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Anyone who missed previous entries in this series can find them here, here and here.

Every time I read about Prince Harry, I cannot help but think of the story of Jacob and Esau.

Mess of pottage

Esau sold his birthright for a mess of pottage (Genesis 25:29-34). Harry, too, sold his place in the Royal Family for ephemeral media coverage. Who knows what will happen to him in future years?

Like Jacob and Esau (Genesis 27:41), Princes William and Harry are embroiled in a feud, one which the current Prince of Wales is handling with dignity. All being well, in time, perhaps they will mend fences, as Jacob and Esau did (Genesis 33).

The expression ‘mess of pottage‘ is still used today (emphases in purple mine):

A mess of pottage is something immediately attractive but of little value taken foolishly and carelessly in exchange for something more distant and perhaps less tangible but immensely more valuable. The phrase alludes to Esau‘s sale of his birthright for a meal (“mess“) of lentil stew (“pottage“) in Genesis 25:29–34 and connotes shortsightedness and misplaced priorities.

It seems pertinent because on January 20, 2023, The Telegraph featured an article, ‘Meghan stays in the shadows as Prince Harry flies solo on Spare publicity blitz’:

“We’re like salt and pepper,” Meghan opined in an interview. “We always move together” …

But, since Christmas, Prince Harry has been left to soak up the limelight alone.

As he embarked on an unprecedented publicity blitz to promote his memoir, Spare, this month, Meghan has remained below the radar – and sent a clear message: This is Harry’s project, not mine

While the Duchess has backed her husband to the hilt over this deeply personal outpouring, she was not quite the driving force behind the project that many have assumed.

Sources suggest that media-savvy Meghan was slightly more circumspect about the concept of a memoir and may have raised gentle concerns about whether it was the right move.

A January 23 article in the New York Post reported on the article:

Prince Harry’s wife Meghan Markle had previously expressed worries that his recent bombshell memoir “Spare” could ruffle the wrong feathers.

The former actress, 41, had raised “gentle concerns” about the book, wondering if it was the “right move,” sources recently told the Telegraph.

Meanwhile, on Saturday, January 21, The Express reported ‘Royal Family news: Palace have “pulled a blinder” as Harry and Meghan “plan” destroyed’:

The Royal Family have “pulled a blinder” by not publicly responding to the recent bombshell claims from Prince Harry and Meghan Markle, with an expert destroying the Sussex’s “ill-conceived game plan” …

More than a week after Harry’s book was released, both Buckingham Palace and Kensington Palace have yet to make any comment on the claimes made by the prince.

Edward Coram-James, a PR, reputation and crisis management expert and CEO of Go Up, claimed this shows the Royal Family had a strong “game plan” in place and were prepared for any such accusations, while blasting Harry and Meghan’s strategy as “ill-conceived”.

He told Express.co.uk: “What should the Royal Family do in response to these claims? In a word: nothing. They have pulled a blinder.

“The biggest mistake that they could make would be to respond to any of the allegations. They are simply not serious enough allegations to warrant them breaching their long held code of silence.

“Breaching that silence will imply guilt. Remaining silent gives an air of maturity and remaining above the fray.

“The Royal family have had a game plan and, unlike the Sussexes, whose game plan has appeared ill-conceived and often strayed from, the royals have toed the line throughout.”

Mr Coram-James poured cold water over the accusations made by Harry in his book, adding the Royal Family have only taken a “mild bruising” and “never came close to being on the receiving end of any knock out blows”.

He continued: “The Royal Family know that it will all blow over soon enough, as the news cycle moves on and today’s news becomes old hat.

A scathing, painfully accurate Spare review

My reader Katherine sent in two articles from Dominic Green about Spare. Thank you, Katherine!

These are the best yet.

‘The Tragedy of Prince Harry’ is Dominic Green’s scathing, painfully accurate review of the book for The Washington Free Beacon. I cannot commend it more highly to my readers. It’s long and captivating from the start.

As such, I will excerpt it as briefly as possible:

This is not Prince Harry’s autobiography. It is a biography of a character called “Prince Harry,” assembled from conversations with the real Harry by a ghostwriter, J.R. Moehringer. It is to autobiography as one of those Philip Roth novels where the main character is called “Philip Roth” are to fiction, only less tedious. It is fascinating in its way, though not in the way the real Harry intends. It is a collaboration between two unequal partners, one an accomplished ventriloquist, the other believing that he has finally found his voice.

Harry recorded the audiobook, so he knows exactly what is in Spare. He wants us to know that animals give him spirit messages from the beyond. These are usually sent by his late mother Diana, Princess of Wales, who died violently in 1996, when Harry was 12 and his older brother William was 15. The messages begin when Harry is 14. He and William are on safari in Botswana, eating dinner in their tent, when a leopard appears. “Everyone froze,” Harry says. “Except me.”

“I took a step towards it. … I was thinking about Mummy. That leopard was clearly a sign from her, a messenger she’d sent to say, ‘All is well. And all will be well.'”

The leopard lied. Harry is not well. He and William are traumatized by Diana’s death. Their father, now Charles III, struggles to comfort them, and sends them to boarding school. Harry refuses to believe that Diana is dead. He tells himself that she is hiding in a Swiss chalet, and she comes to him in his dreams. Soon, Harry is binge-drinking and smoking weed. Smoking a fat one with his mates in a bathroom at Eton, perhaps Britain’s top boarding school, Harry looks out on the moonlit grounds and meets his spirit animal …

Green provides the passage from Spare, which involves a fox. Harry sees it as a portent some years later:

In 2008, more than a decade later, Captain Harry Wales, now serving as a gunner on an Apache helicopter in Helmand Province, Afghanistan, is camped for the night, drinking hot chocolate and watching the radio. Around one in the morning, a flurry of messages about “Red Fox” come through …

Green gives us the relevant paragraphs then continues:

An Australian magazine had got hold of the story that Harry was in Helmand. He was a target for the Taliban, so his superiors decided to extract him, for his own safety and that of his fellow soldiers. At 24, his active military career was over. The Army made the “spare” a leader, and valued his talents. It gave him a purpose for the first time, and kept him busy enough to forget his sorrows.

The ensuing years see Harry floundering:

Nearly a decade will pass until he meets Meghan Markle in 2016. These are the lost years. The spirit animals fall silent, and Harry self-medicates. He drinks and smokes weed every day. He does coke, magic mushrooms, ayahuasca, and LSD in an effort to lift the veil of reality and stroke the lost leopard. He falls out of night clubs, too drunk to walk. He picks fights with photographers and his own bodyguard. He has panic attacks whenever he meets the public. He stays in Courteney Cox’s house when she is away, drinks loads of tequila, takes loads of mushrooms, and hallucinates that her toilet is speaking to him.

Harry does not explain why Courteney Cox’s talking toilet was a hallucination, but the spirit animals are real. At this point in his life, he cannot explain anything to himself. He is so overwhelmed with loss and grief that he cannot recall his mother. He is trapped in a “red mist,” a rage that he directs at his feeble father Charles, his scheming stepmother Camilla, his cold, conformist brother William, and above all at the British press, which he blames for his mother’s death.

Diana is a leopard, Harry is a fox. Charles is a cowardly lion. William has surrendered his “autonomy,” so he doesn’t get an animal at all. Kate is the bitch who takes William away from Harry. Alone, he unravels further. By 2013, he cannot control his panic attacks and agoraphobia.

Harry is tormented by the death of his mother, which seems to dictate his reality.

Green tells us the truth about Diana, a name that means ‘huntress’, yet the huntress turned into the hunted:

After divorcing Charles and leaving the royal security envelope, Diana fell in love with an Egyptian playboy, Dodi al-Fayed. It was a Fayed chauffeur who crashed that car in Paris, by speeding downhill into the underpass so fast that the Mercedes limo took off, hit one side of the underpass, then ricocheted across into a concrete pillar. Three of the four passengers died. The survivor was the bodyguard who, being a mere mortal, had worn his seatbelt.

Harry cannot name al-Fayed; he calls him “Mummy’s friend.” He does not mention that Diana dumped William and Harry in Scotland with the grandparents, so she could pursue her summer romance with Dodi. Nor does he mention Mummy’s earlier lover, Dr. Hasnat Khan, whom she smuggled into the Kensington Palace apartment she shared with William and Harry. Like Oedipus, Harry is blind to Mummy’s true nature. Diana manipulated the press, too. Before she was taken from Harry, she abandoned him.

Princess Diana was hunted by the jackals, but the Diana she was named for, the Greek goddess, was the huntress. She pursued fame in revenge for Charles’s faithlessness, staging teary confessionals for the cameras and driving the pack of paps at him and his family. Charles retaliated with his own staged confessions. Harry now retaliates with his. The Windsors survived Edward VIII’s dalliances with Wallis Simpson and Hitler. They survived Charles and Diana’s war for public sympathy. They will survive Harry’s assault, too. But will he?

Harry is sure that Meghan never ‘googled’ him and that it was just a sublime coincidence that she wore his mother’s favourite perfume, but Green reminds us of the facts:

Meghan’s childhood friend insists that Meghan was an avid reader of royal biographies, especially about Diana. Meghan was photographed outside Buckingham Palace when she visited London as a teenager. When William married Kate, Meghan blogged about the “pomp and circumstance surrounding the Royal Wedding,” and the “endless conversations about Princess Kate.”

A 2014 photo shows Meghan, sitting in an airport with her laptop, reading about Elizabeth II. In Tom Bower’s recent book Revenge, Meghan’s former business adviser Gina Nelthorpe-Cowne attests that Meghan told her, “I’ve googled Harry. I’ve gone deeply into his life.” Harry tells us that he googles Meghan as he falls in love, but he insists that she, like Diana, is entering the royal circus as a naif. His first “marathon” Instagram session with her happens to fall on what would have been Diana’s 55th birthday. Who is the naif here?

Harry has followed in his mother’s sad footsteps:

Harry and Meghan flee from Britain because they believe that his family is colluding with the press against them

For the first time, Harry must fend for himself. Like Diana, he has left the royals’ state-funded and highly professional security envelope

When their children are born, Diana is in the room too. At night, when Meghan and the kids are asleep, Harry slips out and gets high on his own. The clear night sky over Montecito reminds him of the stars over Africa. The Red Fox communes with the spirit of the leopard, but he is never safe. There is no clarity in this freedom. There is no real guidance, either. Meghan, his savior, is pushing him back into the limelight.

Harry must fund his family’s security or risk bringing Diana’s fate upon Meghan and his children. The only way to save them is to sacrifice himself: to sell his story, to seek out the hated camera, to sit with the hated journalists, to dissolve himself in the flashbulbs, to be lost forever in their refractions, and join his mother. “Keeping people tuned to the show, that was the thing.”

Like Hamlet, Harry has now hoist himself on his own petard, the hot wind of his rage and resentment. Like Hamlet, he will fall on his own poisoned sword. Harry, his father’s dim, damaged, delusional, doomed “darling boy,” has sold his family and his soul. Meghan and Moehringer have served him on a platter, like a roast swan at a royal banquet. There is no return after this, only the final act of the tragedy.

On January 19, the Wall Street Journal published Green’s article about Harry’s personal beliefs and how they tie in with those of his contemporaries with regard to Christianity: ‘Prince Harry’s Pagan Progress’.

This, too, is excellent. Excerpts follow:

Harry’s father, King Charles III, may be supreme governor of the Church of England, but when it comes to the inner life, Harry, who was born in 1984, is a typical millennial. Pew Research reported in 2010 that Americans 18 to 29 were “considerably less religious than older Americans.” Twenty-six percent of millennials said they had no religious affiliation, and they were also less likely to pray every day than members of Generation X (41% vs. 54%). Yet the percentage of millennials claiming “absolute certainty” in God’s existence (53%) wasn’t far off the figures for baby boomers (59%) and Generation X (55%) when they were young.

For Harry’s grandmother Elizabeth II, personal faith was indistinguishable from her constitutional duty. King Charles describes himself as a “committed Anglican Christian,” and Harry says he set a “deeply religious” example and “prayed every night.” Harry attended church regularly as a child, obligatory given the Windsor family’s alliance with the church.

Harry was 12 when his mother died in a car crash in Paris. The Christian rites at her funeral in Westminster Abbey couldn’t console him. His only regular contact with the Bible came when a teacher, punishing teenage misdemeanors, delivered “a tremendous clout, always with a copy of the New English Bible.” This, Harry writes, “made me feel bad about myself, bad about the teacher, and bad about the Bible.”

Instead, Harry turned to the animal world:

At around 15, Harry experienced a ritual induction into manhood. Guided by Sandy, a family retainer, he shot a stag. Sandy slit the dying animal’s throat and belly and told Harry to kneel. “I thought we were going to pray,” the prince writes. Instead, Sandy pushed Harry’s head inside the carcass and held it there. “After a minute I couldn’t smell anything, because I couldn’t breathe. My nose and mouth were full of blood, guts, and a deep, upsetting warmth.”

“So this,” Harry tells himself, “is death.” Yet he’s ecstatic. “I wasn’t religious,” Harry writes, “but this ‘blood facial’ was, to me, baptismal.” Finally, he has lived the “virtues” that had been “preached” to him since childhood. Culling the herd is being “good to Nature” and “good to the community.” Managing nature is “a form of worship,” and environmentalism is “a kind of religion” for his father. For the first time Harry feels “close to God.”

This pagan rebirth carries strong symbolic overtones for Harry. Monarchy is a survival from the earliest times. So is the hunt, with its symbolic echoes of religion’s roots in animal sacrifice and seasonal rites. The Windsors live in urban captivity, but their spiritual home is the Scottish Highlands, where the stag is the monarch of the glen. Diana shared her name with the Greek goddess of the hunt—and Harry writes that she was “hunted” to her death, the cameras still “shooting, shooting, shooting” as she lay trapped in the wreckage.

Green concludes:

Harry’s narrative of resurrection bears formal resemblance to the Gospels, but its content owes more to Carl Jung, Joseph Campbell and the Californian gospel of self-care. His neopagan progress is that of many millennials—especially those who, like Harry, are white men with no college education. By 2017, Pew found that 38% of Americans 30 to 49 were “spiritual but not religious.” Sixty-seven percent of the unchurched were “absolutely certain” of God’s existence, and 24% “fairly certain.” Fifty-seven percent prayed “at least daily,” but 76% “never” participated in group study or prayer. Like Harry, they are solitary and syncretic, inward travelers with no direction home.

‘Faustian bargain’

On January 9, UnHerd posted an article about Spare: ‘Prince Harry’s Faustian Bargain’.

Its author, Darran Anderson, says:

The most telling line, which reaches towards the heart of the matter, comes back to the Faustian nature of fame and particularly the media’s gaze and how that can distort, “After many, many years of lies being told about me and my family, there comes a point where, going back to the relationship between, certain members of the family and the tabloid press, those certain members have decided to get in the bed with the devil” … Again and again, in his recollections in interviews and writing, Prince Harry comes back to the media as a baleful destructive force in his life …

What is particularly illustrative and sympathetic about Prince Harry’s relationship with fame is that it was not chosen. In the traditional Faustian transaction, the would-be genius or celebrity sells their soul, knowing that the cost is damnation and believing that the gains will be worth it. With the royals, fame is hereditary, which is as much of a curse as a blessing. The transaction is one-sided. No deal is made and yet the individual assumes precisely the same debt. In a world, even a country, where children are born into horrendous poverty and deprivation, it’s difficult to have sympathy for someone born into immense privilege. Yet it is warranted, given that child we watched walking along forlorn at his mother’s funeral did not choose any of this.

The problem is that Prince Harry is now a man and no longer a lost boy. Though he has chosen an arguably noble route of walking away from an environment that had shunned him, and he has the right to speak his mind and tell his own story, he has not walked away from fame. Sympathy, like any resource, is finite

It is even more understandable to wish to escape the glare of the lens that played a part in the death of a beloved parent. Having chosen Meghan and America, Prince Harry had the chance to transcend fame and to effectively defeat the presence that has seemingly haunted his life. He could go semi-privately into any number of ventures. Harry was not, after all, a signatory to the Faustian pact. One of the most tragic aspects to what has been unfolding is not just the painful reality of a family schism, but rather that at the brink of escape, Harry decided to return to the table to sign the contract.

The point where sympathy dissipates is with this issue of fame, the courting of it rather than the walking away. This is where the public’s role in the Faustian bargain comes in. This is what differentiates celebrities from the rest of us, the point of departure, and the judgement can and may well be merciless. By aiming for the echo chamber of the terminally online and the patronage of the American establishment, the wider sympathy is lost. It is especially frustrating as the prince had a chance to get out.

Harry’s case is not helped by a mixed tone of grievance and sanctimony. One moment, he is referring to the killing of Afghan militants as a game of chess, the next he is engaging in flagellation about his previous lack of social consciousness. At its worst, it seems distasteful and condescending, the opposite of a spiritual confessional. It undoes the undoubtedly brave work of speaking about trauma, autonomy, or even his right to speak. As George Orwell put it, “Autobiography is only to be trusted when it reveals something disgraceful”, but here even the disgrace feels performative. It feels grubby and out of touch, both too intimate and too remote. It feels, in other words, like fame

Summer of 2019: too much PDA

Returning to the summer of 2019, where I left off, articles were circulating about the inability of the couple to keep their hands off each other in public.

On August 11 that year, The Sun reported:

MEGHAN Markle and Prince Harry’s friends have “stopped inviting” the couple to dinner parties because they “frown upon their PDAs”, insiders have claimed.

According to the Mail on Sunday, the Duke and Duchess of Sussex make a point of sitting together at events – even if their host has seated them separately.

Meghan’s excuse was that she finds dinner party etiquette:

too “exclusive” and “traditional”.

Tough. You sit where your hosts seat you. In Britain, it often means splitting up couples at table to enliven conversation. No one with any manners minds that.

Harry’s friends found his wife’s American attitudes tiresome:

Along with ignoring the seating plans, insiders have also claimed that the Duchess is openly affectionate with her husband on these occasions which causes Harry’s friends to “roll their eyes” at her “American ways”.

What’s more, Harry’s inner circle has “stopped inviting her to dinner” over the “frowned upon” PDAs (public displays of affection) at the dinner table.

The Sun lays out dinner party etiquette for the uninitated. This would be useful for the Duchess:

While it might not seem like THAT big a deal to sit next to your partner at a party, the high society occasions Meghan and Harry have been attending ask guests to follow the three rules of “placement”.

To avoid sounding too “common” or American, the first rule is that “placement” must be pronounced the French way which involves emphasising each of the three syllables.

The second rule dictates that couples should NOT sit together in case any affectionate behaviour puts others off their meal.

And in order to truly grasp the rules of “placement”, guests must always sit where they have been asked to achieve the perfect, balanced high society table.

‘Snubbing protocol’

And there was more.

Meghan wanted to hold Harry’s hand when it was clearly not the done thing:

Shortly after she married into the Royal Family last year, Prince Harry refused to hold Meghan’s hand at a royal event out of respect for The Queen.

Because she wore jeans to Wimbledon in 2019, she could not enter the Royal Box:

An insider claimed Meghan was a “nightmare” during the visit when her security guards infamously BANNED guests from taking photos of her and her casual attire meant she wasn’t allowed to watch the action from the Royal Box.

They told The Times: “They couldn’t invite her into the Royal Box because she was wearing jeans.”

On August 19, the Mail reported on what the editor of Majesty, Ingrid Seward, had to say about the Sussexes’ protocol breaches:

Ingrid Seward, editor of Majesty magazine, suggested that the Sussexes’ attempts to move away from tradition might ‘bother’ the Duke of Cambridge, 35.

Appearing on Saturday’s Channel 5’s documentary William & Harry: Princes At War?, Ingrid suggested that Harry and Meghan had ‘snubbed protocol’ in a way that was unexpected from royals

She said: ‘I would think it might bother William a little bit, because he might see the way that Harry and Meghan do things as being detrimental to the business of the monarchy as a whole.’

The couple have faced a growing backlash over the summer over their privacy demands, including holding a top secret christening for son Archie and refusing to tell the public who his godparents are … 

Critics have hit out at Meghan recently for ‘considering herself more of an A-lister than a member of the royal family’, after she selected a handful of celebrity friends for the cover of Vogue. 

Speaking about Harry and Meghan ‘snubbing protocol’, Ingrid said: ‘It wasn’t done in a very royal way, or the way we’d come to expect.’ 

The ‘eco-lecturers’ and their private jet flights

Between August and September 2019, the Sussexes took several trips on private jets.

There is nothing wrong with that other than Prince Harry used one of those flights to deliver a lecture in Italy on how everyone had to cut back on air travel in order to save the environment.

On August 15, The Sun reported on Piers Morgan’s disgust at the couple’s hypocrisy. At the time, he was still co-presenting Good Morning Britain. The British public were also disgusted:

PIERS Morgan has criticised Meghan Markle and Prince Harry after they took a private jet to Ibiza for a six day break – despite the Duke warning of the “terrifying” effects of climate change.

The GMB presenter, who has previously criticised the couple, took to Twitter following the news where he made a dig at the Sussexes.

Sharing an article about their trip, he wrote: “Saving the planet, one private jet at a time.”

Many were in agreement with Piers, dubbing the “eco-warrior” couple hypocrites following the holiday.

One wrote: “You’re absolutely correct, virtue signalling and full hypocrisy!!”

Another agreed adding: “Utterly ludicrous! If you’re going to take private jets, fine but then don’t preach about climate change. Hopeless!”

According to local reports Harry and Meghan flew to Ibiza with their son Archie Harrison to celebrate her 38th birthday on August 4.

The jet created seven times more C02 per person than any one of nine daily scheduled flights from London to the Spanish holiday isle.

Harry and Meghan, who took baby son Archie, landed in Ibiza on Tuesday last weekalong with publicly-funded Met Police protection officers.

Five Spanish security officers then whisked them to their secluded luxury private villa.

The family returned to the UK on Monday.

It was the second time that the prince had used a private jet in two weeks after he flew to Sicily to attend the Google Camp to deliver a “barefoot speech” on saving the environment the week before.

But Harry has been accused of hypocrisy over his use of private jets following his speeches urging everyone to “take action” on climate change.

In a post on his SussexRoyal Instagram site in July, he wrote: “With nearly 7.7 billion people inhabiting this Earth, every choice, every footprint, every action makes a difference.”

… Buckingham Palace refused to comment on the Ibiza trip.

On August 19, the Mail reported on another private jet trip, to Nice:

The Duke and Duchess of Sussex were embroiled in another hypocrisy row today after being pictured leaving the south of France over the weekend in a fourth trip by private jet in just 11 days.

Prince Harry and Meghan, who have been outspoken on environmental issues in recent months, generated an estimated seven times the emissions per person compared to a commercial flight when flying home from Nice.

Photographs of the royal couple and three-month-old Archie showed the family stepping on board the Cessna 680 Citation Sovereign jet on Saturday at about 3pm local time, having arrived in France three days earlier.

Royal experts said the British public do not want to be ‘lectured on climate change by those who don’t do follow their own advice’, while MPs said the trips do not ‘fit with their public image’ they project as eco-warriors. 

The couple are believed to have visited the £15million palatial home of Castel Mont-Alban owned by Sir Elton John and his husband David Furnish overlooking the Promenade des Anglais during their holiday to the French Riviera. 

The trip to Nice came shortly after Harry and Meghan, who married in May last year, had returned by private jet to the UK from Ibiza after a six-night break on the Spanish island to mark the Duchess’s 38th birthday. 

Veteran royal watcher Phil Dampier gave his views about the anger of Britons about the flights and the Sussexes’ behaviour as a whole:

They are not unique – other royals have taken private jets, but they have been criticised over the years as well.

I certainly don’t believe they are getting a bad press because the British public are racist.

It is simply that people don’t like to be lectured on climate change by those who don’t do follow their own advice.

Some families slave away all year to afford one nice holiday and they shouldn’t be made to feel guilty about harming the planet when Harry and Meghan are swanning about in luxury.

It’s really sad to see all the goodwill that people had towards this couple disappear in such a short space of time.

They really need to understand quickly the damage they are doing and take steps to turn it around.

They could start by taking on some of the 1500 patronages of the Queen and Prince Philip, and get out there and do some run-of-the-mill royal jobs and shake a few hands.

Meghan gives the impression she wants to live like a Hollywood star protected by publicists, agents and lawyers and that’s not how the royal family works.

It only survives because there is give and take and the public- who are paying for it – want it to succeed.

If they lose the public’s support they are in trouble.

Sir Elton John stepped in to stop the turbulence, as it were.

The Mail reported:

Sir Elton John today confirmed he had paid for the Duke and Duchess of Sussex to fly to and from his £15million mansion in Nice by private jet for a holiday ‘inside the safety and tranquillity of our home’.

The 72-year-old singer claimed he had ensured Prince Harry and Meghan’s flights to and from the French Riviera last week were carbon neutral by making the ‘appropriate contribution’ to a carbon footprint fund.

That angered people all the more. Who among us can do that?

More flights followed until early September.

The Africa tour

That autumn, the Sussexes toured southern Africa, an official trip of goodwill towards the Commonwealth countries.

They left behind strained relations with their Palace staff.

Even Africa, a place the Queen thought the couple would enjoy, considering Harry’s Sentebale charity was there, could not bring them happiness or escape:

While there, they gave an interview to ITV’s Tom Bradby, who also interviewed Harry about Spare in January 2023. Where they are concerned, Bradby is more a friend than an objective reporter.

The interview with Bradby aired in October 2019, while the then-Duke and Duchess of Cambridge were touring Pakistan, another initiative to show goodwill towards the Commonwealth.

Valentine Low, author of 2022’s Courtiers, wrote:

The first real intimation the public had that all was not well in Meghan’s world came in October 2019, when ITV released a trailer for its documentary, Harry & Meghan: an African Journey. As Meghan spoke to Tom Bradby in a garden in Johannesburg, she spoke about how she had struggled with life in the spotlight as a newlywed and as a new mother. Almost as if she were trying to hold back tears, she said she had found it hard and added, “And also, thank you for asking, because not many people have asked if I’m OK. But it’s a very real thing to be going through behind the scenes.”

The trailer came out while William and Kate were on a tour of Pakistan. The resulting coverage inevitably overshadowed reporting of the last day of the Cambridges’ tour. The Cambridge team was not happy and saw it as a deliberate attempt to knock the Cambridges out of the headlines. Relations between the two households became quite tense.

When the documentary came out, it also showed how far Harry and William had drifted apart. Asked by Bradby about the rift between him and William, Harry chose not to deny it, but said instead, “We are certainly on different paths at the moment, but I will always be there for him, as I know he will always be there for me.”

William, back home after the Pakistan tour, appears to have been taken aback at such a stark portrayal of his brother and sister-in-law’s unhappiness. He realised they were in crisis. The day after the documentary aired, William whatsapped his brother to ask if he could come and see him. This put Harry and Meghan into a spin. What should they do? Initially, Harry was in favour. Then he spoke to his brother again and asked him who he would tell. William explained that he would have to clear his schedule, which would mean telling his private secretary. At that point, Harry said don’t come. He was so concerned that William’s team would leak the visit to the press that he would rather they did not come than risk it getting into the papers. It highlighted once again the dysfunction at the heart of so many royal relationships and that members of the royal family so rarely pick up the phone and speak to each other directly.

The final months

The Times featured several excerpts from Valentine Low’s Courtiers, one of which explained the time before the African tour through to the beginning of 2020:

As one senior source put it, when they gave an interview in the autumn to Tom Bradby of ITV News in South Africa “they had made it clear that they were finding it very difficult. They were anxious and excited to chart their own course, knowing that they had more flexibility as they were not in the line of succession.”

Moves were already afoot to create their own website with the help of the American PR company Sunshine Sachs. The site was originally intended to promote their charitable foundation, but later to explain — when the time came — how they planned to branch out on their own.

As they took an extended break with their son, Archie, now eight months, in Canada, the negotiations over their plans began to take shape. Harry originally contacted the Prince of Wales just before Christmas about spending more time in North America but was told he needed to come up with a thought-out plan, the London Evening Standard reported. When he sent a draft proposal to Prince Charles early in the new year he was told more time was needed to think through the complex implications, particularly over funding.

A source told The Times: “It reached an impasse where his father said, ‘We need to have these conversations in person. This is not something we can negotiate over email.’

That much was agreed, but Harry also wanted to talk to his grandmother.

“He wanted to go and see the Queen,” a source said. “He has been communicating with her on the phone throughout. He wanted to see her, not to negotiate with her but to talk to her grandson to granny, to say, ‘This is how we have come to this.’” It was intended to be a gesture of respect, rather than an attempt to open negotiations with her.

He called her suggesting that he visit her at Sandringham when he returned home. “She says, ‘Yes, love to see you, come and see me,’” the source said.

Then came what has been described as a “classic” move from the Palace.

“A message was conveyed: ‘Oh, sorry, misunderstanding, she might have said she was available, but actually she is not available.’” Harry, it seemed, had fallen victim to family politics. The source said this was, in part, because the family were worried that he would use anything she said in their meeting as a negotiating tactic. Nothing, apparently, could have been further from the truth. But the result was that Harry was angry and upset at the rebuff.

By the time he and Meghan were back home, their press team was aware that The Sun was on to a story about their plans to spend more time in Canada. It prompted anxious negotiations between the Sussexes and the rest of the family about how to proceed. Should they sweat it out and say nothing, in the knowledge that such delicate negotiations are best conducted out of the public eye? Or should they release a statement and thereby try to set the agenda? The matter was taken out of their hands when the story appeared in Wednesday’s paper under the headline “We’re orf again”.

Never fans of the tabloid press, Harry and Meghan were incandescent. “They were so angry,” said the source.

The final instalment will come tomorrow.

What a sad story. It seems to get more desperate by the day and will not end well.

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Last Friday’s post was about the friction between the Duke and Duchess of Sussex and the then-Duke and Duchess of Cambridge but also Palace staff. (You can read my first post on them here.)

There were other signs that the Sussexes were a rather unusual Royal couple, which might have tainted the public’s opinion of them.

Political ambitions

Just days after their wedding in May 2018, Sebastian Shakespeare wrote an article for the Mail, ‘Why Meghan Markle for President isn’t crazy’ (emphases mine):

Meghan Markle is said to have told a former close associate that her ultimate ambition is to be president of the U.S. The conversation apparently took place after Meghan began her romance with Prince Harry.

‘Meghan was quite clear that she wanted to be president one day,’ the source claims.

It may sound fanciful, but the new Duchess of Sussex has held the ambition since she was a little girl. In 2015, she reportedly told the journalist Piers Morgan that she had not always sought showbusiness success.

‘As a kid, I wanted to be either the president or a news broadcaster like you,’ she told him …

And the claim appears to have caused consternation at Kensington Palace yesterday, with the Duchess giving her official spokesman permission to take the unusual step of issuing a public denial.

‘This conversation you describe with an associate is fictitious,’ the spokesman insisted.

I am, though, not the only one to hear rumours that Meghan still holds political ambitions.

Former Times editor Sir Simon Jenkins says: ‘Her friends and associates affirm that she is a political animal.

‘Such is her fame, she could perfectly well follow a route taken by a certain Ronald Reagan. She might lead for the Democrats against a Republican Ivanka Trump. All I can say is, why not?’

On November 17, 2018, the Duchess practised interfaith outreach in an official visit to a mosque near Kensington Palace:

PJ Media reported on the visit a week later, taking their source from The Telegraph:

In yet another shocking failure in a long line of interfaith outreach by Western governments since 9/11, The Daily Telegraph reports today that the American-born Duchess of Sussex, Meghan Markle, has been recently promoting a program associated with the notorious Al-Manaar mosque not far from Kensington Palace. The mosque has produced as many as nineteen terrorists — including “Jihadi John” and his Islamic State “Beatles” who tortured and beheaded Western captives in Syria.

The duchess has helped raise more than $250,000 for the Hubb Community Kitchen operated out of the mosque by promoting a cookbook that royal press agents have billed as celebrating “the power of cooking to bring communities together” …

The Grenfell Tower fire had taken place in June 2017, one of the worst blazes in London in decades. It is still spoken of today. Much community rebuilding had to be done, so one can understand that, but, according to The Telegraph, the Duchess had made earlier, ‘secret visits’ to the mosque:

In February it emerged the 37-year-old royal had made secret visits to the mosque in Westbourne Grove, which has also hosted Princes William and Harry, Theresa May and Jeremy Corbyn in recent months.

An investigation by the Henry Jackson Society (HJS), the anti-extremism think tank, has linked the mosque, opened by Prince Charles in 2001, to 19 jihadists, including Islamic State executioner Mohammed Emwazi, also known as Jihadi John.

Research by the HJS suggests the mosque was once attended by three of the four “Beatles”, the Isil terror cell charged with guarding, torturing and killing hostages in Syria and Iraq. As well as Emwazi, Choukri Ellekhlifi, Alexanda Kotey and Aine Davis, all from west London, also have links with Al Manaar.

PJ Media pointed out that ITV News had also picked up on the Duchess’s prior visits:

An ITV News report earlier this week reported that the duchess has made numerous unreported visits to the notorious mosque in recent months:

Also:

The Sun reported last night that Kensington Palace was trying to distance Markle from the mosque, claiming that the community kitchen housed in the mosque is an independent project.

But this does raise questions about how royal officials decided to promote an effort so closely tied to the Al-Mannar mosque when reports going back to 2014 chronicled the role that the mosque played in the radicalization of “Jihadi John” and the ISIS “Beatles.”

The move to Frogmore Cottage: strain with the Cambridges

As my post from Friday says, by the time the wedding took place, many Palace staff as well as the Cambridges saw too much tension and outbursts involving the new Duke and Duchess of Sussex. It could no longer be contained.

On November 23, 2018, The Sun reported that the Sussexes were leaving Kensington Palace for the 10-bedroom Frogmore Cottage in the grounds of the Windsor estate:

The brothers have always been incredibly close, but Harry and Meghan are setting up their home in the grounds of Windsor Castle.

The Queen has given them Frogmore Cottage, which is having a multi-million pound refit paid for by the taxpayer.

It will provide ten bedrooms and a nursery for their baby, due in April. The couple are expected to move in next year.

A royal source said: “The initial plan was for Harry and Meghan to move out of their cottage in the grounds of Kensington Palace and into one of the main apartments.

“But there has been a bit of tension between the brothers.

“Now Harry and Meghan don’t want to live next to William and Kate and want to strike out on their own.”

The cosy cottage the pair currently live in as previously home to the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge before the couple moved into a 20-room apartment inside the palace.

They need more room and hope Frogmore Cottage will be ready in time for when they have the baby.”

Frogmore Cottage needs major building work to turn it back into a luxury family home, boasting 10 bedrooms & a new nursery plus space for a gym & yoga studio.

Currently it’s been chopped up into 5 units where palace staff have been living.

News of Meghan and Harry’s decision to leave Kensington Palace comes weeks after it was first reported that Harry and William would have separate courts in the future instead of using Kensington Palace as a joint office for them.

Nearly a year later, on August 27, 2019, The Sun reported that the Sussexes actually wanted to live in Windsor Castle, but the Queen said no:

MEGHAN Markle and Prince Harry wanted to move in with his grandparents and set up home in Windsor Castle, reports say.

It’s claimed the Duke and Duchess of Sussex asked the Queen if living quarters in the historic castle could be made available for them after they were married but the answer was a firm ‘no’, so they went on to renovate Frogmore Cottage in the grounds of the estate …

The original castle in Berkshire dates back to the 11th century when construction was started following the Norman invasion of England by William the Conqueror.

Since the time of Henry I it has been used by the reigning monarch.

Henry III built a luxurious royal palace within the castle during the middle of the 13th century which were later expanded upon by Edward III.

Frogmore Cottage, in the grounds of Frogmore House on the royal estate, was built in 1801.

On Christmas Day 2018, The Sun reported that all seemed to be well between the Duchesses of Cambridge and Sussex at Sandringham:

MEGHAN Markle placed a hand on Kate Middleton’s back in a show of unity as they today brushed aside rumours of a rift for a Christmas Day church service.

The sisters-in-law were all smiles as they joined the royal family at Sandringham for the annual service this morning.

And Meghan and Kate brushed off feud rumours as the former actress placed a hand on the Duchess of Cambridge’s back as they appeared to share a joke.

The pregnant Duchess of Sussex looked radiant in a navy £2,250 Victoria Beckham coat with £1,350 black boots as she held tightly to Prince Harry’s arm.

The Duchess of Cambridge, who wore a £3,000 red Catherine Walker coat and £650 burgundy “Halo Band” made by milliner Jane Taylor, walked apart from Prince William.

Kate teamed the festive look with matching gloves and a clutch bag, while the Queen was vibrant in a grey feathered hat and jacket with a bright pink trim.

Three weeks later, in January 2019, royal reporters were none the wiser about whether a feud was actually taking place.

On January 17 that year, The Daily Caller reported:

According to new reports by royal insiders Katie Nicholl and Leslie Carroll, the Duchesses may not be as at odds as we were previously led to believe.

Contrary to mainstream narratives pushed over the past several weeks, Markle and Middleton may not be feuding as much as  just feeling each other out.

“When [Prince] Harry met Meghan [as] the relationship was progressing, he was really keen to get Kate’s stamp of approval,” Nicholl tells ETOnline. “He wanted them to be close as sisters-in-law. I think they’re still in an early stage of their relationship.”

And while there very well could be some jealousy, that doesn’t necessarily equate hard feelings.

“Possibly, Kate does feel a little eclipsed by Meghan, who’s just come along to such huge media interests, public interests and being so successful from the start,” Nicholl added.

Of course, Harry and Meghan’s decision to move out of Kensington Palace this year — a rare decision for the Royal Family, who usually resides together at the palace during most of the year — fanned the flames of a rumored feud. It didn’t help that a report that Middleton left a meeting with Markle in tears before her May wedding quickly dominated headlines for weeks …

For what it’s worth, Ingrid Seward, editor-in-chief of Majesty Magazine, isn’t buying the candy-coated reporting.

“People forget Meghan is an LA girl,” Seward suggested. “It’s very different for her to suddenly come here and marry into the royal family…I think Meghan thought she had an ally in Kate…Kate was pregnant and unwell. And then she had a new baby. So she couldn’t give Meghan the attention she expected. And I think that’s when things started to sour.”

So is it a case of misunderstanding? Or did the two women get off on the wrong foot? We’ll have to wait and see…

On February 5, The Daily Caller told its readers that it was Princes Harry and William who were allegedly feuding, not their wives:

Meghan Markle and Kate Middleton’s alleged feud is reportedly really between Prince Harry and Prince William after the eldest offered some “brotherly advice.”

It reportedly happened when Prince William shared that he was “quite concerned that the relationship [with the Duchess of Sussex] has moved so quickly,” Katie Nicholl said in a clip from TLC’s “Kate v. Meghan: Princesses at War,” per E! News Monday. 

And that “‘You know, this seems to be moving quickly. Are you sure?’ And I think what was meant as well-intended brotherly advice, just riled Harry,” she added.

That advice reportedly translated to Harry that William wasn’t behind his decision to marry Meghan Markle.

Nicholl continued, “Harry is hugely protective of Meghan. He saw that as criticism. He interpreted that as his brother not really being behind this marriage. And I don’t think things have been quite right ever since.”

However, royal biographer Lady Colin Campbell explained that the alleged distance between the brothers is all about Markle’s influence on her husband.

“Everything I hear is that Harry is completely beguiled by Meghan, and completely enthralled to her and has changed considerably,” Lady Campbell shared.

Baby Archie

On March 4, 2019, Gateway Pundit‘s Niall McCrae didn’t sit on the fence when discussing the Duchess of Sussex’s baby shower:

Keep your seatbelts on, folks. According to Vanity Fair, Meghan revealed at her baby shower that her imminently expected will be raised as a gender-fluid child. Of course, this was denied by Buckingham Palace. But nobody would be surprised if this progressive princess, supported by her widely popular and slightly wild husband Harry, fully meant what she allegedly said.

It was predictable from the outset that Meghan would be a wrong ‘un (should anyone imply such inference, I attribute none of this to her ethnicity or American nationality, which freshen the Windsorhood). She is the epitome of the self-righteous, virtue-signalling, celebrity social justice warrior. Narcissistic Meghan wants to emulate and exceed Diana, and ensure that in future movies she will be not the actress but the actual heroine.

Never being a fan of Diana, my response to her untimely death in 1997 was coolly detached as I saw all those flowers, all those personal messages from people who never met her. However, Diana obviously fulfilled a need in society, and the outpouring of grief after the tragedy marked a turning point in British culture, from the traditional stiff upper lip to open emoting. As Tony Blair said when taking office earlier that year, ‘A new dawn has broken, has it not?’

We all wish Meghan and Harry a healthy and happy child. A boy is rumored, and perhaps that explains the gender fluidity. As a devout feminist, Meghan would probably be less keen on undermining the sex of a daughter: instead, she would be raised a strong female, preparing to right the wrongs of the patriarchal world.

On Monday, May 6, The Independent reported on ancient rules regarding royal custody of grandchildren. Keep in mind that this now pertains to King Charles:

… there is a fascinating law in place that means that Prince Harry and Meghan may not always have full legal custody of their child.

More than three centuries ago, a law was enacted that means the sovereign has full legal custody of their minor grandchildren, royal expert Marlene Koenig explains.

The law, called “The Grand Opinion for the Prerogative Concerning the Royal Family,” was introduced by King George I in 1717.

“George I did not get along with his son, the future George II,” Koenig tells The Independent.

“I believe it came about when the Prince of Wales [George II] did not want to have the godparent for his son that his father wanted – so George I got Parliament to come up with something.”

This means that when Charles, Prince of Wales becomes sovereign, he will have custody of his minor grandchildren.

According to Koenig, issues surrounding the law arose in 1994 when Diana, Princess of Wales separated from Prince Charles.

Diana expressed wishes to take their sons, Harry and William, to live with her in Australia, but couldn’t due to the regulations laid out by the custody law

Hmmm …

CNN tries to trap Trump on Markle

On June 1, CNN tried to trap President Trump into saying that the Duchess was ‘nasty’. Instead, he said (29-second point in the video):

No, I didn’t know that she was nasty.

Here’s the full exchange:

Another Twitter user, since deleted, observed — nearly correctly:

List of women Trump has used the word “nasty” to describe: -Hillary Clinton -Nancy Pelosi -Meghan Markle -Kamala Harris -San Juan mayor -Danish prime minister.

August 2019: the turning point

Valentine Low, the author of 2022’s best-seller Courtiers, tells us that, by August 2019, things were unravelling quickly for the Sussexes, who already had a US PR team lined up:

By August 2019, things were “awful and tense” within the Sussex household. There were also clues that Harry and Meghan did not see their long-term future as working members of the royal family. Their Africa tour was coming up, but there was nothing in the diary after that. Meanwhile, staff were increasingly aware of the presence in the background of Meghan’s business manager, Andrew Meyer, and her lawyer, Rick Genow, as well as her agent, Nick Collins, and Keleigh Thomas Morgan of Sunshine Sachs. The US team had been very busy, working on deals not only with Netflix but also a deal for Harry’s mental health series for Apple+ with Oprah Winfrey and Meghan’s voiceover for a Disney film about elephants.

The most the public knew at the time was that the Queen had arranged for the couple to go on a tour of Africa, as part of a goodwill sign towards the Commonwealth countries there:

While preparing for the Africa tour, the team was trying to persuade the couple that it would be appropriate to do an interview with the British media. Sam Cohen suggested Tom Bradby of ITV, who already had a relationship with Harry. Meghan was reluctant at first. Her attention was focused on the prospect of doing an interview with Oprah Winfrey. After thinking about it, however, Harry said they would agree. There was one proviso: he and Meghan could not do interviews together or be in the same shot. That would go against their deal with Oprah, which at that point was slated for the autumn of that year. (It eventually went ahead more than a year later, in March 2021.)

The Express was on to the Sussexes at that time.

On Saturday, July 28, the paper reported that the Sussexes’ job vacancies were no longer on the Clarence House recruitment site:

The American and the Duke of Sussex are no longer listed on the recruitment page of Prince Harry’s father Prince Charles’ website. Prince William and wife Kate however, remain there. One family friend said of Harry: “He wants to control everything and everyone he’s involved with. How he’s going to pay for it is another question.”

Under the recruitment tab of the Clarence House website vacancies are listed for staff keen to work for Charles and Camilla and the Cambridges.

Regardless of there being any vacancies available, the Duke and Duchess of Sussex were listed at the top of the site, along with Charles, Camilla, William and Kate.

The couple are no longer there.

The suspicion the Duke and Duchess of Sussex have now split from Prince Charles on his website also raises questions about funding.

The costs of Harry’s office and his royal duties are met by a stipend from the Prince of Wales.

Between them Harry and William share about £4million a year, with the lion’s share going to the direct heir to the throne.

But without his father’s support, Harry would have to turn to the Queen for funding – and she already has a lengthy list of people to support.

Meghan and Kate seemed to have patched up their differences with a visit to Wimbledon this summer.

But Meghan and Harry aides sparked outrage when it emerged there were rules on how to approach them in Windsor.

The Sun reports neighbours are advised against initiating conversations with the couple.

However, if Meghan or Harry start a discussion they are welcome to exchange pleasantries with the young couple.

They are also asked not to play with the couples’ dogs or request to see their baby, the report claims.

On Thursday, August 1, The Express had a follow-up article:

Meghan Markle and Prince Harry made big changes in their lives during recent months as they simultaneously became parents for the first time. The royal couple split from their charity partnership with Prince William and Kate, Duchess of Cambridge in January. Three months later it was announced Prince Harry would team up with US talk show legend Oprah Winfrey on a new TV series about mental health.

This was followed by the birth of their first son Archie Harrison Mountbatten-Windsor on May 6, 2019.

Since then, Meghan and Harry have planned a forthcoming royal visit to South Africa in autumn.

They also raised eyebrows after citing their intention to raise Archie as a “private citizen” despite him being seventh-in-line to the throne.

The royal baby lives with the Duke and Duchess of Sussex at their Windsor Estate home where they can maintain strict privacy …

Her mum, Doria Ragland, lives in Los Angeles where she is a yoga instructor.

Doria has crossed the pond to visit her daughter and grandson but a royal expert has now revealed Meghan may be looking to set up house over there.

Emily Andrews told Yahoo’s The Royal Box the Duke and Duchess of Sussex may well purchase a property in the USA for work and personal reasons

The royal expert did not suggest that any purchase would mean a permanent move to the United States

She and Harry are expected to travel to the Queen’s official Scottish residence, Balmoral Castle, along with other senior royals this summer.

The idyllic holiday home becomes the Queen’s two-month break from royal duties every July and August.

Vogue

On August 2, Meghan’s issue of Vogue that she had guest-edited appeared on the shelves.

The Spectator rightly objected to the Duchess’s perceptions of life. She appears to think that it’s not what you do that matters, it’s what you look like that counts. Look at Harry in the photo — a completely different person:

The issue featured the Duchess’s supposed heroines.

Author and journalist Douglas Murray wrote about it for UnHerd‘Meghan and Harry are playing a dangerous game’:

… Meghan Markle, otherwise known as the Duchess of Sussex, has guest-edited the September edition of Vogue. The contents of the issue are perhaps unsurprising. As well as inevitably celebrating prominent women, such as the teenaged school truant Greta Thunberg, the Duchess has also set out to prove that women don’t need men to give them status. Something she has done by including an interview with her husband, Prince Harry.

This in itself has drawn a certain amount of comment, and will not have calmed fears some people had that a highly political figure marrying into the nation’s most necessarily non-politically opinionated family might cause problems down the line. The fact that Meghan Markle’s pre-Harry politics might be best described as ‘woke’ is in some ways unimportant – a prominent Donald Trump-supporting Republican marrying into the Royal Family would raise similar concerns, to say the least.

The worry was that Prince Harry’s marriage to Ms Markle would end up tipping him towards her political path, fears that will not have been calmed by his appearance in the high-end fashion magazine. In the royally-guest-edited issue, Prince Harry talks about a number of things, the headline-grabber being his claim that he and his wife would not have more than two children because of its impact on the environment and climate change …

It is the Prince’s follow-up comments, however, that dish up the problem, less for his audience than for the Prince himself. Watching Prince Harry beginning to play the game of identifying ‘unconscious bias’ is like gazing at a hapless amateur juggling with loaded pistols; it is enough to make any well-disposed person want to scream “Stop” and seize the guns from his unsuspecting hands.

The comments appear in a conversation between the Prince and primatologist Dr Jane Goodall, on the subject of what humans can learn from chimpanzees. At one point Dr Goodall says that children do not notice skin colour, to which Harry adds: “But again, just as stigma is handed down from generation to generation, your perspective on the world and on life and on people is something that is taught to you. It’s learned from your family, learned from the older generation, or from advertising, from your environment.” Well perhaps …

One of the most extreme forms of – generally unconscious – bias that people demonstrate throughout their lives is towards attractive people, and not only in the selection of partners. Study after study shows that good-looking men and women stand a better chance of promotion in their chosen field of work than people who are average-looking or actively unattractive.

For instance, it may be carefully suggested that the editor of September’s issue of Vogue would not be editing September’s edition of Vogue if, rather than the acclaimed beauty she is, she looked rather more like a member of the Addams family. Or indeed an average-looking member of the general public. There may be many reasons why Prince Harry requested Meghan Markle’s hand in marriage, but her looks must have – consciously or otherwise – at least counted in her favour on the way to the altar.

Another form of bias that people express throughout their lives – again, consciously or otherwise – might be an inclination towards someone who is financially or socially secure. I should never want to accuse a Duchess – or any other member of the Royal Family – of any variety of bias. And yet it seems possible that in her search for a husband Ms Markle may have demonstrated some form of bias (unconscious or otherwise) towards thrones and their heirs. I will put the point no stronger. But in her search for love, Ms Markle must have met many people. Perhaps she met many princes and mingled with many a duke. But it is striking, at the very least, that of all the people who appeared across her path, the one she ended up marrying in a low-key ceremony at Windsor Castle happened to be the second son of the Prince of Wales.

Balmoral no-show — part 1

It was a given that the Royals joined the Queen during her summer holiday at Balmoral and participated in her favourite country pursuits.

However, the Duchess was fussy.

On August 11, The Sun reported:

MEGHAN Markle might fake a headache to avoid taking part in blood sports when she visits the Queen in Balmoral, a royal expert has claimed.

Sports like hunting and fly fishing are much-loved group activities at the Queen’s summer retreat in the Scottish highlands.

With a 50,000 acre estate comprising of grouse moors, forestry and farmland, animals to hunt are in no short supply in Balmoral.

But the Duchess of Sussex, 38, who follows a vegan diet during the week, isn’t a fan of hunting – despite her husband Prince Harry being taught from a young age.

Writing for the Mail on Sunday, royal editor Robert Jobson said: “Meghan, however, who rather disapproves of such blood sports, may choose to feign a headache.”

BBQs and picnics are thought to take place daily at Balmoral, regardless of the Scottish weather, as the royals are so fond of all things outdoorsy.

“It is hunting which is perhaps the biggest passion”, Robert added of the royal hobby, which includes shooting birds and deer.

“Her Majesty shot her last stag in 1983 near to the Spittal of Glenmuick, in a spot that is now called The Queen’s Corry.

“But she still attends shoots and drove Kate to a grouse shoot when the couple visited a couple of years ago.”

This I did not know. Wow:

The Queen was taught to stalk deer by her late cousin, and best friend, Margaret Rhodes.

Returning now to Meghan:

Earlier this week, a source told Fabulous pescatarian Meghan would try fly fishing to appease her father-in-law Prince Charles.

They added: “But there will no softening on Meghan’s stance against hunting, any stag or deer hunting fills her with horror.

“Venison will not be one of her menu choices for sure.”

However, the Queen was also fussy. And, after all, Balmoral was her estate.

Five days later, on August 16, The Sun told us that Her Majesty despised ripped jeans and wedge heels. Meghan loves both:

It has been reported that the Duke and Duchess of Sussex will make their first trip to the Scottish castle this summer, but the Queen has her firm views on correct attire.

Speaking to Fabulous Digital, the source said: “The Queen is no favourite of jeans so the US boyfriend look and ripped jeans will be left in Frogmore Cottage along with any wedges which her Majesty hates with a passion.”

Meghan Markle has often demonstrated she is a fan of wearing denim, and recently caused a stir when she showed up at Wimbledon wearing jeans …

It is thought this year Meghan will visit the castle for the first time, where the Sussexes will be given their own wing, as well as enjoying a traditional afternoon tea with Her Maj.

A source told the Sun on Sunday: “The Queen and Prince Philip adore the couple and, of course, their new great-grandson Archie, and they have invited them to Balmoral for a few days.

“It is testament to Meghan that she has been given this invite. It’s a huge honour.”

However, they did not go, according to the Mail‘s September 6 report:

aides insisted the Sussexes were too busy working on charitable projects to join the Queen at Balmoral this weekend

There had been rumours that the Sussexes would be joining the monarch at Balmoral in the Scottish Highlands this week with their baby son Archie.

But while most of the Royal Family have made the long trek up to Aberdeenshire, Harry and Meghan actually have no plans to fly to Scotland at all.

Sources close to the couple insist that the decision should not be seen as a ‘snub’ – and Harry only rarely goes up to the Queen’s Deeside estate nowadays.

The US Open

Instead, the Duchess made plans to fly to New York to see her friend Serena Williams compete at the US Open.

Serena Williams was said to be hesitant as she lost at Wimbledon when the Duchess was in the stands:

Despite the long flight and a stressful delay for Meghan, sources have claimed that Williams’ coaches aren’t massively thrilled that the Duchess has come to support her friend, as she could distract her from the game in hand.

They are said to be concerned due to the fact that Williams lost when Meghan attended her last match at Wimbledon.

A source told Page Six: ‘Serena asked her coach about Meghan coming when she won last night and everyone is worried, as tennis players are very superstitious, and Serena lost when Meghan came to watch her at Wimbledon.’

The source added that Williams’ aides were concerned that the trip was a publicity stunt.

However Williams is said to ‘adore’ Meghan and ‘wouldn’t have a word of it’.  

It is not yet known where in New York Meghan will be staying and who she will be staying with, however she is thought to have flown first class for the two-day trip across the Atlantic.    

It comes just days after her husband spoke out about sustainable travel at an environmentally-friendly tourism event in Amsterdam. 

And last month he is understood to have given a passionate barefoot speech about saving the planet at Google’s £16million climate change summit in Sicily.

Meghan’s 7,000 mile journey to New York and back is expected to generate 986kg of carbon dioxide

The article has a helpful map showing all seven flights that the Sussexes took between August 6 and September 6 in Europe.

Harry excused his flights as follows:

He took a scheduled flight to Amsterdam this week to promote Travalyst, a scheme for environmentally-friendly tourism.

Speaking at the event, the prince refused to apologise for his recent private flights, saying: ‘I spend 99 per cent of my life travelling the world by commercial.

‘Occasionally there needs to be an opportunity [to fly privately] based on a unique circumstance to ensure that my family are safe – it’s as simple as that. 

‘For me it’s about balance. It’s not a decision I would want to take, but if I have to do that, I will ensure that I balance out the impact that I have.’ 

Harry dismissed concerns over his carbon footprint by insisting that he ‘offsets’ his emissions by donating to renewable energy incentives and planting trees. 

Returning to tennis, it seems that Serena Williams’s coaches were correct. Meghan’s presence and Williams’s loss coincided, as the Mail told us on September 8:

Tennis fans have accused Meghan Markle of jinxing Serena Williams last night as she watched the tennis star lose and fail to secure an historic 24th Grand Slam at the US Open, just months after she attended Williams’ defeat at Wimbledon.

The Duchess of Sussex, 38, was called a ‘bad luck charm,’ with fans citing the resounding loss at the Wimbledon final to Simona Halep and the year before at SW19 to Angelique Kerber.

The Royal was the centre of attention in New York as she watched with Williams’ mother Oracene Price but the pair were left disappointed as the former number one was beaten 6-3, 7-5, by Canadian Bianca Andreescu.

Balmoral no-show — part 2

As for Balmoral, the Mail article continued:

Prince Harry and Meghan’s absence from the trip has left Her Majesty ‘hurt and disappointed,’ the Mail on Sunday understands, at a time when she likes to bring her friends and family together at her favourite time of the year.

The Queen is already said to be ‘baffled’ by Meghan and Harry’s inability to steer clear of PR calamities, and is concerned that her beloved grandson and his new wife are failing to listen to their team of advisers.

On September 8, The Sun told us:

THE QUEEN was left “hurt and disappointed” when Meghan Markle skipped visiting Balmoral in favour of her last-minute trip to New York over the weekend.

In opting for the US Open instead:

she snubbed the Queen’s invite to attend the Highland Games – something that proved a disappointment according to royal insiders.

The Mail on Sunday described the move as an “outright snub” adding that Her Majesty “is ‘hurt and disappointed’ at a time when she likes to bring her friends and family together.”

According to insiders the monarch had been looking forward to “a few days of merry chaos” with her great-grandchildren, including Archie who is still yet to visit the Queen’s summer home with Harry and Meghan claiming he is “too young.”

While Meghan was watching Serena Williams:

the Queen was joined by Prince Charles and Camilla at the Braemar Gathering Highland Games on Saturday …

The Queen is currently staying at her nearby summer residence Balmoral where she last night hosted Boris Johnson and girlfriend Carrie Symonds.

But the Prime Minister was forced to cut short the anticipated weekend-long visit after a turbulent week.

One week later on September 16, The Express reported:

The Queen “does not want to talk about the Sussexes” according to claims from a royal insider. People spending time with Her Majesty, 93, have reportedly been told not to mention Meghan Markle or Prince Harry. Leading royal expert Quentin Letts tweeted the bombshell remark this week, claiming it was the only subject that was strictly banned from discussion.

That is really bad.

As the King would say, ‘Dear, oh dear’.

The article continues:

Letts tweeted on Friday: “Friend of an acquaintance was about to go riding with HMQ.

Was given v firm advice ‘Talk about anything except one subject.’ Brexit? ‘No, The Sussexes.'”

This comes after claims of clashes within the royal family.

The Queen was reportedly left “deeply disappointed” by Meghan and Harry’s hostile behaviour.

Several royal sources claimed the monarch was not impressed with the way Prince Harry and Meghan Markle have acted since marrying last year.

She is reportedly “disappointed” with their behaviour as representatives of the British monarchy around the world.

There is plenty more to come about the Sussexes. Stay tuned.

Gosh, what a lot of news to cover in one post.

Admittedly, a few of these items are a bit old but fit in thematically.

Theresa May U-turns on support for Scottish gender reform legislation

I wrote yesterday about former Prime Minister Theresa May’s support for Scotland’s Gender Recognition Reform bill on Tuesday, December 27.

Within 24 hours she had made a U-turn, thankfully, although she did it through a spokeswoman.

On Wednesday, December 28, The Times reported (emphases mine):

In the wake of the interview the BBC issued a press release which stated: “On the subject of Scotland’s proposed gender recognition laws, Ms May said she was disappointed the Westminster government wasn’t supporting them.”

Yesterday, however, a spokeswoman for the Maidenhead MP insisted that was not the case.

“As prime minister, Theresa launched a consultation looking at gender recognition laws with the aim of providing a more sensitive approach to transgender people, but she does not agree with Nicola Sturgeon’s legislation and is particularly concerned about the consequences it could have for children in Scotland and across the UK,” she said.

We can but hope that the Secretary of State for Scotland does not send the legislation for Royal Assent:

Immediately after MSPs voted in favour of the legislation Alister Jack, the Scottish secretary, threatened to invoke section 35 of the Scotland Act, which allows him to prevent the legislation from receiving royal assent.

Although gender recognition is devolved to Holyrood, the Equality Act — with which the new law will interact — is reserved to Westminster.

As nearly two-thirds of Scottish voters — even SNP supporters — think this legislation is a terrible idea, Westminster can show the ‘Union dividend’ in being ‘better off together’.

Gas futures coming down

On Thursday, December 29, The Guardian had encouraging news about the price of natural gas futures in Europe:

European gas prices have dropped back to levels seen before the Ukraine war began in February, as fears of a gas crisis this winter ease.

The month-ahead European gas future contract dropped as low as €76.78 per megawatt hour yesterday — its lowest level in 10 months, data from Refinitiv shows.

As this chart shows, gas prices have fallen back from their surge in March, and again in the summer as European countries scrambled to fill their gas storage tanks.

Prices have dropped thanks to warmer-than-normal temperatures this winter, which have limited demand for gas, after the European Union successfully filled reserves to a peak of almost 96% in November.

Consumption reduction targets have also helped to limit demand, with the EU aiming to cut its gas consumption by 15%.

Earlier this week, 83.2% of EU gas storage was filled, data from industry body Gas Infrastructure Europe shows, still above the target of 80% set for the start of November.

Traders are confident that inventories will end winter at a very comfortable level with a very low risk of falling to critically low levels, says John Kemp, energy market analyst at Reuters.

UK gas prices have also dropped back from their highs earlier this year. The day-ahead gas price closed at 155p per therm yesterday, compared with 200p/therm at the start of 2022, and over 500p/therm in August.

The UK versus the EU

All year long in Parliament we’ve heard that the UK is ‘broken’ and that we should have stayed in the EU.

Polls have been published showing that Brexit voters have buyer’s remorse. Well, they shouldn’t have. We are much better off outside an unelected European Commission. Furthermore, EU countries are not doing substantially better than Blighty.

France

This week, I received the latest copy of Marianne, the French newsweekly. Part of its cover story headline, referring to the state of their nation, reads:

EN PANNE

meaning, ‘out of order’, ‘not working’.

On Wednesday this week, The Spectator had an excellent article about our neighbour: ‘All is not well in Macron’s France’:

In 2021, both World Bank and United Nations GDP (nominal) rankings have the UK at 5th and France 7th. International Monetary Fund estimates for 2022 show India overtaking the UK to claim the 5th spot for world GDP, but with France still 7th.

One may question the reliability of GDP as a comparator, but a host of other measures regularly show France worse off than the UK. Debt to GDP ratios show France at some 115 per cent, the UK 99.6 per cent. Meanwhile the Bank for International Settlements gives France’s total public and private debt (non-financial) at 351 per cent; the UK at 271 per cent.

One can rightly point to France’s present day lower inflation at 7.1 per cent (EU harmonised) compared to the UK’s 10.7 per cent. But as French debt statistics above show, president Emmanuel Macron began forcing down domestic inflation by subsidising prices during his 2022 presidential election campaign. French unemployment at 7.4 per cent compares unfavourably with the UK’s 3.4 per cent. Meanwhile France is the highest taxed OECD and EU state, leaving little margin for manoeuvre. Her balance of payments figures are as gloomy as the UK’s, together with her flat economic growth.

While Britain’s position is not rosy, France’s is certainly no better. That is why recent predictions in a certain European press, not least in France, taken up by British elites, that the UK was descending into terminal decline has lost all proportion. If the French press enjoy a touch of schadenfreude at the expense of the old enemy, and French politicians are glad to distract from their own problems, the willingness of much of the British middle class to swallow the same view can only be explained by ingrained cultural habit aggravated by post-Brexit resentment. Today, with Macron utterly wedded to the EU project, France for British elites is ipso facto superior to Britain. Yet France’s moral state is parlous.

Since the 2022 presidential and legislative elections Macron’s centrist party has no overall majority. France is stalemated and drifting towards ever more radical politics. Macron’s prime minister Élisabeth Borne, unable to command a majority in the National Assembly, struggles to get her business other than by the constitutional sleight of hand of article 49,3, which guillotines parliamentary debate. With the chamber split four ways the question remains as to whether Macron will eventually dissolve parliament. Opinion polls suggest this would be a gift to Marine Le Pen’s party, already the single largest opposition party with 89 seats. France might then come to replicate the present radical right Italian government.

Socially and culturally French society is far from healthy. Other than worsening violence and lawlessness in the banlieues – conveniently out of sight of English elites’ visits to France – the French model of assimilation and laïcité is being tested to destruction. Official Justice Ministry statistics for July 2021 show 24.6 per cent of the prison population as foreign (double the proportion in Britain).  The French Interior Minister publicly stated this summer that, although foreigners make up 7.4 per cent of the French population, they account for 19 per cent of all delinquency nationally, and that 48 per cent of arrested delinquents in Paris are foreigners, 55 per cent in Marseille, 39 per cent in Lyon.

… The general picture is of a France far from at ease with itself. The prospect of a member of France’s ethnic minorities leading the country with no fuss in the near future, as has just happened in Britain, seems impossible.

And remember the cries of ‘Brexit is bad’ when the Paris stock exchange overtook London’s in November?

I don’t recall any mea culpas from the metropolitan elite once we resumed normal service ten days later:

Guido Fawkes posted (emphases his):

The London stock market has re-overtaken Paris’s after falling behind for 10 days, with a lead of $63 billion. A 2.5% rally in the value of the pound led to the improvement, and morale booster, compared to a modest 0.7% improvement for the Euro …

Hat-tip: Bloomberg

Germany

While Remainers in Britain’s metropolitan elite moan about food inflation, our friends in Germany have experienced similar price hikes.

On October 14, September figures for the UK showed that our grocery price inflation hit an all-time high of 13.9%.

Yet, JustFood reported that Germany’s grocery price inflation also reached historic highs:

Inflation levels in Germany reached their highest levels in three decades in September with food prices rising 18.7% year on year, figures show.

In a continued squeeze on consumer pockets, inflation reached 10% – its highest level since the country’s reunification in 1990, the federal statistical office said.

Consumers faced the sharpest rises in edible fats and oils, which were up by 49%. Dairy products and eggs increased by 29.1%, meat and meat products 19.5% and bread and cereals 18.5%.

Month-on-month comparisons show consumers paid 1.8% more for food in September than in August, with vegetables 3.9% more expensive and dairy products up by 2.2%.

The consumer price index for food in Germany, measured against a 2015 baseline of 100, stood at 135.4 year-on-year in September, compared to 121.1 overall.

The federal statistical office said the cost of energy was leading inflation but food also played a major role, with both contributing to an overall 10% rise in prices.

Without food and energy rises in the equation, the country’s inflation rate is reduced by over half to 4.6%. The prices of all goods increased by 17.2% in September 2022 compared to 2021, but the prices of non-durable consumer goods, which include food and energy, increased by 23.3%.

We cannot blame German inflation on Brexit. As Conservative ministers rightly say at the despatch box, inflation is up all over Europe and the West.

UK to relax egg rules to line up with EU

Another thing we hear from Remainers, especially in the Houses of Parliament, is that British food regulations are weaker than the EU’s!

Nothing could be further from the truth! Our food standards have been higher than the EU’s for decades.

Anyone wanting up-to-date proof can read an article in Wednesday’s Guardian‘UK free-range egg rules could be relaxed in line with EU for avian flu outbreaks’:

Free-range egg rules in the UK could be relaxed in response to the European Union preparing to overhaul regulations after the biggest avian flu outbreak on record.

Ministers are understood to be considering a change to the rules that would mean eggs laid by hens kept in barns for months on end could be classed as free range.

Currently, eggs cannot be classed as free range if birds are indoors for more than 16 weeks. Farmers have that grace period in both the EU and UK, which means eggs can still be labelled as free-range if a government-issued housing order for birds is in place up to 16 weeks.

Subsequently, labels need to be added to packaging making it clear that those are now classified as barn eggs.

Whitehall sources told the Daily Telegraph that the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) is considering changing the regulations in order to keep farmers competitive with Europe

The European Commission put forward a proposal in September, which stated “where temporary restrictions have been imposed on the basis of EU legislation, eggs may be marketed as ‘free-range’ notwithstanding that restriction”.

The proposal, which is awaiting approval by the European parliament, means eggs could be classed as free range even if hens are forced to spend months indoors due to government rulings.

In September, egg producers in the UK said it was essential that the government now followed suit to avoid British suppliers being undercut by EU imports.

Climate change

Climate change sceptics will be on the right side of history in time.

Guido Fawkes’s readers posted about deforestation in this post.

One chap posted an article about the increasing need for balsa wood from Latin and South America for blades on wind farms. Apparently, indigenous communities have not been consulted:

https://image.vuukle.com/8d46442a-2514-45e7-9794-98dfc370ce1b-b8e2e051-87c6-4568-8f9c-68858e5d19e3

The article continues, stating that some companies are switching from balsa to oil byproducts, such as PET and PVC, or to cellulose:

https://image.vuukle.com/8d46442a-2514-45e7-9794-98dfc370ce1b-7fe88518-bdeb-4ace-95aa-2e84a2741e14

The man who posted the article pointed out:

BALSA is being replaced with PET and PVC (yep- crude oil) but are also experimenting with cellulose– which needs highly toxic chemicals to make.

Someone responded with this:

Synthetic PET usually uses food starch as a replacement for oil based derivatives. These divert food crops away from human and livestock consumption. They also encourage the use of GM crops and pesticides.

PVC production creates sodium chloride, which is a cause of acid rain.

The eco loons really didn’t think this through.

Ultimately:

The eco l00ns NEVER think anything through.

And they hope we won’t notice.

It’s part of the reason why ‘climate science is settled’ and they refuse to debate.

You know how it goes.

Fracking badmining cobalt (even using young children) good.

You flying -bad- them flying- good.

On a similar note, an UnHerd article laments the loss of the hearth in ‘Firewood will save the West’. The author, Paul Kingsnorth, lives in Ireland and has his firewood delivered to his home:

The Irish government is currently campaigning against households which burn turf or wood, the former on the grounds of CO2 emissions, and the latter on the grounds of air quality. As ever, the campaign is driven from Dublin, and mostly takes Dublin sensibilities into account. Rural households in Ireland have been burning turf and wood forever, with little significant impact on “air quality” — or at least, no impact comparable to that which Ireland’s “Celtic Tiger” modernisation has had. Suddenly, though, the media is full of scientists armed with studies demonstrating how getting a fire going in your cottage in winter will lead to cancer and lung disease on a widespread scale.

That is nonsense. Until recently, Man had been surrounded by smoke for millennia.

Essentially, the Irish government, in line with other Western governments, wants to do away with fireplaces:

This new tilt against household fireplaces is not just an Irish phenomenon: it is suddenly popping up everywhere. Woodstoves are, curiously, becoming the number one air pollution villain. Never mind mass car use, accelerating air travel or industrial pollution. Never mind the emissions caused by the massive increase in Internet server farms, which within just a few years could be using up an astonishing 70% of this country’s electricity. These days, if you want to demonstrate your social responsibility, you should be all aboard with the abolition of the traditional fireplace and its replacement with “green” alternatives.

He explains that the home hearth has been not only traditional but also atavistic throughout mankind’s history. He cites the philosophical polymath John Michell (1933-2009):

The fireplace, whether our dessicated urban authorities know it or not, has a primal meaning, even in a world as divorced as ours from its roots and from the land.

In his short essay “Fireside Wisdom”, the uncategorisable John Michell suggested that the “displacement of the hearth or fireplace” from the home was one of the many reasons for the craziness of the modern world which his life had been spent playfully exploring. The fireplace at the centre of the home, he wrote, was both an ancient practicality and a device of “cosmological significance” across cultures and time: “Conversation is directed into the fire while dreams and images are drawn out of it.”

In the past, the act of sitting staring into the smoky fire with family or neighbours was the genesis of the folk tale and folk song which tied the culture together. Now we stare at digital fires hemmed into boxes manufactured by distant corporations who also tell us our stories. No song we can dream up around a real fireplace can compete with what these boxed fires can sell us. “Thus,” wrote Michell, “the traditional cosmology is no longer represented by its domestic symbols, and a new, secular, restless, uncentred world-view has taken its place.”

Focus, Michell explained, is “the Latin name for the central fireplace. The fire not only warms but, as a symbol, illuminates the corresponding images of a centre to each of our own beings and of a world-centre which is divine, eternal and unchanging.” Lose your fires, and you literally lose your focus as a culture. In this context, a government spokesman telling his population, as one minister here recently did, that they should “get over” their “nostalgic” attachment to the hearth fire and install ground source heat pumps instead is more than just a nod to efficiency. It is an assault on what remains of the home and its meaning. It is an attack on the cultural — even the divine — centre.

Paul Kingsnorth posits that each move away from self-sufficiency, e.g. using one’s own fireplace, puts us more under the control of government:

When you can no longer grow your own wood or cut your own turf to heat your own parlour, you are made that little bit more dependent on the matrix of government, technology and commerce that has sought to transmute self-sufficiency into bondage since the time of the Luddites. The justification for this attack on family and community sufficiency changes with the times — in 17th-century England, the enclosures were justified by the need for agricultural efficiency; today they are justified by the need for energy efficiency — but the attack is always of the same nature. Each blow struck against local self-sufficiency, pride and love of place weaves another thread into the pattern which has been developing for centuries, and which is almost complete now in most affluent countries

In my lifetime, in my part of the world, the notion and meaning of “home” has steadily crumbled under external pressure until it is little more than a word. The ideal (post)modern home is a dormitory, probably owned by a landlord or a bank, in which two or more people of varying ages and degrees of biological relationship sleep when they’re not out being employed by a corporation, or educated by the state in preparation for being employed by a corporation. The home’s needs are met through pushing buttons, swiping screens or buying-in everything from food to furniture; for who has time for anything else, or has been taught the skills to do otherwise?

He refers to a 1980 manuscript, ‘Family Work’, by the American essayist Wendell Berry:

Like so much of Berry’s work, it locates the centrepoint of human society in the home, and explains many of the failures of contemporary Western — specifically American — society as a neglect of that truth. The home, to Wendell Berry, is the place where the real stuff of life happens, or should: the coming-together of man and woman in partnership; the passing-down of skills and stories from elders; the raising and educating of children; the growing, cooking, storing and eating of food; the learning of practical skills, from construction to repair, tool-making to sewing; the conjuration of story and song around the fire

Even back in 1980, Berry recognised that the home had become an “ideal” rather than a practical reality — precisely because the reality had been placed out of reach for many. What killed the home? Three things, said Berry: cars, mass media and public education. The first meant that both work and leisure could, for the first time in history, happen a long way from home. The second — “TV and other media” — have played a role, since the mid-20th century, in luring us all into a fantasy world of freedom from obligation, and a limitless, fun consumer lifestyle. “If you have a TV,” writes Berry, “your children will be subjected almost from the cradle to an overwhelming insinuation that all worth experiencing is somewhere else and that all worth having must be bought.” Finally, the school system is designed “to keep children away from the home as much as possible. Parents want their children kept out of their hair.” Schools exist to train children to fit into individualistic, consumer societies; to internalise and normalise their ethics and goals, and to prepare for a life serving their needs.

I have to disagree with his disparagement of television, as my better half and I watch a lot of French programmes, food shows in particular. For us, it is a window into a culture we love very much. Were it not for television, we would have to visit France in person much more often. As it is, we can experience France from our sitting room and perfect our language skills while learning more about the world’s finest cuisine.

Berry’s solution is to make the home a welcoming, peaceful place for everyone living there:

… he suggested that we should “try to make our homes centres of attention and interest”; to make them as productive and nurturing as we can … you will see new possibilities begin to open up. You will see, in Berry’s words, that “no life and no place is destitute; all have possibilities of productivity and pleasure, rest and work, solitude and conviviality that belong particularly to themselves”, whether in the country, the city or the suburb. “All that is necessary,” he suggests, is “the time and the inner quietness to look for them.”

Television is a good thing

On the subject of television, a 104-year-old Australian woman told her grandson that it was probably the greatest development in her lifetime.

Lewis Isaacs wrote her story for The Guardian: ‘My 104-year-old Nan’s secret to a long life’:

A life as long as hers can be hard to comprehend. Asked what the biggest change to the world she’d seen across her life was, Nan replied that it was television. Life when she grew up rarely extended past her suburb. Television connected the living room to the world.

How true! Well said, Nan!

The article has family photographs, too.

So what is Coral Isaacs’s secret to longevity?

She says it comes down to genetics and finding the right partner. She was widowed more than 30 years ago and says the life she built with my Pop has supported her since. It helps to remember your pills, she adds, and to get up, shower and make your bed every day.

I suspect the truth about her endurance is something different though. Nan is determined to keep her eyes focused on the future. Even when the days are hard, she still looks forward.

I was hoping she would mention smoking a crafty cigarette or enjoying a daily digestif, but, sadly, no.

Churchill’s cigar goes on sale

For a smoking story, we had to go to an auction house.

On Thursday, December 29, The Times reported that one of Winston Churchill’s cigars is expected to fetch £3,000 at auction:

The former prime minister gave the Cuban cigar to an RAF doctor who helped him when he broke his leg in 1962.

The doctor’s grandson has put the rare cigar up for sale with Hansons Auctioneers, which said it would be an “impressive item” for any Churchill collector. Charles Hanson, the owner, said: “We occasionally see Churchill cigar stubs that people have picked up after he dropped them. But to gain a whole cigar in such pristine condition, given as a gift in unusual circumstances, is special.”

Churchill, who died in 1965 aged 90, was a lifelong smoker. While he was at boarding school, his mother learnt he had taken up smoking cigarettes and tried to bribe him to stop by promising him a pistol and a pony.

He switched to cigars after spending time in Cuba after his graduation from Sandhurst military academy, and friends, dealers and associates sent him regular deliveries of cigars from then on.

The circumstances are most Churchillian:

The auction house said the cigar under auction was given to an RAF squadron leader, Bertram AJ Barrow. Churchill fractured his femur while getting out of his bed at the Hotel de Paris in Monte Carlo, and was flown back to London on an RAF plane while in a waist-to-ankle plaster cast.

Barrow, the leader of the medical team, plucked up the courage to ask Churchill for one of his famous cigars.

For decades the treasured cigar was kept in a bedside drawer, but will now go under the hammer at on January 9 with an estimate of £2,000 to £3,000.

Barrow’s grandson, Thomas Barrow, 33, an employment law adviser from London, said: “Bertram asked for a cigar as a keepsake, and Churchill advised that he could have ‘one that he had been saving’ — which was Cuban and still in its glass case.”

What a story!

Conclusion

As my later grandmother-in-law, a lifelong Londoner, was fond of saying:

The old ways are the best.

I couldn’t agree more.

Let’s try to recapture them in 2023.

It’s hard to know where to begin with this year’s Christmas news, much of which is disappointing, to say the least.

That said, there is a bright Christmas message here, so please read on.

Scotland legislation latest

On Thursday, December 22, the Scottish Parliament — or Assembly, as I still call it — passed legislation for Gender Recognition Reform, specifically to grant Gender Recognition Certificates (GRCs).

The bill passed in the SNP-controlled government 86-39 with no abstentions. Only two Conservative MSPs voted for it. The rest were SNP (Scottish National Party), Scottish Greens (SNP coalition partners), Scottish Labour and Scottish Liberal Democrat MSPs.

The final contributions were largely made on the basis of feelings. Wednesday’s transcript shows that every Conservative motion proposing greater controls over who can apply for a GRC and under what conditions was defeated. Debate had also taken place on Tuesday in an attempt to rush this through before Christmas break.

The Scottish Parliament thought this so important that it even cancelled their annual Christmas carol service, which, this year, was to feature Ukrainian refugees living just outside of Edinburgh.

A pro-independence — though not a pro-SNP — Scot who lives in England, the Revd Stuart Campbell, summed up the legislation in one of his Wings Over Scotland posts, ‘On the hush-hush’ (emphases mine):

The last few days have been perhaps the most turbulent in the entire history of the modern Scottish Parliament. Proceedings have been suspended repeatedly, members of the public thrown out and threatened with arrest, filibusters attempted, carol services cancelled, tempers frayed and sittings going on until the wee small hours.

All of this has happened in the service of the policy that the SNP has made its flagship priority for the last two years and more – the destruction not only of women’s rights, but of the very CONCEPT of a woman

So you’d imagine the party would have been tweeting about it constantly, keeping its supporters informed about all the dramatic events and the progress of the bill, if only to reassure them that they were determined to get it passed before the Christmas break come what may …

But there wasn’t one solitary word about the thing it just spent three solid days forcing into law. And since it was a thing that most of its own voters, and indeed a huge majority of all Scots, were opposed to, readers might be forgiven for thinking that they just wanted it all kept as quiet as possible, as if they were ashamed.

We suspect, and very much hope, that their wish may not be granted.

The Revd Mr Campbell means that the Secretary of State for Scotland in Westminster might refuse to present the Bill for King’s Assent. Let’s hope so.

Another Wings over Scotland post explains what the Bill actually does:

… one of the most regressive, dangerous and frankly absurd pieces of legislation the modern world has ever seen. Last week, [First Minister Nicola Sturgeon’s] government successfully managed to get the word ‘woman’ redefined from an adult human female to anyone to who has a piece of paper that says they are one.

Should obtaining this piece of paper involve a rigorous, measured process that takes psychological and criminal history into serious consideration and prioritises the safety of women and children, this would be permissible to the socially liberal. Alas though, the new GRA has shamelessly scrapped all safeguarding measures. For a man to legally become a woman now – and be entitled to access all female-only facilities, be it changing rooms or prisons, all he has to do is ‘live as’ a woman (whatever the hell that means) for three months followed by a three-month ‘reflection period’.

TRA-adjacent politicians have nowhere to hide with this now. They can no longer deny that sex-based rights will be grievously compromised and that predators and fetishists now have ease of access to women (and children’s) spaces, from bathrooms to sports teams.

In another post, Campbell linked to Tuesday’s proceedings where a Conservative MSP tried to raise an amendment calling for greater scrutiny of sex offenders wishing to change gender. Unfortunately, 64 SNP/Green/Lib Dem MSPs voted it down. In ‘The Disgraces of Scotland’, Campbell wrote:

The events marked simply and unquestionably the most shameful and contemptible moment in the history of the Scottish Parliament since 1707.

1707 was the year when the Act of Union was established between England and Scotland.

He also pointed out that voting down the amendment resulted in:

ceding the moral high ground to the Scottish Conservatives

Anyone who knows the Scots knows that anything Conservative is unpopular there. That said, the Scottish Conservatives are the official opposition party in Edinburgh.

It should be noted that anyone aged 16 1/2 and over can apply for a GRC. It would appear that no formal medical diagnosis will be required with this new legislation.

Campbell’s readers have much to say on the matter. Some say this is a deleterious influence from American pressure groups. Others say that women will be in great danger.

Both are likely possibilities.

None of the MSPs supporting the Bill thinks that women will have any problem with sex offenders or deviants. However, a British substack begs to differ. ‘This Never Happens’ is a lengthy catalogue of gender-changers around the world who have committed horrific crimes, many of a sexual nature. Another site with a similar catalogue can be found here.

It is ironic that a woman is in charge of Scotland and she has overseen this legislation. In fact, she has supported it from beginning to end.

Scotland, like Canada, was such a beautiful country once upon a time. When I say ‘beautiful’, I’m referring to people. Another spirit — the devil — is moving through both nations.

One positive outcome is that the Scottish Conservatives can use this legislation to their advantage during the next election cycle. Unlike the SNP, Scottish Labour and Scottish Lib Dems, they alone voted en masse against it, showing that they are the true defenders of women and girls.

An UnHerd columnist, Joan Smith, says that this will come soon to England, should Labour win the next general election:

The man sitting next to you on a tram in Edinburgh, or turning up for a women-only swimming session, may self-identify as a woman — and the law will support him every step of the way. Centuries-old assumptions about what is real, about what people see in front of them, are being overturned. And it’s coming to Westminster as well, if Sir Keir Starmer follows through on his proposal to ‘update’ the 2004 Gender Recognition Act.

We have less than two years before a Labour government comes to power, weighed down by promises to import the idiocy (I’m being polite here) of self-ID to the rest of the UK. Two years, in other words, to watch what happens when politicians reject biology, common sense and the imperative to protect women against male violence. 

In the meantime, prisons, hospitals and refuges outside Scotland will face the headache of what to do when a man with a Scottish Gender Recognition Certificate (GRC) — obtained with far fewer safeguards than elsewhere in the UK — demands access to women-only spaces. The prospect of expensive litigation is terrifying, but women’s organisations on both sides of the border are already preparing for the fight of their lives.

So crazed are MSPs by this ideology that on Tuesday evening they voted down an amendment that would have placed barriers in the way of convicted sex offenders who seek to apply for a GRC, complete with a new female name. They even rejected an amendment — proposed by Michelle Thomson, an SNP MSP who has waived anonymity to reveal her own experience of being raped when she was fourteen years old — that would have paused the process of acquiring a certificate for men charged with sexual offences.

This is an extremely troubling development. Let’s not forget that the SNP-Green government has pressed ahead with the legislation even after Lady Haldane’s judgment established last week that a GRC changes someone’s legal sex for the purposes of the 2010 Equality Act. Scottish women are now expected to accept that any man standing in front of them, waving a piece of paper, is a woman — even if they’re in court and the man is accused of raping them. 

It’s clear that a bill that was supposedly purely administrative has hugely expanded the number of individuals who can apply for a GRC, with catastrophic effects on women’s rights.

The rest of the UK is about to find out what it’s like living alongside a country in which observable sex no longer has any meaning. Welcome to Scotland, where the word ‘woman’ will now soon include any man who fancies it.

Conservatives in England and Wales can take heart from this for the general election in two years’ time, pointing to their colleagues north of the border. Who are the great defenders of women and girls? It certainly won’t be Labour.

Woman arrested for silent prayer

On December 6, a pro-life supporter from Worcestershire was arrested for praying silently in Birmingham in an exclusion zone around an abortion clinic.

Here is the video of her arrest:

A fundraiser is open for her:

BirminghamLive filed their report on Tuesday, December 20:

A woman has been charged with breaching an exclusion zone outside a Birmingham abortion clinic. Isabel Vaughan-Spruce, aged 45, from Malvern in Worcestershire, was arrested near the BPAS Robert Clinic in Kings Norton on December 6.

She was later charged with breaking a Public Space Protection Order, said by Birmingham City Council to have been introduced to ensure “people visiting and working there have clear access without fear of confrontation”. Vaughan-Spruce will appear at Birmingham Magistrates’ Court on February 2 next year.

A West Midlands Police spokesperson said: “Isabel Vaughan-Spruce, aged 45 from Geraldine Road, Malvern, was arrested on December 6 and subsequently charged on December 15 with four counts of failing to comply with a Public Space Protection Order (PSPO). She was bailed to appear at Birmingham Magistrates Court on February 2 2023.”

The police must feel threatened by prayer, especially that of the silent sort.

On Friday, December 23, UnHerd ‘s Mary Harrington gave her thoughts on the arrest:

It’s customary in these situations to decry the breach of liberal norms involved in arresting someone not for doing something wrong but merely thinking. But if, as I’ve suggested elsewhere, all politics is now post-liberal, that means it’s once again explicitly the case that state power is aligned with a widely-shared moral order

This is a drum I’ve been banging for a little while, for contra the fond imaginings of some liberals we never really stopped ordering power to sacred values. After all, it’s not really possible to have a functioning polity otherwise. This, I argued shortly before the pandemic, is why hate crime laws appeared a scant few years after the abolition of blasphemy laws: they are blasphemy laws. We’ve just updated what we considered blasphemous

…  Vaughan-Spruce’s arrest makes it clear that the zone surrounding an abortion centre is treated as sacred in a way that’s evidently no longer meaningfully the case (at least as far as the European court is concerned) of a church. She is an activist and director of March for Life UK, and has been previously arrested for protesting against abortion. But this in no way diminishes the growing sense that the activity being protected is also increasingly treated as sacred …

We have sacralised autonomy to such an extent that laws uphold women’s right to it, even at the cost of another radically dependent life. And the issue is growing ever more moralised, as evidenced by the fact that even thinking disapproving thoughts about this radical commitment to individual autonomy is now treated as blasphemous, in zones where its most extreme sacrifices are made

Wherever you stand on the practical issues surrounding abortion, this is indisputably a profound statement on the relative values we accord to freedom, care and dependency — one with profound ramifications for how we see the weak and helpless in any context. That the practice is taking on sacramental colouring, for a religion of atomisation, should give us all pause.

Indeed.

House of Lords Archbishop of Canterbury debate on asylum

On December 9, the House of Lords gave the Archbishop of Canterbury his annual debate. This year, the subject was the UK’s asylum and refugee policy.

I hope that readers will understand if I do not excerpt his speech here. They are free to read it for themselves.

We have taken in a record annual number of illegal migrants crossing the Channel this year, expected to be over 50,000.

We have also taken in large numbers of legitimate refugees and asylum seekers. We have also given visas to many thousands of legal migrants this year, particularly from Africa and Asia, namely India and Hong Kong.

UnHerd had a good analysis of what Welby said and our current predicament:

The Archbishop says he aims to support action that would “prevent small boats from crossing the channel”, but he also stresses that the UK is not taking many refugees and should take many more. 

Astonishingly, he dismisses the provision our country has made to welcome Hong Kong residents — well over 100,000 to date and many more to come — by saying “and that, by the way, is not asylum but financial visas”. It may not involve an application for asylum as such, but it clearly involves flight from oppression. Welby also draws the wrong conclusion from the fact that developing countries host many more refugees than developed countries. This is much cheaper than settlement in the West and makes return more likely. Developed countries should help pay the costs, and the UK leads the way in this regard.

The control Welby claims to support does not presently exist. The small boats cannot safely be turned around in the Channel and France will not accept their immediate return. The Rwanda plan is a rational (if imperfect) attempt to address the problem, removing asylum-seekers to a safe third country, where they will be protected, yet the Archbishop decries the plan on the grounds that it outsources our responsibilities. This makes no sense, for the UK not only accepts that Rwanda must comply with international standards, but also commits to funding the protection of those who prove to be refugees. Welby asserts that the plan has failed to deter. Indeed, because it has not yet been tried at all. 

The UK has good reason to resettle in safe third countries those who enter unlawfully on small boats, which would discourage others from (dangerous) unlawful entry and restore control of our borders. The historic tradition on which the Archbishop relies is alive and well in the provision our government has made, with wide public support, for temporary protection for Ukrainians escaping Russian aggression and for resettlement of the new Huguenots, the Hong Kong residents seeking to escape the oppressive reach of the Chinese Communist state

Lord Lilley — former Conservative MP Peter Lilley — posed the conundrum of loving one’s neighbour and not being able to accommodate everyone, especially those who arrive under false pretences:

This issue raises very difficult dilemmas for Christians. Being a very inadequate Christian myself, I take up the challenge from the most reverend Primate the Archbishop with trepidation: to try to formulate principles for governing our policy on asylum and migration. Not having direct access to the mind of God like the most reverend Primate the Archbishop, I seek those principles in the Bible.

I recall that our Lord said that the essence of Christianity is to love God and love our neighbour as ourselves. When asked who our neighbour is, he gave the parable of the good Samaritan, when a Samaritan helps a Jew—from which I deduce that our neighbour is not just the person next door to us and not necessarily a member of our own nation; it can be anyone. The first principle I therefore deduce is that, although charity begins at home, as a lot of my constituents used to tell me, it does not necessarily end at home. I am at one with the most reverend Primate the Archbishop on that.

Secondly, the Samaritan did what he practically could. We may be called on to help anyone we practically can, but we cannot help everyone. Again, the most reverend Primate the Archbishop recognised that and it is important that we recognise that our responsibilities are finite, in this respect.

Thirdly, when the Levite and the Jewish priest reached their destination, I have no doubt that they deplored how, owing to years of austerity, there had been insufficient spending on police and the health service to prevent the problem arising in the first place or to treat the person, instead of leaving it to the passing Samaritan. Therefore, my third principle is that, to be a good Samaritan, you have to give care, help and so on at your expense. We, as politicians, may have to take decisions on behalf of others but, in doing so, we should have consideration for the impact we are having on others and not imagine we are being virtuous when we do good at their expense.

The first principle is that charity begins at home, in how we treat people who have come to settle here. When I was a child, mass immigration into this country was just beginning. The parish in which I lived asked each family to link up with a migrant family, many of whom were lonely, isolated and, at worst, facing hostility. My family was linked up to a delightful Mauritian couple, whom we would invite to supper every few weeks. We became good friends. That was done by parishes across south London. I would love to hear from Bishops who have not yet spoken about what the churches are doing today to help integrate those who are here in our society and to be the good Samaritans to our neighbours from abroad.

But charity does not end at home. I pay tribute to those tens of thousands of people who opened their homes to families fleeing the bombing in Ukraine, while their menfolk remained to fight for their country. We should not imagine we are sharing in being good Samaritans if we throw open the doors of our country to everybody because, if we do that, we are doing good at others’ expense. We are, in effect, saying that migrants, be they legal or illegal, asylum seekers or otherwise, through housing benefit and social housing, will have access to rented and social homes. We all have our own homes, so we will not be affected. Therefore, more young people will have to wait at home or live in cramp bed-sitters for longer, because of what we, as legislators, think we are doing generously, without taking the impact on others into account.

The second principle is that our neighbour can be anyone, but it cannot be everyone. Millions of people want to come here. Look at the impact of the green card system the Americans operate, when they make 30,000 visas to the US available to certain countries and say, “Anyone can apply; there is a ballot.” Some 9% of the population of Albania applied when they heard about that being offered to them, as did 11% of the Armenian and 14% of the Liberian populations. These were only the people who heard about it and responded. The potential number who would like to come to America or Europe, if we open these so-called direct routes, would be enormous. Will we say to those who apply, at an embassy or some place abroad, that they would have the same legal rights, and opportunities to appeal or for judicial review if things are turned down? If so, potentially millions of people would join the queue. It would not shorten but lengthen it, so we have to restrict and to prioritise.

I submit to noble Lords that the priority should not be the boat people. They are not coming by boat from Basra, Somalia or Eritrea; they are coming from France, Belgium and Germany. Why are they coming here rather than staying in those safe countries? They are three or four times as likely to be rejected there. France, in the last year before the pandemic, forcibly repatriated 34,000 people. I find some strange double standards being applied here. There are no criticisms of France for being much stricter than us or of us for being much laxer than them, but one or the other must be the case.

I am coming to an end. If it is morally and legally right for the French to try to prevent people leaving their shores, and for us to pay and support the French in so doing, it should be morally and legally right for us to return them. If they cannot be returned, it is reasonable to try to deter them by saying, “If you come here, you will go to Rwanda. You always have the opportunity to stay in France.” I submit that we do not always consider these opportunities.

Later on, the Archbishop of York, the Right Revd Stephen Cottrell, spoke, an excerpt of which follows. The transcript hardly does his indignation justice. He ripped right into Lord Lilley:

I say to the noble Lord, Lord Lilley, that everyone is our neighbour. Of course, we cannot take everybody, but that makes it even more important that we have a fair system for everyone.

Dehumanising language promotes fear. Threat of destitution is used as a deterrent. Children are treated as if they are adults. Yet in our own country, among our own people, in our churches, other faith groups and communities, some things have gone well, such as the Homes for Ukraine scheme, where many people have found a home, other family members have joined them, and people have been able to get work. This is really good.

But why has our response to people fleeing other conflicts been different? Currently, the definition of family in our asylum system would not allow someone to join their sibling even if they were the last remaining relative, and being able to work and contribute is a long way off. The tragedy of our system lies in its exceptionalism, meaning that people receive differential treatment usually because of their country of origin. That underpins the Nationality and Borders Act, and I fear that further legislative action will be the same.

But we could learn from what is happening in our communities. The noble Lord, Lord Lilley, asked us directly about integration. I do not know where to begin. In hundreds of parishes and schools, and in other faith communities up and down our country, that is what we are doing—in English language classes, in befriending and in teaching people. I would be the first to admit that there are lots of things about the Church of England that could be better, but that is something that we are doing, alongside others, and it shows the best of British.

We need a system that will simply provide safe and legal routes for everyone to have equal opportunities to apply for asylum. All I am saying is that I think that would be good for us, as well as for the people who are fleeing unimaginable conflict and evil.

Finally, when it comes to being able to work, the Church of England, alongside the Refugee Council and the Government’s own Migration Advisory Committee, is a long-standing supporter of the Lift the Ban campaign.

I say all this—like many of us, I would wish to say more, but the most reverend Primate the Archbishop of Canterbury said most of it—as winter arrives, and it is cold, and a cost of living crisis will inevitably affect the British people’s capacity to be hospitable. I say simply that a functioning asylum system is not a threat to our social cohesion as some fear or predict, but a dysfunctional, unfair one is.

As every small child knows at this time of the year, as the noble Lord, Lord Cormack, mentioned, Mary and Joseph came looking for somewhere to stay, but there was no room at the inn. Saying no, accusing those who are being hospitable of being naive, or passing the buck are easy, but saying yes, with a fair and equal system for everyone, opens up blessings for everyone.

A week later, Cottrell featured in an article in The Telegraph: ‘Forgive my “predictable leftie rant” on asylum, says Archbishop of York’.

It seems he knew he was out of order with Lord Lilley, who deserved the same courtesy as the peers agreeing with the Archbishop. It was good for Lord Lilley to speak politely on behalf of the British public.

Britons are paying upwards of £7 million a day just to house those crossing the Channel.

GB News’s Mark Steyn and his guest hosts have been covering the topic nearly every night:

Taxpayers are deeply upset, especially during our cost of living crisis, which is causing many to choose between food and fuel.

Combine that with taxpayers’ personal expenses for Net Zero, and we are heading for disaster:

Red Wall Conservative MP Jonathan Gullis tried unsuccessfully to raise a Private Member’s Bill to get illegal migrants to Rwanda sooner rather than later:

Hotels across England are being taken over by companies working for the Home Office to house the Channel-crossers:

Hospitality workers in those hotels are losing their jobs as the aforementioned companies install their own staff to manage them:

The December 22 show also featured the seemingly intractable problem:

Former Sun editor Kelvin MacKenzie then swung by to weigh in on how much migrants are costing Britons.

The Home Office — read ‘civil servants’ — must do something now.

It’s obvious people are watching GB News, because they beat BBC News for the first time ever on December 14:

Onwards and upwards!

House of Commons recess debate

On Tuesday, December 20, the House of Commons held its Christmas recess debate.

Normally, these are rather jolly affairs where MPs air wish lists for their constituencies for the New Year. However, this year’s contributions were rather grim, including those from Conservative MPs.

Once again, providentially, I tuned in at the right time to hear the member for Don Valley, Conservative MP Nick Fletcher. He closed his speech saying the following, the first part of which came as news to me:

Finally, Christian friends across the House tried to secure a Backbench debate on Christmas and Christianity, but by all accounts we were not successful. While I have this moment, I want to remind those in this place, and anyone who cares to watch, that although Christmas is celebrated in many ways across the world, the real reason is the birth of our saviour, Jesus Christ. He was sent as a saviour, and with the promise that whoever believes in him will have eternal life. I do not want anyone ever to forget that. Merry Christmas everybody.

Jim Shannon, a Democratic Unionist Party MP (i.e. from Northern Ireland), was one of the last MPs to speak. A devout Anglican — yes, they still exist — he gave a beautiful speech on the meaning of the season, most of which follows:

It is no secret that I love this time of year—I may have mentioned that a time or three in this House. There are so many things to love about Christmas: time with family; good food; fellowship; and, for me, the singing of an old Christmas carol as we gather in church. But the most wonderful thing about Christmas for me is the hope that it holds. I wish to speak this year about the Christ in Christmas, because, too often, we miss that. It would be good this year to focus on what Christmas is really all about. I ask Members to stick with me on this one.

The message of Christmas is not simply the nativity scene that is so beautifully portrayed in schools and churches throughout this country, but rather the hope that lies in the fact that the baby was born to provide a better future for each one of us in this House and across the world. What a message of hope that is; it is a message that each one of us needs. No matter who we are in the UK, life is tough. The past three years have been really, really tough—for those who wonder how to heat their homes; for those who have received bad news from their doctor; for those whose children have not caught up from the covid school closures; for those who mourn the loss of a loved one; for those who mourn the breakdown of a family unit; and for those who are alone and isolated. This life is not easy, and yet there is hope. That is because of the Christmas story. It is because Christ came to this world and took on the form of man so that redemption’s plan could be fulfilled. There is hope for each one of us to have that personal relationship with Christ that enables us to read the scriptures in the Bible and understand that the creator, God, stands by his promises.

I want to quote, if I may, from four Bible texts. To know that

“my God will meet all your needs according to the riches of his glory in Christ Jesus.”

That is from Philippians 4:19.

To trust that

“I am the Lord that heals you.”

To believe that

“all things are possible.”

That is Matthew 17:20.

We can be comforted by Psalm 147:3:

“He heals the brokenhearted, And binds up their wounds.”

Isaiah 41:10 says:

“So do not fear, for I am with you; do not be dismayed, for I am your God. I will strengthen you and help you; I will uphold you with my righteous right hand.”

The strength for today and bright hope for tomorrow come only when we understand who Christ is. One of my favourite Christmas passages is actually not the account of his birth, but the promise of who he is. We all know this:

“For to us a Child shall be born, to us a Son shall be given; And the government shall be upon His shoulder, And His name shall be called Wonderful Counsellor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.”

In a world where our very foundation seems to be shifting, how awesome it is to know that this our God is only a prayer away. A group of people come to the House of Commons two or three times a week, and pray for Parliament. I have to say how important it is to have those prayers.

As we think of this passing year—something that many of us do—we think about what has happened and perhaps look forward to 2023 with renewed hope for the future. I think we should look forward with hope; we have to do that. We should always try to be positive. In this passing year, my mind goes to the loss of Her Majesty the Queen. Many of us felt that so deeply, and yet her passing also carried the message of hope, because of Christ. I quoted this when we had the tributes to Her Majesty. It is important, I think, to put it on the record again.

The wonderful message that the Queen gave in one of her cherished Christmas messages—this one was in 2014—was crystal clear:

“For me, the life of Jesus Christ, the prince of peace, whose birth we celebrate today, is an inspiration and an anchor in my life.”

That was Her Majesty talking.

“A role model of reconciliation and forgiveness, he stretched out his hands in love, acceptance and healing. Christ’s example has taught me to seek to respect and value all people of whatever faith or none.”

It is my firm belief that this true message of Christmas is what can bring hope and healing to a nation that can seem so fractured. When I look at the headlines, I sometimes despair, but that is also when I most enjoy my constituency work, and getting to see glimpses of community spirit and goodness that are done daily and yet are rarely reported. Her Majesty’s speech in 2016 reflected that, when she said:

“Billions of people now follow Christ’s teaching and find in him the guiding light for their lives. I am one of them because Christ’s example helps me to see the value of doing small things with great love, whoever does them and whatever they themselves believe.”

At that point, Conservative MP John Hayes intervened:

It is heart-warming and refreshing to hear the hon. Gentleman’s plain and confident affirmation of his faith, and our faith too. By the way he speaks, he encourages all of us to reflect on the Judeo-Christian foundations on which our society and our civilisation are built, and I just wanted to thank him for that.

Jim Shannon thanked John Hayes before continuing:

The right hon. Gentleman is most kind. I am giving just a slight reminder of what Christmas is about. I think we all realise that, but sometimes it is good to remind ourselves of it. The example of Christ is one of humility, coming to the earth as a vulnerable baby, and of purpose, as we see the gold given that symbolises royalty, the frankincense to highlight his deity and myrrh to symbolise his purposeful death to redeem us all.

I am a strong advocate in this House for freedom of religion or belief, as the Leader of the House knows. She is always very kind; every week, when I suggest something that should be highlighted, she always takes those things back to the Ministers responsible. I appreciate that very much, as do others in this House. I am proud to be associated with that wonderful cause, and as long as God spares me I will speak for the downtrodden of my own faith and others. I speak for all faiths, because that is who I am, and so do others in this House with the same belief.

At the same time, however, like Her late Majesty, I am proud to be a follower of Christ. At this time of year I simply want the House to know the hope that can be found in Christ, not simply at Christmas, but for a lifetime. The babe of Bethlehem was Christ on the cross and our redeemer at the resurrection, and that gives me hope and offers hope for those who accept him and it.

From the bottom of my heart, Mr Deputy Speaker, I thank you in particular, since you have presided over this speech and the past few hours. I thank Mr Speaker and all the other Deputy Speakers, with all the things that are happening to them, the Clerks and every staff member in this place for the tremendous job they do and the graceful spirit in which everything has been carried out in the last year. I thank right hon. and hon. Members, who are friends all—I say that honestly to everyone.

I thank my long-suffering wife, who is definitely long-suffering, and my mum—

At that point, Shannon broke down in tears.

Leader of the House Penny Mordaunt stepped in quickly and graciously while Shannon composed himself:

The hon. Gentleman has often summed up how people feel, particularly at this time of year. I know he has had losses over the past few years, and he always manages to sum up the feeling of this House. Many Members in this debate have spoken about constituents or family they have lost, and we appreciate his bringing up these issues, as I appreciate all Members’ doing so. There will be some people thinking about spending Christmas apart from family they are not able to see, or having suffered those losses. I thank him and we are all willing him strength as he continues his speech.

After a pause, Shannon resumed and concluded:

I thank the Leader of the House for that. I mentioned my long-suffering wife; we have been married 34 years, so she is very long-suffering, and that is probably a good thing, because we are still together. My mum is 91 years old and I suspect she is sitting watching the Parliament channel right now to see what her eldest son is up to and what he is saying, so again that is something.

I also thank my staff members. I told one of my Opposition colleagues last week that I live in a woman’s world, because I have six girls in my office who look after me and make sure I am right …

Lastly, I thank my Strangford constituents, who have stuck by me as a councillor, as a Member of the Legislative Assembly and as a Member of Parliament in this House. This is my 30th year of service in local government and elsewhere. They have been tremendously kind to me and I appreciate them. I want to put on record what a privilege it is to serve them in this House and to do my best for them.

I wish everyone a happy Christmas, and may everyone have a prosperous, peaceful and blessed new year, as we take the example of Christ and act with humility and purpose in this place to effect the change that we all want and that is so needed in our nation—this great United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland, always better together.

Mr Deputy Speaker Nigel Evans said:

Your mother and wife will be as proud of you as we all are, Jim. [Hon. Members: “Hear, hear!] As a person of faith, I thank you very much for putting the Christ back into Christmas in your speech. We come now to the wind-ups.

When acknowledging MPs’ contributions in the debate, Penny Mordaunt said:

The hon. Member for Strangford (Jim Shannon) should never have to apologise for mentioning Christ in this place—especially at Christmas. We are in a place where the architecture is designed to turn our faces to God. I thank him for his Christmas message.

And, finally — best Christmas wishes to Mark Steyn

In closing, hearty Christmas wishes to Mark Steyn who is recovering from two successive heart attacks:

He is recovering in France but told viewers more on December 19. Incredibly, the first heart attack happened before he presented one of his nightly shows on the self-styled People’s Channel. He presented it anyway. Wow:

The GB News host suffered the first one “without recognising” the symptoms, before hosting his show on The People’s Channel.

Speaking on his current absence from GB News, Steyn said: “I’m too medicated to manage artful evasions.

“I had two heart attacks. Because I didn’t recognise the first one, as such, the second one was rather more severe.”

The experienced broadcaster spoke about the shocking ordeal, saying he “doesn’t look right”, looking back at images of himself presenting the Mark Steyn show during the first heart attack.

Speaking on SteynOnline, he said: “The good news is that the first one occurred when I was in London. If you get a chance to see that day’s Mark Steyn Show, with hindsight, I don’t look quite right in close-ups.

“By not recognising it as a heart attack, I deftly avoided being one of those stories we feature on the show every couple of nights about people in the UK calling emergency and being left in the street for 15 hours before an ambulance shows up.

“I had a second heart attack in France. With Audrey [his wife?] helping me in the ambulance, she told me I was 15 minutes from death.”

The presenter also revealed he would remain in France over Christmas and New Year as he is unable to leave medical care and return to New Hampshire.

GB News viewers will be sending Mark every best wish for a speedy recovery — and a healthy, happy New Year! We look forward to seeing him on the airwaves soon!

Thus far, most of my series on Matt Hancock has focused on his handling of the coronavirus pandemic.

Those who missed them can catch up on parts 1, 2, 3 and 4.

Even though the vaccine was about to be distributed throughout the UK, people in England were frustrated by the restrictions which the Government had imposed indefinitely. Effectively, we had had a Christmas lockdown, with more restrictions that came in on Boxing Day. As I covered in my last post, even at the end of the year, Hancock could not say when they would be lifted.

This post covers the first half of 2021 with excerpts from Hancock’s Pandemic Diaries as serialised in the Mail along with news I had collected during that time. Pandemic Diaries entries come from this excerpt, unless otherwise specified.

Vaccines and side-effects

Former Times journalist Isabel Oakeshott co-authored Pandemic Diaries. On December 7, The Spectator posted her impressions of Hancock and the pandemic.

This is what she had to say about the vaccine policy (emphases mine):

The crusade to vaccinate the entire population against a disease with a low mortality rate among all but the very elderly is one of the most extraordinary cases of mission creep in political history. On 3 January 2021, Hancock told The Spectator that once priority groups had been jabbed (13 million doses) then ‘Cry freedom’. Instead, the government proceeded to attempt to vaccinate every-one, including children, and there was no freedom for another seven months. Sadly, we now know some young people died as a result of adverse reactions to a jab they never needed. Meanwhile experts have linked this month’s deadly outbreak of Strep A in young children to the weakening of their immune systems because they were prevented from socialising. Who knows what other long-term health consequences of the policy may emerge?

Why did the goalposts move so far off the pitch? I believe multiple driving forces combined almost accidentally to create a policy which was never subjected to rigorous cost-benefit analysis. Operating in classic Whitehall-style silos, key individuals and agencies – the JCVI, Sage, the MHRA – did their particular jobs, advising on narrow and very specific safety and regulatory issues. At no point did they all come together, along with ministers and, crucially, medical and scientific experts with differing views on the merits of whole-population vaccination, for a serious debate about whether such an approach was desirable or wise.

The apparent absence of any such discussion at the top of government is quite remarkable. The Treasury raised the occasional eyebrow at costs, but if a single cabinet minister challenged the policy on any other grounds, I’ve seen no evidence of it.

In Hancock’s defence, he would have been crucified for failing to order enough vaccines for everybody, just in case. He deserves credit for harnessing the full power of the state to accelerate the development of the Oxford/AstraZeneca jab. He simply would not take no or ‘too difficult’ for an answer, forcing bureaucratic regulators and plodding public health bodies to bend to his will. He is adamant that he never cut corners on safety, though the tone of his internal communications suggest that in his hurtling rush to win the global race for a vaccine, he personally would have been willing to take bigger risks. I believe he would have justified any casualties as sacrifices necessary for the greater good. Fortunately (in my view) his enthusiasm was constrained by medical and scientific advisers, and by the Covid vaccine tsar Kate Bingham, who was so alarmed by his haste that at one point she warned him that he might ‘kill people’. She never thought it was necessary to jab everyone and repeatedly sought to prevent Hancock from over-ordering. Once he had far more than was needed for the initial target group of elderly and clinically vulnerable patients, he seems to have felt compelled to use it. Setting ever more ambitious vaccination rollout targets was a useful political device, creating an easily understood schedule for easing lockdown and allowing the government to play for time amid the threat of new variants. The strategy gave the Conservatives a big bounce in the polls, which only encouraged the party leadership to go further.

Now on to side-effects:

Given the unprecedented speed at which the vaccine was developed, the government might have been expected to be extra careful about recording and analysing any reported side-effects. While there was much anxiety about potential adverse reactions during clinical trials, once it passed regulatory hurdles, ministers seemed to stop worrying. In early January 2021, Hancock casually asked Chris Whitty ‘where we are up to on the system for monitoring events after rollout’

Not exactly reassuringly, Whitty replied that the system was ‘reasonable’ but needed to get better. This exchange, which Hancock didn’t consider to be of any significance, is likely to be seized on by those with concerns about vaccine safety.

January 2021

On January 2, Hancock hoped to ease red tape allowing NHS physicians to come out of retirement to be part of the vaccination drive:

On January 3, The Conservative Woman‘s co-editor and qualified barrister Laura Perrins blasted the Government for keeping Britons under ‘humiliating and undignified treatment‘:

Schools reopened in England on Monday, January 4. They closed again by the end of the day.

Monday, January 4:

Millions of children returned to school today, only to be told schools are closing again tomorrow. After sleeping on it, Boris agreed we have no choice but to go for another national lockdown.

On Thursday, January 7, Hancock appeared before the Health and Social Care Select Committee to answer questions about lockdown. He came across as arrogant, in my opinion:

Monday, January 11:

A message from a friend tipping me off that straight-talking cricket legend Sir Geoffrey Boycott is very unhappy about the delay in the second dose. He’s a childhood hero of mine, so I volunteered to call him personally to explain. I rang him and made the case as well as I could, but it was clear he was far from persuaded.

That morning, Guido Fawkes’s cartoonist posted his ghoulish perspective on Hancock: ‘A nightmare before vaccination’. It was hard to disagree:

Tuesday, January 12:

A bunch of GPs are refusing to go into care homes where there are Covid cases. Apparently there are cases in about a third of care homes, meaning many residents aren’t getting vaccinated. Evidently I was naive to think £25 a jab would be enough of an incentive. We may have to use the Army to fill the gap.

Also that day:

Not only is [Sir Geoffrey] Boycott in the Press having a go at me; now [former Speaker of the House of Commons] Betty Boothroyd is kicking off as well. Given that I personally ensured she got her first jab fast, it feels a bit rich. It’s particularly miserable being criticised by people I’ve grown up admiring and went out of my way to help, but welcome to the life of a politician.

On Wednesday, January 13, Hancock still had no answer as to when restrictions would be lifted. Many of us thought he was enjoying his power too much:

Friday, January 15:

An extraordinary row with Pfizer bosses, who are trying to divert some of our vaccine supply to the EU!

When I got to the Cabinet Room, the PM practically had smoke coming out of his ears. He was in full bull-in-a-china-shop mode, pacing round the room growling.

What really riled him was the fact that only last night he was speaking to Pfizer CEO Albert Bourla, and Bourla made no mention of it! I was wary: when the PM is in this mood, he can really lash out. I knew I’d need to be as diplomatic as possible if I wanted to avoid getting caught in the crossfire.

Monday, January 18:

Pfizer has relented. Following a robust exchange between Bourla and the PM, lo and behold, they’ve located an ’emergency supply’, which is now heading our way.

On Tuesday, January 19, Hancock got coronavirus and had to self-isolate. This was his second bout. The first one was earlier in 2020:

Julia Hartley-Brewer of talkRADIO posed an interesting question about re-infection and T-cells. Hmm:

Thursday, January 21:

[Social Care minister] Helen Whately wants to find a way of allowing indoor visits again. I’m hardline on this: we cannot have Covid taking off in care homes again.

Monday, January 25:

The EU health commissioner has tweeted that ‘in the future’ any company that produces vaccines in the EU will have to provide ‘early notification’ if they want to sell it to a third-party country. In other words, they’ll need permission. Totally desperate stuff! They’re doing it purely because they screwed up procurement.

Tuesday, January 26:

Today we reached a really grim milestone in the pandemic: more than 100,000 deaths in this country. So many people grieving; so much loss.

Wednesday, January 27:

A humiliating climbdown from the EU, who clearly realised their ‘export ban’ wouldn’t end well. It followed frantic diplomacy on our side, plus our lawyers confirming that they wouldn’t be able to block our supply anyway. What a ridiculous waste of time and energy.

Tonight I’m doing a night shift at Basildon Hospital [in Essex]. Front-line staff are still under horrendous pressure, and the best way for me to understand is to see it for myself.

Thursday, January 28:

The night shift has left me completely drained. I don’t know how they do it day in and day out: heroic. I donned full PPE, and got stuck in, helping to turn patients and fetch and carry. In intensive care, I watched a man consent to being intubated because his blood oxygen levels weren’t sustainable.

He spoke to the doctor, who said: ‘We want to put a tube in, because we don’t think you’ll make it unless we do that.’

His chances of waking up were 50:50. He knew that. It was an unbelievably awful moment. He reluctantly agreed, and within a minute he was flat out on the ventilator. The doctor next to me said: ‘I don’t think we’ll see him again.’

When my shift was over, I went down to the rest area. One of the registrars told me he’d just had to phone the wife of the patient to say he’d been intubated.

‘We’re doing this, we all know it’s our duty, we’re coping with a second wave — but we can’t have a third,’ he said. Then he burst into tears.

That day, an article appeared in Spiked about the Government’s censorship of lockdown sceptics. ‘Shouldn’t we “expose” the government rather than its critics?’ says:

It’s true ‘lockdown sceptics’ have made mistakes. But the government’s survival depends on none of us ever understanding that lockdown sceptics are not in charge – it is.

they’re gunning for people like Sunetra Gupta, the professor of theoretical epidemiology at Oxford University … 

Pre-Covid, I would estimate 97 per cent of the population couldn’t have picked Matt Hancock out of a police line-up if he had just mugged them. So when he stood up in the House of Commons, last January, to state that ‘the Chinese city of Wuhan has been the site of an outbreak of 2019-nCoV’, there was no reason to doubt him when he said ‘the public can be assured that the whole of the UK is always well-prepared for these types of outbreaks’. In February, he explained ‘our belts and braces approach to protecting the public’ and insisted that ‘the clinical advice about the risk to the public has not changed and remains moderate’.

On 23 March, he made a complete volte-farce. (That was not a typo.) The ‘risk to the public’ wasn’t ‘moderate’ at all. ‘It is incredibly important that people stay more than two metres away from others wherever they are or stay at home wherever possible’, he told the Today programme, adding those who weren’t doing so were ‘very selfish’. Four days later, Hancock tested positive for coronavirus. Seven days after that (3 April), he opened the Nightingale hospital (‘a spectacular and almost unbelievable feat’), while ‘blowing his nose’ and not appearing ‘to be at 100 per cent’. Two days after that, he threatened to change the rules again so that people who weren’t ill couldn’t go outside at all: ‘If you don’t want us to have to take the step to ban exercise of all forms outside of your own home, then you’ve got to follow the rules’ …

We’ll skip over Hancock’s botching of track and trace, the dodgy private contracts he’s had a hand in rewarding, how he breaks the rules he makes for us while cracking jokes about it, or his intervention into the debate about whether scotch eggs constitute a ‘substantial meal’.

In the autumn of 2020, pubs could only open if they served a plate of food. Why, I do not know.

The article mentions Hancock’s tears on Good Morning Britain as he watched the first two people get the first doses of the vaccine. Then:

Days later, all this ‘emotion’ had gone down well, so Hancock did more of it – in parliament – announcing that his step-grandfather had died of Covid-19. (‘He was in a home and he had Alzheimer’s – the usual story’, Hancock’s father told the Daily Mail. ‘It was just a few weeks ago.’)

‘Beware of men who cry’, Nora Ephron once wrote. ‘It’s true that men who cry are sensitive to and in touch with feelings, but the only feelings they tend to be sensitive to and in touch with are their own.’ Was Hancock crying because he was devastated that his step-grandfather was not kept alive long enough to receive the vaccine (suffering from Alzheimer’s – so it would not be a leap to fear – bewildered, confused, and very likely denied the comfort of the touch of anyone he loved for most of the year)? Or was it because the political survival of the Conservative government depends on being proved right about lockdown – and that depends on one thing: the vaccine …

Hancock told the Spectator that Covid-19 will never be eradicated. But he sees no reason for his extraordinary powers as health secretary to cease even if – by some miracle – it does. In late November, Hancock told a Commons health and science committee that he wants to end the British culture of ‘soldiering on’. Having built a ‘massive diagnostics capacity’, he said, ‘we must hold on to it. And afterwards we must use it not just for coronavirus, but everything. In fact, I want to have a change in the British way of doing things, where if in doubt, get a test. It doesn’t just refer to coronavirus, but to any illness that you might have.’

The idea that we would continue to test, track and trace healthy people who have cold symptoms is so psychotic it’s a struggle to understand whether the man is even aware of how many people weren’t tested for cancer last year. The only hero in this context is Professor Sunetra Gupta. All she’s done is express her fears that lockdown – long-term – will do more harm than good – which is what she believes. In China, Zhang Zhan was also worried that people were dying and the government didn’t want anyone to know about it, so she tried her best to warn everyone in society that more people were going to die if nothing was done. If China had been honest about the outbreak from the start, maybe, just maybe, 100,000 lives would have been saved from Covid-19 here …

Maybe anyone who shares Gupta’s fears are ‘fringe cranks’, but ‘fringe cranks’ have as much right to say what they think as anyone else. And especially when the government has stripped us of all our rights to do pretty much anything else, while refusing to reveal when – if ever – our rights will be returned. This isn’t China. It’s Britain. And we do things differently here. Or at least we used to – in those halcyon days when none of us had a clue who Matt Hancock was

Friday, January 29:

Scandalous behaviour by certain care home operators, who are unscrupulously using staff with Covid. Inspectors have identified no fewer than 40 places where this is happening.

Wow. I am shocked. It underlines why we need to make jabs mandatory for people working in social care. The PM supports me on this.

February 2021

Monday, February 1:

A YouGov poll suggests 70 per cent of Britons think the Government is handling the vaccine rollout well, while 23 per cent think we’re doing badly. I forwarded it to [NHS England chief executive] Simon Stevens.

‘Who the heck are the 23 per cent, for goodness’ sake!!’ he replied.

I don’t know. Maybe the same 20 per cent of people who believe UFOs have landed on Earth? Or the five million Brits who think the Apollo moon landings were faked?

Thursday, February 4:

Tobias Ellwood [Tory MP] thinks GPs are deliberately discouraging patients from using vaccination centres so they get their jabs in GP surgeries instead. I’m sure he’s right. That way, the GPs make more money.

On Saturday, February 6, The Telegraph reported that Hancock wanted to ‘take control of the NHS’. Most Britons would agree that something needs to be done — just not by him:

 

On Sunday, February 7, The Express‘s Health and Social Affairs editor said a specialist thought that the Government was using virus variants to control the public. Many would have agreed with that assessment:

Monday, February 8:

We’ve now vaccinated almost a quarter of all adults in the UK!

Also that day:

I’ve finally, finally got my way on making vaccines mandatory for people who work in care homes.

Because of that, a lot of employees resigned from their care home posts and have gone into other work, especially hospitality.

A poll that day showed that the public was happy with the Government’s handling of the pandemic. John Rentoul must have looked at the wrong line in the graph. Rishi Sunak, then Chancellor, came out the best for shaking the magic money tree:

On Tuesday, February 9, Hancock proposed 10-year jail sentences for people breaking travel restrictions. This referred to people travelling from ‘red list’ countries, but, nonetheless, pointed to a slippery slope:

The Conservative Woman‘s co-editor and qualified barrister Laura Perrins pointed out a logic gap in sentencing:

Spiked agreed with Perrins’s assessment in ‘Matt Hancock is behaving like a tyrant’:

Health secretary Matt Hancock announced new, staggeringly authoritarian enforcement measures in the House of Commons today.

Passengers returning from one of the 33 designated ‘red list’ countries will have to quarantine in government-approved hotels from next week. Anyone who lies on their passenger-locator form about whether they have visited one of these countries faces imprisonment for up to 10 years. As the Telegraph’s assistant head of travel, Oliver Smith, has pointed out, this is longer than some sentences for rape (the average sentence is estimated to be eight years).

In addition, passengers who fail to quarantine in hotels when required to do so will face staggering fines of up to £10,000.

This is horrifying. Of course, we need to take steps to manage the arrival of travellers from countries with high levels of infection, particularly since different variants of Covid have emerged. But to threaten people with a decade behind bars or a life-ruining fine for breaching travel rules is a grotesque abuse of state power.

During the pandemic, we have faced unprecedented attacks on our civil liberties. We have been ordered to stay at home and have been banned from socialising under the threat of fines. But this latest move is the most draconian yet …

we have now reached the stage where a 10-year sentence is considered an appropriate punishment for lying on a travel form.

Matt Hancock is behaving like a tyrant.

Meanwhile, Hancock’s fellow Conservative MPs wanted answers as to when lockdown would end. The Mail reported:

Furious Tories savaged Matt Hancock over a ‘forever lockdown‘ today after the Health Secretary warned border restrictions may need to stay until autumn — despite figures showing the UK’s epidemic is firmly in retreat.

Lockdown-sceptic backbenchers took aim at Mr Hancock when he unveiled the latest brutal squeeze aimed at preventing mutant coronavirus strains getting into the country …

… hopes the world-beating vaccine roll-out will mean lockdown curbs can be significantly eased any time soon were shot down today by Mr Hancock, who unveiled the latest suite of border curbs and warned they could last until the Autumn when booster vaccines will be available.  

As of Monday travellers from high-risk ‘red list’ countries will be forced to spend 10 days in ‘quarantine hotels’, and all arrivals must test negative three times through gold-standard PCR coronavirus tests before being allowed to freely move around the UK. Anyone who lies about whether they have been to places on the banned list recently will face up to 10 years in prison. 

The fallout continued the next day. See below.

Wednesday, February 10:

Meg Hillier [Labour MP], who chairs the Public Accounts Committee, has started an infuriating campaign accusing ‘Tory ministers’ of running a ‘chumocracy’ over PPE contracts. How pitifully low. I’m incandescent.

What Meg fails to acknowledge is that when the pandemic kicked off, of course we had to use the emergency procedure for buying, which allows officials to move fast and not tender everything for months.

And when people got in contact [about] PPE, of course we forwarded on the proposals for civil servants to look at.

Even the Labour Party were getting involved — it was a national crisis and these leads have proved invaluable.

[Shadow Chancellor] Rachel Reeves wrote to Michael Gove at the time, complaining that a series of offers weren’t being taken up. Officials looked into her proposals, too.

I’m even more offended because I used to respect Meg. It’s so offensive for a supposedly grown-up politician to bend the truth in this way.

Labour’s Deputy Leader Angela Rayner was angry at the Conservatives. What else is new?

This story has not gone away. There was a debate about it in the Commons this month.

Fallout continued from February 9 over Hancock’s never-ending lockdown.

His fellow Conservative, Sir Charles Walker MP, gave an interview saying that Hancock was ‘robbing people of hope’. He was also appalled by the prospect of a 10-year prison term for travelling from a red list country:

With regard to lockdowns, recall that at the end of 2020, Hancock said that only the vulnerable needed vaccinating, then we could all, in his words, ‘Cry freedom’. In the space of a few weeks, he had a change of tune:

Thursday, February 11:

So here we are, in the depths of the bleakest lockdown, with the virus still picking off hundreds of victims every week, and Test and Trace officials have been having secret talks about scaling back. Unbelievable!

I told them there was no way they should stand down any lab capacity, but I’m told they’re getting a very different signal from the Treasury.

Friday, February 12:

The Left never ceases to amaze. The bleeding hearts who run North West London CCG (one of many health quangos nobody will miss when they’re abolished) have taken it upon themselves to prioritise vaccinating asylum seekers. They have fast-tracked no fewer than 317 such individuals — ‘predominantly males in their 20s and 30s’.

So, while older British citizens quietly wait their turn, we are fast-tracking people who aren’t in high-risk categories and may not even have any right to be here?

Meanwhile, some of our vaccine supply has met an untimely end. I’d just reached the end of a tricky meeting when a sheepish-looking official knocked on my office door. He’d been dispatched to inform me that half a million doses of the active ingredient that makes up the vaccine have gone down the drain.

Some poor lab technician literally dropped a bag of the vaccine on the floor. Half a million doses in one dropped bag! I decided not to calculate how much Butter Fingers has cost us. Mistakes happen.

On February 22, CapX asked, ‘Why isn’t Matt Hancock in jail?’

It was about Labour’s accusations about procurement contracts for the pandemic. The article comes out in Hancock’s favour:

On Thursday, Mr Justice Chamberlain sitting in the High Court ruled that Matt Hancock had acted unlawfully by failing to to publish certain procurement contracts

It is worth noting that there was no suggestion in Mr Justice Chamberlain’s judgment that Matt Hancock had any personal involvement in the delayed publication. The judgment was made against the Health Secretary, but in his capacity as a Government Minister and legal figurehead for his Department, rather than as a private citizen. In fact, the failure to publish was actually on the part of civil servants in the Department who, in the face of the pandemic, saw a more than tenfold increase in procurement by value and struggled to keep up.

Indeed, on the Andrew Marr Show on Sunday, Mr Hancock did not apologise for the unlawful delays, saying it was “the right thing to do” to prioritise getting the PPE to the frontline rather than ensuring timely transparency returns. I wonder how many of those calling for Mr Hancock’s imprisonment would rather he had published the contracts in the required timeframe even if it meant there was less PPE available for NHS workers.

As a general rule, we should be able to see how the Government spends our money, what it is spent on and to whom it is given. Transparency improves governance. It is right that the Secretary of State is under a legal duty to publish contracts such as those at the heart of this case. However, this case – and the way it has been reported – is likely to have a much more invidious impact than simply improving transparency in public procurement policy.

Opposition politicians and activists have attacked the Government with claims that it has been using procurement during the pandemic as a way to funnel money to its political supporters and donors. It is certainly true that the sums spent by the Government have been large, and have been spent quickly.

What is certainly not true is that Mr Justice Chamberlain in his judgment gave any credence to this line of attack. He accepted evidence from an official at the Department of Health and Social Care that the delay was due to increased volume in contracts and lack of staff. However, that has not stopped figures linking the judgment to the attack line, such as Shadow Health Secretary Jonathan Ashworth who tweeted that the delay was ‘Cronyism’. In fact, there was no evidence to suggest that was so.

Vanishingly few people will read Mr Justice Chamberlain’s judgment in full, or even in part. Most people will only see the headlines in the press. Coupled with tweets such as those by Mr Ashworth, the public at large is likely to come to the conclusion that a court has found against the Government for cronyism, when that is not the case. And this will likely fuel further resentment that the Cabinet are not serving decades behind bars.

Justice must be done and it must be seen to be done. Justice has been done in this case – the Secretary of State has been found to have acted unlawfully – but too many lack the ability and willingness to see.

Sunday, February 28:

A potentially dangerous new variant — which we think originated in Brazil — has been identified in the UK, but we can’t find Patient Zero. Whoever it is failed to provide the correct contact details when they took their Covid test, so we don’t know who or where they are. Cue a frantic search.

March 2021

Monday, March 1:

When a lab technician first spotted the new variant, we didn’t even know which part of the country the positive test had come from. Since then, thanks to some fancy sequencing and a high-quality data system, we’ve been able to identify the batch of home-test kits involved, and narrowed it down to just 379 possible households. We’re now contacting every single one.

Tuesday, March 2:

The net’s closing. We now know that the PCR test was processed at 00.18hrs on Valentine’s Day and went to the lab via a mailing centre in Croydon [south London].

Thursday, March 4:

Test and Trace have found Patient Zero! He was on the shortlist of 379 households and eventually returned calls from officials at 4 pm yesterday.

Apparently, he tried to register his test but got the details wrong. We now know his name and age (38) and that he has been very ill. He claims not to have left his house for 18 days.

This is extremely good news: assuming he’s telling the truth, he has not been out and about super-spreading. What amazing detective work.

Friday, March 5:

Covid deaths have nearly halved within a week. The vaccine is clearly saving lives.

On Saturday, March 6, The Conservative Woman‘s Laura Perrins, a qualified barrister, pointed out that mandatory vaccinations — she was probably thinking of health workers — is ‘criminal battery’:

Wednesday, March 10:

Can you imagine if we hadn’t bothered to set up a contact tracing system? And if we’d decided it was all too difficult and expensive to do mass testing? Would we ever have been forgiven if we’d failed to identify clusters of cases or new variants?

No — and rightly so. Yet a cross-party committee of MPs has come to the conclusion that Test and Trace was basically a gigantic waste of time and money. I felt the red mist descend.

Yesterday, we did 1.5 million tests — in a single day! No other European country has built such a capability.

Thursday, March 11 (see photo):

The Test and Trace row is rumbling on, as is a ridiculous story about me supposedly helping a guy who used to be the landlord of my local pub in Suffolk land a multi-million-pound Covid contract. As I’ve said ad nauseam, I’ve had nothing to do with awarding Covid contracts. I find these attacks on my integrity incredibly hurtful.

The story rumbles on in Parliament, including in a debate this month.

Friday, March 12:

Oh well, at least [retired cricketer, see January’s entries] Geoffrey Boycott is happy. He texted me to say he’d got his second dose. He seems genuinely grateful. I resisted the temptation to tell him that good things come to those who wait.

Tuesday, March 16:

To my astonishment, hotel quarantine is working. There’s a weird new variant from the Philippines, but the two cases we’ve identified have gone no further than their Heathrow airport hotel rooms.

Wednesday, March 17:

Today was my son’s birthday. We had breakfast together, but there was no way I could join the birthday tea with family. I hope to make it up to him — to all of them — when all this is over.

On Tuesday, March 23, the first anniversary of lockdown, Boris did the coronavirus briefing. Below is a list of all the Cabinet members who had headed the briefings in the previous 12 months. I saw them all:

On Wednesday, March 24, Hancock announced the creation of the sinister sounding UK Health Security Agency. SAGE member Dr Jenny Harries is at its helm:

Tuesday, March 30:

How did Covid start? A year on, we still don’t really know, and there’s still an awful lot of pussyfooting around not wanting to upset the Chinese.

No surprise to learn that the Foreign Office has ‘strong views on diplomacy’ — in other words, they won’t rock the boat with Beijing and just want it all to go away.

Sometime in March, because magazine editions are always a month ahead, the publisher of Tatler, Kate Slesinger, enclosed a note with the April edition, which had Boris’s then-partner/now-wife Carrie Symonds on the cover. It began:

As I write this letter, the Prime Minister has just announced an extension to the nationwide lockdown, to be reviewed at around the time this Tatler April issue goes on sale — an opportune moment for us to be taking an in-depth look into the world of Carrie Symonds, possibly the most powerful woman in Britain right now.

April

On April 5, a furious Laura Perrins from The Conservative Woman tweeted that Hancock’s policies were ‘absolute fascism’, especially as we had passed the one year anniversary of lockdown and restrictions on March 23:

Note that lateral flow tests, as Hancock tweeted above, were free on the NHS. The programme continued for a year.

Tuesday, April 13:

The civil service seems determined to kill off the Covid dogs idea, which is so much more versatile than normal testing and really worthwhile. The animals are amazing – they get it right over 90 per cent of the time – but officials are being very tricky.

We should have started training dogs months ago and then sending them to railway stations and other busy places, where they could identify people who probably have Covid so they can then get a conventional test.

Unfortunately, even though I’ve signed off on it, the system just doesn’t buy it.

So far we’ve done a successful Phase 1 trial, but Phase 2, which costs £2.5 million, has hit the buffers. The civil service have come up with no fewer than 11 reasons to junk the idea.

That’s one idea I actually like. It sounds great.

On Friday, April 16, someone posted a video of Hancock breezing into No. 10. He had his mask on outside for the cameras, then whisked it off once he entered. Hmm. The person posting it wrote, ‘The hypocrisy and lies need to stop!

That day, the BBC posted that Hancock had financial interests in a company awarded an NHS contract — in 2019:

Health Secretary Matt Hancock owns shares in a company which was approved as a potential supplier for NHS trusts in England, it has emerged.

In March, he declared he had acquired more than 15% of Topwood Ltd, which was granted the approved status in 2019.

The firm, which specialises in the secure storage, shredding and scanning of documents, also won £300,000 of business from NHS Wales this year.

A government spokesman said there had been no conflict of interest.

He also said the health secretary had acted “entirely properly”.

But Labour said there was “cronyism at the heart of this government” and the party’s shadow health secretary Jonathan Ashworth has asked the head of the civil service to investigate whether Mr Hancock breached the ministerial code.

In March this year, Mr Hancock declared in the MPs’ register of interests that he had acquired more than 15% of the shares in Topwood, under a “delegated management arrangement”.

Public contract records show that the company was awarded a place in the Shared Business Services framework as a potential supplier for NHS local trusts in 2019, the year after Mr Hancock became health secretary.

The MPs’ register did not mention that his sister Emily Gilruth – involved in the firm since its foundation in 2002 – owns a larger portion of the shares and is a director, or that Topwood has links to the NHS – as first reported by the Guido Fawkes blog and Health Service Journal.

Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer said: “Matt Hancock has to answer the questions… He can’t pretend that the responsibility lies elsewhere.”

But he said he was “not suggesting” the health secretary had broken any rules.

Here’s photographic proof of share ownership:

Saturday, April 17:

Prince Philip’s funeral. The Queen sat alone in a pew, in widow’s weeds and a black face mask. Looking at her in her grief, I felt an intense internal conflict, almost an anguish, between the overwhelming sense of duty I have had to save lives on the one hand and the painful consequences of my own decisions on the other. Out of duty, out of an abundance of caution, and to show leadership, the Queen took the most proper approach. It was humbling, and I felt wretched.

Monday, April 19:

The police rang to warn me that anti-vaxxers are planning a march on my London home. They suggested I liaise with [my wife] Martha so she can tell me if it’s happening.

Great that they spotted it, but asking my wife to keep an eye out of the window while a baying horde descends on the family home is not exactly British policing at its finest. I asked for more support. Then I went home to make sure I was there if it kicked off, but there was no sign of anyone.

A policeman explained that the anti-vaxxers had posted the wrong details on social media so were busy protesting a few streets away. What complete idiots.

Thursday, April 22:

Boris has completely lost his rag over Scotland.

He’s got it into his head that Nicola Sturgeon is going to use vaccine passports to drive a wedge between Scotland and the rest of the UK and is harrumphing around his bunker, firing off WhatsApps like a nervous second lieutenant in a skirmish.

He’s completely right: Sturgeon has tried to use the pandemic to further her separatist agenda at every turn.

Now the Scottish government is working on its own system of vaccine certification, which might or might not link up with what’s being developed for the rest of the UK.

On April 26, the vaccine was rolled out to the general population. Hancock is pictured here at Piccadilly Circus:

I cannot tell you how many phone calls and letters we got in the ensuing weeks. Not being early adopters of anything, we finally succumbed in early July, again a few months later and at the end of the year for the booster.

On April 29, Hancock and Deputy Medical Officer Jonathan Van-Tam had a matey vaccination session together, with ‘JVT’, as Hancock called him, doing the honours:

May

Saturday, May 1:

Another outright death threat today in my inbox that said simply: ‘I am going to kill you.’ Lovely. The threats from online anti-vaxxers are getting far more frequent and violent.

As a result, I’m now being assessed for the maximum level of government security.

Tuesday, May 4:

Today, I was out campaigning for the local elections in Derbyshire. Gina [Coladangelo, adviser] drove me up. My relationship with Gina is changing.

Having spent so much time talking about how to communicate in an emotionally engaged way, we are getting much closer.

On Wednesday, May 12, the London Evening Standard interviewed Hancock. ‘Matt Hancock: Let’s put our year of hell behind us’ is more interesting now than it was then:

Matt Hancock today struck his most upbeat note yet on easing many of the remaining lockdown restrictions next month, with Britain set to be “back to life as normal” within a year.

The Health Secretary, who has been one of the most powerful voices arguing for lockdown to save thousands of lives, stressed that the Government would lay out the low risks of further Covid-19 infections if, as expected, it presses ahead with the final relaxation stage in June.

“Our aim on the 21st is to lift as many of the measures/restrictions as possible,” he told the Standard’s editor Emily Sheffield in a studio interview aired today for its online London Rising series to spur the city’s recovery from the pandemic. “We’ve been putting in place all these rules that you’d never have imagined — you’re not allowed to go and hug who you want,” while adding he hadn’t seen his own mother since July and he was looking forward to hugging her.

“I am very gregarious,” he added, “and I really want to also get back to the verve of life. For the last year, we have had people literally asking ministers, ‘Who can I hug?’”

Mr Hancock also criticised as “absolutely absurd” protests outside AstraZeneca’s offices in Cambridge, where demonstrators have been calling for the pharmaceutical giant to openly licence its vaccine. He stressed that the Oxford/AstraZeneca jabs were already being offered to many countries “around the world” at cost price.

During the interview, for the business and tech section of London Rising, he admitted being too busy to keep a diary of the year’s extraordinary events.

He also said he hadn’t had time to help with the housework as he was “working full-time” on the pandemic and that he had spent more hours than he cared to remember in his home “red room” office, which went viral.

In a boost for going back to offices, he admitted that he was now back at Whitehall, adding: “I get most of my work done there.”

He also said he had not heard Mr Johnson say he was prepared to see “bodies pile high” rather than order another lockdown, a phrase the Prime Minister has denied using, saying: “No I never heard him talk in those terms.” But he admitted there were very lengthy, serious debates and “my job is to articulate the health imperative”.

He added: “By this time next year, large swathes of people will have had a booster jab. That means we’ll be able to deal with variants, not just the existing strains, and I think we’ll be back to life as normal.”

In the interview, Mr Hancock also:

    • Warned that another pandemic hitting the UK was “inevitable” and “we’ve got to be ready and more ready than last time. Hence, we are making sure we have got vaccines that could be developed in 100 days and the onshore manufacturing” and that health chiefs would be better equipped to defeat it …
    • Told how he hoped that England’s Chief Medical Officer Professor Chris Whitty, his deputy Professor Jonathan Van-Tam, and chief scientific adviser Sir Patrick Vallance are “properly thanked” for their work in steering the country through the crisis. Pressed on whether they should be elevated to the Lords, he said: “That’s a matter for Her Majesty the Queen”
    • Backed Boris Johnson, enjoying a “vaccines bounce” which is believed to have contributed to Tory success in the recent elections, to be Tory leader for a decade.

Indeed, the Queen did reward Whitty, Van-Tam and Vallance with knighthoods.

Boris seemed invincible at that point, until Partygate emerged in November that year. Someone was out to get him. They succeeded.

Four days later, on May 16, Wales Online reported ‘Matt Hancock sets date for next lockdown announcement; he also says local lockdowns are not ruled out’. This is interesting, as he seemed to walk back what he told the Evening Standard:

Health Secretary Matt Hancock has confirmed the date for the next lockdown lifting announcement by the Government, but has said local lockdowns ‘have not been ruled out’.

Speaking on Sky News this morning Mr Hancock said their strategy was to continue with the lockdown lifting roadmap as planned, but said they would be monitoring the data very closely.

He said there had been just over 1,300 cases of the Indian variant detected in the country so far, with fears it could be 50% more infectious than Kent Covid.

Mr Hancock said: “It is becoming the dominant strain in some parts of the country, for instance in Bolton and in Blackburn.” But he said it has also been detected ‘in much lower numbers’ in other parts of the country

He added: “We need to be cautious, we need to be careful, we need to be vigilant.”

Asked if lockdown lifting could be reversed he said: “I very much hope not.” but on local lockdowns he said: “We haven’t ruled that out.”

Mr Hancock said: “We will do what it takes to keep the public safe as we learn more about this particular variant and the virus overall.”

The Health Secretary said an announcement on the next stage of lockdown lifting would be made on June 14

It was thought at the time that lockdown would be lifted on June 21.

Wednesday, May 26:

Dominic Cummings has told a select committee I should have been fired ‘for at least 15-20 things, including lying to everybody on multiple occasions’.

Apparently I lied about PPE, lied about patients getting the treatment they needed, lied about this and lied about that.

Later, the PM called. ‘Don’t you worry, Matt. No one believes a word he says. I’m sorry I ever hired him. You’re doing a great job — and history will prove you right. Bash on!’

I went to bed thinking, ‘Thank goodness I kept vaccines out of Dom’s destructive hands or that would have been a disaster like everything else he touched.’

I watched that session. Everyone was at fault except for Dominic Cummings. Anyone who presents himself in such a way is probably not all he seems.

Thursday, May 27:

When I got into work, I heard that the Prof [Whitty] had called my private office volunteering to support me in public if need be.

This spectacular vote of confidence meant the most.

Shortly before I headed home, [Defence Secretary] Ben Wallace sent a nice message asking if I was OK. ‘The Cummings evidence can be summed up as the ‘ramblings of a tw*t’,’ he said.

Also:

Of all the many accusations Dom Cummings has hurled at me, the media seem most interested in his claims that I lied about the arrangements surrounding hospital discharges into care homes at the beginning of the pandemic.

Annoyingly, it was only after this evening’s [Downing Street] press conference that I received some very pertinent PHE [Public Health England] data. They analysed all the Covid cases in care homes from January to October last year and found that just 1.2 per cent could be traced back to hospitals.

The vast majority of infections were brought in from the wider community, mainly by staff.

Overall, England did no worse at protecting care home residents than many countries, and better than someincluding Scotland, where [Nicola] Sturgeon’s team has been responsible for decision-making. Regardless, the awfulness of what the virus did to people in care homes around the world will stay with me for the rest of my life.

That day, YouGov published the results of a poll asking if Hancock should resign. Overall, 36% thought he should and 31% thought he should remain in post:

Saturday, May 29:

Boris and Carrie got married at Westminster Cathedral. I’m not entirely sure how much the PM’s mind was on his future with his beloved, though, because this afternoon he was busy texting me about the latest Covid data.

‘Lower cases and deaths today. So definitely ne panique pas,’ I told him.

Then again, perhaps he’s just very good at multi-tasking and can examine infection graphs, pick bits of confetti off his jacket and give his new bride doe-eyed looks all at the same time.

Sunday, May 30:

‘Keep going, we have seen off Cummings’s bungled assassination,’ Boris messaged cheerfully.

It was lunchtime and the PM didn’t appear to be having any kind of honeymoon, or even half a day off.

Nevertheless, that day, the Mail on Sunday reported that the Conservatives were beginning to slip in the polls and had more on Cummings’s testimony to the select committee:

The extraordinary salvo launched by Mr Cummings during a hearing with MPs last week appears to be taking its toll on the government, with a new poll suggesting the Tory lead has been slashed by more than half. 

Keir Starmer tried to turn the screw today, accusing Mr Johnson and his ministers of being busy ‘covering their own backs’ to combat the Indian coronavirus variant.

The Labour leader said ‘mistakes are being repeated’ as the Government considers whether to go ahead with easing restrictions on June 21.

‘Weak, slow decisions on border policy let the Indian variant take hold,’ he said.

‘Lack of self-isolation support and confused local guidance failed to contain it.

‘We all want to unlock on June 21 but the single biggest threat to that is the Government’s incompetence’ …

Mr Cummings, the Prime Minister’s former adviser, told MPs on Wednesday that ‘tens of thousands’ had died unnecessarily because of the Government’s handling of the pandemic and accused Mr Hancock of ‘lying’ about testing for care home residents discharged from hospital – a claim he denies. 

Separately, the Sunday Times highlighted an email dated March 26 from social care leaders warning Mr Hancock that homes were being ‘pressured’ to take patients who had not been tested and had symptoms.

Lisa Lenton, chair of the Care Provider Alliance at the time, told Mr Hancock managers were ‘terrified’ about ‘outbreaks’.

‘The following action MUST be taken: All people discharged from hospital to social care settings (eg care homes, home care, supported living) MUST be tested before discharge,’ she wrote.

However, the government’s guidance on testing was not updated until April 15.

Instructions issued by the Department of Health and the NHS on March 19 2020 said ‘discharge home today should be the default pathway’, according to the Sunday Telegraph – with no mention of testing …  

An insider told the Sun on Sunday on the spat between Mr Johnson and Mr Hancock: ‘Boris returned from convalescence at Chequers when he heard the news. He was incensed. 

‘Matt had told him point blank tests would be carried out. He couldn’t understand why they hadn’t been. For a moment he lost it with Matt, shouting ”What a f***ing mess”.

‘At least three ministers told Boris Matt should be sacked.’

However, Mr Johnson refused to axe Mr Hancock reportedly saying that losing the health secretary during a pandemic would be ‘intolerable’.  

Sir Keir said the situation in care homes had been a ‘betrayal’, adding: ‘We may never know whether Boris Johnson said Covid ”was only killing 80-year olds” when he delayed a second lockdown.

‘What we do know is that the man charged with keeping them safe showed callous disregard for our elderly, as he overlooked the incompetence of his Health Secretary.’

June

Tuesday, June 1:

For the first time since last summer, there were no Covid deaths reported yesterday. We really are coming out of this.

Things might have looked good for Hancock at the beginning of the month, but the mood would sour rapidly.

England’s 2021 reopening on June 21 looked as if it would not happen. Not surprisingly, members of the public were not happy.

On June 6, Essex publican Adam Brooks tweeted Hancock’s words about personal responsibility back at him, calling him a ‘liar’:

Brooks, who owned two pubs at the time, followed up later, threatening that the hospitality industry would issue another legal challenge to coronavirus restrictions:

The next day, June 7, The Sun sounded the death knell for a reopening on June 21:

BRITS’ holiday hopes have been dashed AGAIN as Matt Hancock warns that the new variants are the “biggest challenging” to our domestic freedom.

The Health Secretary told MPs that restoring international travel is an “important goal” – but is one that will be “challenging and hard.”

Health Secretary Mr Hancock said the return to domestic freedom must be “protected at all costs”.

It comes after he confirmed that over-25s in England will be invited to receive their Covid jabs from Tuesday as the Delta variant “made the race between the virus and this vaccination effort tighter”.

Matt Hancock told the Commons this afternoon: “Restoring travel in the medium term is an incredibly important goal.

“It is going to be challenging, it’s going to be hard because of the risk of new variants and new variants popping up in places like Portugal which have an otherwise relatively low case rate.

“But the biggest challenge, and the reason this is so difficult, is that a variant that undermines the vaccine effort obviously would undermine the return to domestic freedom.

“And that has to be protected at all costs.”

The Health Secretary added: “No-one wants our freedoms to be restricted a single day longer than is necessary.

“I know the impact that these restrictions have on the things we love, on our businesses, on our mental health.

“I know that these restrictions have not been easy and with our vaccine programme moving at such pace I’m confident that one day soon freedom will return.”

This comes as desperate Brits have flooded airports as they race against the clock to get back to the UK before Portugal is slapped onto the amber travel list.

The next day, nutritionist Gillian McKeith tweeted her disgust with Hancock:

On Wednesday, June 9, the Health and Social Care Select Committee, which former Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt headed, posed questions to Hancock in a coronavirus inquiry session:

On Thursday, June 10, The Guardian reported that Dominic Cummings would tell all about coronavirus as well as Brexit on his new Substack:

Dominic Cummings is planning to publish a paid-for newsletter in which subscribers can learn about his time inside Downing Street.

Boris Johnson’s former top aide has launched a profile on Substack, a platform that allows people to sign up to newsletter mailing lists.

In a post on the site, Cummings said he would be giving out information on the coronavirus pandemic for free, as well as some details of his time at Downing Street.

However, revelations about “more recondite stuff on the media, Westminster, ‘inside No 10’, how did we get Brexit done in 2019, the 2019 election etc” will be available only to those who pay £10 a month for a subscription …

It follows Cummings taking aim at Boris Johnson, Matt Hancock, and the government in general as part of evidence given last month to the health and social care select committee and the science and technology committee.

Cummings, who left Downing Street after a behind-the-scenes power struggle in November last year, accused the health secretary of lying, failing on care homes and “criminal, disgraceful behaviour” on testing.

However, the parliamentary committees said Cummings’s claims would remain unproven because he had failed to provide supporting evidence.

On Friday, June 11, Labour MP Graham Stringer — one of the few Opposition MPs I admire — told talkRADIO’s Julia Hartley-Brewer that ‘things went badly wrong’ on Hancock’s watch and that the Health Secretary should not have ‘blamed scientific advice’:

On Monday, June 14, talkRADIO’s Mike Graham told listeners forced to cancel a holiday to sue Hancock, Transport Secretary Grant Shapps, SAGE and ‘every single one of them, personally’, otherwise ‘they will think they’ve won’:

Friday, June 18:

[Lingerie tycoon] Baroness (Michelle) Mone has sent me an extraordinarily aggressive email complaining that a company she’s helping isn’t getting the multi-million-pound contracts it deserves.

She claims the firm, which makes lateral flow test kits, ‘has had a dreadful time’ trying to cut through red tape and demanded my ‘urgent help’ before it all comes out in the media.

‘I am going to blow this all wide open,’ she threatened.

In essence, she’s not at all happy that a U.S. company called Innova has secured so many contracts while others ‘can’t get in the game’. She claims test kits made by the company she’s representing, and by several others, have all passed rigorous quality control checks but only Innova is getting the business.

‘This makes it a monopoly position for Innova, who to date have received £2.85 billion in orders,’ she complained.

By the end of the email, she seemed to have worked herself into a complete frenzy and was throwing around wild accusations. ‘I smell a rat here. It is more than the usual red tape, incompetence and bureaucracy. That’s expected! I believe there is corruption here at the highest levels and a cover-up is taking place . . . Don’t say I didn’t [warn] you when Panorama or Horizon run an exposé documentary on all this.’

She concluded by urging me to intervene ‘to prevent the next bombshell being dropped on the govt’. I read the email again, stunned. Was she threatening me? It certainly looked that way.

Her tests, I am told, have not passed validation — which would explain why the company hasn’t won any contracts. I will simply not reply. I won’t be pushed around by aggressive peers representing commercial clients.

In December 2022, Baroness Mone announced that she would be taking a leave of absence from the House of Lords. Her Wikipedia entry states:

Mone became a Conservative life peer in 2015. From 2020 to 2022, in a series of investigative pieces, The Guardian reported that Mone and her children had secretly received £29 million of profits to an offshore trust from government PPE contracts, which she had lobbied for during the COVID-19 pandemic. The House of Lords Commissioner for Standards and National Crime Agency launched investigations into Mone’s links to these contracts in January 2022. Mone announced in December 2022 that she was taking a leave of absence from the House of Lords “to clear her name” amid the allegations.

Also that day came news that, after Parliament voted on coronavirus restrictions that week — June 21 having been postponed to July 19 — the NHS waiting list was much larger than expected. It was thought to be 5 million but was actually 12 million:

LBC reported:

The Health Secretary told the NHS Confederation conference that up to 12.2 million people are in need of elective procedures delayed due to the pandemic.

This includes 5.1m people already on waiting lists.

Health bosses believe there could be as many as 7.1m additional patients who stayed away from hospitals because of the risk of Covid-19.

Mr Hancock told the NHS conference that there is “another backlog out there” and that he expected the numbers to rise even further.

NHS leaders have warned the backlog could take five years to clear

Prof Chris Whitty, England’s chief medical officer, said the current wave of cases would “definitely translate into further hospitalisations”.

On Saturday, June 19, a YouTube video appeared, which has since been deleted. These are my notes on it:

June 19, coronavirus: 24 mins in — Matt Hancock says unvaccinated will not receive health treatment if NHS is overwhelmed, also mentioned are Birmingham deaths, FOIA Pfizer vaccine information forwarded to Special Branch re Warwickshire and four Birmingham hospitals; Mark Sexton, ex police constable – YouTube.

I have no idea what ensued.

On Friday, June 25, Dominic Cummings posted this article on his Substack: ‘More evidence on  how the PM’s & Hancock’s negligence killed people’.

It’s quite lengthy, but begins as follows:

Below is some further evidence including a note I sent on 26 April regarding how we could shift to Plan B with a serious testing system.

It helps people understand what an incredible mess testing was and why care homes were neglected. Hancock had failed terribly. The Cabinet Office did not have the people it needed to solve the problem. Many were screaming at me that Hancock was failing to act on care homes and spinning nonsense to the Cabinet table while thousands were dying in care homes.

There are clearly errors in my note but the fact that *I* had to write it tells you a lot about how the system had collapsed. As you can see it is a draft for a document that needed to exist but didn’t because Hancock had not done his job properly and was absorbed in planning for his press conference at the end of April, not care homes and a serious plan for test-trace.

The Sunday Times‘s Tim Shipman summed up the article with Boris Johnson’s impressions of test and trace:

Returning to Hancock, it was clear that he would have to go, but no one expected his departure would be so dramatic.

To be continued tomorrow.

 

My series on Matt Hancock MP continues.

Those who missed them can catch up on parts 1 and 2.

Today’s post takes us further into the late Spring up to the early autumn of 2020. The Government’s policy on coronavirus held the UK hostage at home, for varying amounts of time, depending on what part of the country one lived in.

Testing centres popped up around the country. Hancock, who was Health Secretary at the time, urged everyone to go to one of these centres to find out if they had the virus. The narrative was that the asymptomatic could still have it and transmit it to someone else. What a load of cobblers. As Mike Yeadon, who used to work for Pfizer said, if you’re ill, you’ll know about it.

A mobile phone app also appeared: Test and Trace. Another load of rubbish, which was very expensive. Surprisingly, many Britons with smartphones used it. Another good reason for not having a smartphone.

Imperial College’s SAGE modeller, Prof Neil Ferguson, was discovered to have broken lockdown with his mistress, who lived on the other side of London.

In May, news emerged that Boris’s top adviser Dominic Cummings slipped off from London with his wife and son to Barnard Castle, County Durham. As penance, Boris made Cummings give a 90-minute press conference in the Downing Street Rose Garden. Excruciating.

England’s Independence Day was declared on the Fourth of July. Then-Chancellor Rishi Sunak’s hospitality plan, Eat Out to Help Out, started a short while later, boosting restaurant sales.

During this time, the borders were open and people could travel freely. The problem were the sudden embargos which interrupted holidays at inconvenient hours of the day. Britons were often told to return home from a European country, mostly France and Spain, at midnight or 4 a.m.

However, it wouldn’t be long before the long tentacles of SAGE would find more doom and gloom in the autumn.

More extracts from Matt Hancock and Isabel Oakeshott’s Pandemic Diaries, serialised in the Mail, continue, with news items I bookmarked from the time. Emphases mine below.

May 2020

Amazingly, Hancock managed to achieve his testing goal of 100,000, which seemed impossible when he announced it only a month earlier.

These are the principal extracts from the Mail for the entries below, unless otherwise indicated.

Friday, May 1:

We did it, and with a very comfortable margin. 122,347 tests! Let the naysayers put that in their pipe and smoke it! I’d be lying if I didn’t say I enjoyed my moment, given how desperately certain people were willing me to fail.

Then-Prime Minister Boris Johnson was fascinated by Australia’s low rate of infection. Little did he know at the time that Australia would go into a prolonged lockdown lasting months.

Sunday, May 3:

We still haven’t figured out what to do about borders. [Dominic] Raab, [Grant] Shapps and Sunak all want to keep the borders open. Crucially, they’re supported by the Prof [Chief Medical Officer Chris Whitty]. On the other side, Priti Patel and I are in favour of far tougher measures, as is Boris.

Scotland’s First Minister Nicola Sturgeon was enjoying her power over her people, starring in daily briefings which the BBC televised. She gave her briefings at lunchtime. The UK government gave theirs in the early evening.

Monday, May 4:

Tonight, Nicola Sturgeon announced a ‘summer push to elimination [of Covid]’, a policy which has about as much hope of working as Chairman Mao’s attempt to eliminate sparrows by getting the Chinese population to bang pots and pans.

Much as I’m sure Nicola would love to build a Trump-style wall between her fiefdom and the rest of Great Britain, we’re all in this together. One person who’s clearly not keen on a hermit lifestyle is Prof Neil Ferguson [who was advising the Government on its Covid response]. 

I wasn’t particularly sympathetic when I heard he’d been caught breaking the rules [by meeting with his lover]. He’s issued a grovelling apology, but it was obvious he couldn’t continue to act as a Government adviser.

Ferguson resigned from SPI-M, SAGE’s modelling team, but was reinstated in 2021.

The care home situation continued to loom large. Infections and deaths were ever present. Furthermore, families were rightly distressed by having to press up against a window to see their elderly loved ones, a situation that persists in some care homes even today.

Boris suggested that Hancock hire Kate Bingham, a venture capitalist with a background in pharmaceuticals, as the head of the Vaccine Taskforce.

Also on May 4, we discovered that Good Morning Britain‘s star presenter Piers Morgan was a ‘Government-designated essential worker’. His test was negative, but he was experiencing symptoms, so he stayed off air for a few more days. The Mail reported that Hancock tweeted his best wishes before Morgan got the results of his test:

Mr Hancock, who had his own battle with coronavirus and who has previously clashed with the GMB host on the ITV morning show, tweeted that he hoped if Mr Morgan did test positive for Covid-19 that the symptoms would be mild. 

On May 7, Hancock announced that Baroness Dido Harding would head the Test and Trace programme:

On May 9, the Mail on Sunday reported that Boris and Cabinet members were clashing with the beleaguered Health Secretary:

Matt Hancock is living on ‘borrowed time’ as Health Secretary following clashes with the three most powerful members of the Government over the Covid crisis, The Mail on Sunday has been told.

Mr Hancock is understood to have pleaded ‘give me a break’ when Boris Johnson reprimanded him over the virus testing programme – leading to open questioning within Downing Street over Mr Hancock’s long-term political future.

His run-in with Mr Johnson follows battles with both Rishi Sunak and Michael Gove over the best strategy for managing the pandemic.

Shortly after Mr Johnson returned to work at No 10 a fortnight ago, he and Mr Johnson had a tense exchange about the the Health Department’s ‘grip’ on the crisis, during which Mr Hancock said to the Prime Minister, in what has been described as a ‘petulant’ tone: ‘That’s not fair – give me a break.’

He is also being blamed in some Government quarters – or scapegoated, according to his allies – for not moving quickly enough to do more to protect care homes from the epidemic. 

On Wednesday, May 13, Hancock announced a new genomics initiative in order to better understand the virus:

Thursday, May 14:

People are starting to blame us for discharging elderly people from hospital into residential settings without testing them properly, before we introduced strict rules. The evidence simply doesn’t bear that out: care home outbreaks rose sharply long after we had enough tests to put that right.

That day, a Labour peer was mystified as to why the Government did not know how much PPE there was:

Friday, May 22:

Westminster is abuzz with claims that Cummings broke lockdown rules, going to stay with his parents while he had Covid, which looks like a mega breach.

Saturday, May 23:

Downing Street called asking if I’d do some media [to support Cummings], but I’m uneasy. Despite all the reassurances, it feels off.

In the end, I issued a supportive tweet, saying he was right to find childcare for his toddler when both he and his wife were getting ill.

[Former Chancellor] George Osborne messaged me this evening warning me not to stick my neck out for Cummings again. ‘Lie low’ was his advice.

Sunday, May 24:

I spent much of the day fielding angry messages, many of them questioning why the PM is still standing up for Cummings. The answer is that he rules through fear and intimidation, squashing those who dare to challenge him or get in his way.

Monday, May 25:

Cummings tried to draw a line under the Barnard Castle affair by holding a press conference in the Downing Street garden. He sat behind a table, squinting awkwardly into the sun, looking like a sulky teenager who’d been sent outside to do his work for disrupting the class.

Afterwards, I found myself feeling strangely sorry for Boris.

Cummings has only one setting – divide and destroy – and now the boss is having to say some pretty stupid things as he machetes his way through the resulting mess.

The only thing for it was to keep backing Cummings – silence from me would only create an unhelpful story – so this evening I tweeted that I welcome the fact that Cummings ‘has provided substantive answers to all the questions put to him’. Apparently it got me some credit in No 10, but I can’t say I felt good about it.

Away from the Cummings s*** show, we had a Cabinet meeting to discuss plans for easing restrictions. It was a bizarre Cabinet, held on Zoom without a single mention of the Cummings-shaped elephant in the room. 

In fact, an absurd amount of bandwidth was occupied by a discussion about whether – when we allow two households to get together outside – people should be permitted to walk through a house to get to a friend’s garden

It’s fine by me, but are people going to ask whether they will also be able to go inside to use the loo? ‘If they’re quick and disinfect the handle?’ the Prof replied.

Who could believe that under a Conservative government, the long arm of the State would find its way into people’s loos?

On Tuesday, May 26, a Sky News reporter called out to Hancock asking if he was going to sack Cummings. Ermm, it wasn’t Hancock’s responsibility, only Boris’s:

June 2020

Thursday, June 4:

Boris messaged me at 6.43am saying he was ‘going quietly crackers’ about not testing enough people. He told me he sees it as our ‘Achilles heel’. He was in a proper flap. ‘What is wrong with our country that we can’t fix this?’ he complained. 

I tried to calm him down. ‘Don’t go crackers,’ I said. ‘We now have the biggest testing capacity in Europe.’ Tempting as it was, I refrained from saying we did this against the obstruction of his own No 10 operation.

Wednesday, June 17:

In an embarrassingly crude power grab, [European Commission President] Ursula von der Leyen is trying to wrest control of vaccine research and procurement from EU member states.

Never mind that health is a matter for individual countries: the woman who once sent German army units on manoeuvres with broomsticks – because they didn’t have any rifles – wants to move responsibility for scientific development and manufacture into the sticky paws of Brussels bureaucrats.

I may have voted to Remain, but it’s enough to make a Brexiteer out of anyone.

Friday, June 19:

A massive blow-up with Kate [Bingham, head of the Vaccine Taskforce]. She simply doesn’t see the need to order 100 million doses of the Oxford vaccineshe wants 30 million – and can’t seem to grasp almost everyone may want or need it.

I warned her during today’s meeting that if we don’t get our ducks in a row on this one, we risk a complete car crash.

She pushed back hard. But with the other elected Ministers on my side, I won the argument [for buying 100 million doses].

‘I’m not happy with that meeting,’ Kate snapped afterwards. ‘Nor me,’ I replied.

‘We will create a guide for you to explain what we are doing – there are enormous risks with this,’ she said, as if I don’t spend all my time thinking about how to save lives.

Kate pressed on, claiming that the technology that underpins the vaccine Oxford is working on [Astra-Zeneca] ‘is neither proven nor scaled’, and that she has ‘an expert team who are working round the clock, pushing hard’.

I told her: ‘We need to have tried everything feasibly possible to accelerate delivery. I’ve been asking the same question over and over again and not yet had a satisfactory answer – hence my frustration.’

This only seemed to wind her up further, prompting a mini-lecture about the dangers of trying to go too far too fast.

‘The worse case is we kill people with an unsafe vaccine,’ she said. ‘We need to tone the comms to register the fact this is risky and unproven.

If there’s one thing I can’t stand, it’s being patronised.

On Wednesday, June 24, Hancock, riding high as the chap in charge of the nation’s health, appeared on Robert Peston’s ITV current affairs show:

July 2020

July 4 was Independence Day from coronavirus in England.

However, separate regulations applied in Leicester, which still had a high rate of infection. Even so, nothing was stopping them travelling elsewhere to socialise or shop:

On Sunday, July 5, Hancock expressed concern over high infection rates and overcrowded working conditions in certain factories in Leicester. It seems he was thinking of certain textile factories operating like sweatshops:

Monday, July 6:

The Vaccine Taskforce have consistently argued that we only need to back three [vaccine] brands. My view is that, to hedge our bets, we need more. Any one of the vaccines could fail in clinical trials.

Fortunately, Rishi and Steve Barclay at the Treasury are totally onside.

Wednesday, July 8:

Rishi’s announced a new Eat Out To Help Out initiative. I did my best to sound supportive, but in truth I’m worried that it might backfire and lead to a spike in cases.

Thursday, July 16:

In my box tonight was one particularly startling note relating to the way Covid has been getting into care homes. The main takeaway is that the virus is primarily being brought in by staff, not by elderly people who’ve been discharged from hospital.

This explains a lot, including why the rise in care home deaths came so much later than would have been the case if hospital discharges were the primary cause. We must ban staff movement between care homes, fast.

On Friday, July 17, news emerged that deaths from natural causes were being classified as coronavirus deaths because of a previous positive test. A retired journalist had the story:

He pointed out that Public Health England (PHE) never announced how they were tabulating deaths. Scotland, of course, tabulated theirs differently:

The question remains: how many ‘Covid’ deaths were true Covid deaths?

Saturday, July 25:

Anyone coming back from Spain from midnight tonight will have to self-quarantine for 14 days. This is very bad news for a lot of British holidaymakers.

Department for Transport officials kept pushing for 24 hours’ notice for the Spain decision, which I thought was curious – Grant Shapps is normally an ‘action this day’ Minister – until I discovered that Grant and his family had just flown there on holiday. The officials were trying, perhaps too hard, to protect their Minister.

In Cobra meetings, Nicola Sturgeon’s political games have become incredibly debilitating and significantly limit scope for open discussion. She sits like a statue, lips pursed like the top of a drawstring bag, only jolting into life when there’s an opportunity to say something to further the separatist cause.

The minute someone presses ‘End Meeting’, you can almost hear her running for a lectern so she can rush out an announcement before we make ours. We now chew over big decisions elsewhere and relegate formal meetings to rubber-stamping exercises.

Monday, July 27:

Downing Street is in a semi-panic about a second wave.

Tuesday, July 28:

Sturgeon is on manoeuvres again, trying to persuade us all to sign up to her impossible and anti- scientific zero-Covid plan.

Sure, we’d all love zero Covid, but that’s about as realistic as a bagpipe-playing unicorn.

She just wants to look and sound tough, then blame us when her policies don’t work.

I can hardly bear to watch her on TV any more.

Wednesday, July 29:

Testing is a continuing concern. We still haven’t sorted procurement for what Boris calls ‘Operation Moonshot’. The idea is to carry out literally millions of Covid tests a day to keep the economy going.

Also on that day:

Officials say we mustn’t eliminate staff movement across care homes because it might lead to a shortage of staff. Yet research shows the risk of outbreaks in care homes doubles if carers are coming and going.

On Thursday, July 30, Bradford was experiencing a high rate of coronavirus. Hancock put restrictions in place.

This was Bradford Council’s message:

Hancock’s restrictions prohibited people meeting up at each other’s homes:

SkyNews had a report on the story:

Fortunately, for them, it might have felt like an eternity but it was temporary.

What wasn’t temporary was his announcement earlier that day that GP appointments would have to take place remotely. This is still in place today, causing untold distress to millions of Britons.

The Guardian reported:

All GP appointments should be done remotely by default unless a patient needs to be seen in person, Matt Hancock has said, prompting doctors to warn of the risk of abandoning face-to-face consultations.

In a speech setting out lessons for the NHS and care sector from the coronavirus pandemic, the health secretary claimed that while some errors were made, “so many things went right” in the response to Covid-19, and new ways of working should continue.

He said it was patronising to claim that older patients were not able to handle technology.

The plan for web-based GP appointments is set to become formal policy, and follows guidance already sent to GPs on having more online consultations.

But the Royal College of GPs (RCGP) hit back, saying it would oppose a predominantly online system on the grounds that both doctors and patients benefited from proper contact.

They don’t seem to think so now, do they?

The article continues:

Addressing the Royal College of Physicians in London, Hancock noted the huge increase in online consultations as much of the NHS closed its doors to focus on the crisis. In the four weeks to mid-April, 71% of routine GP appointments were done remotely against 25% in the same period a year before.

Outlining what he said were the ways the pandemic had demonstrated the need for greater uses of technology in healthcare, Hancock said that before the coronavirus, “there was a view advanced by some which held that anyone over the age of 25 simply could not cope with anything other than a face-to-face appointment”.

He said: “Of course there always has to be a system for people who can’t log on. But we shouldn’t patronise older people by saying they don’t do tech.”

The rise in online consultations had been welcome, he argued, especially in rural areas. “So from now on, all consultations should be tele-consultations unless there’s a compelling clinical reason not to,” Hancock said.

“Of course, if there’s an emergency, the NHS will be ready and waiting to see you in person – just as it always has been. But if they are able to, patients should get in contact first – via the web or by calling in advance.”

Sure, Matt.

What a disaster that policy has proven to be.

The month seemed to end on a positive note with regard to agency staff working in multiple care homes.

July 31:

Good news on banning staff movement in care homes. After I blew my top, officials got the message.

August

By August, even though England was open and people were socialising again, rules were still in place. They caused a lot of confusion, including in Government. Only Boris had mastered them.

Monday, August 3:

To ram home his point about how complicated the Covid rules have got, Boris went round the [Cabinet] table asking everyone to set them out simply. We had endless different answers, and he got them all right

‘I hope colleagues feel I have justified my general reputation for mastery of detail by being RIGHT this morning about the rules. It’s two households inside and six outside,’ he said triumphantly.

Boris was eager for people to get back to work. He saw self-administered tests — lateral flow tests — as the answer.

Friday, August 7:

Boris is having a sugar rush about DIY Covid testing, which he believes could lead us to what’s he’s dubbed – in emphatic capital letters – ‘COVID FREEDOM DAY’. I have no idea who he’s been talking to, but he’s very fired up.

He thinks rapid home tests are the way to ‘get Whitehall and the whole British army of bludgers and skivers’ back to the office and ‘douse all remaining embers of the disease’. Today, I’m on a short break in Hay-on-Wye. When we got to the pub, there was great excitement. I’m not used to people recognising me, so the universal recognition is a bit of a shock. Something I’ll have to get used to, I suppose.

The following year, everyone would know who he was — and not just in the UK. How happy I am that The Sun released that photo of him and his girlfriend. It went viral, worldwide.

Hancock announced the end of Public Health England, which, strangely enough, still seems to be around.

Tuesday, August 18:

[Hancock has announced plans to abolish Public Health England.] On reflection, I should have been more brutal earlier. It wasn’t fit for purpose, and I should have cleared out senior figures who blocked the expansion of testing, basically because they didn’t want the private sector involved.

In response, Angela Rayner [deputy Labour leader] has been tweeting the usual tripe about Tories wanting to privatise the NHS by stealth. Does anyone seriously listen to this c**p any more?

The truth is, we wouldn’t stand a chance of winning this fight against Covid if it wasn’t for support from business. From manufacturing tests to developing the vaccine, the private sector – alongside the NHS and academia – has been critical to the fight.

Friday, August 21:

Border enforcement is a mess. Everyone who flies in to the UK has to fill out a passenger locator form, which they’re supposed to hand to officials on arrival at the airport, but half the time the documents go straight in the bin.

We can blame compulsory masks for secondary school pupils on Nicola Sturgeon. The UK government fears the woman.

Tuesday, August 25:

Nicola Sturgeon blindsided us by suddenly announcing that when schools in Scotland reopen, all secondary school pupils will have to wear masks in classrooms. In one of her most egregious attempts at oneupmanship to date, she didn’t consult us. The problem is that our original guidance on face coverings specifically excluded schools.

Cue much tortured debate between myself, Education Secretary Gavin Williamson and No 10 about how to respond.

Much as Sturgeon would relish it, nobody here wants a big spat with the Scots. So, U-turn it is.

Amazing — and not in a good way.

Boris was worried about the British economy, and rightly so.

Wednesday, August 26:

I was minding my own business, when suddenly, ping! Ping! Boris sprang into life. It was 6.29am. He veered off the reservation, suddenly going off on one about how the virus isn’t really killing many people any more so ‘how can we possibly justify the continuing paralysis?’

He noted that an 80-year-old now has a six per cent chance of dying, which he didn’t think was enough to justify what we’re doing.

‘If I were an 80-year-old and I was told that the choice was between destroying the economy and risking my exposure to a disease that I had a 94 per cent chance of surviving, I know what I would prefer,’ he argued.

This exchange, which continued on WhatsApp pretty much all morning, was more than a little stressful, given that it represented a fundamental challenge to our entire pandemic response.

I’m not quite sure what he expected – that the Chief Medical Officer, Chief Scientific Adviser, Cummings and I would all suddenly throw our hands up and say: ‘You know what, you’re right, this whole thing has been a huge mistake. Let’s ditch everything we’re doing and pretend none of it ever happened’?

Fortunately, after a few hours he ran out of both statistics and steam. All the same, I sense a very definite shift in attitude. Something has unsettled him. Who has he been on holiday with?

By the next day, Boris had gone back to normal.

Thursday, August 27:

Overnight, Boris’s creeping suspicion that everything we’re doing has been a catastrophic over-reaction has evaporated as quickly as it appeared, to be replaced by annoyance at the discovery that there is a supply/demand gap for testing

In fact, we are a victim of our own success. Our advertising campaign encouraging more people to come forward for tests has been a bit too effective, and now we’re overwhelmed.

Saturday, August 29:

Boris has started going on about ‘freedom passes’. I think he envisages some sort of app that would allow anyone who can prove they’re negative to get back to normal. I can see the appeal, but I can also see the likely furore over anything resembling ‘Papers, please’.

Covid cases are rocketing in France. ‘We need to draw lessons pronto,’ Boris said, asking if the French have tried local lockdowns or whether it is ‘a case of the whole frog getting slowly boiled?’

September 2020

Wednesday, September 2:

Test and Trace is now identifying more than half of new cases. ‘It’s like the system actually works!’ I messaged Dido Harding [head of Test and Trace] excitedly. ‘Who would have guessed!!’ she replied.

Hancock talked about a vaccine in a coronavirus briefing.

Tuesday, September 8:

I got a blast from No 10 about talking up the vaccine yesterday. Other than Boris, nobody there has ever really believed we can make it happen. In reality, their scepticism suits me, because it means they’re not meddling. The last thing I need is Cummings interfering or the project going through the Cabinet Office mincer.

Restriction tiers across England were looming. An example would be the aforementioned restrictions in Leicester and the north of England where coronavirus was prevalent.

Tuesday, September 15:

The PM is still dithering over restriction tiers, a classic Boris battle between head and heart.

Thursday, September 17:

Cases are growing. Sage [the Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies] thinks we need a two-week ‘circuit-breaker’. Boris seemed confused, doing that thing he does, emphatically verbalising the arguments for and against out loud – alarming everyone as they try to work out where he’s going to land.

Friday, September 18:

We are now at 6,000 new Covid infections a day in England alone, nearly double the figure last week.

By 10pm, No 10 had done a complete about-turn. They now want tougher local lockdowns and more warnings about what happens if people don’t follow the rules. Apparently the PM wants to explain that we have to balance Covid with other health and economic factors. 

Well, no s***. What’s really infuriating is that the people who want action to control the virus didn’t insist on me being there [at meetings] to press the point.

Monday, September 21:

Boris is torn. Everyone’s getting heavy with him, from the Prof to Sage, who say there will be ‘catastrophic consequences’ if we don’t act now. They’ve proposed a two-week circuit-breaker.

Friday, September 25:

An alarming note from the modelling people who advise Sage. They say the epidemic is ‘close to breaching the agreed reasonable worst-case scenario’. Meanwhile, public finances are a horror show – from April to August, the figure borrowed was £173.7 billion

Rishi has clearly been using these figures to freak out the PM. But the only sustainable way to get the economy back on track is to defeat the virus, not pretend it’s gone away.

Saturday, September 26:

We’ve spent millions promoting the [NHS Covid] app, including buying wraparound ads in loads of publications. Just as I was allowing myself a moment of satisfaction at a job well done – or at least not ballsed up – there came news of fresh horror. A major glitch has emerged: the app can’t take data from NHS Covid tests.

I sat very still, trying to absorb the full implications of the fact that we’ve just spent tens of millions of pounds of taxpayers’ money on an NHS app that… doesn’t link to the NHS. Which genius thought it would not need to do this, first and foremost? Which other genius signed it off on this basis?

Given the multiple overlapping responsibilities of the various quangos involved, Whitehall’s institutional buck-passing and the involvement of two mega tech companies (Google and Apple), we just didn’t know.

What I did know was the buck stopped with me, and it was probably time to adopt the brace position. I prayed that word of this hideous blunder would not reach Cummings, but that was of course too much to hope. Naturally he went nuts when he found out, and I can’t say I blame him.

I find this sort of screw-up personally mortifying. Should I have asked such a basic and obvious question? I took it for granted that we would link our own app up to our own tests. Never assume!

To be continued tomorrow.

Yesterday’s post looked at the new biography of Liz Truss, Out of the Blue.

Her life has been a fascinating one in many ways.

On Saturday, September 3, 2022, shortly before Conservative Party members elected Liz Truss as their leader, The Times published an excellent article complete with photos, ‘Just where is Liz Truss from? Her incredible journey spans three countries and two continents’.

Excerpts follow, emphases mine.

Early years

Mary Elizabeth Truss was born in Oxford in 1975 to a couple who lived in Cowley, known for the Anglican religious order, the Cowley Fathers, and car making:

The Truss odyssey begins amid the rackety student townhouses of James Street in Cowley, Oxford. She was born on July 26, 1975 at the nearby John Radcliffe Hospital, the second of five children, to Priscilla, a nurse and teacher and John, a mathematics professor. Their first child, Matthew, died when he was a baby. James Street today is inhabited by a mixture of posh students and local families, with a dash of Cowley seediness thrown in.

Like many of the places where Truss grew up, the area is middle class, left-leaning and studenty, home to a variety of public sector workers and professionals on a budget.

A series of moves followed, all connected with John Truss’s work:

When her father’s junior research fellowship at Oxford University ended, he spent a couple of years as a teacher at King Charles I High School in Kidderminster [Worcestershire], where Truss’s younger brother Chris was born in 1978. After that, he found employment at Paisley College of Technology in Renfrewshire, and in 1979 took the family on the long journey up the M6 to Glasgow. Truss was four at the time.

Handsome civic buildings aside, Paisley is a fairly down-at-heel town, its high street a parade of betting shops, tattoo parlours and discount stores. But leafy Low Road, where the Truss family lived, is a bourgeois haven of Range Rovers and birdsong nestled among council estates and main roads. The Trusses lived in two different houses on the street, one a capacious detached villa, the other a sturdy semi-detached. Her other two brothers, Patrick and Francis, were born in this period.

Liz attended West Primary School and once drew the short straw in having to play Margaret Thatcher in a mock election. Most Scots detest Conservatives, especially in the western half of the country:

“I ended up with zero votes,” she recalled. “I didn’t even vote for myself. Even at that age, we knew it was simply unpopular to be a Tory in the west of Scotland.”

In her spare time, young Liz embraced her parents’ left-wing politics and attended protests:

It was in Paisley that Truss’s mother first introduced her to political activism, taking her on Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament marches with the local CND chapter, including the famous Greenham Common protests, which she attended as a seven-year-old. A picture from the Paisley Daily Express on October 23, 1985 shows a 10-year-old Liz with her mother and brother Chris proudly holding aloft a new Paisley CND banner, ahead of a planned protest trip to London. The article recounts how the family spent two weeks painstakingly making the flag.

Truss has recalled the DIY nature of her family’s 1980s radicalism. “We did a number of things like marches, protests,” she told an interviewer in 2014. “On one occasion when we went down to London in a bus we had made some nuclear bombs made out of carpet rolls — ours didn’t quite work because it had floral wallpaper on it.”

In 1987, John Truss got a new job as a visiting professor at Simon Fraser University in British Columbia. The year the family spent in Canada transformed Liz’s life:

In July she posted a picture on Instagram of her class at Parkcrest Elementary School in Burnaby, a suburb of Vancouver, which also boasts the actor Michael J Fox as an alumnus. The caption read: “30 years ago I spent a year in Canada that changed my outlook on life #pioneerspirit #optimism.”

Moving 6,000 miles across the world would be a challenge to any 12-year-old, but the wide-open spaces and artless optimism of western Canada appear to have invigorated Truss.

The Times was able to find a Canadian classmate of hers, Brenda Montagano, who now teaches at the school both women attended:

“I remember her accent and I remember her being very smart,” Montagano recalled. “Now that I’m a teacher, I recognise that it’s no small feat to change schools, never mind countries, at that age. She came in and was confident, chatty, tried to get to know everyone. She made her mark.”

Upon returning to England, the Trusses settled in Roundhay, a suburb of Leeds:

the closest thing Truss and her brothers had to a permanent family home. It was a household of music lessons and political debate, books and board games, the latter of which Truss “had to win”, her brother Francis once told Radio 4.

Roundhay was an affluent area in the 1980s and remains so now, with the villas that overlook the park selling for more than £1 million. As a teenager, Truss would play tennis here with her brothers and drink cider with schoolfriends. Although the constituency of Leeds East was still Conservative when the Trusses first moved there, Roundhay today is solidly middle-class Labour, with the tapas bars and bookshops to prove it.

Liz was highly critical of Roundhay on the campaign trail during the summer, denouncing its Labour element. The Roundhay ward is part of Leeds City Council, so perhaps that was what she referred to. She was also critical of Roundhay School, which she attended:

“All of my parents’ friends worked in public sector jobs,” Truss has recalled. “The teachers at my school were quite often card-carrying members of the Labour Party and it just was not part of the culture to approve of what the government was doing.”

Truss is profoundly unpopular in Roundhay today. Beyond her politics, locals were outraged when she made disparaging remarks about Roundhay School, which is now a successful comprehensive (motto: “Courtesy, co-operation and commitment”), situated in a handsome redbrick building by the park.

“The reason I am a Conservative is that I saw kids at my school being let down in Leeds,” Truss said during a debate with Rishi Sunak in July.

It’s true that Roundhay was not a particularly good school in the late 1980s. “The fabric of the school was crap, really awful,” said one Roundhay teacher who overlapped with Truss. “There were ceilings collapsing, water leaks, gas leaks. The GCSE pass rate would have been 40 per cent A-C.”

It is possible that Truss thinks that more effort should have been made across the board. She was clearly a gifted student:

… the school improved markedly for sixth form and Truss reportedly received extra tuition along with other Oxbridge applicants, which helped her gain acceptance to Merton College, Oxford, to study philosophy, politics and economics (PPE).

Her years in Roundhay might not have been her best with regard to friendships:

On Ingledew Crescent, neighbours of John Truss, whose politics diverge considerably from his daughter’s, have been asked to keep their views to themselves. Some are too furious to hold back though. “She’s a lying b***h,” said Louise, a long-time neighbour. “She told lies about our local school. She told lies about the assistance she was given. I despise the woman and I feel sorry for her father. It’s not his fault”

One pupil at Roundhay remembered Truss as “aloof” and a “loner”.

The Oxford years

Going up to Oxford probably came as a relief for Liz Truss:

Like many bumptious high-achievers, it seems she found a more comfortable groove when she went to university in 1993. Even among Oxford colleges, the secluded, introspective Merton has a reputation for academic excellence. “For those of us from regional comprehensives, we’d often had to hide how clever we were,” said one contemporary from her year at Merton. “But at Merton you could meet all these amazing people with similar interests. It was very liberating.”

Oxford was a bastion of Conservatism in those days:

“I met Tories and [found] these people don’t have two heads and they don’t eat babies,” she said of this experience.

That said, she joined the Liberal Democrats:

Unlike most of her Merton contemporaries, though, Truss threw herself into life outside the college, joining the university Liberal Democrat society and becoming its president in the spring term of 1995. Student politics seems to have provided the stage she had been looking for.

Truss’s politics in the Oxford years were a typical Lib Dem mishmash. On social issues she still espoused the left-wing radicalism of her parents. During her speech to the Lib Dem party conference in 1994, made while she was still an Oxford student, she made an impassioned plea to abolish the monarchy.

Roger Crouch, who became president of the Lib Dem society the year after Truss, met her at a freshers’ fair in which she was determined to carpet the party’s entire stall with entreaties to legalise cannabis.

“Even at the time she was determined and willing to pick a fight and stand her ground,” Crouch recalled. “She knew what she thought and was willing to defend it. She was determined, slightly eccentric and challenging. She had an acerbic sense of humour, which I think is why we got on.”

The termcard for Truss’s presidency of the society included events on the legalisation of drugs and prostitution. “She liked to challenge the orthodoxy, often a male orthodoxy,” said Crouch, who is now a teacher.

Even so, she was too libertarian to remain a Liberal Democrat for long:

“Liz was always quite a libertarian Liberal Democrat,” he says. Truss was also involved with the free-market Hayek Society at the university and Crouch recalls one particular discussion in which she advocated for the privatisation of lampposts. “I didn’t see her as someone with a longer-term future in the Lib Dems,” he said. “I think she would have found us quite annoying.”

Liz and her boyfriends made the fringe student newspaper columns, one of which said:

Liz had mad ideas.

Her acceptance of a job with Shell also garnered criticism in the student gossip columns.

Life in London

Liz completed her studies in 1996 when John Major was Prime Minister, one year before Tony Blair’s Labour landslide:

Truss migrated to London after college and the not-quite-northerner became an entrenched southerner. She worked as an economist for Shell and then Cable and Wireless, but she was quickly captivated by the siren call of Tory politics, baffling some of her university peers.

“We came out of Oxford and it was the summer of Euro 96 and Britpop,” said her Merton contemporary. “Then Tony Blair got in. It was a breath of fresh air. The country was full of optimism. To then go and join the Conservative Party, I was like: ‘How does that happen?’ It was really perplexing.”

It was at this time that politics took hold of Liz, even if she was not an immediate success. However, her tenacity saw her through:

In 1998, aged 23, Truss ran for a seat on Greenwich council, a Labour-leaning borough. She lost, and it would be a 12-year political slog before she eventually became MP for South West Norfolk.

Running alongside her in 1998 was Douglas Ellison, who later won a seat on the council. “She was definitely resilient,” he recalled. “I don’t know how many selection processes she went through. There was this enormous self-belief to keep on getting up in front of these audiences and voters to eventually try and get that break. She was a sucker for punishment.”

Ellison wouldn’t necessarily have expected her to become prime minister, but noticed her obvious political skill. “Her manner could be a bit matronly, but she was very good at working people,” he said. “She’s been very lucky in a sense. Sometimes it can be better to be lucky than talented.”

Even though she never got a seat on Greenwich council, she settled in the borough, marrying her accountant husband Hugh O’Leary in 2000, at St Alfege church in Greenwich, just half a mile walk from their current home.

Her Oxford classmate Roger Crouch attended the reception:

It must have been a good one, because I can’t really remember it.

The couple have two daughters:

Frances, 16, and Liberty, 13, who she says is looking forward to hosting sleepovers in Downing Street.

I hope Liberty acted quickly.

Hugh O’Leary

On Tuesday, September 6, after Liz became Prime Minister that day, the Daily Mail told us more about Hugh O’Leary, complete with lots of photos:

Liz Truss‘true blue’ husband watched proudly as the Tory leader was crowned Britain’s third female Prime Minister.

Hugh O’Leary listened on as Ms Truss delivered her first Downing Street address on Tuesday, vowing to to create an ‘aspiration nation’ during her reign as the nation’s 56th Prime Minister …

Mr O’Leary was also by her side when she won Tory leadership on Monday, marking the first high-profile joint appearance by a hitherto private couple.

Ms Truss, 47, described her ‘dry-witted’ accountant spouse as the ‘love of my life’ on Valentine’s Day three years ago. She met Mr O’Leary at the Tory Party Conference in 1997 and said of their first date: ‘I invited him ice skating and he sprained his ankle.’ 

Mr O’Leary was born in 1974 and grew up in Allerton, Liverpool, before his family moved to Heswall, Wirral.

A former neighbour said ‘Hugh was much more serious’ than his two younger siblings and that ‘he was very earnest and very quiet but a lovely boy,’ the Times reported last week.

O’Leary, 48, became a chartered accountant after studying econometrics and mathematical economics at the London School of Economics (LSE). 

The couple started dating and married three years later, settling in Greenwich, South-East London. They have two daughters, Frances and Liberty. O’Leary has worked from home as a house-husband.

A close family friend, cookery writer Mallika Basu, said: ‘They are a great team. Both are keen cooks and very good cooks. She does lovely roasts, he does a good curry.’

There was only one dark period, when Liz had an affair with a fellow Conservative MP. Fortunately, her marriage withstood the strain:

Only once has their relationship been rocked. In 2006, it was revealed Truss had been having an affair with married Tory MP Mark Field. Her marriage survived; his ended.

The only damaging moment came when Tory members in her Norfolk constituency complained they had been kept in the dark about the affair and tried to oust her

But they were defeated and Truss triumphed.

‘I remember when the tabloid furore was roaring … both times, her friends locally rallied around,’ a source told The Times

‘There were a number of occasions when the two of them came to various parties and it was quite good to see that people were sympathising and rallying round, particularly when it was over her selection in 2009. It was extremely unfair the way that came up.

‘I don’t really know much about what went on but from my impression, they [O’Leary and Truss] have always been a really strong couple and I have never seen any real sign that it’s had much of an impact.’

What her family think

The article said that Liz’s father John was sad and furious about his daughter’s Conservatism — and probably her ascent to No. 10:

Truss’ left-wing academic father was apparently ‘so saddened’ at her metamorphosis from an anti-monarchist Lib Dem to a Tory that he finds it difficult to talk about it, according to reports. 

A former neighbour of maths professor John Truss claims he was ‘sometimes furious’ and could ‘barely bring himself to speak about’ her being a Conservative candidate when she first stood in 2005. 

His college, the University of Leeds, has also reportedly banned his colleagues from speaking about Truss as well, The Times reports …

In July, the Daily Express also alleged that the Foreign Secretary’s relationship with her father has been impacted by her ‘conversion to extreme right-wing politics’ and he is really ‘appalled’ by it, a colleague said.

Another university source said: ‘John is distraught at the policies his daughter is advocating in her bid to become PM.’

Also:

Another report claimed Professor Truss was ‘so appalled’ by his child’s ‘conversion to extreme Right-wing politics’ that it had impacted their relationship.

We understand that this is considerably wide of the mark. It may be coincidence but we understand Prof Truss has spent part of the time that his daughter has been campaigning abroad in Finland.

‘I think it’s fair to say there is a diplomatic element to this,’ says a source. Family figures have indicated to us that the move was almost certainly to avoid being a distraction to his daughter.

But if he has been dismayed by her transformation from the spirited girl in whom he proudly instilled a strong social conscience into the standard bearer for the Tory Right, he is not saying.

All the same it is worth noting Prof Truss, whose colleagues at Leeds have been ordered not to give interviews about him, declined to campaign for his daughter when she first stood for election in 2001. (Again it may be a coincidence but she was standing in a strongly Labour-supporting constituency.) An indication of how this must have been testing family bonds comes from Prof Truss’s older brother Richard, a retired Church of England vicar who officiated when his niece married accountant, Hugh O’Leary, 22 years ago.

The Truss family, he said, had liberalism ‘in its blood’ adding: ‘It must still be in her blood as well.’

He last saw his niece in March at a party to mark his 80th birthday.

He was, he says, ‘touched’ that the Foreign Secretary had flown in from overseas in order to be there. Of the family politics, he explained: ‘My grandfather lived and died quite young but he used to turn up and campaign for the Liberals before the First World War, so it’s kind of in our genes.’

His understanding of liberal, he says, is of being ‘open and concerned for those who are in need’.

It is also why he hopes the girl he remembers as ‘fun, very bright… questioning and determined’ will do something to heal ‘the division between people in poverty’ as well as changing the Government’s approach to immigration and refugees. ‘I hope she might do something on both fronts,’ he says.

Fortunately, Priscilla Truss supports her daughter:

The former neighbour also said that Truss’ mother, nurse and teacher, Priscilla – who he spoke to before she was selected as a Tory candidate in 2005 – is backing her daughter.

‘She said she was quite torn. She’d agonised over whether to support her because she was her daughter, or not to support her because she was a Tory,’ he told The Times. ‘In the end, she decided that family ties should win out.’

Liz’s three brothers also support her:

Paradoxically for all this apparent family dissent, there is also considerable support for a politician whose list of jobs in government reads like a cut-out-and-keep guide to becoming PM: Under-secretary of state for childcare and education; Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Secretary; Justice Secretary and Lord Chancellor; Chief Secretary to the Treasury, International Trade Secretary; and finally heading the Foreign and Commonwealth Office.

Her three brothers, Chris, Patrick and Francis, turned out to support her at the final hustings at Wembley on Wednesday evening. As for her mother Priscilla, she has been a near constant presence as her daughter has criss-crossed the country seeking support.

‘For the children, Priscilla has always been there for them,’ says a family friend. ‘They always knew that if they needed her she would be there.

‘The fact is Liz is proud of her politics but she is also proud of her mother’s political views, too.’

The article says that her mother’s family’s politics have been pivotal in shaping Liz’s worldview:

If anything, it is from her mother’s side of the family that we find the crucible of Liz Truss’s convictions.

The roots of the Grasby family, Priscilla’s maiden name, are deep in the rural landscape around Driffield, East Yorkshire. Priscilla’s grandfather George fought in the Great War with the East Yorkshire regiment and lost a leg at the Battle of Passchendaele.

After the war, he married Mary and became a cobbler on Adelphi Street. Mike Kennie, who lived next door, said the old soldier’s disability was no handicap and that he would ‘often be climbing ladders outside the building.’

His father William was a shepherd and inn keeper. Today the pub he ran, The Ship Inn at Langtoft, is still in business. But the link came as a shock to the current publican Martin Weaver.

‘Can you repeat that? Liz Truss, our probable next Prime Minister, is connected to this pub. I’m astonished.

‘In fact I’m shocked. This has been a pub since the days of Queen Victoria but I never knew that Truss’s great-grandfather was brought up here as a boy. I can’t wait to tell the locals.’

The local Tory MP, Sir Greg Knight, looks forward to having a drink with Miss Truss in her great-grandfather’s former home as a matter of urgency.

I hope he hurried.

Anyway:

‘Why not? It’s a great part of the countryside and I am pleased to learn of the family connection.’ It was George who laid the foundation for the socially-upward Truss family. His son, also George, won a place to read classics at Queen’s College, Oxford.

During World War II he served with the Army in India in an intelligence role. After the war he became a teacher, later a head of classics at Bolton School for 25 years. His daughter, Liz’s mother, was one of his pupils.

According to one former pupil, the pipe-smoking Mr Grasby was very much a ‘post-Second World War socialist’. It was into this Left-leaning family tradition that Miss Truss was born in 1975. An older brother Matthew died in infancy the previous year. Three brothers followed her.

Here’s something we didn’t know:

When Liz was two, they moved to Poland and then, when she was three to Paisley, where her father had been appointed a maths lecturer at Paisley College of Technology. She started at the West Primary School, where she recalls, discipline was still imposed with the leather strap for miscreants.

Liz’s brothers talked about what it was like growing up with her. Let’s begin with a neighbour’s reminiscence:

she revelled in her position as the only girl in a family of boys. ‘Her brothers were very sporty and her parents active so there was always something going on,’ says a Roundhay neighbour.

Youngest brother Francis said it was a very musical home: ‘We’d do music practice every night because my dad’s a very keen musician, and that was sort of enforced.’ Recalling playing board games such as Cluedo and Monopoly, Francis said of his sister: ‘My dad would say she cheated to win. She was someone who had to win. She created a special system to work out how she could win, and then if she was losing she might sort of disappear rather than lose.’

What her friends say

The paper reported that Liz’s friends were on board with her candidacy as Party leader and had every confidence in her:

We have spoken to family, friends, foes and even former romantic partners. They all agree on one thing: the Liz Truss they know is brighter and far more intelligent than some of her leaden appearances on hustings and in interviews might have suggested.

There is, too, something of a chameleon character to her that manages to identify her with practically everyone. That, of course, may be her skill as a politician — she is after all the longest-serving Cabinet minister in recent times.

But as a one-time ally says: ‘The key to understanding her is that she actually says what she believes.’ What perhaps is even more bizarre is the contempt she has these days for liberal group-think.

The paper caught up with friends of hers from Roundhay:

While still at school she joined the youth branch of the Lib Dems. A fellow student was Kiron Reid and the two were photographed holding a party flag at a mass trespass at Twyford Down, Hampshire, in protest at then Home Secretary Michael Howard’s Criminal Justice Bill clamping down on illegal raves.

Reid was also a friend of her then boyfriend, Wyn Evans, another Lib Dem supporter who was at Leeds Polytechnic.

Reid, who is still a party activist, told us: ‘Liz always had a liberal social and economic view of the world. Am I surprised she’s now a Tory?

‘Well, even back then she was a huge fan of Mrs Thatcher which was not a commonly held position in the North of England. She regarded her as a strong woman leader.

‘It was a long time ago and I was often drunk or hung over at Lib Dem conferences but she always argued her position strongly.

‘Wyn and Liz went out with each other for at least a year, maybe 18 months or more.’

Mr Evans is clearly no longer a fan of his former girlfriend, tweeting in April: ‘Biggest war in Europe for 75 years and our Foreign Secretary, in a major speech, can barely utter the word Europe. This is a speech of an isolated, detached nation still carrying notions of being a global power. Depressingly sad and woefully dangerous.’

A professor speaks

The Mail‘s article ends with the words of one of Liz’s lecturers at Oxford:

Perhaps Marc Stears, one of her Oxford lecturers, offers the most intriguing insight on our next PM.

‘That Truss appears to be on the cusp of becoming Prime Minister, rather than those candidates from central casting of PPE at Oxford, shows not only that I grossly underestimated her 25 years ago but also that the qualities our politics rewards have changed beyond recognition,’ he says.

‘Truss lacks the media elan of Tony Blair and David Cameron. She lacks the dogged determination of Gordon Brown or the patient, long-term vision of Margaret Thatcher.

Then again, he will not be the first person to have underestimated Mary Elizabeth Truss.

Maybe the prof nailed it in saying she lacked a patient, long-term vision. Then again, with the Conservatives having lost two years’ worth of policy making to the pandemic, time was against her.

Tomorrow’s post looks at the New Statesman‘s fascinating profile of Liz Truss’s brand of politics and The Guardian‘s analysis of her time in Parliament as well as Downing Street.

As I need something positive to think about while awaiting Chancellor Jeremy Hunt’s awful budget on Thursday, November 17, here is a retrospective on Liz Truss’s rise to power, however short-lived.

The Conservative Party leadership campaign dominated the latter half of July and all of August.

By Tuesday, August 16, like the Telegraph‘s Tim Stanley, I, too, had watched every hustings up to that point.

Who could have guessed that, in an extraordinary turn of events, both she and Rishi Sunak would be in No. 10 within weeks of each other?

Reporting on what happened north of the border in Perth, Stanley wrote:

The hustings had become so repetitive, I know the speeches by rote. Rishi grew up in a pharmacy, Liz sat on a planning committee. My only pleasure has been waiting for the day they cross their wires and Rishi announces he grew up on a planning committee and Liz that she sat on a pharmacy.

But on Tuesday we were in Scotland, so the script was rewritten. Lots of references to whisky, gas and Nicola Sturgeon, who Liz once said we should ignore, so Rishi said: “I don’t just want to ignore [her], I want to take her on and beat her!” Big clap for that …

“I grew up in a small business,” he said. And the cream for your burn, sir, can be found on the fourth aisle.

Liz did a much better job of showing that she knew she was in Scotland, referencing Adam Smith, JK Rowling and salmon fishing – and reminding us that she understood what poverty was because she grew up in a recession in Paisley in the 1980s (when the Tories were in power) and later in Leeds in the 1990s (ditto). 

In fairness to Liz, she meant local councils, not the Government.

The Mail highlighted the disagreement Liz and Rishi had on taxes:

Miss Truss has pledged to reverse the national insurance hike to help struggling families, but has not ruled out offering further support. But Mr Sunak said the right way to help people with higher energy bills is through direct support.

He told the hustings: ‘The tax cuts that Liz is proposing are worth about £1,700 to someone on her income. For someone working very hard on the national living wage, it’s worth about a quid a week …’

On Wednesday, August 17, the duo were in Northern Ireland, where, yes, there is a Conservative Party. It has around 600 members. I had no idea.

The Guardian had unearthed an old video of her saying that the British weren’t very good workers. The Mail said that she defended her remarks to the press in Northern Ireland:

Pressed by reporters in Northern Ireland today whether she believes British workers are not working hard enough, Ms Truss replied: ‘What I believe is that we need more skills in our country, we need more capital investment in our country, we need more opportunity in our country. That is what I would deliver as prime minister …

She added : ‘I’m fundamentally on the side of people who work hard, who do the right thing. Those are the people I want back.’

Conservatives did not object to Liz’s views (emphases mine):

Despite the furore, Ms Truss was delivered a major boost today with the latest ConservativeHome poll showing she is firmly on track for victory on September 5. She was 60 per cent to 28 per cent ahead of Rishi Sunak in a survey of activists.

The Belfast hustings was the only uncomfortable one of the campaign. It was clear neither candidate had any grasp of Northern Ireland or people’s concerns:

The furthest Liz could connect with the small group of Conservative members was to say that she knew that a ‘woman is a woman’, for which she received applause (somewhere around the 12-minute mark). Near the end of her Q&A, a man expressed concern about abortion, which was foisted on them by Westminster. He asked about the fairness of that, since Northern Ireland has its own Assembly. She bristled at the question and brusquely replied that all the devolved nations had to have the same health policies (somewhere between 32 and 35 minutes in).

Rishi’s intro and Q&A followed Liz’s.

The London Evening Standard had an excellent report from Rebecca Black following the hustings at the Culloden Hotel on the outskirts of Belfast:

The Brexit protocol, the Stormont Assembly, the health service, abortion, foreign policy and support for the party in Northern Ireland were among the issues raised …

Martin Craigs said he remained undecided after hearing their pitches.

He said he felt their content in terms of Northern Ireland had been “very weak”.

“They’re sitting on the fence, this isn’t the audience they’re playing to, the audience they’re playing to are the 160,000 Conservative members, and there are very few of them in Northern Ireland, but they obviously have to go to all corners of the UK to be seen to be democratic,” he told the PA news agency.

“I might actually not vote at all because I think the performance has been so poor.”

Matthew Robinson, chairman of the Northern Ireland Conservatives, welcomed the candidates’ visit and paid tribute to the commitment they were showing to the region.

He said he had been holding back on deciding who to vote for, but based on what he heard at the hustings he would back Ms Truss.

“I think she outlined an unwavering commitment to what we do locally here as a political force,” he said.

“I’m not just encouraged but excited about what we can achieve together during her hopeful premiership.”

David Trimble’s widow said that, just before he died, he wanted to make sure he voted for Liz. Lord Trimble had originally been a member of the Ulster Unionist Party (UUP) but became a Conservative in 2007. The following year, a voting alliance was created between the UUP and Conservatives in Northern Ireland.

The Standard reported on Lady Trimble’s article in the Telegraph in which she supported Liz. The Stormont Assembly has not been meeting for several months now:

The powersharing structures Lord Trimble helped create in the landmark 1998 agreement are currently in limbo, with the DUP blocking the creation of a governing executive in protest at Brexit’s Northern Ireland Protocol.

Lady Trimble wrote: “I believe that in this contest, Liz Truss has the best record and a viable plan to protect our Union and Northern Ireland’s integral place within it.

“I know David thought the same.

“One of the last things he did before we lost him was to ask his son to collect his voting papers so he could vote for Liz.

“He was adamant that she was what the country needed and I agree.

“She has already proven her resolve and bravery in the face of opposition to our most valuable asset, and I am confident that my husband’s legacy, peace in Northern Ireland, will be safe with her.”

Lady Trimble, born Daphne Orr, is an academic who served as a member of the Equality Commission for Northern Ireland and the Northern Ireland Human Rights Commission.

Another article in the Standard showed that Liz understood the difficulty with the post-Brexit Protocol:

The Foreign Secretary also said she would not accept any compromises on a renegotiated Northern Ireland Protocol as prime minister if it meant key UK demands were not met.

She made the comments during a visit to Belfast, where she and Rishi Sunak were quizzed by Tory members during a hustings event.

She told party members that until the Northern Ireland Protocol is sorted, Stormont will not be back up and running.

The Standard‘s Rebecca Black wrote a separate article on the abortion question:

Abortion laws in the region were liberalised in 2019 in laws passed by Westminster at a time when the power-sharing government at Stormont had collapsed.

During a Conservative Party leadership hustings event at the Culloden Hotel on the outskirts of Belfast, Ms Truss was asked if she would abolish abortion in Northern Ireland, “ending infanticide”, or let the people of the region have their say on the issue.

She responded to applause [for the man, not her]: “I’m afraid I don’t agree with you.

“We are a United Kingdom and we need all of our laws to apply right across the United Kingdom – that is what being a union is.”

Rishi’s highlight of the hustings was about Liz’s £50 billion black hole:

Rishi Sunak has warned that Tory leadership rival Liz Truss’s tax plans would add £50 billion to borrowing while failing to give direct support to the most vulnerable in society, as the cost-of-living crisis deepened.

The former chancellor said the Foreign Secretary would be guilty of “moral failure” if she does not focus on the nation’s poorest, and warned her policies could further stoke inflation.

Ms Truss instead insisted “taxes are too high and they are potentially choking off growth”, as she promised an emergency budget to tackle the situation.

On Thursday, August 18, the eminently sensible Lord Moylan told GB News that he was voting for Liz because Rishi’s economic plans did not make sense:

On Saturday, August 20, Sir John Redwood MP criticised the pro-Rishi media:

Redwood laid out his Thatcherite economic plan for Liz in that day’s Telegraph:

Britain’s fiscal rules should be ripped up by Liz Truss if she wins the Conservative leadership race, one of her key allies has said.

Sir John Redwood, who served as the head of Margaret Thatcher’s Downing Street policy unit and is tipped to return to government if Ms Truss wins, said she should abandon the practice of targeting a set percentage of GDP for national debt and the deficit.

He also called for a review of both the Bank of England and Office for Budget Responsibility (OBR), and suggested the Foreign Secretary should be inspired by Mrs Thatcher in removing utilities and transport from state control.

Since 1997, fiscal rules have been announced by chancellors during Budget statements in an attempt to control government spending.

They usually set a restriction on the proportion of national debt or deficit as a percentage of economic output.

But in an interview with The Telegraph, Sir John said the practice is a hangover from EU fiscal regulation agreed between member states at the Maastricht conference in 1992, and does not encourage economic growth or limit inflation.

“I think having a fiscal rule, which is a variant of state debt as a percentage of GDP, and the public deficit as a percentage of GDP in any given year, is not really the right couple of rules for the two targets you’re trying to meet,” he said.

The Tory backbencher said ministers should maintain “sensible controls over growth in public spending and in public debt” by instead monitoring the amount of money paid by the Treasury to lenders in interest payments.

In a coded rebuke to Rishi Sunak, who was the chancellor until last month, he added: “You have to elect governments that take controlling public finances seriously, and they then have to take them seriously.

“If you have a government that doesn’t take controlling public finances seriously, it won’t matter what your fiscal rules say, as we know from recent past experience,” he said.

Sir John is expected to be appointed as a Treasury minister in Ms Truss’s government and is understood to have helped shape her thinking on economic issues during the campaign

Sir John said he had not had “any discussions” with Ms Truss about taking a role if she wins the contest, but told The Telegraph he would accept a job if he was offered one.

The Times also thought that Liz would give Redwood a role. One campaign source said:

“There are a lot of crumpled up bits of paper. I’ve been in three meetings about the cabinet and it keeps changing.”

Among the names on the pieces of paper: Iain Duncan Smith, who is heading back to cabinet, and John Redwood, who was last a minister 27 years ago and is earmarked for a junior Treasury post.

This weekend Truss will take a team of her senior aides to Chevening, the grace and favour home in Kent which she enjoys as foreign secretary, with the aim of getting people and policies more firmly nailed down.

In the past few days she has repeatedly told her team “no complacency”. As an ally puts it more prosaically: “No f***-ups, basically.”

Sadly, Liz never offered Redwood a role. If she had, she might still be Prime Minister today.

The Times was also wrong about Iain Duncan Smith, who was not part of Liz’s Cabinet, either.

Also on August 20, the Mail‘s Dan Hodges wrote that Rishi’s campaign was effectively over because of his mansplaining:

It was the moment Rishi Sunak‘s leadership campaign started to unravel. Actually, it was one of 20 moments. ‘Please let me respond,’ Liz Truss chided, as her opponent butted in during their first head- to-head TV debate. ‘Absolutely, let Liz Truss respond,’ the BBC‘s moderator Sophie Raworth was forced to interject.

Sunak didn’t. Time and again he talked over his rival, interrupting and silencing her. It was a strategy his team seemed to think would put Truss on the defensive.

They were wrong

the damage was done. Sunak was branded a ‘Mansplainer’.

To some, this episode provided further evidence of Sunak’s poor political tradecraft. But he’d actually fallen into a well-prepared trap.

‘We were ready for him!’ one Truss campaign ally told me. ‘For years, Liz has been patronised by men who are a bit full of themselves. She’s not going to just stand there and take it.’

In 15 days’ time, Britain will have our third woman Prime Minister. And unlike her predecessors, Liz Truss isn’t going to be shy of reminding people of it.

Let us recall that only the Conservatives have had female Party leaders, all of whom were Prime Minister.

By contrast, Labour have yet to elect a woman leader.

On August 21, The Sunday Times told us what Labour-to-Conservative voters in Oldham thought of the two candidates:

If Rishi Sunak (the ferret) and Liz Truss (the budgie) had put a glass to the wall of the room in Oldham where ten swing voters gathered by Public First, all of whom voted Conservative in the last general election, were sharing their impressions of the Tory leadership hopefuls, they would have blushed. But mostly not with pride.

They had been asked to say which animal, item of clothing or single word would best describe each of the candidates (Truss was also a “bunny rabbit”, for the record). As someone who has posed for photos atop a tank and astride a motorbike during her cabinet career, she might have been surprised to hear herself described as “mumsy”, “dull as dishwater”, a “cardigan”, “Jemima Puddle-Duck” and, possibly worst of all, an “unknown”.

Sunak would have heard that he was a “suit” a “backstabber” and a “traitor” (to Boris Johnson, that is) and he would have certainly regretted wearing a pair of £490 suede Prada shoes to visit a Teesside building site as he did last month. This did not go down well at all with many of these C2DE (aka working class) voters. It suggested, said Rachel, 33, a bar worker, that he was so rich he had “no respect for money”; after all a building site, she said, is going to be messy. She said “quite a lot of people were upset” by it, especially those struggling to make ends meet. “I certainly couldn’t afford to buy a £500 pair of shoes,” she said.

Matthew, 40, who works in the oil trade, asked how Sunak could possibly relate to low-wage people. The group wondered what his PR advisers were thinking, allowing it to happen. It was quite simple, said Mandy, an educator in a prison: “If you are going to an area where . . . people are on the minimum wage, don’t wear £500 shoes.”

But there was happier news for Sunak when it came to which of the two leadership candidates they preferred. Five chose Sunak, compared with three for Truss while two didn’t know, though by the end of the discussion a couple had changed to “don’t know”.

Sunak, according to those who picked him, had a higher profile due to the furlough scheme during lockdown. Jodie, 33, a school administrator, said she associated him with helping people during that period. “I had never heard of Liz Truss before this race, but Rishi Sunak . . . we’ve seen him in action. He’s helped out, like, working class people.”

Mandy, however, who chose Truss, said the foreign secretary had been growing as a force in the “background” for some time now. She mentioned the “scandals” involving Sunak. This was a reference to a recent video in which he boasted to Conservative party members in Kent of taking money from deprived urban areas in order to give it to other parts of the country

That day, Guido Fawkes revealed that Rishi’s team broke down Liz’s £50 billion black hole, which is actually tax savings.

Even now, with Thursday’s Rishi-Hunt budget in view, Guido still appears to be correct in his assessment:

Guido also thought that the Conservatives would win the next general election:

Guido’s post has Rishi’s breakdown of Liz’s black hole. This is Guido’s analysis of Liz’s savings for the taxpayer (emphases his):

According to figures just released by the Rishi campaign, taxpayers will get a net saving of £48.3 billion in reduced taxes under Liz as Prime Minister compared to Rishi. This is a similar figure to calculations made by the Guardian newspaper. This is intended to be an attack line, the argument Rishi is making is that Liz will have to choose between tax cuts or handouts. When you consider that this is equivalent to some £2,000 per taxpayer you will understand what Liz means when she says she wants to “help people in a Conservative way”

In the Rishi campaign’s press release the tax savings are described as “costs”. This approach hasn’t been seen since 2010, when Gordon Brown would point to any tax saving proposed by the opposition and demand to know from Cameron and Osborne what spending would be cut. It is a mindset that considers the public’s money to belong to the government and any income not taxed to be a “cost”. Guido’s not sure why Liam Booth-Smith, Rishi’s policy guru, ever thought this orthodox Brownian line of attack would appeal to Tory members…

By Monday, August 22, with a week and a half left to go in the seemingly endless campaign, Rishi’s poll ratings were tanking.

The Guardian warned that Labour found that Liz could boost the Conservatives in the polls, which Labour had been leading for several months by that point. They still are in the lead.

However, the paper said that any poll boost would be short lived:

Tory leadership frontrunner Liz Truss could give the government a double-figure bounce in the polls once she is installed in No 10, according to internal Labour analysis.

A memo drawn up by Keir Starmer’s director of strategy, Deborah Mattinson, claimed the foreign secretary could dramatically improve Conservative fortunes.

The document, dated 18 August and leaked to the Guardian, comes amid speculation that Truss could be tempted to capitalise on the upswing and call a snap general election.

However, the research also suggests that any improvement in the government’s position could be very short-lived, with voters already concerned about aspects of Truss’s character.

“Our focus groups suggest that as voters get to know Truss better they like her less,” it says. “Serious negatives – untrustworthiness, inauthenticity, U-turns, lack of grip – are starting to cut through suggesting that any bounce may be very short-lived.”

Meanwhile, Rishi allegedly scoffed at the idea he would take a post in Liz’s Cabinet. That day, The Times reported on his interview with BBC Radio 2:

Truss has said that she would offer Sunak a cabinet job if she were to win. The Times reported at the weekend that she is considering asking him to become health secretary.

Sunak appeared to scoff at the prospect today, however, suggesting he did not want to serve in a cabinet in which he and the prime minister would disagree on “the big things”.

Liz’s poll results were buoyant. An Italian firm, Techne, cut their teeth in the UK on this campaign:

In the end, the result was much closer, although Liz still had a clear majority.

However, on the same day, a GB News Peoples Poll (Peoples Poll being the name of the polling organisation) showed that Britons overwhelmingly prefer Labour’s Keir Starmer as the next Prime Minister, viewing Liz Truss as ‘untrustworthy’:

A poll exclusively commissioned by GB News has found that British people would prefer Keir Starmer to be Prime Minister over both Rishi Sunak and Liz Truss.

41 percent of the 1,235 Brits polled said they would be more likely to vote for a Labour Party led by Keir Starmer than the Conservatives led by Liz Truss, who received 22 percent of the vote.

And Rishi Sunak, also standing to become the next Tory leader and Prime Minister, only fared one percent better than Ms Truss when compared with Sir Keir, who received a share of 40 percent of the poll.

In both cases, 28 percent of people said they didn’t know who they would prefer, with nine percent preferring not to say.

The results raise questions about the popularity of both candidates, with the Conservatives faring better in a straight contest with Labour.

When asked which party they would vote for if there was a General Election tomorrow, Labour came out on top with 31 percent.

But the margin between the two parties was a lot smaller than between the leaders, with 20 percent voting Conservative

When asked to give one word they associated with Liz Truss, Brits’ top answer was “untrustworthy”.

Unfortunately for Ms Truss, second most popular answer was “useless”, with the even less flattering “idiot” in third.

On Monday, August 29, the anti-Liz media went into a tizz when she declined an interview with the BBC’s Nick Robinson.

The Telegraph reported:

Liz Truss has pulled out of a BBC interview with Nick Robinson because she can “no longer spare the time”.

Ms Truss, the Tory leadership front-runner, committed to the primetime sit-down interview with Mr Robinson, who presents the Today programme, on Aug 18.

But the Foreign Secretary now appears to have changed her mind as the race to succeed Boris Johnson enters its final week. Rishi Sunak, her leadership rival, was interviewed by Mr Robinson on Aug 10 …

Mr Sunak has taken part in nine one-on-one broadcast interviews throughout the leadership campaign, including three appearances on the Today programme.

Ms Truss has done two such interviews, including the Today programme, when she was interviewed at the start of the head-to-head stage of the contest, and the People’s Forum show on GB News.

A bigger controversy that day was that Liz was preparing to cut VAT. She never did, but someone should, because VAT is an EU law. Here is smoked salmon king Lance Forman’s wise opinion, saying that the people who object to a VAT cut are on the Left:

On the penultimate day of Conservative Party member voting, Liz pledged to revive Conservative grassroots activism, but readers of ConservativeHome were unimpressed.

One of the comments read:

This and other similar pieces of rhetoric just prove to me that it’s all about strategies to win elections rather than a coherent, well thought-out set of policies that will benefit the country in both the short- and long-term, much the same as some of the statements made by both candidates in this “leadership” election.

Surely we are capable of better?

Yes, we are capable of better.

On the last day of members voting, Wednesday, August 31, The Telegraph asked readers who should be in and out of Liz’s Cabinet.

Interestingly, everyone the readers wanted out are in Rishi Sunak’s Cabinet. Priti Patel is the only exception. And, Alok Sharma is still COP26 president, although he is not in Cabinet.

In conclusion, within weeks, we went back to the same old, same old thing.

I still have a few more items about Liz Truss to cover. Stay tuned.

This post concludes the story of how Rishi Sunak became Prime Minister.

Those who missed them might find parts 1 and 2 of interest.

Before concluding, an important anniversary took place this week.

On October 26, 2012, UKIP MP Douglas Carswell introduced a private member’s bill, ‘The People’s EU Withdrawal Bill’.

The groundswell of support from Guido Fawkes’s readers helped bring it to the Commons:

Guido has the video and a brief comment (emphases his):

Today history was made as the first-ever crowd-sourced Bill was debated in Parliament. The majority of 5,000 readers of this website voted for Douglas Carswell to propose Britain to withdraw from the European Union, and today Carswell stood up in the House to argue the case for the People’s Bill. The debate can be watched at length here. 

Video via @liarpoliticians

Here is a short video of proceedings:

A few years later, then-Prime Minister David Cameron, frightened by the overwhelming support for UKIP in the European election, decided to give the British people a referendum. It ended up being the largest plebiscite in the history of the United Kingdom. On Thursday, June 23, 2016, in pouring rain, voters said they wanted the UK to leave the EU: 52% to 48%.

In current news, during Rishi Sunak’s first week as PM, as I wrote yesterday, questions were being asked in the Commons and the Lords about Suella Braverman’s reappointment as Home Secretary.

The Telegraph‘s Madeline Grant called Braverman ‘Houdini’ for not showing up for an Urgent Question in the Commons about the horrifying state of the Manston processing centre in Kent, which is turning from a short-stay to a longer-term residence for Channel migrants (emphases in purple mine):

At a second Home Office UQ, this time courtesy of Labour’s Diana Johnson, the Home Secretary was a no-show again …

In truth, there were unhappy campers on both sides of the House; enough to populate Butlins, if not quite Calais …

Deputising for Houdini was Robert Jenrick – a junior Home Office minister and close ally of the PM who, some say, was appointed to keep a watchful eye on Braverman and prevent her from doing anything too mad

Yet Jenrick’s arguments were more true-blue, or at least Red Wall. He had little sympathy with illegal migrants, and the diversion of resources away from their legal counterparts, and seized eagerly on Priti Patel’s pet phrase, “evil people-smuggling gangs”. Reinforcements soon began to arrive from the Tory backbenches. What gave Labour the right to complain, wondered Steve Double, the MP for St Austell, when they’d voted against Patel’s Nationality and Borders Bill. Lee Anderson and Richard Graham warned of Britain’s imminent inundation by Albanian men.

Christopher Chope reminded the Commons that whatever the state of the Manston processing centre, conditions were a darn sight worse in the Calais Jungle. Labour MPs looked scandalised, but Jenrick agreed wholeheartedly.

When asked why he was deputising for Braverman:

Jenrick, in the spirit of Sunak, came back with an answer that was simultaneously boring and unimpeachable. “Because I’m the Minister of State for Immigration”

It is estimated that from 1% to 2% of Albanian men are in the UK. They have places to go to once they arrive. The Albanian drug trade is the latest development in our migration story.

The situation in Dover is intensifying. The Times reported the story of the week: ‘”Desperate” new arrivals drive Dover into taking up arms’. Sledgehammers, more like, as firearms are largely illegal here:

Sue Doyle, 59, was sitting in her living room sipping a cup of coffee on Sunday morning when a 16-year-old Albanian migrant got in through the back door, which she had left open for her dog.

“All of a sudden he was there standing in my front room,” she told The Times. “He didn’t seem very friendly. He kept saying: ‘no police, no police’.”

Doyle, a full-time carer for her mother, said she was made to her lock her dog in a bedroom and that the teenager then asked her to drive him to Manchester. When she refused he demanded her mobile phone and used it to arrange to be picked up by a contact.

Doyle managed to sneak out of the front door and alert a neighbour, who contacted the police and confronted the young migrant.

The neighbour, Louise Monger, 36, said she became more sympathetic when she realised his age and tried to assist him. Police arrived and he was detained before the driver arrived, she said …

The teenager who was arrested was said to be in tears as he was driven away in a police car …

A few doors down from Doyle, Kerry Jones, 45, a mother of a young autistic girl, said she now sleeps with a sledgehammer next to her bed after a migrant tried to enter her home through the back door in August

The residents complained that not enough was being done by the council, police and border force to deal with the problem. Many spoke of seeing migrants running through the streets and residential areas or “hiding in bushes” in local parks

When a Times reporter arrived at Dover Priory station yesterday a Syrian mother and her young child approached and asked for help getting to an “army base” where their money and belongings were.

The mother, Nur Taha, 27, said she and her son, Mohammad Salu, six, arrived in Dover ten days ago in an overcrowded dinghy that was rescued on the water and were separated from her partner Akram Salu, 49, who was detained by military police, and their possessions …

When a reporter called Kent Police to request assistance for the mother and son, he was told that no officers were available as they had more pressing priorities. The advice given was to let them roam in Dover and hope that they were safe.

In a statement on Doyle’s report, the force said it received a call at about 10.45am on Sunday that a man had entered “an insecure door at a property in Dover and was seeking the use of a phone”.

The force added: “He was initially arrested, then de-arrested at the scene once the circumstances had been established by speaking to both parties. The man was then detained on behalf of immigration officers.”

In Nur Taha’s case, it is understood she and Mohammad had been processed by Border Force officers

The council was approached for comment.

Mass migration started during Tony Blair’s government and has only become worse, as the backlog of cases is through the roof.

The Times reported:

Twenty years on, the Home Office again needs more information on those arriving, as well as stronger co-operation with France to stem the flow. Officials often have little information on claimants, whose lack of identification may be a deliberate ploy — case workers have little choice but to believe them: 75 per cent of asylum seekers were given the right to stay in the 12 months to March, the highest rate since 1990.

Meanwhile, claims are taking longer to assess, having climbed to an average of 480 days for an initial decision to be reached.

Some in the Home Office have suggested there is a deliberate policy of slowing down the processing of claims given the high rate of people granted asylum. A six-month target for assessing claims has been ditched and the rate of cases completed in that time has fallen from 80 per cent in 2015 to 17 per cent. But this looks set to change, given the soaring cost of housing those waiting for their claim to be assessed in hotels, which now stands at £6.8 million per day.

This month, the idea of erecting tent cities in London’s parks was mooted, something Paris has tried with shocking effect. Most Parisian women living near one of these tent cities can no longer go out at night. Drugs, violence and noise prevail once it turns dark.

The same Times article reported that London tent cities are unlikely to come to fruition:

The idea was raised by civil servants in meetings with leaders of London councils this month, sources said.

It was considered after efforts to persuade London boroughs and local authorities in other parts of the country to accommodate more asylum seekers failed. The Home Office had issued an emergency appeal to councils for more places earlier this year as officials struggled to cope with the growing numbers of migrants crossing the Channel.

Council leaders in the meeting dismissed the prospect of installing marquees in parks in the capital and instead urged the Home Office to lift the ban on asylum seekers being able to get a job …

The Home Office made clear last night that the plans to erect tents in London parks were no longer under consideration. It said: “It is categorically untrue to suggest that the Home Office is planning to erect tents to house asylum seekers in London parks.”

The idea arose during discussions on how to deal with overcrowding at the temporary asylum processing site at Manston Airport, which is only designed to hold Channel migrants for up to 24 hours.

It is unclear what Rishi Sunak has planned for Suella Braverman.

On the one hand, Sunak’s people say everything is in hand, and MI5 say they have no problem working with the Home Secretary, the Times revealed:

A former Conservative minister in the Home Office told The Times: “You can’t even have the vague notion that you might leak because then all the security services will clam up on you — which is not what you need.”

However, responding to claims that MI5 could withhold information from Braverman, a security source said: “This is completely untrue. The home secretary and MI5 have a strong and trusted working relationship. She will continue to receive regular intelligence briefings, as was the case when the home secretary was in post previously and with other home secretaries.”

Rishi Sunak’s spokesman insisted that Braverman had “strong relationships” with the security services and the prime minister’s full confidence.

Oh, dear: ‘the prime minister’s full confidence’. Those are dangerous words, dating back from the 1990s. That means a resignation or a sacking could be coming soon.

The Star wasted no time in putting ‘Leeky Sue’ on their Friday front page:

On the other hand, the Times said that Sunak’s allies are waiting for Braverman to go, possibly so that Jenrick can step in. He wouldn’t be very good, I don’t think, but that seems to be charactistic of Sunak’s government — business as usual, nothing gets done:

Sunak’s close ally and Braverman’s deputy in the Home Office, Robert Jenrick, responded to an urgent question on crossings yesterday in her place. The sole hope now, Sunak allies have whispered, is that Braverman makes a further error and goes for good, leaving Sunak and Jenrick to press on peacefully in her absence.

That doesn’t surprise me in the slightest.

The Guardian continued to cast shade on Braverman:

London’s Evening Standard, however, went with the story about Cabinet minister Nadhim Zahawi’s defence of the Home Secretary at the bottom of their front page:

One good thing that Rishi has done is to decline going to COP27:

A new poll shows that the Conservatives are doing better than Labour, but still have a huge hill to climb:

I disagree with Guido’s assessment here. The poll decline started with Boris and Partygate nearly a year ago:

That said, Guido rightly sees this as an uphill battle:

Add to that the impending storm of budget cuts, Rishi certainly faces an uphill battle.

The poll also strengthens Reform UK’s claims of a resurgence, with their support at 6% and growing representing a relatively strong showing. The Conservatives face challenges from all sides…

Finally, there’s the idiocy of America’s Trevor Noah calling Britain racist towards Rishi Sunak. I haven’t read one negative comment about his heritage from conservatives, ever. Labour — our equivalent of the Democrats — are the ones making the racist remarks.

The Telegraph reported:

Rishi Sunak does not believe Britain is a racist country, a Downing Street spokesman said, following claims by Trevor Noah that there was a “backlash” after he became the UK’s first British-Asian Prime Minister

“But you heard the words in the House [of Commons] on Wednesday with regard to the [appointment of the] Prime Minister,” the spokesman said. When asked whether Mr Sunak believes Britain is a racist country, the spokesman said: “No he doesn’t.”

His words were echoed by Sajid Javid, the former chancellor and health secretary, who said Noah was “detached from reality” when he claimed Mr Sunak’s appointment provoked a racist “backlash”.

… Tom Holland, a popular historian and podcaster, wrote:

—————————————————————————————————————–

Now back to the leadership contest, where we pick up on the events of Saturday, October 22, 2022.

Boris returns to the UK

The Sun‘s Harry Cole told TalkTV that Boris and Rishi could come up with a plan to save the country:

Sky News’s Mark Stone was tracking Boris’s progress back to the UK:

Sky News interviewed Chris Heaton-Harris MP, who said that Boris definitely had 100 backers (see video):

Guido was eager to confirm, as Boris’s numbers were far behind Rishi’s at that point:

Boris landed at Gatwick mid-morning:

Guido was hopeful for his prospects:

One German newspaper, however, was less than enthusiastic, asking, ‘Seriously?’:

Former Home Secretary and Boris loyalist Priti Patel declared her support:

However, the never-Boris MP, Sir Roger Gale, did not mince words in an interview with LBC:

Scottish Conservatives would agree. The Telegraph‘s Alan Cochrane wrote:

Just when an air of undisguised relief began to filter through the higher reaches of the Scottish Tories at the resignation of Prime Minister Liz Truss, along came Boris Johnson to dampen their ardour.

They may not have been the greatest fans of Ms Truss and were glad to see the back of her. But their view of Boris bordered on the certain belief that he was a major electoral liability north of the border. And as the news emerged that the former PM aims to stand again for the top job, one former senior minister commented: “It will destroy the Conservative Party if he does.”

At lunchtime, Harry Cole produced a poll for the Sun saying that Boris still topped the charts. That must have been in England, then:

However, Lord Frost thought that Rishi was the right man for the job:

One Twitter user reminded us that Boris plucked David GH Frost from obscurity and elevated him to the House of Lords:

However, the BBC’s Laura Kuenssberg and ITV News’s Anushka Asthana spotted a trend. Former Boris supporters, such as Lord Frost, who also supported Liz Truss, now preferred Rishi Sunak:

That afternoon, Boris’s father Stanley appeared again on GB News, saying he would vote for his son if the contest went to Party members:

Just before 3 p.m., Boris backers told the BBC’s Chris Mason that the former PM had the numbers:

However, the Evening Standard‘s Nicholas Cecil sounded a note of caution — Boris’s MPs did not want their names made public:

A Mail+ report couldn’t shed much more light on the names, either:

On Saturday morning, former Home Secretary Priti Patel said she was backing Mr Johnson in the leadership race because he had a ‘proven track record’. Ms Truss, Defence Secretary Ben Wallace and former Home Secretary Suella Braverman are also in Mr Johnson’s camp, while former No10 chief of staff Steve Barclay and ex Brexit Minister Lord Frost have publicly backed rival Rishi Sunak.

Just before 3 p.m., another Twitter user provided this analysis, saying that Rishi had the momentum and numbers:

Just after 3 p.m., Guido’s spreadsheet showed that Rishi was on 120 MPs with Boris on 71:

Red Wall MP Lee Anderson declared his support for Boris after 3:30:

That was about it for Boris’s afternoon.

Shortly after 6 p.m., Guido described how he and his team were compiling their spreadsheet. The following points stood out:

Here is some insight into what has happened in the last few days: the Rishi campaign has decided in their wisdom to freeze Guido out – no briefing, no contact, effectively pretending we don’t exist as a fact of political life. Petulantly putting us in the penalty box for giving Rishi a hard time in the last leadership campaign. We started reporting and publicly recording the support of MPs for Boris on Thursday, and by yesterday evening the Rishi campaign was instructing their supporting MPs to contact us to confirm their support for him. As our records showed support for Rishi catching up with and then pulling ahead of Boris, his campaign reminded supporters to confirm their pledges to us. All can now see the relative strength of candidates’ support.

… MPs who have not pledged can be seen by all sides. They are either genuinely undecided – waiting to see which way the wind blows – or biding their time for Machiavellian reasons, or simply ransoming their vote for the highest bid or best favour. What MPs can’t do is double pledge any more. If they tell a campaign they are backing their candidate the campaign expects them to go public. If they don’t go public, they are suspect.

Yesterday the site was visited three quarters of a million times, such was the demand for data.* This kind of transparency is now a fact of political life, the game has changed. Changed for the better…

*Team Rishi’s strategy of ignoring the website read by so much of the membership doesn’t bode well for their success if the contest goes to the membership.

Penny who?

Meanwhile, Penny Mordaunt’s leadership bid wasn’t the best.

Although this was strictly for MPs, The Guardian went to her Portsmouth North constituency to find out what the public thought:

Penny Mordaunt may have been the MP for Portsmouth North for 12 years, and could perhaps be the next prime minister, but some of her constituents were perplexed when hearing her name on Friday.

“Who’s she? I don’t know nothing about her,” said James McLeish, who added he would not recognise her if she passed him on the street. “Never seen her, don’t even know what she stands for.”

McLeish’s bemusement came hours before Mordaunt formally announced she was standing to replace Liz Truss – stealing a march on her presumed rivals Rishi Sunak and Boris Johnson.

Speaking in Cosham High Street, which runs through the centre of a suburb to the north of the port city, McLeish, 82, had a much clearer view on Truss’s resignation after a disastrous 45 days in office.

The Telegraph‘s Tim Stanley gave us a tongue-in-cheek profile of the Leader of the House:

What about Penny Mordaunt, bringing up the rear? She was the first candidate to declare – and she surprised everyone last time by how far she went. The Tory grassroots appear besotted with this lady, thanks to her naval career and taste for innuendo; she exudes an impression of authority that was bolstered during the accession of Charles III when she managed to read aloud from an official document clearly and without error. That’s all it takes nowadays. If only she were in Parliament, Angela Rippon would be a shoe-in.

Ms Mordaunt has reportedly told Jeremy Hunt that if she wins, he can write economic policy. And Mr Hunt, no doubt, rang the Bank of England and said, “If Penny wins, you can write economic policy.” The Bank rang the IMF… and on it went all the way to Joe Biden, who put a call through to his wife, even though she was lying next to him, and said, “Honey, if Penny Farthing is made Queen of England, you can write economic policy.”

Stanley spoke with Conservative Party members:

What do the members think? I’ve put out feelers. They want Boris.

They know he’s not Jesus. He might have spent 40 days in the desert, but if the Devil tried to tempt him, he’d give in on every occasion. Yet they voted for Truss, the suits kicked her out – so now they want the good times back with BoJo. He likes pina coladas and dancing in the rain. And if they want him, and assuming he can find his passport – last seen in a swimming pool locker – he’ll be right with us.

Harry Cole said that Penny’s backers during the Liz Truss contest during the summer were now plumping for Boris or Rishi this time around:

Deal? No deal

Boris and Rishi met on Saturday evening. The meeting lasted three hours. The Times reported it took place at Boris’s office in Millbank Tower. I’ve been to Millbank Tower. It has lovely offices and a spectacular view of the Thames.

The Sun put the talks on its front page on Sunday, October 23:

The paper’s Harry Cole tweeted when the meeting ended, which was after 11 p.m.:

On Sunday, Cole said that Boris’s backers did not want to make themselves public until they were sure there was no deal:

There was no deal.

The Mail on Sunday reported that Suella Braverman was backing Rishi:

She wrote in the Telegraph: ‘I have backed Boris from the start. From running alongside him in London in 2012, to supporting him to be our leader in 2019 and willing him to succeed throughout the travails of this year. His resignation in July was a loss for our country.

‘But we are in dire straits now. We need unity, stability and efficiency. Rishi is the only candidate that fits the bill and I am proud to support him.’

The article gave us scant information on the meeting between Boris and Rishi:

Last night’s crunch summit between Mr Johnson and Mr Sunak, which is believed to have ended shortly before 11.20pm, comes ahead of tomorrow’s deadline for Tory leadership hopefuls to secure the backing of 100 MPs.

The headline banners read:

  • Ex-Chancellor fomally confirms candidacy for Tory leadership after late-night talks with Boris Johnson
  • It was claimed this morning that no agreement was struck between the pair in their three-hour negotiations
  • Some had been hoping for a power-sharing pact between the pair in order to avoid a divisive battle

Sunday’s hope would not last

The day began well, but with Boris’s numbers stagnant, reality began to set in.

That morning, Redfield & Wilton Strategies released a positive poll for Boris, taken on October 20 and 21:

Guido showed us the Mail on Sunday poll, which also showed that Boris had the best chance of stemming a Labour majority were a general election to take place that day. Guido meant ‘Tory’ not ‘Toy’, by the way:

Liz Truss’s Business Secretary Jacob Rees-Mogg told Laura Kuenssberg that Boris had the numbers (video):

Rees-Mogg also defended Boris’s record (video):

Later that morning, Guido said that some MPs were sounding out their constituents:

Just before 2 p.m., Foreign Secretary James Cleverly tweeted that he was backing Boris:

Meanwhile, Rishi already had 150 MPs signed up to vote for him, including names:

The Mail on Sunday reported that Boris allegedly contacted Penny Mordaunt to ask her to stand aside. The sign of a desperate man:

Penny Mordaunt, who officially declared her leadership bid on Friday, was claimed to have rebuffed Mr Johnson’s attempts to get her to drop out of the Tory leadership race in a phone call this afternoon.

He was reported to have told the ex-PM that, even if she did quit, most of her supporters would switch to Mr Sunak and not Mr Johnson. 

‘I’m in this to win it,’ the Leader of the House of Commons declared, despite signs she is struggling to win backers.

Boris bows out

Around 9 p.m., Boris announced that he was withdrawing from the contest. The time was not right for him to return, he said.

Afterwards, the Telegraph recapped the past 24 hours and said the meeting between him and Rishi on Saturday night lasted only one hour:

It was as he sat with Rishi Sunak, face-to-face for 60 minutes with no one else in the room, that Boris Johnson rolled the dice for the last time …

Barely a word had been passed between Mr Sunak and Mr Johnson since their relationship imploded in July.

Yet on Saturday night, the two biggest names in Tory politics agreed to down tools and meet, with the keys to Number 10 the prize on the table …

But the truth was that he believed a joint ticket between the two men, with him back as prime minister, was his route back to Downing Street.

The meeting was called at the behest of Mr Johnson, not Mr Sunak.

It was also, according to one figure who was in touch with one of the two candidates on Sunday, a surprisingly convivial affair. “It was perfectly pleasant,” said the source.

But Mr Johnson had been forced into a meeting with his old foe in an attempt to regain control of the corridors of power.

Above all, it was no Granita pact [one between Tony Blair as PM and Gordon Brown as Chancellor, done in a London restaurant of the same name] because of one simple reality – there was no deal. Mr Sunak did not agree to stand aside. Nor did Mr Johnson. They parted ways unresolved.

On Sunday morning, Boris rang his supporters:

His gamble to take control of Mr Sunak’s bigger list of backers had failed.

That much became clear at 8am on Sunday, when Mr Johnson gathered his supporters on a video call and informed them no agreement had been reached.

We found out more about his appeal to Penny to stand aside:

Ms Mordaunt gave him short shrift. The Commons Leader, who remembers being ejected from the Cabinet by Mr Johnson on his first day in office in July 2019, told him most of her MP supporters would prefer to back Mr Sunak – and that he should consider dropping out of the race and leave her to face him alone. Her offer was refused.

On Saturday, Boris’s aides even said he would keep Jeremy Hunt as Chancellor:

Searching, perhaps, to persuade MPs he had credibility as a “unity candidate”, Mr Johnson’s aides let it be known he would keep Jeremy Hunt in post as Chancellor if he won the contest.

Little did he know that at that moment, Mr Hunt was preparing to make his first public declaration of the leadership race since ruling himself out – by backing Mr Sunak in an article for The Telegraph.

King Charles would have said, ‘Dear, oh dear’.

On Sunday, around 9 p.m., Boris threw in the towel:

By 9pm, the answer was clear.

Writing to his supporters on a WhatsApp group, Mr Johnson himself conceded defeat – but claimed he had the numbers all along.

Telling friends he had been “overwhelmed” by support from MPs, he maintained that he was “uniquely placed to avert a general election”.

Stressing that he had cleared the “high hurdle” of 102 nominations including a proposer and a seconder, he said he was confident he could be “back in Downing Street on Friday”.

But it appeared the concern among Tory MPs about the return of their former leader had rattled Mr Johnson.

Confirming he had “reached out” to Mr Sunak and Ms Mordaunt in an attempt to strike a deal, his message concluded: “I am afraid that the best thing is that I do not allow my nomination to go forward and commit my support to whoever succeeds.”

… As he told MPs on Sunday night: “I believe I have much to offer but I am afraid this is simply not the right time.”

One of Boris’s main supporters, Sir James Duddridge MP, was nonplussed:

An hour later, he changed his support from Boris to Rishi:

Jonathan Gullis, a Red Wall MP, didn’t wait that long:

Braverman pivotal to Rishi’s support

On Monday, October 24, the Times had two articles about the importance of Suella Braverman backing Rishi.

One said:

The European Research Group of Eurosceptic backbenchers [Brexit supporters], which in previous leadership contests has acted as a bloc, is increasingly fractured.

Suella Braverman, the former home secretary who was once one of Johnson’s most ardent supporters, came out for Sunak. The party, she said, could not afford to indulge in “parochial or nativist fantasies” given the “dire straits” it was in now. The world was “fundamentally different” from when Johnson was elected in 2019.

Braverman’s endorsement of Sunak surprised even some of her allies, with one speculating about whether she had been offered the chance to return as home secretary. “She wouldn’t have settled for much less,” said one.

Braverman’s support was not just a blow to Johnson, it also allowed Sunak to make the case to wavering MPs that he could command support across the party. As well as Braverman, Sunak won the backing of other former ERG stalwarts such as Steve Baker and Theresa Villiers. He has even persuaded MPs who had joined a “Back Boris 22” WhatsApp group to jump ship, including Chris Loder, MP for West Dorset.

It suggests that Sunak has made assurances to the ERG on policy and jobs, given that senior ERG figures were briefing on Friday that they would seek “guarantees” before endorsing candidates, which ranged from no concessions on the Northern Ireland protocol, reaffirming the manifesto commitment to reduce immigration and senior cabinet roles for their members.

Braverman suggested as much, saying in an article for The Telegraph website that the party needed to “move beyond Leaver or Remainer; One Nation or ERG; right of the party or left of the party; wets or Thatcherites,” adding: “One person can build that team: Rishi Sunak.”

The other said that Boris’s team had approached her for support on Saturday but was rebuffed:

Johnson’s team had made a “big pitch” to her yesterday in the hope that winning her over would persuade fellow right-wing MPs to back him. She is a former head of the European Research Group of Brexiteer MPs. It is a further sign that the ERG is split down the middle between Sunak and Johnson …

Her endorsement will deliver a big blow to Johnson’s efforts to attract the remaining MPs on the right of the party, as she is seen as one of their flag-bearers and rising stars.

She is the latest figure on the right to endorse Sunak following Kemi Badenoch, the trade secretary, and Lord Frost.

Braverman also signalled that Sunak had agreed to continue with reforms she had begun working on during her short spell as home secretary, including a new law to prevent the European Convention on Human Rights allowing migrants and criminals to avoid deportation. It also suggests that Sunak has agreed to press ahead with the government’s controversial Rwanda policy.

I hope that all works out for her.

Unfortunately for James Duddridge, the Boris loyalist, even though he voted for Rishi, he was sacked as Trade minister on Wednesday:

Jacob Rees-Mogg also got the sack this week and has returned to the backbenches.

Rishi’s ‘coronation’

On Monday morning, October 24, the outspoken Lee Anderson refused to back Rishi, swapping his vote from Boris to Penny. Interesting, to say the least:

Just before 1 p.m., Rishi had over 200 backers, double of what he needed:

At 2 p.m., the all-powerful 1922 Committee assembled at Conservative Party headquarters (CCHQ) to announce the results.

They had to meet at CCHQ, because while Rishi was the new Party leader, he was not yet Prime Minister and would not be able to enter No. 10 until he met with the King, who would grant him permission to form a government. The monarch returned to London on Tuesday, at which time Rishi’s premiership was formalised.

According to the 1922 Committee, Boris had real numbers behind him — and had passed the threshold:

Guido reported:

For the historical record Nigel Adams says he met this morning with Bob Blackman, Joint Secretary of the 1922 Committee.

He has independently verified the nomination paperwork and confirmed to me that Rt Hon Boris Johnson MP was above the threshold required to stand for the Conservative Party leadership in this leadership election. Therefore Mr Johnson could have proceeded to the ballot had he chosen to do so.

The nominations process is confidential and it is up to individual MPs whether they wish to publicly announce who they back in leadership elections – Bob Blackman is verifying nominations today for the remaining candidates in this leadership election. Those still suffering from Boris Derangement Syndrome may need to seek help…

At the very last minute, Penny Mordaunt withdrew from the contest.

That meant Rishi had his ‘coronation’ as the only candidate left.

As such, the vote did not need to go to the Party members.

Conservative MPs were happy as Larry as they rejoiced that they finally got their man in office at last.

That evening, GB News reported that the Party’s phone lines and website could not handle the amount of calls and clicks from members trying to cancel their membership.

They weren’t angry at Rishi as much as they were the MPs who denied them a say.

End of series

Before going into Rishi’s win in last weekend’s leadership contest, a few items of current news follow.

Wednesday, October 26 saw Rishi at the despatch box for PMQs, which he handled well. Labour’s Sir Keir Starmer was still going around in circles with his six questions, achieving nothing, as usual.

Home Secretary Suella Braverman’s security breach dominated PMQs and Shadow Home Secretary Yvette Cooper asked an Urgent Question about it.

This morning’s Telegraph editorial said (purple emphases mine):

There is something about Mrs Braverman that seems to drive the Left borderline hysterical. Her robust views on issues such as controlling the borders and tackling crime put her in the mainstream of public opinion. Somehow that is enough to earn her the sobriquet “hard-Right” among her Leftist critics.

In the Commons, Mr Sunak defended Mrs Braverman’s return to the Home Office, saying that she had made an error of judgment but that she had recognised that and accepted her mistake. Her resignation last week also took place amid a row within government over immigration levels: Mrs Braverman is a firm advocate of cutting numbers.

Many Conservative voters will be reassured that she is back in office. Mrs Braverman has the right political instincts, taking a hard line for instance on the need to clamp down on disruptive climate protesters. In her previous roles, she has shown that she has the ability to master the details of complex policy areas, including on sensitive matters such as transgender rights. Now, she should be given the time and space to get on with the job.

A retired Squadron Leader wrote the Telegraph to say:

SIR – Congratulations to the new Prime Minister and to Suella Braverman on her return as the Home Secretary.

The situation in the English Channel, with migrants entering Britain with impunity and without permission, at a cost of millions of pounds a day for hotel accommodation alone, cannot go on.

In 2021, 28,526 migrants landed in Britain without permission. This year, more than 38,000 migrants have arrived so far, with a projection of up to 50,000 by the new year.

Mrs Braverman would seem to have the answers to this problem. One can only hope that her return to the Home Office will make a difference, and quickly.

Another issue Braverman will have to deal with are alleged Chinese ‘police stations’ in two Glasgow restaurants.

Today — Thursday — the Times reported:

Ministers have been called on to intervene after China was accused of operating a “shadowy and chilling” secret police hub in the heart of Glasgow.

A report compiled by a human rights organisation claims that the Chinese government is operating a global network of undeclared “police stations”, which are being used to intimidate and silence dissidents.

The Home Office said the claims were “very concerning” and would be taken “extremely seriously”. A spokesman said: “Any foreign country operating on UK soil must abide by UK law. The protection of people in the UK is of the utmost importance and any attempt to illegally repatriate any individual will not be tolerated.”

Safeguard Defenders, a Madrid-based civil liberties group, alleges one of the outposts is running from 417 Sauchiehall Street in central Glasgow, alongside two others in London. The address houses the premises of Loon Fung, one of the city’s oldest and best-known Chinese restaurants …

A spokesman for Safeguard Defenders:

claimed the Scottish Fujian Chamber of Commerce, registered at the premises of Sichuan House, another Chinese restaurant based on Sauchiehall Street, also had links to the Chinese state.

The Times attempted to confirm the allegations:

The Chinese consulate in Edinburgh did not respond to a request for comment …

Loon Fung has strongly denied any involvement. “There’s no secret police here,” a spokesman said. Sichuan House did not respond to a request to comment. A man who answered a mobile number published online as being the contact for the Scottish Fujian Chamber of Commerce hung up when The Times introduced itself.

Returning to Braverman, on Wednesday night, Sir Jake Berry MP, the short-lived chairman of the Conservative Party under Liz Truss, gave an interview on TalkTV’s Piers Morgan Uncensored, on which Nadine Dorries MP was a guest host, Morgan being on holiday.

The Times reported what Berry said, in part:

From my own knowledge, there were multiple breaches of the ministerial code …

That seems a really serious breach. The cabinet secretary had his say at the time. I doubt he’s changed his mind in the last six days but that’s a matter for the prime minister.

Also:

Asked whether Braverman had rapidly owned up to the mistake as she claimed, Berry replied: “I wasn’t in the meeting but as I understand it the evidence was put to her and she accepted the evidence rather than the other way around” …

Berry’s comments are likely to prompt further questions about the circumstances of Braverman’s re-appointment as Sunak completes a reshuffle of the government’s junior ranks.

Hmm. Interesting.

Berry’s interview was up for discussion this morning in the House of Lords. Labour peer Baroness Smith of Basildon, leader of the Opposition, asked an Urgent Question about it. Baroness Neville-Rolfe, responding for the Government, gave a brief statement in support of the Prime Minister and the Home Secretary, which was met with audible groans from many of the peers. Several of them, including a Lord Spiritual (Anglican bishop), asked questions for several minutes.

Labour will continue to press this issue, it seems.

Guido Fawkes caught up with Sir Keir Starmer on Wednesday:

Guido wrote (emphases his):

Finding himself behind Keir Starmer in a coffee-queue this afternoon, Guido took the opportunity to ask the Leader of the Opposition about his future attack lines on the Government. The case of Suella Braverman, the Labour leader said, “wasn’t going away.”

It was a relatively inconspicuous item in his PMQs: “Have officials raised concerns about his decision to appoint her?” It caused a frisson among those who know how important process is, and how deadly the advice given by officials can be …

Obviously no PM is going to answer such questions, nor will he willingly surrender written advice given in ministerial confidence. However, there is a route to get it. By a Humble Address (a procedural device resurrected from ancient obscurity by the previous Speaker, John Bercow), documents of all sorts, including electronic, can be demanded by an Opposition Motion.

Labour has had next week’s Opposition Day nicked by the SNP. But the issue will probably fructify rather than decay over time. It may be a little early in the new administration for 35 Tories to defy the Whip and vote for the  documents to be revealed – but if recent history is anything to go by …

Questions about Braverman continued in the House of Commons on Thursday during Cabinet Office Questions and, later, Business Questions to Leader of the House Penny Mordaunt.

A Telegraph article by Gordon Rayner said that recent Home Secretaries ended up doomed from the start:

Almost as soon as Rishi Sunak reappointed Mrs Braverman as Home Secretary, the civil service was letting it be known that there were “concerns” about whether she could be trusted with sensitive information. Simon Case, the Cabinet Secretary and head of the Civil Service, was “livid” about her appointment, sources said.

If the ultimate goal of the poisonous briefings by civil servants was to suggest the department cannot function with Mrs Braverman in charge, it will be a familiar scenario to previous holders of the post.

Priti Patel only just survived a concerted campaign to force her out by civil servants who accused her of bullying. Amber Rudd lasted two years before she was forced to resign for misleading a Commons committee, having been wrongly briefed by her department on deportation targets. As far back as 2006 Labour’s John Reid declared the department “not fit for purpose”.

In 2006, Labour was in power, by the way.

Gordon Rayner rightly includes Braverman’s allies in his analysis:

Allies of Mrs Braverman say that her enemies in the Home Office, and on the Left, have used a technical breach of the ministerial code as a convenient excuse to attack a woman with whom their true battle lies over immigration.

Conservative Party members are likely to support Braverman:

As the current “queen of the Right” in the Government, every carping comment from a Labour MP or BBC commentator simply reinforces her popularity with Conservative Party members and a significant chunk of MPs.

Rishi Sunak reinstated her at the Home Office because he knows that to stand any chance of uniting his party, he needs a figurehead of the Right in a senior position, and in Mrs Braverman he has a former chairman of the European Research Group of Right-wing Eurosceptic Tories.

It is significant that Braverman backed Rishi last weekend:

If, as has been suggested, a return to the Home Office was the price she demanded for backing his leadership bid (and effectively killing off Boris Johnson’s attempted resurrection) it simply proves the clout she now has within the Party.

Other news from Wednesday included a confirmed ban on fracking, overturning Liz Truss’s decision to allow fracking in communities that overwhelmingly allow it.

——————————————————————————————————————

Now back to the leadership contest.

In the early hours of Friday, October 21, Boris Johnson was leading Rishi Sunak and Penny Mordaunt:

I left off yesterday with Stanley Johnson saying that morning that his son Boris was ‘on a plane’.

Meanwhile, Liz Truss made a brief return to Downing Street, probably to collect something. The Guardian‘s photos show her in sportswear, a heretofore unseen Liz.

‘Bring Back Boris’

Express readers opened their Friday paper to find an article by one of Boris’s main backers, Sir James Duddridge MP, a champion of the Bring Back Boris, or BBB, campaign:

I was his Parliamentary Private Secretary and stayed with him right until the end. It was a mistake to force him out but now is the time to bring him back.

He is the only one who can unite the party after the turbulent last few weeks and I trust him to right the ship …

He always remained hugely popular with the party’s grassroots and with large parts of the country.

There will always be socialists and angry Twitter mobs who rail against him but he is an election winner, twice in London as well as nationally.

My constituents regularly tell me they want Boris back and he still has a mandate from the country …

He has the star quality and inspirational leadership the country needs during the challenging months ahead.

It’s time to Bring Back Boris.

Jacob Rees-Mogg, Truss’s Business Secretary, declared his support for the former Prime Minister — ‘Boris or Bust’:

Pollster Matt Goodwin pointed out that while Rishi is more popular overall with British voters, Boris still leads those who voted in the 2019 election:

The video from 2012 showing Boris, who was then Mayor of London and promoting the Olympics that year, went viral:

https://image.vuukle.com/71283898-5747-4196-bef2-20ded1203630-45d7723c-546c-489e-907d-f89f9f0ab2ed

However, The Sun‘s Harry Cole reminded everyone that Boris still had the upcoming Privileges Committee investigation to deal with. If it goes badly, he might have to resign as an MP:

Conservative MPs could schedule a motion to cancel the investigation. That would have to be approved by the Commons, but as the Conservatives have a current majority of 71, it could still be overturned. This Sun reporter thinks it is unlikely, however:

Truss’s Deputy Chief Whip Craig Whittaker requested that his name be removed from Guido’s list of Boris supporters. His post requires impartiality:

Emily Maitlis, formerly of the BBC, reacted characteristically to news that Boris was running in the leadership contest:

Guido has the audio and reported:

Emily Maitlis meanwhile learnt the Boris news live on her News Agents podcast. You’ll never guess her reaction…

Shouldn’t hurt Boris’s chances…

Rishi takes the lead

Maitlis needn’t have worried.

By 11 a.m. on Friday, Rishi had just edged past Boris:

A half hour later, Rishi’s momentum was beginning to build:

Boris backers hadn’t lost hope, however. The fact that Ben Wallace, the Defence Secretary, supported him was an added fillip:

That afternoon, Opinium posted their snap poll on who the public supported. Rishi was the clear winner. Even Penny beat Boris:

Boris gained support from more of the Red Wall. Teesside mayor Ben Houchen is a Party member and not an MP. Simon Clarke was Truss’s Levelling Up Secretary:

Guido excerpted their letter to the Telegraph

Boris is the person we need to lead our country and our party. 

He won the greatest election victory for years on a mandate to unite and level up the UK, and inspired millions of people who had never voted Conservative before to get behind a generous, optimistic vision of what Britain can be.  

People on Teesside love Boris because he recognised that while talent is evenly distributed across the country, opportunity is not. Boris gave us that opportunity. 

Teesside has had difficult times and is now levelling up because of Boris. We know that for us, like Boris, the comeback will be greater than the setback.

… adding:

Houchen is a real loss for Rishi…

By 3:45, Rishi was well on his way to 100 backers. Boris was now lagging behind, and Penny was stuck:

In the early evening, an MP from the 2019 intake, Antony Higginbotham, representing the traditionally Labour constituency of Burnley, came out for Boris:

Two hours later, veteran MP Bill Cash also announced his support for Boris:

It seemed that most Boris backers were traditional Conservatives and Red Wall MPs.

Guido pointed out the Red Wall loyalty:

By contrast, Matt Hancock felt the need to produce a lengthy statement explaining why he was supporting Rishi:

Saturday’s papers

Saturday’s papers were a mixed bag.

Not surprisingly, the Financial Times said that investors were alarmed at the prospect of Boris’s return:

The Telegraph reported that Rishi was expected to pass the threshold of 100 MPs:

The Star came up with an aubergine motif for Boris and couldn’t resist featuring Lettuce Liz again:

Their Thought for the Day was:

Haven’t we all suffered enough?

The lead paragraph reads:

Just when you thought all salad-based puns had been exhausted, posh aubergine Bozo Johnson has emerged as one of the favourites to replace Lettuce Liz as PM.

Rumours began circulating about joint talks between Rishi and Boris:

Two papers played to Boris supporters — the Express

… and the Sun:

The paper’s veteran Trevor Kavanagh explored both sides of the Boris equation in ‘Boris Johnson is a political Humpty Dumpty with a giant ego who had such a great fall — but if he runs for PM, he’ll win’:

Boris Johnson, the political Joker who makes half the nation smile while the rest are spitting chips, is gearing up for another pitch at the premiership.

He needs 100 MPs’ votes and may well get more.

If he runs, he wins — that’s my prediction for what it’s worth in this tumultuous here-today, gone-tomorrow blur of Tory leaders, challengers and assassins.

And even if he doesn’t win, what a pleasure to hear the screams of fury from Labour, Lib Dems and Scot Nats — amplified through the impartial BBC’s 100-decibel speakers

These puce-faced wets don’t seem to realise they are fuelling the pro-Boris momentum which might propel him back into Downing Street and even produce another sensational election win.

Happily, their moans are drowned out by cheers from Red Wall Tory MPs who credit Boris with winning their seats in Parliament.

They want Boris back and so do millions of voters across the land.

It may be deeply irresponsible to say so, but this is diamond-studded 24-carat political entertainment and I for one am enjoying the ride.

Don’t get me wrong — I am not ­watching BoJo: The Movie through rose-coloured glasses, or even suggesting that it makes sense.

Boris Johnson must take much of the blame for the catastrophic mess the country is in, politically and economically.

But he won his 2019 80-seat landslide majority fair and square.

It was an almost entirely personal achievement beyond the reach of any other politician.

He used that majority to achieve great things, ramming Brexit through Parliament, the Covid vaccination triumph and leading global support for Ukraine.

He also blew it as the “Greased Piglet” PM who believes rules are for little people, not him …

It was such casual conduct that handed Labour grounds for a kangaroo court trial for lying to Parliament — a hurdle still to be cleared.

But for such careless affronts to good governance, Boris Johnson would still be Prime Minister right now.

The Pound would be steady, mortgages manageable, inflation past its peak.

We would not have seen the eye- popping political convulsions which turned Britain into a global laughing stock.

The soap opera is not over yet.

Whoever wins next week must choose a new Cabinet and pick a way through the ruins.

If it is Boris, it should at least end the clamour — choreographed yesterday across all BBC networks — for a snap General Election.

Boris won’t have to face the tricky ­question: “Who Voted for You?” …

Without Boris, the Conservative Party faces certain defeat by 2025.

Boris has the magical Heineken ability to reach voters other politicians cannot reach.

It’s a gamble, a glitterball Who Dares Wins test of luck and daring.

Even Netflix couldn’t make it up.

But for the Tories, it is the only game in town.

For the next 24 hours I had hope.

More on the contest will follow tomorrow.

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