- Perhaps the only good news for Boris Johnson is that his score, woeful as it is, is nowhere near as dire as that of Theresa May in the spring of 2019 – when she broke the survey’s unpopularity record, coming in at a catastophic -75 points.
- Nonetheless, this is the Prime Minister’s second consecutive month in negative ratings, his third altogether, and his lowest total of the lot. The explanation? Parties, competence, Covid restrictions, Paterson, taxes and Net Zero, not necessarily in that order.
- Nadine Dorries is down from fourth (plus 61) to mid-table sixteenth (plus 25), Michael Gove from twelfth to sixth from bottom (plus 43 to plus 16) , and Sajid Javid from eighth to twelfth (plus 54 to plus 29). All are associated with support for Covid restrictions.
- Mark Spencer stays in the red and Priti Patel inches into it: in her case, the explanation is “small boats”. Liz Truss is top again, Ben Wallace is up from second to fifth, and Anne-Marie Trevelyan and Nadhim Zahawi are scoring well. Generally, there’s a drift down.
Shanker Singham is CEO of Competere. He is a former adviser to Liam Fox when he was Secretary of State for International Trade, and to the Office of the United States Trade Representative.
We have often taken the special relationship for granted on this side of the Atlantic. While we rest on our laurels, often the US’s other allies and trading partners steal a march on the UK.
What is needed is a comprehensive re-engagement with the US at multiple levels – Prime Minister, Cabinet, ministerial and parliamentary. There is already a lot of private sector to private sector dialogue but these need to be accelerated with ministerial sponsorship.
It is clear that on matters as diverse as the Northern Ireland Protocol, to our interest in a comprehensive free trade agreement, the UK has not been able to land forensic, knock-out blows, whereas others, notably the Irish and the EU have been more successful in prosecuting their interests with the new administration.
There are signs of improvement however. We have seen a significant uptick in the frequency of UK ministerial engagements in Washington recently. There were at least five UK ministers in the US, the week of the December 6 for example. Importantly, UK engagement is not limited to Washington DC and New York. Penny Mordaunt, the trade policy minister has just returned from the longest ministerial visit to the US in recent history – a tour of five US states lasting over 10 days, a lifetime for a minister.
Liz Truss, the Foreign Secretary, made a very important speech at Chatham House on December 8, where she acknowledged that the world had broken down into those countries that supported a vision of capitalism based on competition versus those whose capitalist model is based on distortion and cronyism – and that the countries in the former camp constituted a network of liberty. AUKUS was just a start to bring those countries together to pursue an international economic policy that maximised open trade, competition on the merits and property rights protection.
Anne-Marie Trevelyan, the Secretary of State for Trade, also made a recent intervention at the CPS’ Margaret Thatcher conference on trade, where she specifically addressed the cancer of anti-competitive market distortions which are plaguing global trade. In this the UK and US have very similar concerns and are looking for similar solutions – a mechanism to deal with the problem that does not drive a coach and horses through the international trading system.
On what the UK’s regulatory system will look like in the future, Lord Frost was also crystal clear when he discussed this in the House of Lords, noting that the UK will diverge from EU regulation, not just for the sake of it, or because it can, but because it must do so in order to promote a pro-competitive regulatory agenda that both increases economic growth at home, but will also make it easier (and faster) to do trade deals.
The trade policy minister’s long trip led to substantial progress on Memoranda of Understanding with a number of states, as diverse as Tennessee, Oklahoma, North and South Carolina and Georgia. She made a very important speech to the Carter Centre. In it she was much more forensic about a case that does not get made often enough – why a free trade deal with the UK is in the American interest, not just the British one.
The UK leaving the EU’s Single Market and Customs Union is a massive global event. The UK, to quote Minister Mordaunt, has made itself a piece on the global chessboard, and a powerful one at that. It alone is negotiating or discussing international economic policy issues with all the key players, including the EU with which it is one of the few major players to have an FTA already.
The UK has made it crystal clear to its trading partners which side of the table it is going to be on – to inter-operate with the world on the basis of equivalence and adequacy, as the US and CPTPP countries do, instead of pushing its own regulatory vision on the rest of the world as the EU and China do.
This shift is a seismic one in geo-economic terms. If the Americans fail to capitalise on it, they will have lost a huge opportunity to win the battle for the world’s operating system, and to ensure it is based on voluntary exchange, underpinned by open trade and competition, including regulatory competition based on outcomes. This would unleash wealth creation and economic growth at a time when it is so crucially needed as the world struggles to emerge from Covid-19.
But the UK is not just making speeches. It is delivering. Today’s signing of the UK-Australia deal means that the UK’s entirely de novo trade negotiating agenda is now in full swing. Contrary to the naysayers who said that trade deals take 10 years to do, this was initiated in 2020 and concluded in 2021 – within a year of the UK leaving the EU.
It is anticipated that the NZ deal will quickly follow. Within the year, the UK also concluded a deal with Japan that contains important new elements and departures from the EU’s deal especially in the crucial data area, signed a deal with Australia, established its working group for accession to the CPTPP, and will doubtless conclude a number of MOUs with US states as a down payment on an eventual FTA with the US. This has all been done within a year of concluding the FTA with the EU, the point at which our trading partners knew whether we could do trade deals or not.
The UK and US must now use the recently announced Atlantic Charter to push for the key initiatives such as the reduction of anti-competitive market distortions around the world and the commitment to open trade and competition on the merits. They must tie other nations into the AUKUS deal which is much more than an agreement about submarines, especially the Japanese.
The geo-economic tectonic plates are shifting as we said they would, but even faster than even we hoped and anticipated. For the first time in a long time, the network of liberty countries look like they might be winning. We are far from out of the woods, and the world remains a very dangerous place for freedom, but these countries now have line of sight to victory, and the UK is their champion. We may yet lose, but if we do, it will be because this moment of opportunity was wasted.
Here are all of the events in ConservativeHome’s fringe programme for Tuesday 5th October. As well as taking place in-person in Manchester, all events except drinks receptions will be livestreamed for free through the ConservativeHome YouTube channel – just click on an event graphic to go direct to the relevant YouTube link.
- Our first post-reshuffle Cabinet League Table suggests that the pieces are still settling on the board – at least as far as our members’ panel is concerned.
- The general pattern seems to be that those who did well out of the shuffle have done well in the ratings, that there’s concern about the uncertain economic future and the growing state…that activists are willing to make Ministers down if necessary, but that they’re mostly suspending judgement.
- Liz Truss’s rating remains broadly stable, but she opens up a 15 point gap at the top. That’s because Rishi Sunak is down by about ten points from second to fifth. That’s not a big drop – but we read it as a reflection of that nervousness about living standards and squeezed incomes.
- Elsewhere, Ben Wallace is up marginally, but enough to put him second in the table for the first time. David Frost is third. Nadhim Zahawi bounces straight in at fifth, Nadine Dorries at seventh, and Anne-Marie Trevelyan at ninth. Elsewhere, there’s not much movement in terms of scores…
- …Though Michael Gove is up by 15 points and Dominic Raab by 17, perhaps reflecting a post-reshuffle willingness to wipe the slate relatively clean…
- …But though no-one is in negative ratings, Priti Patel is now very exposed at third from bottom in the table. Much of that will be boats; some Insulate Britain and public disorder; some, police failings.
- Grant Shapps brings up the rear, doubtless drawing fire because of frustration about restrictions on travel abroad.
- The Prime Minister’s pre-conference position really is very poor: the best explanation we have is that he is the lightning conductor for activists’ unease over economic prospects and strategic direction.
- We’ve now put all Ministers who attend Cabinet in the table, as well as Ben Elliot, the co-party Chairman. Oliver Dowden is some 30 points ahead of him.
Theo Clarke is a member of the International Development Select Committee, and is MP for Stafford.
It has been three and a half years since the Commonwealth Heads of State summit in London on those sunny days in April 2018. In that short space of time, and despite the ravages of Covid, the UK has been busy transforming trade right across the Commonwealth. From Ottawa to Mumbai, from Kampala to Canberra, Global Britain is making trade cheaper, easier and faster. And the best part is that we have only just begun.
This week, I visited the World Trade Organisation in Geneva, and met Commonwealth Ambassadors from Australia, South Africa, Nigeria and Jamaica to name a few, as well as the new WTO Director General, Dr Okonjo-Iweala Ngozi.
With the UK retaking our seat as an independent member at the WTO, there was a real buzz about the way we are re-galvanising trade right across the Commonwealth’s huge market of 2.5 billion people.
Since the Commonwealth London summit, the UK has championed the launch of the Connectivity Agenda across the entire Commonwealth, and signed new trade deals with more than a dozen countries in Africa; all across the Caribbean and the Pacific; and with Canada and Australia.
Next on the to-do list for our new Secretary of State for Trade, Anne-Marie Trevelyan, will be to expand these deals to cover new topics like financial services and e-commerce, whilst negotiating the next wave of Commonwealth trade deals with India and New Zealand.
So we have succeeded in signing trade deals with big African economies like Ghana, Kenya and South Africa, but what about other Commonwealth developing countries where we don’t yet have trade deals?
To make sure they were not left out, in January 2021 the Government launched our own preference system to cover imports to the UK from those countries. In many cases, the scheme reduces tariffs to zero on products made in the poorest countries like Sierra Leone, Bangladesh or Zambia. This scheme secures both millions of jobs in Commonwealth Africa and Asia and supply-chains of clothing, tea, coffee, fruit and vegetables for UK consumers. It is a pathway for these countries to graduate beyond aid, and to trade their way out of poverty. The Government is now looking to improve the scheme further, so the UK can set the standard for the rest of the G7 to follow.
But transforming trade in the Commonwealth takes more than just signing trade deals and reducing tariffs. Here again, Global Britain is leading the way, leveraging the world-class capabilities in the UK’s aid programme led by Liz Truss at FCDO. In East and Southern Africa, for example, the UK is leading a coalition of countries, including G7 members like the US and Canada, in an Aid for Trade initiative to slash trade red-tape and upgrade ports and transport corridors from Ethiopia right down to Mozambique.
In Uganda, TradeMark East Africa’s work to digitize customs procedures and make them paperless has reduced the time to clear a container from four days to just three hours. And I have seen for myself on the Northern Corridor linking Kenya, Uganda and Rwanda, how it used to take 20 days to get a truck from Mombasa port to Kampala.
Now thanks to TradeMark East Africa, this has been reduced to six days or fewer, saving thousands of dollars on every truck journey. Transformational reforms like these which bring down the costs of international trade are win-win, and benefit UK businesses like Unilever, GEC, JCB or Diageo trading in African markets as much as businesses and entrepreneurs in Kenya, Uganda or Rwanda.
Despite all its fanfare, these are the kinds of impacts that China’s Belt and Road initiative can only dream of achieving, but which the UK’s Integrated Review is starting to realise. And by working in partnership with our Commonwealth family and an international coalition, Global Britain has achieved these impacts at a fraction of the cost of China’s huge loans to African countries. The next stage will be to expand the TradeMark initiative to other countries in Africa, like Ghana and Nigeria for example, helping join-up a fast-growing single market across the Continent, now the world’s largest trade bloc with 50 countries and 1 billion consumers.
Last but by no means least, the trade transformation that Global Britain is leading across the Commonwealth is also making inroads towards wider social goals like economic empowerment of women in developing countries. In 2018, the UK launched the Commonwealth SheTrades initiative, targeting thousands of women entrepreneurs, helping them to export for the first time. Commonwealth SheTrades is led by the International Trade Centre in Geneva, and this week I met with Executive Director, Pamela Coke-Hamilton, and heard for myself the results the programme has achieved with UK support, and the plans to scale-up and empower thousands more women in the Commonwealth through trade.
With the Prime Minister’s new Cabinet in place, now is the time to raise our ambition even further and turbo charge the Commonwealth as an engine for shared prosperity through trade, delivering on our Global Britain mission, and building back better from the coronavirus pandemic.
Sarah Ingham is author of The Military Covenant: its impact on civil-military relations in Britain.
“Atomkraft? Nein Danke!” Nuclear Power? No Thanks!
The slogan of the German anti-nuclear movement since the 1970s has finally been heeded. By the end of next year, the country’s last remaining nuclear power stations will be shut down, a process that has been underway for the past decade.
The rejection of nuclear by Europe’s mightiest industrial economy will have been welcomed by many on this side of the North Sea. Among those keen to say their own nein danke to nuclear are Greenpeace, the SNP and the Green Party. The Liberal Democrats, unsurprisingly, witter on about wind, but their website – like their 2019 manifesto – ducks the nuclear issue.
With Atomkraft abolished, what will be powering Germany in the future? Energy is needed to make all those high-performance cars. And with Porsche, Audi, BMW and Mercedes all recently developing electric models, what will be fuelling them along the autobahns? It turns out that, for the time being at least, it’s partly coal. The black stuff, along with other fossil fuels, are generating much of the country’s electricity.
At 10am Berlin-time on Monday, when the eco-ninnies of Insulate Britain were first bringing parts of the M25 to a halt, just over 69,000 megawatt hours of power was cooking in Germany; roughly 25,000 from coal and 8,000 from nuclear. The Federal Ministry of Economic Affairs and Industry points out that the country is currently transforming its energy system to make it climate friendly and sustainable, but that will take time. Meanwhile, ‘energy from conventional sources is helping us “keep the lights on”’.
A day after the first M25 protest, the initial findings of a Bath University global study on young people and climate change was published. It revealed high levels of anxiety about the issue among the 10,000 respondents aged 16-25, with nearly 60 per cent reporting they felt worried or extremely worried, to the extent that four in ten were hesitant about having children. Even the most hardened climate change sceptic – “it’s called weather” – will surely be concerned about the levels of psychological distress among the world’s youth which have led to more than half of those questioned (56 per cent) believing humanity is doomed. Elles/Ils sont Greta.
As the Government coats itself in greenwash ahead of COP26, it probably wants to play down last week’s return of Old King Coal to Britain’s energy generation. A, er, perfect storm of heatwave and no wind jeopardised the UK’s power supplies. The National Grid turned to the West Burton A coal-fired station to make up the shortfall. The plant is due to close in 12 months. In June, the government announced that from October 2024, coal will no longer be used to generate electricity, with the pre-reshuffle Energy and Climate Change Minister, Anne-Marie Trevelyan, stating that coal with be consigned to the history books and ‘the UK’s net zero future will be powered by renewables.’
With the continual trumpeting of 67 coal-free days in 2020 (which coincided with lockdown BTW), Pithead Revisited seems unlikely in Britain. However, the current faith in renewables rapidly and consistently to deliver our energy needs is idealistic not realistic. The only way the circle of carbon net zero can be squared with reliable, carbon-free and cheap supply is by embracing home-grown nuclear power.
On Wednesday, perhaps around the time the second M25 protest resulted in a serious crash in Surrey, a large fire near Ashford in Kent damaged the IFA1 interconnector, the main cabling bringing electricity from France. Supplies are expected to be reduced until at least March. This will put further pressure on prices, just as householders have been warned to expect increases on 1st October, following a rise in wholesale costs of energy of 50 per cent in the last six months.
For those prone to a meltdown at the prospect of nuclear power plants on British soil, just how do they think much of the electricity imported across La Manche is generated?
Accounting for about one fifth of Britain’s power supply in 2018, down from a quarter in the mid-1990s, nuclear in needed. In June, Dungeness B closed, leaving seven nuclear power plants; five more are expected to be shut in the next few years. Due to open in June 2026, the Hinkley Point C reactor is expected to power some six million homes.
HS2, with its £98 billion official budget, is a politically toxic vanity project, not Critical National Infrastructure. The Government must start understanding the term ‘critical’ and get behind nuclear. Last year’s Energy White Paper was full of the Green Industrial Revolution but gave a somewhat flaccid commitment to ‘aiming to bring at least one large-scale nuclear project to Final Investment Decision by the end of this Parliament, subject to clear value for money and all relevant approvals.’
Backing nuclear also means selling it to a public spooked by its association with weaponry and fearful of accidents. Given the Eastern bloc’s demonstration of technological prowess in the mid-1980s was the Lada and the Trabant, it’s surprising there weren’t more Chernobyls among its power stations. And the Fukushima plant held up pretty well in 2011, considering it was struck by the fourth largest earthquake ever recorded. The generally tsunami-free UK has been enjoying safe nuclear power since 1956.
Back in 2007, when four per cent of the UK’s electricity came from renewables, one survey found that ‘respondents appeared to be largely unaware that nuclear power is a low greenhouse gas emission technology’. The public still seems largely unaware.
Keeping the lights on, as well as the smartphones charged to access Deliveroo, TikTok and even the NHS app, is imperative. This isn’t the 1970s, when voters put up with the Three-Day Week power cuts in the “mustn’t grumble” spirit of the Blitz – which many of them would have experienced. Interruptions to the power supply today would mean that the prospects of Conservatives remaining in government are roughly net zero.
Ja, bitte to nuclear.
Guy Opperman is the Minister for Pensions and Financial Inclusion, and is MP for Tynedale and Ponteland.
During this year’s local elections, we saw seismic change in the North East of England. Hartlepool fell with a near 7,000 majority to Jill Mortimer. Ben Houchen secured 73 per cent in the Tees Valley. In County Durham, Northumberland and elsewhere, the Labour Party retreated.
I don’t think that is our high watermark. In May 2021, we solidified our 2019 general election successes in Blyth Valley, across County Durham and in Teesside – and we can do better.
It has taken time. When I was selected to be the Conservative candidate for Hexham at the 2010 General Election, it was the only Conservative-held seat in the North East. We gained over 100 seats in the 2010 election across the country, but only one new seat was gained in the North East. In 2015, Anne-Marie Trevelyan took the formerly ‘safe’ Liberal Democrat seat of Berwick, making it three.
However, our electoral success in the North East only started really to change in 2019. We gained seven seats – including Tony Blair’s old seat in Sedgefield. Following our Hartlepool victory, we now have 11 seats altogether.
However, there are opportunities for us to go even further, and to do so, we need real action, and determination over the coming years. Boundary changes may alter some seats, but this is how it presently stacks up.
In Northumberland, we now hold three of the four constituencies, and run the council on our own. As we head towards the next election, Wansbeck – the seat of Ian Lavery, an arch Corbynista – is well within our grasp. At the last election, Lavery clung on: but his majority was cut from over 10,000 to just 800.
In truth, he was lucky to hold the seat. We put most of our effort locally into winning the neighbourhood constituency of Blyth Valley but, in the May local elections, local Labour Councillors saw their majorities tumble. It will be for the new Conservative Council in Northumberland to deliver for local people, attracting major new employers to create jobs – building a new train line which will link Ashington and Blyth to Newcastle upon Tyne, and changing Northumberland for the better.
In County Durham, my southern neighbour Richard Holden has written on in ConservativeHome of the sea change in his constituency. I saw first-hand at the local election some of the amazing new Conservative councillors who are delivering for their communities. Richard will always be rightly famous for defeating Corbyn’s heir apparent, Laura Pidcock. In my view, no Labour seat in County Durham is safe. The remaining seats all have majorities under 6,000. There is a big change happening in Durham.
In Sunderland, Labour hold all three seats with majorities of less than 4,000, and in Sunderland Central (majority 2,964), the Conservatives topped the poll in the local elections.
Many of our recent gains came from the Tees Valley. Perhaps that’s no surprise. Ben Houchen is doing an incredible job in transforming Teesside – from delivering more jobs and investment, to saving the Airport, and more importantly projecting a ‘can do’ enthusiasm that all can see.
Ben’s landslide victory shows we can win in any part of Teesside. Both Stockton North and Middlesbrough now look very winnable. Even in Middlesbrough, a seat once so safe the former Labour MP lived in france most of the time, Ben Houchen won well over 60 per cent of the vote. And if Hartlepool can be won by nearly 7,000, anything is possible with work and a real commitment to bring change for the better.
We are making progress on Tyneside too. In a by-election in North Tyneside caused by the resignation of Kate Osborne, now a Labour MP, a local young campaigner showed local residents exactly what a hardworking local Conservative can achieve – and won, taking a safe Labour seat.
In Gateshead, Blaydon is another area with real potential. It is a seat that neighbours my own, and my sense is that Boris Johnson’s leadership and the Conservative message is resonating on the ground.
However, whilst there are many opportunities for success, we will only make progress in the North East if we continue to deliver the change people want to see. So how do we achieve that?
In 2012, as I recovered from my brain tumour, I did a four-week charity walk from Sheffield to Scotland – through what was then the Red Wall. I met people in pubs, mosques, bed and breakfasts, shops and at community events. I talked to people endlessly to get an understanding of the change people wanted to see.
Most of all, people wanted proper representation, with local champions fighting for better investment in schools and hospitals, improved public transport, and more job opportunities. That is exactly what the Government under Boris Johnson is doing. Key symbols of this that matter: like the relocation of part of the Treasury to Darlington, which will open up a world of opportunities for local young people, and play its part in ending the ‘London Centric’ culture that has existed for far too long.
In my own constituency since 2010 we have rebuilt all four high schools, refurbished a local hospital and invested heavily in our community. That is levelling up in action. By getting on with the job and delivering on the people’s priorities, there is a great future for the North East. The Labour Party is out of ideas and does not represent their heartlands. We must keep working, select candidates early, and make the case for conservatism in action.
Can we win more seats than the 11 we now hold? Yes, we can.
The end of transition was a calendar fixture and ought, in the event of a trade agreement, to have offered Boris Johnson the chance to refresh the Government – since a deal would both boost his standing with Conservative MPs and bring calmer political waters.
But then an event took place last winter that was very much not a calendar fixture: the first major pandemic in a century. It would consequently have looked and been frivolous to have a major reshuffle now, and so lash those waters up again at a moment when the Prime Minister needs all Ministerial hands on deck.
The same logic applies to the next natural break in the political calendar: the February half-term recess. Hospitalisations will have risen and may not be falling by then.
Then there is Easter in early April. But Covid considerations apart, local elections are due in May. Why hold a big reshuffle before then rather than after?
And if they are postponed until June, why not wait until September for a shuffle, before the Conservative Party Conference (for there will be one in some form), rather than send MPs off for the summer recess in the wake of a self-made squall – since reshuffles inevitably bring more pain than gain?
The shape of events since the outbreak of a new strain of Covid has thus suggested putting off the shuffle until early autumn. Furthermore, no Cabinet Minister will then reasonably be able to complain if sacked or moved, having been in place for the best part of 18 months. However, there was a snag.
Namely, what to do about COP26, due to take place in Glasgow this November? To cut a long story short, it will need an agreement to be a political success for the Prime Minister, and is set to be his second major diplomatic setpiece of the year – the first being the UK’s G7 presidency and the consequent summit, usually held during the summer.
That requires a lot of legwork. And the Minister in charge of the COP26 negotiation, Alok Sharma, wore two hats – his other being that of Business Secretary.
So the Prime Minister has gone for a short sharp solution – announced on a Friday evening, a legendary graveyard news slot, in which Governments make announcements that they wish to gain limited publicity.
No big shuffle. No return to the Cabinet yet for Anne-Marie Trevelyan, who was removed when her DfID job was abolished recently, but reportedly promised a return. She is back in the department as Energy Minister, which will surely be a disappointment. And there is no comeback for Sajid Javid, whose name was in the frame for the BEIS job. Instead, Johnson has opted for a minimalist, orderly solution.
Sharma stays in Cabinet, and goes full-time for the COP26 role. And Kwasi Kwarteng, already a Minister of State in the Business department, moves one slot up to replace him as Secretary of State. By our count, the Cabinet was one under its maximum count of 22, so Sharma stays a full member.
Kwarteng is a big, personable, right-wing historian, who once wrote a lively column for the Prime Minister’s alma mater – the Daily Telegraph. He was a co-author of the Free Enterprise Group’s bracing study Britannia Unchained.
So he is bound to see the trade deal as a further loosening of the bonds. The Government’s friends will say that he ups the Cabinet’s number of ethnic minority members to five. Its enemies will reply that it raises the number of Old Etonians to two.
Sharma is not at all a front-of-house Cabinet showman, being inclined to block the bowling and risk nothing outside off stump, but he is a diligent, toiling Minister. More to the point, he is a loyalist: a Johnson voter in the 2019 leadership election, playing Jeremy Hunt during campaign practice debates. Kwarteng is another loyalist – though he broke ranks to lay into “misfit and weirdo” Andrew Sabinsky.
The term was Dominic Cummings’, not Kwarteng’s: readers will remember the former Chief Adviser seeking to recruit some to the civil service. Kwarteng departed from the Government line to accuse Sabinsky of racism. But Cummings has left the building…
We take this mini-shuffle as a sign that a bigger one is now unlikely to come until the autumn. This is not a strong Cabinet, but the Prime Minister is sticking with it, at least for the moment.
Dependability, a lack of fuss, predictability – and taking the drama out of event. These are not qualities most people associate with Johnson but, when it comes to Government shuffles, they are becoming trademarks: oh, plus loyalty, of course. Though the treatment of Trevelyan hangs over these moves like a questionmark.
Boris Johnson will speak to the Commons this afternoon and to the nation this evening about the Government’s latest Coronavirus measures. We wait to see exactly what he will announce, but the thrust of his proposals seems clear enough. Essentially, he wants to separate work and home life.
The Prime Minister aims to keep work going in as normal a way as possible – with face covers, hand-washing and social distancing in place to help make this possible. This is government “putting its arms” around the economy, to borrow a phrase he likes to use. It is the part of the policy aimed at protecting livelihoods.
Meanwhile, home life and leisure will take the strain of reducing the growth in Covid-19 cases. There is a rule of six. Pubs and restaurants will shut at 10pm. There will be marshalls as well as fines. Not to mention lockdowns – like those currently now in place in Merseyside, Greater Manchester, Birmingham and elsewhere. This is the half of the policy intended to save lives.
Whether this scheme will last long is doubtful. We’ve explained previously on this site why many schools may not stay open fully, or may close altogether. That will have a knock-on effect on the economy, since parents with younger children will often have no alternative but to stay at home, and provide the childcare themselves.
Furthermore, the division between work, home and leisure isn’t always clear. The first and third meet in retail: some shopping is leisure; all staffing is work. As the debate within government over the new 10pm closing time for pubs, restaurants and outlets indicates, non-essential shopping is vulnerable to new closures. And Ministers are already backing off the push to get workers to return to offices (since they will be more relucant to use public transport).
It looks as though we’re on the way to another national lockdown – in effect, if most cities are locked down; or formally, if the Government eventually declares one. Tomorrow, in the wake of the Prime Minister’s broadcast, we will return to the big questions.
Such as: what’s the fundamental aim of the policy? If it is no longer to protect the NHS, is it to suppress the virus? If so, are the healthcare trade-offs that would arise from such a policy worthwhile – let alone the wider economic ones? Why isn’t testing and tracing, rather than lockdowns, taking the strain of reducing the disease, as intended? For today, we want to probe what happened yesterday during Matt Hancock’s Commons statement.
Chris Grayling, Greg Clark, Harriet Baldwin, Simon Fell, Simon Clarke, Alec Shelbrooke, Anthony Browne, Graham Brady, Andrew Percy, Jason McCartney, Shaun Bailey, Marco Longhi, Edward Leigh, Pauline Latham, Bernard Jenkin, Duncan Baker, James Davies, William Wragg, Steve Brine, and Anne-Marie Trevelyan spoke.
Of these, Grayling, Clarke, Brady, Leigh, Latham, Baker, Wragg and Brine were all, to varying degrees, hostile to another national lockdown. Browne’s question was perhaps in broadly the same camp. We are beginning to see resistence to new national shutdowns intensify on the Conservative backbenches.