Andrew Gimson’s PMQs sketch: Planet Fact redoubles its attacks on Planet Freedom

24 Jun

Week by week the gulf between the Prime Minister and the Leader of the Opposition has widened until they seem like inhabitants of different planets, speaking different languages, unable to communicate or sympathise with each other, determined to treat each other as an alien and essentially despicable form of life.

Sir Keir Starmer inhabits Planet Fact. Each Wednesday he tries and fails to subject the Prime Minister to the laws of Planet Fact.

Boris Johnson inhabits Planet Freedom. Each Wednesday he declares his freedom to believe whatever he wants to believe, regardless of any pettifogging objections from the Leader of the Opposition.

Starmer began by observing that two-thirds of those with Covid-19 are not being reached by the track and trace system, and urged Johnson to agree “there’s a big problem”.

Johnson insisted that on the contrary, Starmer “has been stunned by the success” of track and trace.

Starmer proceeded to a more general condemnation of the Prime Minister for “brushing aside challenge, dashing forward, not estimating properly the risk”.

The Prime Minister responded to this attack on his whole way of life with an attack on the Leader of the Opposition’s way of life. He said Starmer had misled the House.

The Speaker, Sir Lindsay Hoyle, intervened to point out that “nobody misleads” the House.

Johnson instead accused Starmer of “inadvertently giving a false impression”, and indeed of “yo-yoing” between different positions.

Starmer said he was relying on the Government’s own slides, and added that the PM “should welcome challenge that could save lives”.

Will Starmer succeed in making Johnson look like a reckless joyrider who is leading us to our deaths?

Or will Johnson make Starmer look like a joyless pedant who is seeking to infect us with needless negativity?

Starmer summed up the case for the prosecution: “He’s been found out. He either dodges the question or he gives dodgy answers. No more witnesses. I rest my case.”

Johnson was unrepentant. One of the delights of Planet Freedom, he suggested, is that one can laugh to scorn the morbidly conscientious attitudes which prevail on Planet Fact.

Benedict Rogers: We are on the brink of a new Cold War. Hong Kong is the frontline.

24 Jun

Benedict Rogers is co-founder and Chair of Hong Kong Watch. He works full-time at the international human rights organisation CSW, which specializes in freedom of religion or belief for all, and also serves as the Deputy Chair of the UK Conservative Party’s Human Rights Commission. He is also on the advisory board of the new Inter-Parliamentary Alliance on China (IPAC).

It seems to me we are on the brink of war. Not a war between nations or peoples, and not a war that necessarily involves military hardware – yet. But a new Cold War, between values. A war between freedom and authoritarianism, between human rights and repression, between the international rules-based system and a winner-takes-all profiteering perspective. And the frontline in this new war is Hong Kong.

A month ago, the Chinese Communist Party regime shocked the world by announcing that it would impose on Hong Kong a national security law that would destroy Hong Kong’s basic freedoms, flagrantly flout an international treaty – the Sino-British Joint Declaration – and decimate Hong Kong’s “high degree of autonomy” under “one country, two systems”.

Democracies scrambled to respond, and their response – to their credit – has not been lacking in vigour. The United States announced that Beijing’s decision rendered their special treatment of Hong Kong as a special autonomous region redundant, since Beijing was so blatantly disregarding Hong Kong’s autonomy. The United Kingdom followed suit by pledging expanded protection for Hong Kong’s British National Overseas (BNO) passport holders, if the security law is imposed, on the basis that China has violated the Sino-British Joint Declaration. Now the European Parliament has passed a resolution calling for a case to be brought at the International Court of Justice against China for violation of the Joint Declaration, targeted sanctions, a UN Special Envoy or Special Rapporteur and a lifeboat policy to offer sanctuary for brave Hong Kong frontline activists who are not BNOs and who may be in grave danger under Beijing’s new security law. It is a resolution that mandates an immediate action plan.

Now Beijing has revealed some of the details of its dreaded new law. And it is appalling. While a full draft is not yet released let alone approved, Chinese State media has let it be known that those convicted of “moderate” violations of the security law in Hong Kong – whatever “moderate” means – may be jailed for three years, and those convicted of “serious” crimes could face five or ten years, or more, in jail. The law suggests that Hong Kong’s Chief Executive – currently Carrie Lam, who has proved herself to be a totally subservient puppet of Beijing – can choose the judges in such cases, and that Beijing will oversee the process. In other words, judicial independence is dead and buried if this goes through and the rule of law becomes a historical fact rather than a present reassurance.

So all the theorizing, positioning and leveraging become no longer a matter of conjecture and now a matter of immediate action. Will the world’s democracies step up?

In plain English, we need everyone – absolutely everyone – who believes in freedom, human rights, democracy, the rule of law – to be all hands on deck. But not in a scattergun, isolated or egotistical way. No. It’s time to unite, coordinate and fight back. It’s not too much of an exaggeration to say that we are, in relation to Xi Jinping’s regime in mid-2020, how we were in regard to Adolf Hitler’s regime in the late-1930s, or in response to the Soviet Union at various stages of the Cold War. We either dismiss the dangers as Stanley Baldwin did, or we try to appease as Neville Chamberlain did, or we stand true to our values and stand up for freedom – as Winston Churchill did and as Ronald Reagan, in his Berlin Wall speech, the anniversary of which was last week, did. And I know what side I am on.

For that reason, we need to unleash a full volley of reactions. Yesterday I sat with my nephews playing the card game Uno Extreme, where you press a button and a mass of cards comes if you’re unable to cast a card. The current crisis is much more complex but the principle applies. We must marshal all our cards – and ensure we don’t play the wrong one.

That means Britain leading, because Britain has a responsibility to Hong Kong – moral and legal. The Prime Minister should be commended for his op-ed in the South China Morning Post pledging protections for BNOs, and the Foreign Secretary and Home Secretary should be saluted for their historic signals of intent to stand by Hong Kong. But much, much more is needed.

Britain must lead the world in establishing an international contact group to coordinate a global response. “Britain must lead” is indeed the refrain from many, and I agree – but Britain can’t do it alone. A precedent is set by the statements in past weeks by British, Australian, Canadian and US foreign ministers together. And by Japan leading the G7 statement. We need more of this. Why not build on this into an international contact group, as at least seven former foreign secretaries have suggested?

That international contact group should coordinate a lifeboat scheme to provide sanctuary for Hong Kongers who aren’t BNOs who need to escape. Helping Hong Kongers to safety is a moral responsibility – but it should also be remembered that Hong Kongers would bring wealth and entrepreneurialism, and so would be a boost to any economy rather than a burden. But a lifeboat is a last resort, not a first response. So the international contact group should coordinate international diplomatic efforts combined with targeted sanctions that will hit individuals in the Chinese and Hong Kong administrations hard.

And while many may argue that the United Nations lacks teeth, a global effort is needed to secure the establishment of a UN Special Envoy or Special Rapporteur on Hong Kong, to monitor the human rights situation and mediate a solution – as the last Governor Lord Patten, the head of the International Bar Association’s human rights centre Baroness Helena Kennedy QC, the chairs of foreign affairs committees in the parliaments of the UK, Canada, Australia and New Zealand and former UN officials themselves, including the former UN Special Rapporteur on human rights in Myanmar who is also a former Chair of the UN Committee on the rights of the child, Yanghee Lee, among others, recommend.

The wheels of diplomacy turn slowly and often lack teeth. The impact of individual countries’ actions is limited. But when the world pulls together and acts as one, it can speed up the process and enhance the impact. If the free world values freedom, then it must wake up to the imminent dangers exhibited in Hong Kong – but likely to spread further if allowed to pass unchallenged. This may not be the darkest hour, as things may get darker still. But that the hour to act has come is not in doubt. For as Churchill famously said, “you cannot reason with a tiger when your head is in its mouth”. It’s carpe diem time – for Hong Kong, and for freedom.

What will and won’t be reopening on July 4

24 Jun

We interrupt our political articles with a public service announcement.

Here is a list of facilities that can open in England as of July 4:

  • Adventure parks.
  • Amusement arcades.
  • Aquariums.
  • Bars.
  • Bed and breakfasts.
  • Boarding houses.
  • Campsites
  • Caravan parks.
  • Cinemas.
  • Community Centres.
  • Cottages.
  • Fun fairs.
  • Galleries
  • Hair salons.
  • Hotels.
  • Indoor leisure centres.
  • Libraries.
  • Model villages.
  • Museums.
  • Outdoor gyms.
  • Playgrounds.
  • Social clubs.
  • Zoos.

Here is a list of facilities that will stay closed:

  • Bowling alleys.
  • Conference or exhibition centres.
  • Indoor fitness centres.
  • Indoor gyms.
  • Night clubs.
  • Skating rinks.
  • Softplay.
  • Swimming pools.
  • Tattoo parlours.
  • Water parks.

– – –

Some further details via Sam Coates of Sky News:

  • No singing in churches
  • No date for reopening indoor gyms or restarting concerts
  • Theatres and concert halls may open – but no live performances.
  • Wedding ceremonies allowed but only one household at the party venue at the moment.

Calling Conservatives: New public appointments announced. Non-Executive Directors at NHS England – and more

24 Jun

Eight years ago, the TaxPayers’ Alliance reported that “in the last year, five times more Labour people were appointed to public bodies than Tories”.

It currently reports that almost half of avowedly political appointees last year owed their allegiance to Labour Party, compared to less than a third for the Conservatives.

Despite the selection of some Party members or supporters to fill important posts, over time, the Conservatives have punched beneath their weight when it comes to public appointments.  One of the reasons seems to be that Tories simply don’t apply in the same number as Labour supporters.

To help remedy this, each week we put up links to some of the main public appointments vacancies, so that qualified Conservatives can be aware of the opportunities presented.

– – – – – – – – – –

DFID Board – Non-Executive Director

“DFID leads the UK’s work to end extreme poverty, deliver the Global Goals, and tackle global challenges in line with the government’s UK Aid Strategy. We are delivering against the Government’s manifesto to stand up for the right of every girl in the world to have 12 years of quality education, to end the preventable deaths of mothers, new born babies and children by 2030 and to fight climate change, protect the environment and preserve biodiversity. We are helping to lead the international response to prevent and mitigate the impacts of the Coronavirus and we work to save lives when humanitarian emergencies hit. We do this whilst also investing in the systems that help support Global Health Security and improve peoples’ resilience to shocks and supporting countries receiving aid to become self-sufficient.”

Time: Approx. 20 days per annum.

Remuneration: £15,000 per annum.

Closes: 26 June

– – – – – – – – – –

Northern Ireland Human Rights Commission – Commissioners

“The Commission operates as an executive non-departmental public body sponsored by the Northern Ireland Office and is a key part of the architecture of human rights protections in Northern Ireland… Candidates for these roles must be able to make a personal contribution to the work of the Commission and will need to demonstrate: the ability to build productive and respectful relationships with fellow Commissioners, senior stakeholders and diverse communities; knowledge of human rights law, and of the scope and limits of the NIHRCs work in Northern Ireland, and the considerations that influence the environment in which it operates; the ability to analyse information and exercise judgement across a broad spectrum of policy and high level human rights issues; and a reputation for personal integrity, professional conduct and credibility, with an exceptional sense of propriety.”

Time: Approx. 3 days per month.

Remuneration: £7,500 per annum.

Closes: 26 June

– – – – – – – – – –

Department for International Trade – Lead Non-Executive Board Member/Non-Executive Board Member

“Both Non-Executive Board Members roles will exercise their role through influence and advice, supporting as well as challenging the executive, and covering such issues as: support, guidance and challenge on the progress and implementation of the Departments Strategy (the single departmental plan); performance (including agreeing key performance indicators), operational issues (including the operational and delivery implications of policy proposals), adherence to relevant standards (e.g. commercial, digital), and on the effective management of the department; [and] the recruitment, appraisal and suitable succession planning of senior executives, as appropriate within the principles set out by the Civil Service Commission.”

Time: Approx. 15-20 days per annum.

Remuneration: £20,000/£15,000 per annum.

Closes: 28 June

– – – – – – – – – –

Infrastructure Exports:UK – Board co-Chair

“IE:UK is a joint industry and government partnership, strategically targeting major infrastructure export opportunities around the world. It is supported by DIT’s network of local staff in 116 markets, with the objective of identifying, pursuing, and delivering major strategic infrastructure projects through a consortium-led approach. The objective of IE:UK is to increase UK infrastructure exports and identify gaps in the UK supply chain for FDI to fill. The IE:UK Board is co-chaired by DIT‘s Minister for Exports and a senior industry leader. The Industry sector co-Chair will benefit from working closely with the Minister for Exports and leading UK based infrastructure companies to help shape the direction of UK export policy and support within the infrastructure sector.”

Time: 3-4 meetings a year.

Remuneration: None.

Closes: 29 June

– – – – – – – – – –

NHS England – Non-Executive Directors

“The Secretary of State for Health and Social Care is looking to make two Non-Executive Director (NED) appointments to NHS England. NHS England leads the National Health Service in England and sets its priorities and direction. It is responsible for arranging the provision of health services and for more than £150 billion of funds. The primary role of Non-Executive Directors is, as a team, to lead in developing the strategy for, and overseeing the work of NHS England by participating fully in the work of the board, both in the context of the board meetings themselves, and more widely. Non-Executive Directors also play a part in representing NHS England externally, alongside the Chief Executive, the Chair and the wider Executive team.”

Time: 2-3 days per month.

Remuneration: £7,883 (£13,137) per annum.

Closes: 02 July

– – – – – – – – – –

Migration Advisory Committee – Members

“Do you want to play a key role in helping to shape the future of migration issues and support the interests of UK residents? If so, you can do this by becoming a Member of the Migration Advisory Committee (MAC). The MAC advises the government on a range of migration policy issues, offering independent evidence-based advice, and its core statement of purpose is to: deliver high quality evidence-based, economics focused, reports and policy advice in accordance with the work plan set by the Government; and help ensure that Government policy and strategy in relation to migration and employment is based on the best possible evidence and analysis.  To date the advice of the Committee has included impacts of migration; annual limits on, and the design of, Tiers 1 and 2 of the Points-Based System; and transitional labour market access for nationals of new EU member states.”

Time: “An initial term of three years.”

Remuneration: £275 per diem.

Closes: 06 July

– – – – – – – – – –

Northern Ireland Office – Non-Executive Director

“Non-Executive Directors provide a key role in the strategic and operational leadership of the Northern Ireland Office. They complement the balance of skills and experience of Government Ministers and officials by bringing independent advice, support, constructive challenge and a fresh external perspective to help shape a department’s work. To complement the existing balance of skills on the Northern Ireland Office Departmental Board and to ensure that it can provide expert advice to Ministers on a wide range of issues and challenges, we would particularly welcome applications from people with experience in the business and commercial sector.”

Time: Approx. 10 days per annum.

Remuneration: £7,500 per annum plus expenses.

Closes: 10 July

Newslinks for Wednesday 24th June 2020

24 Jun

Coronavirus 1) Johnson announces that lockdown will be lifted on July 4th

“Boris Johnson hailed the beginning of the end of Britain’s “national hibernation” on Tuesday as he announced the biggest return of freedoms since lockdown began. The Prime Minister said families and friends will be able to mingle indoors and even go on holiday together from July 4, when pubs and restaurants will also reopen and the two metre rule will be reduced to one metre. But Chris Whitty, the chief medical officer, warned that many of new social distancing measures will have to remain in place “until this time next year” because a coronavirus vaccine is still a long way off. Mr Johnson announced that domestic tourism will be up and running again with hotels, guest houses and campsites allowed to open on July 4, along with hairdressers, cinemas and almost every type of tourist attraction. However gyms, swimming pools, nightclubs, indoor sports facilities and concert venues were among the losers which still have no date for reopening.” – Daily Telegraph

>Today:

>Yesterday:

Coronavirus 2) Warnings of a second wave

“Health leaders are calling for an urgent review to determine whether the UK is properly prepared for the “real risk” of a second wave of coronavirus. In an open letter published in the British Medical Journal, ministers were warned that urgent action would be needed to prevent further loss of life. The presidents of the Royal Colleges of Surgeons, Nursing, Physicians, and GPs all signed the letter….Both the government’s chief scientific adviser Sir Patrick Vallance and the chief medical officer for England Professor Chris Whitty stressed Mr Johnson’s plan was not “risk-free”.” – BBC

Coronavirus 3) Pledge to fully reopen schools in September faces union resistance

“All children returning to school in September is “pure fantasy”, headteachers have said, warning that there will not be enough space in classrooms even with the new “one metre plus” rule. Unions told ministers that reducing social distancing from two metres to “one-metre plus” is not a “magic bullet”, urging them to come up with a strategy to reopen schools that is “based in reality”. Boris Johnson, the Prime Minister, on Tuesday announced that the public will be expected to observe “one-metre plus” from July 4. Mr Johnson told the Commons that formal childcare will restart over the summer, and that primary and secondary schools will reopen in September with “full attendance”. He added: “And those children who can already go to school should do so because it is safe.” However, he offered no new guidance on schools, which remain closed to most pupils despite the change from the two-metre rule.” – Daily Telegraph

  • Opening the pubs but not schools just doesn’t add up – David Blunkett, The Sun
  • SAGE has “concerns” – The Times
  • Welsh schools reopening – BBC

>Today: Ed McGuinness on Local Government: We need more innovation to reopen schools

Coronavirus 4) Swimmers and cricketers object to continued ban

“Ministers were challenged to explain last night why pubs were safer than chlorinated swimming pools as sporting bodies left out of the lockdown-easing lashed out at the government. Many sporting activities, such as recreational cricket, football and rugby remain banned. Swimming pools, gyms and sports centres will not reopen on July 4. Leaders of those sports questioned the rationale behind the continuing restrictions when many other indoor leisure activities were allowed to restart. Michael Vaughan, the former England cricket captain, said the decision to maintain the restrictions was “utter nonsense” and suggested amateur cricket should defy the lockdown.” – The Times

  • The shops that won’t be reopening – BBC

Coronavirus 5) Daily press conference scrapped

“The daily Downing Street press conference on coronavirus has been stopped, the government has announced. Boris Johnson led the final regular briefing, flanked by chief advisers Chris Whitty and Sir Patrick Vallance. From now on televised briefings will be given on an “ad hoc” basis to “coincide with significant announcements,” Downing Street said. It comes as the PM announced an easing of the lockdown in England. There have been 92 briefings, and two national addresses by the prime minister. Leading the final briefing, Mr Johnson thanked Prof Whitty and Sir Patrick for their “heroic work in presenting information to the public so clearly and so powerfully”.” – BBC

>Yesterday: WATCH: The Prime Minister fronts the last of the daily series of press conferences

Coronavirus 6): “Disturbing surge” in US cases

“America’s top infectious disease expert has told lawmakers that the US is seeing a “disturbing surge” in coronavirus infections in some states. A panel of health officials, including Dr Anthony Fauci, said the next few days will be crucial to stem the new outbreaks. Cases are climbing rapidly across a number of US states. The four top experts also testified they were never told by President Donald Trump to “slow down” testing. Their comments come after Mr Trump told a weekend rally in Oklahoma that he had asked his team to do less testing to help keep official case counts down. “To my knowledge, none of us have ever been told to slow down on testing,” Dr Fauci, the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, testified to a congressional committee investigating the US response to the pandemic.” – BBC

Coronavirus 7) Funding to rehouse rough sleepers when hotels reopen

“An extra £85m has been announced by the Treasury to provide emergency accommodation for 5,400 rough sleepers who have been placed in hotels in England for the duration of the pandemic, avoiding them having to return to the streets when the hotels reopen to the public this summer. The extra money will allow councils to rehouse rough sleepers in student accommodation and to find alternative spaces elsewhere until more permanent housing is found. Dame Louise Casey, the chair of the Covid-19 rough sleeping taskforce, said she was extremely relieved the extra money had been allocated, allowing charities and councils longer to work to find long-term housing for those rough sleepers who have been staying in Ibis, Holiday Inn and Travelodge hotels at the government’s expense since the end of March.” – The Guardian

  • Finding a long-term solution is harder – Robert Wright, Financial Times

Coronavirus 8) Call for Scotland to ditch the two metre rule too

“One third of hotels in Scotland say they will not reopen in mid-July when the country’s tourism and hospitality sector is earmarked to resume trading as a result of the two metre distancing rule. Many hospitality firms even warn they will be economically unsustainable if the restriction remains in place in Scotland, according to a survey conducted by industry bosses north of the border.” – The Scotsman

Coronavirus 9) Cameron: A new international body is needed

“You don’t know what is coming; you need to constantly scan the horizon. That’s why after the Ebola crisis I also established a specialist unit in the Cabinet Office to survey the world continuously for viruses heading our way. I believe our energy should now go into forming something at an international level that can do a similar job, and do it fast. In this interconnected, digital world we don’t need some massive new agency. But, given the gaps we can see in the current provision, we know that such an organisation needs to be open, global, science-led, independent, non-political and totally focused on the job in hand: working out where and when and how the next dangerous virus could hit us.” – David Cameron, The Times

Other coronavirus comment:

  • Liberation is at hand – Leader, The Sun
  • The return of hospitality may yet save the summer – Leader, Daily Telegraph
  • Who wants to live in this new normal? – Allison Pearson, Daily Telegraph
  • Whatever lies ahead, a national lockdown cannot be repeated – Stephen Glover, Daily Mail
  • Give me back the ‘old normal’ before lockdown took away our freedoms – Philip Johnston, Daily Telegraph
  • Business didn’t get us into this mess, but with the right reforms it can get us out of it – Sajid Javid, City AM

Patel promises to implement Windrush recommendations in full…

“The recommendations of a review into the Windrush scandal will be implemented in full, Home Secretary Priti Patel has said. The report criticised the Home Office after those who came to the UK from Commonwealth countries were wrongly told they were in Britain illegally. Mrs Patel also acknowledged that compensation payments to those who had suffered had been “far too slow”. Labour accused the government of being ‘too slow to right the wrongs’.” – BBC

…and vows to end deportation delays

“Priti Patel is planning to crack down on abuses in the asylum system as part of an overhaul of immigration rules intended to make it easier to remove illegal migrants and offenders who have completed their prison sentences. The home secretary wants to stop asylum applicants stringing out claims with last-minute appeals. She also wants to see prompt removal of criminals sentenced to 12 months or more, but has admitted that this will be a big challenge.” – The Times

MPs reject debates on harassment cases

“MPs have voted down controversial proposals introduced by the leader of the House of Commons, Jacob Rees-Mogg, that would have allowed them to debate complaints about serious bullying and harassment. In an open letter seen by the Guardian, past and present parliamentary staff, union leaders, MPs and women’s groups had accused Rees-Mogg of undermining a new independent system designed to prevent bullying and sexual harassment in parliament, by allowing MPs to debate serious sanctions made by a new independent expert panel (IEP). But on Tuesday evening, an amendment tabled by Labour MP Chris Bryant, which ruled out debating complaints against MPs in the chamber, passed by five votes – to the delight of parliamentary staffers and campaigners.” – The Guardian

Jenrick had house extension approved despite objections

“The housing secretary had an extension to his £2.6 million Westminster townhouse approved by Conservative councillors despite officials objecting to the scheme three times, The Times can reveal. Robert Jenrick, 38, and his wife, 47, purchased the five-bedroom house in October 2013, a few weeks before he was selected as the Conservative candidate in Newark. The couple submitted plans to turn a first-floor roof terrace into an extra room as part of renovations costing £830,000, but the scheme was twice rejected by a planning officer who concluded it would damage the character and appearance of the building and conservation area.” – The Times

  • Commons bid to force him to release documents about his decision to green-light Tory donor’s £1billion property development – Daily Mail

>Today: Profile: Robert Jenrick, who rose without trace until he hit two bumps in the road

Those on low incomes more likely to vote Conservative than Labour

“More poorer Brits voted Tory than Labour for the first time to help deliver Boris Johnson’s 2019 election landslide. A study of the December poll has shown the Conservatives established a 15-point lead over the Opposition among those on low incomes. It even revealed the Tories were more popular with those struggling to make ends meet than they were among wealthier voters. A report for the anti-poverty Joseph Rowntree Foundation says:  “The Tories are no longer the party of the rich, while Labour is no longer the party of the poor”. It examined the British Election Study and found 45.4 per cent of low-income voters backed the Tories, with 30.6 per cent backing Labour.” – The Sun

Shrimsley: Tories should not be distracted by culture wars

“Against a serious opposition, it is competence not cultural clashes that will decide the government’s fate. Identity politics might take you to power, but competence keeps you there. In the weeks since he fell ill with Covid-19, Mr Johnson has squandered the public’s goodwill. Since the furore over his chief aide Dominic Cummings’s lockdown breach, he has alienated his own MPs with all-too visible contempt. A bunker mentality infuses his operation and his cabinet comprises too many ciphers.” – Robert Shrimsley, Financial Times

  • “Racist” plane banner isn’t a crime – Daily Mail
  • MP’s assistant who tried to save Reading victims – Daily Telegraph

>Today: Columnist Daniel Hannan: The police. Not institutionally racist, but institutionally woke.

News in brief

  • The limits of Covid death statistics – Ross Clark, The Spectator
  • Was the two-metre rule one big lie? – Timandra Harkness, Unherd
  • Would a second term for Trump endanger the United States? – Daniel Johnson, The Article
  • Getting people back to work – John Redwood
  • White Saviour Syndrome won’t save black lives – John Lloyd, CapX

Friends of Cummings: “A hard rain is coming.”

24 Jun

Readouts from Dominic Cummings’ Zoom meeting with other SpAds have a way of becoming public.  One made its way to ConservativeHome yesterday which was then posted as a Twitter thread.

The sum of it is that Cummings is against centralistion, not for it; that his goal is to make the centre smaller, empower departments and change civil service fundamentals; that “anybody who has read what I’ve said about management over the years will know it’s ludicrous to suggest the solution to Whitehall’s problems is a bigger centre and more centralisation”, and that the centre is already too big, incoherent and adds to the problems with departments.

A smaller and more elite centre is needed; big changes are coming to Number Ten and the Cabinet Office, and many officials now accepted the need for radical changes. Anything to the contrary is “more media inventions”.

The briefing ended with the words: “a hard rain is coming”.

Cue a mass of protests to this site claiming that the readout was simply friends of Cummings throwing up chaff, and that none of it should be believed for a moment.

SpAds were told last July that they are to report to Cummings; their contracts were changed to ensure so formally; SpAds that he didn’t care for have been removed; big decisions go through him, and so can’t always be taken quickly – hence the foul-up over Marcus Rashford’s campaign for free meals for children over the summer; Sonia Khan was removed; so were Sajid Javid’s main SpAds, hence the former Chancellor’s resignation; Number Ten and the Treasury have been joined at the top, and so on.

Who’s right?

For what it’s worth, here’s a view from people inside government who work with him, admire him – but also maintain a critical detachment.

“Dom is a decentraliser,” we were told.  “But he’s resistant to decentralising to people who he thinks aren’t up to the job.  And there are departments of which he’s institutionally suspicious, such as Justice.”

“If he thinks you know your stuff and are capable then he’ll leave you alone – one topical example being Munira Mirza, who he rates.”

What can certainly be said is that so far, for better or worse, institutional change in Whitehall has been less sweeping than originally briefed: DfId has been swallowed up by the Foreign Office, and that’s about it.

Clearly, changes to the sprawling Cabinet Office, which is not held to have performed well during Coronavirus, are coming, as we wrote recently.

If there were more Ministers that Cummings rated, perhaps there would be more decentralistion.  But he’s on record as taking a low view of most of them: “PJ Masks will do a greater job than all of them put together.”  Which gives us the chance to republish our illustration of Cummings as the Splat Monster.

Profile: Robert Jenrick, who rose without trace until he hit two bumps in the road

24 Jun

Until the age of 38, which he attained on 9th January this year, Robert Jenrick had ascended the political ladder at remarkable speed while remaining unknown to the wider public.

Nor can one yet say that as Secretary of State for Housing, Communities and Local Government he has become a household name, often though he appeared at the Downing Street press conferences on Covid-19.

For there is nothing distinctive in Jenrick’s manner: he does not lodge himself in the memory.

Labour is trying to change that. It wants people to remember him, if not by name, then as the Tory minister who “auctioned off the planning system to a billionaire donor at a Conservative Party fundraising dinner”, as Steve Reed, Jenrick’s Labour opposite number, recently put it.

And this afternoon in the Commons, Labour will press for the release of all documents to do with that affair.

The fundraising dinner took place last November. Jenrick found himself sitting next to Richard Desmond, former proprietor of The Daily Express, who is seeking permission for a one billion pound redevelopment of that paper’s disused Westferry Printworks in the Isle of Dogs, to include over 1500 flats.

Jenrick had already called in the scheme, and in January this year he approved it, on the day before Desmond would have become liable to pay Tower Hamlets Council a Community Infrastructure Levy of about £40 million on the scheme.

The council opened legal proceedings against Jenrick, who in May conceded that the timing of his decision “would lead the fair-minded and informed observer to conclude that there was a real possibility” of bias.

The Planning Court said the Housing Secretary had accepted the decision “was unlawful by reason of apparent bias and should be quashed”, which it proceeded to do.

Another minister will now decide whether to approve Desmond’s development, and Labour is doing all it can to exploit Jenrick’s embarrassment, as would the Conservatives if the positions were reversed.

When taking the decision to approve Desmond’s plan, Jenrick not only rejected the advice of the local council and planning inspector, which is usual enough, but is reported to have rejected the advice of his own chief planning officer, which is highly unusual.

Desmond paid £12,000 to attend the dinner, of which Jenrick recently said in the Commons:

“My department knew about my attendance at the event before I went to it. It knew about the fact that I had inadvertently sat next to the applicant. I did not know who I was going to be seated by until I sat at the table. I discussed and took advice from my officials within the department at all times.”

There is something hapless about the word “inadvertently”. A Tory MP told ConHome with considerable annoyance that Jenrick “should never have been sitting next to Desmond”, but blamed the organisers of the dinner, not Jenrick, for this, and described the Housing Secretary as “well-respected”.

Another senior Tory backbencher said of Jenrick:

“He is a decent man, a solicitor by training, highly diligent, and I would trust him over Mr Desmond any day.”

But a third backbencher, a former minister, said Jenrick is known as “Generic”

“because there’s nothing there. If he walked across a sieve he’d probably completely disappear. He’s a suit. What does he believe? He’s an example of the new kind of Cabinet Minister who forms up with a pair of shiny shoes, takes his orders from Dominic Cummings and goes and delivers them.

“He’s arrived from nowhere and as for all politicians who do that when he hits a bump he goes off the road.”

Jenrick has actually hit two bumps. In March, he repeatedly emphasised, in his role as one of the Government’s leading spokesmen on the pandemic, that people “should stay at home whenever possible”, but at the start of April he was found to have travelled to his house in Herefordshire:

“Under-fire minister Robert Jenrick has claimed the £1.1 million Grade I listed country mansion he drove 150 miles to during the coronavirus lockdown is his family home – but his official website says the opposite, MailOnline can reveal today.

“The Housing Secretary is also facing calls to quit unless he can offer a ‘very good explanation’ about a 40 mile trip to drop supplies at his parents’ house in Shropshire last weekend when neighbours said they were already delivering essentials.

“Mr Jenrick, a key player in the Government’s response to the pandemic that has claimed 7,978 lives in Britain, has repeatedly told the public to stay at home and not make unnecessary journeys to stop the spread of coronavirus, including travelling to any second homes.”

On the same day that report appeared, 9th April, Boris Johnson came out of intensive care at St Thomas’s Hospital, and three days later he delivered his heartfelt message of thanks to the NHS for saving his life.

Compared to that, the questionable conduct of an unknown Cabinet minister looked unimportant. It made nothing like the impact of the revelation on 22nd May of Dominic Cummings’ family trip during lockdown to County Durham.

Cummings presents a wonderful target. He is blamed by Remainers for steering the Leave campaign to victory, is close to the Prime Minister and loves riling the media. Piers Morgan and Alastair Campbell were among those who led the demands for Cummings to be sacked, and Tory MPs found their inboxes flooded by emails from members of the public who were furious that there seemed to be one rule for the ruling class, represented by Cummings, and another for everyone else.

Nobody regards Jenrick as an evil genius, and he has never intentionally riled the media. He has instead followed the more conventional course of giving the media nothing much to report, and most people have probably already forgotten about his travels during lockdown.

Jenrick was born in Wolverhampton in 1982, grew up in Herefordshire and Shropshire, and was educated at Wolverhampton Grammar School, a fee-paying establishment, followed by St John’s College, Cambridge, where he took a First in History, after which he spent a year studying Political Science at the University of Pennsylvania.

He proceeded to qualify, in 2008, as a solicitor, to work for two American law firms in Moscow and in London, and on the international business side of Christie’s Auction House.

In the same year, he gained selection as the Conservative candidate for Newcastle-under-Lyme, in Staffordshire, where in the general election of 2010 the Conservative vote rose by almost 5,000, but he was still 1500 votes short of taking the seat, which only went Tory last December.

During one week of the 2010 campaign, he contributed a diary to ConHome which included this passage:

“Unexpectedly this afternoon, a legal contact calls. He’s an environmental lawyer in Washington D.C. who is co-ordinating efforts in the U.S. to develop the first Green Investment Bank with the Obama administration. I put him in touch with the Shadow Environment team, some of whom it turns out will be in D.C. tomorrow and may be able to meet up. This follows on from bringing together the Environment team with Better Place, an Israeli company developing an electric car system that will soon be on the streets of Tel Aviv and San Francisco. Better Place’s CEO, Shai Agassi, is one of the most impressive men I’ve met: he is pragmatic and not a climate crusader and he puts privately-funded technological advancement at the heart of tackling climate change.”

We see Jenrick at the age of 28 proud of his ability to network, and remarkably at ease as he does so.

In 2013, Better Place went bankrupt, and Jenrick was adopted as the Conservative candidate in Newark, where it was expected that the scandal-afflicted Tory MP, Patrick Mercer, would stand down at the general election in 2015.

Mercer instead stood down in April 2014, precipitating a by-election in Newark where the Conservatives needed to beat off a strong challenge from UKIP in order to look like credible contenders for 2015.

Tory MPs were ordered to visit Newark three times during the campaign, Cabinet ministers were expected to put in five appearances, members of the House of Lords could be found delivering leaflets, and the party’s depleted reserves of activists were incentivised by the prospect of fighting alongside the officer class.

Jenrick found himself at the centre of a national campaign. Roger Helmer, the UKIP candidate, accused him of owning three homes, none of them anywhere near Newark.

The formidable Simon Walters, political editor of The Mail on Sunday, arrived to see what he could make of Jenrick:

Mr Jenrick presents himself as a ‘father, local man, son of a secretary and small businessman and state primary school-educated’ candidate.

But that is not quite the whole story.

In fact, he and American wife Michal own not one, but two, £2 million homes in London and a £1 million country pile built by an 18th Century slave-trader.

Their Newark ‘home’ is a rented house obtained when he was picked as a candidate six months ago.

And his Party CV omits to say he went to a £13,000-a-year private secondary school.

Together with his director’s  job at Christie’s auction house, it is just the type of posh Tory boy image Cameron and co can’t shrug off.

Mr Jenrick, who looks even younger than his 32 years, sticks rigidly to his Tory HQ autocue when asked about national issues.

During our interview at a cafeteria in Tuxford, near Newark, he is finally stirred when I ask whether, in his keenness to come across as a regular guy, he has misled voters.

To win the candidacy, he promised he would move his family lock, stock and barrel to Newark. A 250-mile round-trip  to Westminster if he becomes  MP – quite a commute for a  self-proclaimed family man  with two young daughters.

How many nights has the family actually spent in their Newark ‘home?’

‘Er, it has grown over time.’  He won’t say.

His election leaflets are also silent about the couple’s £2 million flat in Marylebone, London. It went up in value by £300,000 last year, more than twice the average price of a home in Newark.

Last October, the couple splashed out an extra £2.5 million on a house in fashionable Vincent Square, Westminster, less than a mile from Parliament, which they plan to move into soon.

On top of that they bought Grade I listed Eye Manor in Herefordshire for £1.1 million  in 2009.

Mr Jenrick says he is ‘almost sure’ they will sell it and move to Newark if he becomes MP.

It is to be hoped this interview is not the first Mrs Jenrick, a top commercial lawyer whose professional name is Michal Berkner, eight years Mr Jenrick’s senior, has heard of that.

The Conservatives won the Newark by-election by 7,403 votes from UKIP, and Jenrick’s majority has since risen to 21,816. Some vexation is nevertheless expressed in Newark that Jenrick has yet to sell Eye Manor, and appears to prefer going there with his wife and their three daughters.

As one constituent said, “It’s perfectly clear who wears the trousers and it isn’t him. She indulges his little hobby of being an MP.”

But if one were fortunate enough to own Eye Manor, parting with it might feel unbearable. Here is Marcus Binney, singing its praises in The Times before the Jenricks bought it:

For its size, Eye Manor, near Leominster in Herefordshire, has the most gorgeous series of Charles II interiors in England. Here is plasterwork as overflowing in richly sculpted fruit and flowers as carvings by the great Grinling Gibbons. It gets better: over the past 20 years the late owner, Margery Montcrieff, laid out an intricate, inventive and enchanting formal garden that almost vies with Sissinghurst in Kent. 

One of the sympathetic things about Jenrick is his love of history. When ConHome spoke to him during the Newark by-election, he “seemed reassuringly dull”, but

When asked who his political hero is, he became more animated, and vouchsafed that he is writing a book about the English Civil War, in which Newark played a prominent role: it was a royalist stronghold which was three times besieged unsuccessfully by the parliamentarians. The first siege was raised by no less a figure than Prince Rupert, the most dashing royalist of them all.

And Prince Rupert turns out to be Mr Jenrick’s hero. Beneath that somewhat impassive exterior perhaps there beats the heart of a true cavalier.

At Westminster, Jenrick remarked in his maiden speech that “there are, after all, no final victories in politics; all achievements, however hard won, can be and are undone.”

After the 2015 general election he became in rapid succession PPS to Esther McVey, Michael Gove, Liz Truss and Amber Rudd, before in January 2018 being appointed Exchequer Secretary by Theresa May.

He was climbing the ladder, and in the summer of 2019 he, Rishi Sunak and Oliver Dowden questioned Johnson for an hour at Jenrick’s house in Vincent Square, and at a well-judged moment put their names to a joint piece for The Times Red Box which appeared under the reasonably clear headline:

“The Tories are in deep trouble. Only Boris Johnson can save us.”

All three authors are now in the Cabinet. Jenrick has been lined up to carry out the radical reform of the planning system on which Johnson and Cummings are intent.

Will he still be in office to carry out this work? Johnson and Cummings have shown they do not like being pushed around by the newspapers, which are crawling over every planning decision in which Jenrick has been involved.

So perhaps he will hang on. He will need, however, to learn the art of sometimes saying no to people, including developers such as Desmond.

Luke Evans: What social media says about the Government and the virus. And what my constituents actually said when I asked them.

24 Jun

Dr Luke Evans is a member of the Health Select Committee, and is MP for Bosworth.

Like any other Member of Parliament Fridays are, for me – at least when the House is sitting – constituency day.

Most MPs will tell you it’s the best part of the job. Arguably, it is the bit that counts most. You get to hear about the lives of people in your hometown, the issues that matter to them and, hopefully, you are able to make a difference both in the casework that you do on their behalf and raising important causes in parliament.

Last Friday was my first constituency day since lockdown started – the first time I have been able to go out and speak with ‘real’ people face to face. It’s an experience which never fails to surprise.

I’ve written before about the difficulties facing Twycross Zoo in my constituency and, since it had opened its gates to the public for the first time last Monday, it seemed somehow fitting that my first visit should be to the same place that was one of my last before the Coronavirus crisis started.

What struck me? It was amazing to hear of staff returning, see families enjoying a day out, and witness first hand how many of the primates are enjoying human interaction once more (a serious point, the keepers were surprised that some seemed “depressed” by the lack of interaction – does that sound familiar too? Perhaps I digress).

My afternoon was allocated to a tour of recently reopened shops in Hinckley, the largest town in my constituency. During the week, I had raised the issue of supporting Business Improvement Districts (BIDs) as a potential vehicle to help increase footfall and reduce shop vacancies on the high street, to which I was pleased to hear the Government agree.

It seemed a perfect opportunity, then, to join the Hinckley BID, which arranges visits to shops and local businesses, to see how they are faring.

I thought that they would be inclined to paint a fair picture, especially when it transpired I would be being joined by a local Liberal Democrat borough councillor. The reason for this? I could avoid my own team hand-picking businesses which by their very nature might have been more supportive of the government: in other words, I wanted to hear how things on the ground really were rather than how I might hope them to be.

I’ve long subscribed to the concept that ‘the map is not the territory’ – there are always filters, some conscious and others less so, that affect our perceptions of reality.

It’s very easy to look at social media and see the distortion and anti-Government rage, and easily misinterpret that as the territory. I’ll be honest: I was more than a little worried about what I would hear when I spoke with independent retailers, whose entire livelihoods had been placed at real risk as a result of virus that is – at the end of the day – no one’s fault.

Of course, as I should know only too well by now, social media isn’t the real world, and the comments I met with were in no way representative of what Twitter or Facebook tell me that it is like.

I heard shopkeepers telling me of brisk trade; again and again independent retailers talked about cautious optimism for the sector – “shop local” seems to be resonating clearly.

And above all? A real gratitude that a Government, which by no means has been perfect, has supported them through the darkest of times; a Government responding to the greatest threat of our generation had given them the hope that they can return. The Chancellor’s promise to do whatever it takes had stuck with them, and had really meant something.

At a time when hope could have very easily been lost, that’s a really powerful thing to have done and won’t be forgotten any time soon.

Members of the public stopped me on the high street to talk about support they had and wanted to give to the local economy, a true sense of coming together to make the best of an international crisis.

I was taken aback. Of course, I fully appreciate that those comments are just a differently interpreted map of the same territory.

The only way we can make that map more accurate, of course, is by adding data and it seems to me that, in the bubble, we’ve become fixated on only adding the datasets that we can see on our mobile phones, and not talking to people.

As MPs we need to make sure that we place equally as much value on a conversation with our constituents as we do on 280 characters. Sometimes we all lose sight of that fact.