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Boris Johnson is now into his third year as Prime Minister.

On Wednesday and Thursday, September 15 and 16, he reshuffled some of his cabinet and ministerial posts, signalling that he is more than halfway through his premiership. In other words, this will be the major reshuffle to lead the Conservatives into the next general election.

I hope that Boris does not go for a 2023 election, unless it is late in the year. The coronavirus crisis will have put much of the Conservative manifesto agenda on hold for two years. As such, not much has been accomplished to date, as Andrew Neil, who recently resigned from GB News, says:

Boris has appointed more Leave ministers as well as more minority and female ministers, which will not matter to most small-c conservatives:

Highlights of the reshuffle follow.

Dominic Raab no longer Foreign Secretary

It looks as if dithering over Afghanistan while holidaying in Crete has finished Dominic Raab’s days as Foreign Secretary. He had to do the walk of shame after his demotion:

That said, Boris has found a new job for him as Justice Secretary.

Raab will also continue to be Deputy Prime Minister, a role he handled extremely well in April 2020, when Boris was hospitalised with coronavirus.

Defence Secretary Ben Wallace defended his fellow MP and the move in an interview with BBC Breakfast:

Wallace said of Raab: “Dominic is by trade a lawyer, he started his life in the Foreign Office as a human rights lawyer and he’s gone to the Ministry of Justice, which is actually a very, very important role and a role he desperately understands.”

Liz Truss becomes new Foreign Secretary

Former Trade Secretary Liz Truss replaces Dominic Raab as Foreign Secretary, with Anne-Marie Trevelyan taking her place.

Post-Brexit, Truss has made various trade deals with other nations, notably Australia and Japan.

She also remains minister for women and equalities.

Truss is popular with grassroots conservatives and her name has often been mentioned as a future party leader and Prime Minister.

She succeeded not only in trade but also in refusing wokery in 2020 …

… and in 2021, as Guido Fawkes reported on June 16 (emphases mine):

Liz Truss tells Times Radio most people aren’t interested in the culture war…

My role as equality minister is to make sure everybody in Britain is treated equally regardless of their sex, their sexuality and their race. What we have seen over the past few years is the development of identity politics where there has been division created. People are described as being members of a group rather than for their own personal, individual humanity and dignity… We have just launched for example a big data project looking where are the gaps in education, employment and enterprise across the country, and how we can fix those. That is the approach we need to take… I think some of the identity politics we have seen focus on symbolism over real results has been divisive… I think most people aren’t interested in this socalled culture war, what they’re interested in is, “Am I being given a fair chance? Do I have a good chance of getting a job? Am I treated fairly by public services?” And that’s why I think our equality agenda should focus onthose bread and butter issues that are of concern to everyone in the country.”

She is consistently among the most popular of the Cabinet members. This survey is from March 2021:

She can even ably dodge camera equipment during an interview:

Nadine Dorries moves from Health and Social Care to Culture Secretary

In what is hoped to please grassroots small-c conservative voters, Nadine Dorries now heads Digital, Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS), replacing Oliver Dowden, who, as new co-chairman of the Conservative Party, will formulate a strategy for the next general election.

Most of these grassroots supporters are fed up with the BBC. Will Dorries take on Auntie Beeb?

I do not put much stock in that possibility. Resurrecting Dorries’s tweets from several years ago are no indication of her current willingness to oppose the BBC on anything much:

The BBC have just appointed a firmly left-wing executive editor of BBC News, Jess Brammar. At least one Conservative MP, Brendan Clarke-Smith, was unhappy about the possibility of her appointment back in August:

I will not be holding my breath for Dorries to take her on, although others in the left-wing and anti-Brexit political establishment are angry about Dorries’s appointment, as Guido Fawkes reports; he has screenshots of her past tweets (emphasis in the original):

She’s been in the job for 17 hours and is already annoying all the right people… 

John Whittingdale returns to backbenches

I have doubts about Dorries because one of the DCMS ministers, John Whittingdale, was supposed to take on the BBC in 2016 and never did. He also washed his hands of removing free TV licences for most over-75s, saying it was a decision for the BBC. Is this why he got the sack?

During the Euro 2020 soccer tournament this year, Whittingdale told Kay Burley of Sky News that travel restrictions were lifted for ‘important’ people associated with the matches:

Speaking on Sky News, John Whittingdale was asked why players, officials and others coming to London for the Euros final on 11 July should be allowed in without self-isolating.

He said: “We’ve always said that for some people who are important, players, for instance …”

The presenter, Kay Burley, interrupted him, saying: “So people who want to go on holiday are not important. Is that what you’re saying?”

Whittingdale’s last pronouncement, standing in for his boss Oliver Dowden, was about a proposed mandate to make all BBC and ITV output ‘distinctively British’. That was on September 16. It will be interesting to see whether Nadine Dorries will insist on it.

Newsnight argument over Dorries

Nadine Dorries was the subject of an argument between Conservative MP Charles Walker and former Conservative MP, Remainer Anna Soubry, who lost her seat in December 2019.

By the way, this was Anna Soubry with Nigel Farage either just before or just after the Brexit referendum in June 2016:

https://image.vuukle.com/53c514e6-2ea5-43ee-8d62-ab3605e89230-4b7901f5-a9d3-4364-8bc8-df6af8f09a3c

But I digress.

The discussion between Soubry and Charles Walker took place on the BBC’s Newsnight on September 15:

Here’s the video, with Labour MP Peter Kyle sitting at the desk with presenter Emily Maitlis:

Guido Fawkes has the highlights:

Nadine Dorries provided the biggest clash, as the eternally bitter Soubry ranted that her appointment “actually says everything that’s wrong and rotten about this prime minister’s stewardship of this country”. Charles Walker had some thoughts:

“Nadine Dorries has been a health minister, a minister of state, at an incredibly difficult time for the department of health; has been an extremely good minister for mental health; and really to come onto this programme and just trash her like that is just not a very nice thing to do to be perfectly honest”

Responding to Soubry’s claim that people don’t really care about reshuffles in the real world, Walker pointed out “Why is it the lead story on Newsnight, and why are you appearing on Newsnight?” Why indeed…

However, there is a personal reason why Anna Soubry is angry with Nadine Dorries.

On July 1, 2016, one week after David Cameron stood down as Prime Minister and Conservative Party leader because of the Brexit referendum result, tensions were running high not only in the Commons but also among the public.

Soubry went out near Parliament to address her fellow Remain supporters. Dorries tweeted that Soubry was under the influence. Soubry demanded that Dorries retract the tweet. The Times has the full story, which ends with this:

Update (25.07.2016): Following publication of this article, Nadine Dorries MP has withdrawn her tweet about passing Anna Soubry MP leaving the bar before she attended a rally of Remain supporters in central London. Ms Soubry has confirmed that she had not drunk any alcohol before speaking at the event.

Another reason why I am doubtful about Nadine Dorries is because she did not question the Government’s coronavirus restrictions when she was at Health and Social Care. Does she really believe everything she hears? Here she responds to Conservative Woman‘s co-founder Kathy Gyngell. Dorries and her mother had the virus at the same time, and her mother recovered first. Even so, not questioning lockdown earns her a black mark from me:

At least she supported Brexit.

Michael Gove moves to Housing, no longer Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster

Michael Gove, who is in the process of a divorce and was a recent party boy in an Aberdeen nightclub, is no longer the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster.

Stephen Barclay, formerly Chief Secretary to the Treasury, replaces him in that post. Simon Clarke replaces Barclay in the Treasury role.

Michael Gove replaces Robert Jenrick at the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government and is in charge of Boris’s ‘levelling up’ agenda.

A first attempt at a new acronym for the department has produced DULL:

Guido reports on the problems with acronyms for government departments in general:

The Sun’s Harry Cole reports the initial proposal for a new “Department for the Union and Levelling Up” is no longer a flyer after realisations its acronym, ‘DULU’, sounds too much like “Dull”. It’s a shame a change was needed, given it was pointed out yesterday that Michael Gove the first MHCLG Secretary with all the letters of the department in his name

Guido will leave it up to cleverer minds to work out an acronym that includes all the letters of Gove’s new remit (MHCLG + Union + Levelling Up + Elections) though it’s not the worst reshuffle acronym problem encountered by a PM. As Alan Johnson recounts, in 2005 Tony Blair came up with a plan to rename the department for Trade and Industry as the “Department of Productivity, Energy, Industry and Science”. Thankfully Johnson was used to it by that point however – he’d already been Minister for Higher Education and Lifelong Learning, and headed up the Sexual Health Advisory Group…

Although this looks like a demotion for Gove, it involves a hefty budget with pan-govermental reach, something that should definitely appeal to him:

New Education Secretary

Nadhim Zahawi, formerly in charge of the coronavirus vaccine rollout, is the new Education Secretary, replacing Gavin Williamson, who likely got the sack because of the school exams fiasco during the coronavirus crisis.

Zahawi has achieved the British dream, having arrived in the UK as a child refugee who could not speak English:

Other appointments

Guido Fawkes has full reshuffle information for September 15 and 16.

Some MPs have transferred to other departments:

Others will be returning to the backbenches:

Jesse Norman tweeted that he was happy to return to the backbenches:

The new role for Nigel Adams is said to be a ‘fixer’ appointment in order to get things done:

More information and analysis can be found at The Guardian, The Telegraph, GB News , The Spectator and The Times (here, here and here).

House of Lords

Reshuffles can affect the House of Lords, too.

Fortunately, two of the stars there are still in place.

Baroness Evans

Baroness Evans, composed and competent, will remain as Leader of the House of Lords.

Lord Frost

Lord Frost will remain Cabinet Office Minister for Europe, in charge of EU negotiations and changes to relevant legislation:

On September 16, Guido wrote about Frost’s plans to rid the UK of EU laws (emphases in the original):

Lord Frost has announced the government’s plans to finally capitalise on the freedoms of Brexit and remove the “special status” of all individual EU laws still on the UK’s statute books. There are also plans to invest heavily artificial intelligence, transport, and farming over the Parliament. Now if we just pair deregulation with lower taxes we may actually get somewhere…

Speaking on the reforms this afternoon, Lord Frost said:

“From rules on data storage to the ability of businesses to develop new green technologies, overbearing regulations were often conceived and agreed in Brussels with little consideration of the UK national interest.

“We now have the opportunity to do things differently and ensure that Brexit freedoms are used to help businesses and citizens get on and succeed.”

Lord Frost will begin with a review of so-called “retained EU law” – the huge amount of EU legislation still on the UK’s statute books; removing its special status so it’s no longer a distinct category of UK domestic law, and ensuring all courts have the full ability to depart from EU case law. He describes it as finalising the process of “restoring this sovereign Parliament”. There’s a reason he’s popular with the Tory membership…

Guido’s post has more detail, much of which involves digitalising everything from share (stock) certificates and driving licences.

Hmm. I hope that when his proposals reach MPs that they are not taken too far. First, not everyone is online. Secondly, think of the hacking opportunities this could provide. Finally, and perhaps most importantly, digitalisation can lead quickly to establishing a Chinese-style social credit score.

One thing I did like was this:

Permitting the voluntary printing of the Crown Stamp on pint glasses and reviewing the EU ban on markings and sales in imperial units and legislating in due course, none of which were possible within the EU.

Robert Peston’s misguided predictions

Sometimes, it is better to wait for the final outcome rather than tweet silly predictions:

On September 16, Guido noted witheringly of ITV’s Robert Peston:

While yesterday may not have been great for Dominic Raab, at least he can take solace in the fact he had a better reshuffle than Robert Peston. ITV’s senile senior political reporter spent all day tweeting every thought process, speculation and briefing with the acumen and insight of a first-year politics student.

Guido’s article lists Peston’s tweets. Perhaps ITV should buy him a new crystal ball.

Conclusion

I still think that most Conservative MPs are half-hearted. It’s a shame that Boris did not promote any of the 2019 intake, especially the feisty ones from the North of England.

Fortunately, last week’s horrible poll results have been reversed. Participants were polled during the reshuffle days of September 15 and 16:

Onwards and upwards to Boris’s promised ‘sunlit uplands’, I hope.

It used to be that vaccines prevented infection.

Coronavirus has changed all that. The double-vaxxed are ending up infected:

Andrew Doyle, who hosts Free Speech Nation for GB News, has it, and he’s taken his shots.

ITV’s Robert Peston, also double-vaxxed, has it, too:

Peston was supposed to be in Aberdeenshire in Scotland but had to cancel:

I hope he recovers soon.

Meanwhile, in the UK, the debate rages on as to whether children over the age of 12 should receive the vaccine and whether older adults should have a booster shot this autumn.

British supporters of vaccines for children say that such programmes in the United States and France have been highly successful. Hmm.

Dr Robert W Malone is an American physician as well as an inventor of mRNA vaccines and RNA as a drug. He directs his readers to an article in LifeSiteNews about possible coercion being used in high schools:

Meanwhile, the WHO is urging countries wishing to vaccinate their children to donate those doses to Covax instead for wider use around the world. The reply to this tweet includes a statement from Britain’s JCVI (Joint Committee on Vaccines and Immunisation) which recommended against children’s vaccinations on Friday, September 3:

The WHO also disagrees with booster shots in Western countries, again recommending donating those doses to poorer countries:

The UK also wants to roll out vaccine passports by the end of the month. If we can catch the virus despite two jabs, what is the point? It seems as if we are all back at Square One, only that we are susceptible to milder cases rather than death.

Speaking of deaths, the UK figures for 2021 are on a par with other years since the vaccine rollout began. I saw this graphic on another site with no attribution. Note the bright green line up to Week 33:

https://image.vuukle.com/ed685e8a-908f-4503-badc-e6b31ad2d2c9-ce96d61c-073c-4c3f-bbe6-76ad654e3b52

Moving to poorer countries now, not every nation has shown signs of infection or deaths:

Dr Malone says that Peru had a preventive programme of giving its citizens doses of ivermectin until a new president scrapped it. At that point, fatal infections began rising dramatically:

Since the pandemic began, ivermectin for humans has been taken off the market in several Western countries or is restricted on a prescription-only basis for certain conditions, excluding the virus. In many first-world countries, ivermectin is now used solely on animals for various diseases. The current formulation is made for their consumption.

Yet, in Peru and Africa, the formulation for humans is still available. It is inexpensive and is used to cure a variety of diseases as the following Twitter thread about Africa tells us.

The countries in blue are where ivermectin is used on humans. Note the differences in coronavirus cases and deaths:

Ivermectin, sold under the trade name Mectizan, is used to treat river blindness, a common and highly painful disease. It is not unusual to see people with a pair of eyebrow tweezers on a chain around their necks. Among other things, river blindness inflames the eyelash follicles. The only way to relieve the intense pain is to carefully pluck the offending eyelash. It is an ongoing pain until the disease is cured:

The Japanese have looked at sub-Saharan data and have recommended ivermectin to the government as a treatment for coronavirus:

It seems that the Japanese government rejected the use of ivermectin in combatting coronavirus. The updated statistics for Africa are in the second tweet:

Another big supporter of ivermectin is Karl Denninger of The Market Ticker.

On December 18, 2020, he wrote that by giving Americans two tablets of ivermectin, coronavirus could be stopped in one week in the United States. Two tablets in total is all it would take (emphases in the original):

… Why the hell are you not only letting them get away with it but willing to stand in line and take a not-fully-tested shot when a $2 alternative that does the same thing and has been proved safe over more than 30 years of time is available, and it also has a remarkable record of preventing serious disease and death.   This has been known for months.

We can stop Covid-19 in ONE WEEK.

One.  Not five, six, eight or ten as promised by Dr. Redfield with his “masks” who, I remind you, lied.  Covid-19 did not stop even though he got what he wanted.

The science and the CDC’s own data says this will work in ONE WEEK.

And the risk if it doesn’t work as the science and math says it will?

STATISTICALLY NONE; the drug in question has had over 3.5 billion doses dispensed worldwide and, on the data, is safer than Tylenol and the number of pills you must take is two.

Not two per day.

Two.

Ivermectin will receive broad media coverage only when it’s too late. What a pity.

Both houses of Parliament returned from summer recess today.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Johnson wants to be seen as a One Nation PM.

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

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

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

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

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

Guido Fawkes has come up with more opposition:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Following on from my post of last week, below is a continued timeline about herd immunity and the coronavirus crisis in Britain.

Old news, perhaps, but it will be interesting to see how much of this, if any, is mentioned at the Government’s hearing, scheduled for 2022.

May 2020

On May 17, 2020, journalist Robert Peston tweeted about a conference in Edinburgh that could have been a super-spreader event:

One of Peston’s readers said that he was partly to blame, because, in March, he wrote an article for The Spectator‘”Herd immunity” will be vital to stopping coronavirus’.

It begins with this (emphases mine):

The key phrase we all need to understand is ‘herd immunity’ – which is what happens to a group of people or animals when they develop sufficient antibodies to be resistant to a disease.

The strategy of the British government in minimising the impact of Covid-19 is to allow the virus to pass through the entire population so that we acquire herd immunity, but at a much delayed speed so that those who suffer the most acute symptoms are able to receive the medical support they need, and such that the health service is not overwhelmed and crushed by the sheer number of cases it has to treat at any one time.

Infection figures were starting to recede in May. This could partly be explained by a month of glorious weather, apart from two days. It was one of the warmest and sunniest on record. I fantasised that I was in Cannes.

On May 18, Freddie Sayers of UnHerd interviewed Prof Karl Sikora, the Founding Dean and Professor of Medicine at the University of Buckingham Medical School and an ex-director of the WHO Cancer Programme:

Prof Sikora said:

The serology results around the world (and forthcoming in Britain) don’t necessarily reveal the percentage of people who have had the disease.

He estimates 25-30% of the UK population has had Covid-19, and higher in the group that is most susceptible.

Pockets of herd immunity help *already* explain the downturn.

Sweden’s end result will not be different to ours – lockdown versus no lockdown.

On May 10, Nic Lewis wrote a post about the UK and Sweden for Climate Etc.: ‘Why herd immunity to COVID-19 is reached much earlier than thought’.

It says, in part:

A study published in March by the COVID-19 Response Team from Imperial College (Ferguson20[1]) appears to have been largely responsible for driving government actions in the UK and, to a fair extent, in the US and some other countries. Until that report came out, the strategy of the UK government, at least, seems to have been to rely on the build up of ‘herd immunity’ to slow the growth of the epidemic and eventually cause it to peter out.

The ‘herd immunity threshold’ (HIT) can be estimated from the basic reproduction rate of the epidemic, R0 – a measure of how many people, on average, each infected individual infects. Standard simple compartmental models of epidemic growth imply that the HIT equals {1 – 1/R0}. Once the HIT is passed, the rate of new infections starts to decline, which should ensure that health systems will not thereafter be overwhelmed and makes it more practicable to take steps to eliminate the disease.

However, the Ferguson20 report estimated that relying on herd immunity would result in 81% of the UK and US populations becoming infected during the epidemic, mainly over a two-month period, based on an R0 estimate of 2.4. These figures imply that the HIT is between 50% and 60%.[2] Their report implied that health systems would be overwhelmed, resulting in far more deaths. It claimed that only draconian government interventions could prevent this occurring. Such interventions were rapidly implemented in the UK, in most states of the US, and in various other countries, via highly disruptive and restrictive enforced ‘lockdowns’.

A notable exception was Sweden, which has continued to pursue a herd immunity-based strategy, relying on relatively modest social distancing policies. The Imperial College team estimated that, after those policies were introduced in mid-March, R0 in Sweden was 2.5, with only a 2.5% probability that it was under 1.5.[3] The rapid spread of COVID-19 in the country in the second half of March suggests that R0 is unlikely to have been significantly under 2.0.[4]

Very sensibly, the Swedish public health authority has surveyed the prevalence of infections by the SARS-COV-2 virus in Stockholm County, the earliest in Sweden hit by COVID-19. They thereby estimated that 17% of the population would have been infected by 11 April, rising to 25% by 1 May 2020.[5] Yet recorded new cases had stopped increasing by 11 April (Figure 1), as had net hospital admissions,[6] and both measures have fallen significantly since. That pattern indicates that the HIT had been reached by 11 April, at which point only 17% of the population appear to have been infected.

How can it be true that the HIT has been reached in Stockholm County with only about 17% of the population having been infected, while an R0 of 2.0 is normally taken to imply a HIT of 50%?

A recent paper (Gomes et al.[7]) provides the answer. It shows that variation between individuals in their susceptibility to infection and their propensity to infect others can cause the HIT to be much lower than it is in a homogeneous population. Standard simple compartmental epidemic models take no account of such variability. And the model used in the Ferguson20 study, while much more complex, appears only to take into account inhomogeneity arising from a very limited set of factors – notably geographic separation from other individuals and household size – with only a modest resulting impact on the growth of the epidemic.[8] Using a compartmental model modified to take such variability into account, with co-variability between susceptibility and infectivity arguably handled in a more realistic way than by Gomes et al., I confirm their finding that the HIT is indeed reached at a much lower level than when the population is homogeneous. That would explain why the HIT appears to have been passed in Stockholm by mid April. The same seems likely to be the case in other major cities and regions that have been badly affected by COVID-19.

On that topic, Prof Sunetra Gupta, one of the signatories to The Barrington Declaration which came out that summer, entered the picture. Prof Gupta is the Professor of Theoretical Epidemiology at the University of Oxford. Freddie Sayers of UnHerd interviewed her on May 21:

The accompanying article says:

Her group at Oxford produced a rival model to Ferguson’s back in March which speculated that as much as 50% of the population may already have been infected and the true Infection Fatality Rate may be as low as 0.1%.

Since then, we have seen various antibody studies around the world indicating a disappointingly small percentage of seroprevalence — the percentage of the population has the anti-Covid-19 antibody. It was starting to seem like Ferguson’s view was the one closer to the truth.

But, in her first major interview since the Oxford study was published in March, Professor Gupta is only more convinced that her original opinion was correct.

As she sees it, the antibody studies, although useful, do not indicate the true level of exposure or level of immunity. First, many of the antibody tests are “extremely unreliable” and rely on hard-to-achieve representative groups. But more important, many people who have been exposed to the virus will have other kinds of immunity that don’t show up on antibody tests — either for genetic reasons or the result of pre-existing immunities to related coronaviruses such as the common cold.

The implications of this are profound – it means that when we hear results from antibody tests (such as a forthcoming official UK Government study) the percentage who test positive for antibodies is not necessarily equal to the percentage who have immunity or resistance to the virus. The true number could be much higher.

Observing the very similar patterns of the epidemic across countries around the world has convinced Professor Gupta that it is this hidden immunity, more than lockdowns or government interventions, that offers the best explanation of the Covid-19 progression:

“In almost every context we’ve seen the epidemic grow, turn around and die away — almost like clockwork. Different countries have had different lockdown policies, and yet what we’ve observed is almost a uniform pattern of behaviour which is highly consistent with the SIR model. To me that suggests that much of the driving force here was due to the build-up of immunity. I think that’s a more parsimonious explanation than one which requires in every country for lockdown (or various degrees of lockdown, including no lockdown) to have had the same effect.”

June 2020

On June 4, Freddie Sayers interviewed Prof Karl Friston, a computer modelling expert, world-renowned for his contributions to neuroscience. He had been applying his ‘dynamic causal modelling’ approach to the Covid-19 pandemic:

The accompanying article says that his Bayesian models were showing that up to 80% of the population might be naturally immune to coronavirus:

His models suggest that the stark difference between outcomes in the UK and Germany, for example, is not primarily an effect of different government actions (such as better testing and earlier lockdowns) but is better explained by intrinsic differences between the populations that make the “susceptible population” in Germany — the group that is vulnerable to Covid-19 — much smaller than in the UK.

As he told me in our interview, even within the UK, the numbers point to the same thing: that the “effective susceptible population” was never 100%, and was at most 50% and probably more like only 20% of the population. He emphasises that the analysis is not yet complete, but “I suspect, once this has been done, it will look like the effective non-susceptible portion of the population will be about 80%. I think that’s what’s going to happen.”

Theories abound as to which factors best explain the huge disparities between countries in the portion of the population that seems resistant or immune — everything from levels of vitamin D to ethnic-genetic and social and geographical differences may come into play — but Professor Friston makes clear that it does not primarily seem to be a function of government coronavirus policy. “Solving that — understanding that source of variation in terms of this non-susceptibility — is going to be the key to understanding the enormous variation between countries,” he said …

His explanation for the remarkably similar mortality outcomes in Sweden (no lockdown) and the UK (lockdown) is that “they weren’t actually any different. Because at the end of the day the actual processes that get into the epidemiological dynamics — the actual behaviours, the distancing, was evolutionarily specified by the way we behave when we have an infection.”

Most significantly, it would mean that the principal underlying assumption behind the global shutdowns, typified by the famous Imperial College forecasts — namely, that left unchecked this disease would rapidly pass through the entire population of every country and kill around 1% of those infected, leading to untold millions of deaths worldwide without draconian action — was wrong, out by a large factor. The largest co-ordinated government action in history, forcibly closing down most of the world’s societies with consequences that may last for generations, would have been based on faulty science.

When I put this to Professor Friston, he was the model of collegiate discretion. He said that the presumptions of Neil Ferguson’s models were all correct, “under the qualification that the population they were talking about is much smaller than you might imagine”. In other words, Ferguson was right that around 80% of susceptible people would rapidly become infected, and was right that of those between 0.5% and 1% would die — he just missed the fact that the relevant “susceptible population” was only ever a small portion of people in the UK, and an even smaller portion in countries like Germany and elsewhere. Which rather changes everything.

With such elegant formulations are scientific reputations saved. Practically, it makes not much difference whether, as per Sunetra Gupta, the 40,000 officially-counted coronavirus deaths in the UK are 0.1% of 40 million people infected, or, as per Karl Friston’s theory implies, they are more like 0.5% of 8 million people infected with the remaining 32 million shielded from infection by mysterious “immunological dark material”. If you are exposed to the virus and it is destroyed in your body by mucosal antibodies or T-cells or clever genes so that you never become fully infected and don’t even notice it, should that count as an infection? The effect is the same: 40,000 deaths, not 400,000.

However, on Sunday, June 7, SAGE member Prof John Edmunds was still backtracking on his earlier claims about herd immunity from March. He was all about lockdown and told the BBC’s Andrew Marr that the UK should have locked down sooner to prevent deaths:

Speaking of lockdown, Britons were increasingly angry about being told not to leave the house, especially when people were protesting with no social distancing:

June in the UK — Part 1: the angry, yet law abiding, silent majority (June 3)

June in the UK — Part 2: angry silent majority questions lockdown (June 5; masks; no arrests for destructive protestors, two for eccentric Piers Corbyn)

June in the UK — Part 3: the angry silent majority on lockdown (June 5)

June in the UK — Part 4: coronavirus and the public’s anger about health during lockdown (June 5)

June in the UK — Part 5: the hypocrisy surrounding coronavirus and social distancing (June 6, protests)

—————————————————————-

Writing a year later, I do wonder whether getting vaccinated is really worth it for most of us.

Unfortunately, we have to do it to have any semblance of normality.

I’m a big believer in natural herd immunity, less so the artificially engineered type.

More to follow on herd immunity next week.

This week, a mini-rebellion erupted on the Conservative back benches over coronavirus.

More on that in a moment.

First, let’s have a look at Friday’s headlines.

As millions of Britons are worrying about their vanishing income, it is shameful that the Independent Parliamentary Standards Authority, an independent body which oversees the system of allowances and salaries for Members of Parliament, decided to give them a pay rise! Incidentally, a Labour MP is shown in the photograph below:

Unconscionable!

Although the economy was starting to recover earlier in the summer when lockdown was lifted, things are different today:

It’s been a challenging year for Rishi Sunak, the Chancellor of the Exchequer, who replaced Sajid Javid in March, just a fortnight before lockdown. He delivered a brilliant budget for a bright year ahead, then coronavirus struck.

Sunak is one of the contrarians on coronavirus and is said to prefer letting Britons get back to work.

That said, he has given billions in financial aid to the nation and delivered a Winter Economic Plan. However, pressure is on now to not only find a way to boost the Treasury’s coffers but also to provide extra financial support to the areas of the country which are under what seems to be permanent lockdown. The Huffington Post has more on today’s new measures.

These are the highlights:

This is his latest tax plan:

Hmm:

It’s a tough job, so I’m glad Rishi is in that post. He’s doing the best he can.

Next door, at No. 10 Downing Street, Rishi’s former aide Allegra Stratton has been named as Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s new press secretary. Conservative men across the nation had hoped for a Kayleigh McEnany, but we will wish Ms Stratton well in her new job:

Note how media and politics intertwine. Stratton is connected not only to Nos. 10 and 11 Downing Street but also to top adviser Dominic Cummings as well as to The Spectator:

Guido Fawkes says (emphases in the original):

Widely anticipated and always the bookies favourite, Allegra Stratton has been confirmed as the new Downing Street Press Secretary. Her experience as a television reporter on Newsnight, ITV News and with Peston will stand her in good stead. 40 year-old Allegra is married to the Spectator’s James Forsyth. They have one child. She has done a good job spinning for Rishi and he will miss her…

Bring on the briefings…

Stratton left ITV in April to work for Rishi:

I had bookmarked a tweet from ITV’s political editor Robert Peston a few months ago when No. 10 announced its search for a press secretary. Unfortunately, I subsequently deleted it. Peston tweeted that he knew of a perfect candidate, someone who had worked for him and was now working for Rishi Sunak: Allegra Stratton.

And, lo, it came to pass.

Here’s an interesting tweet from May, after Dominic Cummings had to give a press conference in the garden of No. 10 to apologise for his questionable trip up North to Barnard Castle (a town named for its castle) with his wife Mary Wakefield and their four-year-old son:

One of Cummings’s goals was to clear out No. 10 of Remainers in senior positions. Cabinet Secretary Sir Mark Sedwill, the most senior Remainer and the man in charge of civil servants, resigned during the summer.

Sedwill’s replacement is Simon Case, who used to work for Prince William:

Guido Fawkes has posted Case’s email to civil servants, popularly referred to as ‘mandarins’, and says:

Simon Case, Sir Mark Sedwill’s replacement as Cabinet Secretary, has got off to a strong start in the job by sending an email to all civil servants boasting of his ‘profound sense of pride in our nation’s history”, telling Whitehall staff “We must maintain our dedication to honesty, integrity, impartiality and objectivity.” Guido hopes counselling will be put in place for any distressed metropolitan mandarins at this time…

Now on to coronavirus.

Scotland’s Nicola Sturgeon is putting much of that nation under a 16-day ‘circuit-breaker’ lockdown (pubs shut, no alcohol in restaurants, no visiting) during half-term (break for schools). Yet she is decommissioning the Nightingale hospital in Glasgow. Why?

In England and Wales, questions have been raised about the new contact-tracing app:

Today (Friday), the Telegraph‘s Chief Political Correspondent Christopher Hope interviewed the Conservative MP, Sir Iain Duncan Smith, who had a lot to say not only on coronavirus but also Brexit (he thinks large parts of the Withdrawal Agreement should be torn up if we want a Canada deal).

Excerpts follow (emphases mine):

Boris Johnson will never defeat the coronavirus pandemic, Sir Iain Duncan Smith has said, and instead must start to help Britons to learn to live with the disease.

The former Conservative leader told today’s Chopper Politics podcast … : “‘I’ve never been to a time like this where we have almost suspended all judgement on everything else as secondary to Covid.

“And the truth is that if we go on just trying to push these spikes down the whole timethen we could be in this for years because there are very few vaccines that have been completely effective against viruses.”

Sir Iain said the focus on Covid meant that other risks were being completely ignored. He said that the problem was “we’ve lost the balance of risks. We now have only one risk. And if you think of only one risk, then you can damage everything around you.

He added that he thought the right course of action regarding coronavirus was “managing it but not expecting that, as people say, we can defeat this, because I honestly don’t think we will actually.”

YES!

The 30-minute podcast is here. Hope interviews other guests, too.

Conservative MPs are warning Boris not to take the votes of former Labour-supporting area lightly. Those areas, many of which now have Conservative MPs, are the ones most affected by semi-permanent lockdown:

Earlier in the week, the Government postponed a vote on the 10 p.m. curfew on pubs and restaurants in England. It has been rescheduled for next week:

Members of the public are understandably concerned. One summarised Boris’s speech at the (virtual) Conservative Party conference this week:

But I digress.

The reason the Government are picking on the hospitality sector is because of this chart, which MPs on both sides of the aisle dispute:

Hospitality venues are at the top of the list.

Note that schools and workplaces are not mentioned.

This is the reality, and this is what dissenting MPs are going by. Hospitality is ranked at 4 per cent (see pie chart):

The hospitality sector had to put a lot of money into their businesses in order to reopen during the summer, yet the Government is targeting them. That is also true in France, but we’ll stick with England for now:

I am very concerned about this eventuality:

Conservative MP Steve Baker talks a good game, but he voted with the Government this week to renew coronavirus restrictions.

ITV interviewed him yesterday:

ITV has excerpts of Baker’s interview:

Speaking to the Acting Prime Minister podcast, the MP said the rule is “badly evidenced and appears to be counter-productive”.

He said the rule, which forces pubs to close between 10pm and 5am, is “wrecking the hospitality industry, which we only just pumped lots of taxpayers money into through Eat Out to Help Out”.

He claimed the “cost of lockdowns are worse than the cost of the disease” and suggested the PM is only imposing them because of hopes of a vaccine “turning up and solving all these problems”.

He said he fears the UK is in “grave danger” of “jumping into a lobster pot here from which we can’t emerge” if a vaccine is not forthcoming.

“The danger we’re in at the moment is we’ll destroy our economy,” he told podcast host Paul Brand.

He said he supports Prime Minister Boris Johnson in his response to coronavirus, but questioned whether he is “betting the country on a vaccine turning up”.

“If his strategy is based on a vaccine coming, I think there’s going to be a problem,” he said.

The Wycombe MP appeared to suggest the team around the prime minister was not allowing him to use his strengths …

Mr Baker, who was a prominent Brexit supporter, said he “deeply” regrets the way the UK divided over EU membership and said he can feel the same happening with coronavirus.

I’m really worried that our society is polarising with hysterical arguments on both sides.

“What I am saying is I want us to have a radical spirit of concern for one another, a radical willingness to listen to one another and then be moderate in what we say and do to try and close all these, all these divides.” 

I agree wholeheartedly with every word.

In closing, I really hope that Steve Baker and the other Conservative rebels vote against the Government on the hospitality curfew next week.

They won’t win, but they will send a strong message to Boris and Matt Hancock.

This week was a bit of a barnstormer in the House of Commons: from Extinction Rebellion to coronavirus.

Last weekend, a man stabbed several people in Birmingham’s city centre, killing one. A stabbing also occurred in Lewisham (South London). On Monday morning, a shooting occurred in a small town in Suffolk.

Extinction Rebellion (XR) disrupted the distribution of most national newspapers’ weekend editions in England. They glued themselves to scaffolding outside some of the printing plants. Members of Extinction Rebellion also protested at a printing plant in Motherwell, Scotland. The Scottish protests were less severe.

Coronavirus testing has been problematic, with many people unable to find tests when they need them.

Big Christmas gatherings are likely to be cancelled because of new coronavirus legislation.

Grab yourself a cuppa and a sarnie. This week’s Parliamentary debates and reaction were compelling.

Monday, September 7

Kit Malthouse, the Minister for Crime and Policing, delivered a statement about the Birmingham stabbings and the Extinction Rebellion direct action. A debate followed.

An excerpt from Malthouse’s statement follows (emphases mine below):

On Friday night, Extinction Rebellion protesters used trucks and bamboo scaffolds to block roads outside the newsprinters works at Broxbourne, Hertfordshire and Knowsley, near Liverpool. These presses print The Sun, The Times, The Sun on Sunday and The Sunday Times, as well as The Daily Telegraph, The Sunday Telegraph, The Daily Mail, The Mail on Sunday and the London Evening Standard. The police reacted quickly on Friday night, arrested around 80 people nationally and worked throughout Saturday to clear the sites completely. In Broxbourne, approximately 100 protesters were reported in attendance. Assistance from neighbouring forces was required, with work long into the early hours to ease the disruption. Fifty one protesters were arrested for public nuisance and subsequently charged with obstruction of the highway. They were taken to three custody suites in Hertfordshire, Bedfordshire and London. Disruption concluded by midday on Saturday. All main roads remained open, including the nearby A10. However, there was disruption to the distribution of newspapers as well as for local businesses.

In Knowsley, a group of 30 protesters were reported in attendance alongside 10 observers, one legal adviser and one police liaison individual. Thirty protesters were arrested, with disruption concluding by 10.45 the next morning. These protesters were subsequently charged with aggravated trespass and bailed to appear before magistrates at a later date. Twenty four protesters also ​attended a print works in Motherwell, Lanarkshire in Scotland. In this instance there was no disruption caused and no arrests were made.

A free press is the cornerstone of a British society. The freedom to publish without fear or favour, to inform the public, to scrutinise our institutions and to stimulate debate on events that affect each and every one of us is indispensable. The actions of Extinction Rebellion were a direct challenge to this freedom and the values of liberty and tolerance that we hold dear. Extinction Rebellion claims to be an environmental campaign group, yet that worthy cause is undermined by its tactics. Its actions show that it is not interested in purely peaceful protest, dialogue and debate. Instead, it seeks to impose its view through this kind of direct action.

The right to peaceful protest is a fundamental tool of civic expression and will never be curtailed by the Government. Equally, it is unacceptable for groups such as XR to hide behind the guise of protest while committing criminal acts that prevent law-abiding citizens from going about their lives. All of us will remember the disruption caused last year as the group blocked roads and major transport routes. Police forces across the country were forced to divert resources away from tackling other crime in order to oversee those occupations. It is a terrible shame to see those counterproductive tactics revived in the midst of a pandemic, when we are only just recovering from the profound disruption of lockdown. Throughout the pandemic, our police officers have been on the streets every day working to keep the public safe and to stop the spread of coronavirus. In placing unnecessary pressure on our emergency services, the actions of the protesters are contemptuous not only of the police but of the public whom they seek to protect.

The irony is that the United Kingdom is already doing more to tackle climate change and decarbonise our economy than almost any other nation on earth. The UK is the first major economy to legislate to end our contribution to climate change by 2050. Since 2000, we have decarbonised our economy faster than any other G20 country. The Prime Minister has set up two Cabinet Committees focused on tackling climate change—one for strategy and another for implementation—discussing how Departments can go further and faster in meeting our legally binding 2050 net zero target. We are also hosting the next UN climate change conference, COP26, which will take place in November in Glasgow. It would be far more productive if, rather than plotting disruption and chaos, those behind Extinction Rebellion put their efforts into working with the Government to tackle climate change and build the green economy. While they persist in their current course, however, our message to those individuals is clear: if you plan to curtail our freedoms through criminal acts, be in no doubt that you will face the full force of the law. As a Government, we will not stand by and allow the livelihoods of hard-working people to be undermined by a minority using the pretence of tackling climate change to impose an extremist world view.

Extinction Rebellion’s actions have shown how the tactics of disruptive protests are changing. The Home Office has been engaging with police chiefs to understand the challenges they face and to assess how they can facilitate peaceful protest while not causing significant disruption and infringing on the rights of others with differing views. The Home Secretary and I are committed ​to learning the lessons of recent protests and ensuring that the police have the powers required to deal with the disruption caused by groups such as XR. I will keep the tools available to tackle this behaviour under constant review. As always, our thanks go to the police for their tireless efforts to respond to all manner of incidents, and particularly at this time when so many have worked so hard during the pandemic. I hope that the leaders of Extinction Rebellion will issue an apology to them for actions that have been roundly condemned by all mainstream opinion in our country.

By its actions this weekend, XR has done nothing to bolster the cause of fighting climate change. Rather, it has reminded us of the value of a free press and free expression and made us think about what more we may need to do to protect those freedoms. I commend this statement to the House.

Sarah Jones (Croydon Central), responding for Labour, gave an excellent speech. An excerpt follows:

all Members of the House will be deeply concerned about the wider rise in violent crime that we are seeing. As the former chair of the all-party parliamentary group on knife crime and violence reduction, I am all too aware of the seriousness of this issue. I know that West Midlands police, along with David Jamieson, the PCC, is taking this very seriously, and the violence reduction unit is doing some great preventive work in the west midlands. Does the Minister accept that over the past decade we have seen knife crime rise in every police force area in England and Wales, and ​that easing lockdown restrictions poses particular challenges? Does he further accept that rising violent crime must be urgently addressed?

Turning to the matter of Extinction Rebellion, I trust that the Minister will agree with me, rather than some members of his own party, in recognising that tackling climate change is the challenge of our generation. However, we also know that the free press is the cornerstone of democracy, and we must do all we can to protect it. As a result, actions that stop people being able to read what they choose are wrong. They will do nothing to tackle climate change. Those who break the law should be held to account. As the Leader of the Opposition said over the weekend, the actions of those who deliberately set out to break the law and stifle freedom of the press are completely unacceptable. Stopping people being able to buy the newspapers they choose and hitting small businesses in the process is hugely counterproductive. It does nothing to tackle the vital cause of tackling climate change. In fact, it sets it back.

On the policing response to the incidents, can the Minister confirm whether the authorities had any intelligence that these incidents might occur?

Today in the media, new laws have been mentioned by the Home Secretary. Can the Minister confirm what aspects of our current public order laws he believes are inadequate? Will he also confirm which aspects of the Coronavirus Act 2020 dealing with gatherings he believes leave gaps? Does he agree that we should not forget the many people who are concerned about climate change who wish to peacefully and lawfully protest, and that that right should be protected?

Malthouse did not answer her question about new legislation and said that the intelligence surrounding Extinction Rebellion’s actions at the printing plants was unclear.

Bob Stewart (Beckenham, Conservative) suggested giving the protesters fixed-penalty notices (fines). Malthouse said that, as those were new during the coronavirus pandemic, there aren’t enough data to measure their efficacy.

An SNP MP, Kenny MacAskill (East Lothian) downplayed the Extinction Rebellion incident. As SNP MPs always do, they think only of Scotland. If this doesn’t spell out the SNP’s sympathies with Marxism, I don’t know what does:

The … group perpetrated no violence—random or otherwise—nor is it a criminal gang, terrorist ​group or a deranged individual. Any attempt to portray those people as that is wrong and a dangerous precedent in a democracy. The actions carried out by Extinction Rebellion, both in Scotland and in England, were a peaceful protest. That should not be forgotten, and that remains legitimate. It is a group of young people, although not always entirely young, who care about the environment. That is a legitimate position to take. This action was not an attempt to close down free speech, and to suggest otherwise is disingenuous. All they were seeking to do was to disrupt the outgoing of print for a period of time. There was no cessation of the print being published. Indeed, it appeared online and at most delivery was delayed to some shops.

Malthouse replied:

I am sorry that the hon. Gentleman has positioned the SNP outside mainstream opinion. [Interruption.] Well, you’re all expressing consternation, and speaking, smiling and laughing. I do not know why me expressing concern is worthy of derision. In truth, the vast majority of people in this country, and all mainstream parties in this country, have expressed alarm at the tactics of Extinction Rebellion over the weekend and its stated aim of disrupting newspapers’ ability to distribute their views and opinions because they do not agree with them. One of the first things that happens in extremist states and takeovers is an attempt to grip the television station, the radio station or the newspapers. Control of information is key so we need to take care with these things. I hope he will agree with me in time.

Antony Higginbotham (Burnley, Conservative) expressed concern at the cost of the Extinction Rebellion protest:

The unacceptable actions of Extinction Rebellion show a consistent disregard for the lives and livelihoods that they disrupt. Does my hon. Friend believe we should hold Extinction Rebellion to account, not just for the significant public sector costs that rack up with the action it undertakes, but for the significant lost income that businesses across the country have suffered as a result?

Malthouse said:

My hon. Friend raises a very important point. He is right that these protests are not costless. Aside from the costs to the businesses affected, there is a large overtime bill to be covered. Of all the costs, the most profound and alarming is the opportunity cost; those police officers who are spending time ungluing protesters and dismantling scaffolding are not spending time preventing knife crime, murder, rape or domestic violence. There are other much more vital activities that could be performed in the communities they serve.

Anthony Browne (South Cambridgshire, Conservative) pointed out that freer countries have fewer environmental issues:

I am a journalist and an environmentalist. I used to be environment editor of The Observer and The Times. I am currently chair of the all-party parliamentary group on the environment, and I have seen around the world that those countries that have a free press are far better at tackling environmental problems than those countries without a free press. Will my hon. Friend join me in condemning Extinction Rebellion’s assault on the free press, and does he agree that such attacks on free speech will ultimately do more harm to the environmental cause than help it?

Malthouse responded:

I completely agree with my hon. Friend. Of course, the paradox, or even the tragedy, of the protests is that I understand that the edition of The Sun that was prevented from being distributed contained an op-ed from David Attenborough—no less—extolling the virtues of climate change action and urging Sun readers to do their bit on global warming. Ten years ago, nobody would have dreamt of that opinion appearing ​in that newspaper, and it shows how far the argument has been advanced by peaceful means. This protest runs the risk of setting the debate back rather than moving it forward.

Dr Julian Lewis, who is now Independent (having had the Conservative whip removed), pointed out the contradiction of fining anti-lockdown spokesman Piers Corbyn £10,000 when XR were free to glue themselves to scaffolding with no fine:

It is true that various brands of Corbynism are a little less popular these days, but does my hon. Friend agree that fining a climate change denier £10,000 for an anti-lockdown protest sets a benchmark which should equally apply to those who break the law in pursuit of more fashionable causes?

Malthouse replied:

As the right hon. Gentleman may know, a number of fixed penalty fines have been handed out over the past few days for all manner of contraventions of the coronavirus regulations. No doubt some may be disputed, but we shall see in the end where the courts decide.

The SNP’s Patricia Gibson (North Ayrshire and Arran) asked if XR would be reclassified as a criminal group:

Does the Minister understand the genuine concerns about any plans to reclassify Extinction Rebellion as a ​criminal group and the implications that this may have for peaceful protest, especially given that last year the Prime Minister’s own father addressed an Extinction Rebellion rally and said that he backed their methods?

Malthouse said that such groups are being watched and are under review.

Richard Burgon (Leeds East, Labour) claimed that direct action was part of democracy:

Direct action is a proud part of our history and democracy. Through it, the Chartists and suffragettes helped secure the right to vote and trade unions won the eight-hour working day and paid holidays, and it played a key part in securing legislation for gay rights and for women’s and racial equality. If pursued, would not the Home Secretary’s suggestion of defining Extinction Rebellion as a criminal gang be a betrayal of our proud tradition of civil liberties?

Malthouse said:

Direct action is not the same thing as a crime. If the hon. Gentleman is saying that there are certain crimes that he wishes to ignore, then I am afraid the Opposition are in a very difficult place. I am the Minister for policing and crime, and when, under our current law as approved through this House, somebody commits a crime, I have no choice other than to condemn it.

Lee Anderson (Ashfield, Conservative) would like for XR to be designated a criminal organisation:

The people of Ashfield see no benefit in protesters gluing their ears to the pavement, spraying red dye on our monuments or camping out in trees on Parliament Square. Extinction Rebellion is now public nuisance No. 1 because of the disruption it causes, as well as the massive cost to our emergency services when, frankly, they have better things to do. Does my hon. Friend agree that this group should be ​classified as a crime group and feel the full weight of the law if it continues to disrupt members of the public going about their daily business?

Malthouse repeated his earlier answer about such groups being under continuing review.

Martyn Day (Linlithgow and East Falkirk, SNP) did not want to see XR labelled as a criminal organisation:

Whatever we think about Extinction Rebellion’s tactics, be they right or wrong, its actions were peaceful, and such civil disobedience methods have been used throughout history, so any branding of the activists as criminals is certainly not acceptable. Does not the Minister agree that two wrongs do not make a right?

Malthouse gave this wise reply:

Not all crimes are violent.

Only one MP dared to connect Marxism with XR — Imran Ahmad Khan (Wakefield, Conservative). Well done:

It is with regret that, since Extinction Rebellion’s inception, we have witnessed it adopt increasingly radical measures, which masquerade upon an environmentalist platform. In truth, it is a considered ruse to gain support for its ​Marxist agenda, which attacks British values predicated on freedom and pluralism. Blocking ambulances and seeking to constrain press freedom are but two examples from a plethora of behaviours that demonstrate its devious agenda.

Her Majesty’s Government were elected with a mighty mandate from the British people to restore their ancient rights and freedoms, whether threatened from Brussels or from the barricade. The fine people of my constituency of Wakefield expect us to deliver on that. Will the Minister outline what steps the Government will take to neutralise XR’s disruptive and dangerous tactics?

Malthouse replied:

I am grateful for my hon. Friend’s stentorian support. He is quite right that people want to see a sense of order in this country, and that is exactly what we will put in place and what we are beavering away to make happen across the country—in his constituency and elsewhere.

I certainly hope so.

Tuesday, September 8

Matt Hancock, Secretary of State for Health and Social Care, gave a statement updating MPs on coronavirus and the situation in Bolton. New laws, he said, would apply only to Bolton.

He was economical with the truth …

Wednesday, September 9

On Wednesday morning, Steve Baker (Wycombe, Conservative), tweeted:

No one raised this topic at Prime Minister’s Questions (PMQs).

Meanwhile, Matt Hancock gave a morning interview (more here):

What does that even mean?

He explained his change of advice on testing to Sky News:

More on this follows below.

It was National Farmers Day, and many MPs wore ears of British wheat tied together with British wool. Labour’s Angela Rayner wasn’t the slightest bit interested:

Most of PMQs was about testing. Prime Minister Boris Johnson made this startling statement about daily coronavirus testing at home:

Just after PMQs, as Boris hurriedly scuttled out of the chamber, Sir Desmond Swayne (New Forest West, Conservative) raised a point of order about the coronavirus legislation.

I wonder if Boris knew about it in advance and got out of there as quickly as he could:

On a point of order, Mr Speaker. Had the Secretary of State for Health given notice of the Government’s intention to further restrict our liberty to meet with one another in his statement yesterday, at least some of us would have been able to question him about it. What remedy is there for those of us who enthusiastically support the Prime Minister, but nevertheless want to restrain the Government’s ability to govern by order without debate?

Speaker of the House Sir Lindsay Hoyle replied:

I thank the right hon. Member for giving me notice. I am very sympathetic to the main point he makes. I accept that decisions have been taken in a fast-moving situation, but timings for statements are known to Ministers. It is really not good enough for the Government to make decisions of this kind in a way that shows insufficient regard to the importance of major policy announcements being made first to this House and to Members of this House wherever possible. I have already sent a letter to the Secretary of State. I think the total disregard for this Chamber is not acceptable. I know that the Prime Minister is a Member of Parliament as well and that he will ensure that statements should be made here first, especially as this particular Secretary of State requests statements. To then ignore the major fact that he wanted to put to the country, and not put it before this House, is not acceptable and I hope he will apologise to Members.

Jonathan Ashworth (Leicester South, Labour Co-op) had more information:

Further to that point of order, Mr Speaker. Not only did we not get a convincing explanation yesterday from the Secretary of State on the ongoing testing fiasco, but in fact Mr Robert Peston of ITV wrote on Twitter, ahead of the Secretary of State’s statement, that the Government were planning to shift the regulations down from 30 people to six. There was no reason why the Secretary of State could not have told the House yesterday that that was the Government’s plan. Has the Secretary of State given you, Mr Speaker, notice that he is coming to the House to update MPs on that change in policy, or should we assume that Ministers do not know what they are doing from one day to the next?

Peston had tweeted this on Tuesday:

The Speaker was uncharacteristically incandescent:

What I would take on board is the fact that it was all over Twitter as this was going on. Obviously, somebody decided to tell the media rather than this House. What I would say is that I expect the Secretary of State to apologise to Members and make sure that this Chamber knows first. He was fully aware—fully aware—of what was going to be said later. Let me say that if this Minister wants to run this Chamber ragged, I can assure you now that I am sure an urgent question every day might just begin to run him ragged.

At 4 p.m., Boris gave a coronavirus press conference, announcing new coronavirus ‘marshals’ who will be appearing on our streets as of next week — so, not only in Bolton:

I agree 110% with this tweet:

Thursday, September 10

Leader of the House Jacob Rees-Mogg was unable to deliver his customary business statement to the Commons. One of his children developed coronavirus symptoms. Stuart Andrew, the Acting Leader, stood in for him:

Matt Hancock showed up to make a statement on new coronavirus regulations. He was taken to task over his confusing advice about getting a test. Earlier this year, he encouraged people to get tested. Now, with the system overwhelmed, he’s backtracked:

Guido Fawkes has quotes from Hancock documenting his about-face on the matter and concludes (emphases in the original):

Was Hancock’s advice wrong then or is it wrong now? The public will be getting pretty sick of the Department of Health’s cock-ups being the responsibility of anyone other than Hancock.

UPDATE: A government source tells Guido “The guidance is clear. If you think you have symptoms you should get a test. Today’s message is no different to that.” Apparently people in doubt about whether they have symptoms should still get a test…

Simon Dolan, a businessman who is taking the Government to court over lockdown, tweeted:

The Speaker of the House introduced the debate:

Before I call the Secretary of State, I would like to say that he and I had a conversation in a meeting last night, and I think we have some new arrangements coming forward to help the House.

That means that Hancock will be obliged to show up to present these developments to the House for debate in future.

He’s so disingenuous:

Thank you very much, Mr Speaker. Just to concur with what you have said, I do regard it as incredibly important to come to the House as often as possible. Sometimes these are fast-moving situations, and I will ensure that I give the House my full attention and, as I try to do, answer as many questions as fully as I can.

Excerpts follow:

… As the chief medical officer said yesterday, we must learn from the recent experience of countries such as Belgium that have successfully put in place measures to combat a similar rise in infections. So today, I would like to update the House on a number of new measures that will help us to get this virus under control and to make the rules clearer, simpler and more enforceable.

First, we are putting in place new rules on social contact … In England, from Monday, we are introducing the rule of six. Nobody should meet socially in groups of more than six, and if they do, they will be breaking the law. This will apply in any setting—indoors or outdoors, at home or in the pub. It replaces both the existing ban on gatherings of more than 30 and the current guidance on allowing two households to meet indoors.

There will be some exemptions. For example, if a single household or support bubble is larger than six, they can still gather.

Guido Fawkes was no doubt relieved:

Hancock continued:

Places of education and work are unaffected. Covid-secure weddings, wedding receptions and funerals can go ahead up to a limit of 30 people. Organised sport and exercise is exempt.

These are not measures that we take lightly. I understand that for many they will mean changing long-awaited plans or missing out on precious moments with loved ones, but this sacrifice is vital to control the virus for the long term and save lives, and I vow that we will not keep these rules in place for any longer than we have to.

Secondly, we are putting in place stronger enforcement. Hospitality venues will be legally required to request the contact details of every party. They will have to record and retain those details for 21 days and provide them to NHS Test and Trace without delay when required. This system is working well voluntarily, with minimal friction, and it is very effective, but it is not in place in all venues. It is only fair that it is followed by all. We are supporting ​local authorities to make greater use of their powers to close venues that are breaking rules and pose a risk to public health, and fines will be levied against hospitality venues that fail to ensure their premises are covid-secure.

Our goal, as much as possible, is to protect keeping schools and businesses open, while controlling the virus …

Our ability to test and trace on a large scale is fundamental to controlling the virus, as we have discussed in the House many times. The latest data show that we are doing more testing per head than other European countries such as Germany and Spain, and we have record capacity. We have increased capacity by more than 10,000 tests a day over the last fortnight. While there have been challenges in access to tests, the vast majority of people get their tests rapidly and close to home. The average distance travelled to a test site is 6.4 miles, and 90% of people who book a test travel 22 miles or less. We already have more than 400 testing sites in operation. We added 19 last week and plan 17 more this week.

However, as capacity has increased, we have seen an even faster rise in demand, including a significant increase from people who do not have symptoms and are not eligible for a test. That takes tests away from people who need them. If you have symptoms of coronavirus or are asked by a clinician or local authority to get a test, please apply, but if you do not have symptoms and have not been asked, you are not eligible for a test.

At the same time, we are developing new types of test that are simple, quick and scalable. They use swabs or saliva and can be turned round in 90 minutes or even 20 minutes. So-called Operation Moonshot, to deploy mass testing, will allow people to lead more normal lives and reduce the need for social distancing. For instance, it could mean that theatres and sports venues could test audience members on the day and let in those with a negative result, workplaces could be opened up to all those who test negative that morning, and anyone isolating because they are a contact or quarantining after travelling abroad could be tested and released. We are piloting that approach right now and verifying the new technology, and then it can be rolled out nationwide. [Laughter.] …

This will not meet well with a great swathe of people living in England (see the replies):

Simon Dolan tweeted:

Incidentally, the wait until Monday is partly because the St Leger Festival is being run through this weekend:

As the debate progressed, MPs from both sides of the House said that their constitutents were told to drive hundreds of miles away for tests. Here are two examples:

Rosie Cooper (West Lancashire) (Lab)

Will the Secretary of State please explain the lack of availability of home testing kits, which has dropped dramatically in my area of West Lancashire? In the absence of home testing kits, very ill pensioners are being offered tests 80 or 100 miles away. The confusing message in the assurance that he is trying to give is that there are too many getting tested, but that, if in doubt, people should get tested. How does that deal with the asymptomatic carriers or spreaders? This is a huge hidden danger. In the light of the Secretary of State’s earlier comment, my constituents would genuinely love to get with the programme, get tested where necessary and stay safe—if only the Government’s words met their actual experience of the system.

Lucy Allan (Telford) (Con)

I thank my right hon. Friend for his statement and very much welcome the exciting progress on developing saliva testing. Outstanding progress has already been made on expanding testing capacity, and he deserves our thanks for his tireless work. Inevitably, this is not without its challenges. On Tuesday evening, hundreds of cars from across the country—and I do mean hundreds—descended on Telford’s testing site, as they were directed to do by the booking system. Tests quickly ran out, roads became blocked, people who had travelled from as far away as Cornwall, Stockport and London were turned away, and my constituents were no longer able to access tests in the area and so in turn were sent elsewhere. What assurances can he give that the error in the booking system that directed so many people to Telford has now been corrected, and does he agree that people should not be criss-crossing the country and travelling for many hours to secure a test?

Harriet Baldwin (West Worcestershire, Conservative) asked about the infringement on civil liberties and whether the Government were moving the goalposts. I won’t bother with Hancock’s response, because he did not answer her question. He merely repeated the same old waffle:

We accepted massive restrictions on our liberty in March because we wanted to protect the NHS from being overwhelmed, and we achieved that—indeed, not all the capacity was used. We are now imposing more restrictions on people’s liberty. Does the Secretary of State’s strategic goal for England continue to be to protect the NHS from being overwhelmed, or has he now gone further and is aiming for zero covid in England?

Friday, September 11

Unusually, the House of Commons convened on a Friday.

The Speaker of the House opened the session with this:

We meet today on the 19th anniversary of 9/11. We remember all those who lost their lives due to terrorism on that day and all those who were injured, as well as those who were bereaved.

Then, Sir Christopher Chope (Christchurch, Conservative) spoke, concerned about the new coronavirus rules coming in on Monday, September 14:

On a point of order, Mr Speaker. I have been looking at today’s Order Paper and particularly at the remaining orders, where I had expected to see the statutory instrument that the Government must lay for the draconian new rules they are bringing in on Monday to be lawful. It does not appear to have been laid, despite the Prime Minister making an announcement about it on Wednesday and the Secretary of State for Health and Social Care having made a statement yesterday. I am very concerned about the lack of opportunity for the public to see the text of these new regulations and about the Government’s continuing reluctance to give any opportunity to Members to debate this. Yesterday, my right hon. Friend the Member for New Forest West (Sir Desmond Swayne) asked when we could have a debate on it, and he was told that he could apply for a Backbench Business debate. That hardly fits in with the sense of urgency about all this. When my hon. Friend the Member for Altrincham and Sale West (Sir Graham Brady) then raised the matter with the Secretary of State yesterday, he was told that the Secretary of State would take it away and think about it. That is not satisfactory, as we are talking about the most draconian introduction of new restrictions on our liberty, with criminal sanctions. We need to be aware of what is happening and given the opportunity to debate it.

Mr Speaker replied:

May I say that I share your disappointment? I think that we should all be informed and the country should also know what is going on. The laying of this instrument is a matter for the Government, but I would say that you know and I know that other avenues could be taken on Monday to tickle this little item out, if required. So I will leave it with you to ponder what you want to do next. The Clerk has made a note, and we will come back with further information.

MPs debated the Co-operative and Community Benefit Societies (Environmentally Sustainable Investment) Bill.

Earlier that morning, Steve Baker was a guest on BBC Radio 4’s Today. He spoke his mind about the Government’s response to coronavirus:

Baker retweeted an item from Liberty’s feed:

Good. Finally. I hope this results in a solid Left-Right grouping of credible people speaking out against this bill, hastily rushed through the Commons and the Lords in March.

Meanwhile, in Sweden:

Sweden continues to operate fairly normally. The British Government, on the other hand, follows the rest of the Western lemmings.

On the back of the highly successful televised daily coronavirus briefings, No. 10 Downing Street has taken the decision to broadcast weekday afternoon press briefings in October 2020.

At least 2 million people viewed the daily coronavirus briefings every day. Anyone who watched them regularly, as my far better half and I did, knew exactly what the latest on coronavirus was.

I used to tune into the BBC afterwards to get their ‘spin’ on the briefings. I felt as if I were living in a parallel universe, because the self-proclaimed ‘nation’s most trusted’ broadcaster twisted all the main messages.

Therefore, it is no wonder that press briefings are sure to be a ratings winner. Britons at home will be able to see and hear the government’s messages first hand without the spin.

Not surprisingly, the media do not want these briefings televised.

ITV’s political editor Robert Peston is opposed:

Oh, having questions from the public would be great. They worked well on the coronavirus briefings.

Peston really loathes the idea of televised briefings:

Sky’s Beth Rigby also made her opposition clear:

The Press Gazette does not seem to like the plans, either. On July 3, they posted an article, ‘Televised press conference to permanently replace afternoon Downing Street press briefing’.

Excerpts follow, emphases mine:

The briefings will commence in October, be hosted by a political appointee who expected to be an experienced broadcaster, and will take place in a room at Number 9 Downing Street to be converted into a media suite

Boris Johnson confirmed the news on LBC, saying people had liked hearing directly from the Government during the Covid-19 press briefings.

“People have liked a more direct, detailed information from the Government about what is going on – and I think that they’ve actually particularly liked our brilliant scientific and medical advisers, possibly more than the politicians to be frank,” he said.

“We do think that people want direct engagement and want stuff from us, and so we’re going to have a go at that.”

The Daily Mirror’s Pippa Crerar, chair of the Parliamentary Press Gallery, and the Mail’s Jason Groves, chair of the Lobby, said in a joint statement to Press Gazette that they hoped the changes weren’t being made to reduce transparency and Lobby journalists’ access to ministers

See, they care only about themselves. They do not care about the general public.

There was more negativity:

Their comments were echoed by Huffpost’s executive editor for politics Paul Waugh who said on Twitter that the success of the briefings would “depend on whether they lead to genuine scrutiny or propaganda/grandstanding”.

The Society of Editors shared a similar warning that the Government must not make the briefings too “stage-managed” or pick and choose who is allowed to take part.

Executive director Ian Murray said: “If the aim of the televised briefings is to enable greater transparency then it will be important that they are of sufficient length and inclusive in nature to ensure a broad cross section of the media is able to question the government.

“It is vital that the government gives assurances that journalists or media providers out of favour with the administration will not be barred from such briefings and will also be given the opportunity to pose questions.

“Briefings that are too stage-managed and favour the few will not be in the best interests of the public as a whole.”

Yeah, right.

The coronavirus briefings worked really well, so there is no reason to think these will be any different:

The daily Covid-19 press conferences often saw millions tune in to find out updates and see journalists from a wide range of publications grill ministers and scientists.

Guido Fawkes (Paul Staines) was the only one who championed the briefings. He is the UK’s foremost political blogger. As early as January 9, he wrote ‘Live Stream the “People’s Briefings” from Downing Street’. He and his team used to report the highlights from the lobby briefings but perhaps coronavirus put an end to their attendance. In any event, this is what Guido said (red emphases in the original):

In a digital world where news happens in realtime, not to inky deadlines, it is time to just put the briefings out live, streamed to everyone on all platforms. During the election Boris livestreamed his “People’s PMQs” on Facebook, demonstrating there is no technological reason why the briefings can’t be broadcast via a free digital feed to everyone. Hacks will still get to ask the questions, they just won’t be able to spin off-camera, privately delivered answers as they do now. 

The reality is that it isn’t in the interests of hacks to open up the Lobby system or insist more often that quotes are on the public record. Intermediating allows them to more easily introduce their opinions into their new reports. Transparency will devalue their role because information scarcity makes their possession of a spokesman’s phone number so much more valuable. A start to improving and opening up the system would be to put the people’s briefings into the open, in realtime as it happens…

I couldn’t agree more.

On July 2, Guido declared victory when No. 10 announced the news:

He wrote (red emphases in the original):

Guido has won a big victory against the Lobby today, breaking open the Lobby’s preferred closed-style of briefings from Downing Street …

Boris Johnson has clearly listened to the argument for “a culture of transparency and openness’’ in Westminster by backing the broadcasting of the afternoon press briefings and reducing the number of spin doctors across Whitehall. After the success of the televised Covid briefings, Lee Cain plans to continue the on-camera afternoon government briefings. The role will be filled by a political appointee…

Expect an experienced broadcaster to get the job. No 9 Downing Street – where off-camera press briefings are currently held – will be turned into a modern media studio for briefings. A Downing Street source says: “For too long we’ve been running an analogue system in a digital age. People want to hear directly what the government is doing and to see it being held to account…”

Get this next bit, though. Who knew we had 4,000 communications people employed by the government?

The whole of government communications is being overhauled by Alex Aiken, the Executive Director for Government Communications – it will see departments ordered to reduce the 4,000 spin doctors employed by the government. Aiken and Cain believe the changes will lead to smaller, more agile communications operation. Officials have also been told of plans to plans to drastically reduce the government’s communications operation and the number of press officers across Whitehall. Guido’s happy that a decade-long campaign for government briefings unfiltered by Lobby journalists has finally been won…

Me, too.

Veteran broadcaster and journalist Alastair Stewart wrote a good article on this for The Spectator: ‘Boris’s TV briefings could end the lobby pantomime’.

The term ‘lobby’ in this particular context refers to the media.

Pantomime — ‘panto’ — in Britain refers to a Christmas play based on popular old fairy tales, e.g. Puss in Boots. They are fun, noisy performances, often featuring famous television actors in crazy costumes.

One thing we learned from the coronavirus briefings is that the top journalists often ask the same question in an attempt to trap the government. From Monday through Thursday, these journalists were often Laura Kuenssberg (BBC), Robert Peston and Beth Rigby.

I used to watch Laura Kuenssberg afterwards for her spin, which always put an unfavourable light on the government, even when they had something positive to report.

Alastair Stewart says:

Political correspondents often asked the same questions, most seeking a ‘gotcha’ moment in relation to something that should have been done sooner, or better. On occasion they would also use the event to ask questions about non-coronavirus matters.

True, very true.

I was delighted when the government opened up briefing questions to the public. Normally, they had one short video and one written question every day. The public asked useful questions.

The regional press journalists also asked pertinent questions.

Both the public and the regional press were streets ahead of Kuenssberg, Peston and Rigby.

Alastair Stewart thinks so, too:

While the local and regional press were often better still at asking specific, trickier questions which people actually wanted to know the answer to. Most interesting of all perhaps were the members of the public, allowed into the secret society in the closing phase of this farce which inevitably always included some hapless person struggling with the ‘mute’ button.

He is right about referring to the lobby as a secret society:

I am not, and never have been, a member of ‘the lobby’ but it is a sort of Masonic gathering of the political hacks with the Downing Street spokesperson. It is almost as ritualistic: steeped in secrecy, they use the language of ‘sources’, ‘unattributable’ or ‘off-the-record’ and other linguistic mysteries of the game. And, like a St James Club, only members are allowed in.

And, yes, there is ‘a line’ that these guys and gals want to pursue for their anti-government narrative of the day:

When I was a member of the lowly Industrial Correspondents’ lobby, we would gather after a briefing to discuss what ‘the line’ was. I understand a similar game is often played by the political corps, post the Number Ten gatherings. Johnson wants to bust this wide open by putting his man or woman in front of the camera, fielding questions from hacks who will doubtless be ready for their close-ups too.

I disagree with Stewart on the follow-up questions. They became irritating, because the most prominent reporters were grandstanding. He, however, sees it differently:

One precedent that surely will endure from the Covid-19 events will be the supplementary question. It was an error for Johnson to drop these when he was the host. Others, like [health secretary] Matt Hancock, often used them to great effect. What’s more, they added to the public cut and thrust of an exchange between a reporter and a minister. It could be enlightening and, at times, entertaining.

As we do not know yet who will front these briefings on most days, Robert Peston has a suggestion:

Of course, occasionally, a government minister or Boris himself will be at the podium.

Stewart reminds us that past press secretaries had been journalists during their careers:

Churchill had his Brendan Bracken, an FT man. Wilson, Joe Haines, a Mirror man to his finger tips. Thatcher’s Bernard Ingham served the Yorkshire Post and, ironically, the Guardian with distinction. TV has less of a role of honour today but the former Sky News man, the excellent Joey Jones, had a spell in May’s Downing Street.

Who knows what effect this will have on today’s journalism. It is likely to step up a notch. One hopes so, anyway.

In any event:

There is more merit in having a free and frank exchange between press and politicians, in the full glare of the TV lights, than in continuing with the semi-secretive pantomime of the lobby.

The public has a right to know what is really going on in government, without the filter of agenda-driven journalists who by definition oppose conservatives and Conservatives.

It’s great that, post-coronavirus, Boris has resurrected the notion of the ‘People’s Government’.

The following British coronavirus version of Rudyard Kipling’s If– (original full text here) with regard to coronavirus brought a smile. I hope it does the same for you.

It’s a comment that Steven Brook left on a Spiked column by Brendan O’Neill: ‘What Neil Ferguson’s booty call tells us about modern politics’.

I’ve added a few grammatical edits to this witty take on the virus:

If – by Mr Kipling

If you can lose your head when all about you are losing theirs and blaming it on you for not panicking sooner.
If you can hide your doubt, judgement and perspective and put your faith in experts like Piers Morgan
If you make no allowance for other considerations, the economy or unintended consequences.
If you can wait and not be tired by waiting for a vaccine that is unlikely to turn up.
Or meekly accept being lied about, because the mainstream media don’t deal in facts any more.
Or being hated, don’t even think of cutting the public funding to the hatemongers.
And yet don’t look too normal, nor talk too wise, just put your critical faculties on one side and show you care …

If you can dream of a multicultural paradise but ignore the reality of a fragmented rudderless society
If you can think, then, for God’s sake, hide those thoughts, or you will look cold and heartless.
If you can meet with Triumph and Disaster, having beaten the virus but wrecked the economy.
And treat those two impostors just the same; who needs a healthy economy anyway?
If you can bear to hear the truth you’ve spoken
Twisted by the BBC to make a trap for fools, but you’re too scared to deal with that nest of vipers.
Or watch the things you gave your life to, broken, the family, freedom of speech, education.
And stoop and failed to build ’em up because you imported third rate tools from China:

If you can make one heap of all our national wealth
And risk it on Prof Ferguson’s model which forecast that 121% of the British population would be dead by Easter.
And lose, because Imperial College has a long history of getting things completely wrong and start again at the beginnings.
And never breathe a word about our loss because no one takes responsibility for previous panics (and, for goodness sake, don’t publish the grooming report).
If you can force your heart and nerve and sinew not to strangle Robert Peston even though he richly deserves it.
To keep having press conferences long after they have become utterly pointless.
And so hold on when there is nothing in you
Except the Will which says to them: ‘You do realise that Common Purpose runs the UK?’

If you can talk with the public while selling out your nation to the globalists
Or walk with the Davos crowd — but still pretend to have the common touch,
If neither foes nor loving friends can hurt you because you burnt the photos of you with the lady boy.
If all men count with you, but George Soros particularly;
If you can fill the unforgiving news cycle
With sixty seconds’ worth of calm reassurance,
Yours is the Earth and everything that’s in it, which, sadly, is a lot less than it used to be.
And—which is more—you’ll be a modern politician, old chum.

It nicely sums up the past two (and a bit) months here in England.

Last week, a few British polling companies took the pulse of the nation with regard to coronavirus.

But first, let’s look at an international poll from Morning Consult of G7 countries and their leaders’ popularity during the pandemic. Congratulations, Boris Johnson — far above the others in popularity!

Returning to Britain, here are the results from a YouGov/Sky News poll. Keir Starmer, incidentally, is Labour’s new leader:

This is the poll in more detail. Dr Chris Whitty is the UK’s chief medical adviser; Sir Patrick Vallance is the chief scientific adviser; Dominic Raab, Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs, is Boris’s deputy; Matt Hancock is Secretary of State for Health and Social Care; Sir Keir Starmer is the new leader of the Labour Party:

The next one is Survation’s poll on trusted sources of information during the coronavirus crisis. Note that the media come lowest, well below that of despised politicians and local government, regardless of the fact that most Britons get their information from broadcast and print media:

Here is a poll from YouGov for Reuters Institute and Oxford University:

Here’s one from a Twitter user. Comments follow (DM is the Daily Mail):

One radio talk show host thinks the British public are too stupid to understand media. I try not to use the word delusional, but this is delusional:

The British government are actually doing a great job in managing the coronavirus outbreak. The NHS has not been overwhelmed.

Before the crisis started, according to the Global Health Security Index, the US was rated first in the world for handling a pandemic. The UK was rated second:

Have both the US and the UK been too scrupulous in recording deaths, as — according to some graphs — both countries have the world’s highest fatalities? We shall see, once this is over.

Otherwise, sure, there have been ongoing issues with obtaining PPE, BUT is that the government’s fault? Aren’t NHS procurement managers in charge of that? Ditto care homes, which are either privately owned or council run.

Never mind that, though. Obtaining PPE has been a problem for nearly every nation during this pandemic.

Below are photos of German medics. The BBC often asks, ‘Why can’t the UK be like Germany?’

Hello, BBC. Germany has a PPE shortage, too:

Despite that and despite lockdown, the British support Boris and his team. This was as of April 21, published on April 26:

Regardless of the government’s careful managing of this crisis, the media dig deep every day to report only bad news. Largely, they are still hurting over Brexit, which will no doubt dominate media narratives once coronavirus is over. The negative coronavirus stories are an extension of anti-Brexit narratives:

The BBC is the only channel to broadcast the government’s daily coronavirus briefings. As is customary in other nations doing these daily updates, reporters from across the country are allowed to ask questions afterwards:

Health Secretary Matt Hancock, other government ministers and the medical officers have to face a lot of awful questions. Last week, the BBC’s health editor Hugh Pym asked whether the government was ‘ashamed’ of its coronavirus response:

People like Pym, who smile and smirk simultaneously, are the lowest of the low. They use their gotcha questions on early evening newscasts:

On Monday, April 27, Hancock got fed up with ITV’s political editor Robert Peston’s continuous, verbose questions. Hancock replied with a terse ‘No’:

Here’s the deal with Peston:

Here’s another example, this time from the BBC:

And another:

And another. This is BBC Newsnight‘s Emily Maitlis with Labour’s Peter Mandelson — Baron Mandelson — who held several cabinet positions under Tony Blair and Gordon Brown when they were Prime Minister:

But I digress. Back now to the daily coronavirus briefings.

On Monday, April 27, the government began taking at least one question a day from the general public:

Robert Peston does not like this:

Actually, Robert, the first question chosen and read out on April 27 was relevant to many Britons.

That day, the independent polling company the government uses to select the questions chose one from a grandmother who wanted to know how much longer she would have to wait to kiss and hug her grandchildren. Honestly, I nearly welled up. Much better than taking questions from Peston, Pym and the like.

On Tuesday, April 28, they had two enquiries from the public — one read out loud from another grandmother about childminding her grandchildren and a short video from a mother asking when her son on the coronavirus isolation list could return to school. The lad has cystic fibrosis and autism:

Unfortunately, Matt Hancock had to let all three ladies down gently. It was/is still too early to say.

Interestingly, Peston didn’t ask a question on Tuesday. Perhaps he’s miffed that Britons are getting their own very real concerns aired? As is said in the news trade: ‘Developing …’

News emerged several days ago that human testing began at Oxford University on a vaccine for COVID-19. Suppose it succeeds, which we all hope it will. Will this be the sort of questioning the government will receive? Although humorous, it’s not far off the mark. Click on image to enlarge:

Actually, something just as strange happened when the vaccine news was announced. A woman with a PhD, whom the media referred to as Doctor — implying a medic — appeared in the media. She said she would be ashamed if Oxford succeeded!

She was made to appear as if she were from the university, when, in fact, she’s at what used to be the city’s polytechnic, now called Oxford Brookes. They are two very different institutions:

It is not unusual for the BBC to interrupt any Conservative politician, whether on television or radio. On Friday, April 24, Matt Hancock appeared on Radio 4’s Today programme:

The clip below shows ITV’s Piers Morgan, co-host of Good Morning Britain, having a go at Matt Hancock, not even allowing him to finish a sentence. Breathtaking arrogance, and worth a watch:

Piers should clam up — and tone down his tweets. Good Morning Britain‘s ratings have been tanking during the coronavirus crisis (more here):

On April 16, during the daily coronavirus briefing, Channel 4’s Alex Thomson asked if the government was trying to kill the elderly. Sitting at home viewing, my far better half and I were astonished. Guido Fawkes has the story:

At the more serious end of broadcasting, Channel 4 News’ Alex Thomson last night was on a quest for culpability. His crass question at the Downing Street briefing basically accused Hancock and his advisers of choosing to kill off old people to prioritise protecting the young.

We stopped watching Channel 4 News years ago. It got too left-wing in its bias. Here’s another example from Guido’s article, involving Home Secretary Priti Patel (emphasis in the original):

Earlier in the week, Channel 4 News’ reporter repeatedly demanded from Priti Patel an apology. This type of performance isn’t holding power to account or about purely eliciting information. It is gotcha journalism and because journalists at the press conferences are asking their questions through the prism of establishing political culpability, they are getting defensive responses. It would be better to leave that to the opposition in parliament and leave the made-for-social-media infotainment to Piers. It might also arrest the dramatic drop in public confidence in the news media…

Therefore, is it any wonder that former Labour MP for Vauxhall in London tweeted:

Yes, there should be a root and branch review and reform of the alleged ‘nation’s most trusted’ broadcaster. The annual licence fee per household is £145. It is a mandatory charge. As such, some Britons call it a tax.

I have a lot more to say about the media’s handling of coronavirus. More to follow at some point.

More news from last weekend will help put the Remainers’ tricks into better context.

BBC bias — Andrew Marr Show

The flagship Sunday morning television news programme is the BBC’s Andrew Marr Show.

On September 29, 2019, Marr interviewed Prime Minister Boris Johnson, followed by the Shadow (Labour’s) Education Secretary Angela Rayner.

Boris could barely get a word in edgewise, whereas Marr let Rayner speak uninterrupted:

Language humbug

The topic of language used in the Commons on Wednesday, September 25, was still a huge issue for Remainers. The media storm continued into Monday.

Here’s Gina Miller, who is leading anti-Brexit lawsuits:

Boris somehow made dirty words out of ‘humbug’ and ‘surrender’ for them last Wednesday evening.

So did Attorney General Geoffrey Cox earlier that day:

Guido Fawkes had this (emphasis in the original):

Attorney General, Geoffrey Cox, just gave one of the most barnstorming speeches Guido has seen in many years:

This parliament is a dead parliament. It should no longer sit. It has no moral right to sit on these benches… This parliament is a disgrace. They could vote ‘no confidence’ at any time, but they’re too cowardly.

Guido has a feeling this one may go viral…

Indeed. Both the AG and the PM spoke eloquently — and wittily — getting their points across with aplomb.

On the other hand, at least one rebel Conservative used blunt language. Here’s Dominic Grieve:

Grieve was on Robert Peston’s ITV news show last Wednesday. It seems this is acceptable and non-hyperbolic language — as long as it comes from a Remainer:

A few days later, the Scottish equivalent of Gina Miller — another Remainer lawyer bringing similar lawsuits — let rip on the PM:

The women

As America’s Left did with Donald Trump, Britain’s Left — including notional Conservative Remainers — played up two news stories about Boris, involving women.

Jennifer Arcuri

This events in this story took place during Boris’s time as Mayor of London. It is developing and could be politically motivated, especially as Boris and the current Mayor of London Sadiq Khan trade occasional verbal jabs with each other.

It is strange that no one outside the London political bubble has heard of Jennifer Arcuri until now, when a) we are on the Brexit countdown and b) the Conservative Party Conference was starting at the time this news broke.

From the BBC (emphases mine):

It is alleged businesswoman Jennifer Arcuri received favourable treatment due to her friendship with Mr Johnson.

The prime minister was referred by the Greater London Authority on Friday.

Mr Johnson has denied any impropriety, while a government source described the referral as “politically motivated”.

The allegations regarding Mr Johnson’s friendship with technology entrepreneur Ms Arcuri first emerged last weekend in the Sunday Times.

They refer to claims that Ms Arcuri joined trade missions led by Mr Johnson when he was mayor of London and that her company received several thousand pounds in sponsorship grants.

The Greater London Authority’s monitoring officer – whose job it is to monitor the conduct of the mayor and other members – said it had written to the police watchdog, the Independent Office for Police Conduct (IOPC).

It said it had referred the PM to the IOPC “so it can assess whether or not it is necessary to investigate the former mayor of London for the criminal offence of misconduct in public office”.

It added that it has recorded a “conduct matter” against Mr Johnson which happens when there is information that indicates that a criminal offence may have been committed.

But it does not mean that a criminal offence is proved in any way, the GLA’s monitoring officer added.

“The IOPC will now consider if it is necessary for the matter to be investigated.”

The reason the IOPC is involved is because the role of the mayor of London is also London’s police and crime commissioner

Responding to the referral, No 10 said: “The prime minister, as Mayor of London, did a huge amount of work when selling our capital city around the world, beating the drum for London and the UK.

“Everything was done with propriety and in the normal way.”

Charlotte Edwardes

Charlotte Edwardes was a young columnist for The Spectator 20 years ago, at the time when Boris was the magazine’s editor.

Last weekend, she wrote her maiden article for The Sunday Times about the time the 35-year-old editor squeezed her thigh around that time. Interestingly, Ms Edwardes’s current boyfriend is the aforementioned Robert Peston, ITV’s political editor. Timing is everything:

Not surprisingly, the story made the front page of The Sunday Times, which a proud Peston retweeted:

Both the social and the political angles merit explanation.

I remember reading about The Spectator‘s parties at this time. They were legendary. Many celebrities, authors, journalists and politicians hoped for invitations to the magazine’s summer garden party and/or the Christmas lunch.

Writer Toby Young, who also wrote for the magazine when Boris was editor, remembers the atmosphere:

Toby Young might have overstated things a bit, but Boris did have a way with the ladies, so there is probably more than a germ of truth to that.

An 82-year-old lady rang The Jeremy Vine Show (Channel 5) to say she wouldn’t mind an evening out with Boris. I do not think she is an outlier, either. Again, we should consider the timing of Miss Edwardes’s revelation and wonder why she did not come forward sooner:

That tweet makes an excellent point about timing.

Here is more information:

Yes, there was a rumour that Edwardes’s colleague, Mary Wakefield, was sitting on the other side of her and supposedly remembered that Boris touched her thigh, too.

Or, perhaps not.

Interestingly, Mary Wakefield is married to Dominic Cummings, the PM’s chief adviser on Brexit:

The story annoys both Leavers and Remainers:

No. 10 denied the story, and Labour MP Paula Sherriff, who was the first to mention the late MP Jo Cox’s name last Wednesday, offered Edwardes her moral support:

At the Conservative Party conference, the PM’s father, former Conservative MEP Stanley Johnson, defended his son eloquently to Kay Burley of Sky News:

People at home were unimpressed:

Kay Burley isn’t exactly blameless, though. You can see her red hair in the photo below from an old story:

The news story surrounding the photo is about Naomi Campbell’s appearance at Uxbridge Magistrates Court in north-west London in 2008.

Naturally, reporters raced to get quotes from the model and photographers wanted photos. Mayhem ensued, as the Daily Mail reported on June 21 that year:

Sky News presenter Kay Burley clashed with a photographer during the mayhem when Naomi Campbell arrived at court yesterday.

The newscaster, 46, was apparently hit in the cheek by a camera – and was then seen with her hand around a photographer’s throat.

Given the scrum, witness accounts differed:

There were suggestions that the photographer, Kirsty Wigglesworth from the Associated Press agency, had bumped into Miss Burley and injured her badly.

A witness said: ‘We were walking in alongside Naomi and basically, Kay got whacked in the face by a photographer.

‘Kay pushed back the photographer after she had her cheekbone smashed by this person. The photographer’s aggressive behaviour was extraordinary.

But another witness, who saw the second half on the incident, said: ‘Kay Burley had her hands around the photographer’s neck. It was really, really vicious.

‘The only way the photographer stopped her was by pulling her sunglasses off.

‘She has got marks around her throat.’ It is claimed that Miss Burley and the photographer were taken to one side by the police about the incident.

Remainer news

Whilst the Conservatives are at conference in Manchester, with some MPs flying back and forth to London via helicopter because opposition benches refused to adjourn for three days, Remainers have been busy elsewhere.

Not many opposition MPs attended Monday’s afternoon session in the Commons. Speaker Bercow spent only a couple of hours before turning over the rest of the day’s proceedings to a female Deputy Speaker.

Civil servants

Civil servants are under strain after summer holidays to deliver background work on Brexit. They complained of stress earlier in the year. They’re lucky they do not work in the private sector:

Labour and Lib Dem views

Former Home Secretary Jack Straw says that, although he disapproves of Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership …

… he will still vote Labour for tribal reasons.

Party before country … not surprising.

Liberal Democrat leader Jo Swinson plans to block Corbyn’s possible ascendancy as temporary PM:

Rebel Conservative MPs

I am disappointed to read that David Gauke, now an Independent MP, spoke at the Conservatives’ conference:

On Monday, September 30, Sky News reported that Gauke focussed on the language issue (emphases mine):

Ex-justice secretary David Gauke spoke at the Conservative conference in Manchester despite having been effectively expelled from the party – by having the Tory whip withdrawn – for voting against Boris Johnson on Brexit earlier this month.

He accused the prime minister of a “strategy that is about stoking resentment”, with Mr Johnson having recently been criticised by opposition MPs for his use of language …

Hence we have the language of surrender, of betrayal, of collusion. Because that feeds into a strategy that is about stoking resentment, nursing grievances, provoking anger.

“It means our politics becomes debased, it means the Conservative Party becomes a much more aggressive, much more confrontational, much more divisive party …

“And we cease to follow the traditions of our great leaders. We are no longer the party of Churchill, we are more the party of Trump.”

Dominic Grieve poled up, too, although not as far as a podium. He says he received an unsettling message:

Reading out a message he received on his phone during the event, which he revealed read: “You are a foul traitor”, Mr Grieve said: “This sort of atmosphere, which is being currently – I’m sorry to say it – but bluntly encouraged by the leader of the Conservative Party… is unacceptable behaviour and it is undermining our democracy and [will] smash it up.

“We will all have to live with the consequences – not only in our constituencies but our neighbourhoods and it will extend to each one of us.”

Mr Grieve, who supports a second EU referendum and Remain, added he was “pleased” to have attended the Manchester conference despite having been advised by some not to go.

“Most people here have been rational, pleasant and engaged even when they’ve come up to disagree with me,” he said.

Alistair Burt, another rebel — and the co-author of the Benn-Burt Bill, which attempts to thwart No Deal on October 31 — insisted he was still loyal to the party:

He revealed he recently chose not to stand at the next general election as he could not recommend a no-deal Brexit, which the government insists is still a possibility on 31 October, to his North East Bedfordshire constituents.

Describing how he has been a Conservative Party member for almost 50 years – but has now had the Tory whip withdrawn – Mr Burt added: “I was also parliamentary private secretary to two Conservative leaders: Michael Howard and Iain Duncan Smith.

“I stood behind Iain Duncan Smith at one of the most difficult times in the Conservative Party’s history.

“I don’t need any lessons on loyalty from anyone in telling me what to do for the Conservative Party in the future.”

It’s not as much about the Conservative Party, Mr Burt, as it is for the nation: the 52% of Britons who voted Leave on June 23, 2016.

More to come tomorrow.

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