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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Self-isolation time

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Guido concludes:

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

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

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

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

This tweet expresses the phenomenon well:

https://image.vuukle.com/c4318e5c-ff26-463e-83e3-1b1398dfdcc3-52ee10ed-274e-4073-9d2f-c130beeed0cb

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

The end of mass vaccination?

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

The Observer reported:

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

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

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

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

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

Schoolchildren suffering

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

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

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

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

Vaccines

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

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

https://image.vuukle.com/afdabdfb-de55-452b-b000-43e4d45f1094-3f958417-af3a-492b-8ba5-1295b96658d7

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

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

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

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

Here is a clip from The Telegraph‘s article:

https://image.vuukle.com/5a13d893-99ce-45cf-838a-4fee2a3447a2-d6bcf1df-87ae-419a-a99b-34db16fce297

NHS is doing well

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

Socialist policies in Scotland and Wales do not work

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

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

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

He said:

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

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

More on that below.

Wales

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

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

Dan Wootton said:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

This exchange shows how complicated the situation is:

Scotland

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

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

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

She insists it’s to keep them safe.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sturgeon is criminalising people drinking and having a good time.

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

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

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

Guido Fawkes has an update from Wednesday, January 5:

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

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

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

Unlikely.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Scottish Daily Express reported:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Scottish Conservatives are the main opposition party in Holyrood:

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

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

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

Labour are the next largest party in opposition:

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

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

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

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

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

The Liberal Democrat response was the best:

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

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

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

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

Too right!

Conclusion

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

Let those who wish to take precautions do so.

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

Yesterday’s post discussed the vote on coronavirus measures — Plan B — for England, which saw a sizeable Conservative rebellion, while most Labour MPs voted with the Government.

Labour is supposed to be the main Opposition party. Yet, their MPs, along with most Conservative MPs, seem to be in lockstep. How sad.

In a late-breaking development to Plan B, self-quarantine rules have been changed to daily testing for seven days. On Tuesday, December 14, Sajid Javid told MPs the following before the Plan B votes, which were split into four divisions (emphases mine below):

Instead of close contacts of confirmed cases or suspected cases having to self-isolate, all vaccinated contacts, irrespective of whether the contact was with an omicron case, will be asked to take lateral flow tests every day for seven days. Regulation No. 1415 allows us to put this plan into action by revoking the omicron-specific provisions for self-isolation.

That’s good news.

As for the other three provisions, sadly, all passed.

This is one of the few times when tellers for the divisions — votes — were from the same party:

Here’s what happened:

1/ Masks are once again compulsory in public, enclosed spaces, including houses of worship:

2/ Coronavirus vaccines will be required for NHS and social care, including care home, staff by April 2022:

3/ Coronavirus passports will be mandatory for large gatherings and venues:

That said, note the big opposition votes for mandatory vaccines and the vaccine passports. Guido Fawkes has a list of 98 Conservatives who voted against the Government on vaccine passports. Well done, rebels!

Labour Party whips spotted three more, including Sir Desmond Swayne and Bob Seely:

The number of Conservative rebels far exceeded the predicted 81. A few Labour MPs joined in as well as ten of 11 Liberal Democrats. Sir Ed Davey, Lib Dem party leader, was self-isolating with coronavirus. As there is no more remote voting by proxy, as there was during hybrid Commons proceedings this year, he could not register his votes.

Labour’s Mary Kelly Foy couldn’t vote, either, for the same reason:

By the way, this is how the voting is done as of the middle of 2021. The Commons is modernising with card readers that record votes:

Beware of dubious interpretations of these new rules, as much as millions of us disagree with them.

We need to read the full headlines. The Telegraph says that vaccine passports do not apply to MPs — but, if we read carefully, we see that is only in the House of Commons. They will be subject to the law elsewhere, just like everyone else:

On that story, Scotland’s The Herald reports:

Recent social distancing rules in the chamber ended this week

Former Tory chief whip Mark Harper, who chairs the lockdown-sceptic Covid Recovery Group, raised a point of order about busy sessions in the chamber being regulated.

He said: “It seems to me, particularly on a Wednesday when we get back to normal, that definition could equally apply to this House of Commons.

“It’d be outrageous if the executive were to attempt to prevent any Member of Parliament attending this House to represent our constituents without first undergoing a medical procedure.”

He added: “Your 17th century predecessor, Speaker Lenthall, stood up very effectively against an overmighty executive and it didn’t end well for the overmighty executive.”

Sir Lindsay replied: “It did lead to the end of the monarchy as well, I might add, for a short period so let’s hope we’re not quite going back that far.”

“There is nothing to stop a member coming in to here, you have the right to come to this House unless this House otherwise says so.

“The Government’s not been in touch, I don’t expect them to be in touch because, as far as I’m concerned, it doesn’t apply to members.”

The Telegraph‘s Alison Pearson would disagree with my calling Conservative rebels ‘rebels’.

She — perhaps rightly — calls them ‘the true Conservatives’:

Please don’t call the MPs who voted against vaccine passports ‘Tory rebels’. In my book, those upstanding men and women are the true Conservatives. Rather, it is those who pushed through this repellently un-British measure, with the help of the Labour Party, who are the traitors to our philosophy

From head boy of the old school, Sir Graham Brady, to 28-year-old blonde bombshell of the Red Wall Dehenna Davison, via former Royal Air Force engineer Steve Baker (more sense than the entire Cabinet combined) through that lioness Esther McVey, keenly compassionate Sir Charles Walker and Miriam Cates (both rightly devastated by the collateral damage of lockdown) to fearless, principled Nus Ghani and the swashbuckling Sir Desmond Swayne… These are my heroes – and all the rest who dug in their heels on the slippery slope to authoritarianism.

As Cates put it: “The new measures threaten to cement a permanent shift in the balance of power between the Government and the British people that has been brought about by two years of ‘hokey-cokey’ restrictions on our freedom. This is a shift that is no doubt being celebrated by those on the Left, but it should chill Conservatives to the core.”

Unfortunately, after the vote, new, positive data came out about the Omicron variant:

As I was writing this, there landed a fresh blow to the Government’s campaign of fear. The first major study found that omicron was likely to be 23 per cent less severe than the delta variant, with those of us who are double-jabbed still enjoying good protection. Far fewer people needed intensive care for omicron, with just five per cent of cases admitted to ICU compared with 22 per cent of delta patients.

Pearson sees this as good news:

By catching and shrugging off the omicron “cold”, we could be minimising the risk to those who will always be vulnerable.

Things could always be worse for England. At least it’s not Scotland, where First Minister Nicola Sturgeon has put the screws on for Christmas. On Tuesday, The Herald reported Sturgeon as saying there was a ‘tsunami’ of coronavirus cases in Scotland:

Nicola Sturgeon is urging Scots to limit socialising to a maximum of three households at a time …

The first minister said: “We are not banning or restricting household mixing in law as before. We understand the negative impact this has on mental health and wellbeing.”

… “However, if you do plan on socialising – either at home or in indoor public places – we are asking that you limit the number of households represented in your group to a maximum of 3. And make sure you test before you go.” 

Sturgeon advised businesses as follows:

For retail, it will include “a return to the kind of protections from the start of the pandemic – like measures to avoid crowding and bottlenecks. This will include physical distancing, measures to control the flow of customers, and protective screens.”

For hospitality, “it will mean for example, measures to avoid crowding at bars and between tables, and a reminder of the requirement to collect contact details of customers to help with contact tracing.”

The article said that only two people have been hospitalised in Scotland with the Omicron variant, yet:

The first minister said: “The R number associated with Delta is around 1. But the R number for Omicron appears to be well over 2, and possibly above 4.”

She added that this was why Scotland was facing a “tsunami” of cases.

Okay. I remain to be convinced. I hope that most Scots are also unconvinced.

This saga will roll on into the New Year, no doubt.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

One wonders how many other stories there are like this.

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

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

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

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

Most of us are following Omicron news:

Mixed public opinion

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

Mixed messages from Government ministers and advisers

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

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

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

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

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

Sajid Javid is cautious:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Another NHS bigwig also issued a warning to health staff:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Behavioural scientist Susan Michie and the BBC

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

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

To behavioural scientists, we are things to be manipulated:

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

Excerpts follow:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Guido Fawkes had a video and an article:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Coronavirus cousins could help combat Covid variants

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

On November 30, The Times reported:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I wish them every success.

Let there be light

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

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

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

Without a vote on October 19, 2021, in the House of Commons, the Coronavirus Act 2020 has been renewed again until March 24, 2022.

Not enough MPs rebelled to trigger a division (vote):

Interestingly, Bill Gates was in London on Monday. The Queen shook hands with him and he met with Prime Minister Boris Johnson.

As usual, Mark Harper (Conservative) was the only MP who has continued to push back against this questionable piece of legislation. He rightly pointed out that this is the first time that Labour have complained about lack of scrutiny:

Labour have never opposed the Coronavirus Act.

A few other MPs, mostly Conservative, spoke up at Tuesday’s debate. This was probably the only time I’ve agreed with Labour’s Dawn Butler:

The Act has always been presented on the Floor of the House as an all-or-nothing Bill; MPs never have an opportunity to change, amend or scrutinise it, so I think that the Secretary of State is just a little misleading in how he is presenting it to the House today …

Unintentionally misleading.

It would appear that MPs did not clamour for a vote because some of the Act’s provisions have expired.

However, the driver behind the powers of the Coronavirus Act 2020 lie in a separate public health act from 1984 (oddly enough).

The Mirror, a Labour paper, explains (emphases mine):

Facing pressure from Tory MPs, Boris Johnson announced that the vast majority of Coronavirus Act powers – including on detention, events, gatherings, shops and restaurants and schools – would expire last month.

The means only a few of the more draconian powers – including the power to suspend port operations – now remain in the Act.

However, the Act also includes laws designed to improve the state’s response to the pandemic.

Those include the temporary registration of social workers, paramedics and other NHS staff if trainees or retirees need to surge into the system, and the ability to pay sick pay from day one of absence.

Labour MP Dawn Butler said the “authoritarian” Act had been passed with “no scrutiny” and “it was never proportionate”.

She added she was “pleased” that the most draconian powers – including detention powers – had been removed.

No one blamed Sajid Javid, still newish in his role as Health Secretary. It was the principle of the legislation and the way it was rolled out last year.

Of course, every Briton expects the NHS to be under pressure again this year. It’s been under pressure every winter since I moved here decades ago.

Sajid Javid said:

We do certainly expect more pressure as we head into winter, we’ve been very open about that and that is why the vaccination programme, both the Covid vaccination programme, the boosters and the flu vaccination programme remain important.

“But there are provisions in this Act which are still, I believe, still necessary and proportionate to help with the pressure … “

At the end of the debate, Deputy Speaker Rosie Winterton (Labour) took the mood of the Commons. Too few Noes spoke — to much laughter — in a near-empty House. Sickening, as if this were an in-joke. It probably is:

What an insult to the taxpayers who pay MPs’ salaries and expenses.

Meanwhile, it will come as no surprise that various scientists have been pressing the Government to quickly implement ‘Plan B’, which would mean a return to masks and more restrictions.

It looks as if we will be stuck in this downward spiral for some time to come.

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

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

UK in crisis

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

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

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

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

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

Maddening.

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

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

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

Good for them.

Conference theme disappointing

The conference theme was … Build Back Better.

How awful.

Here it is draped across Central Station Manchester:

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

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

As The Telegraph‘s Madeline Grant wrote:

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

Sunday, October 3

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Spectator has more on the interview.

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

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

Theresa May’s former deputy Damian Green welcomed attendees

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, October 4

Monday opened with the latest ConservativeHome popularity poll.

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

Guido analysed the results, excerpted below:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Guido recapped their amusing exchange:

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

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, October 5

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

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

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

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

Guido’s post includes a quote and this summary:

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

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

Guido had a chat with her:

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

Rishi Sunak addressed the Northern Powerhouse Leaders’ Lunch.

Guido says:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Polling stable

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

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

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

What Government should do next

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

Guido says:

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tomorrow: Boris’s keynote speech

On Thursday, September 9, the Scottish parliament voted in a motion to implement vaccine passports for the nation, beginning October 1:

Patrick Harvie’s Greens, who are in a new alliance with the governing SNP, changed their minds about vaccine passports and decided to vote in favour of them:

Some of the MSPs lost their internet connection during the vote. That does not matter, because they, along with MSPs voting from home, can let the moderator know and she will allow them to cast their vote in person or over the telephone. Those votes are broadcast in the chamber.

The incident gives me a chance to show you the interior of Holyrood, where MSPs meet:

The day before the Holyrood vote, MPs in Westminster debated the implemention vaccine passports for England.

Nadhim Zahawi, the vaccines minister, gave a statement about the plans. It did not go well for him.

MPs — including his fellow Conservatives — quoted his previous statements in which he said the passports would not be implemented domestically.

William Wragg (Con), a member of the awkward squad of backbenchers, chided Zahawi (emphases mine):

What a load of rubbish. I do not believe that my hon. Friend believes a word he just uttered, because I remember him stating very persuasively my position, which we shared at the time, that this measure would be discriminatory. Yet he is sent to the Dispatch Box to defend the indefensible. We in this House seem prepared to have a needless fight over this issue. It is completely unnecessary. We all agree that people should be encouraged to have the vaccine, and I again encourage everybody to do so, but to go down this route, which is overtly discriminatory, will be utterly damaging to the fabric of society.

Zahawi replied:

I am grateful to my hon. Friend, who has made his view clear to me on many occasions. It pains me to have to take a step like this, which we do not take lightly, but the flipside to that is that if we do not and the virus causes super-spreader events in nightclubs and I have to stand at the Dispatch Box and announce to the House that we have to close the sector, that would be much more painful to me.

Mark Harper, another Conservative who has opposed coronavirus restrictions, voiced his disapproval:

I have to say that I agree with the Chairman of the Public Administration and Constitutional Affairs Committee, my hon. Friend the Member for Hazel Grove (Mr Wragg). The Minister set out earlier this year that this policy was discriminatory. He was right then and that remains the case. It is a discriminatory policy. The vaccines are fantastically effective at reducing hospitalisation and death. They are very much less effective in reducing transmission of the Delta variant. This is a pointless policy with damaging effects. I am afraid that the Minister is picking an unnecessary fight with his own colleagues. I say to him that the Government should think again. The Leader of the House has been clear that we do not believe—the Government do not believe—that this policy is necessary for us to meet here in a crowded place. Let us not have one rule for Members of Parliament and another rule for everybody else. Drop this policy.

Zahawi replied, saying he hoped the vaccine passports would be temporary:

This is not something that we enter into lightly, but it is part of our armoury to help us transition over the winter months from pandemic to endemic status. I hope to be able to stand at this Dispatch Box very soon after that and be able to share with the House that we do not need to do this any more as we will be dealing with the virus through an annual vaccination programme.

An SNP MP hoped there would be proportionality:

I pay tribute to all those involved in the vaccination programme. It has been extraordinary. In Scotland, we have 4.1 million adults with a first dose and almost 4 million with a second dose, which means that north of 90% of all adults have had at least one dose. It is a fantastic result across the UK since last December, but the pandemic is not over. Lives are still at risk and the pressures on the NHS are very real, so we in Scotland are introducing a vaccine passport, but, broadly, it will be limited to nightclubs, outdoor standing events with more than 4,000 people and any event with more than 10,000 people. While the rules in England may be slightly different, I hope that they are as proportionate as that.

Zahawi said that more details would be forthcoming.

Zahawi’s voice faltered several times during the debate:

It pains me to have to stand at the Dispatch Box and implement something that goes against the DNA of this Minister and his Prime Minister, but we are living through difficult and unprecedented times. As one of the major economies of the world, our four nations have done an incredible job of implementing the vaccination programme. This is a precautionary measure to ensure that we can sustainably maintain the opening of all sectors of the economy.

A Liberal Democrat MP, Munira Wilson, picked up on Zahawi’s delivery:

I almost feel sorry for the Minister because he really is struggling to defend this policy. However, he has failed to answer the fundamental question posed by my right hon. Friend the Member for Orkney and Shetland (Mr Carmichael) about this deeply illiberal, discriminatory and unnecessary policy: will this House get a vote on the implementation of covid vaccine passports—yes or no?

Zahawi answered:

There will be appropriate parliamentary scrutiny, as I have said today and in the past.

Not one MP approved of the proposed policy measure in the debate.

On Friday, September 10, news emerged that, if implemented, vaccine passports could open the way for sweeping powers. They could eventually become a national ID ‘card’. The Telegraph‘s Madeline Grant tweeted:

The Telegraph‘s news that day cited an article from The Sun saying that we might have to have a vaccine passport to go to the pub:

Britons could be required to show vaccine passports at more businesses, the Culture Secretary has suggested amid reports the Prime Minister is preparing to unleash a “toolbox” of contingency measures

The Government is set to push ahead with mandatory Covid certification for nightclubs at the end of the month.

But The Sun reports that this will be widened to include other venues such as stadiums and pubs, which will be announced next week by Boris Johnson as part of plans to control the virus through the autumn and winter. 

Oliver Dowden told Sky News: “We will be looking at bringing in certification for nightclubs at end of the month.

“If there is a need to further extend that certification according to the public health need, we will look at doing so but we’re always reluctant to impose more restrictions on businesses unless we really need to.”

However, having voted in the unpopular increase in National Insurance contributions and the poll result showing a Labour lead for the first time since January, the Government reconsidered their stance on vaccine passports.

On Sunday, September 12, Health Secretary Sajid Javid appeared on the BBC’s Andrew Marr Show to say that vaccine passports in England will not be going ahead. I would add ‘for now’, because this Government is on a right merry-go-round with regard to coronavirus policies:

Mark Harper MP welcomed the news:

Even Public Health England (PHE) statistics show two inoculations (I use the term advisedly) offer little protection:

TalkRADIO’s Julia Hartley-Brewer points out that vaccine passports cannot save lives and are discriminatory:

Yet, Scotland’s First Minister Nicola Sturgeon insists the decision to implement them north of the border is the right thing to do:

However, one of Scotland’s coronavirus advisers, behavioural psychologist Stephen Reicher implied that England, not Scotland, made the right decision:

Guido Fawkes has a quote from Reicher (emphases in the original):

They are a double edged sword. Passports accelerate uptake in the willing but accentuate opposition in the sceptical. They increase safety but can increase complacency.

Quite a departure from Sturgeon’s claim that they “have part to play“. At least she insisted they were “a very limited scheme”…

Scotland could still backtrack on vaccine passports, as their September 9 vote was on a motion only, not legislation:

It is good to see that politicians are taking note of the public mood — for once.

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

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

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

This is the current situation:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

He concluded his statement with this:

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

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

Boris Johnson responded:

He added:

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

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

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

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

Health Secretary Sajid Javid vowed to make every penny count …

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Only five Conservative MPs voted against the bill:

However, 37 Conservatives abstained.

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

However, YouGov’s poll results were much closer:

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

And what happens if Labour are in charge again someday?

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

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

Mask wearing will still be ‘expected’.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The only answer is reforming the NHS:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Perhaps so. It is a sobering thought.

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

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

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

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

Emphases mine.

House of Commons

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

Monday, July 5

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

Shadow Health Secretary Jonathan Ashworth (Lab) objected:

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

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

Dr Philippa Whitford (SNP) also objected:

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

As did Caroline Lucas (Green):

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

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

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

Paul Blomfield (Lab) said:

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

Tuesday, July 6

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

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

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

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

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

because of—

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

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

Martyn Day (SNP) agreed:

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

Tulip Siddiq (Lab) brought up public transport:

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

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

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

House of Lords

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

The Left-leaning among the noble lords were furious.

Tuesday, July 6

Below are excerpts from Tuesday’s debate.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Lord Bethell replied:

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

Baroness Tyler of Enfield (Lib Dem) spoke next:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thursday, July 8

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

One peer voiced his disapproval:

Nonsense!

Lord Bethell replied:

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

I’ll leave it at that.

Conclusion

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

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

If that is libertarianism, count me in.

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