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It’s been quite apparent that the BBC were anxious to attack the Conservative government at every turn prior to May’s elections.

Other media outlets also promoted the same stories.

Some accounts were reported inaccurately. They weren’t exactly fake news, but either details were omitted or added, with any corrections placed on less visited web pages.

The Sir James Dyson story from the BBC is a case in point.

In early 2020, when coronavirus had every Western country in a tailspin, the Government were negotiating with British vacuum machine and hand dryer company owner/founder Sir James Dyson on the manufacture of ventilators. Dyson said that his company could develop the technology and do the job. Dyson is based in Singapore, so he wanted to make sure that, if his employees had to come to the UK, their wages would not incur tax in Britain.

By April 24, 2020, new ventilators were no longer needed. The Government no doubt thanked Dyson for his kind offer, and that was the end of the story.

However, the media resurrected the story one year later. This is how it was seen by a Twitter user in April 2021. Dyson is pictured with one of his amazing hand dryers, which really work:

On April 21, Guido Fawkes reported on the handling of the story and recalled that MPs — including Labour, especially Sir Keir Starmer — agreed that taxation of foreign companies’ employees who manufactured critical clinical equipment, such as ventilators, would be waived during the first few months of the pandemic:

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

This morning the BBC reveal texts between the PM and James Dyson, in which Boris promised to “fix” a tax issue to prevent Dyson’s employees having to pay extra if they came here to make Covid ventilators during what was a national emergency. The Treasury changed the rules to mean any days worked by foreign employees towards the national Covid effort wouldn’t be counted by HMRC between March and June 2020. Only an hysterical partisan would take issue with this, here’s Labour’s line this morning:

These are jaw-dropping revelations. Boris Johnson is now front and centre of the biggest lobbying scandal in a generation, and Tory sleaze has reached the heart of Downing Street.”

A gigantic volte-face given Labour repeatedly praised the ventilator response – a response the tax changes aimed to bolster. The changes were openly put to parliament and applied to non-tax-resident doctors and engineers who would otherwise have had negative tax implications for helping in the fight against Covid. VAT and customs duties on vital medical equipment were also waived. In April 2020, Rachel Reeves said the government needed to “strain every sinew and utilise untapped resources in UK manufacturing, to deliver essential equipment to frontline workers”. A week later, Starmer praised everyone involved in the effort to get ventilators:

Even Tony Blair (Labour) thought that this year’s furore was a load of cobblers:

Last year, Dyson and Prime Minister Boris Johnson had exchanged text messages about the taxation issue. Boris defended the texts. On April 23, this was Guido’s Quote of the Day. Boris said:

If you think that there’s anything remotely dodgy, or rum, or weird, or sleazy about trying to secure more ventilators at a time of a national pandemic, and doing everything in your power to do that…then I think that you’re out of your mind.

On April 26, the BBC had to issue a retraction. They had added fake news to the story (emphases in purple mine):

Various outlets, Wednesday 21 April 2021

In our coverage of texts he had sent to the Prime Minister we referred in various outlets to Sir James Dyson as a prominent Conservative supporter or said he backed the Conservatives.

Sir James says this is factually incorrect.

We are happy to set the record straight.

26/04/2021

However, for some, the story did not end there. It is unclear whether the BBC reported the next item or where it originated. On Tuesday, May 4, two days before the UK’s local and regional elections, some Scots were angry to find out that Boris’s brother is a company director for Dyson Technical Training Limited. Perhaps it was a coincidence, perhaps not. In any event, plenty of people on the Left have their high-status connections, too.

Jo Johnson was appointed to that post on February 18, 2020:

But I digress.

Returning to the BBC, on Wednesday, May 12, the broadcaster was forced to make a further retraction of its Dyson coverage:

Guido has the full story.

The BBC stated (emphases mine):

We accept that Sir James Dyson is not a prominent Conservative supporter as was stated in some of our coverage of his text messages with the Prime Minister. The James Dyson Foundation made a charitable gift to support the Wiltshire Engineering Festival for school children. We accept that this does not signal affiliation to any political party and we would like to put the record straight. Sir James also raised concerns about the accuracy of other aspects of our reporting. We wish to make clear that Sir James contacted Number 10 in response to the Prime Minister’s direct request to him for assistance in relation to the urgent need for ventilators and incurred costs of £20 million which his company voluntarily absorbed in trying to assist in the national emergency. His text messages to the Prime Minister were also later sent to officials. We are sorry that these facts were not always reflected in our coverage, and we apologise for not doing so.

Dyson responded:

The BBC now acknowledges that it was wrong and has issued an apology – which I accept. To justify its claim that I am a “prominent Conservative supporter” the BBC shamefully twisted our charitable gift to school children to suit their political narrative. The Prime Minister asked Dyson to help at a time of crisis, in the national interest, and we did just that. We dropped everything and focused on the national effort. Far from any gain, the project cost us £20 million – a sum we voluntarily bore. I am proud of the efforts of every Dyson person who contributed and we would do precisely the same again. It was deeply disappointing, for me and for the hundreds of Dyson people who gave it their all, to have our efforts developing an emergency ventilator mischaracterised and used for political mudslinging.

To think that everyone in Britain with a television set is forced to pay annually for the BBC’s fake news or be fined — perhaps even sentenced to jail, as has happened in the past — is shameful.

I have several more examples of the Beeb’s ‘stories’ to explore in future posts.

The major results of England’s local election — and Hartlepool’s by-election — are in.

The Conservatives had a few historic victories. The Greens won control of a few councils. Labour held steady in their strongholds but also lost a few of their lonstanding councils.

Highlights follow.

Hartlepool by-election

The other day, I wrote about Hartlepool in the North East of England. In that post was a poll from Survation, which turned out to be spot on.

Hartlepool ended up voting overwhelmingly for the Conservative candidate Jill Mortimer, overthrowing decades of Labour representation in that constituency since its creation in 1974. Prior to that, the constituency was known as The Hartlepools, and Conservatives won the seat once, in 1959.

Survation’s numbers were very accurate.

Here’s the poll from May 4 …

… and the actual result:

I watched Sky News into the early hours of the morning. They went back and forth to Labour MP Jim McMahon, who conceded Hartlepool before the results were known:

Congratulations to cattle farmer Jill Mortimer:

She said:

I look forward to her making her maiden speech in Parliament.

Sky’s Beth Rigby — back at work since being suspended for coronavirus violations — interviewed Boris, who had made three visits to Hartlepool, and now a fourth. The Guardian had a summary of the interview:

Johnson says people voted Tory in 2019 to get Brexit done. They have seen the government did get Brexit done. Now they want it to get on with other things.

He says he wants to move from “jabs, jabs, jabs to jobs, jobs, jobs”.

And he stresses his commitment to levelling up. No government in the past has been as serious about it, he claims.

It’s hardly a ‘claim’. It’s a fact.

Boris’s interview is in the next tweet. New MP Jill Mortimer is on the right:

This is what he said to the BBC:

By the way, Labour always complain about the shortage of women in the House of Commons. In reality, the Commons is well represented by women. Jill Mortimer will add to their number:

Voters do not care about Boris’s curtains

I caught the end of Sky’s coverage on Friday morning.

They interviewed Professor Tony Travers from the London School of Economics. He said that voters do not care about Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s Downing Street flat refurbishment. He ended by saying that Boris Johnson is a ‘lucky’ politician.

I disagree that Boris is ‘lucky’. Boris is the type who, when told he cannot do something, will go ahead and achieve it.

The Opposition benches — from Labour to the Lib Dems to the SNP — told him that he could not get a Brexit deal and get us out of the European Union. Yet, he did.

The Opposition also said that Boris should have signed an agreement with the EU’s drugs agency during coronavirus. Thank goodness, he ignored them. We were able to be the first nation in the world to start rolling out the vaccines in December 2020. The EU nations are lagging behind, woefully.

On Election Day, Guido Fawkes reported on a YouGov poll about Boris’s refurb which shows the same lack of interest:

It seemed like an opportunistic pre-election play by Labour and the media to shrink Conservative votes. It did not work. People saw through it.

Oddly, the same people making a big deal out of the Downing Street flat never once asked why Tony Blair and later Gordon Brown — both Labour PMs — spent so much money on it over a period of years from 1997 to 2010. By the way, The Independent‘s John Rentoul is hardly a Boris supporter:

Local councils: notable big wins for Conservatives

The Conservatives have scored notable wins in England.

Not all the council elections are in yet. Counting continues over the weekend. However, we have a few results.

West Midlands

The Guardian reported on the West Midlands:

Early council results showed Labour losing a string of seats, among them 12 seats to the Conservatives in Dudley, giving the Tories control of the council. Of the first 14 seats declared for Nuneaton and Bedworth in Warwickshire, the Conservatives took 13, winning back control of the council from Labour.

In Redditch in Worcestershire, the first nine seats declared all went to the Conservatives, seven being taken from Labour, including Labour’s former council leader and deputy leader.

North East

The Conservatives took control of Northumberland council from no overall control.

South East

The Conservatives also won Harlow Council in Essex, not far from London.

The Guardian said:

A number of Conservative gains were aided by the party acquiring what was a significant Ukip vote from the last time they were contested, in 2016 or 2017, illustrating the scale of the long-term, structural issues facing Labour.

The UKIP factor had mostly to do with the fact that the party had no candidate in those elections. Therefore, there was no one to siphon away Conservative votes.

However, there is more to it than UKIP in the West Midlands and parts of the North. A number of Conservative MPs were elected to represent constituencies in those regions in 2019. They are local and they are serving the people of those areas on the ground and in Parliament. Two Conservative regional mayors, Andy Street of the West Midlands and Ben Houchen of Teesside, have been doing a great job in working with the UK Government on various local projects to revitalise those areas. 

Ultimately, via MPs and regional mayors, the Conservatives hope to build a solid voting base in previous Labour strongholds. Labour and the media said that the 2019 victories for the Conservatives were a one-off. I beg to differ. These election results are proving them wrong.

North West

An example of that is in the Audley and Queens’ Park ward of the unitary council of Blackburn with Darwen in the North West. It now has a Conservative councillor, a laudable result, for Tiger Patel (more here):

There was also a big Conservative win in the Royton North ward of Oldham Council in Lancashire:

Questions for Labour’s Starmer

Sir Keir Starmer has been Labour leader only for a short period of time.

It would be easy, though unfair, to lay all the blame at his feet.

For 20 years, the small ‘c’ conservative working class has viewed Labour as a party of the big cities: London, Birmingham, Manchester, Liverpool and Newcastle.

Labour does not speak for the working class in the rest of the nation. More voters are deserting the party with each election:

The Guardian has an interview with several prominent Labour Party members talking about ‘change’ and Starmer’s failure to ‘change’ quickly enough. However, Labour put their stake in the ground 20 years ago. Anyone watching BBC Parliament can see how radical some of their MPs are, especially the women. Several of those elected in 2019 gave their maiden speeches mentioning how much they believed in ‘socialism’. One went so far as to mention ‘Marxist ideals’. No one outside a major city is going to vote for a candidate like that.

It’s not Starmer’s fault Labour lost so many council seats, even if a number of those councils are still Labour controlled. The fact of the matter is that fewer voters like Labour. Labour don’t make it easy for themselves.

No cabinet reshuffle can fix their problem — radicalism:

Conclusion

The English are not a radical people.

They want to be able to work and bring up children in prosperity and safety.

They will vote for candidates best able to provide those conditions for them. This accounts for the gradual shift away from Labour towards the Conservatives.

More election news will follow next week, all being well.

Thursday, May 6, 2021, could be a historic day for the constituency of Hartlepool in the North East of England.

Labour MP Mike Hill had to stand down earlier this year because of allegations of sexual harassment and victimisation. Voters will elect his replacement on Thursday.

The by-election is principally between an NHS physician, Dr Paul Williams (Labour), and Jill Mortimer (Conservative), a cattle farmer who lives in the North East but not in Hartlepool, something of which the media make much ado. Dr Williams is a former MP for nearby Stockton South (2017-2019) and lost his 2019 bid to Matt Vickers, a Conservative. He was also the CEO of the Hartlepool and Stockton Health GP Federation, which oversees 37 practices in Hartlepool and Stockton.

Hartlepool would be a significant, and one of the last, bricks in the Red Wall (historically Labour constituencies in the North) to fall to the Conservatives since the 2019 general election. The Conservative MPs representing the former Red Wall constituencies are from the North, know the issues and are willing to fight for the people they represent. In Parliament, they are no-nonsense, feisty and spiky. They do not hesitate to call out Labour on their lies.

Furthermore, Teesside, where Hartlepool is located, has a popular Conservative mayor, Ben Houchen, more about whom below.

Everyone wonders whether the constituency’s new MP will be a Conservative, ending decades of consecutive Labour victories:

On May 3, this is what polling showed over time once Hill stood down:

Guido Fawkes reported (emphases in the original):

Expectations management by both Labour and the Tories sees them both privately spinning that it is on a knife edge that they fear they could lose or expect to lose respectively. Betting markets were neck and neck until a few weeks ago. Punters seem to think the Tories could steal it. A second visit to Hartlepool by the PM does suggest he is happy to own the outcome…

UPDATE: A recount shows this is the PM’s third trip. Despite No. 10 doing expectation management, it sounds like Tories on the ground are gaining confidence …

Boris is being careful

Prime Minister Boris Johnson has been careful to manage Conservatives’ expectations and to maintain the campaign momentum on the ground:

It was difficult for Liz Truss MP to contain herself in an interview with ITV News today:

What locals say

Guido Fawkes’s readers have been giving their views of what has been happening in Hartlepool over the years.

One says (emphases mine):

Labour have done nothing for the north east especially Teesside. Remember when that slimeball Mandelson was parachuted in to Hartlepool to give him a safe seat? Great example of how Labour took their voters for granted (holding them in contempt more like) and no wonder they lost the red wall. The Tories are much more likely to deliver for this area and the locals know it. Boris has many faults but he realizes that the future of the Conservative Party rests in places like Hartlepool. Credit to him for recognizing this.

Another says:

Dr Williams being exposed as a sexist first with him deleting naughty tweets after being caught. Then he and Labour campaigned AGAINST the closure of Hartlepool Hospitals A & E and the transfer of essential services to North Tees in Stockton. They tried to portray as a Tory closure when it was proposed by none other than Dr Williams himself, and it was Peter Mandelson who wanted to close the entire hospital down.

Add that to the sitting Labour MP forced to resign because of sexual assault accusations and Labour promising an all FEMALE shortlist but parachuting Dr Williams in instead.

Plus a few other things such as Hartlepool being a 68% LEAVE voting town and Williams being an arch Remainer who wanted to overturn the EU referendum result.

This comment explains why the town voted Leave in the Brexit referendum:

Hartlepool’s trawler fleet devastated by the much bigger French and Spanish boats that destroyed our fisheries when we joined the EU, and the EU Commissioner NEIL KINNOCK [Labour] who refused to allow the government to supply British steel with cheap or free energy for the blast furnaces, and, of course, the EU edict that ordered the closure of the Tees shipyards in order to address over capacity in Europe, with the Labour party at the time saying the closures were the price we had to pay for European harmonisation.

That’s why Hartlepool voted LEAVE, because the EU, not the Tories, ruined the region.

Tanya Gold went to Hartlepool for UnHerd and filed a report: ‘How the Left lost Hartlepool’.

Incidentally, Hartlepool once made ships; it had 43 ship-owning companies in 1913. Now it has nothing.

She talked to the locals, one of whom is a pub landlord and an independent councillor. He said that the local council election is just as important as the parliamentary by-election:

There are two Hartlepools: the Headland (“The Heugh”), an ancient fishing village, and the newer West Hartlepool (Hartlepool means “stag pool”). I go to the Headland. There is a fabulous Norman church, St Hilda’s, built on the site of a 7th century abbey, named for the patron saint of poetry. Its bells cannot be rung, due to weakness of the tower. What a metaphor! There are fine Georgian and Victorian houses on the sea, but they are crumbling, and in the gaps when others have fallen, modern housing: a history of English architecture, in mistakes …

I eat roast beef in the Cosmopolitan pub — the name is a gag — on the Headland, and I meet the landlord, the independent councillor Tim Fleming. Fleming says: “We’ve had enough of people just getting dumped on us, ‘oh that’s a safe seat, put him there’. It’s the London Labour Party where it [the rot] started.”

For Fleming, some voters have passed beyond despair to cynicism. “If you have a Tory up as mayor in Teesside [Ben Houchen] and a Tory in Hartlepool — all the Tories in all the towns they’ve took over — they might do [something] because they might be looking to build a new power base that’s longer lasting than the one they’ve had. They’ve never had anything in the North so who knows? If he [Houchen] gets re-elected, there’ll be nothing if we have a Labour MP and a Labour council in Hartlepool. No money will come here, never has done”.

2019 election result

The Independent‘s John Rentoul points out that a Conservative victory on Thursday might be a logical eventuality. Note the number of their votes and the number of Brexit Party votes in 2019, when Labour’s Mike Hill was elected:

Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer looked a bit worried in this interview with Sky News:

Mayoral election

The Conservatives have two popular mayors running for re-election on Thursday. Andy Street represents the West Midlands and, as mentioned above, Ben Houchen represents the Tees Valley. Their polling results look healthy:

On May 4, The Financial Times featured a profile of Ben Houchen: ‘Tories’ red wall shows no signs of crumbling on Teesside’. He is young, dynamic and gets things done in a part of England that has lost much of its proud industry: shipbuilding, steel making and fishing, to name but a few.

Excerpts follow:

As a close ally of Boris Johnson, Houchen’s plans were unlocked when Johnson became prime minister in 2019. After freeport status was granted in the Budget in March, GE announced a new wind turbine factory on Teesside, creating 1,000 new roles. Although economists question the value of freeports, Houchen believes the status is vital for the area.

“People can talk about displacement, they can talk about additionality, GE were going to expand their factory in France if we didn’t get the freeport . . . it has cost the exchequer nothing,” he said. “If we can do what we want to deliver on that site, as well as across Teesside, you are getting dozens and dozens, if not hundreds, of new employers.”

Houchen is up for re-election on May 6, when the 34-year-old hopes to gain a second term representing a conurbation of several of England’s post-industrial towns. From Stockton to Middlesbrough, this corner of England once had deep connections to the opposition Labour party — ties that were cut when the region’s heavy manufacturing industries entered inexorable decline.

In 2017, he delivered an electoral shock by winning the Tees Valley mayoralty for the Conservatives. His victory represented the first brick to be chipped out of the so-called “red wall”: Labour’s traditional heartland areas of England which have defected to the Tories over Brexit. Now he hopes to prove that the victory was not a one-off.

In 2017, he made an incredible campaign promise, which he kept:

His election pitch then was unconventional for a Tory: Houchen pledged to renationalise the small Teesside airport and reinstate more flights. If the plan failed, he would sell off the land to recoup the costs. It now has 18 flights a day, compared to two before, and with 1.4m passengers passing through its doors, is on track to turn a profit within a decade.

As part of the Conservatives’ ‘levelling up’ agenda for the North, the Government has sent a lot of money to that part of England:

Chancellor Rishi Sunak chose the former railway town of Darlington in Tees Valley to be home for the Treasury’s new northern economic campus. The government has also granted £52m for a carbon capture project as part of Teesside’s burgeoning renewable sector.

Even Houchen’s opponent, Labour’s Jessie Joe Jacobs sounded discouraged, a situation not helped by the fact that she got coronavirus during the final days of the campaign:

Struck down with coronavirus in the final 10 days before polling day, Jacobs acknowledged the campaign has been difficult for Labour, given its wider decline in Teesside, and described the fight with Houchen as a “David and Goliath scenario”.

The FT reporter went to Darlington to interview people there. One was particularly bullish on Boris:

Tony Law, a taxi driver waiting for customers, predicted Houchen would “win by a landslide” and praised his improvements to the area. He voted for him in 2017 and would back him again. “He’s done a hell of a lot to change the area. He’s clearly had an impact,” he said.

Law felt the recent row about Johnson’s use of donations to redecorate the Downing Street flat was irrelevant. “He deserves nice curtains given what he’s been through with Covid. Boris has done a great job, especially with the vaccines.”

The article ended with the Hartlepool by-election:

As well as the mayoralty, Tees Valley will be especially important on May 6 because of the Hartlepool by-election in the region. The town was such a Labour stronghold that the Conservatives did not target it in the 2019 election.

Were the Tories able to take it for the first time in 62 years, it would add credence to the view that a realignment among England’s working class is taking place. According to a new YouGov poll this week, the Conservatives have a 19 point lead among working class voters.

The biggest danger for Labour is what one red wall Tory MP described as the “Houchen factor”: voters will double tick to re-elect the mayor and Jill Mortimer to be Hartlepool’s first Conservative MP. One of Labour’s shadow cabinet ministers who has visited the seat cautioned that “it’s not looking good”.

It’s hard to recall a local election as exciting as this one, especially with the Hartlepool by-election. I hope to have more later this week or early next week after the results are in and analysed.

One wonders if Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer has Conservatives on his PR team.

He certainly has not had a good campaign for his party’s candidates in the run up to England’s local elections on Thursday, May 6.

On Monday, April 19, he got off to a rocky start with a visit to a pub in Bath in the West Country, shortly after pubs were allowed to reopen for outdoor service after our winter lockdown. Publican — and Labour voter — Rod Humphris of The Raven gave Starmer a piece of his mind, saying that he did a lousy job of opposing the Government’s coronavirus restrictions:

I have been a Labour voter my entire life. You have failed to be the Opposition … You have failed this country.

Pub customers must remain outdoors unless they need to use the loo. Humphris and other publicans could be doing better business if they were allowed to have customers indoors. He showed Starmer a chart with ONS statistics showing coronavirus is no longer the threat it was a year ago. He also gave the Labour leader a brief talk about other statistics on the harm lockdown has done to Britain, from children to the economy.

Starmer dismissed it and told Humphris he did not need any ‘lectures’ from him — then proceeded to enter the pub.

The nerve of Starmer. He knows the rules.

Humphris tried to push Starmer’s security man away from the door but failed. The burly security man held on to Humphris on the staircase. Shouting about being assaulted, Humphris tried to break free. Meanwhile, Starmer was having a look around the pub’s interior.

Humphris shouted:

Get out of my pub!

Somewhere along the line, Humphris’s spectacles fell off. Starmer had them in his hand. On his way out the door, he quietly returned them to Humphris. Starmer and his two security men then left, telling people to get out of their way, adding a stern ‘please’.

This is the electioneering video of the year — and the full version:

I’ve watched that video several times and would encourage others to see it at least once.

It paints a perfect portrait of what another Labour government would be like, barging in wherever they like with burly security detail.

Heaven forfend.

Rule No. 1 of pubgoing: the publican is in charge of his/her public house — ‘My gaff, my rules’.

Here is the late Barbara Windsor as Peggy Mitchell, the publican on BBC’s EastEnders, ordering customers to ‘get out of my pub’:

Meanwhile, elsewhere in England that day, Prime Minister Boris Johnson had a pleasant conversation with two pubgoers:

As questions mounted about Boris’s Downing Street flat refurbishment, Starmer paid a visit to a John Lewis store to look at wallpaper last Thursday:

Guido Fawkes wrote (emphases in the original):

Guido’s interested to see Starmer arrive at John Lewis this afternoon for a smug photoshoot amid flat-gate. It’s undoubtedly a smirk-raising photo-op, though it’s undermined by Starmer’s own words at PMQs yesterday, who ranted at Boris:

This is a Prime Minister who, during the pandemic, was nipping out of meetings to choose wallpaper

Now the Tories are able to accuse Starmer of playing party politics, and doing so during a pandemic. 

On Friday, May 30, the former Director of Public Prosecutions found himself trolled by a young Conservative in Manchester:

Guido Fawkes had the story:

He may have thought a trip to Labour’s Manchester heartland would have been a safe choice after his infamous Bristol pub confrontation, however Sir Keir was once again caught out. Posing with Twitter user Jordan Hutchinson he smiled and gave a thumbs-up, only to have Hutchinson tell viewers “Vote Conservative”. It’s appropriate Starmer spent yesterday in John Lewis’s home furnishings section, as it’s looking curtains for him…

Jordan Peterson’s video amused James Cleverly MP, Minister for Middle East & North Africa in the Foreign, Commonwealth & Development Office. A member of the public replied to say that Labour have only themselves to blame:

Starmer ended the week with a visit to a gym. Oh, dear. The late Margaret Thatcher was more adept with a handbag:

Actor and musician Laurence Fox of the libertarian Reclaim Party is running for Mayor of London. He posted an interesting video on May 1 showing Starmer and other Labour Party members, including at least one other MP, enjoying drinks together indoors, something we are not allowed to do at present because of the pandemic:

Laurence Fox stands by the video and his tweet:

Starmer’s Labour seems to be all about rules for ‘thee but not for me’. Who would want that, even at a local level?

The UK’s local elections will take place on Thursday, May 6, 2021.

Labour have been casting shade on Prime Minister Boris Johnson during the past few weeks over his handling of the coronavirus crisis and the refurbishment of the Downing Street flat. As one would expect, the left-leaning media are having a field day.

On Wednesday, April 28, after Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer verbally attacked Boris at the despatch box during PMQs (Prime Minister’s Questions), Boris let rip by listing all the Conservative government’s achievements on Brexit and coronavirus over the past 16 months. The fact that he could rattle everything off in just under two minutes is impressive. Even better, it looks as if our pre-COVID Boris is back. The Conservative MP for West Bromwich East in the West Midlands tweeted:

Here are two more Conservative achievements:

The media are dead wrong when they say that ‘Boris is on the ropes’:

Here is a more recent poll, taken earlier this week:

Last weekend, the papers were full of stories about what Boris allegedly said before reluctantly announcing a third lockdown around Christmas. He denies having spoken these words, and Labour made a big deal about this earlier this week in Parliament. The public, however, view it in a more nuanced way:

Then we come to the refurbishment of the flat in Downing Street. It is alleged that Boris received funds from a Conservative Party donor to top up the statutory £30k maximum from the taxpayer. The public aren’t that interested:

I’ve seen photographs of one of the redecorated rooms. It looks very Turkish, including the pictures. Although some might find a deep red patterned wallpaper with matching sofa agreeable, it’s not the sort of room most people could stay in for long because it is too ‘busy’. There is no solid pastel shade anywhere. The next occupant will be busy redecorating it, at taxpayers’ expense, to look more neutral.

That has been the work of First Fiancée Carrie Symonds (the ‘y’ is a long ‘i’, as in ‘Simon’), who does not strike most of us as a true Conservative. If Conservatives have any complaint, it’s been that she seems to be running the Government via Boris.

Douglas Murray wrote a great article which appeared today in The Spectator: ‘Carrie Symonds and the First Girlfriend problem’.

Unlike the United States, European countries have a tradition whereby leaders’ spouses take a back seat where politics is concerned. They stay out of the limelight. This is probably the first time in living memory where a British partner of a Prime Minister has been involved in decision making.

Murray explains:

There is no getting around the fact that there is a problem with Carrie Symonds, which it is probably best to have out now.

In 2019 our Prime Minister came in with a significant and clear mandate. Covid has added significantly to his workload. But for many of us he seemed the perfect — even the only — man for the hour. Yet as that hour has gone on, problems of his own creation keep appearing. Too many of them originate from the sway — even terror — his younger companion seems to exert over him.

Carrie Symonds herself is a perfectly nice, intelligent person who successfully worked her way through Conservative campaign headquarters. But she is having too great an impact on the course of government. There are issues the Prime Minister avoids because she does not favour them. And there are others — principally green issues — which he appears to adopt to satisfy her. The feeling is growing that the First Girlfriend wants political power without the trouble of having to run for office, and to wield it without any resulting criticism. This is not a sustainable state of affairs …

It is not just policy she seeks to influence. The First Girlfriend seems to have a desire to be involved in all personnel issues. Her principal ambition seems to be for her friends to make up all the central control flanks around the Prime Minister. This was one of the main causes of Dominic Cummings’s exit from Downing Street last year …

It seems no Carrie-related issue is ever too minor to distract the PM. Last year she made him stop a Cobra meeting at the height of the Covid crisis. The urgent cause was her demand that the PM make an official complaint to the Times newspaper over a story claiming that Carrie’s affections for the couple’s Jack Russell, Dilyn, had cooled in the year since the couple adopted him …

the trap laid by Carrie and her defenders is clear. Say that Carrie has gained political influence only because of who her boyfriend is, and you will be accused of being envious of powerful, successful women who have made it in their own right. ‘Carrie is an expert in politics,’ one well-briefed source recently told the media. And she may well be. But that is not why she is sleeping in No. 10.

In the UK anyone who wishes to have political power should run for elected office. The emergent Office of First Lady is clearly a source of tension in Downing Street, and is already responsible for an unprecedented number of interventions in policy areas that affect our country. We hear nothing from the Prime Minister on issues he was elected on, and far too much on ones that Carrie happens to favour. The Prime Minister may have need of a First Girlfriend, but the country does not.

A year ago, I was wondering why Boris’s priorities were changing. Was it because of coronavirus or Carrie?

Twelve months on, I have my answer.

As far as local elections go, however, the Carrie problem is unlikely to affect voters’ opinions. Those determined to vote Conservative will carry on regardless of Carrie.

This is the final instalment of my long-running series, the Brexit Chronicles.

My previous post discussed the December 30 vote on the EU Future Relationship Bill which passed both Houses of Parliament and received Royal Assent in the early hours of the final day of Brexmas, December 31, 2020.

New Year’s Eve was a quiet affair in Britain, as we were in lockdown.

One week earlier, Boris said that he would not be dictating to Britons how they should celebrate our exit from the EU, which was a bit rich, because he had already put us into lockdown before Christmas:

What UK independence from the EU means for Boris

The UK negotiating team did some star turns with this agreement, which polished Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s political reputation.

Boris’s ratings had taken an understandable hit during a year of coronavirus, which included a lot of flip-flopping on his part, however the trade agreement improved things considerably. Liz Truss, who has been negotiating our trade deals with more than 50 countries, deserves her place at the top:

According to an Opinium poll, an overwhelming majority of Britons — even Remainers — wanted MPs and the Lords to pass the deal:

Guido’s article noted:

Troublingly for the anti-deal SNP, the poll’s sub sample of Scottish voters shows that by 47% to 19%, Scots want their MPs to vote for the deal too…

The Norwegians said that the UK had negotiated a better deal with the EU than they had:

Guido Fawkes thinks that this could give Norway the impetus to renegotiate their terms with the EU. I hope so (emphases in the original):

Marit Arnstad, parliamentary leader of Norway’s Centre Party, argues that the UK deal is better than the Norwegian deal her country has as a member of the European Economic Area (EEA). “The UK has now reached an agreement that gives them more freedom and more independence” she tells Klassekampen, Norway’s answer to the Guardian, “the British have a better agreement than the EEA. They get access to the internal market and the common trade that is desirable, but they do not have to be part of a dynamic regulatory development that places strong ties on the individual countries’ national policies. …The most difficult thing for Norway is that we are bound in areas that are national policy, and that it happens in more and more areas. The British have now taken back this authority, and it is extremely interesting”.

Arnstad is not the only politician complaining, the leader of the Norwegian Socialist Party’s EEA committee, Heming Olaussen, also believes that the British agreement with the EU is better than the EEA, “because the British escape the European Court of Justice. Then they are no longer subject to EU supremacy and must not accept any EU legislation in the future as we must. This agreement is qualitatively different and safeguards national sovereignty in a better way than the EEA does for us”.

Could we soon see Norway and the other EEA countries try to renegotiate their terms?

Prime Minister Boris Johnson made sure that he got everything possible arranged by the end of the day, including Gibraltar. The first tweet has a statement from Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab:

Remainers constantly brought up the future of the Nissan car plant in Sunderland. They can silence themselves now.

Chronicle Live reported:

Automotive giant Nissan has welcomed the UK’s post-Brexit trade deal with the EU, which appears to have safeguarded the future of its Sunderland plant.

The plant has been at the centre of the Brexit debate over the last decade, with both Remain and Leave campaigners using it to back up their respective arguments.

A number of global Nissan executives have used visits to Sunderland to warn that its future was threatened by a no-deal Brexit, and two models either being made or due to be made at the plant have been cancelled since the 2016 referendum.

But the Christmas Eve agreement of a deal that appears to allow tariff-free access to EU markets for British-made goods has been welcomed by the company.

On Boxing Day, The Telegraph — Boris’s former employer — published an interview with him, excerpts of which follow (emphases mine):

“I think it has been a long intellectual odyssey for many people of this country,” he said, casting back to 1988, shortly before he, an up-and-coming journalist at The Telegraph, was dispatched to Brussels to report on the European Commission.

“The whole country has been divided about this issue, because we are European, but on the other hand we don’t necessarily want to feel that we’re committed to the ideology of the European Union.

“That’s been the problem and I think it is absolutely true that Margaret Thatcher … she did begin this period of questioning. Her Bruges speech was very, very important.”

Mr Johnson is referring to a speech that, to many Eurosceptics, formed the foundations of the bitter and protracted political struggle against ever closer union that ultimately set Britain on the path to Brexit.

At the height of her power and railing against Jacques Delors’ latest move towards deeper integration, in 1988 Baroness Thatcher urged the Commission to abandon aspirations of a “European super-state” which would infringe on the “different traditions, parliamentary powers and sense of national pride in one’s own country”.

Her warning went unheeded, however, and just four years later the UK signed up to the Maastricht Treaty and with it the creation of the European Union as it is constituted today.

And yet, even after she was toppled and replaced by John Major, an ardent Europhile, the seeds of discontent and the desire to reclaim British sovereignty had been sown in Bruges.

He explained that we will always be European, just not part of the huge project that seems to continually move the goalposts of membership obligations:

“I think this gives us a basis for a new friendship and partnership that should attract people who love Europe and want to have a great relationship with it, who want to feel close to it.

But it should also be something that is welcome to people who see the advantages of economic and political independence. I think the country as a whole has got itself into a new and more stable footing. It’s a better relationship and a healthier relationship.”

The tariff and quota-free deal covers £660bn worth of trade a year, which Mr Johnson said will still be “smooth” but with new customs procedures and paperwork which will mean things are “different and there will be things that businesses have to do”.

In particular, he is keen to stress that the UK will be free to diverge from EU standards.

This is particularly gratifying for Mr Johnson, who said that after being accused of “cakeism for so many years,” he has achieved what his critics said was impossible: “That you could do free trade with the EU without being drawn into their regulatory or legislative orbit.”

Boris enjoys his ‘cakeism’ references. He made one on Christmas Eve upon the announcement of the deal and he made yet another on January 1, which was Guido Fawkes’s Quote of the Day:

I hope I can be forgiven for reminding the world that many people used to insist that you couldn’t do both: you couldn’t have unfettered free trade with the EU, we were assured, without conforming to EU laws. You couldn’t have your cake and eat it, we were told. Maybe it would be unduly provocative to say that this is a cake-ist treaty; but it is certainly from the patisserie department.

The Spectator had an excellent article on the new treaty, ‘The small print of Boris’s Brexit deal makes for reassuring reading’. Brief excerpts follow. The article has much more:

The Brexit deal takes things back to where they were before Maastricht. The EU is limited now in any meddling to very specific areas indeed. It ends the oddity where because circa seven per cent of UK business trade with the EU, 100 per cent have their laws made by the EU (although that is a bit more blurred in supply chains)

There are parts of the deal that mean that, should Britain wish to diverge, then UK committees will have to talk to EU committees. Requiring the UK to ‘consult’ on implementation and change of the agreement etc. But how this is done in practice is left free and thus pretty non-enforceable and limited in scope. It is diplomacy now, not law

While there is a lot of hot air in the treaty, it does not go beyond that. Lord Frost and his team seem to have seen off the (no doubt many) attempts to get EU regulation in through the back door. The UK is leaving the European Union and the lunar orbit of its regulations. It depends on your politics whether you approve of concessions over fish and some aspects of trade. But the legal question – to take back control – has been accomplished.

In The Atlantic, Tom McTague, a balanced journalist, looked at Brexit from the Conservatives’ 2019 manifesto policy of ‘levelling up’ all parts of the United Kingdom:

at root, Brexit was a rejection of the economic status quo, which too many had concluded was benefiting the country’s urban centers at the expense of its more rural regions. And not without evidence: Britain is the most unequal economy in Europe, combining a supercharged global hub as its capital with areas a three-hour drive away that are as poor as some of the least-developed parts of the continent.

Brexit was not solely a vote of the “left behind”—much of the wealthy and suburban elite also voted to leave. But Brexit was a rejection of the direction the country was taking, a desire to place perceived national interests above wider European ones that too many Britons did not believe were also theirs. Is this entirely unreasonable?

The Revd Giles Fraser, rector of the south London church of St Mary’s, Newington — and co-founder of UnHerd — wrote an excellent article on Boris, Brexit and old Christmas traditions involving seasonal games of chaos and fools. He also delves into the Bible. ‘Why chaos is good for Boris — and Brexit’ is worth reading in full.

You will want to see the photo he includes in his article, which begins as follows:

Back in early December, after a dinner between the British negotiating team and their EU counterparts, a photograph was released that, it was said, “sums everything up”. A characteristically dishevelled Boris Johnson was unflatteringly contrasted with the smartly dressed Michel Barnier. “Johnson’s loose tie, shapeless suit and messy hair alongside Frost’s errant collar stood out somewhat beside an immaculately turned out Ursula von der Leyen and chief EU negotiator Michel Barnier” reported the Huffington Post, while reproducing a series of damning twitter observations …

Fraser points out that Brexit is charting a new course. The old rules no longer apply. Boris seems to be the king of chaos, perhaps a ‘fool’:

The problem with an orderly approach to things such as Brexit is that most problems, especially the large ones, are always going to be imperfectly and incompletely specified. In such a context, it is not always a straightforward matter to argue in a linear way from problem to solution. Indeed, when situations seem to require some sort of paradigm shift, the rules of the old order present a block on the emergence of the new. Things will always seem chaotic when change does not travel according to pre-established ideas of how one thing follows from another.

In his fascinating book Obliquity, the economist John Kay describes the shortcomings of turning decision making within a complex environment into some sort of algebra. Often, he argues, “complex outcomes are achieved without knowledge of an overall purpose”. The importance of rational consistency is exaggerated. Some values are incommensurable, not plottable on a single system of reference. In such situations, neatness is overrated, distorting even.

That, I take it, is partly why Boris Johnson remains ahead in the polls, even now. Yes his shambolic manner, strongly contrasted with Keir Starmer’s orderly, lawyerly disposition, speaks to a refusal of some imposed authority. It’s a kind of trick, perhaps, given that he is the authority. And Old Etonians are not typically chosen as “the lowly” who are lifted up as per the Magnificat.

But the importance of Johnson “the fool” exceeds the fact that he has become an unlikely poster-boy of some unspecified insurgency against the established European rules based system of governance. The fool understands something the rationally wise does not. “Man plans, God laughs” goes an old Jewish proverb. Much to the deep frustration of its proponents, order can never be finally imposed upon chaos. And those who are comfortable with this, celebrate it even, are often better able to negotiate the complexities of life. Being chaotic might just turn out to be Johnson’s unlikely super-power.

Boris certainly has had a good track record over the past 12 years. The coronavirus crisis is the only obstacle remaining:

What independence from the EU means for Britons

The BBC website has a short but practical guide to changes that came into effect on January 1.

In addition, UK drivers licences will be recognised in EU member countries as they were before:

With regard to students and foreign study, we will no longer be part of the EU-centric Erasmus study programme beginning in September 2021. The UK government is developing the worldwide Turing programme, named for Alan Turing:

Guido explains:

… Unlike the Erasmus programme, which was founded in 1987 “to promote a sense of European identity* and citizenship among its participants”, the new scheme will have a global outlook, targeting students from disadvantaged backgrounds and areas boosting students’ skills and prospects, benefitting UK employers. It will be life changing for the student participants.

A year of Erasmus-funded reading of Sartre at the Sorbonne in Paris, or a year of Turing-funded study of Nano-engineering at the Indian Institute of Technology in Madras? It is a no-brainer to choose the exciting future that is beyond Little Europe.

*The EC in latter years funded a post-graduate exchange programme that offered opportunities outside Europe. Some 95% of the budget still focuses on Europe.

Women will be pleased that the EU tax — VAT — on sanitary products is no more.

How we celebrated, despite lockdown

On New Year’s Eve, I was cheered to see an article by The Guardian‘s economics editor Larry Elliott, ‘The left must stop mourning Brexit — and start seeing its huge potential’. YES! Every Labour, Lib Dem and SNP MP should read it.

He, too — like the aforementioned Tom McTague of The Atlantic — sees Brexit as an upending of the status quo. He tells his readers on the Left that they should be happy about this (emphases mine):

Many in the UK, especially on the left, are in despair that this moment has arrived. For them, this can never be the journey to somewhere better: instead it is the equivalent of the last helicopter leaving the roof of the US embassy in Saigon in 1975.

It marked the rejection of a status quo that was only delivering for the better off by those who demanded their voice was heard. Far from being a reactionary spasm, Brexit was democracy in action.

Now the UK has a choice. It can continue to mourn or it can take advantage of the opportunities that Brexit has provided. For a number of reasons, it makes sense to adopt the latter course.

For a start, it is clear that the UK has deep, structural economic problems despite – and in some cases because of – almost half a century of EU membership. Since 1973, the manufacturing base has shrivelled, the trade balance has been in permanent deficit, and the north-south divide has widened. Free movement of labour has helped entrench Britain’s reputation as a low-investment, low-productivity economy. Brexit means that those farmers who want their fruit harvested will now have to do things that the left ought to want: pay higher wages or invest in new machinery.

The part of the economy that has done best out of EU membership has been the bit that needed least help: the City of London. Each country in the EU has tended to specialise: the Germans do the high-quality manufactured goods; France does the food and drink; the UK does the money. Yet the mass exodus of banks and other financial institutions that has been predicted since June 2016 has not materialised, because London is a global as well as a European financial centre. The City will continue to thrive.

If there are problems with the UK economy, it is equally obvious there are big problems with the EU as well: slow growth, high levels of unemployment, a rapidly ageing population. The single currency – which Britain fortunately never joined – has failed to deliver the promised benefits. Instead of convergence between member states there has been divergence; instead of closing the gap in living standards with the US, the eurozone nations have fallen further behind.

I was especially pleased that he pointed out the coronavirus vaccine. We were the first in the world to approve one and get it rolled out:

The Covid-19 crisis has demonstrated the importance of nation states and the limitations of the EU. Britain’s economic response to the pandemic was speedy and coordinated: the Bank of England cut interest rates and boosted the money supply while the Treasury pumped billions into the NHS and the furlough scheme. It has taken months and months of wrangling for the eurozone to come up with the same sort of joined-up approach.

Earlier in the year, there was criticism of the government when it decided to opt out of the EU vaccine procurement programme, but this now looks to have been a smart move. Brussels has been slow to place orders for drugs that are effective, in part because it has bowed to internal political pressure to spread the budget around member states – and its regulator has been slower to give approval for treatments. Big does not always mean better.

Later on — at 11 p.m. GMT, midnight Continental time — millions of us in Britain were only too happy to toast each other, confined in our own homes, and say:

Free at last!

Here’s Nigel Farage:

Baroness Hoey — formerly Kate Hoey, Labour MP — worked tirelessly for Leave in 2016.

She had a message for her late mother …

… and for Guy Verhofstadt, who is shown below a few years ago in London with the Liberal Democrats campaigning against Brexit:

In the days that followed …

On New Year’s Day, Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer gave an optimistic message for 2021 — ‘the UK’s best years lie ahead’:

The Sun‘s political editor, Harry Cole, urged all of us to unite behind a new Britain:

Boris Johnson’s father, Stanley, continues to pursue his quest for French citizenship, having researched his family tree.

Nigel Farage’s new campaign will be against dependence on China:

Our ports have been problem-free:

On that cheery note, after four and a half years, this completes my Brexit Chronicles! Onwards and upwards!

Yesterday’s post detailed the first day of Brexmas — Christmas Eve 2020 — when the UK and the EU signed the deal to end the transition period and move on to a future outside of EU control.

MPs and the Lords were preparing to vote on the deal on Wednesday, December 30, in a special recall of both Houses of Parliament.

The Brexit referendum in 2016 attracted more voters and two of the largest campaign donations in British history.

The days between Christmas and December 30 seemed like a long wait. We were in lockdown, to various extents, at the time. However, Leavers were able to get an idea of how MPs thought about the new trade agreement, which is a treaty. A summary of practical considerations for Britons can be found here.

We also garnered snippets from journalists on some of the deal/treaty provisions.

Natasha Clark, who writes about politics for The Sun, tweeted:

Some pointed out a few downsides. There are concerns about British financial services operating overseas, the performing arts and, equally important, international security:

That said, Sir John Redwood MP was optimistic:

Even better, the hardline Brexit group, the European Research Group (ERG), was all in for the deal:

The ERG issued a three-page statement of support on Tuesday, December 29, concluding:

Our overall conclusion is that the Agreement preserves the UK’s sovereignty as a matter of law and fully respects the norms of international sovereign-to-sovereign treaties. The “level playing field” clauses go further than in comparable trade agreements, but their impact on the practical exercise of sovereignty is likely to be limited if addressed by a robust government. In any event they do not prevent the UK from changing its laws as it sees fit at a risk of tariff countermeasures, and if those were unacceptable the Agreement could be terminated on 12 months’ notice.

Even Labour — and Opposition — leader Sir Keir Starmer said that he would back the deal (starting at 1:30):

Sixty per cent of Conservative Home readers considered the deal a win.

On the morning of December 30, Graham Stringer, a Labour MP, said that Parliament should support the deal:

However, MPs from Northern Ireland thought differently. They have to abide by the EU rules because they border the Republic of Ireland. MSN Money published a fuller statement from the DUP (Democratic Unionist Party), which reads in part (emphases mine):

Whilst we accept that this agreement does bring about zero tariff and quota arrangements between the United Kingdom and the European Union thus removing many goods from attracting tariffs between Great Britain and Northern Ireland, the fact remains that this agreement does not assist Northern Ireland in the context of having to operate under the Northern Ireland Protocol.

When Parliament is recalled on Wednesday we will vote against this agreement. We will do so as a point of principle and not because we supported a no deal option. A free trade deal is better than no deal but for Northern Ireland this deal does not undo the detrimental aspects of the Protocol.

Understandably many in Great Britain will be able to support these arrangements as applied to Great Britain but sadly for Northern Ireland we will be governed by the arrangements in the Protocol. While Northern Ireland will remain in the UK customs territory and we are out of the Common Agricultural Policy and the Common Fisheries Policy we will be aligned with the EU for manufactured goods and food and animal products alongside other EU imposed restraints.

The removal of a so-called cliff edge on 1 January will be welcomed but more work will be required to ensure that we can maintain free flowing business supply lines from Great Britain into Northern Ireland. To that end we will continue to work with the Government to mitigate against those damaging practical outcomes flowing from the Protocol.

It was a long day in the House of Commons. When bringing in the motion, Speaker of the House, Sir Lindsay Hoyle, mistakenly referred to the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster, Michael Gove, by his first name:

Leader of the Opposition Starmer said that not voting for the agreement was akin to voting ‘no deal’:

Prime Minister Boris Johnson introduced the new legislation. Scotland’s SNP Westminster leader Ian Blackford stuck his oar in, but Boris wasn’t having it:

Even the Speaker of the House told Blackford to not intervene — not once, but twice — as time was short. However, Blackford, as always, persisted in interrupting with the same broken record he always plays. I enjoyed when Boris called Blackford’s party the Scottish Nationalist Party. It’s Scottish National Party, but Boris knew and said ‘nationalist … with a small “n”‘:

Blackford persisted, causing the Speaker to ask him a third time to stop intervening:

Not surprisingly, Scotland’s SNP voted against the agreement, the subject of the EU Future Relationship Bill. Gove, also a Scot, called them out in his summation speech before the vote. This is one for the archives. It was pointed yet witty. This was Gove at his best (even though I don’t trust the man):

The SNP’s Ian Blackford and Stuart O’Grady are on the far right in the video:

Going back to Boris’s introduction of the bill. After he spoke, Keir Starmer gave his response as Leader of the Opposition. When he urged his MPs to vote for the agreement, an indignant Theresa May rose to speak her mind. Labour and the other Opposition parties had opposed her deal throughout 2019, leading to her resignation as PM.

The second clip below — ‘May’s finest moment’ — is from 2019. Labour MP Rupa Huq had accused her of ‘parliamentary ejaculation’. May said that if Huq ‘looked more closely’ she would find that she (May) was incapable of such a thing:

On December 30, May was upset with Starmer for not having voted for her deal in 2019. Starmer had called Boris’s agreement ‘thin’ — meaning not enough integration with the EU. May pointed out that if he had voted for her deal the previous year, he would not have had that complaint, ‘so I will take no lectures from the Leader of the Opposition on this deal’:

When it came time for the vote, 37 Labour MPs rebelled, with three having to resign their shadow front bench posts. One of them, Helen Hayes, is pictured below:

The Mirror reported:

Moments after the result of the vote was declared, frontbencher Helen Hayes announced she had quit her role.

She tweeted: “I’m grateful to all who’ve contacted me on the EU Future Relationship Bill.

“I can’t vote for this damaging deal & have abstained today.

“With much sadness & regret I’ve offered my resignation as Shadow Cabinet Office Minister. It’s been a privilege to serve.”

MP for Gower, South Wales, Tonia Antoniazzi said it was “with the deepest regret” she was resigning as a parliamentary aide to the Shadow Scotland and Work and Pensions teams …

Florence Eshalomi, MP for Vauxhall, South London, quit as a whip – a frontbencher responsible for enforcing the leader’s power.

She said: “This Bill was rushed and a ‘no deal’ is the worst outcome for the country but I cannot support the bill and I have abstained.

“I have offered my resignation as an Opposition Whip.”

The resignations are a blow for Mr Starmer’s bid to reposition the party.

He ordered Labour MPs to back the agreement, believing Labour needed to show voters in its traditional heartlands – most of which overwhelmingly backed Leave in the 2016 referendum – that it has heeded the result.

Urging MPs to back the deal, Mr Starmer told the Commons: “This is a simple vote with a simple choice – do we leave the transition period with the treaty negotiated with the EU or do we leave with no deal?

“Labour will vote to implement this treaty today to avoid no-deal and to put in place a floor from which we can build a strong future relationship with the EU.”

It didn’t matter much in the end, because the EU Future Relationship Bill passed with ‘a stonking majority’, as Guido Fawkes put it:

AYES 521

NOES 73

The vote lists aren’t out yet, however we can assume around 40 rebels abstained.

PARLY had a further breakdown:

The Conservatives must have been relieved to be able to tweet this — after four and a half years:

The bill was quickly rushed to the House of Lords, which had to debate and vote on it.

Nigel Farage watched the proceedings on BBC Parliament:

A vast majority of the Lords are Remainers.

However, I hope that Farage did not miss Kate Hoey’s — Baroness Hoey of Lylehill and Rathlin in the County of Antrim’s — tribute to him in the Lords. I saw it and couldn’t believe she mentioned him in the Valley of the Remainers, but she did. I was delighted:

The Lords debated for the rest of the night, then voted.

The Queen’s Royal Assent was the final step.

One reporter had a very long day:

Royal Assent was granted shortly after midnight on New Year’s Eve:

Shortly afterwards, the Daily Mail carried a report with rare, behind-the-scenes photos:

Boris Johnson has heralded a ‘new beginning in our country’s history’ after his Brexit trade deal was signed into law, setting the stage for a smooth divorce from the EU tonight.

The Prime Minister thanked MPs and peers for rushing the Bill through Parliament in just one day so it could take effect at exactly 11pm this evening when the UK’s transition period ends.  

At 12.25am, Commons Speaker Sir Lindsay Hoyle told MPs that the EU (Future Relationship) Act 2020, had been granted royal assent by the Queen

It enshrines in legislation the trade agreement finally negotiated between London and Brussels last week following more than four years of wrangling since the referendum. 

Shortly before Her Majesty gave the Act her seal of approval, a bullish Mr Johnson marked out a new chapter for Britain, which first joined the bloc in 1973.

He said in a statement: ‘I want to thank my fellow MPs and peers for passing this historic Bill and would like to express my gratitude to all of the staff here in Parliament and across Government who have made today possible.

‘The destiny of this great country now resides firmly in our hands.

‘We take on this duty with a sense of purpose and with the interests of the British public at the heart of everything we do.

’11pm on December 31 marks a new beginning in our country’s history and a new relationship with the EU as their biggest ally. This moment is finally upon us and now is the time to seize it.’

More on that and what it means for Boris Johnson’s premiership tomorrow.

As most of England is now in either Tier 2 or Tier 3, including London (in the latter), some scientists are clamouring for previously approved Christmas gatherings to be cancelled.

This is the exchange that took place on Wednesday, December 16, the day when London and surrounding areas entered Tier 3. Communist Susan Michie, a member of SAGE and independent SAGE, told Good Morning Britain that we should cancel Christmas this year and replace it with extra ‘bank holidays’ next year. She’s a smooth talker. Laura Perrins, an ex-barrister who co-edits Conservative Woman, saw right through this:

Well, London mayor Sadiq Khan has cancelled the capital’s New Year fireworks. The Tube will also stop running at 12:30 a.m. this year.

Laura Perrins had a lot to tweet on Wednesday from her article that day, ‘Matt Hancock wants to ruin your Christmas. It’s sheer cruelty’. Excerpts follow, emphases mine:

YOU’RE making your list, you’re checking it twice and Matt Hancock is deciding whether you’ve been naughty or nice. Yes, once again the government have decided to inflict more psychological damage on the population by putting in doubt the Christmas relaxation of rules which will ‘allow’ you to spend some time with your family. The anxiety that this causes, the dread, the cruelty: that is the point of this latest government move

At the time of writing it looks as if (for once) Boris Johnson will hold his nerve and not hand over complete control to Matt Hancock and the ‘scientists’ who seem to run the country. All this anxiety has been triggered because the BMJ published an editorial saying that the rules ‘allowing’ you to see your family at Christmas are a ‘major error’ which would cause the health service to be overwhelmed. As usual you have to sacrifice your basic freedoms so that the NHS can do the job you pay them a great deal to do. All must be sacrificed, it seems, for ‘our’ NHS. 

Even if Johnson does hold his nerve this time, it should be said every day that Matt Hancock is a dangerous man who has set out to destroy this country. Some people think I am too strong in my language. I am not

What the government are doing is evil. You need to understand that. They are destroying thousands of businesses, thousands of jobs in arts and culture, they have closed pubs and restaurants as a way of crushing your spirit. Meeting your friends down the pub is uniquely British, speaking to them in the flesh, arguing with them over a pint; these are the small joys that ordinary people look forward to. This is something that the elite in the media and politics, and certainly the scientists, simply do not understand. They’re all right, Jack. What’s a trip to the pub anyway – that’s for the little people

This tweet from Camilla Tominey caught my eye yesterday. 

She is right – this landlord has had his business wiped out ‘in the blink of an eye’. Destroying the livelihoods of so many in the blink of an eye is something that used to happen only in communist Russia. It is not quite a knock on the door in the middle of the night, but it is not far off. Oh, but don’t worry, they will get compensation from the government, you tell me. That is not the point. This landlord runs a business, he wants to provide this service, I have no doubt he takes pride in providing this service, it’s not just the money he wants. It’s his sense of dignity in a job well done.

This is why I believe that any future legal cases should claim this entire Covid government strategy is a breach Article 3 of the Human Rights Act which states that no one shall be subjected to torture or to inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment.

Perrins ended her article with thoughts on Dickens’s A Christmas Carol:

In the great Christian story of redemption, A Christmas Carol, Scrooge famously did not observe Christmas. In addition, he hated anyone who did. He refused a generous invite to share the Christmas meal from his nephew. This was rightly seen as cruel, mean, mean-spirited and immoral. Scrooge was incapable of any joy or love. Matt Hancock wants to ruin your Christmas. He wants you to uninvite the relations you have invited to share your Christmas meal. Hancock, like Scrooge, is mean, mean-spirited and cruel. Ignore him. Keep Christmas as you will.

I wish you and yours every comfort and joy this Christmas. Know in the New Year that we at TCW will not rest until every last mask is burnt and 2m sign is peeled off the pavement. Anything less is defeat

Excellent!

On Tuesday, December 15, she opined on the type of people who love lockdown. Someone from Scotland responds:

In case anyone thinks Labour would be any better on Christmas celebrations, their party leader Sir Keir Starmer also wants celebrations on the feast day of Christ’s birth scrapped:

This came up at Wednesday’s PMQs (Prime Minister’s Questions).

Fortunately, Prime Minister Boris Johnson echoed the words of one of his cabinet ministers, Chief Secretary to the Treasury Steve Barclay:

Guido Fawkes reported Steve Barclay told Radio 4’s Today programme on Tuesday that Britons should (emphases in the original):

“try and minimise their contacts” in the week before Christmas. Yet still sticking to the four nation, five day relaxation. For now…

Barclay also advised that when families gather they do so “in a way that isn’t the maximum of what the rules require but the minimum that they as a family need to do.”

That means that Transport Secretary Grant Shapps’s subsidy of public transport is still on …

… and Conservative rebel MP Mark Harper — one of the good guys — can rest easy:

Returning to public transport, anyone travelling to London will be greeted with Christmas cheer:

Bob Moran has been doing some great political cartoons for the Telegraph mocking lockdown. He’s found a fan in Daily Mail columnist Peter Hitchens:

I hope that Bob Moran — and Peter Hitchens — have a happy Christmas.

Here’s Bob at work:

Here are the Models, mocking Chief Medical Officer Prof Chris Whitty and Chief Scientific Officer Sir Patrick Vallance:

Jokes aside — and as necessary as they are right now — it is alarming to think about how a three-week lockdown turned into one that lasted over nine months.

I wrote a few weeks ago here that this is the wildest conspiracy ever. We’ve moved beyond ‘theory’. We’re living it:

As regular readers of mine know, my principal worry is the economy.

Here’s Klaus ‘Great Reset’ Schwab, the Founder and Executive Chairman of the World Economic Forum, discussing the COVID-19 group that will address — and, in his mind, solve — all the problems of coronavirus and the world in general. Business, he says, will be a big part of this. Be afraid, be very afraid. This is what he’s actually saying:

In closing, let’s return to London.

Deaths are normal for this year. This is a five-year chart:

London’s hospitals are not overly burdened either, especially compared with 2018 and 2019:

And why do we not receive any information from the Department for Health and Social Care about a prophylaxis for COVID-19? Instead, we’re pushed into taking a vaccine with messenger RNA. Revolutionary, for sure, but can we be certain it will work and is safe?

One wonders what will happen next year.

The centenary of Remembrance Sunday in Britain was marred by coronavirus, especially the lockdown throughout England.

Nonetheless, ceremonies around the United Kingdom and Northern Ireland went ahead, thank goodness:

The main ceremony is held in London at the Cenotaph in Whitehall, which you can watch in full. Even drastically pared down, it was beautiful whilst poignant:

I had no idea how small the march past would be until I saw it on BBC1. It was restricted to 26 people. Normally, there are 10,000.

So many veterans wanted to be in Whitehall on November 8, as General Sir Nick Carter, Chief of the Defence Staff, told the BBC’s Andrew Marr:

The general public were not allowed to gather at Horse Guards Parade, either. In fact, police did not want anyone in the near vicinity:

However, a group of veterans and members of the public gathered at the the Royal Artillery Memorial Hyde Park Corner, as a Conservative Woman post, ‘Remembrance under lockdown’, discusses. An excerpt and tweet follow:

One such event was organised by a group of veterans codenamed 08 1030Z NOV20, standing for 1030 Zulu (GMT) November 8, 2020. It is telling that even though Covid restrictions were followed, a detailed risk assessment completed and all the required precautions taken, they prefer to remain anonymous fearing establishment reprisal with the injustice of an undeserved £10,000 fine.

Veterans and members of the public including Laurence Fox, leader of the Reclaim Party, and Martin Daubney, former MEP and presenter of Unlocked formed up in Green Park and paraded to the Royal Artillery Memorial Hyde Park Corner. The parade was cheered along by the public and supported by the police who stopped traffic allowing a safe crossing across Duke of Wellington Place.

Now back to Whitehall.

The ceremony at the Cenotaph starts with the laying of the wreaths. The Royal Family begin, followed by politicians, then diplomats representing the Commonwealth countries.

Prince Charles has been laying the Queen’s wreath for a few years now. She watches from the balcony:

I did not like the military-style fringe epaulets on Kate Middleton’s coat, an Alexander McQueen design.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson, Leader of the Opposition Sir Keir Starmer and SNP Leader (Westminster) Ian Blackford laid their wreaths:

The Speaker of the House, Sir Lindsay Hoyle, attended a ceremony in his constituency of Chorley, Lancashire, last week. On Sunday, he presented his wreath at the Cenotaph:

Here he is with Lord Fowler, Speaker of the House of Lords:

Political party leaders and the Home Secretary, Priti Patel, are pictured in the first tweet below, along with the two Speakers:

Afterwards, a short religious service, led by the Bishop of London, takes place.

After it ends and the dignitaries around the Cenotaph leave, a military band plays a variety of music for the march past.

This must be a moving sight to contemplate:

Remembrance ceremonies took place elsewhere at the same time.

Dame Eleanor Laing MP attended a ceremony in her constituency, Epping Forest:

Remembrance Sunday is such an important day for so many — and not only those veterans who died in the Great War, but also the Second World War …

… and the many conflicts of our time.

I hope that 2021 will afford us the normal Remembrance Sunday celebrations.

Bob Moran drew this bittersweet cartoon for Remembrance Sunday for The Telegraph:

As Wednesday is November 11 — Armistice Day — millions of us will remember the gallant and brave efforts of those whom the Cenotaph commemorates: The Glorious Dead, who fought for our freedom and liberty.

In our year of coronavirus, I hope that our politicians restore those hallmarks of Western life — freedom and liberty — quickly next year.

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.

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