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One year ago, July 4 was England’s Independence Day from coronavirus.

Shops and restaurants re-opened, albeit with requirements for masks.

One year on, and it’s Groundhog Day. After a prolonged period of restrictions from Christmas 2020, England awaits Freedom Day, which Prime Minister Boris Johnson and his Cabinet ministers assure us will be on July 19.

On Monday, July 5, 2021, when the Duchess of Cambridge began self-isolating for ten days and her husband Prince William attended an NHS service of thanksgiving at St Paul’s Cathedral, Boris gave a coronavirus briefing about what we can expect on Freedom Day. Health Secretary Sajid Javid gave Parliament a briefing at the same time.

All being well, tomorrow, I will report on the details of what they had to say.

It was largely good news, except for some ambiguity about masks, which could lead to mask rage once restrictions are relaxed.

Below is relevant analysis aired and published before Boris and Saj (as he is now known) delivered their remarks.

Masks

The most contentious lifting of restrictions concerns masks.

Masks are the new Brexit referendum. They have divided England enormously, as Matthew Lynn wrote in the Telegraph on July 5 (emphases mine):

Maskers and anti-maskers look set to become the new Remainers and Leavers (with almost, if not quite, the same tribes in both camps). Very few people on either side of that bitter debate were actually very interested in the finer points of tariffs on citrus fruits, or what the European Commission’s plans for the digital transformation of European industry might be this week. They wanted to say something about themselves.

He is not wrong. Anti-maskers, for the most part, appear to be Leavers. Pro-maskers are Remainers.

The Sunday news shows seemed to bear this out.

Housing Secretary Robert Jenrick told Trevor Phillips on Sky News that he would stop wearing one as soon as restrictions are lifted:

By contrast, Prof Adam Finn, a member of the JCVI (Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation) told Phillips that he would continue to wear his mask ‘indefinitely’:

Finn is a man who manages to travel to holiday locations on taxpayer’s money. Here he is in Coimbra, Portugal. Nice work if you can get it. Wouldn’t Portugal have been on the amber list at the time of this interview? Interesting. Another case of ‘For me, but not for thee’.

So, how exactly will this mask dilemma play out in real life? This is what Matthew Lynn foresees:

London mayor Sadiq Khan, a man who never saw a cynical political gesture without wanting to give it a big hug, is reportedly toying with demanding that masks continue to be worn on public transport in the capital, whatever the Government decides. If he goes through with it, it can surely only be a matter of seconds before Wales’s Mark Drakeford and Scotland’s Nicola Sturgeon follow suit, saltire or dragon optional, while every grandstanding local politician will soon be jumping on that bandwagon.

Likewise, businesses will be coming up with their own rules, based on what they see as their core demographic. A sports bar in Chelmsford, decked out in England flags? My feeling is it won’t require masks. A vegan cafe in Islington or Bristol? You will have to wrap up your face before ordering that soyamilk fair trade latte.

There was a time — at the height of the pandemic in Spring 2020 — when we had no masks. Somehow, the vast majority of us did not catch coronavirus.

Lynn reminds us of the absurdity of the rules:

We can also all argue about whether masks were ever necessary. The scientific evidence was always shaky, which was why most governments in Europe, as well as the US, were reluctant to impose them in the first place. The rules governing masks have become increasingly bizarre, too. Why the virus doesn’t spread while you are eating a meal at a restaurant, for example, but does while you walk to the lavatory, defies any rational explanation.

Nonetheless, Lynn sees masks and lockdowns as yet more tools of social division:

We might have hoped that Covid-19 would soon be behind us. There seems little chance of that now. The divisions lockdowns have opened up and exacerbated will run for years.

Hope amidst ambiguity

The Telegraph‘s Tim Stanley wrote ‘The British must reject fear and dump their masks’.

He began by saying:

Hope, at last! The Government has indicated that all legal lockdown restrictions will end in England on July 19 and that even masks will become a question of choice, in which case I choose to burn mine. I’ve only worn the wretched thing “to make others feel comfortable”, and my heroes are the religious cranks and anti-social yobs who refused to play along.

He is pinning his hopes on new Health Secretary Sajid Javid:

Javid, one hopes, has taken a fresh look at the data and concluded that cases are rising significantly but hospitalisations and deaths are not, which suggests the emergency is under control.

Stanley says we must adjust our outlook towards coronavirus:

We need to shift from disaster containment to threat management. Think of it as living in an earthquake zone: you’re conscious of the risk and prepare for the worst, but you don’t walk around acting like an earthquake is happening right now, with your knees bent, holding onto the furniture. Nor should we act as if Covid will kill us all, because it won’t.

He has two suggestions for the Government in order to make things clear to the public and avoid ambiguity:

The Government needs to get two things right. One is consistency: if adults are free, children should be too. It makes no sense whatsoever that they are isolating from school, or even routinely tested, if this disease doesn’t pose a direct threat to them and the vulnerable are double-jabbed. If we keep this silly regime going on in schools, it would both be unjust and sow confusion and fear: how are we supposed to feel safe if kids are treated like unexploded bombs?

And, second – this is so crucial – the Government mustn’t allow legal restrictions to be replaced with ongoing “advice” or “guidance”, because we’ve never got to the bottom of which is what, and the result – if trains or supermarkets are still advising us to distance and people assume they have to comply – will be de facto lockdown.

SAGE and communitarianism

SAGE continue to try to make the UK a communitarian, authoritarian society with their rules and restrictions.

Sorry, we are not the Far East, and most of us do not want to transform Britain into that type of society.

Here is a good example of SAGE-think. On Sunday, July 4, the Telegraph reported:

Prof Stephen Reicher at the University of St Andrews, a member of the Sage subcommittee advising on behavioural science, said it was frightening to have ministers “who want to make all protections a matter of personal choice when the key message of the pandemic is “this isn’t an ‘I’ thing, it’s a ‘we’ thing.”

No, it is not a ‘we’ thing. It never should have been.

Reicher gets a lot of airtime on the BBC, especially in Scotland.

Prof Stephen Powis, the NHS medical director for England, told the BBC’s Andrew Marr on Sunday that we must continue to protect the NHS by getting vaccinated twice. He said that the link between infection and hospitalisation is ‘severely weakened’ but not yet broken:

When asked about masks, he said:

Some people may choose to wear face masks in particular circumstances, such as crowded environments, and that’s not necessarily a bad thing. Those habits to reduce infections are a good thing to keep.

Millions of us would disagree.

As for official figures in England:

Official figures showed there had been 24,248 Covid cases in the last 24 hours, up 161 per cent on a fortnight ago and highest daily figure since January, but only 15 more people had died as more than half English residents have now been double-jabbed.

These scientists must be from SAGE:

Some UK scientists warned however, that the lifting of all Covid-19 restrictions was like building new “variant factories” at a very fast rate.

If it were up to them, we, the great unwashed, would never see freedom again.

A new ‘broom’, a new outlook

We are fortunate to have a new health secretary who is a new broom, so to speak, with a new outlook.

Sajid Javid is on the same page as Chancellor Rishi Sunak and Boris himself.

Spectator editor Fraser Nelson explained the alliance for the Telegraph on Thursday, July 1:

Unlocking on July 19 now looks a near-certainty, but so does the surge in Covid cases. So the Prime Minister will need to explain to a nervous country why, all of a sudden, people should be relaxed when the virus rises. Javid will need a version of the “live without fear” theme that Sunak was developing last summer. To say that most of these cases are now among the under-25s, so hospitalisations should be low, posing no serious threat to the NHS. And it’s best to get this “exit wave” over with now, rather than wait for the winter.

This will be the next battle: whether Covid-style techniques (self-isolation, classroom closures) should be used to fight back whatever winter brings. This is perhaps where a Sunak-Javid alliance will really come into play. Last summer, the Treasury vetoed an NHS plan to expand hospital capacity on the (now laughable) logic that Test and Trace would quash any second wave. Extra capacity is needed now. Lockdowns, of course, hurt the economy and hit future ability to pay for the NHS.

When the vaccines were first proven to work, Johnson’s first thought was that this meant things should be over quickly. Surely they’d only need to protect the over-50s, he thought, then life could then get back to normal. It all turned out very differently, and he ended up caught in a Whitehall war. In Sunak and Javid, he now has two of his most senior ministers committed to an irreversible reopening.

They might not succeed. But this time, he can’t say he lacked the support that he needs.

I hope the plan for July 19 works, especially as it would send a clear message to SAGE about the direction of the future for the UK. A data review will take place on Monday, July 12.

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.

The other day, I posted a profile of Kemi Badenoch, an Englishwoman of Nigerian heritage, who is the UK’s Equalities Minister.

In that entry, I posted a link to an hour long interview she did in October 2020 with the editor of The Spectator, Fraser Nelson, on the politics of cultural grievance.

Having watched it, the interview deserves a post of its own, and I would commend it to all who have young people at home.

Regrettably, The Spectator did not have its own YouTube channel at the time, but the link plays perfectly well and the video is in full screen format.

Kemi Badenoch explains that black history in the United States is much different to that of black history in Britain. Most blacks in Britain are here because either they or their antecedents believed that Britain is a land of opportunity. As such, one cannot import black American history to the UK under a guise of universal historical experience.

Having lived in Nigeria during her youth, she says that most blacks are socially conservative and are not empathetic to grievances based on skin colour. Having travelled widely in other nations in Africa, she says that most blacks living there are concerned about what their governments are doing to them today.

As a mother of three, she tells Fraser Nelson that it is an uphill battle for her to reverse what her mixed-race children learn about grievance politics. She thinks that British schools should develop a black history curriculum that includes positive contributions by blacks throughout history, particularly during the 21st century with the Windrush generation that helped to rebuild the nation after the Second World War.

She says that she objects to the politics of skin colour, which she believes is an unpleasant and damaging development. Furthermore, she thinks it is unhealthy for a person to go through life imagining microaggressions where none exist. In other words, sometimes people are just rude to others regardless of skin colour — and everyone needs to learn to live with that.

She says that imagining that everyone not like them is automatically against them is not the right way to go through life and makes things in this world even more difficult.

Badenoch made similar comments in the House of Commons around the same time she did The Spectator interview.

On October 25, 2020, Patrick O’Flynn of The Express reported:

Like a batsman hitting every delivery straight off the middle, Ms Badenoch reduced the opposition rabble to rubble.

“We should not apologise for the fact that British children primarily study the history of these islands,” she said. “To make race the defining principle of what is studied is not just misguided but actively opposed to the fundamental purpose of education.”

Taking direct issue with [then-Labour leader] Jeremy Corbyn over a pro-BLM speech he had just made, she added: “We are against the teaching of contested political ideas as if they are accepted fact.” She singled out for criticism the new fad among white Leftists such as Corbyn for socalled critical race theory. This ideology, she said, “sees my blackness as victimhood and their whiteness as oppression”.

“Black lives matter, of course they do,” added Ms Badenoch, “but we know the Black Lives Matter movement is political? we do not want to see teachers teaching their white pupils about inherited racial guilt. Any school that teaches partisan political views such as defunding the police without offering balanced treatment of opposing views is breaking the law.”

There was more, too. For the formidable Ms Badenoch also nailed the lie that America’s troubled history of slavery and shoot-from-the-hip policing had any echo in Britain, “Our history is our own, it is not America’s. Too often people who campaign against racial inequality import wholesale a narrative and assumptions that have nothing to do with this country’s history …

Then she gave Labour MPs a lesson about the slave trade in Africa, telling them about “the history of black slave traders who existed before and after the transatlantic slave trade”.

Ms Badenoch concluded by saying: “Black people from all over the world have found this to be a great and welcoming country.”

Perhaps the first thing we can learn in all of this is that American history is not British history.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Charles Stanley Wealth Managers sponsored the programme.

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

A summary follows.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Last week proved to be another emotive and passionate one in the House of Commons with regard to coronavirus and Brexit.

This post concerns coronavirus.

On Monday, September 14, Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s Rule of Six, which he announced on September 9, came into effect. It sounds rather Chinese.

It means that people living in England cannot meet in groups of greater than six, indoors or outdoors. If we do, according to him, we ‘will be breaking the law’.

He also introduced a new platoon to keep us in line: COVID marshals, to remind us of existing coronavirus rules in England — ‘hands, face, space’.

Recall that Boris said after the December 2019 election that we now have the People’s Government. Hmm.

The UK government is copying a Belgian idea. The Rule of Six reduced their second spike.

Increasingly, Britons have been looking back at Sweden, which refused to lock down. Fraser Nelson is the editor of The Spectator. Chris Whitty is our Chief Medical Officer; in May, he said that coronavirus was harmless for most people and most of us would never get it:

Michael Gove MP, a Cabinet minister and Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster, made matters worse when he confirmed that under-12s were part of the Rule of Six, unlike in Scotland and Wales, where under-12s are not. With life getting back to normal as school has started again, this came as a blow to many families:

The Telegraph reported that the Cabinet was split on the proposals (emphases mine):

… one senior Tory source said that “half the Cabinet” had doubts about the so-called ‘rule of six’, and it was “pretty hard to find a Conservative member of Parliament who agrees with all of this”.

The COVID marshals are also a problem for police and local councils:

Meanwhile, Mr Johnson’s plan for coronavirus marshals to help enforce the six-person rule was unraveling as police derided them as “Covid Wombles” and councils said they were a “gimmick”.

Downing Street admitted councils would not be given any money to pay for the marshals, suggesting volunteers could do the job, and said it would be up to individual local authorities to decide whether they actually wanted them.

It got worse, as curfews were mooted:

The Government has discussed going even further with new lockdown restrictions, and has drawn up “a well-developed proposal” for a nationwide curfew which was discussed at ministerial level.

My head spun.

Then the ministerial snitch crowd appeared on weekend news programmes to say that people must tell on their neighbours if they are seen to be violating the Rule of Six:

Political journalist Isabel Oakeshott rightly responded:

I couldn’t agree more. This is supposed to be the People’s Government, isn’t it?

History will not look kindly on 2020 with regard to the measures taken to combat the virus:

I was wrong.

Home Secretary Priti Patel said that people should not even talk when they see friends in the street, even at a distance (audio here, thanks to Guido Fawkes, and there’s video, too):

Yebbut, if you DO report what appears to be criminal activity, allegedly, the police do not want to know. Here is a printscreen of a set of comments on a Guido Fawkes thread. I call your attention to the last two. Police would rather pick on mums and their children. Ironically, that was posted on the anniversary of the Battle of Britain. Go figure.

A mild-mannered man from Buckingham called talkRADIO to say he would not comply with the Rule of Six because the Government had gone too far.

So did a lady from Brighton, saying that the Rule of Six was about:

control. They’re trying to see how much they can get away with.

Another talkRADIO host, Julia Hartley-Brewer, had a go at Roy Lilley, former NHS Trust chairman. She said:

We are being scared into thinking we have to give up our civil liberties when that won’t save lives. Being sensible will save lives.

The Telegraph‘s Salley Vickers wrote of the restrictions on her and her loved ones:

I would rather risk dying and have the joy of their company than lose that vital contribution to my own happiness.

With the festive season only several weeks away, the Daily Mail‘s Peter Hitchens told talkRADIO’s Mike Graham that the Rule of Six has:

made Christmas an arrestable offence.

Another Daily Mail journalist, Bel Mooney, wrote an editorial for Conservative Woman saying that she was surprised at the amount of resistance she received when she wrote that she would be defying the Rule of Six at Christmas:

in response to Matt Hancock’s sudden, arbitrary and illogical ‘rule of six’ diktat, I wrote a strong opinion piece (at the request of my newspaper) headlined ‘NO, NO, NO! I’m having Christmas for 14 – and no puffed-up Covid marshal will stop me’.

As you might expect, there was a huge response. I never look online, and am not on Twitter (I expect there was a lot of poison swilling around out there). I am talking about emails to me and the newspaper. What interested me was the fact that, if I am to be honest, the antis outnumbered the prosI didn’t expect that from Mail readers.

You can never tell with Mail readers, though. They’re a tricky lot.

Oxford University’s Professor Carl Heneghan and honorary research fellow Tom Jefferson wrote an article for The Spectator against the Rule of Six, saying that Boris must bin it:

At Oxford University’s Centre for Evidence Based Medicine, we have spent years trawling through the scientific evidence on the effects of measures such as distancing on respiratory viral spread. We are not aware of any study pointing to the number six. If it’s made up, why not five or seven?

Northern Ireland has taken a more measured approach and not announced any changes to how many people can meet. These disagreements in policy reveal how decisions are being made without evidence. It seems that somebody in government sat in a cabinet office room and said six is a good idea and nobody disagreed

The problems with policy stem from the current cabinet’s vast inexperience: the Health Secretary has been in post for just over two years now; the PM and the Chief Medical Officer a year. The Joint Biosecurity Centre is overseen by a senior spy who monitors the spread of coronavirus and suppresses new outbreaks. Add to this mix the new chair of the National Institute for Health Protection, who similarly has little or no background in healthcare. Our leaders amount to little more than a Dad’s Army of highly paid individuals with little or no experience of the job at hand.

This inexperience leads to rash decisions and arbitrary policies.

One example is that entire areas can be locked down if they have 50 cases per 100,000 people. Yet the recognised alert threshold for ‘regular’ acute respiratory infections is 400 cases per 100,000.

Lord Sumption, who has been speaking out against lockdown this year, said that the Rule of Six will be unenforceable. I hope he is right:

Tom Tugendhat (Tunbridge and Malling, Con) expressed his concerns about the new rule and rightly wanted MPs to vote on it and similar measures:

It’s unlikely that the House of Lords can help, either. They already have a full schedule. We should thank Lord Lamont for raising the issue of consulting the public, however. ‘SI’ means ‘statutory instrument’:

Monday, September 14

Behind the scenes and well outside of Parliament, an email emerged dated May 23, wherein Chief Scientific Adviser Sir Patrick Vallance stated he had pushed the most for March’s lockdown:

Guido Fawkes has the full text of the email. I am not sure how Sir Patrick thinks that a vaccine will achieve herd immunity, though.

In the first of the debates on the Brexit-related Internal Market Bill, Charles Walker MP (Broxbourne, Con) prefaced his comments by expressing his dismay about the Rule of Six, the lack of consultation with Parliament and the fining of Jeremy Corbyn’s brother Piers at the anti-lockdown rally on Saturday, September 12.

Thank you, Charles Walker:

This is short and well worth watching:

Tuesday, September 15

Secretary of State for Health and Social Care Matt Hancock poled up to make a statement to MPs about the Rule of Six and testing.

Excerpts follow:

There are signs that the number of cases in care homes and the number of hospitalisations is starting to rise again, so last week we acted quickly, putting in place new measures—the rule of six, which came into force yesterday. We do not do this lightly, but the cost of doing nothing is much greater.

Testing also has a vital part to play. Everyone in this House knows that we are doing more testing per head of population than almost any other major nation, and I can tell the House that we have now carried out over 20 million tests for coronavirus in this country. As we expand capacity further, we are working round the clock to make sure that everyone who needs a test can get a test. The vast majority of people who use our testing service get a test that is close to home, and the average distance travelled to a test site is now just 5.8 miles —down from 6.4 miles last week; but the whole House knows that there are operational challenges, and we are working hard to fix them.

We have seen a sharp rise in people coming forward for a test, including those who are not eligible.

Jonathan Ashworth (Leicester South, Lab/Co-op), speaking for the opposition, said:

I am grateful for advance sight of the Secretary of State’s answer. That was decent of him.

Yesterday LBC revealed that there were no tests available in covid hotspots, including Rochdale, Pendle and Bradford. Over the weekend in Bolton, where infections are the highest in the country, a mobile testing centre failed to turn up. Meanwhile, in Bury hundreds queued for five hours for a test. In Walsall, a father with his sick child travelled 76 miles to an appointment in Wales, only to find on arrival that tests had run out. Increasing numbers of teachers and pupils are not in school. In hospitals, operations are cancelled while NHS staff are stuck in limbo, waiting for tests.

The Secretary of State blames increased demand, but when tracing consistently fails to reach 80% of contacts, when less than 20% of those with symptoms self-isolate properly and there is a lack of financial security, infections rise. When schools reopen and people return to workplaces and social distancing becomes harder, infections rise. Extra demand on the system was inevitable. Why did he not use the summer to significantly expand NHS lab capacity and fix contact tracing?

Just as demand is increasing, the ability to process tests is diminishing. Post-graduate students working in the Lighthouse labs are returning to university, so why did the Secretary of State not plan for the inevitable staff shortages in the Lighthouse labs? Those commercial pillar 2 labs, The Sunday Times revealed at the weekend, have a huge backlog of 185,000 tests. Thursday’s data revealed that 65,709 test results were not returned by the end of the week. Care home residents now wait an average of 83 hours for their result. The Prime Minister promised us a 24-hour turnaround for results, so what is going on? What is the current backlog and what is the timeframe for clearing it?

We were promised a world-beating system, so why are we sending tests to Germany and Italy for processing? But, most importantly, people want to know when they will get a test and when this mess will be fixed. Today there will be thousands of ill people trying to book a test, only to be told none is available. When will people be able to book a test online again, or has the online booking system been deliberately disabled? When will ill people no longer have to travel hundreds of miles for a test that should be available on their doorstep? When will pupils and teachers out of school get access to testing, so they can get back to school? When will NHS staff have access to regular testing, so they can focus on their patients and not be sitting at home?

We are at a perilous moment. Imperial College estimates the virus is doubling every seven to eight days. We all want to avoid further restrictions or another national lockdown, but when testing and contact tracing break down, the growth of the virus cannot be tracked. The Prime Minister promised us whack-a-mole, but instead his mallet is broken. The Secretary of State is losing control of the virus; he needs to fix testing now.

Many MPs — from both Opposition and Conservative benches — said that their constituents could not get tests.

Even the Speaker of the House tweeted that his constituents were having similar problems:

The testing situation is shocking — as Terry-Thomas used to say in the Boulting Brothers films: ‘An absolute shower!’

On the upside, the British coronavirus jobs situation is improving, thank goodness (more from Guido here):

Wednesday, September 16

Deputy Labour Leader Angela Rayner (Ashton-under-Lyne) stood at the Opposition despatch box for Prime Minister’s Questions (PMQs), as Sir Keir Starmer was self-isolating:

She did a good job.

She began by saying:

Many people in the Chamber will think that the battle of Britain is today, but actually we marked the 80th anniversary of those veterans yesterday, and I want to put on record our thanks to all those who fought for our country in the past.

I want to start by reading to the Prime Minister a message that I have received from a man called Keir. Keir was not able to go to work today and his children could not go to school because his family had to wait for their coronavirus test results, despite the Prime Minister’s promise of results within 24 hours. Keir was able to do the right thing and self-isolate and work from home, but other people are not in this position, and many of them are the very people who were getting us through this crisis, such as the care workers, who I used to work alongside before I was elected to this House. The Prime Minister once earned £2,300 an hour; can he tell us the average hourly rate of a care worker in this country?

Boris was singularly unimpressed, although he had a neutral expression on his face, even when discussing Starmer:

I congratulate the hon. Lady on her elevation. She speaks of the constituent Keir, and I can tell her that—allegedly, apparently—he has had a negative test, and I do not know quite why he is not here. But 89% of those who have in-person tests get them the next day, and we are working very fast to turn around all the test requests that we get. I think that most people looking at the record of this country in delivering tests across the nation will see that that compares extremely well with any other European country. We have conducted more testing than any other European country, and that is why we are able to deliver tests and results in 80% of cases where we know the contacts.

The hon. Lady asks about care homes, and I can tell the House that today we are launching the winter care home action plan. She is right to raise the issue of care homes, and we are concerned about infection rates in care homes, but we will do everything we can to ensure that care homes and their workers are protected.

On the hon. Lady’s final point, I am proud that it is this Government who have instituted the national living wage to ensure that every worker in this country, including care home workers, is paid substantially more, thanks to the care and the work of the people of this country.

Boris listened attentively and responded sensitively to all the points that Angela Rayner raised until this point, which came several minutes in, when she said:

Infections are rising. The testing system is collapsing. When you are the Prime Minister, you cannot keep trying to blame other people for your own incompetence. We have the highest death toll in Europe, and we are on course for one of the worst recessions in the developed world. This winter, we are staring down the barrel of a second wave, with no plan for the looming crisis. People cannot say goodbye to their loved ones. Grandparents cannot see their grandchildren. Frontline staff cannot get the tests that they need. And what was the top priority for the covid war Cabinet this weekend? Restoring grouse shooting.

I suppose that is good news for people like the Prime Minister’s friend who paid for a luxury Christmas getaway to a Caribbean island and funded his leadership campaign, and just so happens to own two grouse moor estates. So Prime Minister, is this really your top priority?

The Prime Minister answered:

While the Labour Opposition have been consistently carping from the sidelines throughout this crisis and raising, frankly, issues that are tangential, if not scare stories about what is going on, we are getting on with delivering for the British public. We are not only massively ramping up. She has not contested any of my statistics today about the extent to which this country is now testing more than any other European country.

She has not disputed the massive acceleration in our programme. [Interruption.] I will answer the substance of her question, thank you very much. We are getting on with delivering on the priorities of the British people: getting us through this covid crisis; delivering on making our country safer, bringing forward measures to stop the early release of dangerous sexual and violent offenders, which I hope she will support; strengthening our Union, which in principle Opposition Front Benchers should support; and building more homes across this country and more affordable homes across this country, which she should support. That is in addition to recruiting more doctors and more nurses, and building more hospitals.

I do not think anybody is in any doubt that this Government are facing some of the most difficult dilemmas that any modern Government have had to face, but every day we are helping to solve them, thanks to the massive common sense of the British people, who are getting on with delivering our programme and our fight against coronavirus. It is with the common sense of the British people that we will succeed, and build back better and stronger than ever before.

If only.

That day, news of an upcoming curfew in London emerged.

Apparently, the British people don’t have much common sense, after all.

Currently, London has some of the fewest new coronavirus cases (i.e. positive tests, little hospitalisation):

Guido rightly wrote (emphases in the original here):

If this afternoon’s splash from the Evening Standard is true, it is a step too far. The London director of Public Health England (yes, the organisation is still limping on for now, despite the Health Secretary announcing its abolition back in August) has issued a “curfew alert” to the capital through the newspaper, saying residents could face a mandatory curfew if Covid cases continue to rise. A ridiculous suggestion that should be forcefully opposed.

Shutting pubs, bars, restaurants, and just about everything else at an arbitrary hour will obviously do nothing to stop the spread of coronavirus. If anything, the move will be counter-productive – compressing the same number of customers into a shorter time and making social distancing harder still. Or pushing social gatherings into homes not bars, which are thought to be more likely to spread the virus. This no doubt ineffective PHE [Public Health England] nannying should have been dumped when the organisation was. The government need to remember there is a limit to people’s compliance. This might just hit it.

As I write early on Tuesday, September 22, Boris is planning to bring in an England-wide curfew for pubs and restaurants on Thursday. As if the virus will know the difference between a 10 p.m. closing time versus the usual one of 11 p.m. The mind boggles.

Thursday, September 17

Matt Hancock appeared again with another update on coronavirus.

This time, it was about measures taken on lockdown in the North East of England. This includes strict adherence to household bubbles, table service only in hospitality venues and a curfew between 10 p.m. and 5 a.m.:

Once again, he was straining every sinew, an expression he has been using since March:

The battle against coronavirus is not over, and while we strain every sinew to spring free of its clutches, with winter on the horizon we must prepare, bolster our defences and come together once again against this common foe.

Then he announced upcoming plans to make everyone using A&E (Accident and Emergency) departments to make a booking! Good grief:

… we are working to get patients the right care in the right place, by expanding the role of NHS 111. During the peak of this pandemic, we saw millions of people using NHS 111, on the phone or online, to get the best possible advice on coronavirus, helping them to stay safe and, where possible, to stay out of hospital, where they could have unknowingly spread the virus. It is crucial that, ahead of winter, we use this window of opportunity to seek out what worked and build on it, so we provide a better service for patients and protect the NHS. Of course, no one will ever be turned away from our emergency departments in the most serious of cases; however, we have worked with the royal colleges, the NHS and others to develop a better, quicker and more clinically appropriate service for patients by using NHS 111 first.

This is how it works. We will invest £24 million to increase call-handling capacity and to make sure there are more clinicians on hand to provide expert advice and guidance, and we will build on our trials to make NHS 111 a gateway to the emergency care system, providing a first port of call for patients. In future, rather than having to queue in an emergency ward, we are testing that people should call NHS 111 first to book an appointment with whoever can give them the most appropriate care, whether it is a GP, a specialist consultant, a pharmacist, a nurse or community services. Of course if they need to go to the emergency department, NHS 111 will be able to book them into an appropriate time slot. We want to see this approach lead to shorter waiting times and better availability of appointments for patients. We will consult on how its performance is best measured, and, with successful pilots, we will roll out NHS 111 First to all trusts from December.

This is the bit that galled me the most:

The purpose of 111 First is to improve access, including in terms of inequalities in the NHS, by ensuring that people get the right treatment in the right place and easier access if they do need to go to an emergency department, because the emergency department will know that they are coming. It is commonplace now in almost every part of our life to let people know that we are coming. If we are going to do something as important as visit an emergency department, it will help both the patient seeking treatment and the NHS to let them know that they are coming first. That is the principle behind 111 First. It sits alongside 999, which anybody should call in a serious incident.

‘People’s government’, my eye.

Nor is the NHS the people’s health service.

If you have a serious injury, you or your loved ones could be losing life- or limb-saving time by calling 111 or 999.

Based on what I read during the March lockdown, calling 111 was life-threatening. Children calling on behalf of elderly parents were told, ‘If your relative is not turning blue, do the best you can.’

Calling the ambulance service on 999 generally produced this result: ‘We’re overloaded. If you can take your relative to hospital yourself, please do so.’

Over the past few months, I have heard NHS senior executives give testimony to Select Committees. They do not want patients coming in to a hospital, to a GP surgery — anywhere on NHS property.

An absolute shower!

Speaking of absolute showers, Baroness Harding — Dido Harding, a former jockey and failed business consultant/corporate director — gave testimony to a Select Committee, the Commons Science and Technology Committee, led by Greg Clark MP (Tunbridge Wells, Con).

Wow. It was car-crash television on BBC Parliament.

Baroness Harding is, inexplicably, the director of NHS Test and Trace programme.

Greg Clark is no slouch. He pressed and pressed the same question. Did she not anticipate the increase of demand for tests after lockdown lifted?

Finally, she gave the answer.

The Independent reported:

Demand for coronavirus tests is three to four times the number available, the director of NHS test and trace has admitted.

Baroness Dido Harding, who told MPs there was capacity to carry out 242,817 tests a day, said the “sizeable” rise in demand had been unexpected.

Boris Johnson has pledged to raise capacity to 500,000 by next month – but Baroness Harding’s estimates suggest that even that figure would not be enough to satisfy demand.

Even then:

despite images of queues outside Covid-19 drive-in centres, the testing tsar said: “I strongly refute that the system is failing.”

She put the blame on SAGE …

Baroness Harding insisted current capacity had been based on modelling provided by the government’s Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (Sage) and suggested that around a quarter of those seeking tests did not have symptoms.

… and the testing laboratories:

Quizzed by the committee chair and former Tory minister Greg Clark on the current issues in the system, she said that the “constraint” in the testing was in processing and laboratories.

On Friday, Sir Jeremy Farrar, a SAGE member and director of the Wellcome Trust, hit back.

The Telegraph reported:

Sir Jeremy Farrar, the director of the Wellcome Trust, who sits on the Government’s Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies, said the body had given “clear advice” that a fully functioning test, track and trace system should be in place

Responding to her comments on social media, Sir Jeremy said he had personally warned that a growing testing crisis was looming.

“Interesting to be blaming Sage,” he wrote on Twitter. “Has been clear, and in the advice, that the UK faced an inevitable increase in community transmission and cases after the summer and needed a fully functional and trusted test, track and trace in place.”

Sir Jeremy posted his comments from a BBC interview with Andrew Marr in June, in which he warned of a “nasty rebound” if steps were not taken to improve testing. He also re-posted an article from May in which he warned that lifting restrictions was difficult even with a fully working testing programme in operation.

The testing crisis deepened on Friday when it emerged that children at four out of five schools are staying at home because they cannot get a test

This coronavirus business will only get worse. Watch and wait.

Part 2 concerns the Brexit-related Internal Market Bill.

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

A lot of viewers loved it:

It’s now on YouTube:

If you missed the first episode …

Episode 2 came out on Thursday, September 10:

Enjoy:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Once again, well done.

Last Thursday, September 3, 2020, Spectator TV made its debut.

Anyone missing Andrew Neil’s piercing interviews on the BBC should definitely watch it:

You cannot ask for a better hour of interviews and analysis about the events of the past week: simply excellent.

It’s free to view.

Professor Carl Heneghan from Oxford was the guest. He described how the current cases of COVID-19 in the UK differ from the ones we had six months ago: less hospitalisation and very few deaths. He also said that the chances of contracting the virus in Britain now are very low overall.

The possibility of a second Scottish independence referendum was the next topic of discussion. James Forsyth (political editor of The Spectator) and Fraser Nelson (the magazine’s editor) laid out the complexity of the issue as it relates to the United Kingdom as a whole. The Scottish people view independence as a heartfelt emotional issue, hence the rise in the polls for an independent Scotland. Yet, the economic realities point to potential hardship should the nation become independent; the oil price is still very low and Scotland has the most debt of any Western nation. Therefore, it is hard to see how they would get by on their own.

James Forsyth said that the UK government should call Nicola Sturgeon’s bluff and start discussions with her on independence. There would be many issues to resolve: currency, trade, cross-border movement, to name but a few. Once the realities become clearer to the Scottish people, they might vote against it, as they did in their first referendum (2014) which was supposed to settle the question once and for all. Fraser Nelson took a different tack. He said that Unionists (those who want to preserve the United Kingdom) need to make a better — and positive — argument for the Union. Because they have never had to do that, it requires thinking differently and presenting a convincing case to Scots who favour independence.

Katy Balls, The Spectator‘s deputy political editor, described the mood on the Conservative benches in Parliament. One would think that with a majority of 79 (it was 80, until the party whip was withdrawn from Dr Julian Lewis), Prime Minister Boris Johnson would have an easy time of things. However, many MPs had a rough summer defending government policy on COVID-19 to their constituents. They also do not feel as if No. 10 wants them involved in anything useful. Some MPs told Balls that they think Boris is being ‘held prisoner’ in No. 10 and that his principal adviser Dominic Cummings is actually running the show. Furthermore, Boris’s appearances at Prime Minister’s Questions (PMQs) have been a disaster since the House of Commons implemented social distancing. Boris performs much better with a large audience, and it will be some time before he gets one. On a deeper level, however, Conservative backbenchers do not think Boris prepares himself enough for PMQs, which they find insulting to their constituents.

The growing tension between No. 10 and Conservative backbenchers means that Boris has to be careful about what policy positions he puts up for a vote in Parliament. Some, e.g. planning laws, he will delay until local elections are held next year; they are too controversial to vote on now, as he could lose.

The programme ended with a 12-minute Q&A from those who registered to watch the programme live on Zoom. There were a few hiccups with the mute button, but some viewers did get to participate. We did not see their faces, just a black screen with their names to accompany the audio. The questions were intelligently expressed.

If the BBC made programmes like this, no one would be carping about the licence fee.

Roll on Spectator TV. I’m looking forward to the next instalment.

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