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Tories hold Old Bexley and Sidcup but majority falls

“The Conservatives have won the Old Bexley and Sidcup by-election with a significantly reduced majority as voters refused to show up at the polls. Louie French, the Tory candidate, was elected on a turnout of just 34 per cent, the lowest of any by-election held this year. French won 11,189 votes, beating the Labour candidate, Daniel Francis, into second place with 6,711. Richard Tice, the leader of the Reform party, came third on 1,432 votes. The by-election was triggered by the death of James Brokenshire who was elected with a majority of 19,000 to the suburban London seat in 2019. The former housing secretary died of lung cancer at the age of 53 earlier this year having served as the constituency’s MP for 11 years.” – The Times

  • Tice says slashed lead is sign Johnson is ‘liability’ – Daily Telegraph
  • Swing would see Prime Minister unseated – Daily Express
  • Conservatives still took more than half the vote – The Sun

Winner pays tribute to mentor Brokenshire

“Louie French, the winner of the Old Bexley and Sidcup by-election held to replace the former MP James Brokenshire, has said his victory is “what [James] would have wanted”. Mr French, who was elected with a reduced majority in Thursday’s vote, paid tribute to his friend after his death from cancer in October and wore his rosette to the count. “He was a good friend of mine, and my mentor,” Mr French told The Telegraph, after seeing off a challenge from Labour and Richard Tice, who was standing for the Reform UK party. “He was one of the first people who encouraged me to try to become a Member of Parliament. The family very kindly asked me to wear his ribbon tonight in tribute to him, and I do that with great honour and pride. I’m very proud to do so.”” – Daily Telegraph

>Today: ToryDiary: The Conservatives hold Old Bexley and Sidcup with a reduced share on a low turnout

Covid-19: Snog whoever you wish at Christmas, says Javid…

“Sajid Javid has declared that “people can snog who they wish” at Christmas parties, overriding another minister’s advice against kissing strangers under the mistletoe. The Health Secretary stressed that “who you kiss” has “nothing to do with the Government”, in a veiled rebuke of Therese Coffey, the Work and Pensions Secretary. She said on Wednesday night that Britons should enjoy the festive season, but warned against “snogging under the mistletoe” – adding: “Don’t kiss with people you don’t know. Such behaviour could undermine the hard work of the Government, NHS and volunteers to “get boosters in arms”, Dr Coffey suggested. Mr Javid was forced to clarify official advice on the issue on Thursday, insisting that it was up to individuals who they embraced.” – Daily Telegraph

  • Johnson told to keep pubs open as poll shows two-thirds of thirsty Brits are against more closures – The Sun
  • Fury at government’s mixed messages on Christmas – Daily Mail
  • Visitors to Britain won’t have to take pre-departure Covid tests, says Shapps – Daily Telegraph

>Yesterday: Mark Harper MP in Comment: Why I’ll keep fighting for Parliamentary scrutiny of Covid rules

…as UK’s ‘mix and match’ booster jab strategy backed by new study

“The UK’s decision to adopt a “mix and match” Covid vaccine booster strategy has been supported by a study showing that the mRNA shots from Pfizer and Moderna were by far the most effective at increasing antibody levels. The Cov-Boost study, led by scientists at Southampton university, found that all the vaccines tested were safe and effective boosters. The Moderna vaccine increased the levels of antibodies the most, followed by the BioNTech/Pfizer shot, and even a half-dose of the Pfizer shot performed well. But the Oxford/AstraZeneca and Valneva jabs lagged. Professor Saul Faust, who ran the trial, said the study also suggested that another key part of the immune system, T-cells, could be better at recognising new variants than antibodies. The study did not look at the Omicron strain.” – FT

  • Covid-19 booster jab results raise hopes of beating Omicron – The Times
  • UK could approve Covid vaccines for five to 11-year-olds ‘by Xmas’ – Daily Mail

France offers olive branch over the return of migrants

“France has pledged to use its presidency of the EU next year to push for a new agreement with the UK that would allow Channel migrants to be returned to the continent. After days of bitter clashes between the two countries over the Channel migrant crisis Jean Castex, the French prime minister, wrote to Boris Johnson to set out France’s proposals for tackling illegal immigration. Last night Downing Street said that it “stands ready to discuss all options” following last week’s tragedy, in which 27 migrants died after their boat capsized in the Channel. France will take over the rotating presidency of the Council of the European Union in January… The Italian government also said that there was an “urgent need” for a new EU-UK agreement for reallocating migrants…” – The Times

  • Paris says it is up to UK to solve Channel boat migrant crisis – FT
  • Castex rejects offer of British police on beaches – Daily Mail
  • Behind the scenes of Johnson and Macron’s fractured double act – Daily Telegraph

>Yesterday: ToryDiary: How Johnson keeps out Zemmour

Zahawi insists tech firms do more to protect children

“Facebook, Google and TikTok have promised to share more data to protect kids as new Education Secretary Nadhim Zahawi vowed to protect his own daughter from violent online hate. The cabinet minister, Culture Sec Nadine Dorries and Children’s Commissioner Rachel de Souza met with tech firms yesterday to discuss online harms and how to toughen up age verification on the web. Yesterday the tech giants agreed to share more data on how many children used their sites and pledged to be more “proactive” to stop them accessing violent material, porn or content like the promotion of eating disorders… He said he had been forced to have awkward conversations with his daughter to warn her about possible things she may see online, admitting parents need to have “honest conversations with our children.”” – The Sun

  • Hopes for boost in rape convictions – Daily Mail

Comment:

  • Tories can’t afford to lose the war on crime – James Forsyth, The Times

UK rejects US linking of steel tariffs and Northern Irish trading rules

“UK ministers have rejected Washington’s linking of the lifting of metal tariffs with a dispute over post-Brexit trading rules in Northern Ireland, describing it as a ‘false narrative’. The Financial Times reported on Wednesday that the US was delaying a deal to remove Trump-era tariffs on steel and aluminium because of concerns that Boris Johnson, the UK prime minister, is preparing to unilaterally suspend parts of the UK-EU trade deal. The US agreed to lift the tariffs on EU steel and aluminium in October. Penny Mordaunt, UK trade minister, told the House of Commons on Thursday that the Johnson government did not accept such a link. “It might be true in terms of how some people in the United States feel, but it is a false narrative. These are two entirely separate issues,” she said.” – FT

  • Paisley warns Protocol risks break-up of Union – The Sun

Comment:

  • MPs still divided on what Brexit really means for UK – Anand Menon and Alan Wager, Times Red Box

>Yesterday: Henry Hill’s Red, White, and Blue column: Data is emerging as the latest front in the pro-Union fightback

Labour demands inquiry into Downing Street parties

“Britain’s top civil servant has been asked by Labour to investigate the row over parties last year in Downing Street, as bereaved families of Covid-19 victims said they were “sickened” by the claims. Labour deputy leader Angela Rayner requested Simon Case, cabinet secretary, look at the use of government property for parties and the role of Boris Johnson, who addressed a packed leaving celebration in November last year. She said Case should consider calling in the Metropolitan police. “You will no doubt understand the seriousness of the allegations made,” she told him in a letter. The Cabinet Office said Case would respond in due course. The prime minister on Wednesday insisted to MPs that no Covid-19 rules were broken but did not deny allegations that a “boozy” party had been held by staff in Downing Street…” – FT

  • Christmas Omi-shambles in Whitehall – The Times

New Unite chief threatens to cut Labour’s funding over shadow cabinet reshuffle

“Unite has threatened to withdraw funding from the Labour party as its new general secretary poured scorn on Sir Keir Starmer’s shadow cabinet reshuffle. Sharon Graham warned the Labour leader that the union could cut its donations at a time when the party’s finances are under significant strain. Graham said the resignation during the party conference of Andy McDonald, the last Corbynite in Starmer’s shadow cabinet, had sent out “not a good signal” and she dismissed this week’s reshuffle this week as “white noise”. Starmer promoted a number of younger MPs on the Labour right and appointed Yvette Cooper, the former Brownite minister, as shadow home secretary, and David Lammy, a former minister under Brown and Tony Blair, as shadow foreign secretary.” – The Times

More unions:

  • Now nurses vote to back strike – Daily Mail
  • BT union asks minister to ensure any takeover bid protects jobs – The Guardian

Hodge to stand down

“Margaret Hodge, the veteran Labour MP and former chair of the public accounts committee, has announced she will not stand again for parliament at the next election. Following a career in the Commons that spanned 27 years, Hodge told local party members in her east London seat of Barking she had made the “tough decision” not to contest the constituency again. A Jewish MP who was a fierce critic of Jeremy Corbyn during the former Labour leader’s tenure, Hodge has not held a frontbench post since 2010, choosing instead to focus on work as a backbencher. Hodge said she loved having served as an MP, and thanked her local party for “the warmth, the friendship, the support and the love that you’ve shown me down the years”.” – The Guardian

Energy 1) Call for higher tax on household gas to meet Cop26 carbon pledge

“Tax on gas used for home heating and cooking should be increased to help the UK fulfil commitments made at the Cop26 climate conference, according to the government’s climate change advisers. The Climate Change Committee said the government must “walk the talk” and introduce policies to meet its targets for cutting emissions. In a report on the outcome of the Glasgow conference, the committee called on the Treasury to review the role of the tax system in delivering the UK’s legally binding target of net zero emissions by 2050. The review should consider “the role of tax in achieving a higher and more consistent carbon price across the economy”, the committee said.” – The Times

  • A bleak winter awaits poorer Britons as costs rise and benefits shrink – FT

More:

  • Troops sent to help thousands without power – The Times

Energy 2) North Sea oil in doubt as Shell pulls out of Shetland project

“An oilfield planned off Shetland is at risk after Royal Dutch Shell withdrew from the project in a move that could spell the end for production in the UK. The firm’s decision not to invest in the Cambo oilfield raises questions over whether the offshore oil and gas industry will be able to develop any new sites. Green groups have been campaigning to block the project, which was expected to extract up to 170 million barrels of oil over 25 years. Nicola Sturgeon said last month that she opposed Cambo although the final decision on approving extraction rests with the UK government. Shell has a 30 per cent stake in Cambo, with the rest owned by Siccar Point Energy.” – The Times

News in Brief:

  • The rise of Rittenhouse Republicans – Jacob Siegel, UnHerd
  • Zemmour’s big weakness has been exposed – Gavin Mortimer, The Spectator
  • War on words – Andrew Tettenborn, The Critic
  • Don’t pretend the far right is the biggest threat we face – Ian Acheson, CapX

Merkel ceremonially bows out of office after 16 years

“Germany’s military has honoured outgoing Chancellor Angela Merkel with an eclectic mix of music she picked out herself, which included a song by an anti-Communist punk rocker. In the Grand Tattoo ceremony, scaled back due to coronavirus restrictions, the Bundeswehr staff music corps played a hymn, a 1960s song that includes the words ‘I can’t acquiesce, can’t make do, I still want to win’, and a 1970s punk rock hit. After 16 years in office, Merkel is due to be succeeded as chancellor by Social Democrat Olaf Scholz next week. One of the chosen songs for tonight’s ceremony – the highest accolade for a civilian – was the 18th century Christian hymn Holy God, we Praise thy Name, a nod to her upbringing as the daughter of a Protestant pastor.” – Daily Mail