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Although the late comedian Jackie Mason thought that the UK’s House of Commons was akin to a ‘sanitarium’, there are inviolable rules for suspension from the Chamber.

Criminal charges or sexual harassment will do the trick. Often, the party whip is removed from the MP in question, rendering them Independent unless the whip is restored.

Here are two other ways that MPs can be suspended.

Grabbing the mace

When the Commons is in session, the mace sits atop the desk in front of the Speaker.

Only the Serjeant at Arms is allowed to handle it. He/She puts it in place before the session and removes it afterwards.

On Wednesday, December 16, 2020, the SNP’s Drew Hendry was vexed about the Internal Market Bill, which is part of the post-Brexit legislation.

He claimed that it would interfere with Scottish devolution because Parliament would be taking decisions he believed the Scottish government should take.

Excerpts of his speech and the debate follow, emphases mine (unless otherwise stated):

Westminster Ministers will still have the right to impose lower food, environmental and other devolved standards on Scotland, regardless of the view of Holyrood. This Bill is the biggest assault on devolution in the history of the Scottish Parliament. It undermines devolved policy making, grabs spending powers, and removes state aid from being a devolved responsibility. The Scottish Parliament and the Welsh Assembly refused to give this Bill consent, and it is outrageous that the UK Government are once again ignoring the wishes of the people of Scotland as well as Wales …

The only reason for this Bill as it now stands is to demolish devolution. If the Government take this Bill forward today, as they obviously will, that is what they will be doing. Any pretence thereafter by the Scottish Tory MPs that they respect the democratic rights of the people of Scotland will be blown apart if they support this today. In fact, they have already supported it, because it seems that it will go through. They have done nothing to protect the democratic rights of the Scottish people.

People in Scotland are watching. People in Scotland, when they see the effects of this Bill, will be angry about the fact that their rights are being taken away by these Tory Ministers, aided by their Labour bedfellows. They will be furious about the fact that their rights are being stripped from them. They are listening, they are watching, and they are seeing developments in this place. They are understanding, now, that the only way to protect their Parliament, their rights and their democracy in Scotland is to go forward as an independent nation—and they will be voting for that, I am sure, in due course.

Yet another SNP rant about rights, democracy and independence.

The debate went on for some time. At the end, the presiding minister responding for the Government — Conservative MP, Paul Scully — concluded:

I welcome the contributions and the constructive discussions that we have had in recent days with Opposition Members in both Houses that have got us to this place. We have had some passionate debates on the Bill, because of the importance of the issues. However, the Bill will ensure that UK businesses can trade across the four parts of the UK in a way that helps them to invest and create jobs, just as they have for hundreds of years. I am therefore delighted to ask the House to agree to the amendments, and to complete our scrutiny and consideration of the Bill.

At that point, Drew Hendry stood up and walked towards the centre of the Chamber, a big no-no. Then he grabbed the mace:

Dame Rosie Winterton was the Deputy Speaker for the debate.

This was the exchange between her and Hendry:

Hendry: This is an outrage to Scotland. It is not acceptable.

Winterton: Order. The hon. Gentleman must resume his seat, and he knows that. [Interruption.] This is just showing off. He should resume his seat, otherwise I will name him and order him to leave. [Interruption.] Does he want to be named? Is that what is happening? [Interruption.] If that is what is happening, we can do it. [Interruption.] Okay—I will name him. I know what he is doing. [Interruption.] Oh, for goodness’ sake! Very childish.

Hansard records that the suspension took place under Standing Order No. 44:

Drew Hendry, Member for Inverness, Nairn, Badenoch and Strathspey, was named by the Deputy Speaker for disregarding the authority of the Chair (Standing Order No. 44).

Motion made, and Question put forthwith (Standing Order No. 44),

That Drew Hendry be suspended from the service of the House.—(David T. C. Davies.)

Question agreed to.

The Deputy Speaker directed Drew Hendry to withdraw from the House, and the Member withdrew accordingly.

Guido Fawkes posted the BBC video the next day. His readers were appalled:

It was a costly move on Hendry’s part. One of Guido’s readers recalled that Labour MP Lloyd Russell-Moyle also grabbed the mace. That was on December 18, 2018, also in a Brexit-related debate; he was suspended only for the rest of the day:

Guido’s report explained the £7,000 (emphases in the original):

SNP MP Drew Hendry made a bit of a fool of himself last night, shouting to disrupt proceedings and then seizing the mace – all over the passage of the Internal Market Bill. As a result of his actions he was officially ‘named’ and suspended from the House for five working days. Despite some news outlets claiming the suspension is just 24 hours, Guido’s well placed source says they have got it wrong.

Two aspects of the suspension that have gone unreported are that; firstly it is without pay and secondly it covers five working days. Meaning that after today and tomorrow, the House will have to sit for three more days before Hendry can be paid again. Even if the Commons returns for an extraordinary day or two to ratify a potential Brexit deal, it is unlikely there will be a third sitting day until well into January. It’s possible therefore that Hendry’s five sitting days suspension could end up lasting for a calendar month – costing the MP almost £7,000 in lost salary. A very expensive mace grab.

It’s hard to know what happened in the end, but a £7,000 penalty would have been fitting.

Accusing an MP of lying

Another way of getting suspended from the Commons is to accuse an MP of lying, which is what Labour’s Dawn Butler did on the final day before this year’s summer recess.

On Thursday, July 22, 2021, in the Summer Adjournment debate, she said, in part:

While the NHS was coping with 130,000 people dying from the pandemic, the Prime Minister was making his mates rich. Cronyism is rife and old chums are given jobs regardless of their skillset—some a little bit on the side. This has been one big experiment for this corrupt, authoritarian, racism-laden Government, and I am not scared of saying it like it is

Poor people in our country have paid with their lives because the Prime Minister spent the last 18 months misleading this House and the country.

Peter Stefanovic from the Communication Workers Union has a video with more than 27 million views online. In it he highlights that the Prime Minister says: that the economy has grown by 73%—it is just not true; that he has reinstated nursing bursaries—just not true; that there is not a covid app working anywhere in the world—just not true; and that the Tories invested £34 billion in the NHS—not true. The Prime Minister said

“we have severed the link between infection and serious disease and death.”

Not only is that not true but it is dangerous.

It is dangerous to lie during a pandemic, and I am disappointed that the Prime Minister has not come to the House to correct the record and correct the fact that he has lied to this House and the country over and over again.

Having watched enough of these debates and all of Boris’s coronavirus briefings, he did not say any of those things.

Judith Cummins MP (Lab) was Deputy Speaker while Dame Rosie Winterton was self-isolating with the virus. She did a great job in handling the situation:

Cummins: Order. I am sure the hon. Lady will reflect on her words and perhaps correct the record.

Butler: What would you rather, Madam Deputy Speaker, a weakened leg or a severed leg? At the end of the day, the Prime Minister has lied to this House time and time again. It is funny that we get in trouble in this place for calling out the lie rather than for lying.

Cummins: Order. Can you please reflect on your words and withdraw your remarks?

Butler: Madam Deputy Speaker, I have reflected on my words. Somebody needs to tell the truth in this House that the Prime Minister has lied.

Standing Order No. 43 was invoked:

The Deputy Speaker ordered Dawn Butler, Member for Brent Central, to withdraw immediately from the House during the remainder of the day’s sitting (Standing Order No. 43), and the Member withdrew accordingly.

Guido’s team posted the video:

The accompanying post had this sentence (highlight in the original):

This attention-seeking stunt will work as desired…

Unfortunately, Butler left the Commons at 3:49 p.m., and summer recess began around 5 p.m., so any salary deductions were minimal.

Even so, the left-leaning PARLYappteam thought Judith Cummins did the right thing:

But there was more. Stuart Andrew MP responded to the debate on behalf of the Government. I really like him. He came from humble circumstances and is now the Treasurer of Her Majesty’s Household.

Of Dawn Butler, he said:

I cannot ignore the disappointing tone of the hon. Member for Brent Central (Dawn Butler). It was disappointing to hear the constant accusation of cronyism and corruption. I took particular offence at being described as a member of a racism-enabling Government. I have faced prejudice in my life, and I have ended up in hospital, as did my father, because of my sexuality. I took offence at being told that I do not believe in the NHS, as I spent most of my working life working for the hospice movement, and at being told that we do not care about poorer families, as my dad spent a lot of time in unemployment—I had to have free school meals. I take exception to such accusations.

I will stand up to anyone who discriminates against any single person for who or what they are, or for who they love. I will defend the NHS for as long as I am alive. I believe that the best way to help our poorest families is to give them the opportunity to have a job that pays well, because being able to support themselves is their best opportunity for a better life.

PARLY picked up on it:

Later that afternoon, Butler tweeted:

She tweeted again that evening with another video:

In between those tweets, The Independent‘s Chief Political Commentator, veteran journalist John Rentoul, hardly a conservative, appeared on GB News to say that Butler’s actions were ‘a cheap political stunt’. Someone replied with a news story about Butler from 2012:

John Rentoul — and Guido — were correct.

On Friday, July 23, Guido reported on the great social media results for the MP:

Dawn Butler’s Commons hissy fit yesterday went exactly as planned: her own Twitter clip is currently on 1.4 million views, though she’s retweeted various other uploads of the clip which total 6.3 million in about half a day. She even had a speedily filmed and produced Byline TV interview out on the strop stunt…

The monetary fine was negligible:

It turns out Dawn’s stunt came very close to backfiring. Thankfully for her she was only suspended for the remainder of the day’s sitting – if she’d been thrown out using a similar standing order, and been suspended until the next sitting day, she would have remained a suspended MP going into the Summer recess, thereby being unable to draw a salary for over six weeks. Six weeks of an MP’s salary would have come to £9453. Commons sources suggest Dawn’s dodging of this unlucky outcome was unlikely to have been deliberate after a careful reading of Parliamentary procedure…

There is much more to write about her, but that will have to wait for another day.

Friday, July 23, 2021 was Historic County Flags Day in England.

Some of the flags — Cornwall (Cross of St Piran), Essex and Middlesex (sea axes) — are old. Others, such as Leicestershire’s, are new:

Wiltshire’s dates from 2009 and features a Great Bustard:

Some have been redesigned, such as Northumbria’s.

Hertfordshire’s is only 11 years old:

Even so, the design must represent heraldry and relevant historic symbols. British County Flags states in its entry on Hertfordshire that the county decided to use its banner of arms as its flag:

A few ideas were produced and contact made with the local council, as a result of which the body decided that the preferred option would be to release its banner of arms … flying at the council’s County Hall headquarters in Hertford, to the public, for use as the county flag.

Hertfordshire County Council, under the leadership of Robert Gordon, passed a resolution on 19th November 2008: “This Council has, for the better representation of the County of Hertfordshire and its people, decided that the banner of the County Council’s arms, namely ‘Barry wavy of eight Azure and Argent an Inescutcheon Or charged with a Hart lodged proper’ is a fitting and proper emblem for the county and its people and will from this day be the County flag of Hertfordshire. The use of the full achievement of arms, with supporters and mural crown as a crest, is still restricted to the County Council and those specifically authorised by it.”

It could be that Middlesex’s, nearly identical to Essex’s, has a crown to represent Hampton Court Palace as a royal residence centuries ago:

Unfortunately, county flags are not used that often other than in museums and in front of county council buildings:

Then there is confusion over what constitutes a county, as in the case of the Duchy of Cornwall …

… but this question also pertains to Sussex, divided into East Sussex and West Sussex some years ago:

I only know about this English flag day thanks to PARLYapp, which featured the county flag tweet on Monday, and the House of Commons.

Yesterday, Tom Randall (Con) discussed it in the summer recess debate. He spoke just after Dawn Butler (Lab) was expelled from the Chamber for the day after calling Boris Johnson a liar. More on that next week. Emphases mine below:

On a lighter note, I hope that before the House adjourns today we can celebrate the colourful display that we can currently see in Parliament Square. Tomorrow is Historic County Flags Day. It has been celebrated for some days now, with the flags of the historic counties of England, Scotland and Wales in Parliament Square. The flags on display span the nation and also time. We can see old flags such as the St Piran’s Cross of Cornwall and the Warenne Checks of Surrey, which dates from the 13th century, as well as some more modern designs.

Here is a video from 2014, indicating that Historic County Flags Day might be a moveable feast, as it was held on June 4 that year:

This video celebrates the Leicestershire flag. Alicia Kearns (Con) was present as was Tom Randall:

Randall continued:

Many of those modern designs are thanks to the work of charities such as the Association of British Counties and the Flag Institute. I declare an interest as a former editor of the Flag Institute’s magazine. People at that charity, such as Graham Bartram and Philip Tibbetts, have worked tirelessly to encourage community groups and individuals to design flags, with Philip Tibbetts in particular criss-crossing the country. I congratulate him on his recent appointment as honorary vexillologist to the Court of the Lord Lyon.

One very good example of a modern flag design is the flag of Nottinghamshire, which was designed following a competition organised by Andy Whittaker of BBC Radio Nottingham in 2011. I am pleased to see that a decade later Leicestershire has finally caught up, and as the vice-chair of the flags and heraldry all-party parliamentary group, I was pleased to be in Parliament Square this week to attend the first flag raising of the flag of Leicestershire there.

I did not know about county days, either:

However, Leicestershire does not yet have its own day. I am pleased that Nottinghamshire County Council has today voted unanimously for 25 August to be Nottinghamshire Day. I look forward to seeing the flag of Nottinghamshire flying across the county, in the Houses of Parliament and, I hope, also across the country.

Randall concluded:

Although we are forever one United Kingdom, as we leave this place I hope that we can admire the diversity of our country, return to our constituencies and see all the best that there is in our counties—and I believe that the best of our counties are embodied in our county flags.

British County Flags has detailed descriptions for flags across the United Kingdom. Fascinating for flag and history lovers!

As George Orwell wrote:

All animals are equal but some are more equal than others.

This will certainly be even truer in the House of Commons.

As Speaker of the House Sir Lindsay Hoyle reopens that part of the Parliamentary estate on Monday, July 19, just days before summer recess.

MPs can walk around — and attend the chamber — maskless but their staff must remain muzzled:

Guido Fawkes confirmed the arrangement (emphasis in the original):

One miffed staffer points out that for MPs in the chamber, masks will be recommended, however they’ll be “required” for everyone else on the estate…

He adds:

From the start of summer recess, MPs will be able to decide how many of their staff are allowed to return to the office.

In the chamber, social distancing will disappear, and the public gallery will be reopened:

The prayer cards mentioned in that tweet do have a religious significance, although they are largely used for a secular purpose. An MP can write his name on a blank white card and place it in the chamber to reserve his seat for the day. Of course, in order to claim it, he must attend the short prayer session before the Commons day begins. 

The Speaker is calling time on the highly successful hybrid proceedings:

September will see the return of crowded benches. MPs will also be able to travel to Amber list countries:

Mr Speaker is thrilled:

The Commons’ restaurants and watering holes will also reopen:

One rule for MPs, another rule for their staff — and us.

What a surprise!

This week’s coronavirus debates in both houses of Parliament are proof that only the Left want masks and lockdown to stay.

Below are revealing excerpts from debates in the Commons and the Lords.

Emphases mine.

House of Commons

Health Secretary Sajid Javid appeared twice in the House of Commons this week.

Monday, July 5

He delivered his statement about lifting all restrictions, including those for masks, on Monday, July 5.

Shadow Health Secretary Jonathan Ashworth (Lab) objected:

He will be aware that Israel has reintroduced its mask mandate because of the delta variant, so why is he planning to bin ours? Masks do not restrict freedoms in a pandemic when so much virus is circulating. They ensure that everyone who goes to the shops or who takes public transport can do so safely, because wearing a mask protects others. If nobody is masked, covid risk increases and we are all less safe. He must understand that those in the shielding community are particularly anxious. Why should they feel shut out of public transport and shops because he has abandoned the mask mandate? That is no definition of freedom that I recognise.

Who else suffers when masks are removed? It is those working in shops, those who drive the buses, those who drive taxis and those who work in hospitality—it is the low-paid workers who have also been without access to decent sick pay. Many of them live in overcrowded accommodation. It is those who have been savagely, disproportionately impacted by the virus from day one and now the Secretary of State is asking them to bear the brunt of the increased risk again. Will he explain why he thinks abandoning masks is a sensible proposal to follow?

Dr Philippa Whitford (SNP) also objected:

Why is he planning to end even simple measures such as mask wearing?

As did Caroline Lucas (Green):

Failing to mandate mask-wearing in stuffy crowded places such as public transport, where people are often pressed together for much longer than 15 minutes, risks high costs, and allowing people to choose whether or not to put others at risk is both reckless and unfair. If the freedom to pelt down the motorway at 100 mph is restricted because it poses risks to others, why, with millions still unvaccinated, with some immunosuppressed and with the risk of long covid rising, does the Health Secretary not apply the same logic to mask-wearing?

Patrick Grady (SNP) wants masks to become ‘routine’ in the notional new normal:

Given that masks help to reduce the spread of not just covid, but all kinds of respiratory diseases, is it not important to avoid mixed messages and encourage everyone to continue that kind of practice and the likes of good hand hygiene as a relatively routine part of a new normal, to stop coughs and sneezes from spreading diseases?

Paul Blomfield (Lab) said:

We all want to unlock the economy, but surely we should maintain barriers to infection where we can. The Secretary of State has said that wearing masks would be a good thing, so will he accept that requiring them on public transport, in essential shops and in similar locations would make sense and would reassure people?

Tuesday, July 6

On Tuesday, July 6, Javid delivered a statement on self-isolation and vulnerable people.

By way of response, Jonathan Ashworth had more to say on masks:

Getting back to normal, which we all want to do, depends on people feeling safe. Does the Secretary of State appreciate that those who are immunocompromised, or for whom the vaccination is less effective, will have their freedoms curtailed by ditching masks on public transport? Blood Cancer UK warned yesterday that people with blood cancer will feel like their freedoms have been taken away when mask wearing lifts. What is his message to those with blood cancer? It is not good enough simply to say that people should travel or go to the shops at less busy times.

Of course, the Secretary of State understands the importance of masks. I have now read his Harvard pandemic paper, to which he likes to refer. He praises the use of masks in this paper, but he also warns:

“Changing course in policy making…is an essential feature of good policy making. Yet, politicians find it hard”

because of—

“the tendency for decisions to become psychologically and emotionally anchored.”

Well, I agree with him, and I hope he still agrees with himself. Let us have a U-turn on mask wearing. Yes, let us have freedom, but not a high-risk free for all. Keep masks for now, fix sick pay and let us unlock in a safe and sustainable way.

Martyn Day (SNP) agreed:

In a poll by New Scientist, a majority of disease experts said that some form of mask-wearing would be required until 2022. Others thought that 2023 or later was the correct time to lift mask requirements—more than agreed with the Government’s position of ending the requirements this year. For the sake of clarity and honesty, can the Secretary of State confirm that the UK Government have stopped listening to the science on their covid policy? Tragically, we have 150,000 people dead already, and the Prime Minister has said that we must reconcile ourselves, sadly, to more deaths from covid, so perhaps the Secretary of State can enlighten us as to how many more deaths the UK Government think acceptable.

Tulip Siddiq (Lab) brought up public transport:

The flu season that we have just been through was the mildest on record, thanks in no small part to the fact that we have all been wearing masks to protect against coronavirus. Public Health England has warned that we could see a flu surge in winter, as we have not had much recent exposure to and therefore immunity from other respiratory viruses. What is the Secretary of State doing to prepare for this? Does he agree that we should keep the wearing of masks compulsory on public transport to keep covid cases down and prepare for the flu season?

Matt Western (Lab) wants England to emulate the Far East:

Case rates are currently eight or nine per 100,000 in Korea and Japan, yet those countries—certainly Korea—are still mandating the wearing of masks. In the light of that, what does the Secretary of State think we should be doing, because those places are clearly having success?

House of Lords

The House of Lords held debates on Sajid Javid’s vaccine-driven strategy for Freedom Day on July 19.

The Left-leaning among the noble lords were furious.

Tuesday, July 6

Below are excerpts from Tuesday’s debate.

The Lords direct their questions to a Government minister, in this case, Lord Bethell (Con).

Baroness Thornton (Lab) had a lot to say about masks. She is old enough to have had both ‘jabs’, therefore, in theory, she should not be worried:

We have government Ministers saying different things about what they personally intend to do; last night, we had a clear message from the CMO [Chief Medical Officer, Chris Whitty] about the circumstances under which he intends to wear a mask. So I think that we have every right to be concerned that the debate may cause confusion and compromise crucial safety.

Let us look at public transport, for example. I have been using public transport throughout. I started wearing a mask long before it became mandatory. I still do not feel safe on a very crowded Tube, and I still do not want anyone to sit next to me. I test twice a week, and I have self-isolated twice since January when I got pinged. I do not think that I am unusual or nervous, but I feel strongly that I have a duty not to unwittingly spread the virus, and I do not want people to infect me. In a recent travel study, a majority of passengers said that they would lose confidence if the use of face masks were reduced. Many people, especially those who are more vulnerable, may become more anxious about using public transport if face masks become voluntary.

What is the Minister’s answer to these legitimate concerns? Does it go with the view that we let the virus rip and take the consequences? Given that we know that bus and taxi drivers experience Covid and death, what does the Minister have to say to them about their safety in these circumstances? Masks do not restrict freedoms in a pandemic when so much virus is circulating; they ensure that everyone who goes to the shops or takes public transport can do so safely. Who suffers most when masks are removed? It is those working in the shops, those driving the buses and taxis, and low-paid workers without access to decent pay, many of whom live in overcrowded housing and have been savagely, disproportionately impacted by this virus from day one.

We know that masks are effective when a virus is airborne. Given that high circulations of virus can see it evolve and possibly escape vaccine, what risk assessment have the Government done on the possibility of a new variant emerging? Will the Minister publish that assessment?

Baroness Brinton (Lib Dem) followed her, also with much to say on masks, putting forward the example in the Far East:

We on these Benches want to start with a return to normal and to lift restrictions. We desperately need to kick-start the economy, to start to socialise again and, as my noble friend Lord Scriven said last month, to live with Covid as it is now endemic and will be with us for some years to come. However, that means providing the safety net needed to ensure that people are as safe as possible. Asian countries that managed their pandemic well learned from SARS. The use of face masks became routine and a matter of personal and wider social responsibility, allowing life to continue in the flu season and in the pandemic. They also maintain strong and effective test, trace and isolate systems all the time. We will be discussing test, trace and isolate in detail following the Statement that is due to come to your Lordships’ House on Thursday, but the proposed reductions in test, trace and isolate will remove the UK’s ability to manage outbreaks swiftly, during which time others will catch and pass on Covid.

When we drive into our towns and cities, we rely on local authorities to set up traffic systems, including traffic lights, to help to guide us on safe journeys, regulate movement and reduce harm and damage. But it is as if “freedom day” is getting rid of all our traffic lights.

Proportionate responses are needed, and these include face masks. Early last year, even the WHO was equivocal on the use of face masks but, as the world became aware that this is a respiratory disease passed on through droplets, most countries moved to face mask mandates. On 19 July we switch to rules that make it only the responsibility of individuals. Thankfully, most people have taken that responsibility seriously, but not everyone has. That is important because, despite what the Minister said in response to my question yesterday about the clinically extremely vulnerable, there is no direct reference to the CEV in this Statement—unless he meant the passing reference to them being part of the priority group that will get the third jab. They need to know where they stand. There is no new advice, just the burning of the remaining rules that keep them safe.

I’m including part of Lord Bethell’s reply, because I have not covered the Lords as much as I have the Commons:

I have four children—who are vectors of infection, to put it politely—and I attend a large number of business meetings, including here in the House, and I regard myself as a high-risk candidate for carrying the disease.

I have never caught it myself and I have been vaccinated but when I sit on a Tube train I wear my mask, not to protect myself but to protect the person next to me. That is my personal assessment and my personal decision. That is the spirit in which we are inviting people to step forward and make their own decisions and to be considerate to each other.

We cannot have laws on all these matters for the rest of time. At some point we have to ask the country to step up and take responsibility and to have personal agency in these decisions. If we do not put that challenge to the country in the summer months, when our hospitals are relatively safe and the virus has the right conditions, when will we be able to make those decisions?

Lord Campbell-Savours (Lab) put forward a case for the vulnerable, a tiny proportion of the English population:

My Lords, is it not obvious that if you reduce mask wearing on public transport and in public places, those who believe they are more exposed to the virus will then reduce their use of public transport and avoid public places? People who are fearful of more liberated environments will avoid them, leading to a slowdown in the return to work that the Government want. Indeed, it is the reverse of what the Government want. Why remove those restrictions that offer the only way of securing public confidence in the new regime that is being proposed?

Lord Bethell replied:

I applaud the noble Lord for his advocacy of mask wearing, but of course this issue cuts both ways. He is right that we need to build back trust in sharing space with one another, but I am not sure that mandatory mask wearing either builds trust or erodes it. If we give people the impression that wearing masks is somehow a panacea that protects everyone on a tube train or in a lift, that is a false impression. Masks are not a panacea. In fact, for some people, they can be a source of grave concern and be enough to send them back home to seek safety. I take the noble Lord’s point that we have to be clear about this, but I am not sure that mandatory mask wearing, or even ubiquitous mask wearing, is either a universal antidote to the spread of the disease or necessarily builds trust in the manner he describes.

Baroness Tyler of Enfield (Lib Dem) spoke next:

My Lords, continuing on this theme: “masks work” is the clear message from Public Health England. Both Sir Patrick Vallance and Professor Chris Whitty have said that they will continue to wear a mask in crowded indoor spaces, primarily because it protects others. Critically, it does not hold back the opening up of the economy, but rather provides a safeguard as social distancing rules are relaxed. Can the Minister tell me why there is so little in the Statement about our social responsibility to others, including front-line transport and shop workers, and the clinically extremely vulnerable? In this scrapping of masks, we are condemning millions with poor immune systems to be trapped in their homes, too afraid to go to the shops or their workplace or to use public transport.

Lord Bethell responded, saying that people who are ill should stay at home:

Since this is the second question on masks, I hope the noble Baroness will not mind if I go off on a tangent. Masks do work a bit; they are not a panacea. What is really important is that when you are ill, you stay at home. That is the big behavioural change that will make a big difference in the year to come. That is where Britain has got it wrong in the past. Too often we have put our workmates, fellow travellers and school friends at risk by heroically going into crowded indoor places and coughing all over them. I hope that is one habit that will stop and that that will be a legacy of this awful pandemic.

Baroness Donaghy (Lab) said that not enough people were being penalised for ignoring the mask mandate:

My Lords, one person’s choice is another’s imposition. Even when mask wearing was mandatory on the tube, some broke the law and there was no policing. So-called choice will cause conflict and confusion. Can the Minister assure me that the Government are not reverting to type and their original herd immunity policy based not on the science but on “let us see how it falls”? Although he does not accept any deaths, as he said, what assessment has been made of the impact of this new policy on death rates and long Covid rates?

Lord Bethell countered, saying that a lot of fines had been issued:

My Lords, I do not have the figures to hand, but I reassure the noble Baroness that the policy on masks was very diligently imposed and a large number of people did get fined. We have to ask ourselves as a society whether we really want to live in a country where simple behavioural habits, such as wearing a mask or not, make you susceptible to arrest or fines. That is a very uncomfortable place for a country to find itself. The noble Baroness is right: that does introduce ambiguity, but we are sophisticated people and can live with a degree of ambiguity. We need to learn how to live not only with this disease but with each other. The dilemma that the noble Baroness points out is one that we will all have to debate, understand and learn to live with. We are not in any way letting this disease get on top of us. We are fighting it through the vaccine, we are supporting the vaccine with test and trace, and we have a tough borders measure. We are taking the battle to the virus and will continue to do so.

Only one Conservative peer spoke out in favour of masks, Lord Bellingham, who said:

My Lords, as a strong supporter of the Government’s policy on the coronavirus, I was nevertheless critical of them being very slow to enunciate a clear policy on masks over a year ago—so I have a lot of sympathy with those noble Lords who have expressed concern about the imminent lifting of compulsion regarding masks. Surely one possible compromise might be to keep masks where you have passengers on public transport sitting or standing next to each other?

Lord Bethell replied, saying that it would be up to local councils and transport companies, rather than the Government:

My Lords, I hear my noble friend’s words loud and clear. The Government have indicated that we will leave it to those who run the transport systems themselves and to local politicians. There is a good case for a degree of devolvement and subsidiarity in this matter. He is right that masks do perform an important role, but they are not a catch-all, and it is therefore reasonable to leave those who run the transport systems to make decisions for themselves.

Thursday, July 8

On Thursday, July 8, another debate on the Government’s new coronavirus strategy took place.

Once again, Baroness Thornton (Lab) had a lot to say. With regard to masks, she mentioned the tiny minority of people living in England with poor health:

Does the Minister appreciate that those who are immunocompromised or for whom the vaccine is less effective will have their freedoms curtailed by ditching masks on public transport? Blood Cancer UK warned yesterday that people with blood cancer will feel that their freedoms have been taken away from them.

Baroness Brinton (Lib Dem) followed her. She was horrified by what she saw on television following the England-Denmark match:

Wonderful as yesterday’s England victory was, the sight of 60,000 fans walking down Wembley Way in very close proximity with hardly a mask in sight was concerning. As with the England-Scotland match, we must expect a surge in cases. Yesterday, the BBC asked Dr Mike Ryan of the World Health Organization about the UK proposals to lift all restrictions on 19 July. He replied:

“The logic of more people being infected is better is, I think, logic that has proven its moral emptiness and epidemiological stupidity”.

The letter in today’s Lancet from 100 senior medics and scientists echoes the WHO view. What are the Government doing to explain to the experts why their strategy is safe? …

Last night, Sebastian Payne of the Financial Times reported the re-election of Sir Graham Brady MP as chairman of the 1922 committee, and tweeted:

“Brady’s re-election is … a reminder of why Johnson is dropping masks and nearly all other … restrictions on July 19: ministers privately say the government no longer had the … votes to keep the measures in place. Relying on Labour would have been … difficult for the PM.”

Are the Prime Minister and the so-called Covid Recovery Group now putting health and lives at risk for their own principles?

Lord Bethell replied, saying that it was better to reopen England now rather than wait until autumn or winter, when the NHS would be under pressure:

… the noble Baroness, Lady Thornton, half-answered her own question, because she is entirely right: we need to focus on getting the NHS back to speed in order to address the very long waiting lists and to get elective surgery back on track. It is very difficult to find an answer to the question, “If not now, when?” That has been tackled by the CMO and a great number of people. It must surely be right that we take the inevitable risks of restarting the economy and getting people back to their normal lives at the moment of minimum risk from the virus, which has to be in the middle of summer. Assessing those risks precisely is incredibly complex. Impact assessments of the kind that we would normally associate with legislation are the product of months of analysis. They often identify one relatively straightforward and simple policy measure. We are talking here about a machine of a great many moving parts.

I cannot guarantee that any model anywhere could give us accurate projections of the exact impact of what is going to happen this summer. We are, to a certain extent, walking into the unknown: the Prime Minister made that extremely clear in his Statement. As such, we are ready to change and tweak our policy wherever necessary in reaction to events. However, what we know very well now on the basis of our assessment of the data, and because of the pause we put in place to give ourselves breathing time to assess and additional time to roll out the vaccinations, is that that direct correlation between the infection rate and severe disease, hospitalisation and death has massively diminished. There is a relationship, but it is a fraction of what it used to be.

We can therefore look at a period where those who are at extremely low risk of any severe disease may see an increase in the infection rate, because we know that those in the highest-risk groups have been protected by two doses of the vaccine, and two weeks, and because we are working incredibly hard to get as many in the high-risk groups vaccinated as possible—half a million a day—and to roll out the vaccine to younger cohorts. That is the balance. I cannot deal in certainty here, because certainty does not exist. Balance is key, and I believe the balance we have here is the right one.

A Cross-bencher, Baroness Bull, cited the editor-in-chief of The Lancet — another leftist, as we saw last summer — which called the Government’s new policy ‘libertarian’:

My Lords, 120 scientists have written to the Lancet and today come together in an emergency summit to ask the Government to rethink their plans. The editor in chief warned against

“a plan driven more by libertarian ideology than prudent interpretation of the data”

and called for continued mask-wearing, distancing and increased vaccine coverage. A YouGov survey found that two-thirds of people want to continue with masks and an ALVA survey found that three-quarters of people did. So why have the Government decided to end this simple yet effective measure? It costs the economy nothing, but it would be life-changing for the clinically extremely vulnerable, who will be forced back into lockdown by this shift from a public health approach to so-called personal responsibility.

Lord Bethell said that the policy was not at all ‘libertarian’:

I am always grateful for the challenge of medics in the Lancet and elsewhere. I would like to reassure them that this is not a question of libertarian ideology but a question of assessing the risks faced by the country. We have discussed masks several times in the Chamber. I would like to reassure the noble Baroness that masks simply are not a panacea; were the whole country to wear masks for the rest of their lives, we would still have pandemics because they offer only marginal protection.

One peer voiced his disapproval:

Nonsense!

Lord Bethell replied:

I am afraid we cannot have in place laws on the intimate practicalities of people’s lives for the long term. We do not have a law on sneezing. I would not think of sneezing in the presence of noble Lords, but I do not accept that I should be given a fine for doing so.

I’ll leave it at that.

Conclusion

It is abundantly clear, with only one Conservative peer speaking in favour of masks and many Left-leaning MPs and peers supporting continued muzzling, that they do not trust the general public — the great unwashed who pay their salaries.

We, the great unwashed, however, do have the brains, the intellect and the discernment to think for ourselves and do the right thing.

If that is libertarianism, count me in.

My post yesterday discussed the analysis of what Prime Minister Boris Johnson and Secretary of State for Health and Social Care Sajid Javid might announce on Monday, July 5, with regard to England’s Freedom Day, pencilled in for July 19.

Speaker of the House Sir Lindsay Hoyle wanted to ensure that both men gave their announcements at the same time:

Boris Johnson’s coronavirus briefing

Rev.com has a transcript of Boris’s televised coronavirus briefing.

Excerpts follow, emphases mine.

Boris acknowledged that cases would continue to rise for the time being, however, the highly successful vaccine rollout would mitigate the dangers to the general public:

As we predicted in the roadmap in February, we’re seeing cases rise fairly rapidly. There could be 50,000 cases detected per day by the 19th, and again, as we predicted, we’re seeing rising hospital admissions, and we must reconcile ourselves, sadly, to more deaths from COVID. In these circumstances, we must take a careful and a balanced decision, and there’s only one reason why we can contemplate going ahead to step four in circumstances where we’d normally be locking down further, and that’s because of the continuing effectiveness of the vaccine rollout.

Reopening now, in mid-summer, will be safer than waiting until autumn or winter, when demand for the NHS will be much higher for respiratory disease. As such, the only alternative would be not to reopen at all this year:

… we must be honest with ourselves that if we can’t reopen our society in the next few weeks, when we will be helped by the arrival of summer and by the school holidays, then we must ask ourselves, when will we be able to return to normal? And to those who say we should delay again, the alternative to that is to open up in winter, when the virus will have an advantage, or not at all this year.

The Government and SAGE will look at the latest data on July 12, which will determine a final decision on July 19.

Boris laid out his five-point plan. First, the vaccine rollout is being ramped up:

without preempting the decision on the 12th of July, let me set out today our five point plan for living with COVID, in the hope that it will give families and businesses time to prepare. First, we will reinforce our vaccine more, reducing the dose interval for under 40s from 12 weeks to eight, so that everyone under 18 should be double jabbed by the middle of September, in addition to our autumn program of booster vaccines for the most vulnerable.

Secondly, nearly all restrictions will be lifted, including working from home:

Second, we will change the basic tools that we have used to control human behavior, we’ll move away from legal restrictions and allow people to make their own informed decisions about how to manage the virus. From step four, we will remove all legal limits on the numbers meeting indoors and outdoors. We will allow all businesses to reopen, including nightclubs. We will lift the limit on named visitors to care homes, and on numbers of people attending concerts, theater, and sports events. We will end the one meter plus rule on social distancing, and the legal obligation to wear a face covering, although guidance will suggest where you might choose to do so, especially when cases are rising and where you come into contact with people you don’t normally meet in enclosed spaces, such as obviously crowded public transport.

It will no longer to be necessary for government to instruct people to work from home. So, employers will be able to start planning a safe return to the workplace. There will be no COVID certificate required as a condition of entry to any venue or event. Although businesses and events can certainly make use of certification, and the NHS app gives you a COVID pass as one way to show your COVID status.

Thirdly, test-trace-isolate will continue, and the Government will plan something different for schools in future:

Third, we will continue from step four to manage the virus with a test, trace and isolate system that is proportionate to the pandemic. You will have to self-isolate if you test positive, or are told to do so by NHS test and trace. But we’re looking to move to a different regime of fully vaccinated contacts of those testing positive, and also for children. And tomorrow, the education secretary will announce our plans to maintain key protections, but remove bubbles and contact isolation for pupils.

The fourth point involves maintaining ‘tough’ border controls (hmm):

Fourth, from step four we will maintain our tough border controls, including the red list, and recognizing the protection afforded by two does of vaccine, we will work with the travel industry towards removing the need for fully vaccinated arrivals to isolate on return from an amber country, and the transport secretary will provide a further update later this week.

The fifth, and final, point is to do everything possible to avoid a winter lockdown:

Last, we will continue to monitor the data and retain contingency measures to help manage the virus during higher risk periods, such as the winter. But we will place an emphasis on strengthened guidance and do everything possible to avoid reimposing restrictions, with all the costs that they bring.

The rest of the transcript covers the latest data, which Sir Patrick Vallance presented, and answers to the press from Prof Chris Whitty, both of whom are SAGE members.

The BBC’s Vicki Young asked the three men about mask wearing.

Boris said that people should start taking personal responsibility for their own decisions:

On your question about will I personally wear a mask, I think that, as I said earlier on, it will depend on the circumstances. I think that what we’re trying to do is move from a universal government diktat to relying on people’s personal responsibility.

Boris doesn’t need to wear a mask, as he’s already had the virus. However, he probably wants to set an example for the nation.

Chris Whitty threw a spanner into the works with his answer:

In terms of wearing a mask, I would wear a mask under three situations and I would do so particularly at this point when the epidemic is clearly significant and rising. And the first is in any situation which was indoors and crowded or indoors with close proximity to other people. And that is because masks help protect other people, this is a thing we do to protect other people, as it’s by far its principle aim. The second situation I’d do it is if I was required to by any competent authority, I would have no hesitation about doing that and I would consider that within a reasonable and sensible thing if they had good reasons to do that. And the third reason is if someone else was uncomfortable if I did not wear a mask, as a point of common courtesy of course I would wear a mask. So under all those circumstances I would do so.

Sir Patrick confirmed Whitty’s response:

… just a reminder masks are most effective at preventing somebody else catching the disease from you. They have some effect to prevent you catching it as well. And the situation you’re most likely to catch COVID in is indoors crowded spaces. So that’s the obvious place where mask wearing becomes an advantage.

Tell me that will not cause mask rage on and after July 19.

Earlier that day, Guido Fawkes reported that Labour’s big city mayors all want to keep a mask mandate, as do union bosses (emphases in the original):

Labour mayors Sadiq Khan, Andy Burnham, Dan Norris and Steve Rotheram all seem reluctant to bin the masks. As such it’s unclear whether masks will continue to be mandated on public transport – which is under the remit of mayors. If Khan had his way, Guido suspects that no one would be boarding the freedom train any time soon…

Unite the union are also calling on ministers to keep face masks mandatory on public transport, writing that optional face coverings would be “an act of gross negligence by the government”

However, a Conservative MP is rightly vexed by the ambiguity of the Government’s upcoming guidance on the matter:

Huw Merriman, Tory Chairman of the Commons Transport Committee has slammed the government’s “confusing” policy arguing that scrapping mask laws whilst simultaneously recommending they be worn is a “cop out.” He says guidance should be scrapped in its entirety… 

I couldn’t agree more. Why squander the success of the vaccination programme?

Sajid Javid

In his statement to the House of Commons, Sajid Javid said much the same as Boris.

He explained that hospitalisations and deaths are decreasing:

As such, even if cases continue to increase over the coming weeks, there will be less pressure on the NHS (the original reason for lockdown in 2020):

We cannot live like this ‘forever’. Furthermore, because of the pandemic, we have other challenges that need to be addressed:

Social distancing will go, except at ports of entry for travel and for medical settings:

Javid did warn that flu might be a problem this winter:

School bubbles will also be abolished:

It was then the turn of Shadow (Opposition) Health Secretary Jonathan Ashworth to respond.

Not surprisingly, Ashworth wants masks to continue:

These photos are from Javid’s statement and the ensuing debate. Clockwise from top left are Jonathan Ashworth, Sajid Javid, Father of the House (longest serving male MP) Peter Bottomley and the SNP’s Dr Philippa Whitford:

On Tuesday, July 6, Javid returned to the Commons to make a statement on self-isolation, which will be relaxed in certain circumstances:

He reiterated the need for personal responsibility to begin, as there are other looming health issues that have gone unaddressed:

Jeremy Hunt (Con), his predecessor (before Matt Hancock), is rightly concerned about delays to cancer treatment:

Gavin Williamson

On Tuesday, Secretary of State for Education Gavin Williamson, laid out his plans for schools after Freedom Day.

Bubbles and isolation at home have been causing a lot of disruption. They will be abolished for test and trace:

Isolation will be mandated only when there are positive test results. Staggered starting times for schools will go, and there will be no restrictions on universities:

I watched the debates with interest.

My original suspicion from last year still holds true; only the Left want restrictions to continue.

More on that soon.

It would be difficult to overstate how much England has been stomped on over the past 30 years and more.

Britons are told that England does not exist; it is merely a collection of regions.

The English are told there is ‘no appetite’ for an English Parliament.

Britons are taught in school to ignore and even hate England.

Right now, I am looking at one of my high school textbooks, an anthology. Its title? England in Literature.

I read it in a class called ‘English’, oddly enough.

England is the only nation of the four in the United Kingdom without its own Parliament, which many of us living here would love to have, just as the other three nations have their own assemblies. However, our notional betters have told us that this would be impossible. Years ago, it was reported there was ‘no appetite’ for it. Yet, the people living in England have never been asked to vote on such a proposition, unlike the inhabitants of Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.

Now, to borrow an English expression, we have a spanner in the works: the continued success of England in Euro 2020.

On July 4, the Telegraph‘s Nick Timothy wrote an opinion piece: ‘England has been denied the voice it deserves by elites who would rather Englishness didn’t exist’.

It has this subtitle:

England has its own unique and complex identity, and it should have a parliament of its own, too

I couldn’t agree more, although, these days, part of me thinks it would add a layer of bureaucracy and expense. That said, it would be worth the price.

For the past few weeks, England football fans have been singing the 1996 hit song Three Lions (Football’s Coming Home) written by comedians David Baddiel and Frank Skinner, with music by the Lightning Seeds. Recalling England’s World Cup win 30 years earlier, it was written for the 1996 European Championships:

Nick Timothy encapsulates the mood of England supporters perfectly:

The football fans singing “it’s coming home!”, while anxiously anticipating the pain of another England disappointment, manage to reconcile two seemingly contradictory English traits: boisterous triumphalism and private self-doubt.

The way the English feel about not only football but the nation itself is at loggerheads with elites who live in this part of our Sceptred Isle.

Timothy elaborates (emphases mine):

the English do have traits and tendencies, just like any other nationality. And yet, for many English elites, England’s identity is something best denied. It is, they believe, too dangerous, too embarrassing, or too exclusive. Even those now debating what they call “Englishness” are doing so, they admit, with reluctance.

Among them, a common contrivance is to pretend that English culture is, as one commentator puts it, “thin”, an identity that “has arisen not because of a positive movement to adopt the identity, but scorn for other forms of collective belonging”. Another pundit asks, “what is England now, other than sports teams and Shakespeare?”

Englishness is very different to that of the distinct identities of the other three nations that make up the United Kingdom, but those who wish to suppress it are doing so successfully, thus far:

They seem to hope that if “Englishness” must be appeased, they can make sure that whatever follows is an elite-led project in which they can keep everything civilised.

I am not sure exactly where ‘civilised’ would be violated were Englishness to be celebrated. For years, we have been told to avoid any national pride, unlike the Welsh and the Scots. It is perfectly acceptable for nationally-oriented political parties such as Plaid Cymru and the Scottish National Party (SNP) to exist. Yet, no such party currently exists in England.

Elites in England fear we would break out in violence. Perhaps this is a leftover from the tiny pockets of extremists from the 1970s and early 1980s. Those groups have since faded into history and hardly speak for 99.9% of the population of England which, today, is highly diverse, particularly in our big cities. However, it is not as if the other nations of the UK don’t have their extremist groups, although Wales might be an outlier there.

Looking back further, England has her own undeniable history and culture, as Timothy points out:

England is the mother of parliaments. It is the land of Shakespeare and Dickens, Elgar and Holst, the Beatles and Stones, the Cotswolds and Cumbrian hills, London and Liverpool, Oxford and Cambridge. It is Stonehenge and St Paul’s, football and cricket, the local church and village pub, Isaac Newton and Isambard Kingdom Brunel.

It is cream teas and Cheddar cheese, a pint of bitter and a cup of tea, farms and factories, honest coppers and straight judges. It is the Wars of the Roses and the Reformation, Roundheads and Cavaliers, rebellions and strikes, Industrial Revolution and a Glorious Revolution. It is the home of Magna Carta, Locke and Burke, Churchill and Attlee, and long lines of kings and queens …

From philosophy to science, inventions to the arts, English culture is rich with significance.

Therefore:

It is needlessly destructive to ignore, denigrate or misrepresent it.

Sharing a common identity, as promoted in Scotland and Wales, can be healthy:

Shared identity is what allows us to recognise familiarity in strangers, and that familiarity, psychologists attest, encourages trust and solidarity and the willingness to make sacrifices for others. You and I might never have met, but we have language, places, habits, customs and shared history, culture and stories to help us to trust one another. This shared national identity means we can look beyond the narrower identities – racial, religious, regional, whatever – that can divide us.

The only time the English can truly celebrate their identity is when it comes to national sports teams — football, primarily, but also rugby and cricket. Contrary to what the elites say about national identity, it works remarkably well:

The English football team is multiracial and at ease with itself. The cricket team – who are world champions – are multiracial and multi-religious. And as the football song shows, it is collective memories (“’cause I remember…”) and our shared attachment to place (“it’s coming home”) that bring us together.

One aspect of the display of national identity during football tournaments is the flag. For England, this is the flag of St George, a red cross on a white background. The only time it is even vaguely acceptable in the eyes of the elites is during this time.

Through the past 30 years, England football fans have draped large ones outside the windows of their homes or flown smaller ones from their cars or vans. Ironically, in a year in which England has been so successful in football, I have only seen two or three so far. Perhaps those who used to fly the flag have been psychologically intimidated over the years by talking heads on the media.

Nick Timothy says it wasn’t always this way:

In the 1966 World Cup final, England fans held up the Union Flag; by the 1996 European Championships semi-final – played before Scottish devolution – England fans were flying the cross of St George without causing a stir.

Moving back to the original subject of an English parliament, Timothy points out the problem of not having one. The issue is that MPs from the devolved governments can end up determining English legislation:

Devolution to Scotland and Wales but not to England means Scottish, Welsh and Northern Irish voters decide the government of England. A UK government elected by mainly English voters thinking of issues that are devolved elsewhere makes no sense to Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. If one day we end up with a UK government elected with no English majority, but expected to determine policies in England that are devolved elsewhere, we will face a constitutional crisis.

“English votes on English laws” does not resolve this issue.

In fact, the Chancellor for the Duchy of Lancaster, Michael Gove, who is Scottish, plans to abolish English votes on English laws, known as EVEL.

A June 16 post from a Scottish site, Jaggy.blog, explains how EVEL came to be:

The newly revealed plan by the Cabinet Office Minister, Michael Gove, to scrap English Votes for English Laws will be welcomed by fellow Unionists who felt this ‘Evel’ act rubbed salt in Scottish rebels’ wounds after the 2014 referendum. Actually, it was more of a desperate ploy by David Cameron to counter the threat of UKIP before he could work up the courage to call a referendum on EU membership.

It would seem that the reason Gove is planning to revoke EVEL is because the Conservatives have a majority of 78 in the House of Commons, thereby enabling them to overrule any opposition from the SNP, the third largest party in Parliament.

Gove’s move is seen as something that would preserve the Union. This I personally doubt, but here is the reasoning:

Zealously spearheading the UK Government’s efforts to save the Union, Mr Gove told The Times today that Evel has outlived its usefulness:

Ultimately, it’s a convention which arose out of a set of circumstances after the 2014 [Scottish independence] referendum, where you had a coalition government and so on. We’ve moved on now, so I think it’s right to review where we are on it. The more we can make the House of Commons and Westminster institutions work for every part of the UK and every party in the UK, the better.

The less said about Michael Gove, the better. His reasoning is illogical, but he won’t care. He has no love for England, either.

Would the SNP be able to restrain themselves and not vote on English laws? Back in the 1990s, it used to be a matter of honour whereby they would not do so. After all, English MPs cannot vote on Scottish laws, because that legislation has been handled in Holyrood since 1999.

Therefore, as Nick Timothy says, the only way to resolve this is by creating an English Parliament:

… there can be no return to the unitary state of old. The only sustainable remaining solution is an English parliament and English government within a federal UK, supported by a political culture that respects and cherishes pride in England and shows a more serious commitment to the government of England’s regions. We have a lot to take pride in, and as the football team is showing, there are many more shared memories – of triumph, hopefully, rather than disaster – still to be made.

Sadly, a shared culture and geography is unlikely to make that happen anytime soon.

For now, we must lie back and consider the Three Lions — and the possibility that they could win Euro 2020.

In closing, there is nothing shameful about England or the English. They have given me the best years of my life.

On Thursday, July 1, news emerged that some British schoolchildren are creating false positives on their lateral flow tests in order to avoid school.

i News reported that videos have been circulating on TikTok since April, causing disruption in certain schools:

Yes. I thought they were tested in school. It comes as a surprise to find out they can self-test at home.

The problem is that other students in the same school bubble must also self isolate:

The videos are still on TikTok:

Whole bubbles and whole classes have been broken up around the country this year. Pupils and students must self-isolate for ten days.

In another i News article, one father expressed his frustration. Matthew is not his real name (emphases mine below):

Matthew*, a parent in the Greater Manchester area, was dismayed when his 14-year old son was sent home from school earlier this week after a friend faked a positive test reading after following videos she’d come across on TikTok.

“We were told our child has been in close contact with someone who’s had a positive result, a girl who’s one of his close friends. He said that she’d faked it and that she’d seen it on TikTok, that there were loads of videos on how to fake it,” he told i.

As she wanted to fake the result as an easy way to stay off school, it meant around 10 of their close friends were all told to stay at home. I’d say around half of them don’t care, they’ll get to stay in bed all day.

“You are going to get kids who can exploit this. In the general scheme of things, their whole education has been fairly screwed up, so it’s annoying when it’s intentional and one person can have such a big effect on their immediate friends.”

Matthew said he had asked the girl to explain to her mother that the test wasn’t legitimate and to do a PCR test to confirm she didn’t have the virus after a second lateral flow test conducted in front of a teacher returned a negative result

While Matthew’s son is supposed to be off school until 8 July, it’s not currently clear when he’ll be able to return to school.

“Her mum has agreed to ring the school and lie and said she’d had a negative PCR test, but we’re not sure when my son will be able to go back,” he said.

“We know that he’s off because of this person, but because of data protection, we can’t prove it. There’s a chance it could be someone else who’s genuinely positive, but it’s all very murky.

“For my son, this is an inconvenience because if he’s told to stay inside for 10 days, we’ll make him stay inside for 10 days, other parents maybe aren’t as bothered. He’s the one that’s been pushing for her to come clean, which has been controversial because some of the other friends are just happy to have the 10 days of extra holiday.”

‘Lost children of lockdown’

On Sunday, June 27, the Mail reported that nearly 100,000 children have dropped out of full-time education since lockdown began last year:

Analysis of official figures by the Centre for Social Justice (CSJ) has identified 93,514 pupils who were mostly absent between September and December – more than the capacity of Wembley stadium.

The figure for those off school more often than they were present has rocketed by more than 50 per cent on the previous year, with a particularly ‘alarming’ rise in primary schools, as the chaos caused by Covid made it easy for vulnerable youngsters to slip through the net.

It is feared many will end up being expelled or simply drop out of education altogether after the disruption of the past year, putting them at risk of being drawn into a life of crime

CSJ chief executive Andy Cook said: ‘When a child disappears from our school system, their future often disappears with them …

These are the lost children of lockdown. Charities working with these children are telling us there’s now a real risk of children being picked up by street gangs.’

These figures are on top of those missing class because someone in their bubble tested positive:

These absences were additional to the 33 million days lost because of Covid, which saw children either fall ill or forced to stay at home because a classmate tested positive. Bradford, Knowsley in Merseyside and Newcastle upon Tyne had the highest absence rates.

It is unlikely that parents of the ‘lost children of lockdown’ will care about advice from the Department for Education:

The Department for Education said it had acted swiftly to help minimise the impact of the pandemic on pupils’ education and provided extensive support for schools, colleges and early years settings.

Its guidance makes clear that parents have a legal duty to ensure children of compulsory school age attend school regularly, but schools should authorise absences due to illness, related to both physical and mental health.

It’s time to bring back truant officers rather than hire Covid marshals.

Conservative MPs have been vexed over this situation, and Gavin Williamson, Secretary of State for Education, has been a milquetoast about depriving so many children of their education.

MPs did not know about the TikTok videos at the time of the debate in the House of Commons on Wednesday, June 30.

Williamson’s responses, such as the following, are unhelpful:

… more than 50 million tests have already been conducted across schools and colleges. We are very much aware that testing has been an important part of getting schools reopened, and we continue to work with colleagues in the Department for Health and Social Care and in track and trace to ensure that testing is available to all pupils and their families …

I do not want to pre-empt the decision across Government on the next stage, but our direction is very clear about lifting the restrictions and ensuring that children are not in a situation where they have to bubble. That is very much part of the course of the road map, and of course we would very much expect that our children would not be facing that in September

On July 2, the Mail had an article about Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s government plan on bubbles, which might not be lifted before schools close for the summer on July 19:

Mr Johnson is under pressure after it was revealed that 375,000 children had been sent home because a member of their ‘bubble’ had tested positive for Covid.

They have to isolate for ten days if another pupil in their group gets the virus. Education Secretary Gavin Williamson has suggested that school bubbles will end when classes return after the summer holidays in September.

He has also indicated that the changes could happen when the next stage of easing restrictions takes place on July 19.

But this is the date that many schools are due to break up for summer, making it a meaningless promise in practice.

Conservative MPs are up in arms:

Senior Tories told the Telegraph today that the PM’s remarks had fallen ‘on stony ground’

The former Scottish Tory leader Ruth Davidson joined the clamour for a swifter release from the bubbles today … 

Tim Loughton, a Tory MP and former children’s minister, told the Telegraph: ‘Common sense has been thrown out the window, they just need to get rid of all these bubbles asap.

The whole Department for Education operation has lacked a sense of urgency and the children have been the collateral damage.’

Former party leader Sir Iain Duncan Smith is among 48 MPs to have signed a letter to the Prime Minister warning that the current policy is ‘disproportionate’ and ‘unsustainable’.

They said it was essential that schools ‘go back to normal’ when lockdown is lifted, even if it is ‘just for the last few days of term’.

‘This will send an important signal ahead of the autumn that the route to freedom is a ”one-way road”,’ the letter said.

It added that pupils have suffered ‘unnecessary and significant disruptions’ in order to keep the rest of the country safe.

‘They have lost physical fitness, suffered mental health damage, and experienced catastrophic learning loss,’ it said.

Other signatories include former cabinet minister Esther McVey and Commons education committee chairman Robert Halfon.

I could see this happening last year. Education ministers said that the most vulnerable would be able to continue to go to school with children of necessary workers. Who would make vulnerable children attend? Certainly not their parents, in most cases.

How the UK will recover from this disaster is anyone’s guess at the moment.

 

 

On Monday, June 28, Peter Bone (Con) asked an Urgent Question about the security camera in what was Matt Hancock’s office at the Department for Health and Social Care.

It has since been removed, but MPs from both sides of the aisle were deeply concerned — one wonders why — about its presence.

Julia Lopez, the Parliamentary Secretary in the Cabinet Office, answered MPs questions on that and on Hancock’s use of his personal Gmail account for government business.

Michael Gove, the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster, should have taken the questions, but he was working in Glasgow.

Excerpts from Hansard follow, emphases mine.

This debate cleared up misunderstandings about the use of personal email reported in the media at the weekend.

Security camera

Lopez said that an investigation is taking place:

On the specific incident relating to the leak of footage from a security camera to the media, given the public interest in the case I can confirm that the Department of Health and Social Care has launched an investigation that is supported, as appropriate, by the Government security group based in the Cabinet Office. Until the investigation is complete, it would be inappropriate to give further details. I am sorry to hon. Members who will understandably be seeking a lot of details on this matter. It is the case, however, that robust safeguards are in place around the security of Ministers, parliamentarians and Members of devolved legislatures.

Peter Bone asked for more information.

Lopez replied:

… once that investigation has been completed, notwithstanding the security concerns, we will want to provide him with reassurances on a number of the extremely important questions that he has raised.

My hon. Friend also asked about the extent to which offices are regularly swept. There is an organisation called UK NACE—UK National Authority for Counter Eavesdropping. It is the Government lead for counter-eavesdropping and this includes the technical manipulation of protective security systems, including CCTV. This is an area where it works very closely with the Government Security Group. My understanding is that it takes a risk-based assessment when it comes to sweeping, so in Departments where there are particular security sensitivities and concerns, those sweeps are taking place on a relatively regular basis, but Departments are accountable for the way in which their security is maintained within the Departments. The Cabinet Office plays a supporting role through the Government Security Group, setting out standards to which Departments are expected to adhere.

William Wragg (Con), a contrarian to his credit, asked about the safety of the whistleblower who allegedly leaked the Hancock video to The Sun:

what safeguards are there for whistleblowers who may inadvertently discover material that is in the public interest?

Lopez replied:

It is important that a distinction is made between material that was inappropriately sourced and then leaked and people who are trying to raise legitimate concerns that require public transparency. I shall look into the concern that my hon. Friend has raised to make sure that there is no blurring of those two very important and distinct issues.

Stewart Hosie (SNP) asked more questions about surveillance:

Was the former Health Secretary aware, and indeed, was the security officer in his Department aware, of the CCTV camera in his office? Is the Minister aware of similar CCTV cameras in any other ministerial office? Who installs such systems in Ministries and who monitors them and has access to their feeds? Do they record video only or is it sound and vision? Given that there were reports of this footage being touted on Instagram for some time, is it true that staff from private companies manage those systems and monitor the footage? If it is true, who is responsible for vetting, and what is the process for vetting, such staff?

Finally, and most importantly, how confident is the Minister that others—states and non-state actors who would do us harm—have not already compromised other staff or gained direct access to some of these CCTV feeds?

Lopez said that the Department of Health and Social Care were conducting their own investigation:

The hon. Gentleman raised a number of points—who installs such machines and so on—that we need to look into via the Department of Health and Social Care investigation. My understanding is that it was a CCTV camera, not a covert device. There are obviously questions to answer about the way in which civil servants are vetted—they do go through stringent vetting processes—and in respect of a risk-based approach as to which Departments need to be more regularly swept. I hope that some of the answers that the hon. Gentleman seeks will be answered by the Department of Health and Social Care investigation into this matter.

Jacob Young (Con) pointed out that it was crucial that, during a pandemic, the Department of Health must be fully secure for national security reasons.

Lopez said that, once complete, the DHSC investigation would provide more detail.

Jamie Stone (Scottish Lib Dem) wondered how Hancock would not have known about the security camera:

Crikey, Mr Speaker—who would be a Minister on a day like today?

I do not want to go into the detail of what happened on the day in question, but it occurs to me that the security camera—I think we are accepting that it was a security camera—must surely to goodness have been pretty covert. I know where the security cameras are in my local high street where I live in the Highlands. The more we go into this matter, the odder it gets. The public deserve an absolutely open explanation as to what has happened. If the cameras are covert, or semi-covert, why are they? Why does a Secretary of State not know, on a need-to-know basis, about this sort of thing and where the cameras are?

David Johnston (Con) asked for reassurance that no foreign power had access to the camera.

Lopez replied that the Government is investigating that issue.

Dr Julian Lewis (Con) asked whether security cameras in ministers’ offices was routine practice.

Lopez replied:

My understanding is that the general policy is that cameras are not sited within Ministers’ offices. I think this situation was an outlier in that regard, and we will have a better understanding of why it occurred once the Department’s investigation is complete.

Chris Bryant (Lab) had the comment of the day. Ordinarily, I disagree with much of what he says but fully appreciate his exasperation here:

Something really does not add up here. As I understand it, the Minister is saying that the camera in the office of the Secretary of State was not covert. In other words, the Secretary of State knew it was there, yet we have all seen the video. If that is true, he must be the stupidest man on earth. Is the Minister really trying to persuade us that he knew that there was a camera in his office? When he had meetings with other Ministers, were they informed that those meetings were being recorded? Is that really what she is trying to suggest? It blows my mind, this idea.

Lopez responded:

I am sorry that the hon. Gentleman’s mind is blown. I am a Cabinet Office Minister who is responsible for overall adherence to Government security rules. When it comes to the placement of the camera in that office, I am afraid that it is for the Department of Health and Social Care to account for itself when it comes to what happened. It is already conducting an investigation, which we will want to look at.

Steve Brine (Con) wondered how many people had access to what the camera recorded, especially if The Sun could post photos and a video:

As a former Minister in the Department of Health and Social Care with the previous Secretary of State, in candidness, no one ever told me that our meetings were being observed. I never asked, it is true, but I was certainly never told. The issue, to my mind, is of course that they were being recorded, but more, who had access to those images? Does the Minister think that things would be made much easier for everyone as the Department of Health and Social Care begins the investigation if the, let us remember, profit-making media organisation involved simply made it clear how it was able to see inside a senior Minister’s office?

Lopez advised waiting for the results of the investigation.

Dame Angela Eagle (Lab) asked about the camera and the use of personal emails (see below). She picked up on Chris Bryant’s point:

The Minister has astonished us all by saying that this was not a covert device, yet we have just heard from a former Health Minister that he did not know about it. The Minister is somehow asking us to believe that the now departed Secretary of State somehow knew about it, but clearly if he did he would not have behaved in the way he did right in front of it, so I think that she is stretching credibility.

Lopez said that the investigation would answer more questions.

Either Lopez or Gove will report back to the Commons with the results of the investigation.

Gmail account

On Hancock’s use of his Gmail account, Lopez said:

Government guidance is that official devices, email accounts and communications applications should be used for communicating classified information. Other forms of electronic communication may be used in the course of conducting Government business, but each Minister is responsible for ensuring that Government information is handled in a secure way. How that is done will depend on the type of information and on the specific circumstances.

Angela Rayner (Lab), responding for the Opposition, spoke, complaining that Michael Gove, the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster was not there:

Incredibly, this is not even the biggest scandal of the day when it comes to ministerial security and communications, and the Minister alluded to this comments. This morning, a Government spokesperson claimed that all Ministers only conduct Government business through their departmental email addresses yet I have, right here, the minutes of a departmental meeting in which senior civil servants report Government contracts being approved from a Minister’s private email address. Who is telling the truth? It is a pity that the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster could not be here in person, given his personal experience of the perils of using his private emails to conduct ministerial business and to try and avoid freedom of information laws.

And it goes well beyond one Department. Last week, the Cabinet Office refused to answer my questions about the Prime Minister’s mobile phone. Today, it has been reported that he, too, will not deny using private email addresses. Can the Minister now say from the Dispatch Box, categorically and on the record, that no Minister or Prime Minister has used, or does use, private email for Government business, especially when it involves spending public money?

This morning, the Justice Secretary agreed that private email was a huge security issue. He admitted that this revelation does raise legitimate questions. On this, he is right. Now it is time to answer those questions. Will those involved refer themselves to the Information Commissioner so that a genuinely independent investigation can take place? If any Ministers have used private email for Government business, what action will be taken and what will be done to prevent it from happening again? What steps have been and will be taken to preserve private emails as evidence for the public inquiry into the Government’s mishandling of the covid pandemic?

Our country faces daily threats from hostile foreign states that have already, for example, hacked the private email account of the right hon. Member for North Somerset (Dr Fox). What advice have the Government taken on the security of Ministers’ private email accounts? What does it say about this Government that they will launch an inquiry into leaks of CCTV but not into their own Ministers?

Lopez replied, mentioning ‘the height of the pandemic’ last year:

Other forms of electronic communication may be used in the course of conducting Government business. Each Minister is responsible for ensuring that Government information is handled in a secure way, but how that is done will depend on the type of information and on the specific circumstances.

The right hon. Lady asked about the procurement of personal protective equipment, I believe, or a covid contract that was conducted allegedly via a private email address. I am happy to look into that. But there needs to be understanding of the fact that when we were at the height of the pandemic, a huge volume of correspondence was coming to Ministers via their personal email addresses, their parliamentary email addresses and their ministerial email addresses.

A Scottish Labour MP, Mark Tami, shouted:

That’s all right, then!

The atmosphere turned lively, with audible reactions.

Lopez continued, pointing out that, when the time came to speak up in other debates, Angela Rayner had not done so:

I am not suggesting that there is something we should not be looking into. My point is that—[Interruption.] Perhaps the hon. Gentleman could wait for me to finish. Some 15,000 offers of help to secure PPE came in following the Prime Minister’s call for assistance. Obviously people wanted to respond to that call, and then we needed to manage the sheer volume of correspondence. The important thing to note is that when PPE offers did come in, they went through the same eight-stage process, so no matter which way those things were communicated, they went through the same process, and that should provide assurance.

Insofar as there are questions to answer, I want to assure the right hon. Lady that we have conducted a number of internal and external inquiries into this matter. There is the Boardman investigation into contracts and there was a National Audit Office investigation into contracts, so I assure her that this matter has already been looked into. She is absolutely right to ask questions and I am absolutely right to reassure her.

I would add that there have been a number of debates on covid contracts in this House, one of which took place in Westminster Hall. I was on maternity leave at the time of the pandemic. I shared the right hon. Lady’s concerns and wanted to understand what had happened, so I responded to a debate in Westminster Hall on those questions and I set out very candidly some of the concerns and challenges that we faced at the height of the pandemic. A number of hon. Members engaged in that debate and asked very legitimate questions to which I responded to the best of my ability. I am not aware that the right hon. Lady has ever engaged in any of those debates. If she wishes to generate a lot of hue and cry over this, that is understandable from a political point of view, but it is my duty to set out the challenges we faced and the ways we are addressing some of the concerns.

Later in the debate, Charlotte Nichols (Lab) said that Lopez had not answered Rayner’s questions:

The Minister did not give a straightforward answer to my right hon. Friend the Member for Ashton-under-Lyne (Angela Rayner), so I will ask her again: is she confirming that Ministers did use private email addresses to approve contracts and that the Department of Health and Social Care therefore misled the public in its statement denying categorically that that happened? Given just how serious this is, will she agree to refer it to the Information Commissioner so that there is an independent investigation, not another Government whitewash?

Lopez replied that civil servants ultimately approve contracts but she would look into the matter:

My understanding is that it is not within the Minister’s power to approve contracts—that goes through the approval of civil servants. I would like to offer the hon. Lady that assurance, but I am happy to look into the particular incident she highlights further if there are concerns that need to be looked into.

Dame Angela Eagle (Lab) said there was a time when personal email accounts were forbidden with regard to government business:

When I was a Minister, we were not allowed to use our own inboxes or our own private emails for Government business. We were told very, very bluntly at the beginning of our ministerial career that this would not be allowed. Why on earth is it different now?

Lopez mentioned the pandemic:

On the use of emails, there are clear guidelines to which Ministers should adhere, but we have to accept that there was a situation in which we all had to move online, and we all have to account for the way in which we handled ourselves in that period.

Mark Harper (Con) asked whether private email accounts used in conducting government business were subject to Freedom of Information (FOI) requests:

On the use of private emails for Government business, will the Minister confirm the legal position under the Freedom of Information Act? My understanding is that if a public authority—the Secretary of State clearly is a public authority—uses a private email for Government business, that private email and those emails are subject to the Freedom of Information Act, and the destruction of any emails in order to prevent them from being disclosed would be a criminal offence. That information will obviously be of some reassurance to people. Is she able to confirm that from the Dispatch Box?

Lopez confirmed Harper’s understanding:

Yes, I can confirm that official information held in private email accounts is subject to FOI.

Joanna Cherry (SNP) picked up on Harper’s point:

Our Prime Minister has had to have his phone wrested from him by the security services for conducting Government business by WhatsApp, and now a Health Secretary has been using his Gmail for official purposes. Can the Minister please answer the second question posed by the right hon. Member for Forest of Dean (Mr Harper) and confirm to us that it would be a criminal offence for any Minister to destroy communications they have made about Government business on private emails or private messaging apps for the purpose of defeating the ends of justice regarding our freedom of information request or, indeed, defeating the ends of justice in any future inquiry into the covid crisis?

Lopez replied:

As I say, official information held in private email accounts is subject to freedom of information and all the rules and restrictions around that.

The final question came from Dame Diana Johnson (Lab) on the permissibility of using personal emails and other online platforms for government business. She also had a go at Michael Gove:

May  I say to the Minister first of all that this House should take precedence in the priorities of the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster, not travelling to Scotland?

When I was a Minister, neither parliamentary emails nor private emails were allowed to be used for Government business. Will the Minister therefore confirm whether using private email accounts to discuss sensitive Government business is in breach of the Freedom of Information Act, the Official Secrets Act, the Data Protection Act or the Public Records Act 1958, which place specific requirements on the use of Government information?

Lopez said that various online forms of communication is permitted:

As I have said, Government guidance is that official devices, email accounts and communications applications should be used for communicating classified information, but other forms of electronic communication may be used in the course of conducting business, and official information that is held in private email accounts is subject to FOI. I hope that that provides the right hon. Lady with assurance.

I am very much looking forward to a coronavirus inquiry next year, because I would like to know how many contract-related Gmail messages were deleted.

By the end of the day, Speaker of the House Sir Lindsay Hoyle issued a message to reassure anxious MPs about cameras in Parliamentary offices, not departmental buildings:

This seemed to preoccupy several MPs. It makes one wonder what they’ve been up to.

Yesterday’s post covered former Health Secretary Matt Hancock’s final 48 hours in that post.

Marital breakups

When Harry Cole’s story broke in The Sun on Friday, Hancock asked for privacy because he wanted to spend time with his children.

Perhaps.

However, on Monday night, Cole reported (emphases mine):

The ousted Health Secretary quit on his wife Martha last week after 15 years and is now understood to be living with his lover.

Her husband is devastated:

Gina, 43, has called time on her own 12-year marriage with Oliver Tress after her affair was exposed.

Oliver, 54, the millionaire Oliver Bonas founder, is said to be “devastated” by the shock revelations, as family pals confirmed the split

A neighbour in Wandsworth, South West London, said: “Gina and Matt are giving it a proper go and Olly was left reeling.

“They had lots of friends here so we are all trying to help look after Olly.”

Hancock’s relationship seems to have been developing for some time, as the Mail reported:

The aide who kissed Matt Hancock in CCTV footage which ended his marriage and Health Secretary career was ‘asked two years ago if they were having an affair‘.

Gina Coladangelo, 43, is said to have denied the existence of any romance between her and Mr Hancock when she was quizzed by one of his allies.

Friends said on Saturday night the affair had been going on for months, despite others only seeming to find out when the steamy minute-long clip of them emerged.

One wonders why they did not get married after graduating from Oxford. They both read PPE and worked on the student radio station. The Mail explains why:

Matt Hancock’s mistress Gina Coladangelo was way out of the disgraced former Health Secretary’s league while they were studying together at Oxford, a fellow alumnus revealed last night.

Broadcast journalist Maxie Allen, who worked alongside the pair at university radio station Oxygen FM in the late 1990s, recalled that men were desperate to date Miss Coladangelo while ‘low profile’ Mr Hancock cut ‘an obscure figure’ and was ‘not someone you would mark out as destined for greatness’.

Speaking to the Sunday Mirror, Mr Allen told the Sunday Mirror: ‘She struck me as someone who would get what they want. He’s done well. This wouldn’t have happened if he wasn’t the Health Secretary and she wasn’t lobbying, that is blatantly obvious to anyone who knew them back then.

Gina was very glamorous, very nice and very good looking – all the young men held a candle for her. She was suave, composed and elegant. Most men would have given their right arm to go out with her.’

The former Health Secretary, who read sports for the radio station while he studied Politics, Philosophy and Economics, was regarded as ‘low profile’ and ‘not someone you would mark out as destined for greatness’.  

He added: ‘Hancock did the odd sports report but he wasn’t well known. He was not the sort of person where he’d come into a room and everyone went, ‘Oh, Matt Hancock’s here’.

‘He had a very slight presence, not someone you would mark out as destined for greatness. Whereas Gina was very well-known and high-profile and memorable. You never saw them talking to each other.’

Mr Allen recalled Miss Coladangelo’s 21st birthday party at her parents’ home in Royston, Hertfordshire, and remarked: ‘It was a glamorous affair. They had a few bob. Gina is not the sort of person to get drunk and make a scene. She was very composed and elegant.’

Affair unfair to the public

The Mail‘s veteran columnist Richard Littlejohn put the affair into perspective for us in a time of lockdown:

Clearly this wasn’t simply a ‘moment of madness’. It’s emerged that the affair has been the talk o’ the steamie, as they say in Scotland, for months.

When wasn’t it going on?

So all the time Hancock was ordering us — on pain of prosecution — to keep our distance, not to hug our grannies or make love to anyone outside our immediate household, he was getting hot and heavy with his old university flame — a woman he’d put on the public payroll so he could keep her in close proximity for whenever the fancy took him.

So it would seem. He personally appointed her to her post, which required only 15 days of actual work per year:

Cross constituents

In Newmarket, Suffolk — the heart of Hancock’s constituency — people were unhappy with their MP. The Mail interviewed several of them on Sunday:

Today Newmarket locals said they were ‘happy’ that the MP for West Suffolk had resigned from the Cabinet as they accused him of ‘hypocrisy and double standards’ over coronavirus restrictions. 

Residents described how they had been prevented from visiting their grandchildren by Mr Hancock, while some admitted they only voted for him in 2019 to keep Labour out. Others were thrilled to hear that the minister whose regulations had kept their businesses shut had left the Government.

Graham Gladstone, 41, said: ‘He should have resigned immediately. The defence from Boris Johnson shows a contempt towards British members of public who have followed the rules and NHS staff who have had to be involved in treating people and the consequences of the virus. 

It seemed typical of Conservative ministers to see what the public reaction was rather than think about the consequences of what he did. Especially after he publicly denounced Neil Ferguson.’ 

Hannah Grimwood, 32, who works at Argos and has lived in Newmarket for 10 years, said: ‘I never liked him in the first place, I’ve been moaning about the man for yearsI feel sorry for Boris Johnson, he had too much on his plate and too many people telling him what he should and shouldn’t do.’

Miss Grimwood’s partner Gary Holliday, 42, added: ‘If you make the rules you have to follow the rules. He’s only human but when it’s happening a couple of times or more then members of the public are going to think it’s not fair.’

Cross Conservative MPs

Conservative MPs were also angry at Hancock’s hypocrisy. No doubt their inboxes were filling up with complaints from constituents. A crucial by-election is also coming up in Batley and Spen on Thursday, July 1, which the Conservatives hope to win. More on that later this week.

The Telegraph‘s Christopher Hope had the story about Hancock’s decision to resign on Saturday:

The Daily Telegraph understands that this view crystallised in a “fairly direct” conversation with Mark Spencer, the Government’s chief whip, at lunchtime on Saturday, who told him that 80 Tory MPs had complained to the whips’ office about him in the 24 hours after he refused to resign.

Mr Spencer fed back the concerns in a call to Mr Hancock at midday on Saturday. “There were 80 Tory MPs saying he should go at that time,” a source said.

The number of complaints means that more than one in four of the party’s 363 MPs complained about Mr Hancock.

Sky News interview about funerals

On Sunday morning, Trevor Phillips interviewed a Conservative Cabinet member, Brandon Lewis, about Hancock’s hypocrisy.

On his Sky News show, Phillips related the story of his daughter who died during lockdown on May 11 this year, six days after Hancock’s steamy clinch with his aide. Phillips’s daughter did not have the virus. She was anorexic.

Here’s the video:

The Evening Standard has the dialogue:

Mr Phillips told Mr Lewis he wanted “to do something I wouldn’t normally do and put a personal, private, question to you”.

He continued: “Over the past two days, every Cabinet minister, including you, has come out to essentially defend the Prime Minister and Matt Hancock.

“The pictures that we saw were of an encounter on May 6.

On May 11, my family buried my daughter who had died not of Covid but during the lockdown.

Three hundred of our family and friends turned up online but most of them were not allowed to be at the graveside, even though it is in the open air, because of the rule of 30.

Because of the instruction by Mr Hancock.”

Before allowing Mr Lewis the chance to respond, Mr Phillips finished by saying: “Now the next time one of you tells me what to do in my private life, explain to me why I shouldn’t just tell you where to get off?”

Mr Lewis failed to acknowledge Mr Phillips’ loss, and said: “Look I absolutely accept the frustration, even the anger, from people and the situations they’ve been through.

“I’ve lost friends whose funerals I’ve not been able to go to, that is such a tragic situation for any of us to be in, which is why it’s so important for all of us to do what we can to keep ourselves and family members safe.”

He again defended disgraced Mr Hancock, adding: “What Matt did was wrong and that’s why he apologised and acknowledged that.”

Mr Phillips is covering for Sophy Ridge on the channel’s Sunday morning politics show.

More double standards

With regard to coronavirus restrictions, here is a video of Wimbledon from Monday, June 28. The stands are full. There are no masks nor is there any social distancing:

However, football matches are still restricted in audience numbers and require mask wearing:

And here we are, being told to wear masks in shops, when we are there for far less time than it takes to watch a day’s worth of tennis at Wimbledon.

However, since the Hancock photos and video emerged, some shops are no longer asking for masks to be worn.

The Mail reported:

Together with growing exasperation at the never-ending cycle of lockdowns, people are taking matters into their own handswith small retailers discouraging mask-wearing while massive anti-lockdown protests sweep through London calling for Mr Hancock’s arrest. 

Shops in Thirsk, North Yorkshire, placed signs in windows showing Mr Hancock kissing Miss Coladangelo, who studied politics, philosophy and economics at Oxford at the same time as Mr Hancock in the 1990s and is married to Oliver Bonas founder Oliver Tress.  

The signs say: ‘Welcome to House Interiors. Don’t wear a mask if you don’t want too (sic). Matt doesn’t’

The article has a photo of the sign, which is as amusing as it is true.

Hancock’s house was also targeted. It’s a pity he was not there to see it:

Police were pictured removing a sticker put on Mr Hancock’s London home, where his wife Martha and their children live. It says: ‘Our forefathers gave their lives to keep this country free, and you’re just going to sit back and let it become an authoritarian hellhole, over a virus with a 99.9% recovery rate?’ 

Television presenter Kirstie Allsopp pointed out:

the incident showed how ‘it was one rule for you, another for us’, tweeting: ‘I remember footage of Hancock whipping of his mask as he entered No 10, not even keeping it on in the corridors as school children were made to do, I knew then it was one rule for you, another for us.’ 

Humour at Hancock’s expense

On Monday, June 28, an amusing video went viral of a man enquiring of Hancock at the gates of Downing Street:

The Mail reported:

The clip, filmed by company boss Dan Wright on Monday afternoon, has gone viral and been viewed more than a million times already

In the video, Mr Wright asks the group of armed policemen: ‘Is Matt allowed to play? Is Matt allowed to come out and play?’ The smirking officer then responds: ‘No, he’s cleaning his locker out at the moment’ – to roars of laughter from his colleagues.

Passerby Mr Wright, of Chelmsford, Essex, also bursts out laughing while a second armed police officer quips: ‘He’s had his play already.’ 

Conclusion

It is to be hoped that the House of Commons will not forget the Hancock debacle any time soon.

Debates on coronavirus restrictions this week have been lively, even though Hancock was only the subject of one Urgent Question, which related to the security camera in his former office.

Julia Lopez, the Parliamentary Secretary for the Cabinet Office, also fielded questions from MPs about Hancock’s use of his personal Gmail account for Health Department contracts.

More on those tomorrow.

This week, Prime Minister Boris Johnson postponed Freedom Day from June 21 to July 19, 2021.

Although a vote on this passed comfortably on Wednesday, June 16 — 489 to 60 — the number of rebel MPs, mostly Conservative, increased compared with previous votes on coronavirus restrictions. This page shows who voted No.

Boris and Matt Hancock might want to rethink their dependence on the lefty scientists of SAGE, but will they?

SAGE are effectively running this nation … into the ground.

Chesham & Amersham by-election upset

In addition, on Thursday, June 17, the Conservatives lost a by-election in Chesham & Amersham in leafy Buckinghamshire, not far from London. It had been a safe Conservative seat since the 1970s. A journalist from the Financial Times tweeted that he was sure they would win it once again:

In reality, it was a hat made out of fabric. Jim Pickard took three small bites of it, washed down with water. Sensible, as it could have been made in the world’s largest manufacturing country (no prizes for guessing correctly). H/T Guido Fawkes:

Now they have a Liberal Democrat MP, the lady pictured below standing next to party leader Ed Davey MP. The reply to the tweet blames the win on local opposition to a high speed railway (HS2) and to extending lockdown:

However, the Lib Dems never really opposed HS2:

The by-election took place because Dame Cheryl Gillan MP died on April 4. Despite a long term illness, she was an active participant in parliamentary debates until the end.

According to a Guido Fawkes reader, this was the vote tally on Thursday compared with 2019’s general election:

2019 results:

Conservative 30,850

Lib Dems 14,627

Labour 7,166

2021 Votes:

Conservative 13,489

Lib Dems 21,517

Labour 622

The only consolation is that the Labour vote sank like a stone:

Coronavirus cases rise in Cornwall after G7 summit

The virus lives and is on the rise in Cornwall:

In addition to the G7 and half term, another factor could be the warm weather last Sunday, attracting people to beaches.

Guido Fawkes has maps and the figures (emphasis in the original):

Last week, both St. Ives and the Carbis Bay area had two positive cases respectively. Now, St. Ives has 36 cases, and Carbis Bay has 15. That’s a 1,700% increase in the former, and a 650% rise in the latter…

One of Guido’s readers replied that a hotel and university are responsible (emphases mine below):

Tosh. The rise in St Ives/Carbis Bay happened before G7 kicked off and was down to the staff in one hotel and is linked back to the plastic University at the top of Penryn.

Cases, however, are only positive tests. Not all should require hospitalisation.

Wednesday’s vote in Parliament

On Wednesday, June 16, Matt Hancock opened the debate on coronaivirus restrictions in the House of Commons.

He said, in part:

Thanks to the protection of the vaccination programme, huge advances in treatments like dexamethasone, which was discovered a year ago today, and the resolve of the British people in following the rules that this House has laid down, we have been able to take the first three steps on our road map, removing restrictions and restoring colour to the nation, but we have always said that we would take each step at a time and look at the data and our four tests before deciding whether to proceed. The regulations before the House today put into effect our decision to pause step 4 on our roadmap until 19 July. Before outlining the regulations that will put this into effect, I would like to set out why we made this difficult but essential decision.

Unfortunately, there has been a significant change since we started on our journey down the road map in February. A new variant has given the virus extra legs, both because it spreads more easily and because there is some evidence that the risk of hospitalisation is higher than for the alpha variant, which was, of course, previously dominant in this country. The delta variant now accounts for 96% of new cases. The number of cases is rising and hospitalisations are starting to rise, too—they are up 48% over the past week. The number of deaths in England is thankfully not rising and remains very low, but, as I told the House on Monday, we do not yet know the extent to which the link between hospitalisations and deaths has been broken, so we propose to give the NHS a few more crucial weeks to get those remaining jabs into the arms of those who need them.

Mark Harper (Con) intervened:

Can I just ask my right hon. Friend what we expect to achieve in the four weeks? I think I am right in saying that there are 1.3 million people in priority groups one to nine who have yet to have a second dose of the vaccination. The good point is that that means we have vaccinated 96% of people in those groups, but I just wonder—after four weeks, I doubt that we will get to 100%, so there will still be a significant number of people in those groups not vaccinated with two doses, and at that point, there is still going to be some risk. My worry, and the worry of others, is that we are going to get to this point in four weeks’ time and we will just be back here all over again extending the restrictions. That is what we are concerned about.

Hancock said he was sure that four weeks would be sufficient. He’s said that before.

Steve Baker (Con) also intervened:

Is not the problem with the two-week checkpoint that it creates another moment of hope for people who still feel even these restrictions very acutely, and that if we create hope and then shift the goalposts again, people will continue to deepen their despair? What will he say to those people?

Hancock said the public understood the reasons for the delay.

After Hancock finished speaking, it was the turn of the Shadow Health Secretary Jonathan Ashworth (Lab) to respond.

Ashworth largely agreed with the Government’s extension to Freedom Day, but he rightly posed questions, such as this one:

Will we continue wearing masks?

At which point, Desmond Swayne (Con), who wears a silk scarf instead of a mask, shouted:

No!

Steve Brine (Con), former Public Health minister, intervened, recalling a bad flu year:

The right hon. Gentleman is right: we had a battle royal with influenza in the first year that I was in the job, but the difference was that we did not have any non-pharmaceutical interventions. Our interventions were about the take-up of the vaccine—yes, for children as well as for adults, especially the vulnerable. One of our chief advisers, the deputy chief medical officer then, one Professor Chris Whitty, never suggested masks, let alone closing schools—just a really good roll-out of the flu vaccine. We lost 22,000 people that year. Never were those numbers rolled on BBC News; never did we know the R number, but there was a point where we accepted an element of risk in society. I guess that was the point of my earlier intervention on the hon. Gentleman: what element of risk is he prepared to accept? Because that is what it comes down to—our own mortality is part of the human condition.

Ashworth replied, in part:

I do not want to see it done by some of the wider restrictions and lockdowns that we have heard about. That is why I would be interested to know whether the Department has developed plans for restrictions this winter and whether the Secretary of State has been discussing that with Whitehall colleagues.

Mark Harper intervened again:

On the point about the restrictions, I know that those discussions are going on because I have seen documents from within Government with very detailed suggestions about what measures may continue. I asked the Secretary of State about this when he was in the Commons earlier this week, and he did not rule out bringing in restrictions this winter. That is partly why some Conservative Members are very concerned and why we are not going to vote for these regulations today. However, I want to take the right hon. Gentleman back to his comments on what Chris Hopson said about the fact that the NHS is very busy at the moment. There is a danger here. I am very sympathetic to colleagues who work in the NHS, who have done a fantastic job, but we cannot get to a point where we restrict and manage society in order to manage NHS waiting lists. That is not the right way round. The NHS is there to serve society. If we need to enable it to do that, we have to think of a way of doing it other than putting restrictions on the rest of society. That is not a sustainable or a desirable position, but it is the logical consequence of what Chris Hopson was saying earlier this month.

Here’s the video, which begins with Ashworth sitting down to give way to Harper:

Ashworth replied, beginning with this:

Even though we will find ourselves in different Lobbies this evening, I think there is more in common between us than perhaps one might expect. I do not want restrictions to remain in place for any longer than they need to. I want to move to a system where we are trying to push down covid infection rates by, yes, rolling out vaccination as far and as fast as possible to everybody, but also putting in place the proper framework so that those who are ill or a contact of someone who has been ill with covid is able to isolate themselves.

He took more interventions from Conservative MPs, then concluded:

The House is being asked to extend these restrictions, but there are a number of pressing issues. First, many of us have been contacted by business people in our constituencies who are deeply concerned about the extension of these restrictions. For my constituency in Leicester, which has been living under a form of restrictions more severe than other parts of the country, other than perhaps parts of Greater Manchester, this has been particularly devastating. I hope that the Government will be putting in place full support for businesses such as mine in Leicester and Greater Manchester and elsewhere.

The second issue, which we have touched on a little bit, is whether these restrictions will ever end, or whether the Prime Minister has trapped us in Hotel California, where we can never leave. He has talked about 19 July as the terminus date, but the explanatory notes themselves say that the four tests will apply on 19 July, and that these four weeks will be used to gather more data.

Hancock said later on that July 19 is still the terminus date and that data would be examined in two weeks’ time.

The general debate took off from there, with Sir Desmond Swayne (Con), the original rebel, the first to speak. He criticised SAGE and one of its members, Susan Michie, the Communist:

I never believed that it was proportionate, even from the outset, for Ministers to take such liberties with our liberty. I always thought that it was wrong for them to take our freedoms, even though they believed that they were acting in our best interests in an emergency, but by any measure that emergency has now passed and yet freedoms are still withheld and the Government will not allow us to assess for ourselves the risks that we are prepared to encounter in our ordinary, everyday lives. The Government do not trust the people whom they govern.

Many members of SAGE—a misnomer if ever there was one—have been out busily undermining public morale. One of them even shared her dystopian vision that we must all remain masked and distanced in perpetuity—a shocking, horrible prospect. The fact is that once the consequences of this virus in terms of their financial and health impacts have long been addressed, the moral impact will remain. The Government have set a disastrous precedent in terms of the future of liberty on these islands. I could understand it if we were a communist party, but this is the party that inherited the true wisdom of the Whig tradition. This is the party of Margaret Thatcher, who said that liberty was indivisible. This is the party that only recently elected a leader whom we believed was a libertarian. There is much on which we are going to have to reflect.

Here is the video of his remarks:

Smoking also came up in the debate:

Sir Charles Walker (Con), another early rebel, spoke. He wants a reform of SAGE. Excerpts follow:

I wish to try to be constructive about how we can improve SAGE. As you know, Mr Deputy Speaker, SAGE has huge power over our lives. It has power over whom we hug and hold. It has power over which businesses open and which businesses close. In essence, it has power over who keeps their job and who loses their job. We, too, in this place have great power, but our power is matched by accountability.

Accountability is very important in the exercising of power, so I want to suggest some reforms to SAGE—some quite technical reforms. First, there is a need for greater financial transparency from members of SAGE in line with that expected of Members of Parliament. For example, I think when we look at SAGE members, we should be able to see what their annual income is—not only from their substantive job, but from their pensions accrued or the pensions they might well be in receipt of. This is something that is freely available for all Members of Parliament. I think we should also know and constituents should know if they have any significant shareholdings in companies, in the same way that our constituents know if we have significant shareholdings in companies. We could also look at whether they get other forms of income—from rent, for example

in the case of young people, many SAGE experts say that young people should be working from home. We know that young people are now tied to their small kitchen table or in their bedroom in miserable environments—the new dark satanic mills—and working endless hours in appalling circumstances, because people with nice gardens and comfortable homes think that is what they should be doing.

There should also be far greater personal accountability. There should be no more, “Here is Sir Mark Walport—of SAGE, but here in a personal capacity”. Nonsense! He is there because he is a member of SAGE. We should also have elections to SAGE, so we could see Sir Mark Walport, Professor Susan Michie, John Edmunds and regular talking heads in our TV studios challenged by people with a different perspective—people such as Professor Karol Sikora, Professor Paul Dolan, who is an expert on human behaviour and quality of life, and Professor Ellen Townsend, who has a huge interest in the welfare of children and adolescents who are now being plagued by anxiety and eating disorders …

So here it is: full financial disclosure from members of SAGE and full elections, or they advise the Government, and if they do not want to do that, but want to advise TV studios, they do that, but they do not do both.

Here is the video of his speech in full:

Graham Stringer (Lab), also a rebel, spoke next. He rightly said that MPs do not have enough scientific data to make an informed decision about restrictions. Excerpts follow:

As ever, it is an honour to follow the hon. Member for Broxbourne (Sir Charles Walker). On his interesting point about SAGE, we could do with full disclosure from the Government about all the facts that they have available to them on covid. In the Science and Technology Committee this morning, we were told that vaccinations have saved 14,000 lives. I have no doubt that that is an accurate figure, but there are many figures that have not been given. As we said the last time we debated this issue, only one side of the equation is given. Let me ask this question: how many lives have been lost in order to save capacity in the NHS? When it comes to looking at people untested and untreated for cancer, heart disease and other diseases, we will find that the figures are of a similar, if not greater, magnitude than the number of people who have died from covid …

There is a great deal more information that we require in order to make a rational decision about whether the lockdown should continue. I agree with the right hon. Member for New Forest West (Sir Desmond Swayne) that what we have here is the Government asking for emergency powers when there is no longer an emergency

The Government have refused on a number of occasions to give out that information. They have run a campaign to scare people into accepting their decisions

One of the things that has annoyed me most in the last 15 months is when the Prime Minister and the Secretary of State for Health and Social Care say, “We instruct you”—meaning the population—“to do various things,” when there is nothing in the legislation that would give the Secretary of State or the Prime Minister the ability to instruct individuals. We live in a liberal democracy in which we pass laws that are enforced by the police, and then the courts make a decision if there is a prosecution, not one in which the Secretary of State acts like some kind of uniformed Minister of the Interior.

I will vote against the regulations today. We need a more direct debate on the issue and we need what Members have searched for—a straightforward comparison, with real statistics, of what risks everybody faces.

Steve Baker (Con) agreed with Mark Harper about society and the NHS:

I refer the House to the declarations that I have made relating to the Covid Recovery Group.

No one can deny the brilliance of the Government’s—the NHS’s—vaccination programme. By mid-April, the over-50s and the vulnerable had had their first vaccination, and overwhelmingly they have now had their second. That is reflected in the Office for National Statistics antibody data, which shows extraordinary levels for anyone over 50. Antibodies are there in that population, which is vulnerable to the disease.

That brings me to the best case that the Government could make for the regulations before the House, which is that the ability of the NHS to provide other healthcare could be compromised by admissions from a younger population, because a small percentage of a big number is still a big number. But the huge problem with that is that it concedes the point that our liberties can be used to manage the capacity of the NHS. I cannot concede that. As my right hon. Friend the Member for Forest of Dean (Mr Harper) said, that is not the way in which we should be going as a society. If the restrictions that we are extending had been proposed for that purpose in the past, we would never have accepted them.

In Wycombe, people have of course been dutifully washing their hands, covering their faces and keeping social distancing rules, yet early in this pandemic, I remember one dear, sweet, older lady was beside herself with anxiety at the thought of having to go about her ordinary life with her face covered, and look at us now, taking it for granted. This is not normal. This is the dystopia that I stood here and forecast on the day we went into lockdown

One of the most important things that we have learned from Mr Cummings’ leaked WhatsApp messages is that it seems that the Government have been significantly influenced by polling. I fear we have had a real doom loop here between polling and policy making, which has driven us into a disastrous position. We now must not tolerate lockdowns being perpetually on the table. We must not tolerate a situation going on where we and the police are unclear about what the law is and how it should be applied. Imagine that you can hug but not dance—what madness is this? We cannot tolerate a situation any more in which a Government social scientist told the author of the book “A State of Fear” that the Government had used unethical techniques of behavioural science to deliver a policy which he said, in his own words, “smacks of totalitarianism”.

We have transformed this society for the worst. We have it put in place a culture and habits that will take years to shake off and that distance people from one another and diminish their quality of life and the quality of relationships that they have with one another. High streets are in danger of becoming haunted alleyways. We are in danger of hollowing out and destroying the entertainment industry—much of what makes life worth living. Today’s vote will go through—it is a foregone conclusion—but as my right hon. Friend the Member for New Forest West (Sir Desmond Swayne) implied, if the Conservative party does not stand for freedom under the rule of law, in my view, it stands for nothing. We have got to have a turning point. We have got to recapture a spirit of freedom.

Mark Harper spoke later on, at which point the Labour benches were empty. It is important for Britons reading this post to look at what he has uncovered. The Government continue to be dishonest not only with MPs but also the public:

Well said!

Please also note the following about winter. Meanwhile, Democrat-run New York and California are now open:

May our merciful God help the UK out of this unholy mess.

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