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On Thursday, July 28, 2022, LBC’s morning host Nick Ferrari presented a hustings in Leeds for Conservative Party members:

Ferrari interviewed the candidates separately, and each had a chance to deliver a message alone to the audience.

The audience also asked questions.

Liz Truss

This year’s burning question for any politician has been, ‘What is a woman?’ Very few have defined a woman, including Rishi Sunak.

Liz played on that theme:

This hustings took place on the same day that it was announced the Tavistock clinic was to close. This next video has an excellent interview with Dr David Bell, a whistleblower who used to work for the clinic:

Liz discussed sexual identity:

A member of the audience expressed her concern that school loos were changed to unisex during the pandemic when students were at home. Liz came out in favour of separate boys and girls facilities:

LBC’s article, which has a video of the hustings in full, says:

The foreign secretary was quizzed about same-sex toilets being introduced in schools during the pandemic while speaking at LBC’s Tory hustings.

When asked about returning to single-sex toilets, Ms Truss said: “I completely agree with you – I have sought to clarify that as women’s minister.

“I’ve been very clear that single-sex spaces should be protected, particularly for young people as well as vulnerable people – vulnerable women in domestic violence shelters, for example – and I can assure you, as Prime Minister, I would direct that to happen.

“It’s a difficult time being a teenager – being a young girl – and you should be able to have the privacy you need in your own loo, so I 100% agree with you and I would make that happen.

In a follow up question from LBC’s Nick Ferrari about pupils who are transitioning, Ms Truss added: “First of all, I do not believe that under-18s should be able to make irreversible decisions about their own bodies that they might come to regret later.

“It’s very important to note that.

“And of course, schools should be sensitive – they can provide additional facilities – but it should not be at the expense of protecting young girls.”

On the subject of schools and the pandemic, Liz said it was a mistake to close schools in early 2021 and allow the pubs to stay open. She would not have closed schools but said that hindsight is a wonderful thing and no one knew at the time what to do. She did give Boris credit for doing ‘his absolute best’:

In response to Peter from Tadcaster, Liz said that she supports fracking but said it must have residents’ consent. She also supports the smaller nuclear plants, ‘like we have in Derbyshire’. She also thinks that we need to continue to use more of our own gas as an immediate response to energy demand:

There was a light hearted moment when Ferrari asked her about her university days. She admitted she was something of ‘a teenage controversialist’. She said she regretted saying that the monarchy should be abolished as soon as she said it years ago. And she has since met the Queen. She also said that she had been a member of the Liberal Democrats but left when she realised ‘the error of their ways’:

A reality show, Love Island, has been this summer’s must-watch for a proportion of the British population. Liz said she could watch only ten minutes with her teenage daughter before she turned off the television. She thinks her daughter went to watch it in another room:

Liz repeated her stance on tax, saying that the rise in National Insurance not only broke the 2019 Party manifesto but is also unnecessary as it limits growth:

Liz, who grew up in Leeds, says that the public transport there is as bad now as it was when she was a girl. She promised to improve the situation. She also pledged to cut red tape for farmers:

Ferrari asked Liz for her opinion of Theresa May and Boris Johnson, as she served in both their Cabinets. She said that she always liked Boris and supported him in the 2016 leadership contest, which Theresa May ultimately won. She gave Boris much credit during his time as Party leader and Prime Minister:

Ferrari asked her whether she would lead us into World War Three, which she dismissed as Russian propaganda and sabre-rattling. She added that the UK should have been better prepared in the past, because we did not do enough for Ukraine over Crimea and the Donbass:

On that topic, Liz said that she would raise defence spending to three per cent of GDP by 2030:

More on that below.

An audience member asked about post-pandemic staff shortages. Liz said she would tighten benefits rules to get the workshy back into paid employment. She also said she would have a training programme so that Britons had the available skillsets that we need:

Contrast her response with Rishi’s below. He wants to bring more foreigners into the country and forget about our own people.

Someone from the Bury Conservative Association asked whether Liz would give Jeremy Hunt a Cabinet position. She replied that she was not thinking about a possible Cabinet at the moment but that she would appoint a broad range of Conservative talent, should she become Prime Minister:

Please, Liz, no Jeremy Hunt. He would deploy all of Beijing’s coronavirus policies and have us masked up and in lockdown in perpetuity. He also said in Parliament that he wanted to make the annual flu jab mandatory. No, no and no!

Rishi Sunak

Last week, Rishi was adamant that tax cuts were ‘immoral’, then he did a U-turn.

He tried to convince everyone that he didn’t do a U-turn on his tax policy. Hmm:

Ferrari then gave the UK’s most recent statistics on our poor economic performance this year, but Rishi reminded him about 2021 figures, which were far higher than any other Western nation. Rishi also said that visas needed to be revisited to make sure we attract the ‘best and brightest’ into Britain. Notice how he has no plans to train young Britons for British jobs. Why am I thinking of his father-in-law’s Infosys? Hmm:

Ferrari brought up the petition to the Conservative Party to put Boris’s name on the members’ ballots. By last Thursday, more than 14,000 people had signed the petition. Rishi said that Boris had lost the confidence of his MPs, 60 of whom resigned from various Government posts. Rishi said that a Prime Minister must have the confidence of his MPs, hence the present leadership contest:

Ferrari told Rishi that he was the first Chancellor since Labour’s Denis Healey to raise corporation tax. Healey did that in 1974.

Rishi gave an incoherent answer. He said that Margaret Thatcher raised taxes in the early part of her premiership which lowered inflation. (Mmm. Actually, Margaret Thatcher got different advisers who told her to lower tax, which brought about growth.) He said that lower corporation tax has not worked over the past decade. So, he would cut tax on business investment instead.

I’ll leave this to the Rishi fans to ponder and tell me why he is correct:

Ferrari said that President Zelenskyy said that he would like for Boris to remain front and centre for Ukraine and not disappear into the background. Rishi said that Boris is ‘very talented’ but that he would not give him a post in his Cabinet, were he to become Prime Minister:

A lady in the audience asked Rishi how he viewed our current asylum system. He said that it needs to be changed, by pulling out of the ECHR and using the international Refugee Convention instead. He said that we reject far fewer asylum claims than other European countries and that needs to be changed:

Another member of the audience asked Rishi how committed he would be to supporting Ukraine. Rishi said that he ‘absolutely’ would be. In elaborating, he said that sanctions towards Russia need to be changed, because, so far, they are having little effect on Putin:

Matthew from West Yorkshire asked Rishi whether he had stabbed Boris Johnson in the back and how the former Chancellor planned to reunite the Party. Rishi said that he had to resign because he and Boris differed too much in the end on economic policy (?!). He pledged to bring the best Conservatives into his Cabinet if elected leader and thinks that would reunite the Party. Watch his leg bob up and down as he answers Ferrari near the end of the video:

Verdict

Afterwards, LBC took calls and interviewed experts about what they thought of the hustings.

LBC’s Ben Kentish asked his fellow presenter Iain Dale, a Conservative, for his views. Dale said that not every topic can be covered in one of these events. Therefore, topics such as child care and the NHS are discussed at other local meetings.

Dale thought that Liz ‘smashed it’. She did not use any notes this time. She gave ‘interesting’ and ‘entertaining’ solo speeches, which surprised him. He said that Rishi did a good job, too, but didn’t quite come up to Liz’s standard that evening. He said that Rishi has a lot of catching up to do and that ‘he’s in a real bind now’.

He concluded that it was a ‘really good evening for Liz Truss’. He gives her a 75 per cent chance of becoming the next Party leader and, by extension, Prime Minister:

Ferrari took more reactions on his Friday morning show:

Body language expert Dr Harry Witchell said that Liz was more relaxed in both her presentation and gestures than she had been previously. Rishi, he said, was much less aggressive, which was an improvement over last week’s performances:

Patrick Hennessy from London Communications Agency said that Liz is likely to have won over the Telegraph‘s readers. the Leeds audience seemed to warm more to Liz than to Rishi. He reminded Ferrari of Matthew from West Yorkshire’s aforementioned question asking Rishi if he’d stabbed Boris Johnson in the back. Indeed:

Former Conservative MP Michael Portillo said that Rishi’s campaign is slipping away. He pointed out that, after the Leeds hustings, Defence Secretary Ben Wallace came out in favour of Liz Truss and, also crucially, Simon Clarke, who worked closely with Rishi, has come out in favour of Liz:

Ferrari then interviewed Defence Secretary Ben Wallace, who described Liz as ‘feisty’:

Ben Wallace discussed Liz’s varied experience, reminding Ferrari and listeners that she had been Chief Secretary to the Treasury. The person in that post is the one who tells another Secretary of State whether they can increase their budget. Liz later worked in trade and is the current Foreign Secretary. Wallace said that he has been in meetings with her representing Britain around the world, so she has a lot of experience on the world stage:

Wallace told Ferrari that he ‘didn’t have the luxury’ of resigning … unlike some ministers. He meant Rishi, among others. He said that he, like the Home Secretary Priti Patel, needed to stay in place for national security reasons. The Home Secretary, he explains, has warrants to sign. He, as Defence Secretary, has military operations to authorise. He also said that he did not want Boris to stand down as Party leader:

Wallace said that, in 2019, Rishi wanted to give Defence a one-year monetary settlement. Wallace said that Boris overrode that decision and gave the department a multi-year settlement instead, which is what is necessary:

LBC has more on Wallace’s interview here.

All being well, tomorrow’s post will be about Andrew Neil’s grilling of Rishi Sunak last Friday evening on Channel 4.

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Continuing my series on Red Wall MPs, today’s concludes the Stoke-on-Trent trio with Jack Brereton, who was the first Conservative MP elected to represent Stoke-on-Trent South in 2017.

Brereton’s two neighbouring Conservative MPs are Jo Gideon and Jonathan Gullis.

Brereton is 30 years old but got involved in politics at the tender age of 18. In 2010, he ran unsuccessfully for councillor in the East Valley ward in the Stoke-on-Trent City Council election. Undeterred, and studying for his degree in Politics and International Relations at the local Keele University, he ran again in 2011 and held the Baddeley, Milton and Norton ward for the Conservatives.

He completed his degree at Keele in 2012 and was re-elected as councillor in 2015, after which he served on the local Regeneration, Heritage and Transport committee on the City Council as part of a Conservative/Independents ruling coalition.

In February 2017, he ran unsuccessfully in the Stoke-on-Trent Central by-election. However, a snap general election was called that June, under Theresa May’s leadership, and the Conservatives selected him to run for Stoke-on-Trent South.

Brereton defeated Labour’s sitting MP Rob Flello, who had represented the constituency since 2005. Aged 26, he was the youngest MP in the 2017 Conservative intake.

He continued to serve as a local councillor until June 2019, when he announced that he would not be standing for re-election.

In Parliament, Brereton served as Parliamentary Private Secretary to the Department of Education in 2018. Between September 2019 and January 31, 2020, he was the Parliamentary Private Secretary to the Department for Exiting the European Union. Afterwards, he became the Parliamentary Private Secretary to the Secretary of State for Defence.

From this, we can see that he has a lot of energy and enthusiasm for politics and for his constituents, most of whom voted to leave the EU.

He has also found time to study at University College London and divides his time between the capital and Stoke-on-Trent, where his wife and son live.

Maiden speech

The most interesting speeches in the Commons are the maiden speeches. One learns so much about our beautiful nation from them.

Jack Brereton gave his maiden speech on July 18, 2017. That day, the Stoke Sentinel reported (emphases mine):

Jack Brereton’s win in Stoke-on-Trent South last month, which ended decades of Labour domination, was one of the most notable results in the General Election.

Indeed. Stoke-on-Trent South voters had been loyal to Labour since the constituency was established in 1950.

He showed his love for his home town and the Potteries in his maiden speech, excerpted below:

It is an absolute honour to be able to make my maiden speech and to represent the people of Stoke-on-Trent South in this place. Stoke-on-Trent is the city that I grew up in and where I have lived my whole life. Nothing could make me prouder than serving the people of Stoke-on-Trent South in Parliament.

I would like to take this opportunity to pay tribute to my predecessor, Mr Rob Flello. I thank him for his commitment to Stoke-on-Trent South over the past 12 years. He will be remembered as a dedicated community activist in Stoke-on-Trent and was respected here for his campaigning on a number of national concerns, particularly those relating to the road haulage industry, in which he played an active role.

Stoke-on-Trent is a unique place with a strong cultural identity. It is a city founded on its industrial heritage, with those industries now resurgent and a hotbed of innovation. The potteries were born out of industry and our culture flows from that

Stokies are especially known for their friendliness, and many visitors to the city remark on how welcoming the local people are. What makes us most distinctive, however, is our geographical make-up, following the coming together in 1910 of six different, individual towns to form one body. Two of those towns, Fenton and Longton, are in my constituency. However, we did not gain city status until 1925, in what was a rare modern occurrence of royal intervention in which the monarch countermanded the Government. Having initially been refused city status by the Home Office, Stoke-on-Trent made a direct approach to His Majesty King George V and became a city on 4 June 1925.

Surrounding the pottery towns of Fenton and Longton, my Stoke-on-Trent South constituency includes a diverse slice of north Staffordshire. We have the only grade 1 listed building in Stoke-on-Trent, the Trentham Mausoleum, which is the final resting place of the Dukes of Sutherland. They were significant philanthropists in the area, particularly in Longton, Normacot and Dresden, giving land and paying for many of the important public buildings and facilities that we see today. They include the fantastic Queen’s Park, the first public pleasure park in the potteries, which was opened to commemorate Queen Victoria’s golden jubilee. It was once a lone oasis in an otherwise smog-filled urban area, but today we are one of the greenest cities in the country, with more than 1,380 hectares of parks and open space. One of the most important natural sites, Park Hall country park, is in Weston Coyney in my constituency. It is a site of special scientific interest and the only national nature reserve in Stoke-on-Trent.

Where once stood thousands of bottle ovens in Stoke-on-Trent, only 47 now remain. They are protected, of course, and I am pleased to say that half of those iconic structures are in my constituency, with the largest number in Longton. My constituency has no shortage of first-rate architectural gems, both old and new. Many of these important historical sites have now been converted, with a number becoming enterprise centres to host thriving small businesses. They include the Sutherland Institute, St James’s House, CoRE and now also Fenton Town Hall, which has been reborn as a centre for business and industry by the grandson of the original builder and benefactor, William Meath Baker. There is a tremendous spirit of resourcefulness and renewal in my constituency, and it gives me great optimism that so many of our heritage landmarks will continue to find new uses in a new age

Stoke-on-Trent has been a global city, designing wares and products to fit every taste and market. We have been exporting and trading products around the world for centuries, and that has never been more true and important than it is today. We have some of the most advanced steel manufacturing in the world. Just like pottery, steel manufacturing has strong roots in Stoke-on-Trent. Goodwin International, which is based in my constituency, is a world leader in mechanical engineering, producing some of the most intricate steel components, both large and small. It works in partnership with Goodwin Steel Castings in neighbouring Stoke-on-Trent Central, which has been producing machined castings since 1883—one of the 10 oldest companies listed on the stock exchange. Goodwin’s products are of the highest standard and are used right around the world in energy production, bridge construction and armed forces equipment.

Today in Stoke-on-Trent our industries are becoming more diverse and more innovative than ever before. Rated nationally as the second-best place to start a new business, it is the No. 1 city for business survival and the ninth-fastest growing economy in the UK. Productivity has increased by over 25% since 2010. It is ranked fourth for employment growth and has one of the fastest-growing housing markets, and our big ceramics businesses have increased production by over 50%.

People are waking up to what Stoke-on-Trent has to offer as one of the best connected places. We have kept ahead of the digital curve with some of the best broadband connectivity, and we are rated as having the best 4G download speeds in the country, not only making Stoke-on-Trent a key hub for some of the leading brands in distribution and logistics, but putting the city at the forefront of a revolution in digital and advanced manufacturing.

Our clay-based industries in particular have become more diverse and are expanding into new sectors. Whether healthcare, tourism, high-tech materials or construction, ceramic products are becoming ever more essential in the modern world. That has been exemplified by recent investment in the Wedgwood factory and visitor centre in my constituency. The fully refurbished factory site manufactures some of the finest wares in the world, and the World of Wedgwood visitor centre is a must see for any tourist. Most recently, we have seen the opening of the brand-new Valentine Clays facility in Fenton, which is continuing the growth of the industry and supplying clay and raw materials to potters around the country.

Our growing economy and industry are supported by strong academic institutions. Staffordshire University is now rated one of the best nationally for some of its digital courses, such as gaming. We also have Keele University—I should declare an interest in that my wife and I are both Keele graduates—which is renowned nationally for its academic strength and has won numerous awards for the quality of its academia, including being ranked top nationally for student experience and student satisfaction and most recently being awarded gold in the teaching excellence framework. Importantly, the universities play an active part in the community and economy of north Staffordshire and have a critical role in the innovation and development of our local industries.

The businesses and people who have invested in Stoke-on-Trent South are rightly proud of what we have achieved. As their strong voice in Parliament, I am determined to work to create better jobs that will spread the net of opportunity wider. Critical to that will be securing the best possible deal from leaving the European Union, guaranteeing trade and ensuring ease of access to markets throughout the world. That is what people in Stoke-on-Trent South overwhelmingly voted for in the referendum and what people were saying to me on the doorstep during the general election campaign. I will be calling on the Government to advance trade agreements around the world as part of a more global Britain that supports businesses in Stoke-on-Trent South to sell their products abroad. This is about creating prosperity for every household in Stoke-on-Trent South, driving up skills and increasing local people’s wages. We need to see not just more jobs in Stoke-on-Trent South but better jobs that pay higher wages and take full advantage of the talent that Stokies have.

We need to see investment in our infrastructure that ensures businesses in Stoke-on-Trent can continue to thrive and local people are not blighted by sitting in daily traffic jams. It will mean improving our transport network to be fit for the future, improving rail and road connections to my constituency to help address congestion and ensuring that we see better local rail services to Longton station and improved connectivity to Stoke-on-Trent from across the country.

For our industries to grow and create the jobs we need locally, we must also ensure greater energy security, with infrastructure that matches the needs of our manufacturing sectors. As a city made up of towns, we need to ensure that our town centres are healthy and that our high streets remain relevant to the local communities they serve. I want to see Longton and Fenton town centres become stronger, with new housing and businesses moving in. Those are my priorities as Member of Parliament for Stoke-on-Trent South.

I began by speaking of our heritage and culture in Stoke-on-Trent. I could not be more delighted that our city has been shortlisted for UK city of culture 2021. Stoke-on-Trent is the world capital of ceramics, which is an industry and art that has not only shaped my constituency but has left its stamp on our national culture. Many Stokies, like me, are proud of the products we see around the world that are back-stamped “Made in Stoke-on-Trent” and “Made in Britain.” A Stokie can often be spotted apart turning over a plate or a mug to check where it was made.

The Palace of Westminster, like many of the greatest buildings across the country, is filled with products manufactured in Stoke-on-Trent. From the tableware to the Minton tile floors, each piece is an ambassador for Stoke-on-Trent. I was a little disappointed to find that the ongoing floor restoration works in Central Lobby are using tiles manufactured in Jackfield, Shropshire. However, I was reassured to discover that the powder used to produce these fantastic tiles is sourced from Stoke-on-Trent

This debate is about drugs policy. The use of psychoactive substances in particular is increasing, which is ruining lives and is a significant cause of crime on our streets. That not only affects police services but puts pressure on our national health service, which has to deal with much of the human cost of drug abuse.

Far too many ordinary people in my constituency have felt the impacts of drug use and told me they do not feel safe in our communities. I will be working with Staffordshire police and Matthew Ellis, our police and crime commissioner, to ensure that we continue to see drug use decline and we act against the associated crimes. Much progress is being made by local partners and communities; putting in place a public space protection order in Longton has made a big difference. I have particularly seen the fantastic work put in by volunteers such as Street Chaplains locally in my constituency. Significant work has been done to help ensure people feel safe and welcome when visiting the town centre, and in directing people who need help to get the right support.

Often the misuse of drugs can be linked to mental health problems, and I have been pleased to see Staffordshire leading the way to ensure that people with mental health problems get better support. Local services, the police and the voluntary sector continue to work more closely in Stoke-on-Trent and Staffordshire to help people get better support to tackle addictions and change their lifestyles. I want to play my part in ensuring that we continue to tackle these issues in our communities, so we continue to see drug-related crimes reduced and people with addictions get the right support.

In the end, Coventry won the 2021 bid for the UK City of Culture.

However, Brereton remained a strong supporter of Stoke-on-Trent.

Channel 4 relocation

On October 17, 2017, Brereton put forward a Ten-Minute Rule Bill proposing that Channel 4 move their offices out of London, in the way that the BBC moved many of their operations north to Salford.

Excerpts follow:

Being in public ownership means that Channel 4 has a responsibility to the nation, not just in the innovative and boundary-probing programming that it rightly produces, but in the way in which it is organised and run. Truly, it must be operated for the benefit of all parts of our country, throughout all the nations and regions that make up the UK. We should consider the effects of the BBC’s relocation to Salford Quays, with the creation of MediaCityUK. The regeneration that comes from such investments has a much wider ripple effect beyond the transfer of the headquarters, staff and offices. With the right location, such moves can significantly boost prosperity across a whole region and help support thousands of jobs. As the Secretary of State said at the Select Committee on Digital, Culture, Media and Sport last week, more people are employed at Salford Quays today than there ever were when they were docks. That is a direct effect of a public service broadcaster fulfilling its remit in its most inclusive sense.

Channel 4 could have a significant transformative impact on a new location, with the potential to anchor wider regeneration and deliver jobs over and above those which move out of the capital. Very careful consideration must be given to location in order to maximise and extract value. There could be an open competition to decide on the new location, allowing interested areas and sites to put forward their case, ensuring that the site that delivers the greatest impact and fulfils the needs of Channel 4 is selected. This is not just about the benefits a move could have on a specific area; many organisations could have a similar impact from relocating their headquarters. There is greater significance in and much wider benefits from helping to rebalance the institutions of broadcasting within the UK to reflect much more effectively the diverse communities in our constituencies across the country, and to bring a fresh perspective.

The realities faced on a daily basis by my constituents in Stoke-on-Trent South and those in many constituencies throughout the UK are very different from those experienced in London. As I said, Channel 4 produces some phenomenal programmes that are greatly valued, but this could be so much better. If Channel 4 relocated out of London, the organisation and its employees would experience directly the true vibrancy and diversity across the nations and regions of the United Kingdom. The programmes it produces could be drawn from a much more diverse palette, giving a much greater scope, depth and quality to what we see on our screens.

As a commissioning organisation, Channel 4 has huge potential to support the wider broadcasting and creative sectors across the countries and regions of the UK. Many small and medium-sized businesses right across the country could contribute significantly to diversifying the content produced by Channel 4, but currently all the decisions are made in London and many companies and organisations are not getting a fair chance. A move would have much greater knock-on benefits across the industry, helping to support and create more highly skilled jobs outside London. Location is hugely important not only to extract the greatest benefit from our media, but to ensure that there are the skills available in the workforce to match the demands of the organisation.

There are a number of extremely interesting suggestions for a potential future location for this national broadcaster. They come from a number of areas across the country, including from my area, Stoke-on-Trent. Many parts of our country have the wealth of skills and creativity— both in industry and academia—needed to support the relocation. I know from visiting Staffordshire University that our academic institutions across the country have state-of-the-art digital and media facilities. For example, Staffordshire University is now rated the best in the country for computer gaming.

Industries and universities right across the country are leading the way in the digital and creative sectors. The move of Channel 4 out of London would further support this success and mean that more of those skills could be retained in other parts of the UK. This is the critical point: we are currently seeing a brain drain of skills and employment opportunities from across our country towards London. The Bill aligns with the Government’s industrial strategy to help to rebalance the economy, driving prosperity right across the country. I hope that all hon. Members can support that aim.

The further benefit that a move could realise is to counteract the consequences of an overheating property market in London. Land is much cheaper and more freely available outside London, particularly in areas like mine, meaning that the costs of development and moving have the potential with the right location to be significantly lower. Much of the cost of the move could probably be made back from the sale of Channel 4’s current headquarters site on Horseferry Road.

The cost of property also has an important effect on the likely quality of life of those working for Channel 4. Outside London, workers are likely to be able to afford a much better quality of life. The average house price in the Cities of London and Westminster constituency in quarter 1 of 2017 was £1,275,000 compared with £122,150 in my constituency of Stoke-on-Trent South. The Bill does not specify a location to which Channel 4 should move, but it secures the principle of a move away from London and would allow for the process in selecting a new location and facilitating the move once a location is agreed.

I encourage Members on both sides of the House to back this Bill and ensure that Channel 4 can continue to improve the quality and range of its broadcasting to reflect the entire UK.

Question put and agreed to

Bill read the First time; to be read a Second time on Friday 26 October 2018, and to be printed (Bill 111).

The bill was successful. One year later, on October 31, 2018, Channel 4 announced that it would be moving 25% of its staff to Leeds, meaning that half of its programme budget will be spent outside of London by 2023.

Transport

It is not surprising that having served on the local Regeneration, Heritage and Transport committee on the Stoke-on-Trent City Council, Jack Brereton has a keen interest in improving public transportation links in his constituency.

One of the ongoing issues is the reopening of the Stoke-Leek railway line, more about which below.

First, however, was his debate from January 23, 2020 on improving local bus routes, excerpted below:

As my hon. Friend the Member for Stoke-on-Trent Central (Jo Gideon) and I made clear to the Minister’s colleague Baroness Vere recently, bus services are too few, too slow and too infrequent. Indeed, a survey I conducted in a number of communities in my constituency resulted in many hundreds of replies saying just that. We now have communities that lack any service, with elderly and vulnerable people left cut off. The removal of evening and weekend services has also had a major impact on people’s ability to get to work and get around the area.

At the same time, local train services—they are almost non-existent and are often overcrowded—have been under a slow process of decline. Little more than 100 years ago, north Staffordshire had an excellent local rail and tram network. Old maps reveal that we had one of the most comprehensive public transport networks in the country. Since then, local rail lines and local train stations have been lost. The tram network has gone altogether and the bus has risen and fallen as a replacement. It is on bus services that I will focus most of my remarks today …

The six historic market towns in Stoke-on-Trent share a north Staffordshire identity that is more than merely geographical with the other historic market towns around the city, including Newcastle-under-Lyme, Kidsgrove, Biddulph, Leek, Cheadle, Stone and Stafford, which are home to many commuters to and from Stoke-on-Trent. Improving and enhancing the public transport links between all those towns is important for our economic growth. Sadly, bus use in the Potteries has declined by more than 10% in the past year alone, with more than 1 million fewer bus passenger journeys in 2018-19 than in 2017-18. The number of journeys fell from 10.4 million in 2017-18 to 9.3 million. Compounding the disappointment is the fact that bus use had at least seemed to have levelled off from the previous decline. The 10.4 million journeys reported in 2017-18 were an increase on the 10.3 million reported in 2016-17. However, at the start of the decade, more than 15 million journeys were recorded.

Since 2010, the relative cost of travelling by car has decreased considerably. Fuel duty has rightly been frozen and even for those who are entitled to free bus passes, the falling marginal cost of driving has disadvantaged bus services in relative terms. Relative price signals have often been compounded by the enhanced marginal utility of driving instead, particularly as cars have improved in personal comfort over the decade relative to buses. Once a decline in bus services begins, it all too often feeds on itself as the relative convenience of just jumping in a car becomes ever more pronounced. Against a backdrop of less frequent bus services, passenger utility is reduced even further. With the reduction in demand comes more cuts in supply.

In north Staffordshire, journey times by bus can be more than double those by car—sometimes easily treble or worse—due to the loss of direct cross-city routes. No doubt that story is familiar to Members in all parts of the country. I have raised the situation in north Staffordshire in particular because, as our local newspaper The Sentinel has highlighted, the decline in the Potteries has been much faster than in England as a whole

Currently, very few buses run straight through the city centre, meaning that almost all passengers face waiting times for connecting services at the city centre bus station if they want to get from one side of the city to the other. Operators have been reluctant to provide through services, because it is much harder to guarantee their reliability. That, in turn, adds to the congestion at the city centre bus station, with two short-route buses needed to complete what could have been a single-bus through journey.

The required interventions are a mix of low, medium and high-cost schemes, ranging from relatively simple traffic management measures, such as the widening of bus lanes, to more complicated redesigns of junctions to give buses priority. As an initial step, three cross-city routes are being developed, but a number of additional cross-city routes have also been identified to create a truly north Staffordshire-wide network …

The second key element is improved frequency. A turn-up-and-go service requires a frequency that does not exceed 10 minutes between buses. Even that frequency would be regarded as poor in London. A 10-minute interval is considered to be one of the downsides of some parts of the Docklands Light Railway, and it certainly would not be tolerated on the London underground. Yet in Stoke-on-Trent a 10-minute frequency is exceptionally good; currently, only four bus services operate at that frequency. The frequency of other services is generally 20 or 30 minutes.

Introducing all the proposed cross-city lines with a weekday daytime frequency of at most 10 minutes would cost some £4.8 million per annum. There would be a further capital cost of £1 million for purchasing additional vehicles. It is important to note that in certain important corridors in the city, such as between the railway station and the city centre, frequencies would be much closer to five minutes than to 10 minutes, with the exception of early mornings, night-times and Sundays …

There are other, smaller operators, which run a limited number of services, mostly using buses smaller than the standard single-decker ones prevalent in the First Potteries and D&G fleets. The current operators run a multi-operator ticket scheme. One such ticket is called Smart, which is focused on Stoke-on-Trent and Newcastle-under-Lyme, and another is called The Knot—after the Staffordshire knot—covering the whole of Staffordshire. There is also a PlusBus scheme covering the Smart zone.

That brings me on to the third key element: the price cap. The current standard adult fare for one of the most popular tickets, the Smart day ticket, is £5.90, and the proposal is to cap it at £3 per day, resulting in a ceteris paribus revenue loss of £3 million per annum. However, it is, of course, expected that all things will not be equal, and the price cap, together with congestion-busting road traffic management for bus services, should result in a substantial increase in ticket sales.

Indeed, the uplift is expected to be such that the city council has warned that operators will need to be prepared for boarding delays caused by the volume of people wanting to buy the £3 day ticket. That would have been much more of a concern only a year ago, when contactless payment was still far from widespread across north Staffordshire buses. Thankfully, operators have now invested in contactless technology that speeds up the boarding process

Let me be quite clear: what is envisioned is nothing short of a revolution for road traffic planning in Stoke-on-Trent, with a radical reordering of highway space and junction prioritisation in favour of buses. By removing the worst pinch points and installing bus priority measures, we can improve passengers’ level of confidence that buses will run smoothly and to time. The measures envisaged would mean that timetables could provide for faster services running over longer distances across north Staffordshire. We would once again be able to boast one of the best and most comprehensive public transport networks, just as we did over a century ago. I hope we will receive the Department’s full support, and the Minister’s support today.

Nusrat Ghani, replying on behalf of the Government, said:

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Sir Christopher [Chope MP], in this incredibly collegiate and productive debate. I thank my hon. Friend the Member for Stoke-on-Trent South (Jack Brereton) for securing it and giving me the opportunity to provide some answers that will please both Government and Opposition Members …

When I appeared before the Select Committee on Transport a while ago, my hon. Friend was robust in challenging me on bus strategy. However, he and I wanted the same thing, and we have got it—we have a win here. First, we have had the announcement of an ambitious and innovative £220 million bus package and, secondly, we are putting together the first ever national bus strategy, which will revolutionise bus services across England

Members are keen to ensure that they are doing their bit to secure funding from the transforming cities fund. The Government are investing £2.5 billion to support the development and creation of new and innovative public transport schemes, which will improve journeys and tackle congestion in some of England’s largest cities. Stoke-on-Trent has been shortlisted for an upgrade to its public transport links. The speech by my hon. Friend the Member for Stoke-on-Trent Central (Jo Gideon) was spot on; she put forward a fantastic case. At the Department we welcome the business case put forward by Stoke-on-Trent and supported by hon. Members. It will improve connectivity across the region. I am afraid I cannot say anything more right now, but an announcement on the outcome of the process will be announced in the next few months. The strength of this debate will no doubt be recognised when that decision is made …

Thanks to the Stoke-on-Trent MPs’ pressure, the latest news from the Stoke Sentinel on April 6, 2022 is that bus pass prices will be noticeably cheaper and that some routes will cut across the city:

Stoke-on-Trent bus passengers will be able to snap up all-day tickets for just £3.50 as part of a £31.7 million Government deal for the city. People currently have to shell out £5.20 for unlimited day travel within the city.

The cheaper fare – available across multiple bus operators – is expected to come into force in September. It’s not yet known whether other types of bus tickets could also be discounted.

It comes after the Department for Transport (DfT) awarded Stoke-on-Trent the funding to transform bus services over the next three years. Other plans include having more evening and Sunday services to boost the night-time economy and help commuters get home from work.

And a bus route which was split in two several years ago is to be ‘re-linked’ so people travelling from the north to south of the city no longer have to catch several buses. Coupled with bus priority changes, it will mean quicker journey times.

Nigel Eggleton, managing director of bus operator First Potteries, said: “We are delighted with the announcement. Ourselves, other bus operators and Stoke-on-Trent City Council have put in a lot of work compiling this bid.”

He hopes it will attract more people onto the buses and make some of the changes commercially sustainable after the Government funding runs out. But he admitted there could be ‘anomalies’, particularly if people are travelling outside the city boundaries into Newcastle or the Moorlands.

Staffordshire County Council has not been awarded a single penny through the DfT’s latest announcement, even though it submitted a bid for £112 million of bus service improvements.

Mr Eggleton added: “We will need to look closely at the terms and conditions to see what we can and can’t do across boundary journeys. But we will try our best.”

The 113 comments following the article were highly critical of the bus company and bus routes.

Now on to the Stoke-Leek railway line, debated on July 20, 2021 which was secured by Karen Bradley, the Conservative MP for Staffordshire Moorlands. All three Stoke-on-Trent MPs took part.

Maggie Throup MP, responding for the Government, said:

I congratulate my right hon. Friend the Member for Staffordshire Moorlands (Karen Bradley) on securing this debate on the proposals for reopening the Stoke-Leek line—or, as she said, the Leek-Stoke line. I thank all Members who contributed. My right hon. Friend is a committed advocate of this scheme, alongside my hon. Friends the Members for Stoke-on-Trent South (Jack Brereton), for Stoke-on-Trent North (Jonathan Gullis) and for Stoke-on-Trent Central (Jo Gideon), who have spoken passionately with one voice in today’s debate. Their collective campaigning to reinstate the Stoke-Leek line is second to none. I am sure the description that my right hon. Friend the Member for Staffordshire Moorlands gave of her constituency will definitely have put it at the top of the tourist map for those who are listening to the debate. I also pay tribute to all right hon. and hon. Members who have sponsored applications to restore rail lines and stations in their own constituencies. I know just how much these schemes mean for local communities. Those Members are great advocates for the restoration of their railways.

This Government are committed to levelling up the country, and a strong, effective railway is central to that ambition. As part of that levelling-up agenda, in January 2020 the Government pledged £500 million for the Restoring Your Railways programme to deliver on our manifesto commitment to start reopening lines and stations. This investment will reconnect smaller communities, regenerate local economies and improve access to jobs, homes and education. The Beeching report led to the closure of one third of our railway network—2,363 stations and 5,000 miles of track were identified for closure. Many places that lost their railway connection have simply never recovered. For the towns and villages left isolated and forgotten by the Beeching cuts, restoring a railway line or station has the potential to revitalise the community. It breathes new life into our high streets, drives investment in businesses and housing and opens new opportunities for work and education. Ilkeston station, in my constituency, which reopened in 2017 after more than 50 years of closure, is a proven example of this positive impact …

As my right hon. Friend explained, the proposal details the many benefits that restoring the Stoke-Leek line would bring to the area—she was so graphic earlier about all the benefits—including providing residents of Leek with direct access to education and employment opportunities in Stoke-on-Trent and the opening up of Staffordshire Moorlands to the tourist trade. The assessment process for those bids is currently under way. The Department expects to announce outcomes over the summer. Decisions on bids are made by an expert panel, which the rail Minister chairs. It is informed by analysis from the Department for Transport, technical advisers and Network Rail. The standard of the applications is, as ever, very high.

In nearby Meir, in the constituency of my hon. Friend the Member for Stoke-on-Trent South, a proposal to reopen the railway station has already been successful in the ideas fund. This scheme used the funding awarded to create a strategic outline business case, which the Department will be considering soon. If delivered, the scheme would reconnect the people of Meir to the rail network for the first time since 1966, giving them access to new educational and economic opportunities, making new housing developments in certain areas viable and levelling up a region that suffers from poor productivity relative to the rest of the UK …

Beeching destroyed the railway network in the mid-1960s. It will take a long time, if ever, to restore it.

With regard to the Stoke-Leek line, £50,000 was granted on October 27, 2001 for a feasibility study. One can only hope for its success.

No doubt, Jack Brereton will continue to press ahead with these and other local issues with his usual passion and enthusiasm.

I wish him every success in his parliamentary career. He richly deserves it.

On the first Thursday in May 2022, the UK will hold local elections.

It is unclear how well the Conservative Party will do, given sudden cost of living increases across the board, all of which occurred on April 1. Oh, were that this an April Fool joke. Sadly, it is all too real.

On April 3, Tim Stanley recapped the Conservatives’ self-inflicted wounds for The Telegraph: ‘The nannying Tories face oblivion if they refuse to get their priorities straight’.

Excerpts follow, emphases mine, except for Guido Fawkes’s posts below:

The same day the gas bill doubled, it snowed. Oh, and restaurants were mandated to list calorie counts on menus. After 12 years in office, the Tories have gone from trying to fix the state to trying to fix us, so we’ll be less of a shivery, fat burden on the bureaucrats. Don’t eat, they advise; don’t fly, don’t drive, avoid using the heating. In fact, it would be helpful if we could stop existing altogether. The NHS would look good on paper if no one used it, and we’d have a zero per cent failure rate in schools if no one ever sat an exam.

As MPs take a break from Parliament this week, the Tories need to dwell on what they have actually done and what there is to do. This all hinges upon the question of who they truly represent. Considering they were elected to clear up the economic mess left by Labour, it’s a bummer to note that debt is higher than under Gordon Brown, the tax burden rising and living standards crashing. We cannot blame ministers for a pandemic or a war, it’s true, but the Conservative Party’s solutions are near-indistinguishable from New Labour’s, and the alternatives rarely aired. Last week, I sat in on the Treasury Committee’s “grilling” of Rishi Sunak and the two points I never heard made were “you are spending too much” and “how dare you take my constituents’ money to do it”. The anger is not there. No party in Westminster stands for the consumer.

It was heartening to see that Stanley shares my impressions of parliamentary debate — virtue signalling, for the most part, including from Conservative benches:

This is not merely a crisis of philosophy, it is undemocratic. MPs are supposedly elected to do what their constituents want, but too many of them, as soon as they arrive in Westminster, are absorbed into a culture that has a uniform idea of what voters need, a total plan for life that runs from reducing carbon to dropping enough weight to fit into a size six dress (even better if you’re a fella!). Half the debates are toe-curlingly pious nonsense that does the electorate no benefit except to reassure them that their MP is spectacularly compassionate – and the more laws you pass, goes the logic, the more money we splash, the more compassionate they appear to be. Ergo, the most important metric for success in 2022 is how much the Treasury is spending, not the results.

It’s maddening to contemplate that nothing is ever done about situations past and present that affect many Britons:

Where to begin? The Ockenden report has stated that more than 200 babies and nine mothers might have survived were it not for failings at the Shrewsbury and Telford Hospital Trust. During the lockdown, the Government allocated around £37 billion for the deeply inefficient Test and Trace project. It lost £4.9 billion in loan fraud. Not one police officer has been sacked in relation to the Rotherham child abuse scandal. And the same Home Office that struggles to kick out foreign-born criminals finds it strangely difficult to let in Ukrainian women and children.

And we’re paying for this incompetence, while an independent body that Labour created years ago just gave all MPs a 2.7% pay rise:

You are paying for all this, and likely paying more thanks, despite [Rishi] Sunak’s tinkering, to a combination of National Insurance changes and inflation dragging people into ever higher tax bands. The Chancellor, in his munificence, says he plans to cut income tax in 2024, which means the British government is now handing out IOUs. At the same time, he is also bunging us £200 to help with the electricity bills, a sum that the state will reclaim at a later date, which means it’s also entered the habit of writing “UOMes”. MPs are getting a wee grant of their own. Their salaries will rise by 2.7 per cent, or £2,212.

The Government has become more intrusive and we have less money in our pockets:

… thanks to Covid, the public sector has been calling the shots since 2020, while the burden of wealth and power has shifted decisively away from the individual. Does this feel like a freer society than 12 years ago? Or a happier one? Paranoia and suspicion are not only widespread but encouraged (adverts on the London Underground now warn against “staring”), and privacy is dead. I can remember when we were told to protect our data. Now, just to take a train to Belgium, I have to prove my vaccine status by downloading the NHS app, send it a photo of my driving licence and record a video of my face reciting a series of numbers. Do I trust the NHS will delete all this information once used? Bless you. I’d sooner invite a rabid fox to babysit the chickens

Voters, in the eyes of far too many, are spreaders of disease or pollution (in the opinion of some of the old ladies who glue themselves to roads, we ought even to stop breeding), and pockets of money waiting to be tapped.

What is a truly conservative concept of government?

the old-fashioned principle of offering us the best possible service at the lowest possible price

Small government doesn’t mean “no government” but more efficient government – more effective precisely because it limits itself to a narrower range of tasks at which it can excel. Drawing a line under the Trimalchio’s feast of a Spring Statement, the Tories must spend the time they have before the next election peeling back the bureaucracy where it is not needed, passing the benefits on to the people who have been robbed to pay for it, and coming up with creative ways to encourage the private sphere to revive. I don’t just mean conjuring up new markets in insurance or energy, but also unleashing culture and technology, faith and family, the very things that make life worth living.

Bravo!

Ultimately, Stanley says:

The paradoxical goal of conservative politics is to make politics less important in everyday life, and while it might sound hopelessly idealistic to expect powerful people to surrender power, unless the Tories try to reduce the state, they will eventually lose office altogether. The time will come when voters finally snap, and take it away.

Let us look at a few more news items on this subject.

A week or two ago, someone sent in a letter to The Telegraph illustrating how much the Government is taking in tax. This is an alarming practical example:

https://image.vuukle.com/0fb1f625-47b3-4788-9031-5fe43d5ad981-f54455a1-3822-4557-8d9f-fd2fa4d2fe43

Now let’s look at Net Zero, the Government’s pet project, initiated by then-Prime Minister Theresa May.

This is a practical illustration of the folly of electric cars, written by conservative columnist and broadcaster Iain Dale for The Telegraph:

Back in November, I acquired an electric car, something I never thought I would do … I calculated it would save me thousands of pounds every year … 

On Friday night, I was invited to speak to Beverley and Holderness Conservatives. The main difference when you drive an electric car on a long journey is that you have to plan. In my old car, I could drive 600 miles without filling the tank, but if I ever nearly ran out of diesel there was always a petrol station around the corner.

The equivalent is not true if you have an electric car. You have to plan your journey using apps such as Zap-Map, which tell you where the charging points are, and whether they’re being used, or working. I got to Beverley OK, having recharged the car at Donington Park services on the M1, which has a few charging points. Some motorway services don’t have any.

The return journey proved to be a disaster. I left Beverley at 9am and arrived home in Kent at 7.45pm. A journey that should have taken four hours lasted an astonishing 10¾. It was a day completely wasted. The problem was that the three fast chargers in Beverley were either in use or didn’t work. So I had to use slow chargers to get to the next fast charger, which was 50 miles away. Range anxiety is a real phenomenon. The whole time you’re looking at the screen in front of you, wondering if you will run out of charge before you reach the next charger. And then what?

This week, [Transport Secretary] Grant Shapps announced a target of 300,000 more chargers across the country by 2030, the year when the Government says it will ban the sale of new petrol and diesel powered cars. Fatally, he’s left it to local authorities to make sure the roll-out happens. Mark my words, it won’t. Not without national direction.

My advice is this. If you only do relatively short journeys, then buying an electric car is a good decision. If you regularly travel more than 150 miles, it isn’t. In my experience, the car manufacturers lie about the expected range. My electric car is supposed to do 298 miles. The reality is that it does 206, or 215 if the weather is warm. Caveat emptor.

In other news, the price of milk is set to rise by 50%. The Telegraph reports that crisis talks with EU and British dairy farmers took place in Brussels last week:

Rocketing costs from feed, fertiliser and fuel have stoked fears in the industry of a surge in milk prices not seen in decades.

The cost of four pints of milk will jump from around £1.15 to between £1.60 and £1.70, an increase of up to 50pc, according to Kite Consulting, the UK’s leading adviser to dairy farmers.

Michael Oakes, the dairy board chair of the National Farmers’ Union, agreed that milk prices will likely rise by as much as 50pc.

John Allen at Kite said a 30-year period of low milk price rises is “coming to an end now” as costs surge on multiple fronts. He expects a typical pack of butter to rise from £1.55 to more than £2.

He said: “What is of concern at present is processors are getting inflationary costs as well and also we are short of milk around the world.”

Dairy industry bosses from the UK and elsewhere in Europe flew into Brussels at the end of last week with talks led by Eucolait, the continent’s leading dairy industry group. Dairy processors, which act as a link between farmers and shops, are said to be deeply concerned about soaring costs both at farm level and further up the supply chain, as the war in Ukraine lifts key input costs

UK dairy industry bosses have raised concerns over their costs to the Government, but officials at the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) are said to be merely in “listening mode”

Mr Oakes, who is also a farmer, said: “I was paying about £7,000 for an artic [articulated lorry] load of fertiliser, and this year it’s £28,000. It would have been a little bit less before Ukraine happened, but it made another big jump because we’d already seen higher gas prices, which have implications for fertiliser costs …

He added that feed costs have risen 60pc.

As if all that isn’t enough to worry voters, we have the Online Safety Bill passing through Parliament. Guido Fawkes tells us what is happening as Ofcom, the communications regulator, prepares for the not-so-distant future:

Scary.

Guido’s accompanying post says, in part:

According to Melanie Dawes, the newly-appointed CEO of Ofcom, the quango will increase headcount by 400 staff ahead of new powers to police the internet in the Online Safety Bill, which will be voted on in Parliament after Easter. That’s a lot of censors…

Ofcom will have Putin-style powers to block websites from being seen in the UK if those sites fail to uphold their new legal duty of care to remove “harmful content”. The definition of “harmful content”, of course, will be a political question. Will questioning hurtling towards net-zero whilst millions are in energy poverty be deemed harmful content? …

Ofcom’s Melanie Dawes told Times Radio:

We’ve got some tough and strong tools in our toolkit as a result of this legislation. And I think we need those. These very strict and somewhat draconian kinds of sanctions are really only the sort of thing that you would expect to use as a serious last resort.

If you don’t accept self-censorship and comply, your website will be blocked. Chilling.

Then we found out at the weekend that the civil servant in charge of ethics was at a lockdown party.

The Times‘s Patrick Maguire reported:

Were this a plot point in a satire, it would feel much too lazy for any self-respecting reader to get behind. But here we are: the official who was then in charge of ethics on Whitehall has been fined for her attendance at a lockdown-busting karaoke party.

As the first major name to have been revealed to have received a fixed penalty notice, Helen Macnamara — then the government’s head of propriety and ethics, now in the business of neither as director of policy and corporate affairs at the Premier League — is surely a sign of things to come.

For confirmation of her attendance at a leaving do in the Cabinet Office in June 2020 — at a cost of £50 — is a sign that it wasn’t just the junior, nameless and faceless who breached Covid restrictions at the heart of government over that fateful period, as Boris Johnson would much prefer to be the case.

Meanwhile, Scotland Yard is also said to have told people who attended a No 10 party on April 16 last year, the day before Philip’s funeral, that they would be given fixed penalty notices: conclusive proof at last that the law was broken in Downing Street itself.

The PM did not attend either do, but the slow burn of revelations from the Met’s investigation is hardly ideal, particularly with elections just over a month away.

“I have 65,000 constituents in west Wales, where I represent, and they are not shy in coming forward and expressing a view about this and a number of other subjects,” Simon Hart, the Welsh secretary, told Sky News this morning.

“And throughout all of this saga of the Downing Street parties they have said one thing very clearly, and in a vast majority they say they want contrition and they want an apology, but they don’t want a resignation.”

The bigger risk, looking at the polls, is that they don’t want to vote Tory

However, there are two bright rays of sunlight in an otherwise cloudy day.

The first is that London’s position as the second most important financial centre in the world is holding steady, as The Telegraph reported on Monday, April 4:

London remains Europe’s dominant financial centre based on factors such as (relative) political stability, labour market flexibility, quality of life, infrastructure and innovation, a ranking by think tank Z/Yen Group found last week. It was ranked second only to New York globally, while Paris came in at 11th place.

The second is that Volodymyr Zelenskyy still appreciates all of Boris Johnson’s efforts for Ukraine. He is contemptuous of Emmanuel Macron and Angela Merkel, as Guido reports:

Guido has the video of Zelenskyy praising Boris:

Zelenskyy’s said the UK has “agreed on new defensive support for Ukraine. New package. Very, very tangible support,” addingThank you Boris for the leadership! Historical leadership. I’m sure of it”. 

It’s too bad that Zelenskyy cannot campaign for Boris’s Conservatives. They could use his help.

The UK’s biggest topics that truly matter to everyday people are coronavirus, COP26 and the fishing row with France.

Coronavirus

On Wednesday, November 10, the BBC news site featured an article on mothers and babies over the past year and a half: ‘Coronavirus births: “My baby’s first word was mask”‘.

How sad is that? My first word was ‘Da-da’.

The BBC interviewed Leanne Howlett, who gave birth to a daughter in March 2020, during the first lockdown. Poor woman.

She said (emphases mine):

“Overnight, home appointments [from the perinatal mental-health team] dropped away,” she remembers.

They would be over the phone instead, she was told, causing her panic about how she would cope.

Nurseries were closed, she couldn’t see family and getting through the basics of each day was a huge struggle.

“I dipped to rock-bottom,” says the 34-year-old.

“You cannot bring yourself out of it – you think everyone is better off without you” …

Leanne started to feel better last summer, when childcare bubbles were allowed and her husband took time off work, but she believes the impact on her daughter, Miley, now two years old, has been profound.

She is not at all sociable – she didn’t see anyone but us until she was nearly one.

“All those missed activities, photos, and all those firsts,” laments Leanne.

When she did go to her first baby group, all the mums wore face coverings, she says.

“My baby’s first word was mask.”

Black taxis

Prior to the pandemic, Uber was more popular than the traditional black taxi, especially in London.

In fact, Uber drivers from as far away as Manchester drove to the capital every weekend to reap the largesse.

On October 30, The Guardian posted an article on the new-found success of black cabs: ‘Black cabs roar back into favour as app firms put up their prices’.

It begins with the story of a young man who had been stood up by Uber and another app-oriented service, Bolt:

The young man was frantic, trying to get to a third date with a woman he already knew he wanted to marry. But four Bolt drivers had let him down, and when he tapped his Uber app, it was asking for triple surge pricing. In desperation, he did something he’d never done before – flagged down a black London taxi.

“He was trying to open the front door to get in. He wanted to give me a postcode – it was the usual thing you get from the ones who’ve never been in a cab before,” said Karen Proctor, a London taxi driver for more than a decade. “I told him ‘the postcode’s not going to help – just tell me where you want to get to’. It was a restaurant. And we got there seven minutes early, at about a third of the cost. He was converted.”

Tales like that are why, after nearly a decade of Uber-induced gloom, things are looking up for cabbies. Trade has roared back into life since the end of Covid measures in July, with many talking with some astonishment about their best-ever takings.

I hope the marriage proposal met with success.

I am a big champion of black taxis. London drivers have to pass a three-year course called The Knowledge, where they regularly go in at least once a week to be quizzed by a veteran taxi driver on how to get various places in and out of the capital. This requires memorising routes, including all the requisite street names. I saw a three-part documentary on it several years ago. It looked and sounded daunting.

During lockdown, some black taxi drivers sold their vehicles and left the road for good. Some firms are buying up those taxis and renting them out to licensed drivers:

While drivers with a cab talk of people running towards cabs when they stop to let out a passenger, arguing about whose taxi it is, or queues of 100 people outside Victoria train station or Liverpool city centre, there are plenty of licensed drivers without a vehicle.

“People are coming to us every single day looking for a cab,” said Lee DaCosta, a founder of Cabvision which runs payment systems for taxis and also rents a fleet for drivers who don’t own a vehicle. “We’re having drivers turning up literally walking the streets from garage to garage going ‘got any cabs?’”

Transport for London (TfL) figures show there were 13,858 licensed taxis in London on 24 October, compared with historic levels of about 21,000.

The rapid decline is partly due to Covid. During the pandemic, when drivers had no prospect of earning money and some were ineligible for government support, some were forced to sell their cabs and take up other jobs. It led to the sight of hundreds of cabs being stored in unused car parks and fields around London.

But some of the decline pre-dated the pandemic, and DaCosta says TfL’s policy of forcing older, diesel taxis off the road has not been accompanied by enough support for electric cabs.

As Uber demand returns to normal, however, drivers are fewer on the road than before. Some were EU nationals who went home and never returned. Others have opted to drive delivery vehicles instead.

No doubt everything will stabilise in time.

COP26

It appears that COP26 did not do much for Glasgow’s hospitality sector.

On Wednesday, November 10, The Times reported that the anticipated uplift didn’t happen. The conference ends this weekend:

While hotels across Glasgow are fully booked to accommodate the thousands of delegates, the hospitality trade is understood not to have seen any uplift in trading since the event began on October 31.

There are even suggestions the event has led to a reduction in trade for some operators. Footfall in the city centre is said to have been affected as people try to avoid the demonstrations.

There is also thought to be a number of delegations which have stayed outside of the city, with Edinburgh hotels among those which are busy.

Oli Norman, whose Ashton Properties owns venues such as Brel and Sloans, said he had heard of some publicans and restaurant owners who have seen their trading fall by up to 50 per cent, and added: “It should have signified a resurgence in the local economy but if anything it has been a damp squib.”

Fishing wars

Any Englishwoman hoping to keep relations smooth with the French during the fishing wars in the Channel would do well to support her adopted country, as Samantha Brick, who lives in France, wrote in The Telegraph:

“Fishing wars” isn’t a phrase I’d ever suppose would have an impact on my marriage – or indeed on my status in France – but in these strange times I suppose I shouldn’t be surprised.

After I recently strutted through arrivals at Bergerac airport I was pulled up sharp at passport control. While my documents were checked, I was casually asked what I thought about the issue of French fishing trawlers being unable to go about their business in British waters.

Noting my French passport was still in the hands of the uniformed officer, I swallowed my pride and, after a bit of inconclusive waffle, I was told I should be proud of my French passport and those fishing trawlers. I feebly replied: “Vive la France”

Not since Brexit has my other half been so fired up about Anglo-French relations. The right to fish is something that the French get very, very angry about. Pascal routinely shouts at the breakfast and lunchtime television (frankly OTT) news reports of the French fishing industry being stymied by brazen Brits and a dozen or so of our fishing boats.

Crustacea, I’ve learnt, is a French human right. The right to gorge on seafood is taken so seriously that drones and police on horseback are deployed to patrol and protect Atlantic oyster farms.

Her husband Pascal’s household does not sound either women- or Anglo-friendly:

My brother-in-law is also married to an English woman. She isn’t mad about the dozen or so oysters the family get in per person each Christmas either; note, we Brits have to compare notes outside the home on this as speaking in our native tongue at home is banned.

In fact, food is probably the area of most contention in our marriage …

the French are pretty rigid when it comes to anything and everything at the kitchen table. There are centuries old traditions and behaviours which have been silently passed down the generations.

In the early days I once stood up, noticed I’d not finished my rosé and then drained the glass. Pascal was in turn speechless and outraged afterwards. This is, apparently, something no French woman would ever do. Women are supposed to nurse just one glass of wine throughout the evening

one rule he is immovable on is not clearing your plate. The motto – which is drilled into every house guest – is “you eat what you take”. The French cannot abide waste.

Sounds dire.

I don’t remember my academic year in France being like that and I was a fairly regular guest in French households, either for parties or for sleepovers concluding with Sunday lunch.

Look before you leap, ladies.

Conclusion

We in the UK are at a strange crossroads at the moment.

Everything we were told not to worry about has become of increasing concern: children’s development post-COVID, Glasgow’s resurgence during COP26 and the nothing-to-see-here fishing wars. At least the taxi trade is prospering.

Last week, I wrote about the global transport crisis.

This week, I saw two more items on the subject about the situation in Britain.

Michael Crick, a journalist who used to work for Channel 4 News and now writes for Mail+, stopped at a lorry park in Staffordshire, England, to chat with HGV (heavy goods vehicles) drivers.

The page with his article includes a video featuring brief interviews with drivers who stopped in at the Hollies Truck Stop for a bite to eat and a bit of a rest. He also interviewed Ian Wright from the Food and Drink Federation and a dairy farmer.

Despite the long hours, the drivers’ salaries are going up. One said that his hourly wage went up 50%, from £13 to £18. Crick browsed the job adverts in Transport News and found many paying from £40,000 to £50,000 per annum.

He asked one driver why younger people aren’t seeking these jobs. The driver replied that many younger people are ‘bone idle’.

Crick included a summary of his other interviews in his article. They were less positive (emphases mine):

few drivers I met this week would recommend the job to their children or grandchildren. The job nowadays is overloaded with bureaucracy, they say. Drivers are treated with no respect wherever they go, and sometimes get lumbered with fines their employers won’t pay.

He discovered that some HGV drivers are switching to making customer deliveries, whether for supermarkets or Amazon:

Many HGV men (and the occasional woman) decided it’s simpler to drive for Sainsburys, Tesco or Amazon. The distances are shorter, the hours are more sociable, and the pay is sometimes better. Yet unless British firms can recruit more lorry drivers, the economy will be in serious trouble.

As for dairy farmers, in August, there were not enough drivers to take their milk to market:

In the area round the Hollies Truck Stop, around 30 dairy farmers were told one day last month to drain away their milk because the buyer didn’t have enough drivers to do the daily milk collection.

The farmer Crick interviewed says he was able to arrange a work around for his milk delivery but said that the other farmers were unable to do so.

The other item I saw was posted online in a comments section. I do not know the provenance of this first-hand experience of a former lorry driver, but it is well worth reading:

https://image.vuukle.com/0fb1f625-47b3-4788-9031-5fe43d5ad981-54576eee-d2b0-4062-93d2-fd9f236f74b8

Judging from his testimony, the government and local councils need to ensure that drivers can circulate and make their stops more freely in town and city centres. Canterbury, I’m looking at you.

Local councils could also appropriate a brownfield site for a truck stop. These men and women need places where they can eat and rest.

The industry is starting to pay better wages. Of course, that will be passed along to consumers, but do we care? Driving a lorry these days is no treat. And, as the driver says, to make things worse, he and his associates are seen as:

the lepers of society.

That’s odd, given that the pandemic has made us more dependent on lorry drivers than ever.

Unlike the other essential workers so many Britons applauded every Thursday in 2020, lorry drivers don’t take time off for stress. They don’t star in dancing videos, either. They are always there for us, until we make their occupation so unbearable for them that they quit.

For several months now, Britain has been experiencing a supply chain problem with transport.

Detractors from the corporate world, such as IKEA, say that this is because of Brexit.

Wrong!

A shortage of lorry drivers is affecting deliveries worldwide.

Shipping problems have also been occurring.

On Thursday, September 9, Guido Fawkes posted an item whereby IKEA tried to blame the UK’s transport problems on Brexit (emphases in the original):

In a recent BBC article on IKEA’s supply shortages, the Swedish furniture giant went all in on blaming Brexit for their inventory issues:

“What we are seeing is a perfect storm of issues, including the disruption of global trade flows and a shortage of drivers, which have been exacerbated by the pandemic and Brexit.”

However, IKEA tells a different story to EU countries, e.g. the Netherlands (emphases in purple mine):

The firm goes on to say that “10% of its stock, or around 1,000 product lines” have supposedly been affected by the Brexit-related shortage. In a separate statement given two days later to Dutch newspaper Dagblad van het Noorden, howeveran IKEA spokesperson instead cited the exact same product shortage with a different excuse featuring one notable omission:

“There are major logistical problems worldwide. For example, there is a great scarcity of containers and container ships on important sea routes because the economic recovery from the corona pandemic is proceeding faster than expectedThere are also congestion in ports due to the crowds and Chinese terminals were temporarily closed due to local corona outbreaksMany IKEA products are made in China.”

Both articles list the same 10% stock shortage figure, only one mentions Brexit.

Guido points out that the problem is global:

Remainers – and some parts of the media enjoying spinning the narrative on their behalf – are refusing to accept the lorry driver shortage is global: iron ore struggles to reach Australian ports; US petrol stations have run out of supplies after a 35,000 fall in lorry drivers; Asia reports a 20% fall in drivers

Guido’s article says that the only place where there is not a driver shortage is Africa.

Talk radio host Howie Carr has been talking about shortages and higher prices in the United States since the 2020 election. Lumber products had skyrocketed at the end of last year. Howie has also mentioned the petrol prices and shortages at the pump which started at the same time.

On August 21, 2021, Global Cold Chain News posted an excellent article on the European situation with regard to lorry drivers, including individual country profiles.

It puts paid to the misguided suggestions in the British commentariat that we should allow a few hundred thousand EU nationals to drive lorries for UK hauliers.

There are two reasons why such reasoning is faulty.

First, over six million EU nationals have been allowed by the Government to remain in the UK post-Brexit. If we cannot find our lorry drivers from among that group, then something is very wrong.

Secondly, as Global Cold Chain News explains, there are lorry driver shortages in most EU countries.

Excerpts follow, emphases mine:

Poland: According to Ti estimates, the shortage in Poland in 2020 is around 124,000 drivers. According to IRU, Poland is one of the most heavily impacted European countries and driver shortage in 2020 stands at around 37%.

Germany: Between 45,000 and 60,000 truck drivers are ‘missing’ in 2020 in the German market alone, according to the DSLV and BGL, and this number is only increasing. The IRU predicts a gap of 185,000 drivers by 2027 in Germany.

France: In 2019 it has been reported by several news outlets that France is experiencing a shortage of approximately 43,000 drivers.

Ukraine: The deficit of drivers in Ukraine in 2019 ranged from 12,000 to 120,000 depending on the region.

The article explains that HGV (heavy goods vehicle) shortages began years before coronavirus took hold — and, I would add, before Brexit:

The driver shortages have been affecting the global road freight market for around 15 years. The issue comes as the pool of truck drivers is contracting but demand for transport is rising. The COVID-19 pandemic has further exacerbated the already alarming issue of driver shortages as new drivers have been unable to train and take their tests and Covid restrictions make the job even less attractive.

Even before the pandemic a serious cause for concern in the industry, the lack of drivers in the road transport industry was at an all-time high, with many of its underlying issues being long-term challenges. Factors such as an aging workforce and insufficient numbers of new recruits, due to working conditions and image issues of the profession, have been plaguing the industry for many years.

The pandemic affected lorry drivers in the UK and the EU at its height in 2020. On France’s talk radio station, RMC, a number of drivers rang in to complain that shower and toilet facilities at truck stops were closed. British drivers experienced the same inconveniences when delivering around the UK.

However, not every company is affected by product shortages.

Pub chain owner Tim Martin of Wetherspoons says that his supplies are at 2019 levels and that Brexit has not affected his business. In fact, it was strike action from a major brewer that caused a temporary shortage.

Guido Fawkes has the story:

Wetherspoon chairman Tim Martin has now pushed back to say these claims are all untrue. The reality is that beer supplies actually remain at 2019 (i.e. pre-pandemic) levels, and that the shortage of a few products over the last two weeks is the result of strike action from one major brewer. Martin added:

“There is clearly a shortage of HGV drivers, both in the UK and in mainland Europe- where, some reports say, there is a shortage of 400,000 drivers. Following the pandemic, there are supply chain issues in many other parts of the world also. In the light of the undoubted problems, it is important that the public is provided with accurate information. Factual inaccuracies and partisan Brexit politics will not assist in finding solutions.”

Fake news about Brexit will not solve the transport problem.

Another factor is that another British organisation went on strike this year. The DVLA (Driver and Vehicle Licensing Agency), based in Wales, went on strike in August 2021, specifically the Drivers Medical Department. This is because coronavirus cases rose quickly at the DVLA site.

The strike has caused a backlog of delays surrounding licences and other driver certifications, including those for HGVs.

In conclusion, a number of factors are causing or exacerbating a shortage of HGV drivers — not only in Britain but around the world.

The cost of coronavirus in England has been immense.

There is no end in sight for some restrictions and, as I wrote earlier in the week, there will be no Freedom Day on July 19, except for theatres and nightclubs.

London

On July 15, The Telegraph‘s Tanya Gold wrote about London’s ongoing ghost town appearance (emphases mine):

It is too early to say that London is dying, but something is wrong with the city and Covid has accelerated it. Certainly, there is a sense that things are slipping out of control

I was in central London last week, and it felt ever more ominous. Perhaps it was the weather – again, the rain was monstrous. Or perhaps it was the silence: the department stores in Oxford Street were glassy and empty

What will happen if offices shutter forever, and most people work from home? This will work for the affluent with spare rooms for offices, and gardens; or they might just leave for Amersham and its Britain in Bloom awards stacked on posts. For those renting in inner cities, it won’t; employers will pass a business expense onto an employee, one whose home is already small.

Will central London’s beautiful buildings become flats? John Lewis [a nationwide department store chain] is moving into housing. Will anyone want to live in them if the city declines?

Restaurants 

On the topic of London, Mark Hix, one of Britain’s best chefs, has had to close his two restaurants in the capital.

He has moved back to Dorset and opened a restaurant there.

Hix Soho in Brewer Street is now a taqueria and Tramshed, his old 150-cover restaurant in Shoreditch (East London), will become a furniture showroom.

He wrote about the two establishments for The Telegraph.

The owners of the El Pastor taqueria invited him to visit, which he did:

My strongest feeling was not one of regret, or even missing the time when this place was my flagship, but rather of pleasure at seeing it busy and buzzy again. It has a new lease of life. And therefore I wished them well, especially with the landlord, the same greedy one who had doubled the rent when I was the tenant and began the collapse of my London chain of restaurants because we just couldn’t make any money at the rate he was charging.

We have all learnt some important life lessons these past 16 months of Covid. Perhaps the landlord has too in the new business climate it has produced. Most of all, though, what that walk down memory lane did was give me courage.

As for the Tramshed:

I’ve got a date in my diary to go back to the kitchen at the Tramshed, my old 150-cover restaurant in Shoreditch. It is going to be less return in triumph and more fond farewell, for my presence there is, as the theatre posters put it, ‘for one night only’. The guys who have been running it since my business went into administration are moving out and are staging one last hurrah with my help.

Lockdown has killed the place off and it is going to be converted into a furniture showroom of some description. When I took it on in 2012, this handsome building had been used for chemical storage, so I suppose it is a case of back to the future. Which rather neatly sums up my life story since I handed back the keys in March of last year after breaking the news to the staff there that they had lost their jobs.

He foresees a difficult return for hospitality:

I’ve come back to Dorset, where it all started, and am now building a new future. All being well, on Monday we will be taking one more step towards that with the lifting of all Government restrictions on how we trade, but the hard work of repairing the damage done by Covid has only just begun. The road back to prosperity for the whole hospitality industry remains a long one.

As I write, Hix is taking a brief fishing break in Iceland, a country on the Green list.

However, a question remains over whether he and other restaurant owners will be able to trade freely on Monday with the lifting of restrictions. 

Hospitality chiefs are still trying to interpret what Boris Johnson said on Monday, which sounded to me like a U-turn on what he said on July 5. The Times says that masks and outdoor service are still recommended, as is checking customers in with contact details. That is what is in place today.

Furthermore, coronavirus passports, which the Government had previously denied would be recommended, are, in fact, on the table.

On Wednesday, July 14, The Telegraph reported:

Ministers on Wednesday published delayed sectoral advice for businesses on how to operate when the country moves to step four of the Prime Minister’s roadmap out of lockdown next Monday

The Government was accused of widening the net of companies encouraged to use domestic coronavirus passports, after Boris Johnson initially signalled on Monday that they would be recommended for nightclubs and venues with “large crowds”.

The Prime Minister said relevant firms should show “social responsibility” and “make use” of the NHS Covid pass app, which shows proof of double vaccination, a recent negative test or natural immunity, as “a means of entry”.

The updated guidance sparked a backlash among Conservative MP and hospitality chiefs, after advice specifically for restaurants, pubs, bars, nightclubs and takeaway services encouraged the use of Covid passports.

It stated: “Consider the use of the NHS Covid pass to reduce the risk of transmission at your venue or event.”

So far, only Steve Baker MP (Con) has spoken out against this recommendation:

I am simply astonished that after everything the Prime Minister and Michael Gove said in the past about ID cards that they are advancing this fast down this really quite appalling path.

Kate Nicholls, the head of the industry body UK Hospitality, expressed her disappointment and said:

the guidance for pubs and restaurants was “disappointing” in the wake of a select committee of MPs and a Cabinet Office consultation “acknowledging that this was a very difficult thing to implement in a domestic hospitality setting”.

She said ministers needed to provide a “whole suite of guidance” to explain how Covid passports should work in the sector “for us to decide whether we are willing to adopt this on a voluntary basis”.

Predicting few businesses would adopt the measure by Monday, from which date the guidance is meant to apply, she said: “I don’t think anybody would be able to introduce this on a voluntary basis from Monday until we have clarification.”

Ms Nicholls added that “more work is needed by the Government” and warned that there were “real concerns” around equalities legislation, and “practical issues” around the type of testing that qualifies and how businesses should handle customers’ personal health data.

This is an unfortunate development.

Transport

Still on the subject of London, the capital’s mayor, Sadiq Khan (Lab), a strong opponent of his predecessor Boris Johnson, intends to continue with mask mandates on Transport for London (TfL) vehicles and the Tube as a condition of carriage.

Douglas Murray wrote an editorial for The Telegraph in which he says:

Sadiq Khan, for instance, has tried to look super responsible by insisting that even after the rules for mask-wearing are relaxed masks will be compulsory on public transport in London. Obviously, throughout the pandemic, there have been the rules and there has been what people do. I have seen plenty of people get on the bus with their mask on and then pull it under their chin as soon as they are in their seat. We have become used to the theatre of masks.

But the Mayor of London has ordered Transport for London to enforce mask wearing after July 19, making the prospect of a journey on the London Underground even more enjoyable. Citizens of the capital not only have to pay the highest fares of any commuters in the world for one of the world’s worst services, but must now mask up under threat of the London Transport Police if they do not. What a wonderful way to get the capital moving again.

Agreed. It makes no sense, and Khan has complained for months that TfL’s finances have been dire since lockdown started last year. It’s pure political theatre just to oppose Boris Johnson’s government.

Office work

On July 5, the Government encouraged office workers to go back to their workplaces.

This Monday, they backtracked because they got complaints in the media.

The Times has an article about the travel company Tui, which has told its employees they only need to come into the office one day a month, regardless of what happens on July 19.

Other companies have followed suit. However, in the United States, fully-vaccinated employees are expected to be back at their desks by September:

Other businesses adjusting their working practices include KPMG, the accountancy firm, which has told its 16,000 UK staff they should work in the office for up to four days a fortnight. In the US, by way of contrast, Bank of America yesterday followed Goldman Sachs in telling all fully-vaccinated staff to be back at their desks by September.

The policy director of the Institute of Directors says that the Government’s advice this month has been confusing:

Roger Barker, policy director at the Institute of Directors, said: “Like everybody else, businesses across the country having been awaiting ‘freedom day’ with bated breathbut we have had a series of mixed messages and patchwork requirements from government that have dampened enthusiasm.

“Return to work or continue to stay at home. Throw away your masks or continue to wear them. The guidance has done little to dispel that confusion.

Business leaders are understandably confused as to the legal status that this guidance has and are concerned about vulnerability under health and safety legislation, as well as the validity of their insurance.

“Government needs to inspire confidence in businesses and the workforce that we can all return to work safely.”

School

We have little idea of exactly how much school-age children have been suffering over the past year.

One mother and her ex-husband saw how their daughter’s scholastic performance had been declining and put her in an independent school, with financial help from both sets of grandparents.

The mother, Mel Sims, told The Telegraph her story, beginning in the Spring of 2020:

My daughter was in Year 5 when the first lockdown brought her education to an abrupt halt. A bright only child, mature for her age because she spends so much time with adults, she’d been doing very well in the classroom. But then the state primary she attends in our village in Essex closed its doors to all but key worker children. I’m a 49-year-old single mother. My daughter’s father lives in Durham. I had no choice but to become her full-time teacher.

While some of her friends in private or religious schools were receiving a whole day of live Zoom teaching, my daughter’s school was very disappointing. What they did provide was an email every Monday morning, packed with multiple different lessons for parents to print off, somehow quickly get their heads around, then teach to our children as best we could.

My business – a children’s play centre – shut down along with the schools, so I was at home. I found myself teaching my daughter from 9.30am until 4.30pm every day. Other than the weekly email, we received no contact from the school, which, like many, lacks funding and has class sizes of 30-plus. My daughter’s after-school club, where she mixed with older children, was closed. Extracurricular dance classes went on hold and the swimming pool was shut.

Since Covid, my daughter has received very little or no homework as the teachers seem to feel the children already have enough on their plates. I don’t know what happened to her foreign language lessons. My previously high-achieving daughter was starting to fall behind the level she had been at before – not just a little, but dramatically. By the end of each week of lockdown, her maths and English were worse. She’d lost interest in doing better; any desire to excel. It was heartbreaking to see her sliding backwards.

This caused tension between the mother and the school:

Friction began to develop between us and the school, as they resented me trying to push her beyond the slow pace at which her class was moving. Many of the families in our village didn’t even have enough computers for their multiple children. My daughter’s academic success was riding on all the other local parents’ capabilities, and that felt deeply unfair on her.

Schools reopened last autumn then shut down at the end of January 4, 2021 for several weeks. By then, the cumulative negative effect had kicked in:

When the second lockdown arrived, my daughter was in Year 6 [the year before secondary school]. This time, there was at least a school registration every day, which took place over Zoom. But my daughter gained little from it, as everyone on the call was at such different levels both academically and behaviourally. There wasn’t the opportunity for much academic input from the teacher and my daughter quickly grew bored.

Fortunately, the girl had passed her 11-plus exams, which opened up more education opportunities. Her parents decided that she would have to go to an independent day school, but, even pooling their savings together, they could not afford school fees of £5,500 per term. With the help of the girl’s grandparents, they are able to meet the cost of the new school.

Mel Sims concludes:

We’ll all be making big changes. But we’ll do so in order that, if schools do close again, our daughter’s education will not grind to a halt. The new school staff have already assured me that if we go back into lockdown, exactly the same learning will continue over Zoom, full-time and unaided by parents.

I never thought it would come to this. Pre-pandemic, I’d always believed we didn’t need private school; that whatever happened at state school, we could get our daughter through.

School closures have changed all that. Yes, we’re paying a price. But I feel we’ve had to invest in a lockdown-proof education. With so many children off school again even now, as their “bubbles” have burst, it seems we have made the right decision.

Care homes

Recently, Sunrise Senior Living and Gracewell Healthcare, a group which runs 45 private care homes in England and one in Wales, wrote to Sajid Javid, the Secretary of State for the Department for Health and Social Care to ask that mask mandates be relaxed.

On Thursday, July 15, The Telegraph reported that:

some of these measures are now damaging the well-being of care home residents.

The Department for Health and Social Care (DHSC) is expected to issue updated guidance on care homes, and whether or not masks will be mandatory in them, later this week …

“For many residents, a visit from their family member has provided invaluable improvements to their well-being, but the requirement for these visitors to wear a face mask degrades the level of connection and therefore devalues the positive impacts their visits can have.

“This restrictive policy, along with various others from both the DHSC and PHE [Public Health England], should be reconsidered as we approach this next step in England’s roadmap out of lockdown.”

The letter said the success of the vaccination programme among care home staff and residents meant the majority of homes “are now set to confidently return back to an enhanced degree of normality”.

All 46 Sunrise and Gracewell homes have at least 90 per cent of residents vaccinated and all but one have more than 80 per cent of staff jabbed. This is the threshold that the Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (Sage) says needs to be met in each setting to provide a minimum level of protection against Covid outbreaks.

Helen Whately MP (Con) oversees social care provision. It is unclear as yet whether she will change any requirements for July 19. The Telegraph quoted her as saying:

I’m also really aware that there will be circumstances I’m expecting to continue in health and social care, clearly, where people will need to continue to wear PPE [personal protective equipment], which includes masks.

Conclusion

I find it concerning that the Left, whether in Parliament, SAGE and elsewhere have caused the Government to backtrack on Freedom Day.

As Douglas Murray says in his aforementioned article:

It is inevitable, perhaps, that politicians like Khan want to score some political points. But again what is so strange is that all the points are scored from that side. Putting aside a few MPs on the Tory benches there is no political pressure on us to go the other way. To do so – to advocate the path of greater risk and greater freedomis still presented as though it is somehow irresponsible or otherwise risky.

But society is risky. Life is risky. The biggest leap towards normal life has already been taken. It is the success of the mass vaccination programme which this country has rolled out so well. But after that we do not need politicians and private companies policing us ever more. We need to take a different leap. Not into greater safety, but into greater freedom. Our allies and competitors are up for that. The question now is whether Britain is. An awful lot rides on the answer.

I couldn’t agree more.

Today, Friday, July 24, 2020, face coverings became mandatory in shops in England.

Early in the pandemic, Dr Jenny Harries, the Deputy Chief Medical Officer for England, told Prime Minister Boris Johnson that masks were not necessary for the general population and could make people more vulnerable to COVID-19, because they would be adjusting them, thereby touching their faces, potentially spreading the virus. This video first appeared in March, if I remember rightly:

On Thursday, March 12, The Independent reported on what Dr Harries told BBC News (emphases mine):

Jenny Harries, deputy chief medical officer, said the masks could “actually trap the virus” and cause the person wearing it to breathe it in.

“For the average member of the public walking down a street, it is not a good idea” to wear a face mask in the hope of preventing infection, she added …

Asked about their effectiveness, Dr Harries told BBC News: “What tends to happen is people will have one mask. They won’t wear it all the time, they will take it off when they get home, they will put it down on a surface they haven’t cleaned.

“Or they will be out and they haven’t washed their hands, they will have a cup of coffee somewhere, they half hook it off, they wipe something over it.

“In fact, you can actually trap the virus in the mask and start breathing it in.”

Asked if people are putting themselves more at risk by wearing masks, Dr Harries added: “Because of these behavioural issues, people can adversely put themselves at more risk than less.”

However, she said those who are advised to wear one by healthcare workers should follow their guidance.

Sir Patrick Vallance, the Chief Scientific Adviser to the Government of the United Kingdom, gave testimony on COVID-19 last week. When asked about the apparent change on face covering advice, he said that, early on, it made no sense for people to wear masks during lockdown because no one was on the streets. He said that the advice had never changed: masks provided some benefit. Now that lockdown has been lifting, he explained, it makes sense for people to wear them.

Of course, earlier this year, there was also a worldwide mask shortage, so it could also be that officials discouraged the general public from buying them because medical staff needed them badly.

This happened not only in England, but also in other countries.

In the United States, Surgeon General Dr Jerome Adams did an about-face on masks early in April. Since then, they have been mandatory in some states:

President Trump said the advice from the Center for Disease Control (CDC) was only an advisory, yet the public wondered how such a change could have come about in so little time, only a matter of weeks:

The same change in advice occurred in Germany:

Yet, at that time, Good Morning Britain‘s long-time, trusted Dr Hilary Jones stated that masks were a no-no for the public, citing the same reasons as Dr Jenny Harries did. On April 28, Metro reported:

If there is one thing Hilary has been consistent on, it is that the general public do not need to wear a mask.

He has previously explained how the particles of coronavirus are so small, they can easily pass through the fibres of a mask or scarf, making them completely useless to the average person.

‘For healthy people who are doing their essential journey who are socially distancing, the use of masks is not effective,’ he recently told Piers Morgan.

‘Most masks have gaps in them to which the virus can drive a bus through. When you are inhaling in a mask the virus can come in.’

The GP added: ‘It can do harm if you do wear a mask, you adjust it, it gets itchy and moist – which means you are putting your hand to your face more often.

‘If the mask gets moist it traps the virus.’

A week later, Guido Fawkes reported that PPE items, including masks, were plentiful in Britain and available to medical as well as care home staff:

By the end of May, Good Morning Britain‘s Piers Morgan criticised London mayor Sadiq Khan for not mandating face coverings on the capital’s public transport. The policy at the time left the option open to passengers, putting more emphasis on social distancing.

In England, masks became mandatory on all public transport on June 15.

On June 6, some in the NHS criticised Health Secretary Matt Hancock for giving them only a week to get all hospital staff to wear masks. The Daily Mail reported that NHS England had been apprised of the new rules before Hancock made a public announcement:

The Department of Health and Social Care said NHS England had known Mr Hancock was going to make the announcement, adding that hospitals still had more than a week to prepare.

On Monday, July 20, in France, masks became mandatory in all indoor spaces as well as some outdoor venues. Fines start at €135. The original date was August 1, but that was brought forward.

This is what one French shopping mall looks like since the requirement came into force:

Some people have been wearing them in the street and inside commercial premises.

This is what one observer has noted, proving what Dr Harries said earlier this year:

Dr Rashid Buttar has posted several videos to YouTube on the dangers of healthy people wearing masks. This is a short but instructive clip from one of them:

On April 7, the BMJ featured an article which said that, while masks might make members of the public more comfortable psychologically, face coverings can also help to spread the virus.

Excerpts from statistician Karla Hemmings’s ‘Covid-19: What is the evidence for cloth masks?’ follow:

… the question of whether facemasks work is a question about whether they work in the real world, worn by real people, in real situations …

There is little doubt that masks works in controlled settings – they stop particulates penetrating the air [Leung 2020]. Facemasks also seem to prevent infection spreading when worn by people who are infected [Brainard 2020]. Yet, this doesn’t tell us if they will work in the real world …

Systematic review of facemasks vs no mask [Brainard 2020]

There are three RCTs identified in this review where people wore masks to try to prevent other people becoming infected (primary prevention). The authors of the review interpret the evidence from these three RCTs as a small non-significant effect on influenza like illness. But, this is an incorrect interpretation of the result (RR=0.95, 95% CI: 0.75 to 1.19) as this result is compatible with both benefit and harm. The evidence from these three trials should therefore be interpreted as uninformative (or consistent with either benefit or harm). There are observational studies in this review, but these do not allow us to answer the question of whether the masks provide protection as they will be subject to confounding. The largest of the three RCTs was a pragmatic cluster trial in pilgrims [Alfelali 2020]. This is a well conducted pragmatic cluster randomized trial with low risk of bias, but suffered from low compliance. This found OR 1.35, 95% CI 0.88-2.07 which although non-significant, is more suggestive of harm than benefit.

Conclusion: The largest and most pragmatic trial (which informs on how facemasks will perform in the real world) assessing the benefit of facemasks vs no mask is suggestive of more harm than benefit.

Evidence from trials comparing different sorts of facemasks
(This is not based on a systematic review, so there may be other evidence that I am unaware of) …

Conclusion: The evidence from pragmatic trials (people wearing masks in everyday settings) suggests wearing of facemasks both induces risk compensation behavior and increased virus spreading from poor mask quality.

England’s new rules on face coverings do not mandate actual masks. We can wear what we want, within reason.

I still believe all the advice from March and early April stated above.

Here — and no doubt elsewhere — this has been a political decision taken to get more people shopping and putting money into the economy and businesses.

On Tuesday, July 14, Matt Hancock made a statement in Parliament about mandatory face coverings, which included the following:

Local action is one way in which we can control the spread of the virus while minimising the economic and social costs. Another is to minimise the risk as we return more to normality. In recent weeks we have reopened retail and footfall is rising. We want to give people more confidence to shop safely and enhance protections for those who work in shops. Both of those can be done by the use of face coverings. Sadly, sales assistants, cashiers and security guards have suffered disproportionately in this crisis. The death rate of sales and retail assistants is 75% higher among men and 60% higher among women than in the general population. As we restore shopping, so we must keep our shopkeepers safe.

There is also evidence that face coverings increase confidence in people to shop. The British Retail Consortium has said that, together with other social distancing measures, face coverings can

“make shoppers feel even more confident about returning to the High Street.”

The chair of the Federation of Small Businesses has said:

“As mandatory face coverings are introduced, small firms know that they have a part to play in the nation’s recovery both physically and financially, and I’m sure this will welcomed by them.”

We have therefore come to the decision that face coverings should be mandatory in shops and supermarkets. Last month, we made face coverings mandatory on public transport and in NHS settings, and that has been successful in giving people more confidence to go on public transport and to a hospital setting when they need to, providing people with additional protection when they are not able to keep 2 metres from others, particularly people they do not normally come into contact with. Under the new rules, people who do not wear face coverings will face a fine of up to £100 in line with the sanction on public transport and, just as with public transport, children under 11 and those with certain disabilities will be exempt.

The liability for wearing a face covering lies with the individual. Should an individual without an exemption refuse to wear a face covering, a shop can refuse them entry and can call the police if people refuse to comply. The police have formal enforcement powers and can issue a fine. That is in line with how shops would normally manage their customers and enforcement is, of course, a last resort. We fully expect the public to comply with these rules, as they have done throughout the pandemic.

I want to give this message to everyone who has been making vital changes to their daily lives for the greater good. Wearing a face covering does not mean that we can ignore the other measures that have been so important in slowing the spread of this virus— washing our hands and following the rules on social distancing. Just as the British people have acted so selflessly throughout this pandemic, I have no doubt they will rise to this once more. As a nation, we have made huge strides in getting this virus, which has brought grief to so many, under control. We are not out of the woods yet, so let us all do our utmost to keep this virus cornered and enjoy our summer safely. I commend this statement to the House.

I agree that we need to stimulate the economy by shopping. I disagree that face coverings are the answer.

I also wonder about shop staff dying. I see the same smiling faces week after week in my local shops. I never heard anything on the BBC News about shopkeepers dying: it was front line medical staff and bus drivers.

This is purely a political decision. Purely political.

I had looked forward to visiting a garden centre. I now think I’ll shop online for the plant pots I’d planned to buy.

See Parts 1 and 2 of this series before reading more about Britain’s silent majority who are angry about lockdown.

At present, here we are, unable to shop, get our hair cut and must still practice two-metre social distancing. Masks are optional except on public transport:

Whether we are old or young, we are treated like dirt:

And what if this coronavirus were dirt, rather than a virus?

If that is true — and I’m not saying it is — what then?

It couldn’t be, could it? After all, the First Minister of Northern Ireland, the DUP’s Arlene Foster, has briefed the Queen on COVID-19:

But what about all the deaths in care homes and the lives lost?

What about people’s businesses going to ground?

Thank goodness for the government’s generous furlough, but …

And what about travel?

This is going to be dire:

No more on board delicious dining for you:

What if you cannot reasonably travel with a face covering?

What about everything else in life?

Who wants to live like that?

This is turning the apolitical into political activists:

Is this ever going to end?

If so, how?

Perhaps it is a giant reset.

After all, we are told this is (shudder) the ‘new normal’:

The ‘new normal’ could be green:

Didn’t we all enjoy the bluer skies on those sunny May days? We could keep them. ‘Fewer holidays for you’, the government could say:

One does have to wonder about government advisors from the public sector:

These people do not encounter the everyday man or woman. They live in their own scientific, misanthropic bubble.

They do not care what happens to us. After all, they have a guaranteed salaries and gold-plated pensions.

To be continued next week.

See Part 1 in this series about the anger in Britain over lockdown.

One or two tweets below might have salty language. The rest do not.

There is much anger by a proportion of the population at the government:

MPs, except for one, are largely silent on the subject. Luckily, John Redwood has been an MP for decades. He might be our only hope:

Most are like Conservative MP Nadine Dorries, however. She was one of the first MPs to get coronavirus. Her aged mother, who also had it, helped her recover. I was sorry to see her tweet this:

Yesterday, I left off on masks. On Thursday, June 4, Transport Secretary Grant Shapps said they would be mandatory on all public transport in England. Health Secretary Matt Hancock repeated the order the following day:

Someone in the know saw this coming in April (never mind the reply):

This is so irrational. Earlier this year, the WHO advised against it:

Exactly.

I’m looking forward to the first lawsuit when someone is unable to breathe on public transport:

The above advice applies to England.

Wales, Northern Ireland and Scotland are on their own track.

However, Scotland is no better:

This is what they are doing in Singapore. Simon Dolan, incidentally, is suing the British government over lockdown. Good man:

It seems masks are only the beginning. In the UK, we haven’t fully got off the ground with the track-and-trace app.

More from Simon Dolan about Singapore:

Track-and-trace is also getting up people’s noses:

Then there’s the R rate that SAGE and Chief Medical Officer Chris Whitty discuss daily on the coronavirus briefings:

But that’s nothing compared to the wacky modelling from Imperial College’s Prof Neil Ferguson which brought about lockdown:

Yet, at least one London hospital is ignoring masks and social distancing:

Shouldn’t only the vulnerable be sheltered?

Picking up on the railway platform, here’s the latest on international transport …

… and the latest on public conveniences:

Why doesn’t any of this make sense?

Similar madness holds true for local buses:

Meanwhile, unlike protestors around the world complaining during coronavirus about the death of an American ex-convict thousands of miles away, when you’re Piers Corbyn (pictured with the policewoman in a mask), an eccentric weather forecaster as well as the brother of the last Labour leader, and say that climate change is caused by the sun’s activity and you’re protesting lockdown with like-minded people, you can be arrested twice at Hyde Park in London:

The sheer hypocrisy of it all is mind boggling.

More tomorrow.

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