The Government is on a sticky wicket. Can Johnson bat it to safety?

17 Apr

His resignation has been a long time coming. When he took the job, he was the obvious choice – a proven winner. His talent, amongst his generation, is exceptional. His methods may be quirky, and his decision-making erratic. But he has got his country out of many tight spots. Nevertheless, his early promise has dissolved into sad disappointment. The magic is gone; he is no longer a winner. His time is up – he must go.

Yes, Joe Root’s resignation as England’s Captain on Friday was certainly justified. An Ashes humiliation, a defeat in the West Indies, and five Test series without a win  : English cricket is in a bad place. But Easter is about new life, and hopefully the departure of the finest batsman of his generation will allow a recovery their position under fresh leadership.

Of course, my use of the third person there was a cunning journalistic ploy. We all know there is another English institution currently on a sticky wicket. Its problems are also being blamed on the faults of its captain. Like England’s cricketers, the Conservative Party has an unerring talent for frustrating and disappointing those who most wish it well – and Boris Johnson faces the blame for its plight.

The Prime Minister is a cricket fan. Ian Botham’s peerage was one of my favourite things to come out of his Number 10, and I have never respected him more than when he sacked off leadership plotting in 2016 to go and play. But, as hard as it is for me to admit, politics can be even more important than cricket. What Johnson does in the next few weeks will shape not only the future of his premiership, but the prospect of the Tories winning the next election.

In some ways, December 12th 2019 seems only yesterday. It was my father’s birthday, and that exit poll was better than any present I could have given him. Our national nightmare of the previous three years was resolved. We would leave the European Union. Jeremy Corbyn would be given his P45. And the Prime Minister had a mandate, a big majority, and a glowing op-ed from me in Cherwell.

Ah, the arrogance of youth. Of course, the three years since then have not run as one might have hoped. A global pandemic has left millions dead. Our basic liberties have been robbed from us. Children have lost years of education, hospital waiting lists have exploded, and the economic chaos is proving lasting and painful. Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has been a particularly awful cherry on top.

Yet, even without all of that to handle, this government lost its purpose on the 31st January 2020. It ran on a pledge to ‘Get Brexit Done’. On that date, we left. I drank some champagne and watched The Spy Who Loved Me. It was great. Although there was still a trade deal to negotiate and Northern Ireland’s position remains frustrating, politics was freed to focus elsewhere.

This was a government, we were told, that would dare to be unpopular. It would do the things that its predecessors had been too squeamish for: standing up to the NIMBYs, reforming social care, ending our sclerotic productivity, reversing the devolutionary ratchet, and giving the civil service a right kick up the arse. Even with the humungous challenge bat flu has posed since 2020, there has been ample time for tackling these challenges.

So what has the Government done? Retreated on planning reform after a by-election reversal. Hiked National Insurance for an unworkable social care plan. Productivity remains shocking, and we are slipping into a recession. The Government has backed away from fighting for the Union. And, despite Michael Gove’s warm words, the PPE-ists of Whitehall have won against the misfits and weirdos.

This isn’t surprising. Re-reading John Hoskyn’s Just in Time recently, I was reminded of how difficult it is to actually to implement a program in government unless you have zealous focus and a clear direction. Mrs Thatcher’s government struggled with that as much as any other, and only through damned hard work did it manage to fundamentally change Britain’s economy.

Since Dominic Cummings and the Vote Leave crew have swapped Downing Street for Substack, the Government has had no central mission. Allegations that Number 10 is a court of yes-men may be exaggerated. Nevertheless, it has become an operation primarily preoccupied with appeasing Tory MPs and protecting the Prime Minister’s position. That is not making best use of an 80-seat majority. Compared to Mrs Thatcher’s, this government is a pygmy.

There is some energy. Nadhim Zahawi is desperately trying to rejuvenate a frozen educational agenda. Liz Truss is balancing avoiding a Third World War with upping her Instagram game. Michael Gove is using 300-page White Papers to distract from the inherent meaninglessness of ‘Levelling Up’ as a phrase, his department’s lack of funds, and the Government’s aversion to house-building and planning reform.

The economic climate also doesn’t help. Soaring energy bills, inflation hitting its highest levels in three decades, and tax hikes come alongside real-terms cuts in departmental budgets and public sector pay. The inflation genie is out of the bottle, and rows over our financial dire straits will dominate the coming months. The Chancellor saw this coming before most. But the Prince across the water – or at least at Number 11 – is being treated as damaged goods after the last two weeks.

Yet the Government’s biggest problem is at its head. No, I do not believe that eating salad whilst your colleagues sing you ‘Happy Birthday’, a month after you were fighting for your life, should be a resigning offence. But more fines are undoubtedly on their way. Johnson’s brazen excuses are only going to look worse. And the Prime Minister’s resignation will be called for ever-more loudly, whilst the Chancellor’s position will begin to improve by comparison.

Johnson is having a good war. Yes, Prime Ministers have been replaced in times of conflict before. But neither Winston Churchill nor John Major had to contend with a leadership election format that requires multiple ballots, followed by three months of glad-handing, and a vote by the wider membership. Johnson is partially protected by the sheer faff that turfing him out would be.

Besides that, he also remains in place because his talents, like Root’s, are obvious. He was needed in 2019. The Heineken politician was a necessary pint after three years of Mayite sobriety. But, post-Partygate, the popularity that won him the support of desperate MPs that summer and earnt a stonking majority in the winter may be permanently lost. If his government now exists solely to protect his position and stumble from crisis to crisis for two more embarrassing years, what good is it doing the country?

It certainly isn’t doing myself and my fellow 22 year-olds any favours. So far it has hiked our taxes to protect the assets of wealthy aging homeowners, reverse-ferreted on its attempts to make house prices vaguely sane, and has now put up the interest rates on student loans to an extortionate 12 percent. MPs and voters complain about wokery turning the young off voting Conservative. But with policies like these, who can blame the average Zoomer for leaning to the left?

Nevertheless, I am still hopelessly naïve enough to believe in Johnson. He has been written off and come back enough times that one suspects he will try to tough this out until the bitter end, and still somehow pull through. But I can’t bet the future of this government, of this party, and of this country solely on the Prime Minister’s particular talents. Winning a fifth general election in a row is unprecedented since Britain became a full democracy. If we are pinning doing so only on the PM’s Midas touch, then the Conservative Party really is moribund.

Easter, as I mentioned above, is a time for new life – and resurrection. Boris Johnson is not Christ (although he is also a very scruffy man). Nevertheless, for both his own career prospects and to justify his premiership in the light of history, he will have to do what Root could not, and turn the situation around. Boldness of action and an eye for talent are two things the Prime Minister has long possessed. As we Conservatives sit down for our Easter lunches, we must hope they do not fail him now.

July 4: The businesses that are resuming, the rationale for reopening them and the rules that they face

24 Jun

Yesterday there was huge jubilation at the news that pubs, restaurants and staycation resorts, among other facilities, will be able to reopen on July 4.

ConservativeHome has listed which ones will be opening here, but we shall also elaborate on what the guidelines are for each business – as well as explaining why some have not made the cut.

First thing’s first:

What’s clear is that it will not be “business as usual” for employers around the UK, as many will face stringent guidelines around their operations – so as to prevent further outbreaks of Covid-19.

One of these measures will be social distancing.

How far apart?

While the dreaded two-metre (six foot) social distancing rule has been revised, the Prime Minister has recommended people stay a distance of “one metre plus”; in essence, staying at least one metre apart while taking precautionary measures to reduce the risk of Coronavirus transmission.

What are these precautionary measures?

Generally businesses are advised to space out customers and staff as much as possible, improve ventilation and keep surfaces (and hands) clean.

The Government has also posted a huge amount of specific guidance for those working in different sectors, such as construction and other outdoor work, hotels and other guest accommodation and the visitor economy, as these each face their own unique challenges.

Pubs, bars and takeaway services

While most Brits cannot wait to rush back to the pub, publicans – and similar business owners – face lots of issues in reopening.

Perhaps the most controversial rule is that customers will have to give their contact details whenever they enter a pub or restaurant – in case they need to be contacted for the Government’s test and trace programme. They will also be limited to table service.

The Government’s guidance for pubs, bars and takeaway services spans a total of 43 pages. Other suggestions for these businesses (and there are many) include:

  • using screens or barriers to separate workers from each other and workers from customers at points of service;
  • calculating the number of customers that can reasonably follow social distancing guidelines at a venue;
  • working with local authorities to take into account the impact of processes, such as queues, on high streets, and
  • encouraging customers to use hand sanitiser or handwashing facilities.
Hotels and other guest accommodation

Following the Government’s announcements, lots of Brits can’t wait to book a “staycation”. But these, too, will be mired in complicated measures. The guidance for hotels and other such businesses is fairly similar to that for pubs and restaurants, with suggestions such as:

  • encouraging guests to wear masks on communal corridors;
  • considering minimising lift usage from reception;
  • closing shared facilities, such as communal kitchens, and
  • cleaning keys between guests.
Businesses in “close contact services” (hair salons)

While the Government has refused to open tattoo parlours and nail salons, it is giving hairdressers the green light. But they will be required to wear face masks and visors in order to operate. Other measures for similar companies include:

  • adapting appointments to reduce the interaction and overlap between customers;
  • creating a “one-way flow” of clients through the premises;
  • minimising contact between different workers serving a client (photographers, models and makeup artists, for instance), and
  • encouraging clients to arrive at their scheduled time of appointment.

In addition, all businesses are being encouraged to conduct a risk assessment for Covid-19 in their workplace and then share the results with employees.

The Government has asked employers with over 50 workers to publish the results on their websites, and asked them to display a notification ” in a prominent place in your business and on [their] website” so as to show the public they have taken measures.

Why are some businesses not allowed to open?

During his speech to the House of Commons, Boris Johnson stated that “close proximity venues” would have to stay closed, such as nightclubs, soft-play areas, indoor gyms and swimming pools – although he added that “the business and culture secretaries will establish taskforces with the public health experts and these sectors to help them become Covid-secure and reopen as soon as possible.”

As well as the proximity factor, the decision to reopen outdoors gyms, but not indoors ones, may reflect increasing research that summer sunlight helps to kill off Covid-19. A new study indicates that it can do this in thirty minutes.

Has there been backlash?

Those in the fitness industry have understandably been cross with the Government’s choice of businesses to reopen.

Jane Nickerson, the CEO of Swim England, called the decision “appalling” and told The Times “Many will fail to understand how pubs, restaurants, cinemas, museums and hair salons have been given the go-ahead to open on July 4 but not chlorine-filled swimming pools”.

PureGym has been equally vocal, in a statement saying: “We understand that these decisions are not easy, but it is a strange ‘war on obesity’ that sees pubs and restaurants open before gyms”.

The Government’s ban on cricket – Johnson called the ball “a natural vector of disease” – promoted concern from Greg Clark, the Tory MP, who urged the Prime Minister to “save the season“, as well as Michael Vaughan, former England cricket captain, who said it was “nonsense“.

Oliver Dowden, the Culture Secretary, has reassured that the Government was hoping to get sports facilities open by mid-July. But there will be increasingly calls for this to be accelerated – and the Government will, in all likelihood, face increasing demands to explain why these businesses have been singled out.

Any other issues?

As always in the Covid-19 wars, the approach across the United Kingdom has varied depending on region.

In Wales, for instance, tourism providers can only take bookings for stays beginning on July 13. In Northern Ireland, on the other hand, nail bars can reopen on July 6.

Nicola Sturgeon has said that pubs and restaurants can re-open from July 15, and still has the two-metre rule in place – making her perhaps the most resistant to England’s move.

So it’s “business as usual” in some senses…