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In 2020, millions of Britons stood outside their houses at 8 p.m. on Thursday nights, prompted by television adverts, to applaud the NHS.

Here’s then-Health Secretary Matt Hancock on the first Thursday of the embarrassing two-minute applause sessions on March 26, 2020:

Two years later, on April 27, 2022, The Spectator‘s Tim Knox reported that public opinion of the nation’s best loved institution has fallen to a 25-year low (emphases mine):

While MPs compete to shout the loudest in their support of the UK’s health services (‘save our NHS!’), the British public has fallen out of love with it. More people are now dissatisfied with the NHS than are happy with it. This is true across all ages, income groups, sexes and voters of different political parties. Support for the NHS is now at the lowest level for a quarter of a century.

The public is right, the NHS is just not that good. Compare it, as I have done in a new report published today, with the health systems of 19 similarly well-off countries and it is hard to come to any other conclusion. UK life expectancy is down at 17 out of these 19 comparable nations. Our cancer survival rates are shockingly low. We are the worst for strokes and heart attacks. We are one from bottom for preventing treatable diseases. We are third from bottom for infant mortality. The only thing we top the charts on is helping diabetics avoid amputation. Sadly, despite the great efforts of NHS staff, our health system does not match the success rates of other nations: we come bottom of the league tables four times – more than any other country – and are in the bottom three for eight out of the 16 measures.

Tim Knox advocates for an insurance model. No, thanks. It is apparent that Knox has never lived under an insurance model. I have. Premiums and inefficiencies would only rise in the years to come.

Here’s a better idea for the NHS: root and branch reform.

The problem is that most NHS workers are unionised, so they can go on strike. Another is that they are trained to be part of an inefficient health delivery system, which would have been much better had it stuck to the basics as it did when it was founded, e.g. emergency care, broken limbs, heart problems and cancer treatment.

This tweet comes from a former NHS nurse who has since become a barrister. Her tweet from April 11, 2020, which disapproved of the applause during the pandemic, attracted many insightful replies:

The same day that Tim Knox’s article appeared — April 27, 2022 — The Spectator‘s Isabel Hardman wrote about the High Court ruling on what happened in care homes during the coronavirus pandemic.

Before going into that, Hardman raises a good point about the NHS and why the new levy on National Insurance will not help care homes. No, it won’t initially. My understanding from parliamentary debates is that the first two years’ of proceeds from the levy will be going to the NHS instead:

The phrase ‘protect the NHS’ was a powerful one in the public health messaging in the pandemic. It was also a description of where the focus lay in government. The health service was the priority, not the care homes these patients went into. There are lots of reasons for this, but one is clearly a political calculation that the NHS matters to the public in a way care of the elderly does not. That is why successive governments have been able to shirk proper social care reform. That includes this government, by the way, as its levy does nothing to improve the quantity or quality of care …

It is debatable that the NHS itself was really protected throughout the pandemic.

So, our lockdowns were all for nought.

Last month’s High Court ruling implicated former Health Secretary Matt Hancock and the erstwhile Public Health England, so it is rather useless in order for any action to be taken against either. Why did it take two years for this ruling to be made?

That said, it could come in handy for any public inquiry into how the UK Government managed the pandemic.

Hancock denies that he said that the Government was putting ‘a protective ring’ around care homes, but I watched or listened to every one of the coronavirus briefings as well as his statements in Parliament. He did use those very words, time and time again.

This is what Hardman had to say about the High Court case regarding care homes during the pandemic in 2020:

The High Court’s ruling today that the government broke the law on the discharge of patients to care homes in the early days of the pandemic further undermines the claim by the then Health Secretary Matt Hancock that ministers had thrown a ‘protective ring’ around the sector.

The case was brought by two relatives, Cathy Gardner and Fay Harris, of care home residents who died after testing positive for Covid. Their argument was that six policies in place at the start of the pandemic represented ‘one of the most egregious and devastating policy failures in the modern era‘. The fathers of Gardner and Harris were among the 20,000 people in care homes who died after testing positive between March and June 2020. The pair argued that one of the worst failures was the mass discharge of 25,000 patients from hospital to care homes without Covid testing or proper isolation arrangements in place, meaning the virus rampaged among vulnerable and frail populations. They also cited poor – and initially non-existent – advice on PPE which made it even harder to protect the residents of the homes.

The discharge policy is something politicians and NHS figures have been squabbling over for some time, despite Hancock’s ‘protective ring’ line. Was it conceived in Whitehall or in the NHS itself? The rationale behind it was that it would free up beds in hospitals ahead of the anticipated wave of Covid patients. But because some of those being discharged from hospital had Covid themselves, this led to a wave within care homes: a deadly one.

The UK was far from the only country that experienced problems in hospitals and care homes during the first wave of the pandemic in 2020. Even Swedish officials were sorry for what happened in their care homes at that time.

Something must be done, not only about the NHS but also care homes, the Cinderella of health care.

However, who in Government will take on the nation’s favourite institution? No one.

For the past several weeks, Prime Minister Boris Johnson and the Conservatives have been lagging behind Labour in the polls.

Boris and the Conservatives held the top spot for most of 2021, apart from one week in January. Their ratings began to sink in November, if I recall correctly. Initially, this had to do with Net Zero policies (far out of reach from the normal Briton), a tax increase to help pay for the NHS and rumours of parties during lockdown at No. 10 Downing Street.

Later, around Christmas, news emerged of parties dating from late 2020. More recently, news leaked about a No. 10 gathering on May 20, 2020 (during lockdown), for which Prime Minister Boris Johnson apologised during Prime Minister’s Questions on January 12, 2022:

Today, it is alleged that parties also took place in Downing Street the evening before Prince Philip’s funeral in April 2021.

For Keir Starmer and Labour to be ahead of Boris and Co for this long is a parlous state of affairs:

On January 8, 2022, GB News reported that the Conservatives were beginning to regain lost ground (emphases in purple mine throughout):

The Conservative Party has recovered some of its lost lead against the opposition Labour Party, an opinion poll showed on Saturday, but Boris Johnson’s personal ratings remain deeply negative as he faces ongoing ethics questions.

Polling company Opinium said Labour’s poll rating held at 39% in a January 5-7 survey, unchanged from late December, while support for the Conservatives rose two percentage points to 34%. The Liberal Democrats were on 11% and the Green Party was on 5% …

Johnson’s own net approval rating in the Opinium poll was minus 24%, up from minus 31% before Christmas but well behind Labour Party leader Keir Starmer at plus 3%.

Soaring inflation was also souring the public mood, with 86% of people saying their living costs had risen, the polling company said.

On Monday, January 10, the Conservatives continued to gain ground, although they still trail Labour:

Guido Fawkes noted that not moving to Plan C coronavirus restrictions over the Christmas period probably helped:

Labour’s 8 point poll lead at the end of last year has halved in the latest YouGov poll. The plunged best PM rating for Boris has bounced 6 points and Starmer’s has eroded a point, though Boris still trails. Making the right call on Omicron appears to be paying off for Boris. Who knows, if the Tories get their act together and govern a bit more like Tories, they might even regain their lead…

Moving on to coronavirus measures, a number of news items broke since the New Year, some of which relate to England only; the devolved nations have their own measures, largely socialist in nature.

Self-isolation time

On Monday, Boris said he was considering lowering the number of days that people have to self-isolate:

Guido Fawkes reported that Levelling Up Minister Michael Gove said that the current Plan B measures are likely to expire as planned on January 26.

Boris’s comment followed Gove’s on Plan B:

This follows Michael Gove’s comments earlier today on the potential lifting of Plan B measures in a few weeks, provided the NHS continues to keep Omicron under control. Looking increasingly likely that pandemic measures will – finally – wind down sooner rather than later…

On self-isolation being reduced from seven days to five, as the US is doing, Boris said:

We’re looking at [it]… we will act according to the science as we always have. But what I would say to everybody is that Omicron is still out there, it’s incredibly contagious. Everyone will know somebody who has had it, it can be pretty unpleasant.

Boris was likely reconsidering because British scientific advisers ‘misread’ US self-isolation guidance. Dr Jenny Harries, head of the UK Health Security Agency (UKHSA), is pictured:

Guido Fawkes showed the difference between the UKHSA guidance on January 1 and January 10.

Guido concludes:

The US Centres for Disease Control has now clarified their isolation periods do start after the first appearance of symptoms, giving further credence to Tory backbenchers’ calls for a cut. This country has had enough of experts…

Indeed, we have had enough of experts. Unfortunately, Jenny Harries is receiving a damehood, having been on the New Year’s Honours list.

The move for a shorter isolation period is to enable those with coronavirus to return to work as soon as possible.

It is a curious thing that, since the beginning of the pandemic in early 2020, I have seen the same shop assistants week after week. By contrast, when I watch the news, there is a plethora of public sector workers — the NHS and teachers, to name but two groups — who are constantly sick.

This tweet expresses the phenomenon well:

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On Thursday, January 13, Health Secretary Sajid Javid announced in the House of Commons that self-isolation will be reduced to five days beginning on Monday, January 17, provided that the person involved can provide two negative lateral flow test results on Days 4 and 5:

The end of mass vaccination?

On Sunday, January 9, Dr Clive Dix, the former chairman of the UK’s vaccine taskforce, said that it was time to end mass vaccination and begin urgent research into antibodies as well as T-cells.

The Observer reported:

Covid should be treated as an endemic virus similar to flu, and ministers should end mass-vaccination after the booster campaign, the former chairman of the UK’s vaccine taskforce has said.

With health chiefs and senior Tories also lobbying for a post-pandemic plan for a straining NHS, Dr Clive Dix called for a major rethink of the UK’s Covid strategy, in effect reversing the approach of the past two years and returning to a “new normality”.

“We need to analyse whether we use the current booster campaign to ensure the vulnerable are protected, if this is seen to be necessary,” he said. “Mass population-based vaccination in the UK should now end.”

He said ministers should urgently back research into Covid immunity beyond antibodies to include B-cells and T-cells (white blood cells). This could help create vaccines for vulnerable people specific to Covid variants, he said, adding: “We now need to manage disease, not virus spread. So stopping progression to severe disease in vulnerable groups is the future objective.”

On Wednesday, Professor Jeremy Brown of the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI) echoed Dr Dix’s call for a post-pandemic plan. He rightly pointed out that we do not test for influenza:

Schoolchildren suffering

I do feel for children having to wear masks, undergo regular testing at school and for being persuaded — with parental consent — to get vaccinated. My commiserations also go to their parents.

On Sunday, Education Secretary Nadhim Zahawi said that the rate of children’s vaccinations must speed up:

The topic of mask-wearing, although confined to secondary school students, came up on a recent instalment of ITV’s This Morning programme. Author and television presenter Gyles Brandreth explained how difficult this is for children with learning difficulties:

I am glad to see that pupils are refusing to wear masks: sensible kids showing common sense.

Vaccines

Having watched all the coronavirus briefings on television, I remember when either then-Health Secretary Matt Hancock or one of our senior health advisers told us that not everyone would need to get vaccinated in order to put the pandemic at bay.

This historical example from the smallpox era shows that a only relatively small percentage of people need a vaccination in order to eradicate the disease. In the case of smallpox, this was 32%:

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Yet, the UK is now jabbing children, mandating vaccine passports as well as threatening loss of employment in April 2022 to unvaccinated NHS and care home workers. WHY?

The biggest news story on this subject appeared on Friday, January 7.

The Telegraph reported that Steve James, a consultant anaesthetist at King’s College Hospital in London told Health Secretary Sajid Javid that he had had coronavirus and has the antibodies. He said he had no intention of getting a vaccine.

He said that the science does not warrant a health worker vaccine mandate:

Here is a clip from The Telegraph‘s article:

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NHS is doing well

On Sunday, Education Secretary Nadhim Zahawi said that the NHS is coping well. Eight Nightingale facilities will also be opened in the coming weeks:

Socialist policies in Scotland and Wales do not work

On Monday, January 10, talkRADIO’s Kevin O’Sullivan said that vaccine passports are not working in Scotland and Wales. He rightly wonders why Boris Johnson wanted to extend their reach in England.

Wales’s rate of infection is three times higher than England’s. Scotland recorded its highest ever number of coronavirus ‘cases’:

Dan Wootton of GB News also had plenty to say on the Welsh and Scottish approach to coronavirus:

He said:

The chilling reality of the United Kingdom under a Labour/SNP coalition was laid bare over the New Year period.

And it’s not something any of us should want to become a reality.

More on that below.

Wales

On Sunday, January 9, Prif Weinidog (First Minister) Mark Drakeford (Labour) said that Welsh coronavirus rates are lower than England’s. Note that, at one point, he did specify Welsh rates were lower than those in England’s hotspots, not the whole country. In that sentence, he told the truth, less so overall:

Drakeford came up with a few more new rules before Christmas. People couldn’t work in an office, but they could go to the pub.

Dan Wootton said:

In socialist Wales, Mark Drakeford – seemingly so intent on smashing the economy to smithereens – has started to fine honest folk £60 for going to work in an office.

Genuinely. I’m not making that up. Doesn’t matter if you’re perfectly healthy, either.

But Drakeford is the man who forced supermarkets to cordon off aisles selling toys and clothes, remember. Now the Chief Medical Officer in Wales Sir Frank Atherton is hysterically proposing that we should all self-isolate for days on end if we have a common cold.

And, with Labour’s love of restrictions, circuit breakers and draconian laws controlling our behaviour, have Welsh Covid rates been any lower than the rest of the UK? Nope!

According to government data across the pandemic, Wales has had the second highest total rate of cases per 100,000 – just under Northern Ireland – at a rate of 20,386.2.

That compares to England’s 20,174.2 and Scotland’s 17,673.4.

In the last seven days, Wales remains the second highest, again just behind Northern Ireland.

The following tweet shows another absurd aspect of the situation, with an English non-league football (soccer) club, Chester, wondering how it can survive under Drakeford’s draconian rules. Chester’s stadium lies just over the border in Wales:

This exchange shows how complicated the situation is:

Scotland

North of the Border, First Minister Nicola Sturgeon (SNP) has implemented some of the strictest coronavirus restrictions in the UK.

Dan Wootton says that these are a smokescreen for the lack of a second independence referendum. Nonetheless, he details how totalitarian they are:

In Scotland, Nicola Sturgeon prizes her role as a Covid dictator using press conferences broadcast to the nation by the BBC to spread fear and introduce harsh controls on poor Scots.

She insists it’s to keep them safe.

But in my opinion, it’s to keep the Covid crisis running for as long as possible, so she doesn’t have to face the fact her dream of a second independence referendum lies in tatters.

So to Sturgeon omicron has been a blessing, allowing her to impose new social controls essentially killing off the Scottish hospitality industry once more for months. Compare and contrast today’s [January 3] Times front pages.

The English edition reports that ministers in Westminster are confident new curbs won’t be needed, given Plan B has already been imposed and Omicron is a far less severe variant.

The Scottish edition, by contrast, reports that large public gatherings could be forbidden in Scotland well into the spring, with National Clinical Director Jason Leitch saying April will still be too early to host a postponed Hogmanay celebration in Edinburgh.

And it’s these draconian policies propagated by Sturgeon that resulted in ridiculous police overreach and brutality in Scotland that you won’t see reported in the mainstream media.

Case in point: police raiding the Avant Garde gastropub in Glasgow on New Year’s Eve, where there were around 50 folk, most of them over 60-years-old, simply trying to enjoy their night.

Then, for some reason, two large police vans carrying more than 20 officers, according to witnesses, turned up because they were suspected of breaking Sturgeon’s outrageously over the top Covid rules.

The pub may have been targeted because it displays this poster on its door saying

“We have no discrepancy over whether you want to wear a mask or not.” This is what happened when multiple cops stormed the pub…

The footage is included with this interview of the man who filmed it:

What a despicably unnecessary show of force from Scottish police who routinely fail to investigate muggings and burglaries.

But it’s not their fault, it’s Sturgeon’s for introducing such authoritarian laws, banning bar service and enforcing social distancing between groups.

Sturgeon has implemented these measures despite only ONE patient with omicron having been admitted to intensive care in Scotland. Only one!

The police claim they were simply making a ‘routine visit’, but, come on, it should never have come to this.

Sturgeon is criminalising people drinking and having a good time.

This month — and we’re less than two weeks in — she has had to backtrack on her stringent restrictions.

When the editor of the Scottish Daily Mail, Mike Blackley, asked her on December 17 if she could reduce the number of self-isolation days, she turned caustic:

Yeah, because that’d really help ’cause that would spread infections even further and that would not be doing any favours to businesses.

Guido Fawkes has an update from Wednesday, January 5:

On 22nd December, England’s Covid rules changed so infected individuals can stop isolating after seven days rather than ten, so long as they test negative on day six and seven. Six days ago Wales followed suit, and a day later Northern Ireland copied the change. Leaving one obvious outlier…

It now looks like Sturgeon will confirm the cut, with a statement expected later today and her deputy John Swinney saying yesterday that their administration is “actively considering” reducing the self-isolation period. There’s just one problem with the move if it goes ahead – it’ll be a very embarrassing U-turn on Sturgeon’s part…

So, will she now apologise to the Scottish Mail‘s Mike Blackley?

Unlikely.

Late last week, SNP MP Stewart Hosie appeared on the BBC’s Politics Live to say that Scotland had a lower number of coronavirus cases than England.

The SNP then tweeted this news, which was based on out of date statistics:

Guido Fawkes rightly called out the SNP, including a graphic of the updated statistics.

Not only does England have a lower prevalence than Scotland, it has the lowest prevalence of all four UK nations despite having almost no legal restrictions. The lockdown lovers always say they’re following the science… except when they aren’t.

Last weekend, England still had a lower prevalence of coronavirus than Scotland, which demands mask wearing and vaccine passports:

Last week, Sturgeon took exception to Boris Johnson’s idea to scrap free lateral flow tests. He wants to reserve them for ‘high-risk settings’:

On Monday, January 10, Sturgeon apparently decided Scotland will have to live with the virus. We’ll see:

The Scottish Daily Express reported:

First Minister Nicola Sturgeon will update MSPs on the latest Covid-19 situation on Tuesday

Nicola Sturgeon is under mounting pressure to scrap crippling Coronavirus restrictions after she admitted for the first time that Scots will need to “learn to live” with the virus.

The First Minister is due to announce whether an extension to Scotland’s restrictions will occur in Holyrood today, with critics claiming they have made little difference to infection rates.

Currently the rules put in place on Boxing Day to rein in the Omicron Covid-19 variant include curbs on spectator sports, the closure of nightclubs and the resumption of table service in pubs.

But speaking ahead of her statement to MSPs, the First Minister said that Scots would have to ask themselves “what adaptations to pre-pandemic life” would be required in the longer-term to “enable us to live with it [the virus] with far fewer protective measures.”

Ms Sturgeon also warned the NHS would need to be managed differently to cope with Covid in the long term with more patients treated away from hospitals.

In an interview with STV Scotland Tonight, she added: “Covid will change all of our considerations of how we manage our health service, and that will be part of the way in which we all learn to live with it over the months and years to come.

“We are in a position where we all want to get to as much normality as possible. All of us, me included, really crave that.

“But we need to recognise that this virus, although we hope Omicron is milder than previous variants, this virus still takes lives and it still causes significant health impacts for people.

“So we have got to treat it seriously and not underestimate the damage that it can do.”

It comes after Ms Sturgeon last week said the SNP-led Scottish Government would unveil a blueprint for Scots to live with the virus in the long term that would be “more proportionate and sustainable and less restrictive”.

Opposition parties in Scotland are particularly keen for these restrictions to end.

The Scottish Conservatives are the main opposition party in Holyrood:

Scottish Conservative leader Douglas Ross said: “The Scottish public need to see some light at the end of the tunnel, so it’s time for the First Minister to produce a timetable on the new strategic framework that she promised.

“People want reassurance that restrictions won’t stay in force for a moment longer than absolutely necessary.

“After almost two years of sacrifice, the public need to see a bold timetable from the Scottish Government that will enable us to live safely with Covid.”

Labour are the next largest party in opposition:

Anas Sarwar, Scottish Labour leader added: “Almost two years into the pandemic, I don’t think we have yet built the resilience in the system in order to respond appropriately to Covid.

“I think we accept that Covid is a risk to people’s health and wellbeing and we’ve also got to accept that how we respond to Covid is also a risk to people’s health and wellbeing particularly their mental health.

“I think this day by day decision making and waiting to see what may and may not be said at a press conference is not actually a good way of responding to the pandemic.

“I would like to see a framework in place that builds resilience, that sets quite clearly what the trigger mechanisms for any potential restrictions are and what those restrictions maybe and also then what the trigger mechanisms are for financial support for individual businesses …

“I don’t think the government has done that work here in Scotland and across the UK and I think we urgently need to do that work.”

The Liberal Democrat response was the best:

Alex Cole-Hamilton MSP, leader of the Scottish Lib Dems, said: “I’ve been concerned at the absence of data offered to Parliament by the SNP.

“We still don’t have a firm idea of those who are in hospital because of Omicron or who just test positive when they go in for something else.

“Without that information, Parliament can’t take a view on whether restrictions are appropriate.

“There’s no clear evidence that the enhanced restrictions in Scotland have reduced the rates of infection compared to other parts of the UK.”

Too right!

Conclusion

If Boris can return to a rational outlook on coronavirus measures, England can be the first to exit the dystopia we have found ourselves in since March 16, 2020, with lockdown implemented one week later on March 23.

Let those who wish to take precautions do so.

Let those of us who wish to live and work again do so freely, without hindrance.

The UK had another big weekend of news, which, as I said last week, is unusual, given that Christmas is just around the corner.

One of the big scoops was The Spectator‘s revelation as to why every SAGE scenario is based on a worst-case outcome.

Fraser Nelson, the magazine’s editor, had an online exchange with Graham Medley from SAGE, which can be seen in his article, ‘My Twitter conversation with the chairman of the Sage Covid modelling committee’, which is a must-read.

Excerpts follow, emphases mine.

Medley is a professor at London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine (LSHTM). Last week, LSHTM published another alarming set of figures for the Omicron variant that, naturally, make the case for more lockdowns.

By contrast, JP Morgan came up with a different conclusion after looking at LSHTM’s data:

JP Morgan had a close look at this study and spotted something big: all the way through, LSHTM assumes that the Omicron variant is just as deadly as Delta. ‘But evidence from South Africa suggests that Omicron infections are milder,’ JP Morgan pointed out in a note to clients.

JP Morgan concluded:

Bed occupancy by Covid-19 patients at the end of January would be 33% of the peak seen in January 2021. This would be manageable without further restrictions.

Fraser Nelson says:

So JP Morgan had shown that, if you tweak one assumption (on severity) then – suddenly – no need for lockdown.

Nelson went online to find out why LSHTM didn’t do the same thing:

Medley seems to imply that the Government wants the worst case scenario:

Nelson says:

Note how careful he is to stay vague on whether any of the various scenarios in the Sage document are likely or even plausible. What happened to the original system of presenting a ‘reasonable worse-case scenario’ together with a central scenario? And what’s the point of modelling if it doesn’t say how likely any these scenarios are?

From what Prof Medley says, it’s unclear that the most-likely scenario is even being presented to ministers this time around. So how are they supposed to make good decisions? I highly doubt that Sajid Javid is only asking to churn out models that make the case for lockdown. That instruction, if it is being issued, will have come from somewhere else.

He concludes that there is an ethical issue with SAGE’s pronouncements:

Prof. Robert Dingwall, until recently a JCVI [Joint Committee on Vaccines and Immunisation] expert, has said that Medley’s candour reveals “a fundamental problem of scientific ethics in Sage” – ie, a hardwired negativity bias.  “The unquestioning response to the brief is very like that of SPI-B’s behavioural scientists,” he says and suggests that the Covid inquiry looks into all this.

At a time when we have just been given a new set of ‘scenarios’ for a new year lockdown it might be good if someone – if not Prof Medley – would clear up what assumptions lie behind the new 6,000-a-day-dead scenario, and if emerging information from South Africa about Omicron and its virulence have been taken into account. And how probable it is that a double-jabbed and increasingly boosted nation (with 95 per cent antibody coverage) could see this worst-case scenario come to pass.

In my view, this raises serious questions not just about Sage but about the quality of the advice used to make UK lockdown decisions. And the lack of transparency and scrutiny of that advice. The lives of millions of people rests on the quality of decisions, so the calibre of information supplied matters rather a lot – to all of us.

Too right.

I haven’t believed SAGE at all, from the beginning. I am also still angry about how much taxpayers’ money has been pumped in for a pandemic that needed a common sense solution in March 2020, such as, ‘There are a lot of unknowns here. We will provide updates. However, we advise that anyone who feels sick to get a test then isolate at home for 10 days. Keep your distance from those outside your household. Keep your hands clean. Above all: use the same precautions you would in any potentially contagious environment.’

That’s it in a nutshell. Not a lot more needed to be said.

But no.

We plebs couldn’t have that. We cannot be trusted.

Chief Medical Officer Prof Chris Whitty implied that we do not know what we are talking about.

This video is from Whitty’s appearance before a parliamentary Select Committee on Thursday, December 16. Dean Russell MP (Conservative) asked him whether the NHS risks prioritising the virus over cancer. While it might not be Dean Russell’s view, this is a prevailing opinion among many members of the public.

Whitty wasted no time in shooting that down, saying that we do not understand ‘health’ and insisting that lockdowns helped to save the NHS, which would have collapsed otherwise. Along with Prof Gordon Wishart, I also beg to differ, but here is the exchange:

People are frustrated:

General practitioners are wrapped up in this, too:

Coronavirus has overtaken their surgeries. It was already nearly impossible to get an online appointment, never mind one in person. As of last week, GPs’ priority from the Government is to dispense boosters:

No, pandemics are not a regular occurrence, but the NHS should be prepared to deal with one.

On Monday, December 20, Boris convened the Cabinet for a two-hour meeting to discuss the possibility of imposing a Christmas lockdown in England. Sir Patrick Vallance presented a doom-and-gloom scenario.

Bear in mind that Boris is skating on thin ice at the moment politically. A lockdown might have caused some of them to resign their Cabinet positions.

In the end, they decided not to go for a lockdown in England, at least over Christmas weekend:

Well, five of them did, at least.

Foreign Secretary Liz Truss had to leave early:

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Guido Fawkes has more (red emphasis his, the purple one mine):

The Times and Telegraph have the most comprehensive write-ups, reporting Rishi, Steve Barclay and Grant Shapps were those leading the sceptics’ charge. The Times reports Jacob Rees-Mogg had a prolonged argument with Vallance about their modelling, telling Boris to trust the people rather than the scientists. Truss, Kwarteng, Alister Jack, Nadhim Zahawi and Nigel Adams are all also reportedly sceptical about the threat of Omicron…

On the other side of the divide backing restrictions, according to The Telegraphare (unsurprisingly) Javid and Gove; Nadine Dorries and Chief secretary to the Treasury Simon Clarke. We can only presume the PM also errs towards this group. There’s set to be one more Cabinet before Christmas day that could still decide to recall MPs before New Year.

Katy Balls of The Spectator reports that this is the first time in ages that the Cabinet has been consulted on coronavirus policy:

So what happened in that meeting? ‘Boris did a great job and encouraged a proper discussion and respected other views,’ says one minister. ‘He had quite a lot humility’. Michael Gove was, as usual, leading the arguments for more lockdown. But this was based on Sage forecasts of what might happen which have lost some credibility in the eyes of Cabinet members who were — for the first time in a while — genuinely being consulted.

Boris knows he’s in trouble:

Several members of Johnson’s Cabinet are vocally opposed to new restrictions. They argue that there needs to be clearer data before any restrictions are brought in – with whispers of resignations if Johnson pressed on without this. These members of government hope that more time will offer clarity that could show omicron is milder than previous variants.

Behind the scenes, the Chancellor is understood to have played a key role warning against rushing into decisions that could cost billions. Other ministers keen to see more modelling include Commons leader Jacob Rees-Mogg and Transport Secretary Grant Shapps (“although it was never quite clear what he was saying,” I’m told.) Other ministers have been pressing on Johnson the idea of limiting any new measures to guidance.

But when Johnson emerged talking about the need to observe the data, and questions about Omicron’s severity, he was using the language of those who opposed lockdown. They argue, in effect, that Sage models cannot be trusted as they are composed of hypotheticals – and that we need to wait for real-world data. The next few days of hospital data, it’s argued, will tell us much about how severe Omicron is and if lockdown is needed. Data is emerging not just from South Africa (where cases now seem to be falling) but Denmark where Omicron has been found to be significantly less likely to put patients in hospital. At least some Sage modellers produced figures on the assumption that Omicron is no less likely to hospitalise or kill: one scenario talks about deaths peaking a day

Johnson faces a parliamentary party filled with MPs vehemently opposed to any new restrictions and who could question his ability to lead as a result. When the Whips office sent a note around this afternoon telling MPs that the parliamentary away day has been cancelled, one messaged me to say:

‘It’s probably for the best. If we were all in one place for a few days, we could work out a successor’

But there are Tory MPs who believe action is required. One senior Tory concludes:

‘This is a Prime Minister paralysed between science and his backbenchers. It’s depressing.’ 

The Times reports on Leader of the House Jacob Rees-Mogg’s words of wisdom. He, too, read Fraser Nelson’s article. Good man:

Jacob Rees-Mogg, leader of the Commons, said the government should trust people to do the right thing rather than introduce further restrictions. He said many people had voluntarily changed their behaviour as the threat posed by Omicron became clear.

The prime minister said Rees-Mogg’s argument was interesting but asked how he would justify his approach at a press conference. He said that as prime minister he had to look after everyone’s health. Rees-Mogg is understood to have responded: “I would stand up and say I respect them for doing the right thing.” The prime minister is said to have suggested that this would not be enough if the NHS were at risk of being overwhelmed.

Rees-Mogg is also understood to have criticised official modelling suggesting that without further action 3,000 Omicron patients a day could need a hospital bed. He asked if Johnson had read an article by Fraser Nelson, editor of The Spectator, questioning the assumptions behind the data.

Sir Patrick Vallance, the chief scientific adviser, is said to have responded directly to Rees-Mogg that the modelling had included scenarios where the Omicron variant was deemed less severe than the Delta variant.

If so, why did Vallance not present those data?

Boris made a brief announcement after the Cabinet meeting, saying that he is still keeping all options open after Christmas:

On Wednesday, December 22, Health minister Gillian Keegan told LBC’s Nick Ferrari not make firm plans for New Year’s parties because of ongoing ‘uncertainty’:

As people have been cancelling dinner reservations and reneging on trips to the pub, Chancellor Rishi Sunak has had to come up with a £1bn compensation plan for the hospitality sector, which amounts to £6000 per business. A nightclub owner says it’s ‘insulting’. I agree with the person replying — just drop any remaining restrictions:

When is this going to end?

Oh, well. At least we’re not in the socialist nations of Scotland or Wales, where things have been far worse and continue so to be.

Two videos of interest follow concerning coronavirus vaccines, including boosters.

On Monday, December 13, 2021, Health Secretary Sajid Javid said in Parliament that NHS work would be largely paused to focus on the booster programme, with which the British Army will help administer.

An oncologist, Prof. Angus Dalgleish from St George’s Hospital, London, told GB News that the booster programme was ‘a waste of time’, because the new Omicron variant is so infectious. He is concerned that many other ailments, cancer, in particular, will go untreated. He says that a relatively mild cancer which goes undetected can become Stage 4 cancer, bringing about more fatalities from non-COVID illnesses. As for the vaccines, he says that the focus should be on T-cells rather than antibodies, which can disappear over time.

This is around six minutes in length and well worth watching:

A longer video about the vaccines is on Parliamentlive.tv. I recommend the first 40 minutes with Dame Kate Bingham, Former Chair, UK Vaccine Taskforce. (Scroll through the first 10 minutes or so, as the start was delayed.) On December 14, 2021, Dame Kate told the Science and Technology Select Committee how the vaccine programme, which was her big success last year, has begun to falter.

She has been out of the taskforce for a year now. She told the Select Committee that she left a detailed plan behind of how to proceed: staying ahead of the curve both with variants and vaccine supply. She surmises that her plan has not been followed, for whatever reason, because the vaccine rollout has become inefficient.

The most eye-opening part was her discussion of the Valneva lab in Livingston, Scotland. Dame Kate said that the Government recently withdrew funding from the facility because they wanted booster shots only; Valneva produces whole-virus vaccines, which are seen to be more adaptable in the long run.

Valneva was supposed to be 2021’s big success story. Prime Minister Boris Johnson visited the facility earlier this year.

Although Valneva is a French company, in February, they were willing to ship their vaccines to the UK first, because the EU had not yet signed a letter of intent:

Guido Fawkes reported that the vaccine would be ready in 2022 (emphasis in the original):

This morning it was revealed that the UK has exercised its option to purchase a further 40 million doses of a promising new vaccine from Valneva SE, a French vaccine developer with its product still in stage 1/2 trials. While the vaccine would not be available until next year it could prove vital in defending against new strains as the UK deploys what will likely be an annual vaccination effort similar to the massive flu jabs programme. The UK had already ordered 60 million doses, bringing the total to 100 million…

Valneva SE CFO David Lawrence told the Today Programme that whilst the UK has been in discussions and had signed deals since the summer of 2020, the EU is yet to sign even a letter of intent with the firm, which is headquartered in Paris.

In April, The Scotsman reported that Valneva was searching for Phase 3 trial volunteers for their promising vaccine, being developed ahead of schedule for delivery at the end of 2021 (emphases mine; sorry about the font size, which I was unable to change):

The UK has ordered 100 million doses of the Valneva vaccine, which are set to be delivered at the end of 2021 and beginning of 2022.

With all adults due to have been vaccinated by the end of the summer, Valneva hopes its vaccine will be used as a booster jag or as a modified vaccine which is more effective against new variants of Covid-19.

The phase 3 trial will run in 24 sites across the UK, with two in Scotland. It is open to healthy adults who have not already had a vaccine.

Around 3,000 people over 30 will be given either two doses of the Valneva vaccine or two doses of the AstraZeneca jag.

Following JCVI guidance not to offer AstraZeneca to under 30s, around 1,000 younger participants in the study will be given only the Valneva option.

Volunteers will be given two doses, 28 days apart, starting at the beginning of May.

Thomas Lingelbach, Valneva chief executive, said: “This Phase 3 initiation marks a significant milestone in the development of the only inactivated vaccine candidate against Covid-19 in clinical trials in Europe.

“As Covid-19 continues to impact people’s daily lives, we remain fully focused on developing another safe and efficacious vaccine solution.

“We believe that VLA2001 has an important role to play including boosters or potential modifications to the vaccine to address variants.”

Valneva’s candidate is an inactivated whole virus vaccine, which contains virus that has been destroyed so cannot infect cells, but can still trigger an immune response.

The technology is used in flu, polio and rabies vaccines, and it’s a more traditional approach than the Pfizer (mRNA) and AstraZeneca (adenoviral) vaccines.

Because the vaccine doesn’t contain any live virus, it may be especially suitable for vulnerable people, such as the elderly or those with weaker immune systems.

On November 31, Daily Business reported that the UK Government might return to the negotiating table with Valneva, which they had accused of breach of contract:

UK Government ministers may be about to return to the negotiating table with French vaccine developer Valneva two months after cancelling a contract to supply Covid vaccines from its plant in Livingston.

A source close to the situation says it is hoped the UK Government will “seek an amicable resolution” and at least partially reinstate the £1.2bn order to help combat the new Omicron variant.

Westminster terminated the deal in September, claiming breach of contract, a move that drew criticism from business leaders, senior academics and politicians.

The government had placed an order for 100 million doses of its VLA2001 vaccine after increasing its request by 40 million last February. Then, without warning, it pulled the plug.

It placed a question mark over the future of the firm’s new West Lothian factory, a globally-qualified manufacturing site for viral vaccines including VLA2001.

The company is currently supplying, or is in discussion, with other countries about potential deals for the vaccine.

For once, I agree with Scottish National Party (SNP) MPs; they rightly deplore the Government’s withdrawal of the Valneva order.

Dame Kate Bingham pointed out that, because Valneva’s vaccine is a whole virus one rather than one with just the protein spikes, e.g. Moderna’s, it can be modified quickly to attack new variants. Moderna’s and Pfizer’s, on the other hand, require months of work.

Dame Kate called Valneva ‘nimble’. She added that, even if the UK were not interested in the vaccine, other countries around the world would want it, which can only be a positive for Britain.

One wonders how many other stories there are like this.

People in England are ready to comply with Government measures on the new Omicron variant.

The measures went into effect at 4 a.m. on Tuesday, November 30 and include compulsory face coverings in shops and on public transport:

Most Britons would like to see more mask mandates in secondary schools:

On that basis, one wonders if theatre and cinema audiences will stay at home over Christmas:

Most of us are following Omicron news:

Mixed public opinion

Despite the uniformity of YouGov’s survey results, opinion is more mixed, as GB News discovered when discussing the new measures on Carnaby Street in the heart of London. Everyone had a different opinion:

Mixed messages from Government ministers and advisers

Government ministers are trying to be measured in their assessment of the new variant.

On Wednesday, December 1, the Daily Mail had a round-up of the mixed messaging.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson and Health Secretary Sajid Javid held a press conference on booster shots the afternoon before.

Boris wants people in England to carry on with Christmas plans (emphases mine):

Prime Minister Boris Johnson urged people not to cancel Christmas parties or school nativity plays. He also promised to ‘throw everything’ at the booster vaccination campaign to tackle the virus’s spread.

Sajid Javid is cautious:

There are ‘no guarantees’ that there won’t be a lockdown this Christmas, the Health Secretary warned today.

In an ominous shift in tone from recent days, Sajid Javid insisted another festive shutdown was ‘not the plan’, but said: ‘We can’t rule out any particular measure at this point in time because we always have to look at the data and do what we need to protect people.’

He even urged people to take Covid tests before going to Christmas parties and wear facemasks while partying amid mounting fears about the so-called ‘Omicron’ variant … 

Asked if he would wear a mask if he was at a Christmas party, Mr Javid told Sky News’s Kay Burley: ‘It depends if I am walking around or sitting down. It depends if I’m eating. People just need to make a decision based on the guidance.’

Elsewhere, Dr Jenny Harries, who heads the ominous sounding UK Health Security Agency, is not keen on group celebrations:

Dr Jenny Harries recommended people reduce the extent to which they socialise this winter – in a hint that restrictions could go further.

Last year, Harries discouraged going to pubs in one of the televised coronavirus briefings, so this comes as no surprise.

Another NHS bigwig also issued a warning to health staff:

Saffron Cordery, deputy chief executive of NHS Providers, which represents NHS trusts, said some NHS organisations had asked staff ‘not to mix in big groups’ in the run-up to Christmas owing to fears off staff absences.

Understandably, the hospitality industry is concerned about the reaction to Omicron:

Hospitality leaders now fear another hammering to their industry this December. Kate Nicholls, the chief executive of UKHospitality, told Radio 4’s Today programme that Saturday’s press conference had had a ‘chilling effect on consumer confidence’. She warned against ‘the threat of a stop-start to the economy again’ in the run up to Christmas

‘I think it’s driven largely by consumer confiden[ce]. I think there’s also a sense of trepidation that their plans might be disrupted again, and so that irrespective of whether there are government controls imposed on the economy, that is having a cooling effect undoubtedly on hospitality.

We already saw that bookings were subdued this year compared to pre-pandemic levels. And this will clearly have a further adverse impact on our businesses.’

Trouble started for the travel industry almost immediately after last Saturday’s press conference:

New curbs on global travel including the addition of 10 countries to the UK’s so-called ‘red list’, a return of testing rules, and quarantine hotels have also spooked travellers – and sparked a wave of cancellations of bookings at airport hotels

The Arora Group said travellers who stay at hotels at Heathrow, Gatwick and Stansted airports before catching early morning flights are axing their December bookings. They are even suspending corporate events at the four-star Fairmont in Windsor in January due to mounting uncertainty about the spread of the Covid variant, group chairman Surinder Arora said.

He told the Today programme: ‘It’s been a bit of a rollercoaster ride. Obviously we had the quarantine hotels at the beginning of this year, and then over the past few weeks as we’ve been trying to return to some kind of normality, most of the hotels have gone back to operating normal commercial hotels.

‘And then of course last week we were hit with this new virus, so sadly that’s all changed again and the Government’s obviously introduced 10 new countries on the red list which means they need a few hotels to go on the quarantine programme.

‘Over the last few weeks, when the quarantine finished we were thankful for getting back to some kind of normality. Since this latest news, instead of getting new bookings the guys are getting a lot of cancellations

‘And not just the leisure business, we’re getting quite a few bookings cancelled for meetings and events. I know, for instance, some of the larger bookings – we just recently opened our new flagship at the Fairmont in Windsor, and they actually had big large corporates who had bookings in January who are saying ”actually, we may want to push it back to further, later in the year to get some more clarity on where we’re heading”.’

It’s all so sad. If only the Government were less cowed by health advisers.

Behavioural scientist Susan Michie and the BBC

Speaking of health advisers, SAGE and Independent SAGE member Susan Michie, an avowed Communist, has been making the rounds on the BBC once again.

In July, one week before our Freedom Day on the 19th — already delayed from June — she disparaged scientists who wanted to lift lockdown:

To behavioural scientists, we are things to be manipulated:

On Monday, November 29, The Times had a scathing, yet accurate, article: ‘The BBC has a blind spot over the bias of its Covid expert Susan Michie’.

Excerpts follow:

Professor Susan Michie, of University College London, a super-rich longstanding member of the Communist Party of Britain, was lined up as a main expert to pass judgment on the prime minister’s announcement of measures to tackle the new Omicron variant.

Michie, dubbed “Stalin’s nanny” when she was a student at Oxford, is often simply introduced as someone who sits on the Sage committee, the government’s Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies.

This doesn’t tell the whole story: Michie is part of the Covid-19 Scientific Pandemic Influenza Behaviour team (SPI-B), a sub-group of Sage made up of almost 50 people from many disciplines and backgrounds. In other words, Michie is one voice — and not necessarily the most important — in the room.

She is not a medical doctor or a virologist but a health psychologist. What overarching qualifications she has to pass judgment on air — and so often — on a range of pandemic policies is open to question

She has tweeted that “China has a socialist, collective system … not an individualistic, consumer-oriented, profit-driven society badly damaged by 20 years of failed neoliberal economic policies”.

Michie’s revolutionary viewsshe is said to be dedicated to establishing a socialist order in the UKare surely relevant when evaluating her critique of pandemic policies.

However, by Wednesday, Susan Michie had appeared three times on the BBC, which every household in Britain has to pay for via the licence ‘fee’ (tax?):

Guido Fawkes had a video and an article:

Guido cites The Times‘s second article on the BBC’s invitations to Michie (purple emphases mine):

It’s not just Guido criticising the corporation’s attitude here. In a Times article yesterday, senior Cambridge University clinical research associate Raghib Ali said:

“I think it would have been helpful to say to the viewers there may have been a conflict of interest. I also think scientists’ track record should be taken into account. For example Professor Michie’s organisation Independent Sage has repeatedly made inaccurate forecasts overestimating infections since July.”

Professor Simon Clarke, associate professor in cellular microbiology at Reading University, also said:

“I see nothing wrong with Professor Michie being given air time, but it should be in a more balanced way. But that’s not her responsibility to ensure, it’s the BBC’s.”

Only ITV’s Good Morning Britain has told the truth about Michie:

So far the only prime time presenter to call out Michie’s hardline beliefs for the transparency of viewers is Richard Madeley

Coronavirus cousins could help combat Covid variants

In better news, a London consortium of scientists posits that the common cold, also a type of coronavirus in some cases, could help fight COVID-19 variants.

On November 30, The Times reported:

Professor James Moon, a consultant cardiologist who last week was named on a list of the world’s most influential researchers, is chief investigator of the Covidsortium, a group of researchers from University College London (UCL) and St Bartholomew’s Hospital that was assembled before the start of the first UK pandemic wave in March 2020. Showing remarkable foresight and, in research terms, unprecedented speed, Moon and his colleagues recruited 400 hospital staff working with infected patients in a bid to find out how and why some of the health workers might be more susceptible to infection than others. Funding was sourced — initially through a JustGiving campaign, then boosted with a significant contribution from the investment bank Goldman Sachs — in a matter of days.

Within a week they had collected blood, saliva and nasal samples and continuing data from the participants, and produced findings that informed policy from very early in the pandemic. “It is information that has proven impossibly valuable,” Moon says. “It provides the only cohort of samples taken before anyone had been infected or had a vaccination or booster.”

To date the team has published more than 20 papers, with more in the pipeline, and its attention is turning to Omicron and whether revisions to vaccines will be necessary to defy it …

clues to how new vaccines might be developed could evolve from the most recent published findings of the Covidsortium, which identified “parts of the virus that might make for a very good vaccine that may be effective against different variants”.

Reporting in the journal Nature, the team discovered that blood samples taken from about one in ten of their participants revealed markers that showed they had been exposed to Covid, yet didn’t fall ill. Unlike people who are asymptomatic — those infected with Covid but who don’t develop symptoms — this small group appeared to evade it altogether, remaining uninfected and without symptoms or a positive test.

What their blood samples did show, however, was that a subset of T-cells known to recognise and react to coronavirus appeared to have been present and poised for action even before the pandemic took hold. And the reason these people seemed to be super-protected could be down to the common cold

However, this is more complex than catching a cold and thinking that it offers protection against coronavirus:

There are more than 200 cold viruses — none is exactly the same and only about 10 per cent are caused by coronaviruses. The chances of you catching the right cold at the right time to prime your defences is minimal. And even if you did catch the right sort of cold early on, any added resistance it may have provided has probably waned.

Omicron might have been a blessing in disguise, because Covidsortium was planning on disbanding in April 2022. They now plan to continue their research:

Moon says that the team had planned to wind down their research programme next April because immunity would be waning — until last week when Omicron scuppered that. “We are clearly going to have to keep going as our research still has so much relevance,” he says. “We have samples from so many people stored in our freezers and they contain so much unique information about their antibodies and T-cells, and the questions that only we can answer are not running out.”

I wish them every success.

Let there be light

In further happier news, Parliament’s Christmas tree is casting light in the darkness.

The Lord Speaker — John McFall, Lord McFall of Alcluith — is delighted to make up for lost time:

We must make the best of this time, knowing our restrictions could be far worse. We only have to look at the EU to see that: full lockdowns in some countries, with the possibility of mandatory vaccinations in all EU nations.

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

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

UK in crisis

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

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

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

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

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

Maddening.

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

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

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

Good for them.

Conference theme disappointing

The conference theme was … Build Back Better.

How awful.

Here it is draped across Central Station Manchester:

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

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

As The Telegraph‘s Madeline Grant wrote:

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

Sunday, October 3

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Spectator has more on the interview.

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

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

Theresa May’s former deputy Damian Green welcomed attendees

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, October 4

Monday opened with the latest ConservativeHome popularity poll.

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

Guido analysed the results, excerpted below:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Guido recapped their amusing exchange:

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

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, October 5

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

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

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

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

Guido’s post includes a quote and this summary:

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

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

Guido had a chat with her:

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

Rishi Sunak addressed the Northern Powerhouse Leaders’ Lunch.

Guido says:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Polling stable

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

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

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

What Government should do next

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

Guido says:

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tomorrow: Boris’s keynote speech

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

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

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

This is the current situation:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

He concluded his statement with this:

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

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

Boris Johnson responded:

He added:

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

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

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

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

Health Secretary Sajid Javid vowed to make every penny count …

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Only five Conservative MPs voted against the bill:

However, 37 Conservatives abstained.

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

However, YouGov’s poll results were much closer:

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

And what happens if Labour are in charge again someday?

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

Both houses of Parliament returned from summer recess today.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Johnson wants to be seen as a One Nation PM.

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

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

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

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

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

Guido Fawkes has come up with more opposition:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, July 19, 2021, will not be the long-awaited Freedom Day in England, just an unlocking for larger gatherings and venues, including theatres, nightclubs and strip clubs.

Mask wearing will still be ‘expected’.

In his coronavirus briefing on Monday, July 12, Prime Minister Boris Johnson no longer used the words ‘terminus’ or ‘irreversible’. In fact, he warned about the winter months ahead.

Health Secretary Sajid Javid had announced the very same in his statement to the Commons earlier that afternoon.

At this point, I doubt that we will see any semblance of pre-coronavirus normality until next year. We might even have to have coronavirus passports. Here is the minister in charge of the vaccination programme, Nadhim Zahawi:

Incidentally, French president Emmanuel Macron announced his plans for such passports on Monday for France. He also suggested that vaccinations could be made mandatory if there is not enough take up.

The Telegraph summarised the position in England (emphases mine):

People will be expected to continue wearing masks in indoor spaces, a stricture that will no doubt remain a requirement of entry for shops and hospitality venues as well as being mandated on public transport. Companies eager for their staff to return to the office have been left in an impossible position by ambiguous guidance about working from home. Employees are not being told to stay away but nor are they expected to go to work.

Since Mr Johnson previously said it was “now or never” to end these restrictions, the inescapable conclusion is that it is to be never. If they are to be requirements now, in the middle of summer, how will they not be in the autumn and winter when the number of Covid and flu cases will rise? Some scientists, indeed, have argued that distancing and face coverings should be made permanent.

In the Commons, the Health Secretary, Sajid Javid, confirmed the new tone, saying that next Monday would not be a terminus after all but another step on the road back to normality, though with no indication of when that might be.

If there are good public health reasons for this circumspection then let ministers say so and produce the evidence to justify it. If, however, the four tests set for a full reopening have been met – as Mr Javid told MPs they had been – then let it happen. Worryingly, however, the pledge of an “irreversible” course out of lockdown is no longer being heard.

It is, of course, to be welcomed that Stage 4 of the road map will be implemented next Monday. But for as long as ministerial pronouncements seeking to influence how we should behave stay in place, “Freedom Day” will remain some way off.

The Telegraph‘s Sherelle Jacobs wrote an excellent editorial on the subject: ‘Boris Johnson has lost his nerve and condemned us to Covid no-man’s land’.

She points out that, despite the stellar vaccine rollout, the Government’s response to the virus is essentially the same as it was early in 2020:

I do not envy the Prime Minister. He is having to make decisions in the face of violent resistance from scientists who have strayed far beyond their proper roles as apolitical advisers. It is, however, astonishing that 16 months and 45 million vaccinations later, our basic approach to Covid is still no more sophisticated than it was in March 2020.

She sees the NHS as the tail wagging the British dog, which, by the way, is also true in the devolved nations (Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland):

No 10’s priority appears to remain to “protect the NHS” at all costs. Restrictions are still deemed to be a vital tool to prevent ICUs becoming overwhelmed. Far from Britain breaking free, one can only conclude that our liberties will be tethered to ICU capacity indefinitely, with the Government loosening and tightening the reins as Covid fluctuates with the seasons.

The Government may think that it has public opinion on its side. Recent polling suggests that a sizeable proportion of the population would be happy for some restrictions to remain forever, even once the threat of Covid has faded …

The only answer is reforming the NHS:

There is one obvious way out of this. If the NHS is so precious that it is in danger of being overwhelmed even after one of the most comprehensive vaccination programmes in history, then the priority now must be to reform the service to make it fit for purpose. Germany, for instance, with its insurance-based model, has more than four times as many critical care beds per capita as Britain.

The NHS has become the new secular national religion in Britain.

Applauding it last year over so many Thursday nights at 8 o’clock has put it on a pedestal it might not wholly deserve:

The NHS has become Britain’s all-consuming project, the millstone around its neck and the cloying source of confected national pride. Its hold over the country is so powerful that even a so-called libertarian Conservative PM decided this week to risk sacrificing our ordinary freedoms rather than dare to reform it.

She adds an interesting fact about NHS financing in 1948, when it was founded:

As noble as the idea behind the NHS might have been, it is founded on delusions about Britain’s finances. (Indeed Westminster initially partly bankrolled it with foreign money, splitting 1940s Marshall aid between its domestic healthcare dreams and ailing colonial dominions).

We cannot go on like this forever, even though some would like to do so:

the downsides of lockdowns are becoming too enormous to ignore. Their effectiveness is limited in free Western countries plagued by widespread low-level non-compliance and inadequate infection control in care homes and hospitals. Contrastingly, the damage lockdowns cause is limitless – from decimating mental health to destroying children’s education. It is extraordinary that, even now, Johnson only pays lip service to this inescapable truth.

The biggest problem for the foreseeable future will be masks, especially as the Government says they are ‘expected’ in crowded, enclosed spaces. What does that really mean?

Another Telegraph article, by The Spectator‘s Anglo-American Kate Andrews, offers a suggestion to make things clearer:

Boris Johnson’s message last night was that he ‘expects and recommends’ that people continue to wear masks in ‘crowded’ and ‘enclosed’ spaces, or where you come into contact with strangers: a vague, yet seemingly large request. The message could be far more simple: be aware of your surroundings and make an informed decision. This would be a real breakaway from our Covid lifestyles, and a return to the notion of personal responsibility.

The continuation of masks and compliance in this regard could be interpreted in a sinister way:

Perhaps the mask debate playing out now is the one we should have had in the first place. After the Government’s most senior medical and scientific advisers spent months last spring telling the public not to buy or wear masks, the rule changed to mandate them on public transport, punishable by fines. Did we need to criminalise people for not wearing a mask, or might guidance have done the trick? But even now, the push for guidance often reveals itself as a push to keep emergency laws — not to be clearer with the public, but to be harsher.

There has been consensus throughout the pandemic that the British public have been wonderful: thoughtful and willing to uphold their social contract to strangers, to protect the lives of the vulnerable and elderly. Now, as their freedoms are set to be returned, that consensus is breaking. It seems when some were praising the public, they were really praising the rules that hovered over them.

Perhaps so. It is a sobering thought.

In any event, July 19 will not be Freedom Day by any stretch of the imagination. It will certainly not affect me personally, especially if I am still expected to wear a face covering.

I had been looking forward to going out for a long, languorous, maskless lunch in London next month. That will have to wait, probably until 2022.

On the evening of Saturday, June 26, many Britons were relieved that Prime Minister Boris Johnson appointed a new Secretary of State for Health and Social Care so soon after Matt Hancock’s resignation.

Although lockdown supporters say that Sajid Javid has no experience in health, that is why many of us think he is a good choice. He will give the department a fresh pair of eyes and a new perspective, one that isn’t tied to SAGE or ‘our NHS’, which has become a cult religion over the past 16 months (March 2020 – June 2021).

Since the pandemic began, it has become very difficult being able to see a general practitioner (GP) in person.

The Telegraph‘s Ross Clark wrote (emphases mine):

… many patients struggle to get a doctor to see them even at the surgery. Hancock’s vision of us all consulting medical staff via smartphone app doesn’t allow for the fact that, according to Ofcom, only 55 percent of the over-65s – ie those who need the NHS the most – use a smartphone. Even if it did, it ignores the views of cancer specialists who have warned that cancer is often diagnosed via subtle changes in a patient’s appearance – something you can’t capture by uploading a photograph of a spot.

Hopefully, the new health secretary will bring a keen eye to Hancock’s failures and won’t shy away from tackling vested interests so that we can a real doctor, in real life, when we need to.

GB News covered the appointment on their Sunday morning programme:

TalkRADIO’s Julia Hartley-Brewer also thought Javid’s appointment was good news:

Mark Harper MP of the Covid Recovery Group (CRG) in Parliament tweeted his congratulations:

The Sunday Times said that Carrie Johnson, who once worked for Javid in government, was influential in getting him the job:

The Mayor of London appeared on Andrew Marr’s show on Sunday to congratulate a fellow son of a bus driver (video here):

This confused Deputy Labour Leader Angela Rayner, who also said ‘fragrant’ instead of ‘flagrant’ in an interview this week:

Later that day, Times journalist Steven Swinford was told that the security camera in Hancock’s former office — now Javid’s — had been turned off:

Monday’s front page of the Telegraph reported a positive outlook from the new Health Secretary:

That morning, Javid gave an interview to Sky News expressing his desire for a quick lifting of coronavirus restrictions:

However, as Guido Fawkes pointed out, Javid has voted with the Government on continuing restrictions (emphasis in the original):

Co-conspirators will be relieved to hear that given hitherto he has voted in favour of every lockdown. Javid also confirmed the notorious camera lurking in his new office has now been disabled, though not by him personally…

Late Monday afternoon, Javid delivered his first statement in Parliament as Health Secretary. Excerpts from Hansard follow, emphases mine.

He stated the positives about the vaccine rollout, beginning with a brief tribute to Hancock:

I want to take this opportunity to pay tribute to my predecessor, my right hon. Friend the Member for West Suffolk (Matt Hancock), who has worked hard throughout all these testing times. He achieved a great amount in the work that he did, and I know that he will have more to offer in public life. I wish him the very best.

There remains a big task ahead of us to restore our freedoms—freedoms that, save in the gravest of circumstances, no Government should ever wish to curtail. My task is to help to return the economic and cultural life that makes this country so great, while, of course, protecting life and our NHS. That task has been made all the more difficult by the delta variant, which we now know makes up some 95% of new cases in the UK. Not only does it spread more easily, but the evidence points to a higher risk of those who have not been vaccinated needing hospital treatment, compared with the previously dominant alpha variant.

This narrowing of the race between the virus and the vaccine led to this Government’s difficult decision to pause step 4 on our road map until 19 July. We are using this extra time to protect as many people as we can. When the Government took that decision on 14 June, more than 4.3 million over-40s had had a first dose but not a second. The figure is now down to 3.2 million people over 40. We can all be reassured by how many more people are getting the life-saving opportunity that a vaccine offers.

At this two-week review point, I want to update the House on our progress on our road map to freedom. Our aim is that around two thirds of all adults in this country will have had both doses by 19 July. We are bringing forward second doses, and bringing forward our target for first doses too, so we can meet that 19 July goal. Vaccine uptake remains sky-high. We have seen that age is no barrier to enthusiasm for getting the jab: as of this weekend, more than half of adults under 30 have taken up the chance to be vaccinated—including, in the past couple of weeks, all three of my own adult children.

Our vaccines are working, including against the delta variant. The latest modelling from Public Health England shows that they have saved more than 27,000 lives and have prevented more than 7 million people from getting covid-19. We know that, after a single dose of vaccine, the effectiveness is lower against the new delta variant, at around a 33% reduction in symptomatic disease, but two doses of the vaccine are just as effective against hospital admission with the delta variant as with the alpha variant.

The jabs are making a difference in our hospitals, too. In January, people over 65 who were vaccinated earlier in our programme made up the vast majority of hospital admissions; the latest data shows that that group now makes up less than a third. While cases now are ticking up, the number of deaths remains mercifully low, and we will continue to investigate how our vaccines are breaking that link between cases, hospitalisations and deaths. I am also encouraged by new data just today from Oxford University’s mix and match trial, which shows that a mixed schedule of jabs, such as getting the AstraZeneca jab first and the Pfizer second, could give our booster vaccination programme more flexibility and possibly even some better immune responses

I spent my first day as Health Secretary—just yesterday—looking at the data and testing it to the limit. While we decided not to bring forward step 4, we see no reason to go beyond 19 July because, in truth, no date we choose comes with zero risk for covid. We know we cannot simply eliminate it; we have to learn to live with it. We also know that people and businesses need certainty, so we want every step to be irreversible. Make no mistake: the restrictions on our freedoms must come to an end. We owe it to the British people, who have sacrificed so much, to restore their freedoms as quickly as we possibly can, and not to wait a moment longer than we need to.

With the numbers heading in the right direction, all while we protect more and more people each day, 19 July remains our target date. The Prime Minister has called it our terminus date. For me, 19 July is not only the end of the line, but the start of an exciting new journey for our country. At this crucial moment in our fight back against this pandemic, we must keep our resolve and keep on our road map to freedom so that together we can beat this pandemic and build back better. It is a task that I am deeply honoured to lead and one I know will succeed. I commend this statement to the House.

Shadow Health Secretary Jonathan Ashworth (Lab) responded for the Opposition, pointing out that Javid’s optimism might be misguided:

Can I just say at the outset that, despite our fierce political differences, my dealings with the previous Secretary of State, the right hon. Member for West Suffolk (Matt Hancock), were always courteous, respectful and professional, and I wish him well in resolving his personal difficulties.

I welcome the right hon. Member for Bromsgrove (Sajid Javid) to his place and thank him for advance sight of his statement. He will find working with the NHS and social care staff both inspirational and rewarding, and I hope he will agree to make arrangements for them to receive a fair pay rise and not the real-terms pay cut that is currently pencilled in.

Today, the Secretary of State has let it be known that the 19 July reopening will effectively go ahead. He told the news this morning that there is “no going back” and that lifting restrictions will be “irreversible”. A word to the wise: I have responded to a lot of these statements these past 15 months, and I remember Ministers telling us there was “nothing in the data” to suggest that 21 June would not go ahead. I remember children returning to school for one day before the January lockdown. I remember, “It will all be over by Christmas”. I remember, “We will send it packing in 12 weeks”.

Well, we have seen around 84,000 cases in the past week—an increase of around 61%. Today, we have seen the highest case rate since January. If these trends continue, we could hit 35,000 to 45,000 cases a day by 19 July. That will mean more long covid—the Secretary of State did not mention more long covid—and it will mean more disruption to schooling. For some, it will mean hospitalisation, and we know that even after two doses, someone can catch and transmit the virus, so what is he going to do to push infections down? Vaccination will do it eventually, but not in the next four weeks.

I want to see an end to restrictions and our constituents want to see an end to restrictions, but I hope the Secretary of State’s confidence today about 19 July does not prove somewhat premature or even, dare I say it, hubristic. Can he confirm that by “irreversible” he is ruling out restrictions this winter? Has he abandoned the plan that the previous Secretary of State and officials were drawing up for restrictions this winter? …

Javid responded, without addressing possible winter restrictions:

With all the data I saw yesterday—I sat down and discussed it with the experts and my colleagues—it is very clear that we are heading in the right direction, and I am very confident about that date of 19 July

Lucy Allan (Con), who has voiced her scepticism about coronavirus restrictions before, asked about the terminus date:

Can my right hon. Friend confirm that 19 July will mark the end of the road map out of lockdown, that “terminus” means the end of the line, not an interchange, and that it is his intention that all restrictions will be lifted on that date?

Javid replied:

… As she will have heard in my statement, it is absolutely our intention to have step 4 commence on 19 July and to remove restrictions and start returning to normal. She asked me specifically about all restrictions, or which restrictions. It is certainly our intention to remove restrictions, but as we follow the data in the coming days, we will set out more in due course.

Jim Shannon (DUP), a staunch Anglican, asked about loosening restrictions on church worship:

… If we are aiming for progression and moving away from restrictions such as the wearing of masks, may I ask when people will be able to attend worship and sit in churches self-distanced, without wearing a mask, just as diners can sit in a restaurant self-distanced without a mask? If we are going to have parity, then I believe that churches should have parity with restaurants.

Javid gave a reassuring reply:

I thank the hon. Gentleman for his remarks. I agree with him that as we move towards removing restrictions and step 4, we should take seriously into account what he said about people attending churches and the restrictions that they currently face. That is certainly my intention.

John Redwood (Con) asked whether Javid would look into improvements in ventilation and cleaning for various types of establishments to improve the air flow. Javid said that he would do so.

Theresa Villiers (Con) also asked about church, specifically singing hymns:

Now that thousands of people are allowed to gather together at a football match to shout and cheer as much as they want, is it not time that we allowed congregations in church to sing hymns together?

Javid responded positively, which is more than Hancock ever did when asked similar questions:

I can tell my right hon. Friend that that is certainly what I would like to see and it is certainly my intention to allow that to happen as soon as possible. When it does, I hope we can sing a hymn together.

Richard Drax (Con) asked how long it would take before people could see their GPs in person again.

It looks as if Javid will address that issue, which Hancock did not much care about, insisting that phone and video conferences were highly successful:

My hon. Friend has raised an important issue. Even before I had this job, that issue came up again and again when I was a constituency MP just like him, and I absolutely understand it. It has especially been raised by older members of my constituency; people have brought this issue up where they are perhaps not as familiar with technology and they want that face-to-face meeting. I have already asked for advice on that and I will write to him on it, if I may.

Liam Fox (Con) asked for more data to be made public:

As for the data we get, it is not just about the number of infections—it is about who is infected, what age they are, whether they have pre-existing conditions, and whether they have been offered a vaccine, but have refused. It is not just about hospitalisations and how many people are in hospital. How long have they been hospitalised compared with the figures for previous parts of the pandemic? How many of them require extra care and how many are in intensive care units? We need to understand much better how the Government are reaching their decisions. The British people are not stupid, and Parliament needs to be taken into the Government’s confidence much more. I trust, given the previous examples of how he has conducted himself, that my right hon. Friend can do that.

Javid replied:

… On his important point about data, I saw the data in the Department for the first time yesterday. I saw the detail that it provides and how granular it is. I was impressed with that data, so I can give my right hon. Friend reassurance that the Government are looking at the data, and are absolutely taking it into account. I would also like to find a way to make sure that we can share as much of that data as possible so that others can benefit from it, and I will certainly look at ways in which we can do just that.

Dr Ben Spencer (Con) asked about winter measures:

… Does he share my concerns regarding this winter, when we predict that an increase in covid hospitalisations may be superimposed on normal NHS winter pressures? Can he confirm that plans and preparations are being put in place now to support our NHS in what may be a very difficult winter indeed?

Javid responded in the affirmative:

My hon. Friend is right to raise this issue. I can absolutely confirm that plans are being put in place. A huge amount of work was done by my predecessor and, of course, I will continue that work—just yesterday, I had meetings on winter plans. I can give my hon. Friend the absolute assurance, not just on vaccinations but on dealing with the backlog, that there are plans in place, and in due course I will come to the House and set them out.

Huw Merriman (Con) asked about a return to international travel, especially for those who have had two vaccinations.

Javid said:

First, my hon. Friend will know that, in terms of 19 July and the restrictions that will be removed, we are focusing on domestic restrictions. He knows that, separately, we also take very seriously the border controls, the border restrictions and the so-called traffic light system. In terms of making any further decision on that, he will know that it is kept under constant review on a very regular basis, and it is something that I intend to sit down and discuss with my right hon. Friend the Transport Secretary as soon as I can.

Mark Harper (Con) pressed Javid with a question on winter restrictions:

… I welcome my right hon. Friend’s tone and his intent to get us back to normal, but let me pick up on his earlier answer to our hon. Friend the Member for Runnymede and Weybridge (Dr Spencer). There are those in government, from documents that I have seen, who are preparing the ground for the return of restrictions in the autumn and the winter. Will he rule out the use of lockdowns and restrictions in the winter as a mechanism for managing covid, and look at alternatives to ensure that the NHS is able to deal with us getting back to normal?

Javid answered:

I am very happy to meet with him to discuss the issues in more detail and listen to his views. He should know that it is my intention, and the Government’s intention, as I have said from day one on this job, to remove all restrictions as quickly as possible.

Steve Brine (Con) asked about the disruptive self-isolation rules following positive test results, especially for schoolchildren:

I am looking for a change in policy as much as a change in tone. I return him to the subject of education. Estimates suggest that a quarter of a million children are missing school today due to precautionary isolations, the vast majority of them sequential due to the bubbles that they are caught in. Under the current rules, 10 days of isolation is then unavoidable, even with a negative PCR test. Have our young people not suffered enough? Are we really going to continue to do this to ourselves? Is this not an area, given the availability and reliability of testing now, where I might find the change of policy that I am looking for?

Javid replied:

Other hon. Members have rightly raised this very important issue, and my hon. Friend is right to draw attention to it once again. It is something that I have focused on from day one on the job. That is why I have asked for fresh advice on it. As he knows, that decision was made with the data that was available at the time. Clearly, data is changing all the time, and we must ensure that we keep that under review for exactly the reasons that he has just set out. As I say, I have asked for advice on that and will hopefully be able to say more on it as soon as possible.

This is what journalists and the public picked up from that debate.

The Sun‘s Deputy Political Editor Kate Ferguson tweeted about the terminus date …

… and singing in church:

GB News was a bit more cautious:

The Telegraph‘s Alison Pearson gave Javid five suggestions for improvement, including sacking SAGE and publishing COVID-19 recovery data with the public:

It was pure speculation by Sage that led to the cancellation of Freedom Day on June 21. Subsequent figures have shown that we are not seeing any sign of hospitalisations for Covid “rocketing” or “surging” as we were warned two weeks ago. On the contrary, NHS England currently has just 1,445 Covid patients (one per cent of all beds). The rolling seven-day average of deaths after a positive test with Covid is 17. Sir John Bell, regius professor of medicine at Oxford, says the vaccines are holding up really well against variants. Asked about the large number of “cases”, he said, “This is trivial, actually. Most who test positive are under 30 and they don’t get very sick.” Sir John is clearly far too sane to qualify as a government adviser. Maybe have a word with him?

As for publishing the recovery data:

Matt Hancock promised he would last summer; the slippery eel never did. We are among the only countries in the world not to trust its people with positive information from which they can calculate their own risk. Please stop infantilising us.

The Telegraph‘s Jeremy Warner has hope that, by working together, Javid and Chancellor of the Exchequer Rishi Sunak can turn this parlous situation around:

Like the new Health Secretary, Sunak has always been at the libertarian end of the debate on lockdown, as he must given his interest in a functioning, tax generating economy. So unusually, we for now have a Chancellor and a Health Secretary who are actually on the same page. The Prime Minister should enjoy the harmony while it lasts. The Treasury and Health department are not natural bedfellows.

On the other hand, Bob Moran, the Telegraph‘s cartoonist and a coronavirus sceptic, was unimpressed:

Someone picked up on ‘Build Back Better’:

However, author Carl Vernon, also a coronavirus sceptic, was positive:

I tend to agree with him.

As Sajid Javid has worked for some of the world’s greatest investment banks, I hope that he will cast a gimlet eye over all of the data and ask probing questions of SAGE when they make recommendations on continuing restrictions.

I wish our new Health Secretary all the best.

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