her husband’s funeral in April 2021. She sat alone. She was masked. It was tragic to see.

Yet, the overall design of the demands for Boris to resign over the parties — remember, he is still innocent until proven guilty — is to banjax Brexit and get rid of his attempts to make Britain a better place to live. This includes the expiry of most of the remaining Plan B coronavirus restrictions, on schedule for January 26, 2022. Their expiry puts the UK on course to be the freest Western nation in this regard.

Moving on to Charles Moore’s editorial on the parties, the eminent journalist asks:

I wonder, once the righteous anger had passed, how good it would feel for the country if the head of government had been ejected on this issue.

We may now be moving nearer to normality in relation to Covid-19. The Government, which was too draconian earlier on, now seems broadly on the right track, pushing back against scientists and social engineers in love with semi-permanent lockdown. Isn’t it better to stick to this course, without the self-indulgence of political convulsion? The international comparisons are quite favourable to Britain. We are not facing the collapse of the Government’s main policy. If anything, we are beginning to see its success.

Then there is the question as to how the news about these parties leaked from No. 10 or elsewhere. Boris’s former adviser, Dominic Cummings, is behaving like a vengeful jilted lover, referring to the Prime Minister as ‘the trolley’, careering all around the place. Does he bear any responsibility for these leaks? We should be told.

Of Cummings, Moore says:

I have a lot of sympathy with Dominic Cummings’s frustrations with Boris when he worked for him in Downing Street, but none with his attempt to prove him unfit for office by waging a continuous media campaign

If the two fell out, there will be fault on both sides, but the benefit of the doubt must go to the executive who is elected, not to the adviser who no longer advises.

As for sitting MPs railing against Boris, Moore says they represented the party when they ran for office; in most cases, they were not elected on their personal merit.

Moore was not to know of Christian Wakeford’s crossing the aisle just before PMQs on Wednesday, January 19. Wakeford sat right behind Keir Starmer, in full view of Boris.

Bury South, Wakeford’s Red Wall constituency, now has a Labour MP, with no say from his voters about this.

Moore says:

In the age of Twitter, many MPs seem to think they are in Parliament because of their own sturdy independent-mindedness and bear no responsibility to the collective.

Actually, no. Almost all of them are there because of the party label they hold – the regiment, if you like, in which they have chosen to serve. They need to understand that the regiment will come under constant attack, and they cannot survive individually if they crumple under each bombardment.

Until Wakeford’s defection, which is a serious matter in the House of Commons, a growing group of Conservative MPs were moving actively against Boris, especially through writing letters to Sir Graham Brady, head of the 1922 Committee. If he receives 54 letters against Boris, he can hold a vote of no confidence. Fortunately, Wakeford’s perfidious crossing the aisle was so shocking that those MPs have settled down, deciding to lie low for the time being. It is rumoured that some have since withdrawn their letters to the 1922 Committee.

Moore recaps Boris’s political history from the time he served two terms as Mayor of London, a job he performed admirably. Boris has had similar successes since then, including being the face of the Brexit referendum in 2016:

For all Boris’s evident faults – so evident that Conservative MPs knew most of them when they chose him – his record of advancing his party is almost unspotted. Twice managing to become Mayor of London – a very unTory city – he then won the EU referendum, thus accumulating the electoral capital to lead his party when Mrs May failed. He won a commanding majority at the ensuing general election on the proposition that he would get Brexit done and crush Jeremy Corbyn’s Labour Party. The May era proved that no one else could do that.

I realise that gratitude is not a strong emotion in politics, and the polls are bad now, but Tory MPs should at least recognise that such skills are not easily replicated. The leading contenders if Boris falls – Rishi Sunak, Liz Truss and Michael Gove – are all able politicians, but none has exhibited anything like Boris’s reach. This man has come close to political death before – when Michael Gove denounced him after the referendum and when he failed as Foreign Secretary.

He has also come close to actual deathwhen he got Covid in the early days of the plague. But he has a way of surviving and reviving. These skills deserve respect from the party he leads. If they try to kick him out, they create a definite split for an indefinite benefit, possibly provoking the third general election in five years. Who needs that?

Precisely. There is no other leader who has the reach with the general public like Boris Johnson.

It will take some time for Boris to recover. This will be as difficult for him as recovering from coronavirus was in the Spring of 2020. It seemed to take him several months, even if he said otherwise that year. He looked and sounded tired and worn down for a long time.

The same will hold true now. The public didn’t mind when Boris tried to unconventionally foil opposition to Brexit, because we knew he was fighting on our behalf.

However, these parties took place at a time when we could not see other family members outside of our homes. We could not visit relatives in care homes. We could not be with them in hospital for any reason. We could not even get into some Accident & Emergency wards for urgent care. We were deprived of Christmas and other religious celebrations. We could not get married. We could not bury with the comfort of family around us. We could not sit on the grass in the park to soak up warm sunshine in May 2020. We couldn’t even sit on a park bench. Nor could we speak out against these restrictions or the ‘science’ behind them. We were ordered to stay at home and stay away from the workplace in order to save lives. We were constantly warned about ‘killing Granny’, a disgusting proposition and accusation.

The Government and advisers took us for fools, as if we were brainless. It is therefore amazing that we have the ability to hold down jobs and pay their overly inflated salaries and pensions. Then, at the end of last year, we found out that some of those advisers received New Year’s Honours for stopping us from living life in the way God intended, in a free society. It all stinks to high heaven.

Therefore, it is appalling to discover that, while we were cooped up at home, Downing Street was holding these parties.

Boris has betrayed the public the way he betrayed his wives. It was callous and cruel, in the same way that marital infidelity is.

That is what angers the public. Boris turned against us. How does a betrayed wife ever trust her husband again? This is what Boris will have to work on with us, ‘straining every sinew’, to borrow a favourite, albeit silly, Conservative turn of phrase.

Still, with all that in mind, we must keep in mind Charles Moore’s warning. If Boris goes, Brexit could be in trouble. Don’t believe Labour when they say that Brexit is a ‘done deal’ and they won’t try to reverse it:

One must ask who stands to benefit from the blond defenestration being talked of. Lord Adonis, the Remainer whose frankness is so helpful to the other side, tweeted this week: “If Boris goes, Brexit goes.” That is the idea. That is the constant motivation of a minority of unreconciled Tory MPs and a majority of the Great and the Good in the Civil Service, academia, the law, the House of Lords and the BBC, which is carefully managing this current story for the political effect it has always wanted.

Christian Wakeford is sure he’s done the right thing by moving to the Opposition benches, sidling up to Labour without a by-election. It will be interesting to see what his Jewish constituents make of his new alliance with an anti-Semitic party, supposedly cleaned up now. It will be just as interesting to see who the Labour candidate for Bury South is at the next general election. I won’t be putting any money on Wakeford’s selection.

What we need now is patience, watching Boris like a hawk in the coming months — especially with local elections this May — but giving him the space to repent through his actions by returning to One Nation Conservativism.

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.

Last Friday’s post was about Matt Hancock’s fall from grace as Health Secretary as featured on the front page of The Sun.

The Queen had lost confidence in him before then, as my post explains, covered in another front page feature, in The Times.

Hancock’s final 48 hours as health secretary were pivotal, not only for his political but also his personal life.

Thursday, June 24

The Sun allegedly contacted Hancock to ask him if he had any comment before they published the compromising photo of him in a steamy embrace with a female aide.

Hancock went home that evening and dropped a life-changing bombshell on his wife and youngest child. 

On Sunday, the Mail reported (emphases mine):

Mother-of-three Martha was reportedly blissfully unaware of her husband’s infidelity until he broke the news to her on Thursday night when it became clear the footage would be published the next day.  

And he reportedly even woke up the couple’s youngest child, aged eight, to tell him he was leaving

How unspeakably cruel.

My commiserations to both — as well as to his two other children.

Apparently, Hancock is serious:

Friday, June 25

On Friday, YouGov and Savanta ComRes took snap polls to test public opinion on The Sun‘s revelations about Hancock.

It was clear that this representative portion of the public were deeply unhappy and thought he should resign.

These were YouGov’s results:

Savanta ComRes found that 46% of Conservative voters thought Hancock should resign:

The full video of Hancock’s illicit embrace became available online.

A number of newspaper columnists expressed their disgust with Hancock’s hypocrisy.

The Telegraph‘s Emily Hill wrote:

Four days after Freedom Day failed to dawn, what fun it is for the masses who must continue to abide by the Minister’s absurd rules to see this! Dancing inside at a wedding – verboten. Nightclubs – verboten. Standing at the bar in a pub talking to perfect strangers – verboten. It’s as if they don’t want the young and fit and healthy to mate anymore. Sex privileges, it seems, are reserved for middle-aged men in Westminster while the rest of us can only watch, helpless, wondering how much their cheating is costing the taxpayer.

But it is now the afternoon and Hancock has merely cancelled his appearance at a vaccine centre while Grant Shapps [Secretary of State for Transport] was sent out to inform us: “First of all, I think the actual issue is entirely personal for Matt Hancock.” Seconds later he stated: “whatever the rules are, the rules will have to be followed” in relation to the ministerial code. This makes hypocrites of much of the Government, not to mention every world leader who flouted social distancing rules so publicly at the G7 summit.

The Telegraph‘s Alison Pearson pointed out how much the British public has sacrificed in personal relationships over the past year and a bit because of Hancock’s restrictions:

Thousands of people posted reactions on social media. Some were bitterly mocking the official mantras: “Hands, Face, Back to My Place”. “Saving Lives, Shagging Wives”.

Others were simply devastating: “I wasn’t even allowed to kiss my dying father because of Hancock.”

The anger and disbelief were palpable. Was this really the minister who told us on the 17th May that, after fourteen months of physical and emotional self-denial, we were free to hug our loved ones, when, a fortnight earlier, he’d been giving mouth-to-mouth to some glamorous chum he’d put on the public payroll? Knowing Hancock, he’d call it First Aide.

We are all humble sinners and a man or woman’s private peccadillos shouldn’t disqualify them from doing their job. But no such understanding or humanity – not a sliver of mercy – has been shown by the Secretary of State or this Government to members of the public who have broken often cruel and arbitrary rules. Remember how we watched in horror as police arrested a retired nurse as she tried to drive her 97-year-old mother away from a care home. Hundreds of thousands of people have departed this life without a last touch or kiss from their best beloveds because the restrictions forbade it so relatives sobbed in the carpark because Matt Hancock said it must be so. Almost 30,000 children have been put on anti-depressants yet just one positive test (without any Covid symptoms) can still send an entire year group home to self-isolate for ten lonely days. Parents know this is insanity, but they must suck it up because that prating popinjay Hancock tells them it’s vital to keep us “safe”

If I had a gasket left to blow it would have exploded when Culture and Sports minister John Whittingdale explained this week how up to 3,000 Uefa officials will be allowed to arrive in the UK, without quarantine, for the Euro semis and finals. “We’ve always said that for some people who are important…”, said the hapless minister, accounting for the fact that normal people would be held to different standards.

“All animals are equal but some animals are more equal than others.” I never ever thought George Orwell’s satirical take in Animal Farm on an arrogant, unaccountable elite patronising the masses would apply in our country. More fool me. We’re all in this together, eh, Matt?

Trust me, it’s not closed. There are millions of us, and we are raging now, and we will not allow it to be closed. If the Government permits one law for Hancock and “important people” and another for the rest of us then it is morally bankrupt. Boris must act this very day to restore the people’s faith, to prove that we haven’t been mugs.

Fraser Nelson, also writing for the Telegraph, pointed out how Hancock insisted on following his draconian rules, therefore, he should not expect privacy now:

Mr Hancock has always been one of the most emphatic for the rules. In internal government debates, he has invariably pushed for the toughest restrictions and wanted 10-year jail sentences as a penalty for trying to dodge draconian quarantine rules. “I make no apologies for the strength of these measures,” he said: they’d target a “minority who don’t want to follow the rules.” Who, presumably, he thinks, deserve everything coming their way. When two women were fined by police for walking together, Mr Hancock was unforgiving. “Every time you try to flex the rules,’ he said, “that could be fatal”

This is the irony in his request on Friday for “privacy for my family on this personal matter” now. There is no doubt his family deserves it. But a great many other families would have been grateful for more privacy over the last 15 months. Instead, the Tory Government decided to legislate for what people do in their own homes. And in so doing, set up a system where people came to worry that they’d be reported to the police – perhaps by their neighbours – if they stretched the rules by inviting children over to play in their back gardens. Greater Manchester Police issued a statement boasting that they had raided a family home to break up a child’s birthday party.

Sweden managed to fight back two Covid waves while respecting privacy and civil liberty. There are bans on mass gatherings, and a rule of eight for public places. But no rules would apply inside anyone’s property, where they had sovereignty. Government would not come through your front door: in Sweden, your home is your castle. It wasn’t so long ago when this respect for privacy summed up civic life in Britain.

When Mr Hancock started issuing advice on where we should hug (embracing outside, he said, was better than inside) alarm bells ought to have been ringing in Number 10. It was a sign that the Government machine had gone way out of control, losing any sense of its remit or boundaries. Number 10 should have stepped in, and perhaps asked for a study on the efficacy of the intrusions or work of Project Fear: the blood-curdling posters showing Covid victims on their deathbeds. If there was no proof that the campaign was making a difference, they could have been told to change tack …

Paul Waugh of HuffPost dug up a quote from April 2020 (and a 2021 photo), showing how dictatorial Hancock was:

Conservatives in Parliament began complaining about Hancock. Christopher Hope, writing for the Telegraph, reported:

Baroness Foster of Oxton, a Tory peer, accused Mr Hancock on Twitter of having “used emergency powers to impose these punitive restrictions leading to horrendous consequences across society without debate yet ignored them himself & at work!”

Backbench Conservative MPs contacted their whips about the Health Secretary. One texted: “You don’t need me to tell you what I think.” Another said that “children have missed out in so many ways” and that Mr Hancock’s behaviour was “so hypocritical”, while a third MP said the Government “is looking ridiculous now, I am sorry to say”.

Oddly, the Shadow (Opposition) Health Minister Jonathan Ashworth was silent.

The day ended with The Sun‘s Harry Cole appearing on the BBC’s Newsnight:

Saturday, June 26

The Telegraph had running live coverage of the Hancock debacle. Excerpts follow.

Coverage began at 9:01 a.m.:

Tory MPs urged Boris Johnson to “pull the plug” on Mr Hancock and expressed their frustration to party whips over the Health Secretary’s “hypocritical” behaviour …

A senior government source said public reaction was being monitored and could determine Mr Hancock’s fate.

At 9:30:

The Telegraph understands Mr Hancock had no idea the camera existed when it captured him kissing adviser Gina Coladangelo, and government sources said it was “unheard of” for cameras to be installed in ministers’ offices.

It raises the possibility that the camera was deliberately placed by someone with access to his office with the intention of catching the pair cheating on their spouses and breaking Covid rules. It is the first time a Cabinet minister has been filmed in their own office without their knowledge.

In a further twist, the Department of Health and Social Care’s offices use CCTV cameras made by the Chinese company Hikvision, which is banned in the US because of national security concerns.

At 10:20:

A healthcare company which employs as a senior director the brother of the aide Matt Hancock was pictured kissing has insisted it had never benefited from the connection to the Health Secretary.

Reports suggested Roberto Coladangelo, strategy director at Partnering Health Limited (PHL Group), was the brother of Gina Coladangelo, a familial connection later confirmed.

At 11:06:

The Health Secretary is under mounting political pressure this morning after a video was published of him hugging and embracing Gina Coladangelo, a non-executive director in his department, in early May.

At the time, hugging and socialising indoors with people outside one’s household was banned.

But according to The Sun, they have been “all over each other” again this week in the same ninth-floor office of the Department of Health and Social Care.

At 11:19:

Duncan Baker, Conservative MP for North Norfolk, has called for Matt Hancock to resign.

Mr Baker, who was elected in 2019, is believed to be the first Tory MP to openly call for Mr Hancock to go and told his local newspaper the Eastern Daily Press: “In my view people in high public office and great positions of responsibility should act with the appropriate morals and ethics that come with that role …

“I will not in any shape condone this behaviour and I have in the strongest possible terms told the Government what I think.”

Duncan Baker was not alone. Three other Conservative MPs spoke out against Hancock — Esther McVey, William Wragg and Sir Christopher Chope:

Sir Christopher told the Dorset paper, the Daily Echo:

“I think that he should resign rather than be sacked because this should actually be an issue for him and his conscience.

“One of the benefits of having been around for a long time is that I’ve seen this sort of thing before and the strength of feeling is such, within the party and outside,  that this will not simply go away. 

The sooner he resigns the better so we can have a new secretary for health who commands public respect.

Hancock is finished.

The sooner he goes the sooner he can be rehabilitated.”

That afternoon, Hancock and Prime Minister Boris Johnson had a conversation. Hancock wrote a letter of resignation. Boris responded with a written reply:

Around 6 p.m., Hancock announced his resignation via a personal video:

Shadow Health Secretary Jonathan Ashworth said that Boris should have sacked Hancock:

However, given Boris’s philandering, that would have been hypocritical.

Also, Hancock will now return to the backbenches. Boris will want to keep him sweet. Even I can figure that out.

Around two hours later, it was announced that Sajid Javid would be Hancock’s replacement. Javid has been Home Secretary and Chancellor of the Exchequer, so he will be comfortable with another post in the Cabinet.

This means that Boris’s expected reshuffle will not now take place until perhaps later in the year. A smart move:

This thread summarises Javid’s career. He is the son of a bus driver. His teachers told him that he should pursue television set repair as a career. Were they ever wrong:

Dominic Cummings was quick to react, blaming Boris’s wife Carrie for the appointment. She had at one time worked for Javid. Cummings said he himself had ‘tricked’ Boris into firing Javid from Her Majesty’s Treasury (HMT):

Sky News’s Beth Rigby appeared outside of No. 10 late on Saturday:

Beth has some nerve. She was suspended from Sky News for a few months for having revelled in a non-coronavirus-compliant way at her colleague Kay Burley’s 60th birthday party evening in central London:

Sunday, June 27

Newspaper editors must have been pulling out their hair in changing their front pages for Sunday.

The Sun went for a play on words (matt paint):

The Mirror had the same idea, adding that his aide has quit her job, too:

The Times had a front page article adding that Hancock used a personal Gmail account to conduct Department of Health business. Apparently it’s done now, but any of those emails are subject to FOIA requests with regard to Government business. It also means that the Government might not be able to get a trail of all of his activity with regard to contracts:

The Express said that Conservative donors threatened to stop contributions if Hancock stayed in office:

I will stop there for now.

The Sunday articles and news programmes had much more to explore.

For now, it looks as if Sajid Javid has a more libertarian approach to handling the virus and wants restrictions lifted as soon as practicable.

Since last week’s delay to the UK’s reopening — Freedom Day — the spotlight has fallen on Matt Hancock, Secretary of State for Health and Social Care.

Last Wednesday, June 16, Dominic Cummings, Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s former special adviser, released WhatsApp messages from last year in the initial weeks of the pandemic. Boris allegedly called Hancock ‘hopeless’. Cummings is pictured in the following tweet:

When asked on Wednesday if he was ‘hopeless’, Hancock replied, ‘I don’t think so’:

Cummings released his WhatsApp screenshots in plenty of time for Prime Minister’s Questions that day, which gave Labour leader Keir Starmer ammo. However, Starmer ignored posing the following questions:

According to Guido Fawkes, it would not have been necessary to run these by the Speaker of the House beforehand, either:

Cummings included images of the WhatsApp messages in a lengthy article on Substack. Having read it, it appears to be part of the evidence he was asked to give to one of the Select Committees that recently interviewed him (emphases mine):

I was wondering about the issue of publishing private WhatsApp messages

1) No10 and Hancock are openly lying even about what was briefed on-the-record, so clearly nothing is beyond their attempted rewriting of history.

2) To further their lies, PM/Hancock are spinning distorted versions of my messages from internal WhatsApp groups to the PM’s favoured stooges such as Playbook Wiki.

3) Hancock challenged me at the Select Committee to provide evidence and said my failure to publish anything was ‘telling’ evidence that my account was false.

4) The Select Committee has asked me to provide evidence and clearly what MPs see the public should also see — transparency on covid is crucial.

Clearly the government cannot reasonably complain about me publishing evidence. Given this I will publish some internal messages. There are many more I could publish but below and in future I will publish only ones that further the question of ‘what went wrong and how do we learn’. I won’t publish private messages just to embarrass the PM or others. My goal is to force the system to face reality and change, not to embarrass people for the sake of it.

On Wednesday, June 16, the House voted to extend restrictions to July 19. Off-Guardian examined the debate, particularly the parts that would appear to restrict NHS care to those who took the vaccine:

They’re talking about the idea the NHS could prioritise care for people who’ve been “vaccinated” over those who refuse the “vaccine”.

The unvaxxed, in this situation, would be blamed for “putting the NHS under strain” or putting “healthcare heroes at risk”. They would be called irresponsible, and receive either delayed care, limited care, no care at all, or be expected to pay some kind of extra fee.

The idea of limiting healthcare for certain people based on lifestyle is not at all new. In the past, smoking, obesity and alcoholism have all been the subject of either research or even local schemes on elective surgery. But, should an unvaxxed ban or limit ever be put in place, it would be the first hard-and-fast, nationwide example. And would set a pretty terrifying precedent that could in the future apply to all kinds of diet, lifestyle or even political choices.

Remember the (totally false) argument that beef is bad for the planet? Or that the NHS should stop serving meat in their hospitals? It’s not hard to see that evolve into vegans getting preferential healthcare, or meat-eaters having to pay premiums, is it?

Of course, all that is a long ways down the road (hopefully). For now, it’s only a vague allusion in one parliament session. But, even if the discussion never blooms into real legislation, it’s certainly yet another example of the state attempting to bully and coerce vaccination.

And the fact nobody in the house of commons seemed even a little shaken up by the idea of a segregated NHS should be a cause for concern moving forward.

The same topic from the same debate appeared in an article on Conservative Woman: ‘Hancock pulls the plug on the National Health Service’:

Let us remember that when the NHS was brought into being in July 1948, its purpose was to provide universal, comprehensive and free health care, based on clinical need. This ideal of providing a quality service for all, regardless of ability to pay, has been shaken by the NHS’s bizarre self-insulating response to Covid-19 and its persistent lack of moral integrity in dutifully obeying orders. It has capitulated into being a de facto Covid-19 service, to the exclusion of all else.

Now we are being told that the future of medicine in the UK will be a vaccine apartheid, with those who have had the jab worthy of treatment, and those who have not, for whatever reason, put to the back of the queue or worse, left to their own devices. This is triage in extremis, and a path well-trodden by eugenicistsand war criminals.

We should not be misled into thinking this could never happen here: who could have foreseen the diktats meted out by a ‘Conservative’ government? It is only a small step between the current denial of access to the unvaccinated to public places, sports events and travel (which appears to have public support) and their progressive scapegoating and exclusion from other public realms, including medicine.

If previously legally protected rights are arbitrarily withdrawn from them, where and when will it stop? Who is to judge? Matthew Hancock or Boris Johnson?

On June 18, Lockdown Sceptics posted a letter from an NHS GP, Dr Helen Westwood, a member of HART, who wrote to her MP, Sir Graham Brady, chairman of the 1922 Committee (Conservative backbenchers). Dr Westwood is worried about mandating vaccines for NHS personnel. An excerpts of her letter follow:

Dear Sir Graham,

I refer to my earlier correspondence dated March 2nd and April 26th regarding the concerns I have about the COVID-19 vaccination program.

I am grateful to you for raising these concerns with the Minister for COVID-19 Vaccine Deployment. Sadly Mr Zahawi seems to be either unwilling or unable to respond to my questions. Perhaps he is just delaying until the vaccine rollout has reached the whole adult population as it is due to imminently.

Mr Zahawi said in his letter to you that “the UK currently operates a system of informed consent for vaccinations”. Clearly the current proposals to make vaccinations compulsory for care home workers and possibly frontline NHS workers is completely counter to this. If a medical intervention is mandated for one group in society why not others? What about visitors to care homes? Delivery drivers? Shop workers? The list will go on and on.

I would like to draw your attention again to Article 6 of the Universal Declaration on Bioethics and Human Rights. It states that “any preventive, diagnostic and therapeutic medical intervention is only to be carried out with the prior, free and informed consent of the person concerned, based on adequate information. The consent should, where appropriate, be express and may be withdrawn by the person concerned at any time and for any reason without disadvantage or prejudice”. If an individual is being coerced into undergoing vaccination, through fear of losing their livelihood, then they are not giving “free and informed consent”. In effect, the person administering the vaccine in such circumstances is committing the criminal offence of Assault and Battery. We know that the pharmaceutical companies have been granted legal indemnity by the Government but what indemnity does the vaccinator have in this situation?

In my opinion to ask anyone to undergo a medical intervention for the benefit of others is profoundly unethical. Population immunity, achieved through high vaccine take-up, is a by-product rather than the primary reason for immunising an individual. This ethical problem is particularly pertinent to the arguments given for rolling the program out to children, but is also relevant to the majority of healthy working-age adults. The mortality risk from COVID-19 in this cohort is lower than that for seasonal influenza

Conservative Woman also ran a column from a health care worker lamenting the likely mandatory vaccines for her occupation:

If you think I am irresponsible to choose not to have a vaccine that has never been proven to stop transmission (and STILL keeps us in restrictions), then you must also think that everything I have done, and been proud of, is also irresponsible – that I should have gloved my hand before holding a man dying in front of me; should have held off and waited for the fire brigade when confronted with a burning car; should have fiddled around wasting time to put a plastic mask on a child’s face before resuscitating them instead of putting my own mouth over theirs to get air to their tiny lungs more quickly. Sanctimony is rife in those that have settled into armchairs whilst watching the TV and tapping abuse into their Facebook accounts.

I will lose my current job under the care-home mandatory vaccination plans

And there is support for mandatory vaccines in plumbing, too. This is from London’s leading plumbing firm, Pimlico Plumbers. Its owner, Charlie Mullins, is on the right in the photo:

Conservative Woman‘s Michael Fahey rightly had a go at him, too, in ‘Vaccine twaddle from a right Charlie’:

One of his catchphrases as he bids to get those ‘selfish people’ jabbed is that having the vaccine is ‘a no brainer’. Charlie Mullins, for those who don’t know, is the boss of Pimlico Plumbers and has gained some notoriety in the last few months for suggesting that his employees who refused the vaccine would not be allowed to continue in their job. Given the lofty platform of the media, he has now raised this to ‘everyone must be vaccinated’. He obviously believes he is far more important than he actually is and that people will listen to him because he’s an OBE rather than a plumber from Sarf London. For some inexplicable reason, he thinks we’re living in the Dark Ages, fighting a plague that will kill you as soon as look at you rather than a virus that only seriously affects the vulnerable, all of whom have now been vaccinated anyway. He is oblivious to the fact that survival rates are extraordinarily high across all age ranges, and has swallowed every scare story that the government has thrown out

I predicted in my last TCW article that this is where we would be going. That throughout the next four weeks senior figures in politics, the media and jumped-up ‘celebrities’ would be everywhere, laying the blame for the delay firmly at the door of those who had refused the vaccine. For example the Tory former minister Dr Liam Fox said the other day that the UK could not wait for those who had refused a vaccine. He said: ‘What we cannot have is the country being held to ransom by any groups who have been offered a vaccine but have chosen not to take – that is utterly unacceptable.’

This line of thinking is wrong and unhelpful. If Liam Fox and Charlie Mullins believe so much in the efficacy of the vaccine, they will know that those who needed to be jabbed have been jabbed. The country should be allowed to reopen with all restrictions gone and those who have not taken the vaccine should not have their freedoms and livelihoods ripped away from them because people like Mullins thinks they should. I very much hope that if he sacks any employees who don’t want the jab, they take him to court for unfair dismissal. It is completely wrong to deprive someone of a job or ordinary life and interaction because you believe that they represent a danger, when in actually fact they are no more dangerous than a goldfish to a great white shark.

On Sunday, June 20, news emerged that Hancock withheld crucial positive data about vaccine efficacy from Boris Johnson, which might have allowed a reopening on June 21. The Queen, incidentally, was at Royal Ascot, one of her favourite annual racing events:

On Monday, June 21, The Slog posted an excellent article which includes information about Hancock’s career before he became an MP (emphases in purple mine):

Matthew Hancock’s own immediate family represents the final piece in this jigsaw: Hancock is an accomplished techie born and raised in the software family that created Border Business Systems. One of its specialities is the provision of profiling data for unsolicited direct marketing to consumer prospects. I have skin in this to the extent that I left the marketing profession in 2000 primarily because I had grave doubts about personal data getting into the wrong hands, and was less than impressed with the ethics of those engaged in it. The internet explosion has only excerbated the surveillance problem this so very clearly represents.

The point is that Hancock is a talented data-miner who worked at BBS to good effect throughout his youth; and one feature of the vaccine marketing we have seen is aggressive email and phone direct marketing of ‘the Jab’ designed to hype the safety of the formulations involved and disguise any and all negative safety issues. A recent Inquiry declared the methods used “totalitarian”. They are also amoral.

Everywhere one looks in the Hancock Files, there are smelly things. Public contract records show that the company Topwood (owned by his sister) was awarded a place in the Shared Business Services framework as a potential supplier for NHS local trusts in 2019, the year after Mr Hancock became health secretary. In March 2020, he declared he had acquired more than 15% of Topwood. It then went on to win £300,000 of business from NHS Wales.

There is now a drive for Britons to share their personal NHS data for research and planning purposes. Here is the opt-out page. I did see an extension to September 2021, but cannot find that page now. Therefore, opting out should be done as soon as practicable.

The Slog goes on to say (emphases mine):

He lied to the Commons about vaccine approvals, he shed crocodile tears on the BBCNews; he tried to make political capital out of the death of a step-grandfather from Covid, his relationship with whom was obviously exaggerated; his use of lachrymose appeals is both risible and an insult to the voters; he lied about the development of vaccines “purely for the most vulnerable”; he remains devious on the subject of vaccine deaths and side-effects; a High Court judge ruled that he “acted unlawfully in not divulging the winners of Covid19 contracts”; and immediately after his promotion to Health Secretary, Hancock accepted £32,000 from the chairman of a think-tank which wants to scrap the NHS, also accepting £5,000 from the director of a private nursing firm which supplies agency workers to the health service.

Yet he is still there. Johnson (whatever he says in public) would love to fire him….but Hancock’s Great Reset network renders him bombproof. That network includes Mrs Johnson…and together, they made Dom Cummings history.

Where does all of this end? Will it ever end?

Last year around this time, my far better half said this will go on and on because the Government are unable to admit they made a terrible mistake. How awful.

The next crisis will be economic, particularly with regard to office space and vacant retail premises:

There is talk in Government that working from home could be made mandatory:

I certainly hope that will not come to pass, because British cities are ghost towns at the moment. Restricting people to their homes in perpetuity will be an economic and mental health disaster.

Weeks ago, the UK government announced that June 21 could well be Freedom Day, with confirmation coming on June 14.

This week, not surprisingly, the government and SAGE began backtracking.

Matt Hancock’s testimony

Yesterday, Matt Hancock gave four and a half hours’ worth of testimony to the Health and Social Care Select Committee.

Today, Friday, June 11, talkRADIO’s Julia Hartley-Brewer picked up on the same lockdown point as I did in my post. They will not hesitate to use it again:

The vaccines minister Nadhim Zahawi defended Matt Hancock’s claim that there was never a PPE shortage. Good grief. I watched the debates in Parliament at the time. There definitely WAS a PPE shortage (and not just in the UK):

Dominic Cummings, Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s former special adviser and Matt Hancock’s nemesis, surfaced as expected:

SAGE

Members of SAGE and Independent SAGE want lockdown to stay.

SPI-M is SAGE’s modelling committee, the one with all the dodgy numbers:

Publican Adam Brooks makes an excellent point, although he meant to write ‘without culpability’. The modellers will continue to rake in their salaries:

Here’s another tweet about the dodgy data modelling — disgraceful:

To top it off, card-carrying Communist Susan Michie, a behavioural psychologist and member of SAGE’s SPI-B committee, says that masks and social distancing should be with us forever:

Michie gave the interview to Channel 5 News (the Daily Mail has more):

Carl Vernon analyses it:

Now, Michie is backtracking:

On April 24, the Daily Mail posted a profile of Susan Michie by Peter Hitchens. Excerpts follow (emphases mine):

The super-rich Communist Susan Michie is so militant that her fellow Marxists once searched her baby’s pram for subversive literature

They lifted the tiny infant out of the way, to check that the future Professor of Psychology was not smuggling ultra-hardline propaganda into a crucial conference.

No wonder that fellow students at Oxford a few years before had called her ‘Stalin’s nanny’.

The 1984 pram-searching incident, disclosed in 2014 by a far- Left website called The Weekly Worker, is far from being the oddest thing about this interesting person. 

The oddest thing about her is that she is a senior adviser to Boris Johnson’s Tory Government, a regular participant in the official Sage committee and the SPI-B committee, which have had such influence over the handling of Covid.

Yet despite, or perhaps, because of being very wealthy indeed, she has been a fervent Communist since 1978, and still clings to the Hammer and Sickle long after the collapse of her creed’s regimes from East Berlin to Moscow.

Her favourite place in the world is Havana, infested with secret police spies and one of the last tottering strongholds of Leninist rule.

It is quite possible to argue that Britain has undergone a revolution in the past year: a cultural revolution in which we have put health and safety above liberty in an astonishing way; a political revolution in which Parliament has become an obedient rubber-stamp and opposition has evaporated, while Ministers rule through decrees; and an economic revolution in which millions of previously independent people have become wholly dependent on the state for their wellbeing.

Perhaps, then, we should look for some revolutionaries. For what an opportunity they have been given by the Covid crisis.

Widespread fear of a mysterious plague led millions to seek safety in the arms of the state. But was this just a natural reaction, or was there any encouragement?

A now-notorious document was issued in March 2020 by Sage, called ‘Options for increasing adherence to social distancing measures’. It concluded that we were not yet frightened enough.

It said: ‘A substantial number of people still do not feel sufficiently personally threatened.’ So we needed to be scared a bit more. It recommended: ‘The perceived level of personal threat needs to be increased among those who are complacent, using hard-hitting emotional messaging.’

Well, most of us can recall such messaging. Wherever can it have come from?

The Government, supposedly led by a liberty-loving conservative, deployed intense and repeated propaganda, about the overwhelming of the NHS. It united us around a sort of worship of care workers. 

It cleverly portrayed quarantine measures, from house arrest to mask-wearing, as selfless and generous, so making nonconformists and dissenters appear stupid, selfish and mean

Susan Michie has not responded to my requests for an interview, either directly to her email or through the press office of University College London, where she works. So I cannot say whether her lifelong belief in Communism, apparently inherited from her equally militant scientist parents and shared with her ex-husband, the former Jeremy Corbyn aide Andrew Murray, has had any influence on her advice.

Hitchens says that Michie advocates a zero-COVID policy, which means we’ll die in penury from permanent lockdown and be told by the state — Chinese style — when we can leave the house:

Vaccines reduce illness, and hence death rates, for all variants. Most young and healthy people are safe from Covid-19, and always have been. Most of the old are now protected from serious illness via the vaccine.

But can it overwhelm the idealists – Utopians in fact – of Zero Covid, a well-organised and active lobby who believe that the virus needs to be eliminated completely?

Susan Michie seems to be a supporter of this idea. On July 30, 2020, she tweeted: ‘To get people out & about, schools back, workplaces open, economy recovering we need #ZeroCOVID.’

On February 24, perhaps recognising that Zero Covid might put some people off, she tweeted: ‘ ‘Maximum suppression’ seems to be a good way of expressing the goal of ZeroCOVID (without getting side tracked into wilful or other misinterpretation).’

Where does this desire for elimination of the virus actually lead? Many people have praised China’s response to Covid. But in reality China still has Covid outbreaks, and responds to them with measures of extraordinary ruthlessness.

It has also used Covid to speed up and strengthen its worrying ‘social credit’ system, which puts everyone under surveillance, rewards conformity and punishes misbehaviour by denying access to the small joys of life.

Freedom is conditional, and the gift of the state and the Communist Party. In Peking, which is virtually Covid-free, citizens must use a smartphone to scan a QR code for every mode of transport. Contact-tracing is constant

Anyone who leaves or arrives in the city must be tested. As David Rennie, Peking bureau chief of The Economist, recently observed: ‘It’s very hard to know where Covid containment starts and a Communist police state with an obsession with control kicks in.’

The government

The Indian variant is being used as the excuse for not reopening on Freedom Day, June 21:

Julia Hartley-Brewer has exposed the government’s new zero-COVID strategy:

It is thought that restrictions on weddings could be lifted:

Adam Brooks has this to say about Freedom Day:

Travel is still a no-no:

Conclusion

I could write more, but knowing that a Communist is controlling our behaviour and is advising a Conservative government makes me nauseous.

Therefore, in conclusion, there is no good reason for the government to refuse to reopen the nation on June 21. Deaths, even from 2020, are still average. This year, so far, they are below average:

We will find out the government’s latest excuse on Monday, June 14. More to follow.

Over the past several months, interview sessions that the House of Commons select committees have conducted generally concern an aspect of coronavirus.

Their interviews and subsequent reports will feed into a wider inquiry on the pandemic to be held in 2022.

On Wednesday, May 26, Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s former special adviser Dominic Cummings appeared before the Science and Technology Select Committee for an inquiry that lasted over seven hours.

Cummings’s testimony included allegations that Matt Hancock, the Secretary of State for Health and Social Care, should be fired and that he was a liar.

He agreed to provide evidence by June 4 to the select committee to substantiate those serious allegations, but he never did. Pictured on the right is Jeremy Hunt MP, co-chair of the Science and Technology Select Committee:

TimesRadio interviewed Jeremy Hunt on June 6:

Guido Fawkes has the key quote. Hunt said of the upcoming session with Matt Hancock:

Dominic Cummings made some very serious allegations against [Matt Hancock] in particular, saying that he lied repeatedly. So we will put those allegations to him [Hancock], but you know we haven’t received the written evidence to back those claims up that we were expecting. But we’ll be putting [..] all those allegations to him to give him his rightful chance to respond.

Guido commented (emphasis in the original):

Guido spent about 7 hours watching Cummings insist that the government is an incompetent cabal led by donkeys, and now the same man appears to have forgotten to hand in his homework. Maybe the Select Committee should check if Cummings has decided to upload the evidence to Twitter instead…

I checked Cummings’s Twitter feed today but couldn’t find anything.

Today, June 10, 2021, Matt Hancock appeared before the Health and Social Care Select Committee, co-chaired by Hunt and Greg Clark MP. Other MPs on the committee also asked questions. The co-chairs and the MPs are the same as those on the Science and Technology Select Committee.

The session lasted four and a half hours and is available for replay. Skip over the first four minutes which are in private, then fast forward 15 minutes when they take a break at around 90 minutes in:

Channel 4 also broadcast it:

Guido Fawkes has video clips of and principal points from Hancock’s testimony.

The session also trended on Twitter.

I haven’t listened to all of it yet, so cannot comment. What follows are tweets and excerpts from Guido’s post:

09.35: Greg Clark points out Cummings has missed all deadlines to submit evidence to substantiate his claims made against Hancock during his committee appearance. Cummings has not explained the absence of his submission.

Greg Clark asked Hancock about Cummings’s animosity towards him:

09.36: Hancock denies ever saying something to the PM that he knew to be untrue

09.37: Hancock denies blaming Treasury for blocking purchasing of PPE. Says it is “Not a fair recollection” of the truth.

09.49: Clark: “Did you know that [Cummings] wanted the PM to fire you?”; Hancock: “Yes because he briefed the newspapers at the time”

Questions turned to testing:

10.10: Hancock defends the 100,000 target says it was needed to galvanise the Whitehall machine.

10.12: Hancock claims countries that experienced SARS & MERS were better prepared, though Covid-19 was very different on account of asymptomatic transmission.

Hancock talked about the (duff) modelling numbers:

Hancock’s department had no list of care homes:

I find this next line surprising:

10.29: Hancock stresses that only 1.6% of cases from care homes came from hospitals.

This, too, was surprising:

Contrary to what Cummings said, Hancock said there was a plan early on:

He discussed China:

10:49: Insists that closing the borders last year would have made little difference: “The only way the world could have stopped this virus getting out of China is if China itself had stopped people leaving China.”

11:28: Hancock claims he first heard about asymptomatic spread in January 2020: “I arranged a call with the World Health Organisation. I was told on that call with respect to China this was ‘likely a mistranslation’ […] I bitterly regret that I didn’t overrule that scientific advice.”

Hancock talked about lockdowns.

We should not have been so compliant, because they’ll lock us down again:

With regard to our present situation:

13:31: The Delta/Indian variant now makes up 90% of cases in the UK.

He agreed with Greg Clark on these preliminary conclusions:

One would think that Dominic Cummings watched Matt Hancock’s testimony.

Hancock has agreed to supply the select committee with copies of documentation and data from the early days of the pandemic.

Cummings is now in a position to critique what Hancock said. Many of us await further developments with interest.

Early in March 2020, my far better half and I were optimistic that Prime Minister Boris Johnson, his government and his advisers would not be too proscriptive about coronavirus restrictions.

In the end, they were, but the following timeline shows how quickly their thinking on herd immunity changed.

In light of Dominic Cummings’s testimony to the Science and Technology Select Committee on Wednesday, May 26, and his lengthy Twitter thread prepared beforehand (continuing afterwards), I offer a short and a long version of what happened.

Short version

The Government denies that natural herd immunity — catching the virus — was ever government policy.

Yet, here is Sir Patrick Vallance, the UK’s chief scientific adviser, at a coronavirus briefing on Thursday, March 12, 2020:

It seems that Cummings might have advised the government to backtrack and deny it was policy, however briefly:

As Cummings said on Wednesday, once he received numbers from an NHS specialist/mathematician who extrapolated scenarios on what could happen, the Government changed tack:

Long version

I haven’t missed a single coronavirus briefing since they started in March 2020. As regular readers will know, I have been deep-diving into the pandemic since then.

February 2020

Lessons From The Crisis has an excellent article on how the herd immunity plan unfolded and changed. ‘It’s bizarre that this needs saying, but *of course* the UK had a Herd Immunity plan’ is well worth reading.

It includes a capture of SAGE minutes from February 4, 2020, advocating that policies for influenza be followed. The article summarises this as follows (emphases in the original):

On the 4th of February, at the UK Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies’s fourth Covid meeting, influenza planning, with its assertions that spread was “inevitable”and halting the virus “a waste of resources” was adopted as the official recommendation- tragically this was about ten days before Chinese covid cases peaked, never return to their early 2020 levels …

The scientific consensus presented to ministers was: mass infection of the population was inevitable, a vaccine would not be available in time, so the only choices were about how to manage the mass infection of the population until the country had accumulated enough cases to get to herd immunity

The alternative being attempted by governments elsewhere, trying to stop the disease from infecting the population, was regarded as folly; the UK government’s scientific advisors were certain that countries attempting suppression would fail …

March 2020

In his testimony on Wednesday, Cummings claimed he broke rank with the Government on Wednesday, March 11:

Publicly, however, he was still on board with the Government plan:

Vallance gave his aforementioned briefing on herd immunity on March 12. This is what appeared afterwards:

This is a summary of an interview Vallance gave to Sky News the next day (full video here):

The Independent quoted a BBC interview with him on March 13:

Sir Patrick told the BBC that the advice the government is following for tackling coronavirus is not looking to “suppress” the disease entirely but to help create a “herd immunity in the UK” while protecting the most vulnerable from it.

Asked if there is a fear that clamping down too hard on its spread could see it return, Sir Patrick said: “That is exactly the risk you would expect from previous epidemics.

“If you suppress something very, very hard, when you release those measures it bounces back and it bounces back at the wrong time.

“Our aim is to try and reduce the peak, broaden the peak, not suppress it completely; also, because the vast majority of people get a mild illness, to build up some kind of herd immunity so more people are immune to this disease and we reduce the transmission, at the same time we protect those who are most vulnerable to it.

“Those are the key things we need to do.”

That same day, SAGE’s Professor John Edmunds also advocated natural herd immunity in this Channel 4 interview:

Nigel Farage was outraged by the policy:

The Lessons From The Crisis article says that the turning point happened almost immediately:

Partly in response to this outrage, the government changed course; Boris Johnson swapped strategies and began locking down the country just 3 days after the herd immunity plan became public, with new priorities built around suppressing the virus with blunt instruments such as lockdowns to buy time for building countermeasures- testing and tracing capacity, vaccines, treatments.

That is not to give Nigel Farage single-handed credit. The media also helped a lot, especially with frequent footage of what was happening in northern Italy at the time.

On Monday, March 16, Prof Neil Ferguson released his (spurious) numbers from Imperial College London, which changed the Government’s policy. 

UnHerd reported on it the following day — ‘Why the Government changed tack on Covid-19’:

The Chief Scientific Adviser, Sir Patrick Vallance, Chief Medical Officer, Professor Chris Whitty, and the government’s science adviser Dr David Halpern indicated that the government’s strategy was to allow the virus to pass through the population, to allow individuals to “acquire herd immunity” at a delayed speed, while vulnerable groups were “cocooned.” This strategy, however, was subsequently contradicted by health secretary Matt Hancock, who insisted that “herd immunity is not our goal or policy”.

The quick reversals did not end there, as a ban was announced on mass gatherings just a day after the government’s initial claims that it was not the right time for such measures. On Saturday, the government briefed select journalists on “wartime measures” to quarantine the elderly at home or in care homes, away from any contact with the rest of the population; earlier than such measures were expected to be announced.

Finally, it was revealed yesterday afternoon that the Prime Minister had decided to dramatically step up countermeasures, and switch entirely to a strategy of containment as a result of advice from an expert response team at Imperial College London, which concluded that the strategy of delay would likely cause “hundreds of thousands” of avoidable deaths.

The initial plans — to establish herd immunity based on research on social fatigue and assumptions that effective vaccines would not be developed — contradicted the guidance from the World Health Organisation (WHO), and the wealth of evidence in the fields of epidemiology, behavioural science and immunology, so it is unsurprising that countless experts have already questioned and criticised the strategy, including epidemiologists, immunologists, and behavioural scientists.

On Saturday, March 21, Alex Wickham from Buzzfeed summarised a tense and confused week inside No. 10, and the road to lockdown (emphases mine):

While the scientific debate was raging last week between experts, officials, and ministers in face-to-face meetings and over emails and text messages, Johnson’s government was publicly insisting that the scientific advice showed the UK did not yet have to bring in more stringent measures to fight the virus.

Political aides tacitly criticised other countries who had taken more dramatic steps, claiming Britain was being “guided by the science” rather than politics.

Towards the end of last week, some ministers and political aides at the top of the government were still arguing that the original strategy of home isolation of suspect cases — but no real restrictions on wider society — was correct, despite almost every other European country taking a much tougher approach, and increasing alarm among SAGE experts.

The thought of months or even a year of social distancing was simply not feasible, some in Johnson’s team still thought at that point. They continued to privately defend the controversial “herd immunity” approach outlined to the media by Vallance, even as other aides scrambled to claim the UK had never considered it to be policy.

And there was fury behind the scenes among members of Johnson’s team at the likes of Rory Stewart and Jeremy Hunt, who had been publicly saying the government had got it wrong.

But data from Italy — presented to the government before it was published by experts at Imperial College on Monday — changed all that. Their report confirmed the earlier fears of the epidemiologists who had been calling for more drastic action.

On Monday, March 23 — the day Prime Minister Boris Johnson took away every Briton’s civil liberties in five minutes by announcing the first lockdown — Byline Times posted a must-read article, ‘COVID-19 SPECIAL INVESTIGATION: Part Three — Behavioural Scientists told Government to use “Herd Immunity” to Justify Business-As-Usual’.

SPI-B is our behavioural, or ‘nudge’, unit and is part of SAGE. Dr David Halpern, a SAGE member, runs the unit. This was allegedly their role in the herd immunity discussions:

A SPI-B document dated 4 March, which rejected the need for school closures, went on to refer to the medical concept of immunity. In a discussion about how the public might be confused about the disparity between the Government’s approach of “not applying widescale social isolation at the same time as recommending isolation to at-risk groups”, the document acknowledges disagreement within the SPI-B.

The document explains: “One view is that explaining that members of the community are building some immunity will make this acceptable. Another view is that recommending isolation to only one section of society risks causing discontent.”

The idea of immunity does not come up elsewhere in the SAGE corpus. But, Professor Chris Whitty, the Government’s Chief Medical Advisor, claimed that 20% of the population of Wuhan, China, had contracted the Coronavirus and acquired herd immunity. He believed that this explained why new cases had begun to fall in China

This flatly contradicted data from China showing that, by end of January, after the crisis had peaked, just under 95% of the Wuhan population remained uninfected by the virus. This was, therefore, nothing to do with herd immunity, but a result of China’s emergency containment response. 

The UK Government, it seemed, had made a gamble: one that Dr Brian Ferguson, Director of Immunology at Cambridge University, described as “not scientifically based and irresponsible” because typically “Coronaviruses don’t make long-lasting antibody responses”.

Whether or not it was a specific goal of the Government, its network of behavioural science advisors had fielded herd immunity as a way of justifying to the public why the Government was not taking early action – despite having no scientific evidence behind the idea

Social media discussions on herd immunity began to appear:

On Tuesday, March 24, Byline Times posted another must-read article, ‘The Coronavirus Crisis: Oxford Model Touting “Herd Immunity” was Promoted by PR Agency Tied to Ministry of Defence and Nudge Unit’.

Excerpts follow:

On 24 March, the Financial Times claimed that as much as half of the British population may have already been infected by the novel Coronavirus, according to a new model by Oxford University’s Evolutionary Ecology of Infectious Disease group

The conclusion, according to the FT’s science editor Clive Cookson, suggested that the country “had already acquired substantial herd immunity through the unrecognised spread of COVID-19 over more than two months”. If true, this would vindicate the Government’s “unofficial herd immunity strategy – allowing controlled spread of infection,” he stated.

Although numerous epidemiologists and scientists had questioned the validity of the Oxford model – which had not been peer-reviewed – it was promoted to the press by a PR agency with ties to the Government, raising questions about how and why this model was published and disseminated at this time.

The draft paper, which was originally posted to Dropbox, included a disclaimer noting that its content was “not final” and could be “updated any time”. The disclaimer also contained a contact point for journalists: “Contact for press enquiries: Cairbre Sugrue, cairbre@sugruecomms.com.”

Dr Lewis Mackenzie, a Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council Discovery Fellow, commented: “Why on earth has this been sent to the media via a third party PR company instead of the Oxford University press team? Seems very irresponsible to encourage reporting on this topic before the scientific community had a chance to comment and peer-review it.”

When asked why its own press team did not release the study, Oxford University said: “All Oxford academics have freedom of expression regarding their areas of specialism, including communication through the media. It is therefore not uncommon for academics to make their own arrangements for contacting the press. The university cannot comment on individual arrangements that it is not party to.”

Caibre Sugrue is the founding director of Sugrue Communications, a technology PR agency. He is also a non-executive advisory board member of 100%Open, an innovation consultancy – which has worked for several British Government agencies, including the UK Ministry of Defence’s Defence, Science and Technology Laboratory (DSTL) and a leading charity which co-owns the Cabinet Office’s Behavioural Insights Team (BIT) or ‘nudge unit’.

This seems to be the first appearance of Prof Sunetra Gupta, later of The Barrington Declaration (a libertarian approach to coronavirus self-isolation), who works at Oxford University:

The original FT piece had claimed that, if substantial herd immunity had been achieved, restrictions could be removed sooner than expected. The article added: “Although some experts have shed doubt on the strength and length of the human immune response to the virus, Prof Gupta said the emerging evidence made her confident that humanity would build up herd immunity against COVID-19.

I contacted Professor Sun[e]tra Gupta, one of the co-authors of the study, to find out what this emerging evidence is. She did not respond to a request for comment. However, the model was reported worldwide and some commentators in both the US and UK used it to suggest that strong social distancing measures may be unnecessary

Scientists are divided on the prospects for achieving herd immunity, but most agree that, while achieving it may be possible at some point, it is not clear how long it would last. In any case, whether or not it is achievable, the immediate focus should be on minimising fatalities.

By the end of the month, confusion among journalists reigned:

April 2020

In April, it appeared that dealing with coronavirus was becoming highly complex. Author Ian Leslie tweeted a considered an explanation from a Financial Times reader:

May 2020

Two months later, Sir Patrick Vallance denied that natural herd immunity was ever a plan:

Prof John Edmunds gave Channel 4 another interview, wherein he appeared to backtrack on his previous claims about herd immunity. The first video is from his March interview and the second from May:

I’ll have more on the UK’s approach to herd immunity next week.

On Wednesday, May 26, 2021, Dominic Cummings, former special adviser to Prime Minister Boris Johnson appeared before the Science and Technology Select Committee for an inquiry that lasted over seven hours.

The full session is on Parliamentlive.tv.

As one might expect from someone the media portrayed as the power behind the throne between July 2019 and November 2020, this was a highly gripping interview conducted by a number of MPs.

Cummings discussed Boris, Health Secretary Matt Hancock and the coronavirus situation. With regard to the pandemic, he said that the Government, including himself, let the nation down at a time when Britons needed them the most. He apologised for not having insisted on urgent action sooner early in 2020.

Highlights follow.

Boris

Cummings’s opinion of Boris is not the highest at the moment. Cummings wondered whether to tender his resignation several times but decided to stay on to implement the reforms he thought would make No. 10 work better.

One of their big bones of contention was the way No. 10 — especially Boris — liaised with the media, especially during the coronavirus crisis.

According to Cummings, Boris wanted to please the media only to end up contradicting coronavirus policy.

At one point, Boris opposed parts of Cummings’s plan to reform the way No. 10 worked, admitting that he preferred the ‘chaos’ (his word) to giving Cummings the power to resolve said chaos and make it run more efficiently.

Cummings said that he does not think that Boris Johnson is a good Prime Minister.

The media

The media outlets, Cummings said, gave him a hard time because he wanted to manage — and perfect — the way that No. 10 interacted with them.

Cummings’s reforms would have distanced the media contact with the Prime Minister, something that they clearly do not want.

Cummings’s trip to Barnard Castle

Last Spring, Cummings and his family went to Barnard Castle (a town and a castle) in County Durham. It was a huge deal. Boris even made him hold a press conference to explain his actions around a year ago at this time.

Naturally, MPs wanted to find out why Cummings went so far from London when people were told to stay at home.

Cummings confessed that there was something he did not mention during last year’s press conference. He said that staying in his home in north London had become untenable for him, his wife Mary Wakefield (a Spectator journalist) and their little boy. People were outside their home threatening Cummings’s life.

He said that he had spoken to Boris about decamping to Barnard Castle, where his father lives. Boris said that he could either go there or to a Government-owned property in London. Boris then went into hospital with coronavirus and Cummings himself also had the illness.

Cummings and his wife spent a few weeks deciding what to do. Then a newspaper article alleged that Cummings said something about coronavirus deaths that was patently false. Once again, people appeared outside his home.

The couple decided to go to Barnard Castle by car. Cummings wanted to get back to work, even though he had not recovered from the virus. Cummings’s wife did not want him to go back alone, so the family left Barnard Castle to return to London.

The story ran and ran in the news, agitating an already distressed general public cooped up at home. Cummings said that, once Boris returned to Downing Street, he said, ‘This cannot stand’ and told his adviser to hold a press conference, which one MP at the inquiry described as a ‘witch hunt’.

Carrie Symonds

Cummings was also frustrated with Boris’s fiancée, Carrie Symonds, who, on one occasion when coronavirus was critical, wanted Boris to have someone complain to a newspaper about a story involving the couple’s dog.

He also said that Symonds had too much say in hiring No. 10 staff.

Health Secretary Matt Hancock

On more than one occasion during the session, Cummings called Health Secretary Matt Hancock a liar for his lack of coronavirus plan.

Cummings said that Hancock should have been fired early last year for claiming that patients leaving hospital for care homes last year would be tested before discharge and for saying that a ‘protective’ (Hancock’s word) ring was placed around care homes.

Cummings said that neither claim was true. The Select Committee have asked Cummings to provide them with specific evidence for such serious allegations.

Barbara Keeley (Labour) was one of the MPs asking Cummings about the care home debacle:

The Science and Technology Select Committee will be interviewing Matt Hancock in a fortnight.

Afterwards, they will file their report from their many sessions on coronavirus. This can be used as evidence in a general inquiry into the Government’s handling of coronavirus, scheduled to begin sometime in 2022.

Coronavirus

Cummings answered a lot of questions about the 2020 coronavirus policy.

He said that a plan for lockdown should have been developed in January 2020. The general consensus in No. 10 was that it was a new type of SARS and that everything would blow over soon.

Cummings thought that air travel should be stopped, but that No. 10 and a number of Conservative MPs thought that would be seen as a ‘racist’ policy, therefore, nothing happened.

The idea of doing nothing was mooted and let people have ‘chicken pox parties’ so that there would be a natural herd immunity by September 2020.

By February, Cummings became increasingly concerned and wanted a southeast Asian style lockdown. In early March, he began consulting academics who had strong quantitative (number-crunching algorithmic) skills to project what would actually occur if there were no lockdown. Cummings referred to this as Plan B:

A specialist in the NHS who was also good with numbers advised Cummings that ‘chicken pox parties’ were out of the question. Coronavirus was too deadly.

Cummings said that he was reluctant to press for a lockdown at the end of January or in February because he was worried that his assumptions might have been wrong.

In any event, the scenario given to him in March helped him persuade No. 10 that a lockdown was necessary. Yet, even then, he said that SAGE members disagreed among themselves as to whether lockdown was a good idea.

After the first lockdown, he said, Boris had deep regrets as to whether it was the right thing to have done. He was worried about the economic impact on people’s lives at the same time he regretted the loss of so many Britons to the disease.

When autumn rolled around, Sir Patrick Vallance and Prof Chris Whitty alerted Cummings that a second lockdown was needed. Boris disagreed, because he did not want any more distress inflicted on the public or the economy. In the end, we had a very lengthy lockdown from Christmas 2020 through to April 2021.

Conclusion

Cummings said that many things need to change in No. 10 and Whitehall (civil servants).

Too few people want emergency processes that would streamline procurement, for example. Cummings managed to get some reforms in that area in times of crisis. He also managed to get a special situation room set up at No. 10, which he said that Downing Street officials like because electronic equipment can be taken in for meetings. The COBR room does not allow that option.

Cummings is also frustrated that civil servants cannot be fired easily. Some, he said, clearly need to go.

He also says that our political system needs a rethink. He said that the 2019 choice between Boris Johnson and Jeremy Corbyn was not good.

Although I do not agree — even now — about Cummings’s views on lockdown and masks, I am sorry that he will not be able to implement his changes in Downing Street and Whitehall.

Those interested can read detailed live coverage from The Guardian.

In case you’ve missed the earlier posts in this series, here they are: parts 1, 2, 3 and 4.

The best known of the minority MPs from David Cameron’s premiership — 2010 to 2016 — is Rishi Sunak, who is Chancellor of the Exchequer.

He represents the Richmond constituency in Yorkshire.

Early years

Rishi Sunak’s grandparents moved from the Punjab province of India to East Africa. Rishi’s mother Usha was born in Tanzania. His father Yashvir was born in Kenya. Both are Hindus.

Both sets of grandparents migrated to the UK in the 1960s.

After marriage, Usha and Yashvir settled in Southampton, on the southern coast of England. Usha worked locally as a pharmacist. Yashvir was a general practitioner.

The couple have three children: Rishi, another son Sanjay, who is a psychologist, and a daughter Raakhi, who works on COVID-19 strategy for the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office.

Rishi Sunak went to the renowned public (private) school Winchester College, founded in 1382, where he was head boy and editor of the student newspaper.

He then went to Lincoln College, Oxford, where he graduated with a First in 2001 in PPE, which is nothing to do with hospital gowns, rather Philosophy, Politics and Economics. Whilst at Oxford, he did a brief stint at Conservative Campaign Headquarters.

During summer holidays he worked at a curry house in Southampton.

Sunak began his career at Goldman Sachs, where he worked as an analyst from 2001 to 2004.

He then decided to study for an MBA at Stanford University in California, where he met his wife, Akshata Murthy, the daughter of the Indian billionaire N. R. Narayana Murthy, the man behind Infosys. The couple married in 2005. Sunak, a Fulbright Scholar, completed his MBA in 2006.

Sunak and his wife settled in England and have two young daughters.

Prior to entering politics, Sunak worked for two hedge funds and was also the director of one of his father-in-law’s companies, Catamaran Ventures.

Political career

Former Conservative Party leader William Hague represented Richmond, which has been a safe seat for the party for over a century.

Rishi Sunak was elected comfortably to his first term with a majority of 19,550 (36.2%). Once in Parliament, he was appointed to the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Select Committee.

Sunak was also committed to Brexit and was an early advocate of free ports, having written a report on the concept in 2016, the year of the referendum.

In 2017, with Theresa May as Prime Minister, Sunak won re-election with an even greater majority of 23,108 (40.5%). In Parliament, he continued to support Brexit, voting for Theresa May’s deal and against a referendum on a final withdrawal agreement in 2019.

That year, Theresa May stood down as PM. Sunak supported Boris Johnson in the ensuing leadership contest.

That autumn, during the general election campaign, he appeared on a television debate, representing the Conservatives:

I am sure Sunak did better than Iain Dale gave him credit for:

He also participated in a seven-way debate on ITV.

On December 12, Sunak further increased his margin of victory at the polls to 27,210 (47.2%).

The coronavirus Chancellor — and some inside scoops

Then, in February 2020, Prime Minister Boris Johnson replaced Sajid Javid with Rishi Sunak as Chancellor:

He gave his first budget less than a month later, on Wednesday, March 11, which I wrote about at the time.

The following Monday, March 16, Boris announced social distancing rules and the closure of pubs, restaurants and events venues. Rishi spoke at one of Boris’s televised coronavirus briefings with news of a generous financial package:

Guido Fawkes posted the full video and remarked (emphasis in the original):

You wouldn’t guess he’s only been in the job for five weeks…

Full details are here. Sunak also issued a Twitter thread with a summary:

Then lockdown came a week later on Monday, March 23.

A few days later, Boris was struggling with his bout of coronavirus, as was Health Secretary Matt Hancock:

The Conservatives soared to record approval ratings in the polls:

Early in April, Boris was quietly rushed to St Thomas’ Hospital in London. Rishi did another coronavirus briefing to reassure an anxious nation:

The well-spoken, gentle Sunak appealed greatly to the folks at home. The Independent did not like that one bit.

Society magazine Tatler began running articles on Sunak in March. They could see he would quickly become a cult personality.

On March 18, the magazine posted an article by Annabel Sampson, ‘Everything you need to know about Britain’s new Chancellor, Rishi Sunak’.

It begins with this (emphases mine):

The virtues of 39-year-old Rishi Sunak have been extolled many times over; for his charming demeanour, his razor sharp brain and his acute financial sense. Now the man who has come to be recognised as the ‘Maharaja of the Dales’, thanks to his Indian ancestry and Yorkshire home, has been appointed to the highest office in the country, to Boris Johnson’s Cabinet in the role of the Chancellor of the Exchequer, the second biggest government job; and the second youngest person ever to take the position.

The appointment follows the ‘Cabinet Reshuffle’ that occurred in February when Savid Javid, the former Chancellor, resigned when he was asked to get rid – reportedly a request linked to Dominic Cummings – of his closest aides. Rishi Sunak’s star has been rising for some time now, so his appointment to the position will have baffled few.

The article has several photos, including one of Sunak in the Yorkshire countryside and one with his dog, which resembles Boris Johnson’s Welsh rescue pup, Dilyn.

Sunak and his wife had a traditional Indian wedding:

Rishi and Akshata were married in her hometown of Bangalore, in a two-day ceremony attended by 1,000 guests.

Akshata is a working mother:

Akshata runs her own fashion label Akshata Designs and is also a director of a venture capital firm founded by her father in 2010. Her designs are wonderful; she’s been profiled by Vogue India and been credited for creating clothes that are ‘vehicles to discovering Indian culture’ – comprised of chic silhouettes with bold, Indian design.

Did we know that the Sunaks throw great parties? We do now:

With their combined wealth, they understandably have a generously sized home in Northallerton, North Yorkshire (in Sunak’s constituency). The Daily Mail reports that their annual summer garden party is a county highlight; where uniformed staff loft around serving ice cold champagne and canapés (no doubt prepared by the prestigious Yorkshire Party Company).

Sunak is a natural at politics:

According to the Daily Mail, ‘While many MPs stutter and trundle their way through their maiden speech in the Commons, Mr Sunak’s at-ease manner provided a glimmer of what was to come’. One ally in parliament told the Telegraph: ‘He’s ferociously intelligent and thoroughly decent at the same time’

He was one of the few Conservatives who were let loose on the air waves (14 times in total) and allowed to make public appearances during the election campaign last year. He has even been dubbed the ‘Prime Minister-in-waiting’, we’ll see. His first big challenge was the March budget; and now he is juggling the unprecedented complexity of the impact of the coronavirus on the economy. The UK are in safe hands.

The article also has a photo of him supporting Yorkshire County Cricket at Edgbaston.

Early in July, Tatler‘s Ben Judah travelled to Sunak’s home town of Southampton and reported his findings in ‘Inside the world of Rishi Sunak’.

Naturally, Judah went to the curry house where Sunak worked during his summer holidays:

The kitchen at Kuti’s Brasserie, not far from Southampton docks, was not the sort of place, in August 1998, you would have gone looking for a future hedge funder, son-in-law of a billionaire and Conservative chancellor.

That summer – the summer of the France 98 World Cup and the Omagh bombing – Kuti Miah, the eponymous restaurateur behind the curry house, went to have a word with one of his waiters. ‘You’re going to be someone, Rishi,’ he said. The future UK chancellor flashed his famous smile. He was, adds Miah, ‘a brilliant talker’. Rishi Sunak, then 18, was about to go to Oxford, but that holiday he waited tables for Miah, a close family friend, to earn some pocket money. ‘I saw him grow up,’ says Miah. ‘His father used to bring him in his carry cot.’

Miah was fast friends with Yashvir and Usha Sunak, both Hindu Punjabis born in colonial Kenya and Tanzania respectively, whose parents had migrated from India. After India’s independence, both families left East Africa for Southampton in the mid-to-late 1960s. Yashvir and Usha met in Britain and married. He became a local GP and she ran a pharmacy. They were ‘brilliant conversationalists’ and ‘very strong believers’ who ‘worked very, very hard’, according to Miah, who also recalls that they were ‘passionately British’.

Rishi, the eldest of their three children, was cut from the same patriotic cloth. Not only did the young Sunak fall in love with the game of cricket, he fervently supported England over India at any opportunity. His career, too, has followed one of the most traditional and storied of England’s paths to power. Like five chancellors of the exchequer before him, Sunak was schooled at the ancient and distinguished Winchester College; and like three of those same Wykehamist chancellors, he went on, as was expected, to study at Oxford.

The article includes a photo of Sunak with his wife and in-laws.

Ben Judah had met Rishi Sunak before, in 2015, just before the general election that year. They met up in Northallerton, North Yorkshire:

We were a long way from London – from where Sunak had been ‘parachuted in’ for the seat. During the interview, I had a distinct sense of being the only person in the cafe who knew that this slight man in a Barbour jacket was running for parliament. ‘I tell this story when I’m out and about,’ he said, coffee in hand, ‘that you can come to this country with very little… My grandparents came with very little from a village in northern India, and two generations on, their grandson has this enormous privilege of running as a candidate for parliament. For my family, the route was education.’

Well said.

Sunak’s candidacy in 2015 raised some eyebrows:

He was vying for a seat once presided over by Tory grandees William Hague and Leon Brittan. But I had spent days in Richmond and the surrounding area, reporting on the resentment his sudden arrival had stirred up among certain local Tory notables, who felt the seat in the Dales was rightfully theirs. ‘There was a very acrimonious constituency battle,’ claimed one source, with a lot of hostility to an outsider coming in.

Sunak’s wife had also met with some resistance on the campaign trail, says Judah.

However, Sunak’s father-in-law enthusiastically flew to England where he helped to campaign:

Sunak’s billionaire father-in-law, NR Narayana Murthy, however, has been so enthusiastic about Sunak’s parliamentary career that he’d flown in, and had even been leafleting on his behalf, wearing a Rishi sweatshirt. ‘To be honest,’ said Sunak in Costa Coffee that day, ‘I think it’s patronising to assume minorities should only run in minority seats.’

The article discusses Sunak’s property profile:

On 7 May 2015, Sunak won, with more than 50 per cent of the vote (a Ukip vote of 15 per cent had appeared from nowhere). He put down roots in his new constituency of Richmond, North Yorkshire, augmenting a £10 million property portfolio (metropolitan digs in London – a Kensington mews house, a flat on Old Brompton Road – and a place in California) with a £1.5 million Georgian manor in Yorkshire set across 12 acres, including an ornamental lake. Here, he now entertains the constituency membership with lavish summer parties at which uniformed staff serve champagne and canapés. He has been repeatedly dubbed by newspapers the ‘Maharajah of the Yorkshire Dales’.

The general public know less about those details. Nonetheless, Rishi Sunak has become a household name:

In a swift few years, Sunak has become known as many things: Dishy Rishi to the tabloids; one of the richest MPs in Westminster; the second-youngest-ever chancellor of the exchequer, presiding over a £350 billion package to boost the economy (the largest ever recorded in peacetime); and a former hedge funder whose profile has risen faster than stocks in a vaccine manufacturer.

However dazzling all of this is now, things were very different when Sunak entered Winchester College as an adolescent:

… Winchester would come at a price for the Sunaks. No sooner was he accepted than Rishi’s good fortune immediately foundered: he missed out on the expected scholarship. Desperate not to let the opportunity go to waste, his parents decided to take on the high fees themselves, picking up extra work and making what the chancellor has called considerable ‘sacrifices’. His brother would later follow.

One of his classmates discussed Sunak and described Winchester in the mid- to late 1990s:

Tim Johnson, now a lawyer, was in the boarding house next door. ‘Rishi was a good chap, in boarding-school idiom,’ he recalled. Sunak, he said, was a ‘reasonable cricketer’, who stood out in friendliness; and he was a solid, but never number one, student. ‘Rishi was always expected to do something,’ Johnson remembered. But exactly what, beyond Winchester, was vague. ‘He was always expected to be head boy as he was clever enough, reasonable enough and well behaved enough.’ This became Sunak’s thing – hard work and attainment, becoming the first Winchester head of school from an Indian background.

Sunak was different to other sixth formers in Winchester: a lifelong nondrinker, he wasn’t distracted by the allure of the pub. But there was something else that marked him out from the herd. He was a conservative in every sense: not only in his outlook and demeanour but in his religious attitudes, too – a practising Hindu who avoided beef. At school, where few boys were political, Sunak was clearly ‘associated with the Tories’, said Johnson. It was 1997, The Chemical Brothers were topping the charts and the mood was rebellious. Counterculture, New Labour and ripped jeans were in; the Conservatives were out. ‘That wasn’t his intellectual jam. Rishi didn’t play that game,’ Johnson explained.

‘Everyone was chipper about it when Blair won,’ Johnson said. But not Rishi. His family’s story was closer to Margaret Thatcher’s than that of his bourgeois Labourite classmates. Watching the early results of the landslide on election night 1997, Sunak sat down to write a gloomy article for the school magazine, The Wykehamist, lamenting the news. His main complaint: Europe. ‘He revels in the label of a patriot,’ he complained of Tony Blair, ‘but has plans for the possible break-up of the United Kingdom and membership of an eventual European Superstate.’ The seeds of Brexit were already in his mind.

‘Already,’ fretted Sunak, ‘the New Labour rhetoric sounds worryingly pro-European and avid pro-Europeans are being sent to Brussels’

Later, at Oxford, Sunak had a low profile, unlike his predecessor as MP, William Hague:

He was nothing like the young William Hague, who arrived at Oxford fêted and almost a Tory celebrity, or the young Boris Johnson, the blond beast who tore apart the Oxford Union. At Oxford, Sunak was a nobody, much like Tony Blair.

He continued to eschew strong drink:

Oxford acquaintances remember him as a nerdy teetotaller who was ‘just very clearly going into business’. He would ‘make this big thing’ out of drinking Coke in the pub. ‘Rishi was unknown to the student politicians, that gossipy overlapping world, who all knew each other,’ said Marcus Walker, then-president of the Oxford University Conservative Association, now a clergyman. Sunak was never a member.

It is hard to remember how irrelevant and demoralised Tory circles felt after 1997, but some do recall Sunak as a ‘Thatcherite’ and ‘Eurosceptic’. ‘That was absolutely par for the course,’ said Walker. ‘If you were still a Tory after 1997, you were a Eurosceptic. That was all you had left.’

Nevertheless, Sunak did develop a network from his Winchester College and Oxford days. Graduates from Winchester are called Old Wykehamists:

These days, socially, Sunak has been placed by some in Westminster’s Spectator set. He was best man to his lifelong friend and fellow Old Wykehamist James Forsyth, political editor of The Spectator, at Forsyth’s politician-studded wedding in 2011, to Allegra Stratton, the national editor at ITV Newsand gave what one guest recalled was ‘one of the most touching best man’s speeches I’ve ever heard’. (In fact, Stratton has recently announced she’s leaving ITV News for a job with Sunak at the Treasury. Some have seen this as very Cameron-esque in its ‘chumocracy’.)

Allegra Stratton, also a good friend of ITV’s Robert Peston, now works for Boris Johnson as his notional press secretary, although she has not yet begun to give press briefings, probably because of coronavirus.

Imagine the son of immigrants having ties to Britain’s two oldest — ancient — magazines: The Spectator and Tatler. Wow.

Tatler‘s Ben Judah also spoke with people who had worked with Sunak during his hedge fund days. They painted a similar character portrait of the Chancellor:

After two years in California completing a CV-topping MBA, he returned to London and Mayfair in 2006, where a new type of boutique finance was booming: hedge funds. He was hired by Sir Chris Hohn at The Children’s Investment Fund (TCI). It was a dream job: a big role at an activist firm off Berkeley Square at the peak of their fame. ‘He appears to have been trusted,’ said a source. Indeed, Sunak was made a partner two years later. Contemporaries remember him ever-ready to meet and greet; a mixture of a junior, deputy and a bag carrier; the perfect foil to Hohn’s bolshy swagger. ‘Ridiculously nice.’ ‘Affable.’ ‘Approachable.’ ‘Charming.’ These are the words that come up again and again among Mayfair types who knew Sunak. The charm was of a particular kind: ‘There are two kinds of people at hedge funds,’ said one source. ‘Handsome and thin smooth-talkers who are always on the phone or going out to lunch with clients, getting them to part with their money. And then quants in the back room with their shirts buttoned up badly.’

Sunak was one of the smooth-talkers, his charm honed on calls to investors, getting them on board with whatever drastic moves the fund wanted to make. The kind of charm that prizes clarity and persuades people to part with their money. It worked: but hedge-fund charm is designed to hide as much as it reveals. The atmosphere at TCI was buccaneering and bold; it both led and profited from a controversial banking raid that eventually meant a £45.5 billion public bailout of the Royal Bank of Scotland. (The Treasury and TCI say Sunak was not involved in the deal.) He left when TCI split in 2009, and joined the breakaway hedge fund Theleme Partners. His new firm’s reputation took a knock when its founder was revealed to have used a notorious tax avoidance scheme. The Labour Party researched Sunak’s past during the 2019 election. ‘But he was too little known for us to use it,’ said one source

His reasons for entering Parliament are equally obscure. Those who know him have different opinions as to why. One thing that everyone agrees on is his penchant for order:

Many in Westminster see his motivation as status. ‘He’s not an ideologue,’ said one Tory source. ‘He wanted to enter politics in that old-fashioned way, because it was seen as the good thing to do.’ Good, as in socially ambitious. Whether that’s true is another matter, because first came a stint at Policy Exchange, leading a unit researching black and minority ethnic attitudes. The scruffy but influential Conservative think tank world is seen as a de facto holding pen for future special advisers, but it was nonetheless an unexpectedly technical way into Westminster for someone with means.

Sunak quickly made an impression. ‘He’s got that Blair-like ability to hold your eye,’ says Nick Faith, who worked with him there. Sunak cut a snappy figure amid slovenly suits. ‘He’s into his clothing.’ His is not the fusty establishment Rees-Mogg or Nicholas Soames style, but more the wiry Emmanuel Macron look. Everything Sunak wears, many remarked, is immaculate, even at the end of a Treasury work day, and fits perfectly. Faith says that ‘everything, from how Rishi dresses to how he structures his life, is very well organised’. Sunak’s elegant house in London, with a touch of Indian decor, reflects that. ‘Nothing is out of place. For someone with two small kids, that’s quite an achievement.’

Having learned from his background in finance, Sunak also knows how and when to place his bets:

‘His mind works in Excel,’ said one City contemporary. But like all hedge funders, it also works in bets: and the two biggest bets that Sunak has made in his career have paid off spectacularly – Brexit and Boris. David Cameron knew the gravity of his predicament when Sunak came out for Leave. ‘If we’ve lost Rishi, we’ve lost the future of the party,’ he reportedly said. The same thing played out in reverse in June 2019 when Sunak came out for Boris in The Times with two other MPs during the party leadership elections. This was widely seen in Westminster as a decisive turning point: the one where Johnson won over ‘the sensibles’ and pivoted the backbenchers. The PM seems to agree: all three have been handsomely rewarded.

In Parliament, he keeps a low profile but, to those who know him, is loyal:

‘He’s unknown in parliament,’ said one MP. ‘He doesn’t play the parliamentary game at all.’ Tory Remainers are sceptical of him. ‘It’s Star Wars,’ said one MP, referring to the chancellor’s strange and classically ‘geek-chic’ hobby for minutely detailed models of spaceships and video games. ‘Most of his political philosophy comes out of the Star Wars trade wars that are about the independence of various kingdoms from the Empire. He’s not someone intellectual.’ Loyalty has been his strongest suit. Sunak is a No 10 man. ‘He’s a grown-up,’ said one MP. ‘The only grown-up in Downing Street, despite him being 20 years younger than them.’

At the height of tensions over Brexit last year, he was cheerfully going around Westminster saying he would back ‘no deal’ if push came to shove. He struck the right note, in the right place, at the right time. Tensions between Boris Johnson and Sajid Javid’s teams exploded in February, when the then-chancellor resigned after refusing to fire his own special advisers and submit to an unprecedented joint team with Downing Street, effectively under the stewardship of Dominic Cummings. It was Sunak, with high skills and no clear agenda or faction behind him in parliament, whom Downing Street turned to. He quickly agreed to the joint team, once again becoming the perfect foil for an outsized boss

Even now, it’s still too early to say whether Rishi Sunak will become a future leader of the Conservative Party and, as such, a possible prime minister. A week is a long time in politics.

When Boris’s erstwhile special adviser Dominic Cummings broke coronavirus rules in travelling from London to Durham and back during Boris’s time in hospital, Sunak tried to calm the ever-turbulent waters surrounding Cummings, who was never popular with the Remainer media. He tweeted this after Cummings’s lengthy press conference in May:

In June, Sunak was tactful about the reopening of shops and businesses in Britain after the first coronavirus lockdown:

He also warned that his generous financial package could not go on indefinitely:

A few weeks later, in early July, pubs were allowed to reopen:

The Government launched the Enjoy Summer Safely campaign. Pictured below is Piccadilly Circus:

On July 8, he issued a Summer Economic Update, with financial help continuing (more here):

This included the launch of his Eat Out To Help Out plan, which lasted to the end of August:

A lot of Labour MPs didn’t like the plan. I don’t know why. Leftists own restaurants, too.

He cut VAT for the hospitality industry, too.

He also issued a detailed jobs plan, including an apprentice scheme:

Some men in the media were taking a shine to Dishy Rishi, including the leftist Owen Jones of The Guardian and Channel 5’s Jeremy Vine:

At that time, the attention being given to Sunak and Boris Johnson got the better of Conservative MP Caroline Dineage, a Culture minister, who was questioned on masks, which were strongly suggested (mandatory only on public transport) but still optional in what now look like heady days. This was from a BBC interview:

asked why the Prime Minister and Chancellor Rishi Sunak had not worn one in public, she snapped: “You’d have to ask the Prime Minister and the Chancellor that, with respect.

“But it is something that is advised and we keep it under review.”

At the end of September 2020, the coronavirus crisis dragged on. Talk intensified about a winter lockdown.

On September 24, Sunak issued a Winter Economy Plan, about which I wrote at the time. When he presented it in the House of Commons, he advised all MPs to live ‘without fear’.

By October 6, Sunak was being blamed for an uptick in coronavirus ‘cases’ (positive test results, not necessarily hospital admissions) for the Eat Out to Help Out scheme:

A US study, which did not cover Britain, showed that hospitality venues were shown to be responsible. However, the study did not cover workplaces or hospitals. Nonetheless, it is still a contentious point even to this day.

The Sun‘s Harry Cole rightly, in my opinion, defended the Chancellor’s restaurant promotion.

Then talk of hospitality curfews emerged. Fellow Conservative MP Matt Vickers defended the Chancellor’s Eat Out to Help Out programme, which had come to an end five weeks earlier.

The calls for a winter lockdown grew. The Chancellor rightly opposed them:

By then, more areas of England had moved into tiers, indicating more coronavirus cases. Sunak increased financial support to those cities and counties. He also offered more help to businesses, including the self-employed.

By November, some thought a storm was truly brewing between Boris and Rishi. Despite all the talk from the Government about people being able to meet loved ones at Christmas — for the first time in months, for many — a pessimistic undercurrent, which turned out to be accurate, seemed to be part of every news cycle.

Rumours circulated that Sunak was ready to resign. However, on November 1, the Daily Mail reported:

A source said there was a ‘collective decision’ to back a second lockdown, and that Mr Sunak ‘accepted it’ – and he did not threaten to resign, as some whispers around Westminster were suggesting yesterday.

The November lockdown was supposed to prevent a Christmas lockdown, but that was not to be. There was a brief re-opening before Christmas, and on December 19, the hammer fell once more.

Interestingly, the minority MPs in Cabinet shared Sunak’s concerns.

By the middle of December, Sunak was clearly worried about how long the borrowing could go on. On Saturday, December 19, the day when Boris announced Christmas was cancelled, The Spectator reported what the Chancellor said about borrowing and quantitative easing (QE):

‘Are you or anyone else going to guarantee me that, for the duration of this parliament, rates might not go back to 1 per cent?’ he asks, pointing out that this almost happened in March, before the Bank of England started printing money to bring rates back down. There is this very large QE thing that’s going on. No one has done that before. There are plenty of smart investors who are also thinking about the risks of inflation over the next 12 months. Because we are now so levered, small changes have huge cash implications. If I have to come up with £10-£20 billion a year in a few years’ time because things have changed — well, that’s a lot of money.’

To Sunak, it’s not just an economic problem but a political one. ‘If we [Tories] think borrowing is the answer to everything, that debt rising is fine, then there’s not much difference between us and the Labour party,’ he says.

The media criticised him for going to his constituency of Richmond for Christmas. To be fair, he did work while he was there, visiting a local hospital and a vaccine centre. He did not rush back to London.

On February 3, 2021, Sunak rightly accused scientists advising the Government of shifting the goalposts regarding lockdown:

This might be causing a rift in Boris’s Cabinet:

On a brighter note, Time magazine has included Rishi Sunak on its list of 100 ’emerging leaders’. On February 17, the Daily Mail reported:

Under the ‘leaders’ category, Chancellor Rishi Sunak landed a spot on the list, being described as the ‘benevolent face of the government’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic’ by Times reporter Billy Perrigo.

The Chancellor’s profile piece discussed the furlough scheme, describing how he approved ‘large handouts’ for people whose jobs had been affected by coronavirus.

The piece also paid respect to Sunak’s Eat Out to Help Out scheme, which the magazine described as an attempt to ‘revive the economy’ by subsidizing dining out at restaurants.  

Although his profile acknowledges that Sunak bears more responsibility than most for his calls to ease lockdown restrictions, Time’s profile for the Chancellor admits he has earned himself a ‘legion of fans’.

Sunak’s accompanying profile points to a YouGov poll showing him to be the nation’s most popular politician and even tips him to be the bookmakers’ favourite as the next Prime Minister.  

Again, a week is a long time in politics. We shall see about the future as and when it happens.

For now, Sunak is focussing on the budget, to be delivered on March 3. He is asking industry leaders for their thoughts.

Michelin-starred chef Gordon Ramsay was one of those leaders:

If Rishi Sunak ever tires of being an MP or Chancellor, a job in media awaits.

He is an excellent interviewer and researched Gordon Ramsay well. The 15-minute video is worth watching.

The list of minority Conservative MPs continues. All being well, more tomorrow.

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