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On Tuesday, November 1, former Prime Minister Boris Johnson gave an exclusive interview on Ukraine to Sky News’s Mark Austin.

The video is here.

Boris gave the interview on the condition that it focused only on Ukraine.

The Daily Mail recapped the interview (emphases mine):

The former premier was speaking to Sky News when he was asked if he would like to return to the top role, and whether he had ‘unfinished business’.

‘You promised this was going to be about Ukraine,’ he said. ‘I harbour hopes of continuing to campaign for Ukraine and that is my priority.

‘There are various other things that I’m doing but that is of course very dear to my heart.’

I’m not as optimistic as Boris is about Putin’s holding back in Ukraine, so let’s hope our former PM is correct:

In the interview, Mr Johnson claimed Russia would be plunged into a ‘cryogenic economic freeze’ if Vladimir Putin launched a ‘crazy’ nuclear strike on Ukraine.

In a warning to the Russian President about the consequences of escalating his barbaric war, the former prime minister insisted Mr Putin would suffer a ‘total disaster’.

Mr Johnson told Sky News that Mr Putin would ‘immediately tender Russia’s resignation from the club of civilised nations’ if he used nuclear weapons.

He insisted the Russian President would be further isolated among global nations by losing the ‘tacit acquiesence’ of countries across Africa, South America and Asia, as well as the ‘patronage of the Chinese’.

The ex-PM also claimed Mr Putin’s launching of a nuclear strike would see ‘an absolutely hysterical reaction’ in Russia itself.

Mark Austin asked Boris if he hadn’t thrown away his most privileged opportunity to help Ukraine. Austin was talking about Partygate, which pressured Boris into resigning as Conservative Party leader and, as such, Prime Minister. Predictably, Boris gave him a bemused ‘What are you talking about?’ look, then said that his successor but one, Rishi Sunak, would carry on supporting the war-torn country. Boris also talked up the American aid being pledged, even if Republicans win the mid-terms this Tuesday.

With Boris on the backbenches now, Austin asked if he thought Rishi would give him a special role, perhaps as an envoy to Ukraine:

During the interview with Sky News, Mr Johnson was asked if he has spoken to Rishi Sunak about a ‘possible role’, with which he said: ‘What I can do and what I will want to do is to continue to champion the cause of Ukrainian freedom, of a free sovereign, independent Ukraine. It is a great cause. I think it is a cause that has mobilised a phenomenal level of support across the UK.’

When pressed as to whether he would like ‘a formal role’, Mr Johnson said: ‘I’m happy doing what I’m doing. I think, my job is to talk up what I think are the immediate needs of the Ukrainians,’ adding that he will ‘inevitably’ return to the country.

Mr Johnson was also asked if he feels ‘more appreciated on the world stage than he does domestically’.

Responding, he said: ‘I have an absolute passionate belief that the war in Ukraine, Putin’s act of aggression, is something that we shouldn’t accept, we shouldn’t tolerate.

‘I think that I can continue to campaign for Ukraine out of office and that’s what I’m going to do.’

The Mail has many more quotes from the interview.

One interesting thing is that Boris first became interested in Ukraine when he was Foreign Secretary under Theresa May. He said:

I was Foreign Secretary in 2016 and one of the first things I did was go to Ukraine and I remember talking to Ukrainians who had been fighting in Donbas and I remember going to see this great wall, with pictures of thousands and thousands of Ukrainian soldiers who’ve given their lives for the freedom and independence of their country, and I became very sympathetic to their cause.

I remember standing on that beautiful acropolis in Kyiv and talking about the possibility that Russia might be so insane as to take advantage of the fact that there was no security guarantee to Ukraine, because Ukraine was not given NATO membership and clearly it was a problem, and that is what we now have to fix.

COP27 came up. At the time Boris gave his interview, Rishi said he himself would not be going because he had more pressing business — the cost of living crisis — to resolve.

Boris received an invitation probably because he was the PM during COP26, held last year in Glasgow:

Yes as it happens, but that’s not relevant to Ukraine… I was invited by the Egyptians so I’m very happy to go.

He is in Egypt for the conference as I write.

Boris showed his support for Rishi:

Mr Johnson also gave his backing to Mr Sunak, insisting the PM had ‘a massive amount to do’.

‘We’ve got to sort out a huge agenda – that’s what’s he’s getting on with,’ he said.

As for his own participation at COP27, Boris said:

I was at the Glasgow Cop – although it’s become unfashionable to talk about it, was a fantastic global success.

‘We did a huge amount of good for the planet, I want to talk a little bit about how I see things and how we see things in the UK.’

Rishi Sunak decided to attend COP27 after all and is also there, enjoying fine meat and dairy menu options such as these:

Note the beef on offer.

Remember, COP27 folks want plebs like you and me to eat … BUGS.

Boris has taken the stage at COP27 twice.

In a speech, he said that the United Kingdom’s summer heat wave might have been responsible for was going on at Westminster (video here):

That’s a bit of a stretch.

In that video, he also referred to ‘pharaonic’ climate events, indirectly referring to the Israelites’ captivity in Egypt in the Bible.

Then he was interviewed by a reporter for The New York Times‘s Climate Forward (video here):

Supporting Rishi’s attendance, he said:

Some will go weak and wobbly on zero, we can’t have that…

Boris has his father Stanley whispering in one ear and his wife Carrie in the other about environmental issues. Meanwhile, the British are choosing between food and fuel this winter, but they do not care.

Just before the last Conservative leadership election last month, Boris gave a speech in Colorado. According to the rules owned by the Cabinet Office and administered by the Advisory Committee on Business Appointments (ACOBA) for former ministers of state and senior civil servants, one must wait at least three months after leaving office to take up an official appointment or employment. Speeches would fall under that category. Boris will have been handsomely paid for his time.

Now he is scheduled to speak for a second time within that three-month period, at Singapore in December:

On November 1, Guido Fawkes reported (emphases his):

The event is scheduled for December 2 in Singapore, where former US Vice President Dick Cheney is also expected to speak. This means Boris is still – by just a couple of days – within the three-month embargoed window of ACoBA’s Business Appointment rules:

The Rules state that a minimum waiting period of three months from the date of leaving office to taking up an appointment or employment will be expected when the former official was a Cabinet Ministers or a Permanent Secretary or equivalent, and may also be applied to other applicants if ACOBA believes this to be warranted by the circumstances of the individual case.

When Guido pointed out Boris’s first post-PM speech could be a potential breach, his team argued that ACoBA does allow for one-off gigs without them being signed off by Lord Pickles. A second, within the three months, doesn’t help Boris’s office’s line of defence…

Well, Boris never thought that rules applied to him, anyway.

One wonders if we will ever see him on the backbenches again.

On October 23, when the latest Conservative leadership contest was going on, Boris’s biographer, the redoubtable Tom Bower, appeared on GB News to say that he could earn a lot of money on the speaking circuit.

We recall that Boris was deeply concerned about money while he was PM, so this route must be appealing.

The Mail on Sunday quoted Bower as saying:

He was on track to earn £5 million this year but if he wins this vote, eventually the sky’s the limit,’ said Mr Bower

Mr Bower said Mr Johnson could easily match the estimated £100 million Tony Blair has made since quitting No 10 in 2007.

Also:

He has lined up a series of US speeches for up to £250,000 a time and signed a £1.5 million deal to write his memoirs, which will be put on hold should he return to No 10.

No wonder Boris decided not to pursue the leadership contest. He’s quids in as it is. Why ruin a great opportunity? For him, as a speaker and a former journalist, this will be money for old rope. He could do this in his sleep.

For anyone wondering, Sir Graham Brady MP, chair of the 1922 Committee of Conservative backbenchers — the man who can make or break a Prime Minister — stated on Friday, November 4, that Boris did have the numbers needed for the contest:

Guido reported:

In news that will only surprise deranged Boris-haters, reamainiacs and conspiracists, Graham Brady has confirmed Boris did have the support to make the final round of the Conservative leadership contest. Speaking to the BBCthe Chairman of the 1922 Committee confirmed Boris had over 100 MP supporters and simply decided not to stand. If Boris had made the ballot, he almost certainly would have won…

As the officer responsible for the contest, and one who remained neutral throughout, Brady is the authoritative source on the matter. This only strengthens Boris’s claims that his decision not to stand was motivated by concerns over party unity.

The coronation of Sunak has caused widespread discontent amongst Tory members, many of whom are now jumping ship to Reform UK. Not the ideal way to establish Conservative unity…

Agreed, but Sir Graham doesn’t care about party unity, nor does Rishi, nor does Boris.

And, finally, just to dispel any lingeringn doubt about Boris’s numbers, The Telegraph gave us Sir Graham’s quote to the BBC:

Speaking to the BBC, Sir Graham – chair of the Tory party’s 1922 Committee – said “two candidates” had reached the threshold, and “one of them decided not to then submit his nomination”.

There you have it.

No doubt Boris will be watching Rishi’s premiership with interest.

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There was no doubt that Sky News presenters and reporters promoted Rishi Sunak heavily before, during and after the last major debate of the Conservative Party leadership contest on Thursday, August 4, 2022.

All of them were talking about Rishi while downplaying or ignoring any mention of Liz Truss’s achievements at the Departments of the Treasury, Education, International Trade — or the Foreign Office.

It was all Rishi, Rishi, Rishi.

Sky claimed to have an audience of undecided Conservative Party members. I’ll address that claim below.

Prior to the debate, Sky presenters interviewed their colleagues, some of these undecided voters and two MPs, Dominic Raab on Team Rishi and Kwasi Kwarteng on Team Truss.

Raab, who looked rattled, kept interrupting Kwarteng on the subject of tax. Kwarteng politely asked him not to interrupt, especially as he had given Raab an opportunity to speak freely about his candidate.

Although Guido Fawkes’s tweet and video say this was after the debate, it was actually before the debate:

Sky’s clock says 19:18. The debate did not start until later:

Guido’s post says (red emphases his):

It seems Team Rishi forgot to send the ‘don’t shout over your opponent, it looks bad’ memo to their star backer…

Too right, but this was Sky and only Liz’s supporters probably took any notice.

Kay Burley, 61, was the moderator. The video of the coin toss determining who went first is here. Truss won the toss and said she would go first. Kay was all smiles at the end, so much so that she looked weird. Clearly, there was an opportunity for Sunak to shine later on.

During the debate, Burley asked questions after the audience of ‘undecideds’ had posed theirs.

Afterwards, the audience voted on their choice for the better candidate.

This is Truss’s Q&A session:

The Mail‘s Henry Deedes filed the following report (emphases in purple mine).

We had Truss’s use of the word ‘bold’:

Up first was Miss Truss, having won the coin toss. ‘It really is make or break,’ said Kay, doing the introductions. Cue Rocky soundtrack. Duff-duff-duff!

We heard from someone called Diana who worried about the Bank of England’s doom and gloom forecast yesterday that recession was inevitable. Liz insisted it wasn’t

‘We can change the outcome,’ she said. ‘Now is the time to be bold.’ That’s what voters want to hear! Diane beamed. This was Elgar to her ears. One ticked ballot paper in the box marked ‘Truss’.

Deedes noted how Truss’s demeanour has improved over the past few weeks:

Remarkable how much the Foreign Secretary has grown during this contest. She was fluent – no ums and ahs. The joints too have loosened up. She was able to shimmy around the stage as she answered questions. At her launch a month ago, she was stiffer than a store mannequin.

An audience member criticised Truss’s proposal on realigning public sector pay outside of London — one that she ditched within 24 hours — and said he was deeply offended, especially as it would have included nurses and teachers. The man asked Truss whether she would apologise. A second man, sitting in the front row, said that he could not understand why every mis-step had to have an apology tacked on to it. Truss stood by waiting for the two men to finish.

It was a spiky exchange:

Now we get to Sky’s claim of having undecided Conservative Party members in the audience.

Guido reported on the offended man who asked Truss to apologise. It turns out that he, Tom Harding, was chief of staff to former MP Anna Soubry, a hardline Remainer who lost the Party whip in 2019. She did not win re-election later that year.

Guido told his readers the next day about Harding and another person in the audience, Jill Andrew:

To say questions have been raised about Sky’s debate audience last night would be an understatement. Despite two polls this week giving Liz a 32-34 point lead over rival Rishi, the audience was incredibly hostile towards her, with Rishi coming out on top. Sky News has said the audience was made up of undecided members. Guido’s not sure they did their homework properly…

One very critical anti-Liz audience member has already been identified as Jill Andrew, a former CCHQ lawyer and party candidate who stood against Boris for his Henley seat in 2001. Hardly a typical member…

The jewel in Sky’s audience crowd, however, was undoubtedly Tom Harding, who went to town on Liz over her regional pay boards u-turn before almost starting a fight with a fellow audience member standing up for her. Harding, it transpires, is none other than Anna Soubry’s former chief of staff…

It turns out that Harding has form, having appeared in a BBC Question Time audience two months ago criticising Boris:

Astute viewers at home were not impressed:

Guido had a closer look at Sky’s claims of an audience of undecided Party members and concluded it was bunkum:

The Times had more on Truss’s economic policy on the day that the Bank of England raised interest rates:

Liz Truss said last night that recession in Britain was “not inevitable”, as she claimed her plan to cut taxes could prevent an economic downturn.

In the last televised debate of the Tory leadership campaign the foreign secretary cast doubt on the Bank of England’s predictions of a slump and defended her plans for a multibillion-pound stimulus for the economy …

… Truss claimed that she had the policies to build towards growth.

“What the Bank of England has said is extremely worrying, but it is not inevitable,” she said.

“We can change the outcome, and we can make it more likely that the economy grows.”

The Mail reported that Truss was eager to get civil servants off their Pelotons and back into the office:

Liz Truss last night pledged to get more civil servants back to the office after it emerged many Whitehall desks are still empty.

She backed Cabinet Office minister Jacob Rees-Mogg‘s efforts to curb the work from home culture in the civil service.

The Foreign Secretary, who has previously suggested flexible working should ‘become the norm’, made the vow as Cabinet Office figures showed that in the week commencing July 25, just over half of Whitehall desks were occupied.

The worst culprits were the Scotland Office on 27 per cent and Miss Truss’s own department on 34 per cent. Numbers are falling as the weeks go on.

Miss Truss said: ‘I support the work Jacob Rees-Mogg has been doing… and I will be looking at that very carefully.’

Truss must be careful about flip-flopping. It is careless and gives her opponents ammunition.

After Truss finished answering questions from the audience, Burley invited her to sit down opposite her for questions. I thought this was terribly rude:

You can have a drink of water. You’re welcome.

Burley asked Truss about violations of lockdown rules, hinting at Boris.

Truss, recalling Burley’s 2020-2021 suspension from Sky for her 60th birthday bash in London’s West End, gave a tactful response, yet one that Burley would have found hard to miss:

Many mistakes were made during lockdown, Kay, by many people.

Here’s the video. The reply has another Burley incident involving a fellow journalist outside a London courthouse several years ago:

Then it was Sunak’s turn to shine:

At this point in the polls, Rishi was far behind and every Conservative knew it.

The Mail‘s Henry Deedes noted:

On came Rishi. He seemed jittery. Hyper. A man in a hurry. Much like his whole campaign, he was playing catch-up.

Going second was clearly a massive disadvantage. Good on him though. He must know his bid by now is doomed. Yet still he ploughed on, smiling and joking, charming the audience with his polished public school manners. He reminded me of a dutiful airline steward aboard a plummeting plane, insisting all’s tickety-boo.

There was an early question as to whether he was going to withdraw from the leadership contest. Course he wasn’t. He’d given up a holiday in sunny Californ-I-A to do this. He wasn’t going to pack it in early. 

‘I’m sure we’ll get to talking about the economy in a minute,’ he said at one point. Translation: Please, please ask me about the economy.

Here’s the video of that exchange at 1:50 in. Unfortunately, it doesn’t get to talking about the economy, the best part:

Contrary to what Deedes wrote, going second was clearly a winning position for Sunak.

The Murdoch-owned Times gave much more coverage to him than to Truss. Recall that they came out immediately for Sunak as party leader, beginning with a hit on Truss:

In the last televised debate of the Tory leadership campaign the foreign secretary cast doubt on the Bank of England’s predictions of a slump and defended her plans for a multibillion-pound stimulus for the economy.

But she was attacked by Rishi Sunak, her rival, who said the Conservative Party needed to “get real and fast”.

He said: “The lights on the economy are flashing red and the root cause is inflation. I’m worried Liz Truss’s plans will make the situation worse.

“It’s not the tax burden which is causing the recession. That’s simply wrong”

“What I’m not going to do is embark on a borrowing spree worth tens of billions of pounds,” he said. “We need to be really careful about policies that will make it worse”

During the debate Sunak was confronted with polling suggesting that he was trailing Truss in the contest. But the former chancellor insisted that he would not concede. “I’m fighting for something I really believe in,” he said.

Sunak also gave a spirited defence of his decision to resign from Boris Johnson’s cabinet.

“Everyone remembers what was going on with Chris Pincher, that was a serious ethical question that the government was on the wrong side of again, and I couldn’t defend it,” he said, referring to the former deputy chief whip who has been accused of groping men.

“Maybe you’re OK to defend that, I wasn’t OK to defend it, 60 other members of the government were not OK to defend it because it was wrong.”

After Truss secured a number of high-profile endorsements in recent days, Sunak insisted that he was the most popular candidate with Tory MPs.

“Every single round of the parliamentary process, I led,” he said. “And since it finished, more and more people have come and joined the team.”

At the end of the programme, the audience was asked for a show of hands on who they thought would make a better prime minister, with Sunak emerging as the clear winner.

Sky were eager for everyone to pile on in support of Sunak.

After the debate, reporters and audience members gave their view.

Only one person, a manager in the social care sector, supported Truss. The reporter tried to change her mind. The woman felt awkward, shifting in her chair. She was unshakeable, however, and repeated that she thought Truss had a better solution for social care.

Journalists at The Telegraph gave their views on the debate.

Madeline Grant thought that Truss won, despite having to admit policy U-turns:

Liz Truss won. Both she and Kay Burley, the compere, had arrived in the same shade of red, like a pair of awkward accidentally-matching wedding guests. Liz’s outfit was offset with a Frodo Baggins ring around her neck – appropriate on a day when the Bank of England was predicting Mount Doom.

Rishi Sunak looked more like a Moss Bros dummy than ever, with his sharp suit and matinee idol quiff …

Faced, for the first time in ages, with real grassroots rage, Liz garbled in that weirdly jolty way of hers, hands outstretched like an angler lying about his catch …

Kay stirred the pot by presenting the Liz of 2022 with a quote from the Liz of 2019 about the necessity of building on the green belt. Liz squirmed again. “I’ve changed my view on that What I don’t want to do, Kay, is build on the green belt”

After a series of irritating one-on-one questions that told us more about the host than the interviewee, it was Rishi’s turn, and he did his best to shake off his reputation as the establishment candidate by listing all the Tory grandees who had lined up behind him.

Despite invoking Michael Howard and William Hague, he reprised his old Tony Blair impression, with lots of gesticulations and compliments to the audience. However, like his campaign, it was a patchy mix, half New Labour, half Ukip – his Blairite intonation, “I wanna deliver”, was matched with a Faragean dig at “Lefty lawyers”.

Kay began a question in Latin. “Et tu, Rishi?”, she snarled. The Wykehamist tried unconvincingly to pretend he didn’t know what this meant. In the end, it took a man from the audience shouting in plain English – “you stabbed Boris in the back!” – for the message to seep in … 

The audience poll pointed to a decisive win for Rishi, but he’ll need to land many more body blows if he is to win the ultimate toss of the Tory coin.

In another Telegraph article, Ross Clark and Tim Stanley gave their impressions of the candidates’ performance.

Ross Clark pointed out that Truss never recovered from having to defend her public sector pay policy reversal:

Truss was less wooden, less awkward than on some previous occasions. She showed a sense of humour. But, thanks to her rapidly-withdrawn policy of regional pay boards, she spent much of her 45 minutes on the back foot. Her most difficult moment was when a man from Newcastle [Tom Harding] said he had been ‘offended’ by the suggestion that his work in the North East was of less value than someone doing the same job in London.

Truss was also a little hampered when answering questions on Ukraine and Taiwan – she is the foreign secretary, and her answers really mattered.

… But she never explained why she had come up with her regional pay policy in the first place if she was going to drop it so quickly.

Truss came across as someone more prepared to answer questions directly. The more that Sunak’s 45 minutes went on, the more he came across as someone who was repeating prepared questions on autopilot – and the more you understood why support for him in this contest was draining away. But not was not, it appeared, how the studio audience saw it – a show of hands at the end suggested he had firmly won over the audience.

Tim Stanley said the audience won the debate, in a sense, but Truss’s weak spots mean the contest between her and Sunak is far from over:

The winner of the Sky debate was the audience. It was invited, said Kay Burley, to reflect the demographics of the Conservative party, so I was anticipating something like Cluedo: a vicar, a professor, a colonel and an inebriated peacock.

Instead we got some marvellous characters who, when the candidates failed to answer a question, argued with themselves instead. A debate broke out between Tom from Gateshead who found Liz’s regional pay policy insulting and a fellow in the front row who thought politicians should stop apologising.

“When someone’s asking for your vote, you don’t expect to be offended,” said Tom. If looks could kill! Who murdered the Tory Party? Tom from Gateshead, in the TV studio, with passive aggression.

On the subject of *that* policy, Liz, who was dressed as Miss Scarlett, refused to admit an error while also trying to make a virtue out of being willing to make a u-turn …

Rishi Sunak, meanwhile, tried to combine being a safe pair of hands with being a radical reformer. His vibe is “recklessly sensible”, and it won over this sceptical crowd. The polls, and the pundits, say Liz is the favourite, but given the alarming rise in inflation, and combined with the late arrival of ballots – I still think the election is up for grabs.

Guido reported a snap poll that Redfield & Wilton Strategies took after the debate:

A second poll in a row has found Liz to be more popular than Keir Starmer, widening her lead to three points. A Team Liz source joked to Guido that with Rishi we’ll get socialism for two years followed by socialism for another 5”

The poll shows that Labour’s Keir Starmer would beat Sunak 39% to 32%.

Truss holds a narrow lead over Starmer, 37% to 35%.

Readers interested in more policy detail from the candidates can read about it here, here and here.

My last post on Labour’s 2021 election campaign meeting in Durham is a week old.

The intrigue continues and so much more has happened.

It is important to reiterate that while many on social media say it did not break the coronavirus rules …

… there were specific rules for the 2021 election campaign, some of which differed from regulations for households.

Indoor campaign meetings were banned in 2021:

Let’s recall how Labour told an untruth about Angela Rayner’s not being at the April 30, 2021 event in Durham when she clearly was. Labour had to own up:

The Daily Mail reported that Labour claimed it was an honest mistake (emphases in purple mine):

Labour last night admitted it had lied about an event at which Sir Keir Starmer is alleged to have broken lockdown rules. 

In a sensational U-turn, Labour acknowledged that Angela Rayner was also at the event on April 30 last year at which Sir Keir was filmed enjoying a beer with officials at a time when indoor socialising was banned.

A Labour spokesman said last night: ‘Angela was present.’ A party source claimed the previous denials had been ‘an honest mistake’. 

It directly contradicts assurances given to the Daily Mail over the past three months that Mrs Rayner was ‘not there’

The admission came only after this newspaper confronted Labour officials with video evidence that Mrs Rayner had joined Sir Keir at an online rally for activists filmed in the Durham offices of Labour MP Mary Foy where the party leader was later seen drinking

The extraordinary revelation raises questions about whether Labour’s deputy leader also broke lockdown rules.

Recall that, for months, Labour, including Sir Keir Starmer and Angela Rayner, have been braying for Boris Johnson to resign:

Incidentally, once given a fixed penalty notice (fine) for one of the Downing Street events, Boris paid his promptly as did Chancellor Rishi Sunak.

With regard to Durham, their only Conservative MP, Richard Holden, wrote to Durham Constabulary to enquire about Labour’s indoor event.

Durham MP Mary Foy, who appears to have hosted the event in her office, took strong exception to Holden’s letter. She accosted him in Parliament’s Strangers’ Bar at the end of April:

Guido Fawkes had the story (emphases in the original):

The pressures of beergate are obviously getting to Labour MPs more than they’d like to admit: Labour MP Mary Foy launched into a furious drunken tirade against Richard Holden in the Strangers’ Bar on Tuesday night, after Holden asked Durham Police to reinvestigate Starmer for his lockdown beer drinking. Which isn’t exactly surprising, given the infamous event took place in Foy’s own constituency office…

Foy allegedly grabbed Holden’s arm and hurled so much abuse at him that her staff had to pull her away. Having had a skinful, she growled “how dare you name me and my office in this?” as apologetic staffers tried to calm her down. A witness told the Daily Mail she was “feeling the pressure”. Guido can’t imagine this morning’s revelations about Angela Rayner will do much to soothe her…

Holden threatened to take the matter to the Speaker unless she apologised the following morning. Lo and behold, on Wednesday morning Holden found “I unreservedly apologise for my behaviour on the terrace last night” in his inbox. Holden tells Guido she then went on to talk about how they could work together as Durham MPs …

The Daily Mail reported:

Three witnesses told the Daily Mail that Mary Foy vented her fury at Richard Holden on the Commons terrace on Tuesday night.

She is said to have verbally abused him for asking Durham Police to reopen the investigation into footage of the Labour leader having a beer with officials in her office on April 30, 2021.

Witnesses claim the City of Durham MP grabbed Mr Holden by the arm with both hands and tried to drag him across the terrace before staff restrained her.

Each witness said the former charity worker, 54, appeared to have been drinking heavily when the incident took place at around 10pm as MPs waited for late-night votes.

Goodness me. Being boozed up while waiting to vote on legislation? Unbelievable.

Anyway:

Mr Holden confirmed he had received a written apology from Mrs Foy the following morning. He said: ‘Mary has apologised for her totally unacceptable, drunken behaviour on the terrace and I want to leave it at that.’

A Tory source said Mrs Foy’s behaviour suggested the ‘pressure is showing’ on Labour as Durham Police face calls to finally launch a proper investigation into Sir Keir.

Mrs Foy declined to comment on the allegations when contacted yesterday and referred all questions to Labour’s press office. A party source confirmed she issued a personal apology.

The source said the pair had been drinking together in a group where there was ‘a bit of back and forth on politics generally’.

They added that it was ‘incorrect’ to say Mrs Foy had grabbed Mr Holden’s arm, but did not comment on claims she was drunk.

But several witnesses said they were shocked by the ferocity of her tirade.

More happened that day, Friday, April 29.

BBC Breakfast‘s review of the newspapers left out the Daily Mail‘s aforementioned front page with Angela Rayner on it, although reporter Iain Watson later soft-pedalled Labour’s claim that it was an honest mistake:

Guido rightly observed that the nation’s broadcaster had not afforded the Conservatives such gracious treatment:

When they finally got around to discussing the exposé, political correspondent Iain Watson was at pains to emphasise Labour’s absurd line that it was just an “honest mistake”, incredibly kind framing Guido’s sure Downing Street would not receive. The Metropolitan Police decided to U-turn and investigate No. 10’s parties after months of media pressure; now Labour’s been caught out, the establishment media is doing its best to downplay the rule-breaking. Labour must be thanking their lucky stars…

At lunchtime, Guido posted Sir Keir’s detailed timeline, complete with photos and videos, up North in Hull and Durham:

At the end of the timeline, Guido reminded us of what Angela Rayner had said only a week earlier:

April 20, 2022: Angela Rayner is asked “If Keir Starmer, had been fined for the beer and sandwiches that he had or was perhaps it was just beer. Should he have resigned?” Rayner replies “If Keir Starmer had broken the law, then Yes.”

This was the Mail‘s front page on Saturday, April 30. It was a newsy day, especially with disgraced now-former Conservative MP Neil Parish:

That was also the first anniversary of the event in Durham:

The next day, the Mail on Sunday called Starmer a hypocrite, something a Sky News presenter quizzed him about (video here):

Keir Starmer avoided the BBC that morning. Instead, one of his MPs, David Lammy, went on to chat with Sophie Raworth (videos here and here). By now, the public were catching on that Labour had been obfuscating for nearly five months:

On Tuesday, May 3, The Sun‘s political editor Harry Cole reported that Starmer’s security detail from London’s Metropolitan Police were in Durham on the night in question. Hmm:

Cole wrote, in part:

Witnesses suggest dozens of MPs and aides gathered at Miners’ Hall, with the police car still there late into the evening.

One bystander who walked past at 11pm said: “The place was still lit up and busy and Keir’s car was still outside.”

The Sun has also revealed that £200 was spent on takeaway curry for dozens of MPs and aides at the bash.

That day, The Spectator‘s Patrick O’Flynn wrote that Starmer should be careful about his situation, given he has been running roughshod over Boris, clamouring constantly for his resignation:

Starmer called for both Johnson and Sunak to quit over their fixed penalty notices despite knowing that the full truth about his own campaign-trail gathering had not come out.

For starters, Labour said its deputy leader Angela Rayner was not at the event when she was. This according to Starmer was a simple ‘mistake’ made in good faith. But has he ever conceded Johnson could have made simple mistakes in good faith about what constituted unlawful gatherings? Of course not

Can Starmer be said to have ‘come clean’ about his own lockdown socialising? Hardly. He is still being evasive now about what exactly the ‘work’ was that his team supposedly returned to after beer and pizza had been consumed around 10 p.m. on a Friday night …

When Starmer was first questioned about beergate, back in January, he told the BBC’s Sophie Raworth: ‘If you’re trying to persuade anyone that stopping to have some food when you’re in the office all day working is a breach of the rules, it’s just not going to wash.’ Yet hasn’t such thinking been at the heart of his own relentless attacks on Johnson?

Starmer the lawyer may think he has winning answers to these questions. Were he a better politician, he would see immediately that he does not. He has been hoisted by his own petard and may soon crash land against some particularly unforgiving ramparts.

The Mail‘s Stephen Pollard also posted an editorial on Starmer. Pollard, by the way, is a member of the Labour Party. However, he abhors the hypocrisy of Starmer’s handling of the Durham event compared with his verbal harassment in the Commons of Boris and Rishi:

the holes in his story get bigger by the day. Sir Keir also says he had no choice but to eat with his colleagues because he couldn’t get a meal at the hotel he was staying in.

The Mail has shown this is nonsense – the hotel made a point of offering room service for law-abiding guests who were following the rules by eating alone in their room. Sir Keir could remove all doubt about the truth of his story if he gave a full account of what happened backed up by evidence. In the absence of such evidence, however, it looks to be no more and no less than a social meal and a drink with colleagues after work – and so not remotely ‘necessary’. In other words, illegal under the Tier 2 rules.

The Chancellor, Rishi Sunak, was fined for turning up to a scheduled work meeting in the Cabinet room to find that a gathering was taking place, and not walking out. For that, Labour demanded his resignation. The hypocrisy is breathtaking.

Sir Keir plainly thinks he can keep saying nothing and the fuss will die down. But the one thing voters cannot stomach is a politician who lies – so Sir Keir needs to come clean. It is difficult to imagine why he would let this story fester if he really has done nothing wrong and can prove it by answering questions, so it may well be he is covering up his own lawbreaking.

If that is the case then – on his own merciless standards – surely he must resign.

Or does he believe that the rules don’t apply to him?

Also on that day, we found out who took the videos and photos of the Durham event — students at Durham University. The Mail reported that the Met’s vehicle piqued their curiosity:

Students who filmed the Labour leader drinking in the office of one of his MPs while indoor socialising was banned also photographed an unfamiliar black Land Rover Discovery parked outside.

If it was one of the official police protection vehicles issued to Sir Keir in his role as a senior politician, it would raise the prospect that officers guarding him can help definitively solve the questions which continue to swirl around the night’s events.

One of the students who filmed the gathering at Durham Miners Hall on April 30 last year said: ‘We had never seen a black Land Rover parked there before, it really stuck out. We took a picture of it because we were convinced it was the car in which he had been driven there.’

Last night a Metropolitan Police spokesman said: ‘We do not comment on protection matters.’ Labour did not respond to requests for comment.

Former Scotland Yard Commissioner Dame Cressida Dick was previously forced to defend officers on duty in Whitehall as questions were raised on how potentially lockdown-breaching gatherings were able to take place at a site with a heavy police presence.

Speaking in February, she said the officers were there to provide ‘protective security’ but refused to be drawn on ‘anything they may have seen or heard’.

The Leader of the Opposition is one of a small number of senior politicians given round-the-clock protection by police

Officers would know everywhere the ‘principal’ is going during a visit and have a rough idea of timings, a source said last night.

The Mail did not name the students, but Guido knew who one of them was back in January 2022:

On January 18, Guido revealed the student’s identity once the images of the Durham event had reached The Sun, The Telegraph and The Mail:

… the person who snapped the incriminating footage – James Delingpole’s son, Ivo – is just as angry with the Tories as anyone else. Taking to Instagram yesterday he reacted to the Mail’s splash with pleasant surprise:

Bit strange to have a video I filmed… on the front cover of a newspaper. I didn’t make any money from it and didn’t send it to them, but glad the hypocrisy was outed nonetheless

However he followed up:

It was last year and just outside my university house… I hope this in no way helps the Prime Minister defend himself from critics, and that he gets no respite from the questioning and criticism [he] deserves …

But even that splash in three newspapers didn’t stop Starmer. In fact, he doubled down, as we can see in this tweet from January 31:

Returning to last week, Wednesday, May 4, the day before the election, the Mail had the following front page on the seventh day of Beergate. Someone should write a song …

Starmer appeared on ITV1’s Good Morning Britain that day. Susanna Reid and Richard Madeley interviewed him. Things did not go spectacularly well, even if Reid is left-of-centre politically:

Guido had the story and video:

For the seventh consecutive day, Starmer is battling the headlines over Beergate. This morning the Sun reports Starmer and Labour aides spent £200 on takeaway food on the night the infamous photo was taken – enough curry to feed 30 people for what Labour still insists was just a quick meal during important campaign work. That line is becoming increasingly untenable, as Starmer’s appearance just now on Good Morning Britain attests…

Speaking to Susanna Reid and Richard Madeley, Starmer trotted out the boilerplate excuses Labour have been using for a week, much of which was irrelevant waffle about how many camera pieces he recorded that day. Not once did he deny reports it turned into a £200, 30-person feast …

He recorded some video messages on a laptop – doesn’t require 30 people, beer and curry late on a Friday night to do that. When Susanna Reid asked why any of this was actually relevant, Starmer claimed:

We were on the road, at the end of the day, we were in the office preparing. Now, that evening, from memory, we were doing an online event for members… at some point, this was in the evening, everyone is hungry. A takeaway was ordered… in Durham all restaurants and pubs were closed.

Of course, that last part is untrue: hospitality reopened for outdoor service on April 12, and the Durham event took place on April 30. Still, at least Starmer confirmed the police haven’t been in touch yet, something he couldn’t say yesterday for some reason. If Starmer’s finding all this scrutiny unnecessary, Guido would just remind him he called for Rishi to resign last month for singing ‘happy birthday’. Or was that just pointless mudslinging?

Guido’s tweet about Good Morning Britain had a response about why Labour might not have wanted to put Angela Rayner in the frame until they were forced to:

That day, the Mail‘s Andrew Pierce looked at the possible people helping Starmer obfuscate. We already know about Mary Foy MP and I covered Joy Allen, the head of Durham Constabulary, in a previous post. She was not at the event.

The others follow — Allen’s deputy, the curry house and the other Labour MP for Durham:

PCC Allen’s second-in-command is Nigel Bryson, who happens to be a long-standing friend of hers. They met, inevitably, through the Labour Party and she has attracted criticism for appointing him without advertising. Challenged over this failure to vet anyone else, she said: ‘I’ve got somebody who knows everything about me as a candidate… I could go through the process but it would just be possibly going through the motions.’ So that’s all right then.

The Capital is one of Durham’s finest Indian restaurants and this week it emerged its delivery driver had dropped off a ‘£200’ feast for the gathering, including biryanis, tikka masalas, rice and naan breads. The driver initially told the Daily Mail there were ’30 or so people’ inside – but bizarrely later insisted he had no recollection of making the delivery.

Yet the curry house has been known to have friendly relations with Durham’s Labour machine.

In May 2020, during the first lockdown, local MP Foy hailed it for supplying meals to NHS workers and posed for photographs with head chef Syed Islam.

Bordering Foy’s constituency is North Durham, with MP Kevan Jones. He has also remained silent about the night in question – and this isn’t surprising.

A leading figure in the local Labour community, Jones himself has broken lockdown laws – not once, but twice. The first breach came on May 7, 2020, when he took part in a group photo shoot in his constituency, promoting artwork in praise of the NHS. A noble cause – but the rules about socialising were clear. Jones committed another breach three days later.

A video shows him attending an indoor party for 100-year-old veteran Frederick Herron, allegedly attended by about 40 people. Who would begrudge a hero centenarian a fitting celebration? Nobody – except Starmer and Labour have consistently claimed that the law should have been upheld.

Asked yesterday about his lockdown breaches, Jones said he would ‘rather not comment’.

The plot thickened and the intrigue continued.

More tomorrow, beginning with what the papers said on Election Day.

The major results of England’s local election — and Hartlepool’s by-election — are in.

The Conservatives had a few historic victories. The Greens won control of a few councils. Labour held steady in their strongholds but also lost a few of their lonstanding councils.

Highlights follow.

Hartlepool by-election

The other day, I wrote about Hartlepool in the North East of England. In that post was a poll from Survation, which turned out to be spot on.

Hartlepool ended up voting overwhelmingly for the Conservative candidate Jill Mortimer, overthrowing decades of Labour representation in that constituency since its creation in 1974. Prior to that, the constituency was known as The Hartlepools, and Conservatives won the seat once, in 1959.

Survation’s numbers were very accurate.

Here’s the poll from May 4 …

… and the actual result:

I watched Sky News into the early hours of the morning. They went back and forth to Labour MP Jim McMahon, who conceded Hartlepool before the results were known:

Congratulations to cattle farmer Jill Mortimer:

She said:

I look forward to her making her maiden speech in Parliament.

Sky’s Beth Rigby — back at work since being suspended for coronavirus violations — interviewed Boris, who had made three visits to Hartlepool, and now a fourth. The Guardian had a summary of the interview:

Johnson says people voted Tory in 2019 to get Brexit done. They have seen the government did get Brexit done. Now they want it to get on with other things.

He says he wants to move from “jabs, jabs, jabs to jobs, jobs, jobs”.

And he stresses his commitment to levelling up. No government in the past has been as serious about it, he claims.

It’s hardly a ‘claim’. It’s a fact.

Boris’s interview is in the next tweet. New MP Jill Mortimer is on the right:

This is what he said to the BBC:

By the way, Labour always complain about the shortage of women in the House of Commons. In reality, the Commons is well represented by women. Jill Mortimer will add to their number:

Voters do not care about Boris’s curtains

I caught the end of Sky’s coverage on Friday morning.

They interviewed Professor Tony Travers from the London School of Economics. He said that voters do not care about Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s Downing Street flat refurbishment. He ended by saying that Boris Johnson is a ‘lucky’ politician.

I disagree that Boris is ‘lucky’. Boris is the type who, when told he cannot do something, will go ahead and achieve it.

The Opposition benches — from Labour to the Lib Dems to the SNP — told him that he could not get a Brexit deal and get us out of the European Union. Yet, he did.

The Opposition also said that Boris should have signed an agreement with the EU’s drugs agency during coronavirus. Thank goodness, he ignored them. We were able to be the first nation in the world to start rolling out the vaccines in December 2020. The EU nations are lagging behind, woefully.

On Election Day, Guido Fawkes reported on a YouGov poll about Boris’s refurb which shows the same lack of interest:

It seemed like an opportunistic pre-election play by Labour and the media to shrink Conservative votes. It did not work. People saw through it.

Oddly, the same people making a big deal out of the Downing Street flat never once asked why Tony Blair and later Gordon Brown — both Labour PMs — spent so much money on it over a period of years from 1997 to 2010. By the way, The Independent‘s John Rentoul is hardly a Boris supporter:

Local councils: notable big wins for Conservatives

The Conservatives have scored notable wins in England.

Not all the council elections are in yet. Counting continues over the weekend. However, we have a few results.

West Midlands

The Guardian reported on the West Midlands:

Early council results showed Labour losing a string of seats, among them 12 seats to the Conservatives in Dudley, giving the Tories control of the council. Of the first 14 seats declared for Nuneaton and Bedworth in Warwickshire, the Conservatives took 13, winning back control of the council from Labour.

In Redditch in Worcestershire, the first nine seats declared all went to the Conservatives, seven being taken from Labour, including Labour’s former council leader and deputy leader.

North East

The Conservatives took control of Northumberland council from no overall control.

South East

The Conservatives also won Harlow Council in Essex, not far from London.

The Guardian said:

A number of Conservative gains were aided by the party acquiring what was a significant Ukip vote from the last time they were contested, in 2016 or 2017, illustrating the scale of the long-term, structural issues facing Labour.

The UKIP factor had mostly to do with the fact that the party had no candidate in those elections. Therefore, there was no one to siphon away Conservative votes.

However, there is more to it than UKIP in the West Midlands and parts of the North. A number of Conservative MPs were elected to represent constituencies in those regions in 2019. They are local and they are serving the people of those areas on the ground and in Parliament. Two Conservative regional mayors, Andy Street of the West Midlands and Ben Houchen of Teesside, have been doing a great job in working with the UK Government on various local projects to revitalise those areas. 

Ultimately, via MPs and regional mayors, the Conservatives hope to build a solid voting base in previous Labour strongholds. Labour and the media said that the 2019 victories for the Conservatives were a one-off. I beg to differ. These election results are proving them wrong.

North West

An example of that is in the Audley and Queens’ Park ward of the unitary council of Blackburn with Darwen in the North West. It now has a Conservative councillor, a laudable result, for Tiger Patel (more here):

There was also a big Conservative win in the Royton North ward of Oldham Council in Lancashire:

Questions for Labour’s Starmer

Sir Keir Starmer has been Labour leader only for a short period of time.

It would be easy, though unfair, to lay all the blame at his feet.

For 20 years, the small ‘c’ conservative working class has viewed Labour as a party of the big cities: London, Birmingham, Manchester, Liverpool and Newcastle.

Labour does not speak for the working class in the rest of the nation. More voters are deserting the party with each election:

The Guardian has an interview with several prominent Labour Party members talking about ‘change’ and Starmer’s failure to ‘change’ quickly enough. However, Labour put their stake in the ground 20 years ago. Anyone watching BBC Parliament can see how radical some of their MPs are, especially the women. Several of those elected in 2019 gave their maiden speeches mentioning how much they believed in ‘socialism’. One went so far as to mention ‘Marxist ideals’. No one outside a major city is going to vote for a candidate like that.

It’s not Starmer’s fault Labour lost so many council seats, even if a number of those councils are still Labour controlled. The fact of the matter is that fewer voters like Labour. Labour don’t make it easy for themselves.

No cabinet reshuffle can fix their problem — radicalism:

Conclusion

The English are not a radical people.

They want to be able to work and bring up children in prosperity and safety.

They will vote for candidates best able to provide those conditions for them. This accounts for the gradual shift away from Labour towards the Conservatives.

More election news will follow next week, all being well.

While much of the UK is in some sort of coronavirus lockdown — England is now in the new Tier 5 — let’s cast our minds back to Christmas Eve 2020.

An imminent announcement was rumoured by news channels from the early morning.

Christmas Eve morning — in our household, at least — provided more excitement than Christmas Day, particularly since our area were in Tier 4 at the time, forbidding anything but the briefest of visits.

As December 24 unfolded, there was no final trade agreement enabling the United Kingdom to terminate the Brexit transition phase, scheduled to end at 11:59 p.m. Brussels time, on December 31.

Mid-afternoon, Sky News announced that there would be no statement that day. We stayed tuned in, which was just as well, because a short time later, they changed tack and said that that EU Commission president Ursula von der Leyen and British Prime Minister Boris Johnson would be making separate statements about a deal having been struck.

Amazingly, as Sky News announced there would be no announcement, this independent journalist called it correctly. Well done:

Guido Fawkes’s team, who run the best British political website, had been primed for this from the week before. Tom Harwood went the furthest and had worn his Merry Brexmas jumper (pullover sweater) in their news wrap up video on December 18:

Around 3 p.m., Ursula von der Leyen made her announcement from Brussels. Boris made his from No. 10. While Ursula and our chief EU negotiator Michel Barnier were downbeat, Boris was positively euphoric:

His tie had a fish motif:

Fishing was the sticking point that caused the delay to an agreement being reached:

In the end:

Leavers are very grateful to Lord David GH Frost for his tireless efforts in negotiating on the UK’s behalf. Words cannot describe how hard he has worked on our behalf:

This was Boris’s announcement about the new trade deal with the EU beginning on January 1, 2021. Guido Fawkes has a written summary (ignore the photo, which was not one from December 24):

It was on as even terms as possible. Both von der Leyen and Barnier acknowledged that we were ‘tough’ in our negotiations. Good.

Michel Barnier is in the first video:

Michel Barnier spoke after von der Leyen. Thank you, Michel:

Here he says that the UK has chosen to leave the European Union and the single market. The new agreement is the basis of a new partnership, one that is fair and equitable:

The woman on the right in that photo moderated the session, which included a press conference.

More highlights follow.

Journalist Dave Keating has an excellent thread, which he introduced with the reference to white smoke appearing at the Vatican when there is a new pope:

Boris’s usual critics doubted the ‘Canada-style’ description, until they began analysing the text. Some admitted on air and in print that it was, indeed, a Canada-style agreement.

The Telegraph had more on the agreement:

Boris sent a three-page letter to each MP and peer.

Contrary to what Boris said, the agreement was 1,246 pages long. Annexes and footnotes probably accounted for the extra length. You can read the full text here, using the links at the bottom of that page:

I couldn’t agree more with the poll results.

I also fully agree with the PM that Brexit dragged on long enough:

Agree.

We will always be European.

We love our European friends and family.

However, the EU construct, as it evolved from a common trading area to a common army (developing) and lack of national autonomy, were steps too far for 52% of the British public. Here’s a case in point: the EU Parliament — individual MEPs — won’t even be voting on this deal until early 2021. We left at the last minute of 2020. This proves further that the only EU decisions that matter come from the EU Commission.

After the announcement of the new EU-UK trade agreement, reactions poured in.

First, here’s a reaction from a member of the general public, a Leaver. I felt the same way:

Nigel Farage — without whom we never would have had a referendum (thanks again, Nigel!) — approved, even though the deal isn’t perfect:

David Cameron, who was PM at the time of the July 23, 2016 referendum, said:

Theresa May, Cameron’s successor and MP for Maidenhead, who ended up resigning over her poor handling of Brexit within Parliament, must have tweeted this through gritted teeth:

Conservative MP Mark Harper was unique in thanking Lord David GH Frost — Barnier’s British counterpart — who negotiated so well. Harper — one of the good guys — said that he would look forward to reading through the agreement over Christmas ahead of the December 30 vote.

Another Conservative MP, Chris Heaton-Harris, said, that contrary to negative reports circulating in the media, no MP objected to studying the agreement over Christmas.

The leaders of the devolved nations — Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland — also reacted to the news.

Scotland’s Nicola Sturgeon said that Brexit is happening ‘against Scotland’s will’ and issued yet another plea for Scottish independence.

Another socialist, Mark Drakeford, the First Minister — Prif Weinidog — of Wales, offered a more balanced assessment. Perhaps he recalled that most Welsh voters wanted Brexit. Drakeford said that it wasn’t the deal hoped for (probably not enough links with the EU) but was workable.

Northern Ireland’s First Minister, Arlene Foster (DUP), said that, provisionally, the agreement looked like ‘good news’ and issued a full statement on it.

Kate Hoey, the former Labour MP for Vauxhall (London) and the current Baroness Hoey of Lylehill and Rathlin in the County of Antrim, was a staunch supporter of Brexit and was one of the main Leavers in 2016 on the public stage. Even though her heart is in Northern Ireland, her homeland, she participates actively in the House of Lords. She had this to say about the agreement:

Her friends at Labour Leave were equally relieved:

Emmanuel Macron, France’s petit président, played the tough guy. In one tweet, he said that European unity and firmness paid off; the agreement with the UK had to protect France’s citizens, fishermen and producers. He assured them that this was the case, pointing towards a Europe that is sovereign and strong. In a second tweet, he thanked Michel Barnier for his tenacity and engagement in defending European interests and unity. He also said that, thanks to von der Leyen, European solidarity showed its force.

That evening, Boris posted his Christmas message. The first half is about coronavirus. The second part is about Brexit:

That day, all 52% of us wanted to focus on was this great achievement — a happy one, brightening a coronavirus-dominated Christmas:

The second day of Brexmas will follow tomorrow.

What a week. It’s been full of coronavirus news here in the UK.

Vaccine

The UK was the first country in the world to distribute a coronavirus vaccine.

A 90-year-old grandmother, Margaret Keenan, was the first person to receive the Pfizer/BioNtech vaccine.

Health Secretary Matt Hancock wept. He’s never openly cried about those made unemployed and destitute during the coronavirus crisis for which he is largely responsible. Sickening:

Good Morning Britain‘s physician, Dr Hilary Jones, explained that Mrs Keenan could still get COVID-19 and transmit it:

It seems to work the way that a flu vaccine does. If one gets the virus, the effects won’t be as bad as if one weren’t vaccinated.

I wouldn’t advise thinking about that too much, because it could lead down a rabbit hole:

The great scientists of SAGE also said life would not return to normal (see Select Committee section below). We are likely to be in the same situation well into next year, probably the autumn. This is what the ex-barrister and co-editor of Conservative Woman says:

Continuing down the rabbit hole re the vaccine:

Wales

Meanwhile, in Labour-controlled Wales, coronavirus hospitalisations are higher than they were early this year — despite a short, sharp lockdown, ‘firebreak’, that recently ended:

Guido Fawkes opined (emphases in the original):

Lockdowns, even short ones, evidently temporarily drop cases. Yet selling them on the promise that they enable more things to open once they end, as Welsh Labour did, appears to turbocharge case numbers far more than having simple, predictable and steady rules. The psychology of re-openings could well mean that in the long run, Wales’ “short sharp firebreak lockdown” – modelled on Keir Starmer’s demand – did more harm than good…

The Prif Weinidog — that’s First Minister in Welsh — Mark Drakeford blamed his own countrymen for the failure of his ‘firebreak’:

I couldn’t agree more. Lockdowns, firebreaks — whatever one calls them — do not work.

Why would anyone trust a government to dictate their lives? This is a photo of Grenfell Tower (public housing) in London, which burned in June 2017 because of faulty cladding:

And that brings me neatly to the next topic.

PCR versus Lateral Flow testing

The UK Government rejected a petition about PCR (swab) testing because they said they are not responsible for it. Hmm:

This is the nub of the problem. The Government absolves itself of responsibility. So do the scientists. People actually believe this guff.

Where do Government ministers get the idea for lockdown and excuse potentially faulty test results if it weren’t for the scientists and health organisations working with them?

But I digress.

Returning to testing, a few weeks ago, nearly all of Liverpool’s residents took the Lateral Flow test in a pilot programme. The Lateral Flow test works similarly to a pregnancy test and could be used on a daily basis as an ‘all clear’ strategy to give people more freedom and certainty to go about their lives. If successful, its use could allow visits to patients in care homes.

Very few of the Lateral Flow results were positive. If I remember rightly, the figure was 0.3%.

No doubt if those same people had taken the PCR test, the results would have been very different.

Therefore, this is interesting:

I’m just posting it to show there is a huge question over which test is more accurate.

PCR could work, provided the cycle thresholds were lowered from 40 to 35. But that is not happening.

The scientists of SAGE: Susan Michie

Anyone who reads Guido Fawkes regularly will know that SAGE has some questionable members, including this woman who appeared regularly on BBC News during the first lockdown. She might still be appearing on the BBC. I only watched between March and June to watch the spin they put on the Government’s coronavirus briefings:

Michie’s mother was worth a fortune:

The Daily Mail said the owners of the painting were a mystery, until all was revealed (emphases mine):

The painting was in fact sold by 30-year-old Ms Murray’s mother, Professor Susan Michie. She and her two siblings had been left the picture by their mother, the celebrated IVF pioneer Dame Anne McLaren.

When she died in 2007 she left an estate valued at £52,105,910. The vast bulk of that sum represented the value of the painting.

In her will, the Mail can reveal, she stated that if her children chose to sell then ‘if possible it should be sold to an art gallery or museum in the United Kingdom’.

According to a source, family members were ‘disappointed’ at the decision to put the painting on the market. While the sale attracted a tax bill of £20million, that would have left the trio about £10million each — more than enough to share around other members of their extended family.

Three SAGE members appear before Select Committee

Moving on to other SAGE members, Sir Patrick Vallance, Prof Chris Whitty and Dr Jenny Harries appeared once more before the Science and Technology Select Committee on Wednesday, December 9, for a year-end review of lessons learned during the pandemic. Greg Clark MP, who heads that Select Committee, and MPs from both Conservative and Opposition parties asked probing questions. You can watch the three-and-one-half hour session here.

Unfortunately, Vallance, Whitty and Harries were no clearer about lessons learned. In fact, they were vaguer than they were in earlier sessions:

– The vaccine will not be a fix for coronavirus. Not everyone will be able to take the Pfizer/BioNtech vaccine because it will not be suitable for them.

– Human behaviour (Harries’s speciality) is very hard to predict. Harries admitted that.

Hospitality has been the scapegoat because that is where alcohol can be consumed.

– Conclusions on BAME communities’ susceptibility to the virus are unclear.

– Lockdown restrictions will be with us well into next year.

The worst admission — and I have been saying this to my far better half for at least a month — was when Vallance said that self-isolation is better for the person who has a steady job and can work from home. Self-isolation, he said, is not suitable for someone in precarious employment who has to show up to work every day! (Who knew?) Good grief!

They have no real answers, yet they’re still ruling our lives via the Government!

Sky News suspends newsreader

Kay Burley, one of Sky News’s star newsreaders, celebrated her 60th birthday on Saturday, December 5, in London.

Unfortunately, the celebrations did not take place in an entirely COVID-compliant way.

Ms Burley was suspended until early January 2021. (See update below.)

Guido Fawkes has the story:

Some people won’t see that as big news, but it is.

It points out the hypocrisy of the media, who were clamouring for a lockdown in March then flout the rules when we are still in one via the tier system. London is in Tier 2.

This was Kay Burley’s apology:

The Guido Fawkes team delved deeper. This is what they discovered (emphases in the original). Guillaume Depoix (point 5 below) owns the Folie restaurant:

The trouble for Kay is that this statement does not address the whole story, and contradicts what the owner of the restaurant told Guido about the event yesterday. Either the restaurant owner was not telling the truth to Guido, or Kay has been fibbing…

    1. Her party at the “Covid compliant” club was made up of ten people, split across two tables. Yet the ‘Rule of Six’ apples to social events like birthday parties inside or outside. The only other gatherings such as business meetings can exceed it...
    2. Kay’s statement presumes she walked all the way to the restaurant Folie to spend her penny. Despite it being not exactly next door to the club she came from.
    3. Kay does not mention the other people who came with her into the second restaurant. Yet the owner admitted to Guido yesterday that “several people” came in to the restaurant.
    4. Guido was initially told by the restaurant owner that Kay and her friends had gone in to the second restaurant after curfew “to pay a bill, that was it”. Not to go to the loo…
    5. When Guido put to restaurant owner Guillaume Depoix that Kay and company had been in the restaurant for quite a while, “a couple of hours”, this was not denied. Guido certainly got the impression the group were there for a considerable amount of time.
    6. Kay does not mention the other people who came back to her home. Yet she didn’t deny it.

Whilst Kay’s statement tries to take all the blame, Guido has yet to hear what her Sky News colleagues and party guests Beth Rigby, Inzamam Rashid, and Sam Washington have to say …

On Tuesday, December 8, i reported (emphases mine):

Sky News presenter Kay Burley has been taken off air after she admitted to breaching coronavirus restrictions, i understands. She has been replaced on the breakfast show for her remaining shows this week and is already due on annual leave until 4 January …

The TV host is facing an internal inquiry for what she described as “an error of judgment”.

Sources told i the presenter was called into Sky’s headquarters in Osterley, west London, for an urgent meeting with bosses on Tuesday morning. The channel’s most senior staff, John Riley, head of news, and Christina Nicoletti Squires, director of content, were seen entering the newsroom at the time the meeting was due to be held.

Burley will be replaced by early morning presenter Niall Paterson on Wednesday and other presenters will cover her programme for the remainder of the week. Burley was already set to be on annual leave from next Monday until 4 January 2021.

A source close to the presenter said she “doesn’t have a leg to stand on” after breaking the Government’s rules, while being employed to grill politicians over the need to follow guidelines.

It is not clear if she has been removed from air as part of formal disciplinary proceedings.

When the news of the breach broke on Monday night, Burley was in Coventry, where she was due to anchor the news channel as the first Covid vaccines were administered. She was hastily replaced and ordered back to London for Tuesday’s meeting

Too funny.

Burley, along with colleague and birthday guest Beth Rigby, were among the media stars who endlessly criticised Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s advisor Dominic Cummings, who is staying on until the end of the year, for his lockdown breach during the first lockdown during the Spring:

Burley, who presents a daily breakfast show on Sky News, has grilled politicians on lockdown throughout the pandemic.

In May, she questioned cabinet minister Michael Gove on the controversy over Dominic Cummings’ trip to Barnard Castle.

A Sky News spokesman said: “We place the highest importance on complying with the Government guidelines on Covid, and we expect all our people to comply.

“We were disappointed to learn that a small number of Sky News staff may have engaged in activity that breached the guidelines.

“Although this took place at a social event in personal time, we expect all our people to follow the rules that are in place for everyone. An internal process is under way to review the conduct of the people involved.”

Sky News declined to comment on Burley being taken off air.

This tweet shows Beth Rigby having a go at Dominic Cummings in May during his press conference:

The Guardian had more on the story:

All of the Sky staff are facing a review of their conduct by their employer, which said it was “disappointed” by the incident.

Burley’s usual 7am breakfast programme was presented from Coventry University hospital on Tuesday by Sarah Hewson. Burley is understood to have already been in the city, where the UK’s first vaccine dose was administered, when the decision was made. There was no mention of the reason for Burley’s absence when the show began

Burley is understood to have blamed the situation on misunderstandings in planning and organising the event. But she did not address why a group of four people, including Rashid and former Sky News royal correspondent and Huawei PR executive Paul Harrison, returned to her home after the dinner, a claim that is not believed to be in dispute. Other Sky News staff are understood to be irritated by details of the event.

Under the tier 2 restrictions in London, indoor social gatherings of any kind are barred except among those who live together or have formed a support bubble. Groups of up to six can socialise outdoors. Police can impose fines of £200 for a first-time breach.

Under the rules, Burley’s initial gathering would only have been allowed if the two tables remained separate throughout and sat outside. It is not clear how many of the group went to the second venue, but Burley’s tweets suggested that the rules were broken during this part of the evening. A group of four gathering at her home would be against the rules unless they remained outside throughout.

Burley has been a stern interrogator of politicians who have been perceived as making excuses over lockdown breaches this year.

In May, she conducted a widely shared interview with the cabinet minister Michael Gove about the Dominic Cummings affair, repeatedly asking him to clarify what the government advice would be for a member of the public “struggling with Covid-19 and you think you’ve got a problem with your eyesight”, in reference to Cummings’ explanation of his trip to Barnard Castle.

She also interviewed the health secretary, Matt Hancock, after Prof Neil Ferguson was forced to resign as a government adviser and asked: “What did you think when you read it? Did you bang your head on the desk?”

Burley’s colleague Adam Boulton, the other star of Sky News, was deeply unhappy with her. The Guardian told us all about it in ‘Kay Burley row could undermine Sky News, warns Adam Boulton’:

The Sky News presenter Adam Boulton has warned that the row over a breach of coronavirus restrictions by his colleague Kay Burley has raised concerns over “the credibility of our journalism”.

With executives at the broadcaster weighing their decision over what sanctions are merited by the actions of Burley and three colleagues who attended her 60th birthday party last weekend, Boulton retweeted several posts about the story on Wednesday, including one that read: “Look at the state of Sky News. The morons spent all summer preaching to us and now look at them!”

Speaking to the Guardian, Boulton noted that his retweets did not necessarily constitute endorsements. But he went on: “That said, I retweet things because I think they’re of public interest, and certainly my feed has reflected a lot of people who are very concerned about the credibility of Sky News, and that I think is the important issue: the credibility of our journalism.”

The intervention from the station’s editor-at-large and former political editor is the first significant comment on the situation from a senior broadcaster at Sky News, where executives have been considering how to deal with the fallout from Burley’s celebrations since Monday.

Boulton said: “My view is that Sky has worked very hard during the whole Covid crisis and has taken a very clear line about public safety, and obviously something like this perhaps underlines [the importance of] that.” And he noted that he believed the matter to be “of widespread concern” to colleagues at the station.

Since Guido Fawkes broke the story on Monday, December 7, Burley’s fellow colleagues who celebrated her birthday have also been suspended:

Beth Rigby, Inzamam Rashid and Sam Washington have all been taken off air during discussions over what sanctions will be imposed. On Tuesday, Burley was withdrawn from consideration for a prestigious TV award, while two of the group signed non-disclosure agreements as Sky sought to limit damage from the row.

Other staff at Sky share Adam Boulton’s consternation:

“The situation is just excruciating,” one producer said. “The longer it goes on, the worse it gets and the harder it is to see this ending without serious punishment.”

Boulton noted that he viewed Burley as a “remarkable” journalist who deserved her success on the station. And he added: “Whatever happens next is not my decision and obviously it’s not up to me to criticise colleagues.”

Nonetheless, his comments will be viewed with alarm by executives hoping to keep staff concerns under wraps until they reach a decision, which is expected to be this week.

It appears that Burley had a safari holiday booked:

Burley herself deleted a tweet saying she was going on holiday on Friday to go “sit with lions”, adding: “They kill for food, not sport” – a possible reference to the media coverage of the situation.

Well, she can take her time and enjoy an extended safari holiday.

————————————

UPDATE: Early this evening, news emerged that Sky News has suspended Burley for six months! Excellent.

Furthermore, Beth Rigby has been suspended for three months; Sam Washington and Inzamam Rashid have also been suspended pending an internal Sky News enquiry. Result!

How pleased Kay and Beth were with themselves only a few days earlier …

————————————

It is a bit rich to defy coronavirus regulations then pole up to a hospital, especially one giving COVID-19 vaccinations:

I’m really glad this has come to light:

Agree. I don’t understand why people give these hypocrites any credibility.

Sunlight is the best disinfectant.

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

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

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

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

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

ITV’s political editor Robert Peston is opposed:

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

Peston really loathes the idea of televised briefings:

Sky’s Beth Rigby also made her opposition clear:

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

Excerpts follow, emphases mine:

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

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

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

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

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

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

There was more negativity:

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

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

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

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

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

Yeah, right.

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

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

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

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

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

I couldn’t agree more.

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

He wrote (red emphases in the original):

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

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

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

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

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

Me, too.

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

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

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

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

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

Alastair Stewart says:

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

True, very true.

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

The regional press journalists also asked pertinent questions.

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

Alastair Stewart thinks so, too:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

In any event:

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

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

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

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