Three actions that Ministers must take if we’re to live without fear. Or else they and we will be lost.

15 Oct

If ConservativeHome is writing about the Coronavirus, we know where to look for Government information.  A mass of guidance and information is available.

But if, on the other hand, we want to find out the number of operations postponed since the original lockdown was announced on March 24; or that of cancer deaths; or that of those brought about by heart disease; or the harm wrought by rising mental health problems, or domestic abuse, or lost schooling, the Government has not compiled the relevant information and statistics for publication in a way that makes these easily available to find and read.

We are better off if we wish to report the number of job losses.  But these are not issued together by the Government with, say, the rise in child and poverty since late March.  There is no one-stop-shop source of official information about the damage to the economy since then – to livelihoods as well as to lives.  As well, as we say, about those other harms to lives.

Now it is true that not all cancer deaths since March 24, say, can fairly be blamed on the long shutdown.  But it isn’t beyond the wit of man to work out the number of deaths since then compared to those of a comparable six month period in a usual year.

It is also the case that some of any figures published would be contestable.  But that’s also true of official Coronavirus estimates.  For example, the task of working out the number of deaths in England has been has been complicated by two major changes in the way they have been calculated (in April and August).

There is an urgent point to this dry analysis.  Today, Boris Johnson is trapped in a pincer movement between Labour, which is arguing for a short national lockdown, and his own party, which inclines to fewer restrictions faster.  He will try to find a compromise – by tightening the conditions in the most repressive of the Government’s new three tiers, and extending these.  That would enable him to toughen up while avoiding an England-wide shutdown.

So the Prime Minister is set gradually to be dragged by Keir Starmer towards that circuit-breaker lockdown in all but name.  And once in it, there will be no quick way out, since the test and trace system isn’t working well enough to quell the rise in cases that would follow the end of the shutdown.  So that wouldn’t happen at all, or at least only do in a curtailed form.  We would be in semi-lockdown semi-permanently – which seems to be SAGE’s real aim.

All in all, we are all being manoeuvered into an annual cycle of near-total winter lockdowns and partially-eased summer ones, until or unless a vaccine is widely available, herd immunity is achieved or the virus abates.

This would risk bankrupting the country.  National debt hit a record £2 trillion in September.  It has reached 100.5 per cent of GDP, the highest level in 60 years.  We cannot be sure that Britain would be able to borrow for the duration at the present rock-bottom rates to grow its way out of trouble.  Even if it could, there is no guarantee that enough growth would come to stave off medium-term spending cuts and tax rises.

These would intensify the damage that this crisis is inflicting on lives as well as livelihoods – the rising toll in cancer deaths and educational harm and mental health problems which we refer to above, and so much more, including more poverty and deprivation.

Which takes us back to those figures.  There is fierce dispute about whether voters are really as supportive of harsher lockdowns as the polls suggest.  But Johnson can scarcely be blamed for not wanting to sail against the prevailing political weather.

In order to steer his way out of it, he will have to change it: changing the weather, after all, is what the best politicians do. In short, the Government must try to widen and deepen the national conversation about the Coronavirus.  That will take a bit of time.

It entails drawing voters’ attention to the wider social and economic damage that living semi-permanently in lockdown would do. Some of the information that would help to do this is already out there.  As Raghib Ali has pointed out on this site, the Department of Health’s own health cost-benefit analysis shows that to date “in the long-term, the health impacts of the two month lockdown and lockdown-induced recession are greater than those of the direct Covid-19 deaths”.

But Government sources tell ConservativeHome that the Department of Health has been resistant to getting all the healthcare-related facts and figures together in one place.  That’s perhaps not surprising given its focus on the virus.  It’s more surprising that the Treasury hasn’t done a parallel exercise on the economy.

Ultimately, it’s up to Downing Street to make the case, backed up by more information and strategic messaging, against more national lockdowns, with the damage to lives and livelihoods that this would bring.  But the key player in forcing it to change is Rishi Sunak.

If we are truly to live with the virus and “live without fear”, as the Chancellor put it in the Commons recently, we must prepare to shift, in the absence of a track and trace plan that works, to a less restrictive and more voluntarist policy – one based on the balance of risk between the harm that Covid-19 does and the harm that shutdowns do.

And an indispensable part of any push for change is shifting public opinion to support it.  This site has been calling since the spring for the Government to publish its estimate of non-Coronavirus healthcare costs to date; of the costs of lockdown to the economy to date, and of the total cost and total saving of the lockdown (which can be calculated by assigning a value, as government does elsewhere, to each human life in Britain).

Sunak, together with Ministers in other economic departments, such as Alok Sharma at BEIS, needs to push for three actions:

  •  A regular Treasury report that calculates the economic cost of the lockdown.  That’s within his own gift, as it were, and the work could start today.
  • A rolling Department of Health assessment of the human cost of the shutdown.  That will be harder to get.  The Chancellor will need the Prime Minister’s support to extract it.
  • The creation of an economic counterweight to SAGE that considers livelihoods as well as lives, thus ensuring broader advice to the Prime Minister.

Finally, Ministers can’t act as the sole pathfinders for policy.  Intrinsic to Margaret Thatcher’s success during the 1980s was the work of think-tanks and Conservative MPs in preparing the way for change.

There are a mass of Tory backbench groups and wider pressure organisations.  The One Nation Caucus comes to mind for us at once, because Damian Green, its Chair, wrote a perceptive piece for this site yesterday about the choices that the Government now faces.  Perhaps it or the No Turning Back Group – to pick a Parliamentary group a bit different in outlook – could produce a report.

Some of the think tanks are already working in this field.  The Resolution Foundation has done an intergenerational audit.  (See also David Willetts’ recent ConHome piece.)  Policy Exchange has probed the Government’s NHS tracing app.  (Benjamin Barnard wrote about its findings for us here.)  The Institute of Economic Affairs has examined the NHS’ shortcomings; the Centre for Policy Studies has led the way in probing economic costs.

But more work will be needed if public opinion is to move.  In the meantime, Sunak must continue to lead the way.

All of ConservativeHome’s 2020 fringe event videos in one place

8 Oct

Whether you’d like to rewatch an event, catch up on one that you missed, or share them with friends and family, here is the full collection of videos of our 2020 ConservativeHome fringe events.

Having brought you over 70 speakers, including no fewer than six members of Cabinet and a former Chancellor, in 18 events over three days – making for over 22 hours of top-flight political insight and debate – we hope you enjoy the show.

Saturday 3rd October

9am-10.30am

In Conversation with Steve Barclay MP

Held in partnership with Heathrow.

11am-12.30pm

The role of responsible business in preventing offending and reoffending

Held in partnership with FTSE 100 Landsec.

1pm-2.30pm

How to ensure low-income families with children get through the crisis

Held in partnership with Save the Children.

3pm-4.30pm

Supporting UK economic recovery: how can the financial and related professional services industry accelerate the return to growth?

Held in partnership with TheCityUK.

5pm-6.30pm

Firing up the engines of the economy – the key to future trade resilience

Held in partnership with Port of Dover.

 

Sunday 4th October

9am-10.30am

Setting the standard: exporting our values

Held in partnership with National Farmers Union (NFU).

11am-12.30pm

Back in business: what can modern universities do to support Britain’s recovery?

Held in partnership with MillionPlus and Hepi.

1.30pm-2.45pm

Unleashing Great British Enterprise: delivering on digital to drive a productivity revolution

Held in partnership with Atos.

3pm-4.30pm

Protecting a Generation: UK Leadership in the Global Education Emergency

Held in partnership with Save the Children.

5pm-6.30pm

Turbocharging the UK’s transition to electric vehicles

Held in partnership with Uber.

 

7pm-8.30pm

Medical Cannabis and the UK: Becoming a global leader

Held in partnership with The Centre for Medicinal Cannabis.

Monday 5th October

7.30am-8.45am

In Conversation with Sajid Javid MP

Held in partnership with UK in a Changing Europe.

11am-12.30pm

A digital strategy for a digital society

Held in partnership with Atos.

1pm-2.30pm

Social care and beyond: delivering for older voters in the ‘Red Wall’

Held in partnership with Age UK.

3.30pm-4.30pm

A new generation of good jobs to secure an economic recovery for all of us

Held in partnership with JRF.

5pm-6.30pm

In conversation with Ben Wallace MP, Secretary of State for Defence

Held in partnership with Raytheon.

7pm-8.30pm

The Business Conversation with Alok Sharma MP: How to make small business the centre of a post-Covid UK

Held in partnership with FSB.

Tuesday 6th October

7pm-8pm

The Moggcast – Live

Sponsored by Thorncliffe.

The ConservativeHome 2020 Conference Programme is kindly sponsored by TheCityUK.

Our Cabinet League Table. The Prime Minister falls into negative territory.

3 Oct
  • It’s not unprecedented for a Conservative Prime Minister to fall into negative territory in our monthly Cabinet League Table.  In April last year, Theresa May set a new record of scoring the lowest rating it has ever recorded – at -74. Compared to that, Boris Johnson’s -10.3 this month looks tame.
  • Nonetheless, it’s a rotten springboard from which to vault into Party Conference as it begins today.  As we wrote yesterday, it reflects weariness with curbs, frustration with what seem to be fluctuating and arbitrary rules, a sense that Ministers at the top of Government are divided – and a certain frustration with the Prime Minister himself.
  • Liz Truss up to second in the table, from 62 per cent to 70 per cent.  Dominic Raab and Michael Gove’s scores are both down but, with Steve Barclay and Truss, they are the only Cabinet Ministers to clear 50 per cent.  As recently as last December, the entire Cabinet was in the black, with 18 of its members above that 50 per cent rating.
  • Matt Hancock joins Gavin Williamson, Robert Jenrick and Johnson in negative territory. Amanda Milling clambers out of it (just about).  On a happier note, Douglas Ross more than doubles his rating from 26 per cent to 61 per cent: his aggression and energy in Scotland are getting noticed.
  • And finally: the Prime Minister has been low, though not nearly by this much, in the table before – shortly before he resigned as Foreign Secretary.  He bounced back then, and could do so again.  Once again, we make the point that this is much the same panel as gave him a 93 per cent rating after the last election.

The Conservative Party Conference programme – and which ministers are up and down

30 Sep

With only two days to go, the itinerary for this year’s Conservative Party Conference is upon us. Much has changed, thanks to Covid-19, not least the way events have been formatted. 

Without further ado, ConservativeHome takes a look at who’s doing what, and how events have been categorised – as well as what this could imply for ministers.

The first thing to note is that every MP in the Cabinet is making at least one appearance, albeit in different formats. The MPs taking part in two events are Amanda Milling, Elizabeth Truss and Matt Hancock. The Prime Minister will also be delivering a speech and being interviewed by Lord Sharpe of Epsom.

The events have been categorised broadly into keynote speeches, fireside chats, interactive interviews, panel discussions and training sessions. 

Clearly the most important is the keynote speech, which the following Cabinet ministers will be giving:

  • Dominic Raab (15:00 on Saturday)
  • Priti Patel (15:00 on Sunday)
  • Rishi Sunak (11:50 on Monday)
  • The Prime Minister (11:30 on Tuesday)

Milling will also be opening the conference at 11:30 on the first day.

Next up there’s the fireside chat. There are two versions of this, one involving being asked questions by an interviewer, the other by party members. The latter is arguably a more complex task; ministers are out on their own dealing with questions. The ministers doing this are:

  • Michael Gove (11:45 on Saturday)
  • Alok Sharma (14:30 on Monday)

Fireside chats involving an interviewer include:

  • Robert Buckland (16:00 on Sunday) – interviewed by Ken Clarke.
  • Gavin Williamson (11:00 on Monday) – interviewed by Peter Ashton, a headteacher and his former politics teacher.
  • Matt Hancock (16:30 on Monday) – interviewed by Patrick Stephenson, Director of Innovation and Healthcare at Fujitsu.

There’s also the “interactive interview”. It’s not obvious what makes this different from the “fireside chat”, but the ministers taking part in these are:

  • Liz Truss (14:30 on Saturday) – interviewed by Robert Colville, Director of the Centre for Policy Studies.
  • Matt Hancock (14:00 on Sunday) – interviewed by Nimco Ali OBE, CEO and Founder of the Five Foundation.
  • Grant Shapps (15:00 on Monday) – although it does not say who will interview him yet.
  • Oliver Dowden (15:30 on Monday) – interviewed by Joy Morrissey, MP for Beaconsfield (this is labelled as simply an “interview”).

Then there are the panel discussions. More sceptical Conservative members may notice that a number of fairly high profile Cabinet ministers are taking part in these. They may ask why they have not been put forward for the fireside chat or an interview – instead being accompanied by ministerial teams.

These include:

  • Ben Wallace, Secretary of State for Defence, who’s partaking in the Ministry of Defence Panel Discussion (12:15 on Saturday) with other ministers from the department.
  • Robert Jenrick, Secretary of State for Housing, Communities and Local Government, who’s chairing a discussion (13:30 on Sunday) with party members and other ministers from the department.
  • Thérèse Coffey, Secretary of State for the Department of Work and Pensions, who’s chairing the The Department for Work & Pensions Panel Discussion (11:30 on Monday) with other ministers from the department.
  • George Eustice, Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, who’s holding a panel discussion (14:00 on Monday) with other ministers from the department.

It looks as though Downing Street has taken a decision to downgrade their profile.

Last up on the agenda are events focussed around increasing participation in Conservative campaigning. It’s clear, in particular, that CCHQ is keen to push for more female participation, with events on Female Entrepreneurs and Training, and Women and the 2021 Elections, alongside training support for young people.

Cabinet League Table: Johnson plummets into the bottom third of our Cabinet League table

5 Sep
  • In our first post-general election survey, no fewer than 18 Cabinet members had a satisfaction rating above 50 per cent.  Now, only six do.
  • Of those six, Liz Truss is a fraction higher than she was (61.7 per cent to 61.3 per cent), Dominic Raab up an insignificant point (66 per cent to 67 per cent), and Rishi Sunak up to the top of the table (79 per cent to 83 per cent).
  • Jacob Rees-Mogg has risen by only two points, from 48 per cent to 50 per cent, but was then tenth from bottom.  Now he is sixth from top.  The difference between his change in score and change in place says everything you need to know about how Cabinet ratings, generally, have fallen.
  • None more so than Boris Johnson.  In that post-election table, he was top on 93 per cent.  Now he is eighth from bottom on 25 per cent.  That’s a drop from sixth from top on 57 per cent last month – a fall of almost half into the bottom third of the table.
  • Robert Jenrick is still in negative territory, and Amanda Milling now joins him.  Gavin Williamson may take comfort from the fact that his expected fall into negative territory isn’t record-breaking.  In April last year, Theresa May reached -74 per cent.
  • The members’ panel has good record as a guide to activist voting in leadership elections, so we’ve no doubt that this month’s survey is picking up unease about the Government’s competence, consistency and sense of direction.

Henry Hill: Nationalists forced into u-turn on exam results as party divisions deepen

13 Aug

SNP u-turn on exam results after backlash…

The Scottish Government had a poll tax moment this week as school pupils led a furious backlash against its proposals for mediating this year’s school exam results, prompting a complete u-turn.

Now John Swinney, the Education Minister and one of Nicola Sturgeon’s key allies, is facing calls to resign – although with the Scottish Greens supporting the Government he’s safe from any no-confidence vote.

The row erupted over the decision of the Scottish Qualifications Authority (SQA) to adjust down the self-assessed results handed out by teachers. As they did this in line with the previous performance of the school, it led to bright pupils from disadvantaged areas being marked down on the basis of their postcode.

This went down about as well as you’d expect – a sort of anti-matter version of the usual blondes-jumping-with-joy results-day story. Pupils staged a protest and the opposition parties piled in. The SNP finally caved, but only after spending a week trying to defend the decision and attacking teachers’ self-assessed grades as ‘not credible’.

Whilst the Scottish Government’s rankings remain stubbornly high, this shows that the SNP aren’t immune to the corrosive effects of an extended period in office on political judgement. The SQA’s decision was very probably good policy – the unmoderated results are implausibly high – but maintaining the integrity of the system creates concrete, photogenic losers and only abstract winners.

The question is whether or not Sturgeon’s complete capitulation can limit the fallout, or if this is going to dog the Nationalists’ fortunes in the run-up to next year’s Holyrood elections.

…as the Party’s internal divisions deepen

Another threat to the Nationalists’ election campaign are the still-deepening divisions within the movement, as the two wings of the separatist movement continue to come apart.

This week the party’s national secretary is in the firing line over sudden changes to their internal rules over candidate selections, according to the Daily Record.

Under the proposed new arrangements, SNP Members of Parliament can’t stand for Holyrood without resigning their Westminster seat and raising £10,000 towards the resulting by-election campaign.

This is widely seen as being an effort to thwart the bid by Joanna Cherry, a high-profile Nationalist MP and ally of Alex Salmond, from moving to Holyrood next year. She had been preparing to fight Angus Robertson, the former Moray MP and Sturgeon loyalist, to be SNP candidate for Edinburgh Central.

Another MP, Alyn Smith, has meanwhile been criticised for suggesting that the number of ‘equalities’ posts on the party’s executive be slimmed down in order to re-focus on independence, the Sun reports.

On top of all this, a documentary about Salmond’s trial is due to be broadcast next week!

Johnson launches ‘plea for the Union’

The Prime Minister has put himself front and centre of the fight for the Union as he heads up to Scotland on holiday. He has reportedly ordered ministers to make regular visits north as part of a campaign to make the UK Government more visible in Scotland.

According to the Daily Telegraph, this is much-needed. Scottish ministers have apparently been getting the political credit for many of the economic and jobs-protecting interventions made by Rishi Sunak and the Treasury – the mirror of the usual trend wherein ‘Westminster’ is blamed for the failings of devolved government.

Boris Johnson is still taking a very muscular approach, though, having apparently blocked a proposal from Michael Gove to give Sturgeon a seat in the Cabinet. Suffice to say this is quite correct: the First Minister has no role in reserved policy, and including the devolved governments in it would be another step towards a confederal UK.

Alok Sharma, the Business Secretary, also refused to be grilled by MSPs over the Government’s proposals for protecting the British common market post-Brexit, and David Mundell accused the Scottish Government of deliberately sinking a deal on the same in order to stoke grievance.

Op-eds:

  • We can stand up to nationalism’s false promises – Douglas Ross MP, Daily Telegraph
  • The hypocrisy of ‘devocrats’ like Sturgeon imperils the UK economy – Matt Smith, CapX
  • That SNP reputation for competence is now in tatters – Euan McColm, The Scotsman
  • Can Johnson stop Scottish independence? – Alex Massie, The Spectator
  • The foundations of Scotland’s democracy have crumbled and you should worry – Robin McAlpine, Source
  • The UK is nearing breaking point and the Unionists must fight back – William Hague, Daily Telegraph
  • The consequences of the new border down the Irish Sea – Owen Polley, CapX
  • Why this education disaster must be Swinney’s last – Richard Leonard MSP, The Scotsman

Henry Hill: Nationalists forced into u-turn on exam results as party divisions deepen

13 Aug

SNP u-turn on exam results after backlash…

The Scottish Government had a poll tax moment this week as school pupils led a furious backlash against its proposals for mediating this year’s school exam results, prompting a complete u-turn.

Now John Swinney, the Education Minister and one of Nicola Sturgeon’s key allies, is facing calls to resign – although with the Scottish Greens supporting the Government he’s safe from any no-confidence vote.

The row erupted over the decision of the Scottish Qualifications Authority (SQA) to adjust down the self-assessed results handed out by teachers. As they did this in line with the previous performance of the school, it led to bright pupils from disadvantaged areas being marked down on the basis of their postcode.

This went down about as well as you’d expect – a sort of anti-matter version of the usual blondes-jumping-with-joy results-day story. Pupils staged a protest and the opposition parties piled in. The SNP finally caved, but only after spending a week trying to defend the decision and attacking teachers’ self-assessed grades as ‘not credible’.

Whilst the Scottish Government’s rankings remain stubbornly high, this shows that the SNP aren’t immune to the corrosive effects of an extended period in office on political judgement. The SQA’s decision was very probably good policy – the unmoderated results are implausibly high – but maintaining the integrity of the system creates concrete, photogenic losers and only abstract winners.

The question is whether or not Sturgeon’s complete capitulation can limit the fallout, or if this is going to dog the Nationalists’ fortunes in the run-up to next year’s Holyrood elections.

…as the Party’s internal divisions deepen

Another threat to the Nationalists’ election campaign are the still-deepening divisions within the movement, as the two wings of the separatist movement continue to come apart.

This week the party’s national secretary is in the firing line over sudden changes to their internal rules over candidate selections, according to the Daily Record.

Under the proposed new arrangements, SNP Members of Parliament can’t stand for Holyrood without resigning their Westminster seat and raising £10,000 towards the resulting by-election campaign.

This is widely seen as being an effort to thwart the bid by Joanna Cherry, a high-profile Nationalist MP and ally of Alex Salmond, from moving to Holyrood next year. She had been preparing to fight Angus Robertson, the former Moray MP and Sturgeon loyalist, to be SNP candidate for Edinburgh Central.

Another MP, Alyn Smith, has meanwhile been criticised for suggesting that the number of ‘equalities’ posts on the party’s executive be slimmed down in order to re-focus on independence, the Sun reports.

On top of all this, a documentary about Salmond’s trial is due to be broadcast next week!

Johnson launches ‘plea for the Union’

The Prime Minister has put himself front and centre of the fight for the Union as he heads up to Scotland on holiday. He has reportedly ordered ministers to make regular visits north as part of a campaign to make the UK Government more visible in Scotland.

According to the Daily Telegraph, this is much-needed. Scottish ministers have apparently been getting the political credit for many of the economic and jobs-protecting interventions made by Rishi Sunak and the Treasury – the mirror of the usual trend wherein ‘Westminster’ is blamed for the failings of devolved government.

Boris Johnson is still taking a very muscular approach, though, having apparently blocked a proposal from Michael Gove to give Sturgeon a seat in the Cabinet. Suffice to say this is quite correct: the First Minister has no role in reserved policy, and including the devolved governments in it would be another step towards a confederal UK.

Alok Sharma, the Business Secretary, also refused to be grilled by MSPs over the Government’s proposals for protecting the British common market post-Brexit, and David Mundell accused the Scottish Government of deliberately sinking a deal on the same in order to stoke grievance.

Op-eds:

  • We can stand up to nationalism’s false promises – Douglas Ross MP, Daily Telegraph
  • The hypocrisy of ‘devocrats’ like Sturgeon imperils the UK economy – Matt Smith, CapX
  • That SNP reputation for competence is now in tatters – Euan McColm, The Scotsman
  • Can Johnson stop Scottish independence? – Alex Massie, The Spectator
  • The foundations of Scotland’s democracy have crumbled and you should worry – Robin McAlpine, Source
  • The UK is nearing breaking point and the Unionists must fight back – William Hague, Daily Telegraph
  • The consequences of the new border down the Irish Sea – Owen Polley, CapX
  • Why this education disaster must be Swinney’s last – Richard Leonard MSP, The Scotsman

Iain Dale: My end of term school report on the Cabinet. Grades below. Open with care.

24 Jul

Iain Dale presents the evening show on LBC Radio and the For the Many podcast with Jacqui Smith.

Parliament has broken up for the summer, and there’s a bit of an end of term feeling around Westminster at the moment.

So what better time to look at how politicians are performing? Here’s Part One of my School Report on the Cabinet – what a great way to make a few new enemies…

Boris Johnson – Prime Minister

B –

A tumultuous first year in power. It was supposed to be all about the bright new post-Brexit era, but everything was turned upside down by Coronavirus, and Johnson himself being hospitalised. Delegation is a great thing, and he did it very well as Mayor of London. Being Prime Minister is much more complicated. Number Ten is too centralised, and Cabinet Ministers need to be given their head if they are to prove themselves. I’m not alone in thinking Johnson hasn’t totally got over his near death experience, but the old Boris is showing signs of returning. There is a degree of Parliamentary unrest, but if he can get his domestic agenda back on track MPs will rally round. In short, did well in the winter term, but needs to concentrate more and give a lead to the class.

Rishi Sunak – Chancellor of the Exchequer

A –

It’s easy to be popular when you’re dishing out the sweeties, and Sunak hasn’t put too many feet wrong since he because Chancellor in February. His business rescue package and furlough programme were effective, albeit with a few teething problems. Yet he has utterly failed to help the so-called ‘excluded three million’ – the self employed and company directors. These are natural Conservative voters, and they won’t forget how they have been ignored. Tipped to be the next Head Boy, but he mustn’t rest on his laurels. If he manages to revive the economy in double quick time, he will be unassailable. But then again, so was a previous Chancellor…

Dominic Raab – Foreign Secretary

A difficult start to the job, but has increasingly grown into it, and has started to display a more humble side to his character. When the Prime Minister was in hospital, he deputised in a very non-showy way, which drew praise from many of the Cabinet. His response to the problems in Hong Kong and China portray a Foreign Secretary who has begun to lose any sense of imposter syndrome.

Priti Patel – Home Secretary

B –  

Endured a difficult start to the job, and has suffered from some appalling misogynistic prejudice, and some racism too, not least from deluded Labour MPs. She’s come across as a gritty fighter, and knows how to find the party’s G spot. She suffers from being unable to project her bubbly, funny persona in the media. If she can conquer that, and increase her public visibility, she will become indispensable to the boss, who reportedly blows hot and cold about her.

Michael Gove – Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster

B

One of the government’s few transformational gamechangers, Gove’s job is to coordinate the Government’s Brexit and Coronavirus responses. No pressure, then. In recent weeks, he’s become more of a behind the scenes operator rather than front of house, and there are lingering suspicions that he’s tolerated rather than embraced by his line boss. But Johnson should remember, that if Gove is successful, the government in general will be successful.

Gavin Williamson – Secretary of State for Education

C

He was desperate to get back into the cabinet, but seemed an odd choice for this job. It’s one he’s never appeared comfortable in, and his media appearances have sometimes been a tad uncertain. Needs to get his head down and come to terms that this post is one of the best in government, and onein  you can make real change and have a real impact.

Alok Sharma – Secretary of State for Business, Energy & Industrial Strategy

C

Sharma’s niceness is an asset, but his promotion into one of the most important jobs in British politics is seen by many as not having worked. He’s very loyal to the Prime Minister and that loyalty has been repaid in spades but, given the economic recovery should be driven and encouraged by his department, he needs to be far clearer about what his industrial strategy is. Needs to do his homework on his media performances, which can often be sleep inducing.

Ben Wallace – Secretary of State for Defence

C +

A long time Johnson ally, Wallace was tipped by many for the sack in the last reshuffle but was given a reprieve. Defence has largely been out of the headlines over the last year, but that’s about to change. Will Wallace seriously tolerate yet further cuts in the British Army, as is rumoured?

Matt Hancock – Secretary of State for Health & Social Care

B

Hancock has become one of the most well-known faces in government, largely due to Coronavirus. On top of the detail, tiggerish in his enthusiasm, his colleagues have come to respect him more than they perhaps ever thought they would. His frustration with the Health Service establishment has become plain for all to see.

Brandon Lewis – Secretary of State for Northern Ireland

B +

Given he’s one of the government’s most trusted performers, his appointment in the apparent backwater of the Northern Ireland Office came as a surprise to many. He inherited a tricky job given the popularity in the Province of his predecessor. He’s tasked with keeping the parties talking and implementing the Northern Ireland protocol. So far so good. He’s also been used more than might be expected doing the morning media rounds.

Amanda Milling – Co-Chairman of the Conservative Party

C –

The post of Party Chairman used to rank number 5 in the hierarchy. Now it seems to be an afterthought. James Cleverly was neutered in the role, and Amanda Milling is largely anonymous. She has little public profile and most party members wouldn’t recognise her. Without upsetting the boss, she needs to up her profile and do it quickly.

Grant Shapps – Secretary of State for Transport

B +

One of the surprise successes of the Cabinet. It’s the job he wanted, and he’s shown a sure-footed grasp of the different Transport policy nettles. In the Coronavirus press conferences he was by far the most confident and human performers. He’s also got the ability to say ‘I don’t know’ without losing face.

Caroline Nokes: Spare a thought for women. Male ministers have forgotten we exist in their lockdown easing plans.

30 Jun

Caroline Nokes is Member of Parliament for Romsey and Southampton North. 

Covid-19 has taught us many things about the importance of physical and mental wellbeing. We discovered (if we actually needed to be told) that your chances of recovery were greatly improved by being physically fit and in the normal weight range for your height.

We found out that mental resilience was important to cope with long periods of relative isolation, and social contact carried out mainly by Zoom. We were told very firmly that an hour of exercise should be part of our daily routine, and pretty much the only way to escape the house legitimately.

But for women in particular the importance of wellbeing seems to have gone well and truly out of the window as lockdown is relaxed.

Why oh why have we seen the urge to get football back, support for golf and fishing, but a lack of recognition that individual pilates studios can operate in a safe socially-distanced way, rigorously cleaned between clients?

Barbers have been allowed to return from July 4 because guess what – men with hair need it cut. They tend not to think of a pedicure before they brave a pair of sandals, although perhaps the world would be a better place if they did. Dare I say the great gender divide is writ large through all this?

Before anyone gets excited that women enjoy football and men do pilates can we please just look at the stats? Football audiences are (according to 2016 statistics) 67 per cent male and don’t even get me started on the failure of the leading proponents of restarting football to mention the women’s game.

Pilates and yoga (yes I know they are not the same thing) have a client base that is predominantly women and in the region of 80 per cent of yoga instructors are women. These are female-led businesses, employing women, supporting the physical and mental wellbeing of women, and still they are given no clue as to when the end of lockdown will be in sight.

Could it be that the decisions are still being driven by men, for men, ignoring the voices of women round the Cabinet table, precious few of them though there are? I have hassled ministers on this subject, and they tell me they have been pressing the point that relaxation has looked more pro-men than women, but it looks like the message isn’t getting through.

I will declare an interest. Since I first adopted Grapefruit Sparkle as a suitably inoffensive nail colour for an election campaign in 2015, I have been a Shellac addict. The three weekly trip to Unique Nails is one of life’s little pleasures, an hour out, sitting with constituents, chatting, laughing, drinking tea.

It is good for the soul, a chance to recharge and chill out. And for many of the customers it is their chance to not have to bend to get their toenails trimmed, it is a boost to their mood, that can last for a full three weeks until it is time for a change.

And it is a fairly harmless change to go from Waterpark to Tartan Punk in an hour. Natural nails have done very little for my mood since a nice chap from Goldman Sachs told me: “you could go far if only you opted for a neutral nail, perhaps a nice peach.”

At school I was described as a “non-participant” in sport – I hated it, and it has taken decades to find the activities I can tolerate to keep my weight partially under control. Walking the dog is a great way, but nothing is as effective as the individual work-out rooms in a personal training studio – where it is perfectly possible for those of us who do not like to be seen in lycra to exercise in isolation and then have the place cleaned for the next victim.

I am not suggesting it is only women who do not like to exercise in vast gyms, there are men with similar phobias, but what I cannot get over is the lack of recognition that a one-to-one session in a studio is not the same as toddling off to your local treadmill factory.

The Pilates studio owners of Romsey and Southampton North are deeply frustrated at the apparent inability to draw the distinction between their carefully controlled environments and much larger facilities where, to be blunt, there is a lot of sweat in the atmosphere.

I know I get criticised for being obsessed about women – it goes hand in hand with the job description – but I cannot help but feel this relaxation has forgotten we exist. Or just assumed that women will be happy to stay home and do the childcare and home schooling, because the sectors they work in are last to be let out of lockdown, while their husbands go back to work, resume their lives and celebrate by having a pint with their mates.

(And yes I do know women drink beer too, but there is a gender pint gap, with only one in six women drinking beer each week compared to half of men.)

Crucially, women want their careers back and they want their children in school or nursery. Of course home working has been great for some, but much harder if you are also juggling childcare and impossible if your work requires you to be physically present, like in retail, hairdressing, hospitality.

These are sectors where employees are largely women, and which are now opening up while childcare providers are still struggling to open fully – with reduced numbers due to social distancing requirements. It is a massive problem, which I worry has still not been fully recognised or addressed.

Perhaps if the PM needed to sort the childcare, get his nails done and his legs waxed it might be different. But it does seem that the Health Secretary, the Chancellor, the Business Secretary and the Secretary of State for Sport and Culture, who all have a very obvious thing in common, have overlooked the need to help their female constituents get out of lockdown on a par with their male ones.

Am I going to have to turn up to work with hairy legs to persuade them that women’s wellbeing matters?