Opposition to new national lockdowns is growing on the Conservative backbenches

22 Sep

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.

Javid is Chancellor. Tugendhat, Foreign Secretary. May, Home Secretary. Introducing the Alternative Cabinet.

2 Sep

The Cabinet is widely and correctly dismissed as weak.  So we’ve had a go at assembling a stronger one.  Here is the result.

Our only rule is that no Commons member of the present Cabinet can be listed in this imaginary one. Some of those named below are very familiar to this site’s editors.  Others we don’t really know, and one or two we’ve never met.

The aim of the exercise isn’t to suggest that the entire Cabinet should be swept away, and this one appointed.  Nor that all the alternatives to the present incumbents are better.

None the less, We think that, person for person, this is a better and certainly a more experienced mix of potential Ministers – all of whom are waiting in the wings either in government or on the backbenches,

– – – – – – – – – –

Chancellor of the Exchequer

Sajid Javid

Javid never got a chance to deliver a Budget.  In our imaginary scheme, he would.  His economic instincts are dry, pro-current spending control, lower business taxes, and more infrastructure investment

Foreign Secretary

Tom Tugendhat

Undoubtedly a gamble, since he’s never held Ministerial office, but the Foreign Affairs Select Committee Chairman and former soldier is one of the country’s leading foreign affairs thinkers.

Home Secretary

Theresa May

Whatever you think of her period as Prime Minister, May gripped a department that famously is “not fit for purpose” and, with some of her Tory colleagues campaigning against her, worked to keep net migration down.

Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster and Minister for the Cabinet Office

John Redwood

He is more than capable, as his blog confirms, of thinking creatively about policy, the civil service and delivery – as one would expect from the most effective Tory head that the Downing Street Policy Unit has ever had,

Defence Secretary

Penny Mordaunt

Steeped in defence through family background and her Portsmouth constituency, Mordaunt had less than three months to prove herself in this post.  There’s a case for her having more.

Justice Secretary

Geoffrey Cox

Cox is a Queen’s Council as well as a convinced Brexiteer, and would bring heavyweight credentials to dealing with the judiciary, prisons, human rights and judicial review.

Business Secretary

Greg Clark

Clark is the sole former Cabinet Minister left in the Commons who lost the whip over Brexit, and under this plan would return to his old department.

Trade Secretary

Liam Fox

If Boris Johnson thinks Fox is capable of running the World Trade Organisation, he must surely believe that he could make a success of running his former department again.

Education Secretary

Robert Halfon

Our columnist is now Chair of the Education Select Committee, is a former Minister in the department, and has a populist, work-orientated passion for the subject.

Health Secretary

Jeremy Hunt

The appointment would be risky, because Hunt is bound to be caught up in the Coronavirus inquiry, but he has consistently been ahead of the game on social distancing plus test and trace.

Work and Pensions Secretary

Iain Duncan Smith

Universal Credit has been a quiet success story of Covid-19, and Duncan Smith has the seniority and experience to take it to the next level, given its indispensability as unemployment soars.

Housing, Communites and Local Government Secretary

Kit Malthouse

Former local councillor, London Assembly member, Deputy Mayor to Boris Johnson in London, Minister of State for Housing and Planning – and so well-qualified for the post.

Environment Secretary

Owen Paterson

Paterson knows almost everything about the brief, having held it under David Cameron, and as a convinced Leaver would have plenty of ideas for the future of farming post-Brexit.

Transport Secretary

Jesse Norman

Would be a promotion for a Minister who’s worked in the department before, and did a committed job there as Roads Minister.

Culture Secretary

Tracey Crouch

Knows everything there is to know about sport, and would be a popular appointment, were she willing to take the post on.

Scottish Secretary

Andrew Bowie

Young, personable, and seen as close to Ruth Davidson, which would help with a row about a second Scottish independence referendum coming down the tracks. A calculated gamble from a limited field.

Welsh Secretary

Stephen Crabb

Senior, thoughtful, knows the brief from first hand, will be across the internal Party debate in Wales about the future of devolution.

Northern Ireland Secretary

James Cleverly

Successful on conventional and social media as a Party Chairman, a strong communicator, and now gaining diplomatic experience at the Foreign Office – Northern Ireland would represent a natural transfer.

Party Chairman

Kemi Badenoch

Right-wing, and not afraid of thinking for herself on culture issues – as she has shown as a Minister in sweeping up in the Commons on race, justice and Black Lives Matter.  Would make a strong spokesman.

Leader of the Lords

Natalie Evans

The Lords leader is the exception to our rule, on the ground that the Government’s problem with top Ministers is focused in the Commons, not the Lords – where what’s needed is wider reform.

– – –

Entitled to attend

Leader of the House

Andrea Leadsom

Leadsom was an excellent Leader of the House, standing up to bullying John Bercow, and well up to dealing with the knotty complex of bullying/harrassment issues.  No reason for her not to come back.

Chief Secretary to the Treasury

Steve Baker

Adventurous choice – but, contrary to the fashionable noise about tax rises, what’s really needed is a proper zero-based review of public spending, a task to which Baker would commit himself zealously.

Attorney-General

Lucy Frazer

This QC consider herself unlucky to miss out last time round, and if there has to be a change in post she would slide in seamlessly.

Chief Whip

Graham Brady

The long-standing Chairman of the 1922 Committee Executive knows the Parliamentary Party as well as, if not better, than anyone, and would be perfect for the post were he willing to take it.

Iain Dale: How many Cabinet members would your fantasy Cabinet. I count five. And it gets worse.

20 Aug

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

I don’t think it’s possible for anyone to defend what’s happened over the last week or ten days with exam results.

Clustershambles doesn’t really cover it. And the trouble is that it has affected a huge number of people, not just the students and teachers concerned, but their parents and grandparents too.

Add them up, and we’re talking several million people, I imagine. Like the Dominic Cummings’ Barnard Castle trip, it’s had cut-through.

The latest YouGov poll, out on Wednesday should a four point dip in the Tory ratings to 40 per cent. While that is still a two point lead, it’s not difficult to imagine that next week Labour could be ahead for the first time in, well, many years.

Optimists might point out that we are three and a half years away from a general election and that time is a great healer. Maybe, but once a Government gets a reputation for crass incompetence it is very difficult to shake off.

– – – – – – – – – –

It was reported by The Independent (yes, it still exists online) that Gavin Williamson offered his resignation on Monday, but that it was rejected by the Prime Minister. Only they know the truth of this, but it certainly hasn’t been denied by the beleaguered Education Secretary.

If he did indeed do the honourable thing, all credit to him. But surely if you resign, you, er, resign. It’s all very well for the Prime Minister to have said (if he in fact did), well, you got us into this, you get us out, but in the end once a politician loses the confidence of his or her client groups, it’s very difficult to get things back on an even keel.

Your Cabinet colleagues look at you as a dead man walking. Your enemies can’t wait until your inevitable denouement, and your “friends” melt away at the first whiff of grapeshot. If you’re going to survive, you don’t have long to plan how to do it. In Williamson’s case, he has until Christmas, given that I am led to understand that the reshuffle is now planned for January.

– – – – – – – – – –

The trouble with this Cabinet is that it has a distinctly second-rate feel about it. How many of them would make it into a Thatcher or Major cabinet. Very few, I would venture to suggest.

I interviewed Alastair Campbell on Wednesday (it will be on the Iain Dale All Talk podcast next Wednesday), and he reckoned that most of the current crew wouldn’t have even made it to Minister of State in Mrs T’s day.

Do it yourself. Go through the whole cabinet, and think how many of them would make your own fantasy cabinet. I just did so and came up with a total of five. Lamentable.

But it gets worse. Look down the list of Ministers of State – the ministers who would normally be next in line for the cabinet. I count five that are cabinet material. This is a dire state of affairs.

But it gets even worse. Normally you have a range of former ministers who you could think about bringing back to add a bit of weight and gravitas. Trouble is, most of them left Parliament at the last election. Looking at the greybeards on the Tory benches with cabinet experience you have Iain Duncan Smith, David Davis, John Redwood, Maria Miller, Greg Clark, Stephen Crabb, Liam Fox, Cheryl Gillan, Chris Grayling, Damian Green, Mark Harper, Jeremy Hunt, Sajid Javid, Andrea Leadsom, Theresa May, Esther McVey, Andrew Mitchell, Owen Paterson and Theresa Villiers.

Now, how many of those could realistically be restored to cabinet status to bring something extra in terms of political weight, gravitas or character? I’ll leave that to your impeccable judgement.

– – – – – – – – – –

So far this year, I haven’t taken any holiday at all. However, next week I’m on holiday in Norfolk – apart from the fact that I’ll be writing this column, doing several podcasts and appearing on Any Questions.

I realised last week that I’ve lost the art of doing nothing. If I’m watching TV, I’ve got my laptop open and I will be flicking through Twitter or something.

Next week, I’m going to try to do some reading, and I mean reading for pleasure – not reading something because I have to for my job. Talking of which I have just done an hour-long interview for my Iain Dale Book Club podcast with Danny Finkelstein. He’s just published a book of his collected columns. What a truly fascinating man he is. The podcast will be released on Friday 4 September.

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…