Billions of transport spending “planned” for Scotland to defeat independence

“Boris Johnson is planning to spend billions of pounds on new road and rail links and treating Scottish patients on English NHS beds in a desperate counter-offensive against Nicola Sturgeon. The strategy to save the Union, to be unveiled days after a feared SNP landslide this week, will also offer student exchanges between UK nations and will see diplomats ordered to make the case against Scottish independence in foreign capitals. Whitehall lawyers have also been ordered to sharpen their pens to fight in court any attempt by the SNP to call a referendum without the consent of the UK Government amid fears nationalists could win a Scottish Parliament majority this week.” – Sunday Telegraph

  • Voters split on SNP record, but education, crime, and housing worst performers, poll shows – Scotland on Sunday
  • The vote that will decide the fate of the union – The Observer
  • SNP’s independence hopes on knife edge – Sunday Times
  • Sturgeon’s ‘obsession with a hard border would cost thousands of jobs’ – Sunday Telegraph
  • Why an SNP win would be good for Starmer – Kevin Pringle, Sunday Times
  • It is imperative to defeat Sturgeon – Leader, Sunday Telegraph
  • The survival of the Union is at stake this Thursday – Leader, Sunday Times

Crime 1) Johnson: Stealing dogs is not a trivial crime

“It is not just a question of coming down hard on violent and dangerous criminals. I believe strongly in the broken windows theory – that if you want to stop serious crime, then you must also be ruthless in dealing with offences that might seem second order to some, but which in reality cause huge pain and grief to the victims. One crime type that has risen in prominence during the pandemic is, oddly, pet theft – mainly the stealing of dogs. At present this crime is far too often dismissed as relatively trivial – on a par, say, with shoplifting. I don’t agree. That is why the Lord Chancellor Robert Buckland has set up the Pet Theft Task Force, to make sure that the criminal justice system is dealing properly with anyone who is so malicious as to steal a dog.” – Boris Johnson, Mail on Sunday

Crime 2) Patel promises tougher action on Extinction Rebellion vandalism

“Home Secretary Priti Patel has vowed to step up her crackdown on climate change yobs. It comes after two groups of activists were cleared of wrongdoing. Mrs Patel said the cases highlighted the urgent need to give police tougher powers to stop highly disruptive or dangerous protests. She spoke out after three Extinction Rebellion fanatics who blockaded a newspaper printing plant escaped conviction on a technicality last week. Days earlier, a jury cleared six XR protesters of causing criminal damage to Shell’s London HQ, despite a judge directing them there was no defence in law. The defendants said the verdict would encourage more people to take similar action — and days later a group smashed windows at the HSBC headquarters in East London.” – The Sun on Sunday

  • Thousands march through London in biggest ‘kill the bill’ protest yet – The Observer
  • Thugs hide behind the guise of a ‘peaceful protest’ to attack the police – Priti Patel, Sunday Telegraph

Tories “increasingly hopeful” of shock victory in Hartlepool

“Tory sources are increasingly hopeful of pulling off a shock victory in the Hartlepool by-election, the first time the party would have held the seat since 1974. One said: “The numbers coming out of Hartlepool privately are saying they think they are going to romp it. They are getting this twin bounce of the vaccine and getting Brexit done.” However, Ms Milling said: “This is a very, very tough ask. This is a seat that has been a Labour seat for decades. We didn’t win it in 2019 despite winning seats in the region. “But in Jill [Mortimer], we got a great candidate and we’re working really hard to make sure she gets elected on May 6.” – Sunday Telegraph

  • Voters in this by-election care about jobs – Rod Liddle, Sunday Times
  • If Labour lose “Starmer faces hard left coup” – Mail on Sunday

Coronavirus 1) Limit on mourners at funerals to be lifted from May 17th, social distancing rule to go from June 21st.

“Boris Johnson today tries to mount a political fightback following weeks of turmoil by appealing directly to voters with a package of ‘real issue’ policies on lifting the lockdown and tackling crime. The Prime Minister – who has been battered by criticism over his Downing Street flat renovations – promises to remove the limit on mourners at funerals from May 17, scrap the ‘metre plus’ social distancing rule from June 21, and, within days, issue the first list of ‘green’ countries that holidaymakers can visit without quarantine.” – Mail on Sunday

  • Quarantine for Covid contacts could be scrapped – BBC
  • Latin America and Africa face new wave as politicians and scientists urge rescue packages – The Observer
  • Ethically and, for its own sake, Britain cannot afford not to take the lead against the pandemic – Leader, The Observer

Coronavirus 2) Economy “set for lift off”

“Resurgant Britain is ready for economic ‘lift off’ as politicians said our Covid nightmare “is finally coming to an end”.Yesterday saw both the lowest recorded death toll for seven months and upbeat projections for the economy from the CBI.  In addition, the government is preparing to use testing to relax self isolation rules for those who have been near someone with the virus.  With ministers confirming that some measures, including being able to hug relatives in care homes, are set to be eased earlier than initially planned, MPs believe that the end is in sight for lockdown. Peterborough MP and health select committee member lockdown Paul Bristow said: “The nightmare is finally coming to an end.” – Sunday Express

Coronavirus 3) Secondary school pupils “to be offered vaccine from September”

“Health officials are drawing up plans to offer the Pfizer vaccine to secondary school pupils from September. “Core planning scenario” documents compiled by NHS officials include the offer of a single dose to children aged 12 and over when the new school year starts. The plans, which have been confirmed by sources within the government and the NHS, depend on advice due this summer from scientists on the joint committee on vaccination and immunisation. But officials are preparing for a rollout in schools. A source said: “No decision has been made yet but we are drawing up planning materials for the different scenarios.” – Sunday Times

  • Scientists urge patience – BBC
  • Covid deaths lower than typical flu fatalities for past month – Sunday Telegraph

>Today: Jonathan Gullis on Comment: How the curriculum should be broadened during the early years of secondary education

Polling 1) Conservative lead down to just one point according to Focaldata

“Boris Johnson’s grip on the “red wall” appears to be loosening as Labour pushes ahead in the race to win the party’s former heartlands. According to an opinion poll for The Sunday Times, Labour is narrowly ahead in the 43 red wall seats the Tories won in the December 2019 general election, propelling Johnson to power. The survey, commissioned by Focaldata, puts Sir Keir Starmer’s party on 45 per cent in red wall seats — one percentage point ahead of the Tories. The findings gave the Tories a national poll figure of 40 per cent, a lead of only one point, and will make difficult reading for the prime minister. Of those surveyed, 6 per cent said they intended to vote Liberal Democrat and 4 per cent Green.” – Sunday Times

  • Electoral Calculus poll suggests Labour will struggle to gain any councils – Sunday Telegraph
  • Anti-lockdown, pro-free speech but does Laurence Fox actually have the credentials to be London Mayor? – Sunday Telegraph

Polling 2) Opinium have the Conservative lead down to five

“Labour has slashed the Tories’ poll lead in half as more voters conclude that Boris Johnson is corrupt and dishonest ahead of this week’s bumper set of local and devolved elections. The latest Opinium poll for the Observer shows the Conservative lead has fallen from 11 points to five points after a week in which the prime minister was at the centre of allegations over the refurbishment of his Downing Street flat, and criticised for reportedly saying he would rather see “bodies pile high” than order another Covid-19 lockdown.” – The Observer

Can Johnson afford to be PM?

“Friends say Johnson rarely spends money on himself and is often careless with his financial affairs. “He was often the sort of person who would forget to pay at the end of a meal or would leave lots of money on the table and then forget to pick up the change,” said one former aide. He once left a tip for a hairdresser in euros not pounds, to her dismay. Johnson’s one indulgence is a pair of Church’s shoes, which can cost £750. However, they were often full of holes, according to friends, because he used them to brake as he rode around London on his bike. “He gives a lot of control over his affairs to staff in his office, including his tax return, which is why it sometimes blows up in his face,” the former aide said.” – Sunday Times

  • PM declines to investigate civil servant suspected of leaking – Mail on Sunday
  • Tory sleaze just ain’t what it used to be – Dominic Lawson, Sunday Times
  • Labour has made a mistake: You don’t accuse a PM of trivialities when he’s trying to save lives – Janet Daley, Sunday Telegraph
  • Almost everyone in this country has better things to worry about than the PM’s wallpaper – Leader, Mail on Sunday
  • Floundering Starmer should stop focusing on wallpaper – Leader, Sun on Sunday

>Yesterday: ToryDiary: Our survey. Conservative activists, the Party and their money. Only half want more control.

Cummings “wants Sunak in No 10”

“Dominic Cummings is eager for Rishi Sunak to become prime minister so that his gang of Vote Leave campaigners have a “new host” for their ambitions. Senior figures in government are understood to be alarmed by reports reaching Conservative whips that Cummings, who has turned on the prime minister, “will not rest until Boris has left the building”. The former aide, who has accused Johnson of falling “below the standards of competence and integrity the country deserves”, helped engineer Sunak’s promotion to chancellor last year.” – Sunday Times

  • What is the PM’s relationship with the truth? – Laura Kuenssberg, BBC

>Today: ToryDiary: ConHome’s Cabinet League Table. Johnson’s rating falls by almost 30 points into the bottom third.

Calls to abolish “incompetent” Electoral Commission

“Britain’s electoral watchdog, which is investigating Boris Johnson’s ‘cash for curtains’ flat makeover at No 10, was last night branded ‘biased’, ‘incompetent’ and ripe for abolition. Tory MPs tore into the Electoral Commission’s ‘lamentable record’ and urged the Prime Minister to press ahead with replacing it. Senior Tory backbencher Peter Bone led the charge, saying the watchdog ‘was not fit to investigate a drinks party in a brewery. This is a biased and incompetent organisation. It should be abolished. And if the Government does not introduce such a Bill in the Queen’s Speech this month, I will propose it myself in a backbench Bill.’ He was joined by Tory colleagues Philip Davies and Andrew Bridgen in demanding a radical overhaul of the watchdog.” – Mail on Sunday

Colville: Big spending has become the new normal. But we’ll pay the price later

“In the UK we are set for the highest levels of tax, spending and borrowing in decades. And, like our American cousins, we are being told by a multitude of voices that all the spending is not just a necessary response to the pandemic but normal and even welcome: that the best path to growth is for the state to take the economy under its wing… One of the risks of this new economics is that it puts off the tough decisions. It avoids the political pain of introducing the kind of difficult, wrenching but ultimately transformative reforms that were Thatcher and Reagan’s hallmark.” – Robert Colville, Sunday Times

  • We are perilously close to another inflationary age, but no one cares – Jeremy Warner, Sunday Telegraph

Hannan: The toppling of Foster is a setback for the unionist cause

“The toppling of Arlene Foster is bad news for the DUP, for constitutional politics and, more widely, for the United Kingdom. Just when Unionists ought to be making a pragmatic and modern case for Britishness, their chief political party in Northern Ireland is sliding back into fundamentalism. At the very moment when the Democratic Unionist Party should be building a cross-community coalition against the Northern Ireland Protocol, it is withdrawing into itself. The weakness of Unionism down the years has been its reactive nature. It has been clear about what it doesn’t like – Home Rule, power sharing, all-Ireland bodies, same-sex marriage, Brussels interference – but slower to develop positive arguments for British identity.” – Daniel Hannan, Sunday Telegraph

News in brief

  • Johnson’s approval rating among Tory members plummets according to the latest survey from ConservativeHome – Independent
  • How the SNP wrecked Scottish education – Madeleine Kearns, The Spectator
  • The Local Enterprise Partnerships are costly, interventionist and should be abolished – John Redwood