ConservativeHome Newslinks for Saturday 23rd October 2021

Published:

Coronavirus 1) Vaccines hit new high as all over-30s offered jabs

“Britain is heading for two “big” weeks of vaccination, boosting hopes that immunisation can stay ahead of the Indian variant and allow restrictions to end next month. Vaccination rates are approaching all-time highs and the coming weeks will bring record-breaking numbers as jabs are opened up today to everyone aged over 30. More than four million doses have been given in a week for the first time since March and ministers hope that the number will rise to more than 4.5 million, adding to optimism that restrictions can end as planned. Nadhim Zahawi, the vaccines minister, said that he was “cautiously optimistic that we are in a good place” to open up completely on June 21, with increasing evidence that two vaccine doses protect against B.1.617.2, the Indian variant.” – The Times

  • France on track to end mask-wearing as Covid recedes – The Times
  • India, world’s largest jab maker, has to ask overseas for vaccines – The Times

Coronavirus 2) Downing Street explored over-55s isolation plan to avoid second lockdown

“Boris Johnson was so keen to avoid a second Covid-19 lockdown in England last summer that senior officials were ordered to draw up plans for all over-55s to self-isolate. The policy, which would have meant much of the economy could have stayed open, was formally known as “segmentation” and worked on at the highest level. A proposal was presented to the prime minister as he tried to avoid locking down the country when infection rates started to rise, according to two people briefed on internal discussions. The scheme, which would in some cases have meant dividing families in homes where children were living with grandparents or older parents, was rejected as unworkable by scientific advisers. However, it gained traction in Downing Street last summer.” – FT

Comment:

Coronavirus 3) Government’s plan for new local lockdowns ‘unravels’

“Ministers have been forced into retreat over “local lockdowns” after councils threatened to defy the rules. The Government on Tuesday night changed its advice to tackle outbreaks of the Indian variant of Covid within less than 24 hours of a row erupting over the policy, which critics said had descended into “farce”. The original guidance urged 1.7 million people in eight parts of England to restrict their travel in and out of their area and to socialise outdoors instead of indoors where possible. Ministers failed to pass on the new advice to local health and council leaders, who then told residents they did not have to follow the guidelines. The Government said on Tuesday it would “update” the guidance, insisting it was up to individuals whether to follow it.” – Daily Telegraph

  • Williamson ‘failed children with lack of pandemic plan’, damning report from MPs says – The Times

Political sketch:

  • Oops! This is another fine mess you’ve gotten us into, ministers: Henry Deedes watches the Government’s local lockdowns U-turn – Daily Mail
  • Grumpy Tories smell mutiny during dictator Hancock’s island jaunt, Quentin Letts – The Times

Cummings 1) ‘Johnson said Covid only kills 80-year-olds’

“Dominic Cummings is today expected to accuse Boris Johnson of claiming that “Covid is only killing 80-year-olds” as he resisted a push to impose a second lockdown. The prime minister’s former senior adviser will use an appearance before MPs to criticise Johnson for delaying the second lockdown last year despite increasing numbers of coronavirus cases. Cummings will argue that the delay in implementing the lockdown in September, along with other government failings, ultimately cost thousands of lives. ITV News reported that Johnson made the comments during a period of intense debate in government in September, when Cummings and scientific advisers were pushing for a “circuit-breaker” lockdown. The prime minister told colleagues the economic damage wrought by a second lockdown would outweigh the public health benefits.” – The Times

  • PM ‘wanted to be infected with Covid on live TV, called virus Kung-Flu and was slow to act because he was on holiday with Carrie’: Just some of the grenades Dominic Cummings will lob at Johnson tomorrow in explosive evidence to MPs – Daily Mail

Comment:

Analysis:

  • Will attacks by Cummings leave Johnson damaged? – The Times
  • What to expect when Dominic Cummings gives evidence to MPs – The Guardian

Cummings 2) ‘Easy to be Professor Hindsight,’ says Shapps

“Cabinet minister has defended the government ahead of Dominic Cummings’ blockbuster committee appearance saying “it’s easy to be the Professor of Hindsight”. Transport Secretary Grant Shapps dismissed Mr Cummings’ appearance before MPs as a “sideshow” and suggested he “has his own agenda”. Mr Shapps made the comments two hours before Mr Cummings is expected to use his evidence session with MPs to hit out at Boris Johnson’s handling of the pandemic. Mr Shapps said he would leave it to others to determine “how reliable a witness” Mr Cummings is. He told Sky News: “We were making decisions under [an] unprecedented situation. There’s no rule book. There’s no sort of text book to open to see how to deal with the pandemic. The last time the world faced something like this was 100 years ago with the Spanish flu.” He said “of course” mistakes were made but added: “It’s easy to be the Professor of Hindsight and look back on these things.”” – Evening Standard

Tories must banish Islamophobia from party, says Javid…

“Sajid Javid has urged the Conservatives to get their “house in order” on Islamophobia as he reveals that he was blocked from standing in a safe Tory seat on the basis that its constituents wouldn’t vote for a Muslim MP. In a piece for The Times the former chancellor called on his party to implement the recommendations of an independent report into Islamophobia and other forms of discrimination “without delay” and “set an example” for others to follow. The inquiry, led by Swaran Singh, a former equality and human rights commissioner, found that anti-Muslim sentiment “remains a problem” in the Conservative Party. Javid, who called for the review to take place two years ago, says he was once told by the chairman of a Tory association he could not stand in that constituency because “some members didn’t think locals would vote for a Muslim”.” – The Times

… as he writes: “Following society is not enough: Tories have to lead Britain against racism”

“Becoming a Conservative candidate is difficult at the best of times. Aspiring MPs must deliver speeches, write essays and survive being cross-examined by their future colleagues. Those who succeed are allowed to attempt the final stage: auditioning at a local Conservative association. Associations are notoriously unpredictable, with applicants often rejected for their politics or personality. This is to be expected. What I didn’t expect was to be rejected by one association because, as its chairman later explained, “some members didn’t think locals would vote for a Muslim to be their MP”. It’s a testament to how far we’ve come as a party that less than a decade later Saqib Bhatti, the former leader of Muslims for Britain, was selected over the former No 10 chief of staff Nick Timothy to represent a strikingly similar constituency.” – The Times

More comment:

Johnson warned plans to punish homeowners who fail to buy costly green boilers could spark riots

“BORIS Johnson has been warned that potty plans to punish homeowners who fail to buy costly green boilers could spark riots. No 10 yesterday scrambled to defuse fears of huge fines for those not switching to eco alternatives such as heat pumps. But it refused to rule out possible stealth taxes and gas price rises. Some Tory MPs say the Government is being dishonest about the reality of its aim to make the UK carbon neutral by 2050. Proposals would see gas boilers banned in new-builds by 2025 and stripped out of other homes by 2035. Alternatives cost upwards of £10,000 to install and hundreds a year to maintain. Critics say they do not work as well as gas heating. But ministers are also looking at switching subsidies on gas to electric to make it costlier to keep gas boilers.” – The Sun

  • Used electric car saves you £5,600 on petrol equivalent – The Times

Comment:

  • The ‘Net Zero’ boiler ban will leave Britain’s poorest out in the cold, Steve Baker – The Sun
  • It is suicidal for Tories to bludgeon us into complying with Net Zero pledges – The Sun

England’s NHS plans to share patient records with third parties

“England’s NHS is preparing to scrape the medical histories of 55m patients, including sensitive information regarding mental and sexual health, criminal records and the abuse of adults and children, into a database it will share with third parties. The data collection project, which is the first of its kind, has caused an uproar among privacy campaigners, who say it is “legally problematic”, especially as patients only have a few weeks to opt out of the plan. NHS Digital, which runs the health service’s IT systems, confirmed the plan to pool together medical records from every patient in England who is registered with a GP clinic into a single lake that will be available to academic and commercial third parties for research and planning purposes.” – FT

Spy team to advise universities on national security threats

Flexible working will help levelling up, Truss argues

“Flexible working should “become the norm” because it allows people based outside metropolitan areas to take up senior jobs, a cabinet minister has said. Liz Truss, the equalities minister and international trade secretary, said the expansion of remote working would promote the government’s levelling-up agenda by helping both women and people in places such as Stoke-on-Trent and Darlington have better careers. “The government policy works best where you have a universal solution that helps particular groups, and I’ve highlighted flexible working as a key one,” Truss told MPs. “Flexible working doesn’t just help women, it helps people who don’t live in major metropolitan areas . . . It’s about bringing opportunity to those areas.” Truss told the women and equalities committee that the government wanted to see more senior jobs in business and the civil service made available to people living outside big cities.” – The Times

>Today:

Ucas to drive more teenagers towards apprenticeships

“Sixth-formers will find it easier to apply for leading apprenticeships after the universities admissions service pledged to tackle the “outdated stigma” about vocational qualifications. The head of Ucas said that “misplaced snobbery” was deterring teenagers from considering apprenticeships. In a report to be published tomorrow, the service says that half of school-leavers thinking of starting higher education next year were also interested in apprenticeships. However, it says that options are blocked by a lack of information about the qualifications offered by employers such as Rolls-Royce, KPMG, the BBC, Lloyds and the NHS. Clare Marchant, the Ucas chief executive, said: “More needs to be done to shake off the outdated stigma or misplaced snobbery associated with apprenticeships, given they are a great start to any career.”” – The Times

Roberts has whip removed over sexual harassment breach

“A Conservative MP who has been stripped of the whip and suspended from the Commons for six weeks over unwanted sexual advances will not face a by-election because of obscure process rules. The Independent Expert Panel (IEP) found that Rob Roberts, the MP for Delyn in North Wales, made repeated and unwanted advances towards a member of his staff, although the MP insisted his actions were “romantic” rather than sexual. He has apologised and said the “breach of trust” was “completely improper and should not have happened”. Sir Stephen Irwin, chairman of the IEP, said Mr Roberts misconduct was “significant”. He said: “Our conclusion is that the determination of six weeks’ suspension from the service of the House was proper and proportionate.”” – Daily Telegraph

Britain’s youngest MP to take time off with post-traumatic stress disorder

“Britain’s youngest MP has been signed off work for several weeks on the advice of her doctor after being diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder. Nadia Whittome, 23, who has represented Nottingham East in the Commons since 2019, said she had been “battling some persistent health issues” for several months, and that while she had “been attempting to manage them” alongside her duties as a politician, it had recently “become clear that this is not feasible”. The Labour backbencher said that despite one in four people experiencing a mental health problem each year, “there is still a great deal of shame and stigma”. She said she hoped that by “being open about my own mental health”, others would “feel able to talk about theirs”. The decision was “incredibly difficult” to make, Whittome admitted, but she said her constituents could continue to contact the “fantastic staff” working in her office as normal.” – The Guardian

Nick Clegg bids to derail Paul Dacre’s campaign to chair Ofcom

“Sir Nick Clegg has reignited hostilities with Paul Dacre by attacking the former Daily Mail editor’s bid to become chairman of the media watchdog Ofcom. The former Liberal Democrat leader, now head of Facebook’s international political operation, has joined forces with Google to persuade ministers against appointing Mr Dacre, who has called for tech giants to be broken up. The companies are understood to have lobbied against giving the job to the 72-year-old Fleet Street veteran, who has privately signalled his determination to spearhead the successful implementation of new online harms laws. These aim to hold Google and Facebook to account for child sexual abuse images, terrorist material and suicide content carried on their services. Ofcom currently regulates telecoms, broadcasting and the postal services, but its remit is being broadened to include the internet.” – Daily Telegraph

Johnson threatens tougher sentences for dog theft

“Dog thieves and owners who abandon their pets when they return to the office after the pandemic could face tougher sentences under plans being considered by the government. Dognapping, which soared during lockdown, could be prosecuted under animal welfare laws instead of the Theft Act 1968. Ministers believe this will ensure that the emotional attachment between owners and their pets is considered in more cases. Boris Johnson, who owns a white Jack Russell cross called Dilyn, has said that dog theft can “cause huge pain and grief to the victims”. There are fears that the return to normality will lead to a sharp rise in the number of abandoned pets. Evidence from America bears this out. The remit of the government’s pet theft task force has been widened to crack down on owners who abandon animals.” – The Times

News in brief: