Iain Dale: Johnson can say all the right words. But not in a way the public relate to, as Blair and Cameron could.

29 Jan

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

Sir Desmond Swayne is an adornment to our political life. Politics has always had mavericks and MPs who are outspoken, and he is the latest example.

However, his comments on “manipulated” Coronavirus statistics and interview with anti-vax champions were dangerous and outrageous.

He maintains that things he said in November were correct at the time – an assertion which in itself is questionable.

He then doubled down and claimed that it would be a “thought crime” for him to lose the Conservative Party whip.

Michael Gove has called on him to apologise, but he refuses.

I should make it clear that even though he has appeared with anti-vaxxers, whom he calls “nutty”, he is not one himself and maintains he is “evangelical” in his support for vaccinations.

He says that he didn’t know any of the people he was talking to were anti-vax and that he was purely talking about lockdowns.

For someone who loyally served David Cameron as Parliamentary Private Secretary, he has displayed the political judgement of a shrew on this issue.

– – – – – – – – –

It’s not been an easy week for the Prime Minister.

Quite naturally, when the 100,000 Covid death milestone was reached, he appeared before the press cameras looking very sober, and also somewhat exhausted and dishevelled.

He said all the right words, but was I alone in thinking that it just didn’t quite work?

Tony Blair and Cameron had a unique ability to not only say the right words, but to do so in a way that the public related to.

Not all politicians have that gift. Theresa May didn’t. Gordon Brown didn’t.

Boris Johnson is a politician made for the good times. His naturally sunny optimism is great in many circumstances.

Being sombre and downbeat, however, is not his natural demeanour.

I don’t blame him for that. None of us can change the way we are, merely do our best to say the right thing in the right way.

– – – – – – – – –

The suggestion from Nicola Sturgeon that Johnson shouldn’t have gone to Scotland yesterday is as ridiculous as it is insulting.

Johnson is Prime Minister of Scotland too, and in my view should be going to Scotland as often as possible and trying to build a relationship with Scots, which he doesn’t have at the moment.

She says in times of a pandemic he should not be rampaging across the UK.

He is the Prime Minister, not an ordinary member of the public. He has a duty to visit every part of the UK.

If the UK Prime Minister does not make the case for the union, who will? (And I say this as someone who is not unsympathetic to the notion of Scottish independence.)

Sturgeon sometimes appears drunk on her zealotry for Scottish independence.

She is in many ways an admirable political leader, and yet I wonder if she is about to overreach herself.

– – – – – – – – –

The calls for an immediate public inquiry into Covid have reappeared.

They should be resisted. I cannot see the logic of commencing an inquiry when the pandemic is still ongoing.

I am not saying it shouldn’t start until the last case has been eradicated, but surely its terms of reference cannot be decided until we have the end in sight.

Assuming the vaccine process has the desired effect, I’d have thought launching the inquiry at some point in the second part of the year was achievable and desirable.

Should it be a UK wide inquiry, or should there be four separate inquiries into the conduct of each of the four governments of the UK? These are the questions we need to ask.

Clearly the inquiry will seek to apportion blame for mistakes that were made, but these are mistakes that have been made by representatives of all the main political parties, who run the four different administrations.

Some are questioning the need for any inquiry at all on the basis it will cost a lot of money and will take years to report, by which time all the main political protagonists won’t be in office.

Surely it is absolutely vital to have a proper inquiry, from which everyone can learn the lessons for the next time something like this happens.

Not just the politicians, but the scientific and medical community too.

Andrew Gimson’s Commons sketch: The PM’s sprint feels more like a marathon

6 Jan

“We are now in a sprint,” Boris Johnson declared, “a race to vaccinate the vulnerable faster than the virus can reach them.”

But it does not feel like a sprint. It feels like a compulsory cross country run, in which the the entire school is forced to take part, with Johnson as the boisterous middle-aged games master in baggy shorts who keeps telling us, as we puff wheezing through the freezing fog on a darkening winter afternoon, that the winning post will soon be in sight, is in fact just at the top of this long, muddy slope, only for us to find, when we get there, that the end of the race is nowhere to be seen and we have got to keep stumbling forward for an unknown but pretty long period yet.

A number of the runners who have knighthoods, and feel they are so senior they should not be expected take part in this activity just because Johnson tells them to, let him know how angry they are.

Sir Desmond Swayne (Con, New Forest West) objected that pubs cannot sell take-away alcohol, whereas supermarkets can, and asked why the regulations are “pervaded by a pettifogging malice”.

“Pettifogging yes, malicious no,” Johnson replied. Throughout these exchanges, he sought to persuade MPs he is doing all this for the best possible motives.

Sir Graham Brady (Con, Altrincham and Sale), chairman of the 1922 Committee of Conservative backbenchers, said there should be another vote at the end of January on the regulations, and one at the end of February, rather than waiting until the end of March.

Johnson, somewhat evasively: “I can’t believe it will be until the end of March that the House has to wait.”

Sir Christopher Chope (Con, Christchurch) wondered why octogenarians who have had the vaccine are not permitted to meet, not least in order to celebrate Brexit.

Johnson admitted the regulations are not always logical, but said “they are there to protect the public and I believe the public understands that”.

Here is the cornerstone of the Prime Minister’s defence: that he is carrying the public with him.

Sir Keir Starmer (Lab, Holborn and St Pancras), the Leader of the Opposition, said this is “perhaps the darkest moment of the pandemic”, and added that “the virus is now out of control”.

He wanted to know why “no action was taken for two weeks” after 22nd December, when the information on which the present lockdown is based became known.

Yet in almost his next sentence, he said “we will do whatever we can to support the Government on this”.

So Johnson did not have much difficulty in batting away Sir Keir’s inquiries.

There was no real sense here of a Prime Minister in difficulty. This was partly because the measures he was announcing were already known, and partly because the growing pace of vaccination gives hope that although we find ourselves engaged in a marathon rather than a sprint, one day this ordeal will be over.

The forty-two Conservative MPs who voted against the Government on the 10pm curfew

13 Oct
  • Ahmad Khan, Imran
  • Amess, David
  • Baker, Steve
  • Baldwin, Harriett
  • Blackman, Bob


  • Blunt, Crispin
  • Bone, Peter
  • Brady, Graham
  • Chope, Christopher
  • Clifton-Brown, Sir Geoffrey


  • Daly, James
  • Davies, Philip
  • Davis, David
  • Davison, Dehenna
  • Doyle-Price, Jackie


  • Drax, Richard
  • Fysh, Marcus
  • Ghani, Nusrat
  • Green, Chris (pictured)
  • Hunt, Tom


  • Latham, Mrs Pauline
  • Loder, Chris
  • Loughton, Tim
  • Mangnall, Anthony
  • McCartney, Karl


  • McVey, Esther
  • Merriman, Huw
  • Morris, Anne Marie
  • Redwood, rh John
  • Rosindell, Andrew


  • Sambrook, Gary
  • Seely, Bob
  • Smith, Henry
  • Swayne, rh Sir Desmond
  • Syms, Sir Robert


  • Thomas, Derek
  • Tracey, Craig
  • Vickers, Matt
  • Wakeford, Christian
  • Walker, Sir Charles


  • Watling, Giles
  • Wragg, William

Plus two tellers – Philip Hollobone and Craig Mackinlay.

– – –

  • Seven Tory MPs voted against the Government on renewing the Coronavirus Act.
  • Twelve voted against the Government over the rule of six.
  • Now we have 42 this evening – enough to imperil the Government’s majority in the event of all opposition parties that attend Westminster voting against it too.
  • Fifty-six signed the Brady amendment, but it was never voted on, and wasn’t a measure related directly to Government policy on the virus.
  • We wrote last week that Conservative backbench protests would gain “volume and velocity”, and so it is proving.
  • There’s a strong though not total overlap between these lockdown sceptics and Eurosceptics.
  • We count eight members from the 2019 intake – and a big tranche from pre-2010 intakes.
  • Chris Green resigned as a PPS to vote against the measure.
  • He’s a Bolton MP and there’s clearly unhappiness there about these latest restrictions.

The twelve Conservative MPs who voted yesterday evening against the rule of six

7 Oct

They were –

  • Peter Bone.
  • Graham Brady.
  • Philip Davies.
  • Richard Drax.
  • Philip Hollobone.


  • Esther McVey.
  • Merriman, Huw.
  • Henry Smith.
  • Desmond Swayne.
  • Robert Syms.


  • Charles Walker.
  • William Wragg.

That’s the seven who voted against renewing the Coronavirus Act – Bone, Davies, Hollobone, McVey, Swayne, Walker and Wragg – plus five newcomers, including the Chairman of the 1922 Executive Committee.

The Daily Telegraph reports that a vote on the 10pm closing time in pubs or restaurants has been delayed until next week, “after dozens of Conservatives threatened to rebel and Labour refused to publicly back the measure”.

These are early shots in the developing Tory backbench campaign against the restrictions, which will carry on gaining volume and verocity if these and the Government’s test and track system fail to deliver.

Desmond Swayne: Nigeria is independent, but it still needs Britain’s help

1 Oct

Sir Desmond Swayne is a former International Development Minister, and is MP for New Forest West.

Today, Thursday October 1, is the 60th anniversary of Nigeria’s independence from British rule. Celebrating Independence Day is important for any nation and it is no less the case for Nigeria which, having moved on from the days of British rule, has become one of the continent’s most prosperous, most populous and fastest growing nations. It is estimated that Nigeria will have a larger population than the United States by 2050 and it is already the largest economy in Africa.

This diamond jubilee of independence is of great national significance as it celebrates Nigeria’s past ties and collaborations, as well as future opportunities to build stronger connections and trading relationships in this post-Brexit new world. There will be many socially distanced celebrations to commemorate this occasion – the International Organisation for Peace and Social Justice will be holding an online thanksgiving prayer event for example.

However, beyond the joy of Nigeria’s Independence Day celebrations, this prayer event has another purpose, a more sombre purpose – and that is to highlight, mourn and campaign for further positive progress in the ongoing battle against the Boko Haram insurgents and other militia groups threatening the peace of the nation and the region. Since the year 2000, it is estimated that there have been almost 100,000 deaths in Nigeria caused by internationally recognised Islamist extremist groups who have been targeting both Christians and Muslims alike. This existential threat could well have wider global implications if we do not pray and act against it in a timely manner.

This continuing tragedy is underrepresented in the UK media and the scale of the crisis is sadly not fully recognised by all. I commend the hard work of organisations such as OpenDoors, HART, PSJ UK, CSW and others working to raise awareness of the situation in Nigeria.

There has also been some good news recently in this respect from the UK government. I fully support Chancellor Rishi Sunak’s recent announcement that he is considering diverting billions of pounds of foreign aid to bolster security. This would be a welcome early benefit from the new FCO and DFID merger and a step forward for many of us, who have been looking for an official recognition of the links between aid, security and development.

It is my hope that the UK government will move forward with this and use the aid that we give to Nigeria – almost £300m in 2018 – to ensure that Nigeria does more to safeguard human rights and protect lives. This strategy to help the millions of innocent citizens in Nigeria, trapped between some of the deadliest terrorist organisations, Islamic State West Africa and Boko Haram, as well as unidentified militias and bandits has broad public support. For example, a recent ComRes poll showed that requiring foreign aid to Nigeria be targeted on measures that safeguard human rights received over 50 per cent approval and rose to almost 60 per cent support for sanctions on individuals found responsible for these human rights abuses.

Of course, our foreign aid can do great work in countries like Nigeria, building schools, revamping hospitals and updating agricultural equipment. However, we must also continue to ensure that this funding does indeed go to those in need and does not disappear into a labyrinth of wasteful bureaucratic machines. Moreover, without support for persecuted and targeted groups much of our aid projects could simply be destroyed or rendered useless by attacks.

If the UK government embraces this bolder approach to foreign aid we will be able to genuinely use our position on the world stage to make life better for those in need all around the globe.

With the world still in the grip of the Covid-19 pandemic, today’s series of celebratory events in Nigeria and in the UK will be slightly muted with its citizens looking to governments in both nations to do more and follow through on its verbal commitments. Governments have a responsibility to protect their people and I hope to be raising more celebratory glasses to toast when this is fully achieved in Nigeria.

The seven Conservative MPs who voted against renewing the Coronavirus Act

1 Oct

They were

  • Peter Bone.
  • Philip Davies.
  • Philip Hollobone.
  • Esther McVey.
  • Desmond Swayne.
  • Charles Walker.
  • William Wragg.

These MPs were presumably not satisfied with the compromise reached between the Government and Graham Brady over future votes on any changes to Act’s provisions.

They include some of the most committed Brexiteers in the Parliamentary, some of whom operate at a certain distance from the European Research Group: Bone and Hollobone especially.

Swayne told the Commons earlier this week that “I certainly hold up the Swedish model as an alternative”, and clearly he is not alone in thinking so among this band of backbenchers.