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My series on Boris Johnson’s downfall continues.

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

Also of interest are:

Developing news: how long can Boris last as PM? (July 5-6)

Boris stays as PM for now but stands down as Conservative leader: ‘When the herd moves, it moves’ (July 6-7)

On July 8, Bloomberg had an interesting article: ‘Boris Johnson’s Downfall: The Inside Story of How His Government Collapsed’.

It states:

This account of how the Johnson administration unraveled is based on conversations with senior members of his inner circle, cabinet ministers, political advisers, civil servants and Tory MPs who were present at the key moments and spoke to Bloomberg News on condition of anonymity.

The journalists who wrote it say (emphases mine):

the man that Johnson’s inner circle blame for his downfall is Rishi Sunak, the former chancellor, who triggered that final, frantic act that ultimately forced the prime minister to quit.

Boris, being a survivor, stayed true to character. He survived a Conservative MP vote of confidence held the Monday after the Queen’s Platinum Jubilee celebrations the first weekend in June 2022. Then the Chris Pincher groping scandal broke, but he was not worried. In early July:

Johnson had spent last weekend largely ignoring the latest scandal raging around him.

There was another slew of allegations in the newspapers, this time related to what Johnson had known about the claims of sexual harassment against an MP who the prime minister had promoted to a senior party post. 

But Johnson had grown accustomed to riding out controversy, from his efforts in November to extricate an ally who breached lobbying rules, to the lockdown parties, the investigation into whether he misled Parliament and the resignation of his own ethics adviser.

His judgment, and that of his No. 10 team, was that revelations relating to his former chief whip Chris Pincher, damaging and unseemly though they were, did not pose an existential threat

That Sunday evening, July 3, Boris headed next door:

to Sunak’s flat in No. 11 Downing Street for one of their regular weekend dinners.

Johnson’s team had been wary of a potential leadership challenge from Sunak for months and suspected that he would already have moved against the prime minister if he hadn’t been fined over lockdown parties himself.

That night was businesslike, focused on plans for a new economic strategy and a joint speech. Sunak briefly mentioned his unease at the handling of the Pincher situation, but people close to both men said the meeting was good-natured and there was no hint of the coming storm.

Meanwhile:

Elsewhere in London though, Health Secretary Sajid Javid was discussing his own concerns about the Pincher case with his own advisers and starting to think he might decide to resign.

The week began normally:

No. 10 remained bullish throughout Monday despite the growing furor as Javid watched and waited.

On Tuesday, a Cabinet meeting took place (Bloomberg has a photo of it). There were signs that things could unravel quickly:

… there were ashen faces around the Cabinet table on Tuesday morning as ministers gathered to discuss Sunak’s plans for tackling rampant inflation. Johnson uber-loyalist [and Culture Secretary] Nadine Dorries told the room that the “dogs of hell” would be unleashed if Johnson was removed.

One Cabinet minister who spoke to Bloomberg that day warned that Johnson might be in real trouble. He had had an unspoken contract with the Conservative Party since surviving a confidence vote among his own MPs in early June, the minister said: he could remain in place only if the scandals stopped.

That compact had lasted barely a month.

Later that day:

Around 5 p.m., at a meeting in the prime minister’s office in Parliament, Javid told Johnson he was resigning. Johnson felt the announcement an hour later could be weathered by appointing a strong replacement.

But nine minutes after Javid published his resignation, Sunak also quit. And this blow came without warning.

Suddenly, Johnson was facing a rout.

A person with knowledge of Javid’s plans said that his team had had no meaningful contact with Sunak’s advisers before the double resignation, but they suspect that the then-chancellor got wind of what was coming and accelerated his own plans. A person with knowledge of Sunak’s thinking said there had been no collusion.

Sunak had worked in the Treasury for Javid when the latter was Chancellor from 2019 to February 2020. They were good friends.

The resignations became a game of whack-a-mole:

As the prime minister rushed to replace two key ministers, a wave of more junior officials announced that they too were abandoning his government.

Nadhim Zahawi became the new Chancellor and Steve Barclay succeeded Javid as Health Secretary:

Nadhim Zahawi and Steve Barclay were recruited late on Tuesday to solve the most immediate problem and Johnson’s advisers believed that both men were determined to take their jobs seriously. They understood that they had buy-in from Zahawi, the chancellor, for a new tax-cutting agenda to be announced imminently, though a person close to Zahawi says he made no such commitment.

All the same, as Johnson and his advisers surveyed the damage on Wednesday morning, they could tell that the situation was critical

That’s when [Levelling-Up Secretary Michael] Gove demanded his meeting. To Johnson’s aides, the timing seemed designed to inflict maximum pain.

Boris sacked Gove later on Wednesday, the only firing he made. He did it via a telephone call.

At that point:

the number of officials quitting his government climbed past 50.

That evening must have been a long one for Boris:

He returned to No. 10 after 6 p.m. for a series of meetings with his senior ministers.

Chief Whip Chris Heaton Harris advised Johnson that he no longer had the numbers to prevent Tory MPs from removing him, but that he would remain loyal. Trade Secretary Anne-Marie Trevalyan and arch Brexiteer Jacob Rees-Mogg also made clear they would stay supportive. Deputy Prime Minister Dominic Raab told Johnson he would not resign, changing for a formal white-tie event and then leaving via a side entrance.

Other meetings were more difficult.

Home Secretary Priti Patel had an emotional and teary meeting with the premier where she told him he had to go. A spokesman for Patel wasn’t able to comment on the details of the conversation. 

Transport Secretary Grant Shapps, who kept a spreadsheet of Johnson supporters, agreed that the numbers were against them. Policing minister Kit Malthouse delivered a long monologue about how it was over. An exasperated Johnson told Malthouse that if he was going to resign, he should just do it

Malthouse had worked for Boris ever since the latter was Mayor of London.

Also:

Welsh Secretary Simon Hart was the only one who threatened to quit, handing Johnson a resignation letter and telling him that if he was not gone by the morning it would be published.

The most difficult meeting was with Zahawi who looked visibly awkward, according to one witness, as he told the prime minister that he too thought he should quit. The meeting left Johnson’s aides suspecting that Zahawi had simply been preparing for his own tilt at the top job.

Correct. Zahawi did not get far with his campaign.

The meetings lasted into the night:

Towards the end of the night, Johnson gathered his closest aides in his office to assess the damage.

No. 10 policy chief Andrew Griffith was the most determined to battle on, along with Nigel Adams, a minister and old friend of Johnson. Heaton Harris, the party enforcer, had accepted the situation but was staying in the bunker to the end.

Together they rehearsed arguments for and against resigning, as they briefed the media that he would not quit and appoint a new Cabinet. The reality was that no one was accepting jobs.

Political commentators, eager for Boris to go, compared him with Donald Trump:

Johnson told his team that he didn’t want to spark a constitutional crisis by clinging to office.

“I can’t do this,” he told them. “It’s all too ghastly. It’s not me.”

Eventually, he went to the Downing Street flat to see his wife and retire for the night:

As he went up the stairs to his Downing Street flat to see his wife, Carrie, the decision was becoming clear in his mind. Carrie did not advise him either way and insisted it had to be his own decision, according to a person with knowledge of the conversation.

On Thursday, July 7:

Johnson woke early on Thursday and drafted a resignation speech to read out to his staff at their 7.30 a.m. meeting.

He announced his resignation in front of No. 10 early that afternoon.

That evening, The Spectator team held their annual garden party, a major highlight of the political year. Something always happens and this one was no different:

Johnson’s communications chief Guto Harri got into a blazing and public row with Gove adviser Josh Grimstone, who accused Harri of briefing against his boss.

A Sunak aide spotted Harri and went over for a hug. According to people present, a smiling Sunak, standing next to her, asked Harri: “Don’t I get one?”

“You want a hug?” Harri said in disbelief, knowing that the former chancellor had made no contact with Johnson since his shock resignation. Harri had spent his week fighting to save the prime minister, Sunak was aiming to replace him, and in front of London’s political elite, the two men shared an awkward embrace.

Guido Fawkes has more (Guto Harri is on the right and the magazine’s Katy Balls is in the background):

His post says the argument went all the way back to Gove’s desertion of Boris in the 2016 leadership election, leaving Boris out of the race that year (emphases in the original):

… Leadership candidates Rishi Sunak, Nadhim Zahawi and Tom Tugendhat worked the crowd. Later in the evening as things were winding down the Spectator’s Katy Balls mischeviously introduced Josh Grimstone, the newly unemployed former Special Adviser to Michael Gove, to soon-to-be unemployed Guto Harri, the Prime Minister’s Director of Communications. Josh definitely had something to communicate to Guto about Gove’s late night sacking the night before…

Josh firmly protested that his boss had been loyal to the PM, that he personally loved Boris and that both Gove and himself had been nothing but loyal. He accused Guto of sacking Gove out of spite and attempting, unfairly, to make it look like Gove had been sacked for disloyalty. Guto was sceptical about Josh’s protestations of innocence and insistence that his boss had been loyal. The toing and froing went on in front of a silently listening audience that included Guido, Tim Shipman and Steve Swinford. Neither of the protagonists backed down from their position. Grimstone said Guto’s behaviour was a “f***ing disgrace”.

Guto eventually retorted that it was Gove’s fault that in 2016, when he betrayed Boris, the country was as a result put into 3 years of dismal turmoil under Theresa May. Guto’s stance seemed to be that even if it was true that he had been loyal of late, Gove had it coming to him for the 2016 trauma that he inflicted on the party and country. Unresolved and unreconciled Grimstone broke off leaving hushed onlookers uncertain that the summary justice of last night was entirely justified by recent events. Guto seemed relaxed and satisfied that it was amends for the sin of the past. 

But that wasn’t the only verbal dust-up that evening.

On the BBC’s Question Time, Tony Blair’s spin doctor Alastair Campbell and The Telegraph‘s Tim Stanley, who once ran for MP as a Labour candidate, argued about who was worse in terms of being economical with the truth, Tony Blair for the illegal war in Iraq or Boris Johnson with a piece of cake during lockdown. Campbell is on the left in the photo:

Guido has the video:

A few days later on July 11, Stanley wrote an article about it for The Telegraph: ‘My TV encounter showed everything that is wrong with the Left’:

I’m not a friend of Boris Johnson: my most recent contact was a Christmas card that I’m sure was signed by someone else. This didn’t stop Alastair Campbell from calling me part of the same “corrupt class” on Question Time, a grim experience I didn’t enjoy but my editor says I’ve got to address.

Around the five-minute mark, I was invited to give my take on Boris’s resignation – and Campbell butted in with the first of many attacks on my profession and character. Afterwards, a producer said: “How long have you known Alastair?” I replied: “I’ve never met him before.” Given how he spoke to me, many people assumed we had a feud going back decades.

No, he was just horrible, and the nastiness was camera ready. Campbell was nice as pie before the recording; he gave me a cheery goodbye after. My conclusion is that he’s an act. When he launched his on-air assault, I was shocked and considered walking off; I couldn’t take a whole hour of this. Instead, I pulled a one-liner out of the bag, noting that the Blair government took us into a war that cost thousands of lives, while Boris ate some cake.

The point was that Boris might have been chaotic, but it’s often the best organised regimes that make the biggest mistakes.

The line was hardly Oscar Wilde; the audience was furious that I appeared to make light of the Downing Street parties. I thought my career was over, and was wondering if Lidl might be hiring. But what I couldn’t see till I watched the show back was that Campbell shrugged away the reference to Iraq as if it were mundane. It was an ugly moment. By not bursting into tears, I think I came out better.

What irritates me about some people on the Left is that they talk about mental health and kindness yet they treat their opponents like dirt, not giving a damn how it might make them feel – and if a Conservative hits back, they act like we have crossed a line that doesn’t apply to them

And I wasn’t trying to defend Boris on Question Time, just explain his thinking. I have my own views, of course; but in that format I try to put both sides of a story, so the audience can make up its mind. I often find that Left-wing panellists can’t process this. They claim to be empathetic yet have zero interest in how other people think. It will be the Tory party that will produce the first non-white prime minister and how will the Left respond? They’ll call them a “racist”.

That night on Dan Wootton’s GB News show, opinions about Boris’s successor flew in thick and fast.

Former Conservative Home Secretary and later Brexit Party MEP Anne Widdecombe was adamant that the next Party leader be firmly committed to completing the Brexit process. We still have the Northern Ireland Protocol and French fishing difficulties to deal with:

Opinions swirled around the time it should take Boris to vacate Downing Street.

Someone in the know told the Daily Mail that Theresa May — a Remainer — should be caretaker PM. GB News reported:

While Mr Johnson is expected to stay on until Prime Minister, he could choose to relinquish his duties with immediate effect.

In which case an interim Tory leader would be appointed, who would in turn also become the caretaker Prime Minister.

And former Prime Minister Ms May, who held office between 2016 and 2019, could reportedly make a dramatic return to No.10.

A report in the Daily Mail said: “She knows the ropes and the security stuff, she’s a party woman through and through, she’s definitely not interested in standing for it herself and would be credible.

“She is uniquely placed.”

Thank goodness that didn’t happen.

Another Remainer, former Conservative Prime Minister John Major, apparently told the 1922 Committee, headed by Sir Graham Brady, to get rid of Boris pronto. Edwina Currie, a former MP who served with him in Parliament at the same time and who was Major’s mistress between 1984 and 1988, said that the former PM was being ‘a bit of a prat’:

The 2021 Conservative candidate for Mayor of London, Shaun Bailey, agreed. He would have made a great mayor, by the way:

However, biographer Tom Bower explained that Boris and Carrie had no other home, therefore, he would stay at Downing Street until such time as the couple buy a house:

And what about Carrie?

A lot of conservatives blame her for Boris going off the boil with a libertarian-Conservative manifesto to focus on damagingly expensive Net Zero policies, never mind the gaudy refurbishment of the Downing Street flat, allegedly paid for by a Party donor.

The day Boris resigned, The Telegraph‘s Celia Walden wrote ‘The Carrie conundrum: What next for the Prime Minister’s wife?’

Over the past two years and 11 months our outgoing First Lady has certainly garnered criticism – some unfair, some fair. And already commentators are saying that Carrie “helped blow it for Boris”. But it is surely her husband’s sociopathic behaviour over the past few days, weeks and months – and what has been described not as Boris’s downfall but his “clownfall” – that will have been most brand-damaging. So how easy will it be for Carrie to rid herself of that toxicity, and what next for the Prime Minister’s wife? …

Before Carrie became involved with Boris, and his special brand of bedlam, the daughter of Matthew Symonds, co-founder of the The Independent, and lawyer Josephine McAfee was described as “controlled” and “confident”.

Politics may have seemed a world away from the creative fields she immersed herself in at the University of Warwick – where she studied theatre and art history – but after a stint working for Zac Goldsmith, who was MP for Richmond at the time, Carrie moved on to the Conservative party’s press office, where she quickly rose through the ranks, working on her future husband’s re-election campaign, when he ran for Mayor of London in 2012, before becoming the youngest director of communications for the party at just 29.

That a woman who forged a career in the business of public perception – and was credited with taking charge of the Prime Minister’s image (and weight) after they first got together in 2019 – could go on to make the series of missteps Carrie made at No 10 remains baffling today.

It may always have been strenuously denied that the PM’s wife played any part in the prioritising of dogs over humans for evacuation from Afghanistan, but it was without a doubt the First Lady who oversaw No 10’s controversial maximalist redesign. It was she who picked out the infamous gaudy wallpaper estimated to cost £840 a roll and, as I write, Twitter is alive with memes about the one “burning question” that remains: “Now that the Prime Minister has finally resigned what happens to Carrie’s gold wallpaper?”

Because of this, reports that the Johnsons planned to build a £150,000 treehouse for their son at Chequers (but were stopped when police raised security concerns) prompted some to interpret this as “yet more Carrie”. Which might have been unfair. But then there was Carrie’s involvement in partygate.

The Sue Gray inquiry was told that it was she who was keen to throw a party during the first lockdown and “offered to bring cake” – so these cannot be written off as “sexist”, “misogynistic” slurs along with the rest. And while other First Wives have been busy out in Ukraine, shaking Zelensky’s hand, Carrie has been notably low profile in recent months, presumably acting on advice from spin doctors.

according to Craig Oliver, former director of politics and communications for David Cameron: “Leaving No 10 could be the making of Carrie. She’s an intelligent woman, interested in a lot of issues. Being the PM’s wife has an inevitable chilling effect on what you can do and say. She’ll now be free to speak her mind.” 

Lord Ashcroft, whose biography, First Lady: Intrigue at the Court of Carrie and Boris Johnson, was published in March, describes Carrie as “an impressive person – with a high-level career in politics and a record of campaigning on animal rights and the environment”. Another political writer, meanwhile, assures me that any toxicity will be shrugged off with characteristic ease both by Boris and his wife. “He will be a very successful ex-Prime Minister. His star quality is shoulders above any of the others and he will become very rich on the back of it. So very shortly, everything will settle down, and she will be glad to have left the fishbowl.”

… although Carrie is clearly a political animal, it seems likely that she’ll choose to concentrate next on animal rights campaigning, perhaps deepening her involvement with The Aspinall Foundation, for whom she has worked as head of communications since 2021 – which in itself is in a period of transition. Every PR knows that charity work is the best “brand rehab” there is, and her passion for the cause isn’t in doubt.

We can but see.

There was more to come with Mr and Mrs Johnson: their belated wedding celebration, which they weren’t able to have earlier because of the pandemic.

More to come tomorrow.

Tuesday, July 5, 2022 proved to be a memorable day for Boris Johnson for all the wrong reasons.

Last weekend, details emerged of Conservative MP Chris Pincher’s inebriated groping of another man at the Carlton Club in London’s St James. The Carlton Club is the private members club for Conservatives. Chris Pincher had been a Government minister and Deputy Chief Whip.

Lest anyone think the furore about Chris Pincher and blaming Boris for it is about cleaning up government, the end goal remains: get rid of Boris because Boris represents Brexit.

Chris Pincher

Chris Pincher has been a Conservative MP since 2010, the year David Cameron became Prime Minister.

Theresa May gave him his first ministerial role, that of Comptroller of the Household, in 2017. A few months later, she appointed him Treasurer of the Household, the next move up from Comptroller of the Household. In 2018, he then became Deputy Chief Whip, which is a role given by the Chief Whip, not the Prime Minister.

Boris Johnson gave Pincher other ministerial roles. I watched him at the despatch box regularly as Minister of State for Europe and the Americas and Minister of State for Housing. In February 2022, he once again became Treasurer of the Household, a Boris appointment, and Deputy Chief Whip, a Chief Whip appointment.

Then the Carlton Club scandal broke, with Pincher freely admitting in writing what he had done. He has had the Conservative Party whip removed, although he remains an MP for now.

The question from Boris’s enemies is how much blame should the Prime Minister carry.

It looks to me as if it all started with Theresa May, especially as he resigned his 2017 appointment as Comptroller of the Household when sexual misconduct allegations involving MPs swirled into a scandal that year. Pincher was accused of misconduct at the time by then-MP Tom Blenkinsop and Olympic rower Alex Story.

Shortly afterwards, in January 2018, Pincher became Deputy Chief Whip, so the Whip’s office is partly responsible, too.

On July 5, the veteran journalist and columnist Charles Moore explained in The Telegraph how the Whips Office selection process works (purple emphases mine):

The coverage of the row about Chris Pincher, the allegedly groping and confessedly drunk former deputy chief whip, suffers from a false premise. It is said that Boris Johnson appointed him. This is true only in a formal sense. I feel that lobby [press corps] journalists should have made this clear.

This custom is not just a reflection of the fact that any prime minister pays less attention to junior appointments than to Cabinet-level ones. It is also – and mainly – because the whips are a law unto themselves. The idea is that they will know best how to achieve the necessary geographical and ideological spread to look after all sections of the party. The Chief Whip is therefore free – “100 per cent” in the words of one former chief to me – to appoint whoever he thinks fit. This seems sensible: how on earth would a prime minister know that level of detail about who’s who in the parliamentary party? Backbenchers would be suspicious of a whips’ office filled with a prime minister’s favourites.

Each prime minister sees the government chief whip’s list before it is announced and is free to comment on it, but the chief decides. So Boris Johnson would have been breaking the unwritten rules if he had either forbidden or insisted on Mr Pincher’s appointment. If it can be shown that he did the latter, he is in a bit of trouble on the issue. If not, then not.

Lord McDonald

Until July 5, I had never heard of the life peer Baron McDonald of Salford, or Simon to his friends.

Lord McDonald was the Permanent Under-Secretary to the Foreign and Commonwealth Office between 2015 and 2020.

On July 5, he wrote to Kathryn Stone OBE, the Parliamentary Commissioner for Standards for the House of Commons.

Guido Fawkes posted a copy of the letter, which takes issue with a BBC report of complaints made against Pincher and says that, indeed, allegations had been raised against the MP in 2019.

Two brief excerpts of his letter follow.

In the summer of 2019, after Pincher received his first ministerial appointment (at the Foreign and Commonwealth Office) under Boris Johnson:

… a group of officials complained to me about Mr Pincher’s behaviour. I discussed the matter with the relevant official at the Cabinet Office … An investigation upheld the complaint; Mr Pincher apologised and promised not to repeat the inappropriate behaviour. There was no repetition at the FCO before he left seven months later.

The BBC had changed the text of their present-day article about whether Boris knew or not.

Lord McDonald’s letter says:

Mr Johnson was briefed in person about the initiation and outcome of the investigation. There was a “formal complaint”. Allegations were “resolved” only in the sense that the investigation was completed; Mr Pincher was not exonerated. To characterise the allegations as “unsubstantiated” is therefore wrong.

I am aware that it is unusual to write to you and simultaneously publicise the letter. I am conscious of the duty owed to the target of an investigation but I act out of my duty towards the victims. Mr Pincher deceived me and others in 2019 …

He tweeted the text of his letter:

Hmm.

Could there be any bad blood between McDonald and Boris?

Downing Street claims that Boris forgot about the investigation into Pincher.

A commenter on Guido’s post about this claim makes pertinent points:

I find it strange that the criticism is of the appointment of Pincher as Deputy Chief Whip in February. He wasn’t promoted from the backbenches, he was already a minister in the Dept of Levelling Up. If he was unsuitable for ministerial office in Feb, he must have been unsuitable in Jan, so why the focus on the Feb appointment?

Lord MacDonald is another nasty CS mandarin in the Philip Ruttnam mould. His letter is very carefully phrased but disingenuous. If he was unhappy for Pincher to continue as a minister in the FCO for seven months after the 2019 complaint, what did he do about it? If he was content with the arrangement, then clearly the matter was indeed resolved.

Pincher was first appointed to the Whips’ Office by Theresa May. Is anyone in the MSM questioning her judgement?

Gordon Rayner’s Telegraph article, ‘Lord McDonald: The former civil servant who “never saw eye to eye” with Boris Johnson’ has an account of what happened between the peer and Boris, the then-Foreign Secretary during Theresa May’s premiership:

A former civil servant publicly accusing a Prime Minister of lying is a rare event, but Baron McDonald of Salford is unlikely to have had any pangs of guilt about calling out the man who effectively ended his career.

During his time as Boris Johnson’s Permanent Under-Secretary at the Foreign Office, Lord McDonald – or Sir Simon, as he was thenwas suspected by Mr Johnson of running a spying operation and orchestrating damaging leaks about the then foreign secretary.

Mr Johnson believed that media stories accusing him of being lazy and failing to attend properly to his red boxes of ministerial papers were being briefed by Lord McDonald’s department. When the Foreign Office merged with the Department for International Development, Mr Johnson, by then Prime Minister, saw to it that Lord McDonald was squeezed out.

So when he had the chance to expose Mr Johnson’s Downing Street operation for what he says is a lie over the Chris Pincher affair – an undeniably important intervention – he is unlikely to have spent much time wrestling with his conscience.

Does Brexit enter into this? You bet it does:

“They never saw eye to eye,” said one former minister. “Simon never made a secret of the fact that he was a strong Remainer and he has always had big issues with Brexit.”

Another insider said:

“So it does feel a little bit as though Simon has been waiting three years to get his revenge, and has finally had his chance, notwithstanding the fact that what he says may well be true.”

Lord McDonald took early retirement in September 2020. Since then, he has spoken freely:

In March last year Lord McDonald, 61, was interviewed by the think tank UK In a Changing Europe, when he said he was one of three senior civil servants on a Downing Street “s— list” who were “all for the high jump”.

He said that he was “one of those that were soaked” by former Downing Street adviser Dominic Cummings’ threat of a “hard rain” falling on Whitehall

Mr Johnson softened the blow by giving Lord McDonald a peerage, not an automatic appointment for retiring civil servants. But it has not prevented him from criticising the Prime Minister since then.

So now we know.

It is unlikely that Gordon Rayner’s article will be getting any traction in the media. Will GB News pick it up? I hope so.

McDonald’s letter sends Conservative MPs flying in all directions

Note that McDonald tweeted his letter at 7:30 a.m., just the right time to dictate the news narrative for the day.

And so it proved.

For those in the political bubble, BBC Radio 4’s Today show is required listening.

Guido has a summary of what happened. Deputy PM and Justice Secretary Dominic Raab gave an interview, followed by Lord McDonald (emphases in the original):

… Following ex-Foreign Office Permanent Secretary Sir Simon McDonald’s bombshell letter this morning, Dominic Raab had the task once again of spinning the latest unsustainable No.10 line to the press. Through plenty of coughing and spluttering, Raab insisted on the Today Programme that 

Aside from the Westminster rumour mill, any allegation that had resulted in formal disciplinary action… whilst there was inappropriate behaviour [from Pincher], it didn’t trip the wire into disciplinary action… the individual who made the complaint did not want formal disciplinary action taken.

Just minutes later, McDonald appeared on Today himself to once again take a sledgehammer to No.10’s line that Boris wasn’t briefed on Pincher’s behaviour in person in 2019, and Raab’s claims that since no “further disciplinary action” was taken, the matter was resolved:

I disagree with that, and I dispute the use of the word ‘resolved’… the complaint was upheld… Number 10 have had five full days to get the story correct, and that still has not happened… it’s sort of telling the truth and crossing your fingers at the same time and hoping people aren’t too forensic in their subsequent questioning.

In a matter of hours, the line has gone from “it’s not true” to “the PM didn’t know of any formal complaints”. Chaos.

In Downing Street that morning, a Cabinet meeting took place. Why cameras were allowed, I have no idea. What a silly thing to do, especially when all hell was breaking loose:

At lunchtime in the House of Commons, Michael Ellis, Minister for the Cabinet Office, had to answer an Urgent Question (UQ) from Labour’s Deputy Leader Angela Rayner about what Boris knew of Pincher:

This is the most succinct quote from Ellis:

As I have articulated, there was an exercise in the Foreign and Commonwealth Office on the matter, which I believe went on for several weeks. I need to confirm the details, because I had insufficient time to do so this morning, but as I say, there was an exercise, and it concluded to the satisfaction of all involved. That was within the Department and, it appears to me, before the Prime Minister was made aware.

One of Guido’s readers sums the matter up as follows:

1. Pincher’s conduct in 2019 was investigated and did not result in disciplinary action in 2019.

2. Independent advice was sought from Simon McDonald and the Cabinet Office propriety and ethics team, which also did not result in any form of disciplinary action.

3. The victim in 2019 DID NOT WANT aany disciplinary action against Pincher.

4. Pincher’s appointment to government had followed all set procedures, including oversight by an independent QC. Until this point, as Pincher had kept a clean disciplinary record up, there was no reason to block his appointment to government.

Boris would have no grounds to refuse Pincher’s appointment as there were no official disciplinary action against him up to that point, which is in line with the rules set out in Westminster.

All this drama over whether Boris knew of Pincher’s indescretions would not have changed anything in terms of his appointment to government as he had satisfied all the requirements in terms of pedigree (appointed by two PMs and vetting).

The Opposition benches were full for Ellis and the UQ.

Watching at home, I nearly applauded when Peter Bone got his chance to speak:

Recently, at a Brexit opportunities debate here, there were no Liberal Democrats and virtually no Labour Members. The only time they turn up here is to bash Boris. Does my right hon. and learned Friend think that our constituents in Northamptonshire, which we both represent, are more concerned about an MP they have never heard about, or the biggest tax reduction in decades, which will happen tomorrow?

Ellis replied:

My hon. Friend hits the nail on the head, as usual. As he points out, Labour Members have made frequent requests for business in this House to be about not what our constituents primarily care about, but personalities. They do not raise the issue of policies, because when they do, they lose. Instead, they focus on personalities, and that has been the drive of the past six months.

Guido covered MPs’ reaction to the events of the day:

Number 10’s spin operation today after the McDonald letter has, unsurprisingly, gone down like a cup of cold sick with the Tory benches, including amongst Boris loyalists. Guido’s spoken to several MPs following the lobby briefing and Michael Ellis’s Urgent Question response, and they all agreed it was a “disaster“. One said it was “the last days of Rome”…

There were also raised eyebrows – and that’s putting it mildly – over No.10’s decision to allow cameras in to the Cabinet meeting this morning …

Where, one might ask, is the counter-attack? What is Downing Street doing to get on the front foot? What is CCHQ doing? MPs who are hardcore supporters of the Prime Minister are fed up. Trying to push the “biggest tax cut” talking point today won’t work to set the agenda when you put up the same taxes only a few months ago. If the government wants to shift the media’s focus on to the economy, what will they do that Starmer won’t? Tory MPs want a sense of purpose and direction, rather than constantly ricocheting at the hands of the media from one minor negative process story to another, that the general public doesn’t really care about… 

Chancellor and Health Secretary resign

Worse was to come later that afternoon.

Health Secretary Sajid Javid tendered his resignation, followed by Chancellor Rishi Sunak minutes later.

Some pundits say there was no connection between the resignations.

Others say that the two men are friends and agreed on a plan.

GB News covered the resignations and analysis all evening long. It was a good move. The shows were excellent.

In other news, Theresa May was at the opera with her husband Philip and friends:

Returning to GB News, the resignations happened just before Nigel Farage’s show at 7 p.m. Not surprisingly, Farage thinks that Boris should resign, something he has said many times before and will continue to say for weeks, if not months:

Farage used Guido’s video of that day’s Cabinet meeting:

Discussion continued on Mark Steyn’s show at 8 p.m. By the end of the show one hour later, Boris had appointed Steve Barclay as the new Health Secretary:

Dan Wootton came on at 9 p.m.:

By the time his show was halfway through, Nadhim Zahawi became the new Chancellor of the Exchequer. The conversation between him and Boris in No. 10 was a long one. Apparently, Zahawi was eager to relinquish his role as Education Secretary and really wanted the No. 11 job. Michelle Donelan is the new Education Secretary, having been Minister of State for Higher and Further Education from 2020 to 2022.

Boris deflected a crisis within three hours.

Guido has an ongoing list of other Cabinet resignations, which are, as I write, for minor posts. Red Wall MP Jonathan Gullis, once a staunch Boris supporter, was among that number. It should be noted that the main Cabinet appointees are still in place.

Unfortunately, during that time, Lord Frost, usually a voice for sanity, fell for the McDonald bait. He wrote an article for The Telegraph, ‘It is time for Boris Johnson to go’:

I resigned from the Government on a matter of principle. On Tuesday, Sajid Javid and Rishi Sunak did the same. Other Cabinet Ministers now need to consider whether they are truly happy with the current direction of travel.

Boris Johnson’s place in history is secure. He will be one of the past century’s most consequential prime ministers. If he leaves now, before chaos descends, that reputation is what will be remembered. If he hangs on, he risks taking the party and the Government down with him. That’s why it is time for him to go. If he does, he can still hand on to a new team, one that is determined to defend and seek the opportunities of Brexit, one that is able to win the next election convincingly. That is in the Conservative Party’s interest, in Leave voters’ interest, and in the national interest. It needs to happen.

PMQs on July 6 could have been worse. It was more of the same from the Opposition. On the Conservative benches, which were packed, only Tim Loughton, Gary Sambrook and David Davis (once again) rebelled, all saying that Boris should resign.

After PMQs, Sajid Javid was granted a statement about his resignation. Boris remained seated behind the despatch box. Javid put a big emphasis on ‘integrity’. He said that, for him, ‘loyalty and integrity’ were at loggerheads over the past few months, hence his resignation. He could no longer defend the indefensible, from Partygate to Pincher, especially to his constituents. He told his former Cabinet colleagues that not doing ‘something’ — i.e. resigning — would look bad. Boris left immediately afterwards to jeers of ‘Byeee, Boooris’ from the Opposition benches.

Lee Anderson withdraws support

In an unexpected development, Red Wall MP Lee Anderson has withdrawn his support for Boris:

Guido has the full text of Anderson’s letter, excerpted below:

With A Heavy Heart.

I have remained loyal to the Prime Minister since being elected in 2019.

However my position has changed over the past few days since the incident which led to the Deputy Chief Whip losing the party whip

I do not hold a position I can resign from so the only thing I can do is make my feelings known to my constituents and party members. This statement may upset some people and I am sure some people will be delighted with the demise of our PM but I have a job to do and I must do it with a clear conscience.

My focus has always been my constituents many of whom are friends, family and neighbours and my loyalty to them is paramount.

Finally, I will do all I can to make sure our party wins the next election to form a Government of low taxation and who will be tough on illegal immigration as I feel we could have done better, that said the thought of a Labour Government terrifies me so please keep the faith.

I hope that explains my position.

Perhaps he will throw his hat into the ring when the leadership contest begins in due course.

Meanwhile, Conservative voters are fuming

At home, Conservative voters are perplexed by the actions of what is supposed to be an orderly, no-nonsense Government. Most do not know who Chris Pincher is. They are interested in what Boris and his team are doing to improve our lives which, at the moment, isn’t much.

This is what we have at present, ably stated by a Guido Fawkes reader:

80 seat majority

1: Thousands of illegals being transported across the channel and housed in 4* hotels.

2: Petrol prices through the roof and unexploited known reserves in the North Sea

3: Hundreds of years of coal under our feet, coal fired power stations demolished

4: Fracking abandoned yet we could easily extract sufficient gas for our needs

5: Brexit Done! You’re having a laugh

6: Net zero! The future is frightening

Etcetera, Etcetera, Etcetera

Guido, thanks for the Muppet Show extract.

I couldn’t agree more.

The story continues. More to follow next week, no doubt.

This is a follow-up to my post of Friday, February 4, on Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s attempt to placate his fellow Conservative MPs.

After he met with MPs on Monday, January 31 following his statement on the Sue Gray party report, Boris committed himself to reforming the way Downing Street works.

Several MPs whom I’ve seen interviewed on television have said that Boris does not communicate with them at all. This is especially true for the Red Wall MPs from 2019.

Boris now has to woo every one of his backbench MPs or risk letters of no confidence from them about his premiership.

Sir Graham Brady MP chairs the 1922 Committee for Conservative MPs who are not in the Cabinet.

Disgruntled MPs send their no confidence letters to him. If he receives 54 such letters, he can hold a vote of no confidence among all Conservative MPs. Should the vote not go in Boris’s favour, the MPs can run for party leadership. MPs select a short list of those candidates. The party members across the nation vote on the short list, and whoever wins would become the new Prime Minister.

With the resignation of five civil servants last Thursday and Friday, Boris realises he has to get moving — now.

On Friday, he sent a letter to backbench Conservative MPs telling them of his proposal to involve them more. He has asked them to engage with him in the process of re-establishing backbench policy committees:

Guido Fawkes posted about this development on Friday. Boris says he is now willing to communicate more with MPs (emphases mine):

It is vital that we harness all the energy. experience, and insight from our Members of Parliament. This won’t just help improve existing policy, it will help us deal with the many challenges we will face together in the future.

One of the ways I want to achieve this is by working with Sir Graham Brady MP, and colleagues on the Executive of the 1922 Committee, to re-establish backbench policy committees. I want these policy committees to play an important role in generating ideas and discussion and so I encourage colleagues from across the party to get involved.

Sir Graham Brady MP will write to you with specific details on how the process of forming these committees will work. For them to be a success it is vital that government departments and ministers engage with them properly, and I will ensure that the Cabinet understand the importance of taking them seriously. I will also ask Conservative Campaign HQ to link this work up with the work of the Conservative Policy Forum.

I understand the deep importance of engaging with colleagues in Parliament and listening to your views and that is why I want colleagues to have a direct line into 10 Downing Street. With the appointment of Andrew Griffith MP as Director of Policy we will provide whatever engagement and support is necessary to make this a success.

I promised change and that is what we will now deliver together.

However, it came too late for Aaron Bell who had already made up his mind to write to Sir Graham Brady. Bell had spoken up to Boris last Monday in Parliament about a family funeral he attended during lockdown. He asked if Boris took him for a fool for having obeyed all the rules:

Around the same time as Boris’s letter reached MPs on Friday afternoon, Guido reported on Bell’s letter. Some people replying to Guido’s tweet say that he had allegedly submitted it in late January:

Bell wrote that he had consulted with his constituency’s councillors and council candidates running in May’s local elections. He says he wrote the letter on January 12 after that day’s Prime Minister’s Questions:

The Daily Mail gave the names of seven other MPs who have sent letters to Brady: Sir Gary Streeter, Anthony Mangnall, Andrew Bridgen, Peter Aldous, Tobias Ellwood, Douglas Ross (Scottish Conservative leader) and the long-serving Sir Roger Gale.

Former education minister Nick Gibb followed, filing his letter on Friday.

The Mail says that Brady could have received many more letters:

The true number of letters to have been submitted is thought to be several times higher the eight figure because most MPs do not publicly divulge writing to Sir Graham

The threshold for triggering a vote of no-confidence is currently set at 54 letters and many Tory MPs believe it is now ‘inevitable’ the figure will be reached.   

Mr Johnson’s position in Number 10 is increasingly precarious and some Cabinet ministers believe there is a strong chance he will be forced to quit. 

One Cabinet minister told The Times: ‘It feels like the end, it’s all falling apart. It’s 50/50 in my view at the moment’ …

But a Cabinet minister told Politico: ‘He promised action on Monday night and the action has begun. There’s more planned. The restructuring is on its way. It will unfold over the next 48 hours. He’ll move things up a gear and get some discipline.’

LBC’s article on Bell’s letter refers to what is known as the Pork Pie Plot, involving the new 2019 intake of Red Wall MPs who represent former Labour seats:

He is the latest Red Wall Conservative to turn on the PM amid what has been dubbed the Pork Pie Plot – so-called because one of the ringleaders hoping to oust Mr Johnson is reportedly Leicestershire MP Alicia Kearns, whose constituency includes Melton Mowbray, the town famous for baking the pastry.

Hmm. Alicia Kearns. I hope that is not true. She rather reminds me of the women MPs who turned against Theresa May over Brexit in 2019 and had the whip removed. They were not re-elected in the general election that year and faded into obscurity.

On Saturday, January 5, Downing Street announced changes at No. 10. The Welsh journalist Guto Harri (pron. ‘Gitto Harry’), Boris’s director of external affairs during the first four of his eight years as London mayor, will be joining the team:

Unfortunately, most conservative-minded people outside of London only know Harri — real name Guto Pritchard-Jones — for taking the knee during his brief tenure at GB News last summer on the day of the Euro final in solidarity with the England team. His co-presenter, Mercy Muroki, a staunch conservative, could not believe her eyes:

He was roundly criticised on Twitter and GB News never brought him back on air.

Harri’s Wikipedia entry says:

On 13 July 2021 Harri took the knee on GB News to show support for the England football team‘s kneeling for anti-racism; following backlash from viewers, GB News suspended him indefinitely for failing to maintain the editorial standards expected by the network.[22][23] Shortly afterwards he resigned from GB News,[24] having written in The Sunday Times that the channel was “becoming an absurd parody” that was replicating cancel culture on the far right.[25][26]

In 2018, Harri lashed out at both Brexit and Boris:

Harri is a critic of Brexit.[17][18] After Johnson likened Prime Minister Theresa May‘s Chequers Brexit agreement to a “suicide vest” around the British constitution in September 2018,[19] Harri said: “Unfortunately he is now dragging us into a place where we think that we can joke about suicide vests and that we can be sexually incontinent. Somebody needs to take the spade out of his hand or it looks to me like he’s digging his political grave.” He also said Johnson had become “more tribal, and tribal within the tribe, so that he would now be—if he were to become leader—a hugely divisive figure”.[20]

Hmm. Although that was two-and-a-half years ago, how can Boris have the confidence to welcome him to No. 10?

Some conservatives think that Boris hired him because he will be a dab hand at handling the media, lefty to lefty.

But there is something else, a link to Huawei. On Sunday, February 6, the Sun‘s political editor Harry Cole reported:

NEW No10 spin chief Guto Harri lobbied the Government on behalf of toxic Chinese tech giant Huawei, The Sun can reveal.

The controversial firm was banned from building the UK’s 5G network in 2020 because of its links to the Chinese Communist Party and spying fears.

But top-level Whitehall sources have confirmed Mr Harri was directly involved in talks with senior ­officials trying to head off the landmark ban.

Last night Mr Harri resigned from Hawthorn Advisers to become Downing Street’s Director of Communications.

The lobbying firm included Huawei as a major client in the two years that the former BBC journalist worked there. Sources say he had “a hands-on role”.

Friends last night insisted there was no problem with his work for the Chinese company, due to its previous key role providing 3G and 4G coverage to the UK.

And a Downing Street source said: “This is separate to his new role in No10. This Government is committed to removing Huawei from UK 5G networks by 2027.”

Labour will have a field day with this:

Labour said: “We can’t have the revolving door from lobbying to Government see potential ­national security issues arise.”

Deputy leader Angela Rayner demanded answers.

I’m also concerned about Steve Barclay, one of the good guys, being able to handle three jobs: MP, Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster (formerly Michael Gove’s role) and now Chief of Staff, integrating the new Office of the Prime Minister with the Cabinet Office.

Since everyone is putting names into the hat for the next Conservative Party leader, I’ll add Steve Barclay’s. He has the gravitas and the presence. He could win over the party faithful. You read it here first.

Boris, as ye sow, so shall ye reap. Good luck. You’ll need it.

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

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

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

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

Highlights of the reshuffle follow.

Dominic Raab no longer Foreign Secretary

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

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

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

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

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

Liz Truss becomes new Foreign Secretary

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

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

She also remains minister for women and equalities.

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

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

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

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

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

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

She can even ably dodge camera equipment during an interview:

Nadine Dorries moves from Health and Social Care to Culture Secretary

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

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

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

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

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

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

John Whittingdale returns to backbenches

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

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

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

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

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

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

Newsnight argument over Dorries

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

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

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

But I digress.

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

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

Guido Fawkes has the highlights:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

At least she supported Brexit.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

New Education Secretary

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

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

Other appointments

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

Some MPs have transferred to other departments:

Others will be returning to the backbenches:

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

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

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

House of Lords

Reshuffles can affect the House of Lords, too.

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

Baroness Evans

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

Lord Frost

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

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

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

Speaking on the reforms this afternoon, Lord Frost said:

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

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

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

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

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

One thing I did like was this:

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

Robert Peston’s misguided predictions

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

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

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

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

Conclusion

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

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

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

As most of England is now in either Tier 2 or Tier 3, including London (in the latter), some scientists are clamouring for previously approved Christmas gatherings to be cancelled.

This is the exchange that took place on Wednesday, December 16, the day when London and surrounding areas entered Tier 3. Communist Susan Michie, a member of SAGE and independent SAGE, told Good Morning Britain that we should cancel Christmas this year and replace it with extra ‘bank holidays’ next year. She’s a smooth talker. Laura Perrins, an ex-barrister who co-edits Conservative Woman, saw right through this:

Well, London mayor Sadiq Khan has cancelled the capital’s New Year fireworks. The Tube will also stop running at 12:30 a.m. this year.

Laura Perrins had a lot to tweet on Wednesday from her article that day, ‘Matt Hancock wants to ruin your Christmas. It’s sheer cruelty’. Excerpts follow, emphases mine:

YOU’RE making your list, you’re checking it twice and Matt Hancock is deciding whether you’ve been naughty or nice. Yes, once again the government have decided to inflict more psychological damage on the population by putting in doubt the Christmas relaxation of rules which will ‘allow’ you to spend some time with your family. The anxiety that this causes, the dread, the cruelty: that is the point of this latest government move

At the time of writing it looks as if (for once) Boris Johnson will hold his nerve and not hand over complete control to Matt Hancock and the ‘scientists’ who seem to run the country. All this anxiety has been triggered because the BMJ published an editorial saying that the rules ‘allowing’ you to see your family at Christmas are a ‘major error’ which would cause the health service to be overwhelmed. As usual you have to sacrifice your basic freedoms so that the NHS can do the job you pay them a great deal to do. All must be sacrificed, it seems, for ‘our’ NHS. 

Even if Johnson does hold his nerve this time, it should be said every day that Matt Hancock is a dangerous man who has set out to destroy this country. Some people think I am too strong in my language. I am not

What the government are doing is evil. You need to understand that. They are destroying thousands of businesses, thousands of jobs in arts and culture, they have closed pubs and restaurants as a way of crushing your spirit. Meeting your friends down the pub is uniquely British, speaking to them in the flesh, arguing with them over a pint; these are the small joys that ordinary people look forward to. This is something that the elite in the media and politics, and certainly the scientists, simply do not understand. They’re all right, Jack. What’s a trip to the pub anyway – that’s for the little people

This tweet from Camilla Tominey caught my eye yesterday. 

She is right – this landlord has had his business wiped out ‘in the blink of an eye’. Destroying the livelihoods of so many in the blink of an eye is something that used to happen only in communist Russia. It is not quite a knock on the door in the middle of the night, but it is not far off. Oh, but don’t worry, they will get compensation from the government, you tell me. That is not the point. This landlord runs a business, he wants to provide this service, I have no doubt he takes pride in providing this service, it’s not just the money he wants. It’s his sense of dignity in a job well done.

This is why I believe that any future legal cases should claim this entire Covid government strategy is a breach Article 3 of the Human Rights Act which states that no one shall be subjected to torture or to inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment.

Perrins ended her article with thoughts on Dickens’s A Christmas Carol:

In the great Christian story of redemption, A Christmas Carol, Scrooge famously did not observe Christmas. In addition, he hated anyone who did. He refused a generous invite to share the Christmas meal from his nephew. This was rightly seen as cruel, mean, mean-spirited and immoral. Scrooge was incapable of any joy or love. Matt Hancock wants to ruin your Christmas. He wants you to uninvite the relations you have invited to share your Christmas meal. Hancock, like Scrooge, is mean, mean-spirited and cruel. Ignore him. Keep Christmas as you will.

I wish you and yours every comfort and joy this Christmas. Know in the New Year that we at TCW will not rest until every last mask is burnt and 2m sign is peeled off the pavement. Anything less is defeat

Excellent!

On Tuesday, December 15, she opined on the type of people who love lockdown. Someone from Scotland responds:

In case anyone thinks Labour would be any better on Christmas celebrations, their party leader Sir Keir Starmer also wants celebrations on the feast day of Christ’s birth scrapped:

This came up at Wednesday’s PMQs (Prime Minister’s Questions).

Fortunately, Prime Minister Boris Johnson echoed the words of one of his cabinet ministers, Chief Secretary to the Treasury Steve Barclay:

Guido Fawkes reported Steve Barclay told Radio 4’s Today programme on Tuesday that Britons should (emphases in the original):

“try and minimise their contacts” in the week before Christmas. Yet still sticking to the four nation, five day relaxation. For now…

Barclay also advised that when families gather they do so “in a way that isn’t the maximum of what the rules require but the minimum that they as a family need to do.”

That means that Transport Secretary Grant Shapps’s subsidy of public transport is still on …

… and Conservative rebel MP Mark Harper — one of the good guys — can rest easy:

Returning to public transport, anyone travelling to London will be greeted with Christmas cheer:

Bob Moran has been doing some great political cartoons for the Telegraph mocking lockdown. He’s found a fan in Daily Mail columnist Peter Hitchens:

I hope that Bob Moran — and Peter Hitchens — have a happy Christmas.

Here’s Bob at work:

Here are the Models, mocking Chief Medical Officer Prof Chris Whitty and Chief Scientific Officer Sir Patrick Vallance:

Jokes aside — and as necessary as they are right now — it is alarming to think about how a three-week lockdown turned into one that lasted over nine months.

I wrote a few weeks ago here that this is the wildest conspiracy ever. We’ve moved beyond ‘theory’. We’re living it:

As regular readers of mine know, my principal worry is the economy.

Here’s Klaus ‘Great Reset’ Schwab, the Founder and Executive Chairman of the World Economic Forum, discussing the COVID-19 group that will address — and, in his mind, solve — all the problems of coronavirus and the world in general. Business, he says, will be a big part of this. Be afraid, be very afraid. This is what he’s actually saying:

In closing, let’s return to London.

Deaths are normal for this year. This is a five-year chart:

London’s hospitals are not overly burdened either, especially compared with 2018 and 2019:

And why do we not receive any information from the Department for Health and Social Care about a prophylaxis for COVID-19? Instead, we’re pushed into taking a vaccine with messenger RNA. Revolutionary, for sure, but can we be certain it will work and is safe?

One wonders what will happen next year.

On Monday, October 12, 2020, Prime Minister Boris Johnson announced a three-tier system for England in an attempt to make new coronavirus restrictions easier to understand:

He delivered a statement in Parliament and later addressed the nation. In the video clips below, Chief Medical Officer Prof Chris Whitty is on the left and Chancellor of the Exchequer Rishi Sunak is on the right:

These plans run for the next six months:

Earlier that day, Chief Medical Officer Prof Chris Whitty, Chief Scientific Officer Sir Patrick Vallance and Deputy Chief Medical Officer Prof Jonathan Van-Tam presented an update. It is unnerving when SAGE (Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies) members make an announcement of upcoming health policy before the Prime Minister or the Secretary of State for Health and Social Care, Matt Hancock. They did this on September 21 as well, against a Government backdrop. They have official permission to do so, but it is unsettling to see. It looks as if they are in charge. Perhaps they are.

Hmm.

I very much agree with this tweet about SAGE members who are physicians, such as the aforementioned three men (emphases mine below):

‘Drs’ go into epidemiology and PH because they want the same salary as the frontline grafters without the hours, stress or risk.

So, how accurate were Sir Patrick Vallance’s alarming projections from September? Not very accurate at all, as many people in England suspected three weeks ago, and deaths are thankfully minimal compared to springtime statistics:

The SAGE members spoke on Monday morning. Boris addressed MPs that afternoon.

The Conservative MP for Wakefield, Imran Ahmad Khan, rightly pointed out that a Conservative government should let citizens make informed choices for themselves:

As Conservatives, we often speak of levelling up. However, now is the time to level with the British people. There is no silver bullet. All measures to stop the spread of covid have painful effects on our economy, social lives and mental wellbeing. Voices on the Opposition Benches believe that British people are incapable of understanding complex issues such as Brexit. The Conservative party is the champion of individuals’ rights to make autonomous decisions without state interference. Will the Prime Minister double down on our party’s historic commitment to invest greater trust in the individual to decide what is best for themselves?

Boris gave his standard communitarian response:

Indeed, and I hope that the individual will also recognise that the risk that we carry—he or she carries—is not just to ourselves, but to the whole of the community because, in the end, we are all potential vectors of this disease and we may bring it inadvertently to someone who is more vulnerable than ourselves. That is the risk. That is why we are bringing in these measures, why we have had the package of measures that we have had throughout this pandemic, and why we now need to intensify them in some local areas now.

Boris answered over 100 questions in two hours. The session ended just before 6 p.m.

He addressed the nation on television at 7 p.m.

The adjournment debate in Parliament that evening revealed that the National Health Service would be more aptly named the National Covid Service.

Labour’s Fleur Anderson, who represents Putney in south west London, spoke about the continued closure of the Urgent Care unit at Queen Mary’s Hospital in Roehampton. Excerpts follow:

In August 1997, Queen Mary’s Hospital, which is in Roehampton, ended its A&E service, and has since had a minor injuries unit, which the trust gave a gold-standard accreditation in November last year. So there is no A&E service in my constituency. The minor injuries unit was upgraded to an urgent treatment centre, with a GP added to the excellent nurse practitioner staff, earlier this year. In a normal year, the centre serves 16,000 to 18,000 people, so it is a vital service in our community.

During the peak of the pandemic, the decision was taken to temporarily close the service because of a lack of space for social distancing and to be able to adhere to Government guidelines, and also to move the staff to other areas that needed them more. The pharmacy for out-patients has only recently been closed, and at very short notice. Of course I understand, as do local residents, that changes had to made and that health services had to adapt. I fully appreciate that our NHS managers had to make some extremely difficult decisions on service provision as they faced the prospect of being overwhelmed, which they are now facing again, with the second wave. The continued closure makes us in Roehampton feel overlooked, and it is putting additional pressures on NHS services at Teddington, the walk-in centre at Kingston, St George’s Hospital A&E and local GP surgeries. I am concerned that this will cause untold long-term damage to the health and wellbeing of our community.

I have been asked, “What about the person with the dislocated shoulder, the chest pain, the allergic reaction?” They all need to be assessed and stabilised urgently, but at the moment they are being turned away. I have met the chief executive of the hospital trust and raised these issues. I asked her to assure me that the centre would be reopened as soon as it was safe to do so, but she has not confirmed when it will reopen, if at all. That is very worrying. I hope to hear from the Minister this evening that he will support the trust in making plans to reopen the walk-in urgent treatment centre. 

I would like briefly to explain the impacts that the closure is having on local people. Anyone who goes to where the minor injuries unit used to be is asked to travel far away to the Teddington walk-in centre, to Kingston A&E or to St George’s A&E in Tooting. Those bus journeys can take an hour, which can result in painful journeys or in many people not making the journey, not being seen and not being treated. I am sure the Minister will agree that an hour on public transport is an unacceptably long journey time when there is a really good hospital right there in Roehampton, but it is just not open for walk-in urgent care. One of my constituents wrote to me this week to say:

I took my elderly father, who is nearly 90 years old, to Queen Mary’s just over a month ago, because he had cut his fingers quite badly and they were bleeding. The kind staff there had helped us when my father had a similar problem last year and they knew how to bandage his fingers because he has very thin skin…Because the Centre was closed, we had to go all the way to Kingston Hospital which was quite stressful. While his treatment there was good, it would have been far easier if we could have gone somewhere more local to him as my father isn’t used to travelling that far.”

Also, some patients are unable to travel or should not travel. An example is patients with diabetic foot ulcers, who should keep their activity to a minimum to allow ulcers to heal. At the same time, if they have an infection, it needs treating immediately as it could deteriorate rapidly leading to the need for amputation. That is one group of patients who are not getting the care they need because the urgent treatment centre and the pharmacy are not open. There is an obvious health risk to people needing to travel further if they are seriously ill.

There is also an increased risk of covid infection through asking people to travel greater distances by public transport during the pandemic, especially when they are unwell or chronically ill. They could have an underlying condition, which might be the reason they are going to the urgent care centre in the first place. That would make them more susceptible to the effects of covid-19. Closing the pharmacy is having the effect of delaying patients receiving treatment, as they are now being referred to their GP by the clinics. If they cannot immediately get an appointment with their GP, this can lead to delays of up to 48 hours before starting their treatment. That is another impact.

There is also a knock-on effect on services in other places. The fact that 16,000 to 18,000 people a year used to be treated at Queen Mary’s is putting pressure on St George’s and Kingston, along with the increasing demand at the momentGP surgery appointments are already at a premium, and this demand will only worsen as the difficult winter months approach. Even before the pandemic, it was reported that over 11 million patients had to wait more than 21 days for a GP appointment. In my constituency, there are 14 main surgeries and three branch practices. My team has called round all the local GP services. Several are still only doing appointments over Zoom, and in one local medical centre, a member of staff begged for the urgent care centre to reopen due to the pressure its closure is causing for GP surgeries.

Increased demand for overstretched GP surgeries with finite resources ultimately means fewer local people’s conditions or illnesses receiving treatment, and even more concerningly, serious and urgent illnesses such as cancer being missed and going undiagnosed. It is cancer diagnosis that I am particularly concerned about. As the Minister knows, lots of cancers are diagnosed when people present at hospital with a symptom. With the doors of the urgent treatment centre still closed, many cancers that might otherwise have been spotted will have been missed

Edward Argar, Minister for Health, responded on behalf of the Government:

… I am conscious that the trust has yet to set out a firm commitment to a reopening date, but I join the hon. Lady in saying that I hope it will set out its future plans as soon as possible. I am conscious that she has met the trust’s chief executive, Jacqueline Totterdell, to discuss these issues and plans for the reopening of the urgent treatment centre. Although that reopening date is still to be confirmed, I understand that the trust and local commissioners are undertaking work to agree a new covid-secure model of care before reopening, which is the right approach.

The hon. Lady highlighted not only the urgent treatment centre but its role in helping early diagnosis and treatment of cancers. I completely understand and recognise her concerns about the impact of the pandemic on cancer services and the importance of ensuring that cancers do not go undiagnosed. The NHS is working to restore the full operation of all cancer services, with local delivery plans being delivered by cancer alliances. Systems will be working with GPs and the public locally to increase the number of people coming forward and being referred with suspected cancer to at least pre-pandemic levels—I will come on to the performance of her local trust in a moment.

To support that, systems will help to ensure sufficient diagnostic capacity in covid-19-secure environments, through the use of independent sector facilities and the development of community diagnostic hubs and a rapid diagnostic centre. The hon. Lady is right to highlight that diagnostic capability is a considerable challenge, not least because, to put it perhaps a little bluntly, many diagnostic tests are very close and personal, and the equipment used is intimate in terms of looking inside the human body. The cleaning and infection control measures that are necessary between each patient make it challenging to see as many patients as would have been the case before the pandemic.

That last sentence worried my far better half, who asked, ‘Does that mean they weren’t cleaning between patients before coronavirus?’

After discussing cancer services, Argar discussed the Urgent Care pharmacy in question:

The hospital pharmacy is absolutely vital for people being able to have timely access to the medicines they need and being able to get them on site. Although people using it will have been treated and advised in hospital, they can none the less get very helpful advice from the pharmacy as well, so I share her view about the importance of that. As I have said, I include that in my offer to her—to discuss that with her and with the chief executive. I will endeavour to do that later this week …

I simply reiterate that I share the hon. Lady’s view that, where services for perfectly good and legitimate clinical reasons have been temporarily closed or altered, it is extremely important that they are reopened as soon as trusts are able to do so and, where in the future any changes are proposed, that they are subject to the usual full public consultation, engagement and consideration. I do not want to see temporary measures becoming permanent by default, and she can read that as perhaps an expression of my view on what is happening in Roehampton

I hope that I have been able to offer the hon. Lady some reassurances today. I thank her for securing the debate, and I very much look forward to meeting her

Fleur Anderson was reassured. I hope that Queen Mary’s Hospital gets back to full service soon.

The content of that debate was alarming.

Apologies for the digression, but this is the state of play for the NHS, or should I say NCS, not only in Roehampton but all over the nation. It is an absolute shambles.

Tuesday, October 13 — the almighty SAGE, no evidence needed

On Tuesday, October 13, Treasury Minister Steve Barclay laid out the Chancellor’s expanded plans for financial support during the continuing coronavirus crisis.

The 10 p.m. curfew for pubs was also voted on later that day.

Mel Stride, the Conservative MP representing Central Devon, asked for scientific evidence about the curfew:

My right hon. Friend and the Chancellor of the Exchequer have done a great deal to support the economy, but there has to be a careful balance struck between protecting against the virus and avoiding further economic destruction. With that in mind, what scientific evidence has the Treasury received that closing pubs at 10 pm gets that balance right?

Steve Barclay did not answer the question and inadvertently pointed out SAGE’s woefully inaccurate modelling (see graph at the top of the post):

We have to balance the evidence that the Government receive from a range of quarters. My right hon. Friend will recall that when the initial advice from the Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies was put forward, the Government came forward with a range of measures, such as the rule of six and the curfew. Indeed, if we look at the projections that were made at that time, we see that we could potentially have had 49,000 or so daily cases by 14 October when in actual fact the figure on that date was 12,872. That indicates the fact that the package of measures put in place by the Prime Minister and the Chancellor of the Exchequer have had an influence. However, listening to the SAGE advice, it is recognised that we need to go further and that is why the tiered approach has been set out.

Mike Wood (Con, Dudley South) sounded the alarm about pubs in his West Midlands constituency:

A tenth of pubs have not reopened since lockdown in March while two thirds were already trading at a loss, even before restricted opening times, mandatory table service and the new restrictions announced yesterday. Will my right hon. Friend look at the support that is available for pubs that are not yet compelled to close, but are legally prevented from operating economically, and in particular state aid limits that threaten to prevent 10,000 pubs from receiving the support they need? Without that support, many thousands of pubs will close their doors and never reopen.

Barclay responded:

Ultimately, that is why the Chancellor set out the wider package of support, recognising the concerns he speaks of with the tax deferrals, the loans, the business rate support and the measures on VAT, which are targeted at the sector because of the very real concerns he correctly articulates.

Bob Seely (Con, Isle of Wight) asked for evidence that compels swimming pools and gyms to close in some areas under the new restrictions:

Is there any specific evidence that swimming pools and gyms are centres for covid transmission? Has any research been done into rising obesity and unfitness levels, and has any research been done into rising unemployment caused by the closure of gyms and pools that is now happening in parts of the UK?

Barclay reiterated that those sectors were part of the reason for the Chancellor’s expanded support package. Again, he could not provide any scientific evidence:

In some ways, that is slightly more of a Health question than a Treasury question, but I recognise that there is read-across from those businesses into the economy. In short, the opinion of the chief medical officer and the chief scientific officer is that those businesses do carry significantly more risk, which is why they have been harder hit in the guidance that has been issued.

What if it turned out that Whitty and Vallance were as wrong about that as they are with their astronomically mistaken ‘case’ projections?

I fully agree with the assessment of Sir Edward Leigh (Con, Gainsborough):

It is not surprising that more and more Members are calling for more Government support, because the Government are forcing more and more businesses, particularly in the hospitality sector, out of business. The Chief Secretary says that his priority is to help business. The best way to help businesses is to let them get on and do business. We are going bankrupt as a nation—there will not be the money to pay for the NHS or pensions. What is the Treasury doing to row back against other parts of the Government and insist that we must allow British business to operate? He did not answer the question from the Chairman of the Select Committee, my right hon. Friend the Member for Central Devon (Mel Stride)—what is the scientific evidence for pubs closing at 10 o’clock? Is he leading the fight to help Britain to stay in business?

Barclay replied:

With respect, I did answer it. I pointed to the projection given by the chief medical officer and chief scientific adviser at that time, the SAGE guidance and the fact that the package of measures put in place by the Prime Minister has resulted in a lower infection risk. The CMO and others would recognise that this is a range of measures. My right hon. Friend says that the Government have gone too far and that there is no evidence for the curfew. The tenor of most of the questions one gets is that we have not moved far enough and should be taking more drastic actions. That speaks to the fact that this is a balanced judgment. One needs to look at the range of measures we are taking, and that is what I would refer him to.

After that, MPs debated then voted on all the new coronavirus measures. All passed, including the 10 p.m. curfew for pubs across the nation.

Matt Hancock delivered the statement which opened the debate.

He took strong exception to the Great Barrington Declaration:

Some people have set out this more relaxed approach, including those in the so-called Great Barrington declaration. I want to take this argument head on, because on the substance, the Great Barrington declaration is underpinned by two central claims and both are emphatically false. First, it says that if enough people get covid, we will reach herd immunity. That is not true. Many infectious diseases never reach herd immunity, such as measles, malaria, AIDS and flu, and with increasing evidence of reinfection, we should have no confidence that we would ever reach herd immunity to covid, even if everyone caught it. Herd immunity is a flawed goal without a vaccine, even if we could get to it, which we cannot.

Well, not all of us get flu every year, and, in the wide scheme of things, COVID-19 has a 99% survival rate.

I agree with Hancock’s second point about the impossibility of isolating older members in multi-generational households.

However, overall, Hancock really is in thrall to SAGE. They must be relishing the power they have over him:

John Redwood (Con, Wokingham) asked a simple question:

How long do the scientists think we will need these lockdowns for, and what is their exit plan?

Hancock had no real answer. The one he gave proves that lockdowns do not work. So much for SAGE advice:

We have seen the exit plan from local lockdowns. For instance, in Leicester, where we had a firm local lockdown, the case rate came right down. We lifted that and we have sadly seen it start to rise again. The case rate is determined by the amount of social mixing, and it reduces during a lockdown. In some parts of the country where the case rate has continued to rise, there is an argument for further ensuring that we do not reach the level of contact that is at the root of the virus spreading. The challenge is how to calibrate the lockdown to get the virus under control while doing the minimum damage to the economy and to education.

Huw Merriman (Con, Bexhill and Battle) pointed out the futility of a 10 p.m. curfew, as everyone pours out into the street and onto public transport at the same time:

The Secretary of State talks about a regulation on pubs closing at 10 o’clock, which has been in force for four weeks. There may be some undoubted positives for health, but we see some negatives with people amassing together on public transport and in the streets. Do the positives outweigh the negatives, as far as the science is concerned?

More waffle from Barclay, I’m sorry to say.

You can see some of Shadow Health Secretary Jonathan Ashworth’s reply to Barclay in the video below. Ashworth says that the Government have not gone far enough, even if he opposes another full lockdown, or circuit-breaker, as it is now called.

The debate continued.

Addressing Matt Hancock, Dr Andrew Murrison (Con, Southwest Wiltshire), who is a physician, cautioned him against being closed-minded and advised looking at other voices in the medical world, including those of those who say that lockdown serves little purpose and should be confined to the vulnerable only:

I support these restrictions with a heavy heart. On balance, I will be supporting the Government this evening, but I want to make just a few quick points.

I would be very careful about subscribing to the Vallance/Whitty orthodoxy that informed these regulations, while not at all examining very carefully respectable bodies of medical opinion to the contrary. I would cite particularly the Heneghan/Sikora/Gupta line. It is important that the Secretary of State and his ministerial team address those things head-on and treat them with the respect that they deserve

We need to be careful about groupthink, confirmation bias, a thin evidential basis and uncertainty masquerading as certainty. There is a huge margin of uncertainty with all this, and we all need to develop a level of humility in our attitudes towards dealing with this crisis. That is why I shall be supporting the Government this evening …

In all this, we simply do not know and we are learning all the time. We have to accept, I think, the expertise of those advising Ministers and that we have experts for a reason, but there is an alternative view. Unless we get a vaccine—goodness me, I hope we do—I think we may find that the cure is worse than the disease in terms of lives lost directly to covid, incidental lives lost to other common diseases—stroke, heart attack and particularly cancer—loss of liberty, loss of livelihood and the compete trashing of our economy. That is what is at stake. I do not envy the Secretary of State in his work.

Labour’s John Spellar (Warley) made excellent points. I agree with every one of them:

There is a huge principle to be debated here. At the heart of it is the false dichotomy posed again by the Secretary of State today between hospitality and the economy and jobs, as though hospitality were not part of the real economy and millions of jobs did not depend on it. Tell that to the workers and businesses owners in pubs and clubs, restaurants and cafes, hotels and wedding venues, theatres and cinemas, betting shops, bingo halls and casinos and gyms, all of which are facing really hard times and challenges. They are facing closures, ruin and job losses on a massive scale. At the same time, as we heard earlier, Treasury support is weakening and the Chancellor of the Exchequer is not only losing the cost of support but suffering a major loss of revenue.

Unfortunately, the approach seems to be driven less by deep analysis and more by the dreaded doctrine of “something must be done”. This is something; therefore we must do this irrespective of proportionality, outcome or impact. But this time it is even worse. It seems to be “something needs to be seen to be done” without any cost-benefit analysis or considering the impact on a beleaguered industry and a workforce facing mass redundancies. Accordingly, I and many other Members are unclear about the basis, either at a local or national level, of these proposals. The Chief Secretary talked earlier of anecdotes. I want a bit more than anecdotes.

Sir Richard Leese, the leader of Manchester City Council, rightly said on Radio 4 today that a far better way than closures and curfews is to give powers to local councils to take rapid action to shut down non-compliant venues. In my authority of Sandwell, which has an enviable contact rate of 85% led by the excellent public health director Dr McNally, we have had one case linked to a hospitality venue, and that was early on in the pandemic in a pub in Smethwick. The Express & Star, our evening newspaper, investigated and found that across the Black Country, which is home to 1.25 million people, there have been just 10 such incidences of covid, again all early in the pandemic.

In his opening speech, the Secretary of State did not give an indication of how long he thinks this can go on. It could last almost indefinitely unless we develop a vaccine, an event that, as the Prime Minister candidly admitted yesterday, is uncertain and would not be 100% effective. One of the tests of an exit strategy is considering how we contain the virus if we are not able to eliminate it, as we have had to do with major diseases throughout history and as many of parts of the world still have to do today.

Steve Baker (Con, Wycombe) brought up the economic damage done and his support for the Great Barrington Declaration. He said that the Government must find a middle way:

three problems. The first is that a vaccine may not come. The second is that a vaccine may not be effective. The third is that all this is propped up on quantitative easing and ultra-cheap credit. Indeed, now we are reading in the newspapers about negative interest rates, and this is why I declared the interest. I think you have to have a peculiarly high level of economic education to believe that we can head towards £745 billion of QE and ultra-low or negative interest rates and that all this will not be a problem. I will not say any more about it. I think it will be a problem, and it is precarious indeed that the Government’s strategy is propped up on such a monetary policy

Personally, I think that privately the Government are a little more optimistic about the AstraZeneca vaccine, which my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister mentioned, but here is the thing: even suppose the Government had vaccinated the public with a successful, safe vaccine by Easter or possibly the summer, that still leaves our economy and Government spending propped up on ultra-cheap credit. The problem with that is that the Bank of England has told us on the Treasury Committee that if inflation comes in it will have to, under its mandate, fight inflation. That would effectively mean pulling the plug on Government spending. This is precarious indeed …

For the reasons that I have given, I am convinced that the Government must find an alternative strategic plan between the Great Barrington declaration and where we are today.

All Government measures passed in the votes that night.

Labour’s mixed messages

Meanwhile, Labour’s shadow cabinet are all over the shop.

On Tuesday, Jonathan Ashworth opposed a national lockdown, while saying that the Government were not going far enough with measures:

However, Labour leader Keir Starmer announced on national television that he wants a national lockdown, as Guido Fawkes points out (emphases in the original):

Why does Keir Starmer support imposing a national lockdown on areas with low Covid incidence whilst opposing regional lockdowns on areas with high Covid incidence? Whatever side of the argument you are on, surely it is clear that being on both sides of the argument at the same time makes no sense logically? Unless it is pure political opportunism…

Ashworth said, rightly that a national lockdown “would be disastrous for society… but I don’t believe anyone in the house is proposing that…” Hours later Starmer proposed precisely that…

Tiered lockdown: public money from taxpayers or private enterprise?

In closing, this is what is allegedly happening in Essex, which is just to the east of London. This is puzzling, because Essex has low positive test rates.

Adam Brooks is a publican:

Essex Council deny that money is involved. The councillor giving the following statement said that the Council is doing it for health, not financial, reasons:

Fair enough.

The leader of the Council issued this video announcement, which was not well received by Essex residents (read the replies):

Essex aside, on the subject of lockdown money, Laura Dodsworth has written a lengthy article for Spiked, ‘There’s a financial incentive for councils to lock down’.

She stands by her article:

She explains that Liverpool Council made sure they received commitment to a financial package from the Government before entering Tier 3:

Liverpool mayors Steve Rotheram and Joe Anderson said that they did not agree with some aspects of the Tier 3 lockdown, but were aware that government would bring in rules ‘with or without them’. And so rather than argue forcefully against lockdown, they negotiated to secure the best financial package possible.

This policy is not without its drawbacks:

The new funding package for councils is designed to alleviate the pain of lockdown, to sugar the pill. But the structure of the funding might end up providing local authorities with the ingredients to make lockdown cake indefinitely. It is specifically intended to support more testing, including door-to-door testing, sometimes with help from the military. But more testing leads to more cases. More cases lead to more lockdowns.

the funding is also going towards enforcement of lockdown regulations and self-isolation, which there are fines for breaching. That, in turn, raises more funds – the revenue from fixed-penalty notices, whether they are issued by local police, environmental-health officers or new Covid marshals, goes into local-authority coffers. In theory, the lockdown fixed-penalty fines should be going straight back into public health (as littering fines would go towards the environment). But, in reality, revenue from fines is not always that well ring-fenced in local authorities.

Liverpool Council is nearly broke:

Back in April, Liverpool council warned it was facing bankruptcy. It’s easy to appreciate that local leaders are anxious to secure funds to deal with the ongoing lockdown crisis. I am not suggesting that councils and local politicians would make calculated decisions to push areas into lockdown. But the road to hell is paved with good intentions. This financial model has the potential to become a vicious circle. Seasoned disaster-planner Lucy Easthope tells me: ‘There is a tendency in reactive disaster funding to create dependency and to actively avoid thinking through the long-term harms and over-reliance [on emergency funds].’

Allegedly, London is likely to be next:

It will be interesting to see how this turns out in the months to come. I hope that the Treasury have terms and conditions attached to this funding.

The end of the road for England’s pubs?

Since the smoking ban in 2007 and the financial crisis the following year, the number of pubs decreased from 50,000 to 39,000 in the UK. That was as of 2018.

Because of the earlier lockdown this year, more have no doubt closed — for good.

The new coronavirus regulations began on Wednesday, October 14:

Below is a video of the ‘last hurrah’, as my parents’ generation would have called it, in Liverpool, before Tier 3 regulations set in.

Regardless of what one thinks of the video, according to the pie chart, when workplaces and schools/universities are factored in, according to Public Health England, hospitality accounts only for 3 per cent of coronavirus ‘case’ sources:

Not all pubs have to close, but in order to stay open, they must serve ‘a substantial meal’, as in New York City. A packet of crisps or pork scratchings will not do. The Pub Curmudgeon said that the Government have not precisely defined the term ‘substantial meal’, which could be problematic.

Meanwhile, Adam Brooks, the aforementioned publican from Essex, has given an interview to Spiked:

More to come tomorrow on how his business has fared during the coronavirus crisis.

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