Newslinks for Wednesday 23rd September

23 Sep

Johnson 1) Six months of restrictions needed to beat virus

“Boris Johnson last night urged the nation to summon discipline, resolve and a spirit of togetherness to meet a second wave of coronavirus this winter. He used a televised address to brace the country for “difficult months to come” with the risk of “many more deaths” as the virus was once again growing exponentially. The prime minister warned that he could not rule out a second national lockdown if people failed to follow the tougher restrictions that he had earlier announced in the Commons, and said that there “had been too many breaches” in recent months. The fresh rules include a 10pm curfew for bars and restaurants, which must operate table service only, and wider compulsory use of facemasks. There are also heavier fines for non-compliance.” – The Times

  • The PM’s speech in full; “Your mild cough can be someone else’s death knell” – The Times
  • House visits might need to be banned, says Whitty – The Times
  • Coronavirus pub curfew won’t be effective, science advisers fear – The Times
  • Covid restrictions ‘could mean elderly in care homes have no visitors for a year’ – Daily Telegraph
  • Government scientists’ 50,000 Covid infections graph based on few hundred cases – The Times
  • Support for Government response plummets amid Covid spike – but public are blamed for second wave – Daily Telegraph
  • Wales bans all alcohol sales after 10pm as part of Coronavirus crackdown – Daily Mail
  • Offices send staff home again in big blow to cities – The Times
  • ‘Third of NHS nurses’ thinking about quitting in the next year – The Times
  • Stockholm faces local restrictions after ‘worrying’ infection signs – Daily Telegraph

Explainer:

>Yesterday:

Johnson 2) Tory MPs and businesses criticise the Prime Minister

“Furious Tory MPs have turned on ‘authoritarian’ Boris Johnson as he ordered the British public to obey his draconian new coronavirus restrictions – or face an economically devastating second national lockdown. The panicking Prime Minister warned Britons last night they faced a long hard winter of police-enforced curbs on their freedom, saying the alternative was ‘many more families losing loved ones before their time’. In a dramatic televised address to the nation, Mr Johnson, flanked by a Union Jack, said he was ‘deeply, spiritually reluctant’ to make new ‘impositions, or infringe anyone’s freedom’ after unveiling new measures in the House of Commons.” – Daily Mail

  • UK economy faces gloomy fourth quarter – FT
  • Covid-19 cases ‘could only be doubling every 20 days’ – Daily Telegraph
  • Coronavirus: Too many restrictions or not enough? Experts fight it out online – The Times

Quentin Letts: Amiable, energetic and inescapably brutal

“Downing Street’s drawing room was all soft-focus behind him yet the content of the 8pm national televised address was brutal: hefty fines for dissenters, soldiers patrolling the streets, careless mild coughs becoming someone else’s “death knell”. All this from a spruced-up, slimmed-down, image-conscious Boris Johnson in powder-blue shirt and cosmetically shaded hands as he sat at a table of polished cherry, a Union Jack slung, slumped, to the right of the picture. He insisted that he was “deeply, spiritually reluctant” to boss us about. Spiritual: an unusual term. The tighter shutdown was necessary because “the iron laws of geometrical progression are shouting at us from the graphs”. As Quasimodo nearly said “the graphs, the graphs!” After the dodginess of one of those graphs we were shown by the medics on Monday, it was a wonder he mentioned the graphs.” – The Times

>Today:

Sunak weighs up German-style wage subsidies to replace furlough scheme

“The chancellor, Rishi Sunak, is weighing up plans to replace the furlough scheme with German-style wage subsidies as part of a wider emergency support package to help businesses through a second wave of Covid-19. Sources from business and industry told the Guardian that the Treasury has been consulting on options for the end of the furlough scheme as concerns mount over increasing numbers of job losses, and as rising infections and tougher restrictions risk derailing Britain’s economic fightback from the pandemic. The sources said the Treasury had decided, at the eleventh hour, to delay an announcement timed for Wednesday that would have extended the availability of state-backed loan schemes for struggling companies.” – The Guardian

  • Bank of England boss calls for furlough ‘rethink’ – BBC

Internal market bill: No vote until days before no-deal Brexit

“Ministers are to delay the final stages of controversial legislation to rip up parts of Boris Johnson’s withdrawal agreement until just days before a potential no-deal Brexit. In a move being seen as an attempt to assuage European concerns, ministers have indicated that the internal markets bill may not be debated in the House of Lords until after a make or break summit with EU leaders in mid-October. The bill is then not expected to return to the Commons, after committee and report stages in the Lords, until December at the earliest. The legislation would give ministers the powers to unilaterally disregard parts of the withdrawal agreement on Northern Ireland that stipulate that the province must follow European customs and subsidy rules after Brexit.” – The Times

“A record number of migrants were expected to reach Britain yesterday after crossing the Channel in what many saw as the “last opportunity” to make the treacherous journey before wintery weather sets in. As many as 500 headed for Dover marina, where arrivals were forced to queue to be allowed onshore due to the volume of traffic. Lifeboats were sent out at 8am to collect people after Border Force vessels became full. At least 27 boats carrying people including young children and a double amputee had arrived at the marina by 10.30am. September has been a record month for migrant crossings, with at least 1,487 travelling across the world’s busiest shipping route.” – The Times

Starmer sides with Tony Blair and says Jeremy Corbyn ‘deserved’ to lose election

SIR Keir Starmer has sided with “winner” Tony Blair and banished Jeremy Corbyn to the shadows of history. A fiery party conference speech by the new Labour chief today infuriated Corbynistas by slamming those who “want to turn the clock back”. He savaged the party for deserting its heartlands and failing to tackle anti-Semitism. Sir Keir claimed Labour “deserved” to lose the election and declared: “It’s time to get serious about winning.” Making his first conference speech as leader in Doncaster — delivered in a near-empty room due to Covid — he said: “In the 75 years since the historic victory of 1945, there have only been three Labour winners. I want to be the fourth.” – The Sun

>Yesterday:
  • ToryDiary: Starmer’s speech: Confident, passionate – yet, will it prove his patriotism?

Dowden criticises National Trust’s decision to link Churchill’s home to slavery and colonialism

“The National Trust’s decision to link Sir Winston Churchill’s home to slavery and colonialism was heavily criticised by the Culture Secretary yesterday. Oliver Dowden said the charity’s portrayal of the war-time leader in its audit of its historic properties would ‘surprise and disappoint people’. He called on the Trust to focus its efforts on ‘preserving and protecting’ our heritage. Mr Dowden told the Daily Telegraph: ‘Churchill is one of Britain’s greatest heroes. He rallied the free world to defeat fascism. It will surprise and disappoint people that the National Trust appears to be making him a subject of criticism and controversy.’ The Trust had published an audit that claimed 93 of its properties – including the former homes of author Rudyard Kipling and historian Thomas Carlyle – were linked to slavery or colonialism.” – Daily Mail

Presenting ConservativeHome’s online Party Conference fringe events

23 Sep

Many ConservativeHome readers will be familiar with our annual programme of fringe events at the Conservative Party Conference. Every year the ConHome marquee is full to bursting with audiences who come to hear a wide range of ministers, MPs, experts and commentators discuss the big issues of the day. People often tell us that they spend more time at our events than in the actual conference hall, which is praise indeed.

I am very pleased to announce that this year we will again be presenting a bustling programme of ConservativeHome fringe events for our readers to enjoy – hosted online, alongside the online Party Conference. 2020 may have disrupted all sorts of events and institutions, but not this one.

Over the course of three days – Saturday 3rd October, Sunday 4th October and Monday 5th October – our team will be hosting no fewer than 18 fringe events.

These include ‘In Conversation With…’ interviews with prominent Cabinet Ministers and parliamentarians, and panel events on a panoply of topics, from the Red Wall seats to the future of transport, and from post-Brexit trade policy to cutting reoffending – all hosted, of course, by the ConservativeHome editorial team.

The full event listings can be found here.

We hope you will join us, and take the opportunity to engage in what promises to be a fascinating and entertaining few days of discussion and debate.

All of our fringe events are completely free to view, and for the first time they will be open to Party members and non-members alike, meaning that this year we hope to reach an even wider audience than at the traditional in-person conference. To take part, simply register for your free Party Member or Observer (member of the public) ticket to access the Conservative Party Conference here.

We’re looking forward to seeing you there.

Covid. Mass lockdowns v a Swedish option is a flawed choice. But if Ministers can’t make mass testing work, it’s the one we’ll have.

23 Sep

Perhaps Boris Johnson’s new plan will succeed.  Maybe factories and building sites will stay open, plus the retail and hospitality sectors, as well as universities and (crucially) schools.  Perhaps the move back from offices to schools will help keep Coronavirus on public transport under control.  If so, the firewall that Ministers want to build between work and home will stand.

In both, there is to be a new stress on compulsion.  At work, this will largely be limited to retail and hospitality, where the Government’s guidelines will become legal obligations, and the requirement to wear face masks will be extended.  At home, in family life and in leisure time, there is the rule of six, smaller weddings, restricted sports events, 10pm curfew for pubs.

All this will be enabled and enforced by Covid marshalls, higher fines and penalties, and not only the police but (the Prime Minister hinted) the army – and big lockdowns that cover groups of local authority areas.   As we say, maybe this plan will work, but we doubt it.  The most likely course ahead is a patchy schools’ service, which will drag parents away from work, plus a further clampdown on first hospitality and then retail.

Johnson suggested as much yesterday: “we reserve the right to deploy greater fire power, with significantly greater restrictions”, he told the Commons.  And although the plan’s outline is clear, its details are contested.  In that respect, we are where we were before: the Department of Health stresses tackling the virus, the Treasury supporting the economy.

Rishi Sunak appears to have staved off a more extensive crackdown on hospitality – for the moment, anyway – but the Government’s internal haggling and bargaining points to an uncomfortable truth.  The clampdown seems too extensive to satisfy a growing lobby within the Conservative Parliamentary Party, but not extensive enough to satisfy a significant chunk of the Government’s scientific advisers.

So there is a danger that it will fall between two stools, and be revised soon anyway.  In weighing where we are, it would be easy to vanish down the rabbit hole of detail (asking why, for example, it is considered safe to drink in pubs and drink in restaurants before 10pm but not afterwards).  Instead, we should stand back from yesterday’s change of tack, and think about the big picture.

When Covid-19 first gathered pace, we were told that a lockdown was necessary to save the NHS.  That is a clear goal – and an understandable one, since the public would not have tolerated TV pictures of overwhelmed hospitals, with ambulances incapable of discharging patients and others unable to get treatment at all, so dying at home without any palliative care.

After the original lockdown was eased, the emphasis shifted from “save the NHS” to “control the virus”.  The Prime Minister said yesterday that we should “safeguard the NHS”, but it wasn’t clear if the Government believes the rising caseload is a serious threat to it.  It appears that Ministers and their advisers are aiming, rather, to suppress the virus altogether.

That raises obvious questions about trade-offs – between driving down the virus and other healthcare objectives, and between lives and livelihoods: that’s to say, the wider workings of the economy which produces the growth, jobs and wealth without which the NHS would be unable to function in the first place.  We asked in May for the Government to publish a worst-case scenario for the service, and if it there is one we haven’t seen it.

Nor is it clear what those healthcare gains and losses have been so far.  Obviously, trying to calculate them is like trying to take a still photo of a moving person, but the effort must surely be made.  In its absence, opinion among Ministers and backbenchers is dividing, with a growing number – we can’t be sure of what it is – favouring a stress on voluntarism rather than compulsion: the Sweden option.

We believe that a choice between Sweden and lockdowns is a false one, for a simple reason.  Why would we model our response on the country with the eleventh highest number of deaths per head (Sweden) – only three places behind the UK – rather than one with the forty-fourth (Germany)?  We concede at once that these international comparisons are fraught with problems.

But that’s an issue for those who favour a Swedish-syle approach as much as those who support a German one.  In any event, as a country with the second largest economy in Europe, we are more easily considered alongside the country with the first – another, furthermore, with a relatively large population.  The fundamental difference between Sweden and Germany is the stress on testing.

The Government has handled some aspects of Covid-19 well (building the Nightingales) and some badly (failing to protect care homes).  Johnson will be consoled this morning by the fact that, if the initial polls are right, elite opinion on the Right may lean towards Sweden but the voters still support lockdown – though a growing and articulate minority do not, and exaggerated public fear of the extent of the virus brings problems in its wake,

Undoubtedly, however, Government communications have been more than a bit of a shambles – ever since, significantly, Ministers moved off the message of protecting the NHS.  In July, the Prime Minister was hoping for “a more significant return to normality from November…possibly in time for Christmas”.   Instead, we have a significant move from normality in September, which is set to last for six months.

We appreciate that all governments have made mistakes in handling the developing unknown of the virus, here and abroad.  But, frankly, too much hope has been invested in vaccines; too little stress has been placed on living with the virus; too much has been allowed to “the science” (with the latest dubious stress from the chief scientists on worst-case scenarios)  – and too much of the debate has swung between two unworkable extremes.

Big lockdowns of whole cities or metropolitan areas, which could well end up as a national one in effect, are not a solution, since they bring with them harmful outcomes and have an unclear objective.  Mass voluntarism might well be less damaging, but Sweden’s experience suggests it would bring higher death numbers with it – along with voter resistance, openings for Keir Starmer, and the canard that “the Tories don’t care about saving lives”.

Instead, Johnson needs to set clear testing targets, stick to them build on progress made, and stay on piste.  We are well aware of the problems. The UK doen’t have the laboratory capacity it needs, so scaling it up takes time.  Testing finds more cases, thus feeding public alarm. There are false positives (and negatives).  Some people will need tests won’t take them.  Others who take them don’t need them – or at any rate, need them less than, say, teachers.

Care homes have consumed a lot of the tests; the return of schools has had an impact; an earlier-than-expected upswing in cases has caught the authorities out.  Furthermore, we still await a workable NHS app, our health system is over-centralised, and effective tracing remains a work in progress.  But more tests, quick tracing, quarantine and mini-shutdowns if necessary (not the closure of whole cities and metropolitan areas) are the best-in-class solution.

It is one that would minimise the debate about trade-offs, since the economy would be able to return to nearer normal.  If it isn’t delivered, watch for pressure on the Chancellor for more furlough, more subsidies, more loans, and a shorter spending review – with higher taxes and lower spending coming later down the line.  And for the options to harden to two flawed extremes.

Robert Halfon: Johnson’s coming Party Conference needs to show voters that we’re on their side

23 Sep

What is conservatism for?

As we grapple with new measures to help us climb down from ‘Coronavirus Everest’ (and weather a few Covid storms along the way), our virtual Party Conference next week is an important opportunity to redefine what being a Conservative is all about.

The Government talks about ‘levelling up’. But this is not always easy to pin down. Ask anyone what it means to them and you will get some very different answers. One person questioned if it is about money for potholes. Another asked if it was a new level on a Nintendo Switch game.

Similarly, Tories often mention ‘social mobility’. But to those outside Westminster, this has little resonance – resembling more a strapline for a new Vodafone commercial than a proposal to extend the ladder of opportunity.

Of course, the Government’s messaging about new hospitals, more police and increased funding for our schools is welcome, but as so often with such announcements, it comes over as a kalashnikov firing off initiatives, with nothing linking it all together; a series of bullets without a target.

In order to make a case to the public, surely the first thing to do must be to signpost Conservative values. That way, even if policies go awry, if they need to be changed or the Government faces problems, there is more chance of the public giving us the benefit of the doubt (at least for a time).

At present – perhaps exacerbated by the pandemic – it is hard to know whether Toryism is for freedom or for authoritarianism, for individual aspiration or family and community, for fiscal conservatism or ending austerity. The only thing in which there is certainty, is Brexit. But this is not enough in itself.

I hope Boris Johnson will use his speech for the Conservative Party Conference as a means of setting out what his brand of conservatism is. Of course, we need a bit of ‘boosterism’ to lift our spirits at this time. But how about a definition of Conservative values for the times we live in? Something we can explain on the doorsteps to an anxious electorate. A conservatism that really shows people we are on their side.

Watch Starmer

In the Commons Tea Room a few days ago, while I was chatting with a down-to-earth, rising star Conservative MP, he made a very eloquent case as to why the Labour Party faces insurmountable challenges at the next election.  His argument was Keir Starmer’s lack of charisma, the incoming Labour civil war and the electoral hurdles the party must overcome, mean that the Opposition is unlikely to win in four or five years time.

Sadly, I don’t agree with my esteemed colleague. Starmer is slowly climbing in the polls: the latest YouGov showed level-pegging to the Tories. Even if this is because of the Coronavirus, it does not matter. Once up, is it really likely that Labour polling figures will go back to Jeremy Corbyn levels?

By stealth, under the cover of Covid-19, he is changing the Labour Party, moving it to one based on social democracy, rather than red-blooded socialism.

In his own conference speech yesterday, Starmer has moved to slay the Corbyn shibboleths. Taking on the mantle of patriotism, appealing to workers, is a pretty big repudiation of Corbynism. His Chief Adviser, Claire Ainsley, wrote a book about Blue-Collar Britain entitled, ‘How to win hearts and minds of the new working class’.

Expect more of her ideas to be reflected in the development of Labour policy. It is notable that the Shadow Chancellor has not committed Labour to any tax rises at present, nor big public spending programmes. This will make it harder for Conservatives to attack the Opposition on grounds of more borrowing, more spending and more debt.

On television, Starmer comes over as reasonable, rather than dogmatic. However, the flip-flopping on policy, his ‘Captain Hindsight’ persona, the “forensic analysis” that does not see the political wood for the trees, are all flaws that can be exploited by the Tories.

In addition, Labour’s refusal to make any hard choices in terms of cutting Government spending – and the continued presence of many hard-left activists in the constituencies – could act as a real brake on the party’s progress.

The public, who are weary and exhausted from Coronavirus, might just vote for Labour, just as they did in 1945. After all, in four years’ time, Conservatives will have been in power for nearly 15 years. “Time for change” might be a mantra that the public can be persuaded by, especially if voting Labour doesn’t frighten the horses.

My MP colleague may be right and the electoral maths may make it impossible for Labour to win next time. But with a volatile electorate and the option of a social democrat party on the ballot paper – with which most of the public’s economic views align – they certainly could present a real challenge to the Tories.

A book on the Cameron years you should read

I am not talking about Sasha Swire’s tome on “the County Set meet Notting Hill”, but a brilliant memoir by Baroness Fall on the Cameron years: ‘The Gatekeeper. Life at the Heart of No 10.

This is a book about the mechanics of politics; it is like reading about the engine of a sleek car, rather than the story of the car itself. You learn a lot about the workings of a Prime Minister’s Office and it is well worth a read.

My favourite part, so far, is the account of former Education Secretary, Michael Gove, crashing his automobile in the Department for Education car park, trying to put his car into the vehicle lift to get to the parking space.

I know a little about this lift, having had the same thing happen to me when I was Skills Minister (although, I just scraped mine, rather than denting) and have concluded that it is seemingly only built for drivers of Lewis Hamilton’s calibre. I found the whole experience quite terrifying, since it reminded me of the scene in Raiders of the Lost Ark when the cave walls close in. I never used that car lift again.

Darren Grimes: Not even Charles Moore can save the BBC

23 Sep

Darren Grimes is a political commentator and is content creator at Reasoned UK.

When the former editor of the Guardian and exemplar of metropolitan liberalism, Alan Rusbridger, tweets about it being “inconceivable that someone fined for refusing to pay a licence fee” could become Chairman of the BBC, readers of this site could be forgiven for assuming that I would be a fervent supporter of such an anti-licence fee appointment.

After all, anyone who could robustly challenge this anachronistic and regressive form of taxation on anyone wanting to watch live television, from within the behemoth itself, would surely pave the way to reforms that we at Defund The BBC want to see, right? I’m afraid I’m not so optimistic.

Charles Moore, the fantastically eloquent former editor of the Daily Telegraph, the Sunday Telegraph and the Spectator is reportedly Downing Street’s favoured choice to take over at the Corporation as Chairman when David Clementi’s three-year term expires in February 2021.

Such a move, argue proponents of licence fee reform – and those in favour of bringing the BBC more in touch with the public it is supposed to serve and unite – would send a strong signal to the upper echelons of the Corporation that this Government means business, and isn’t afraid to set a conservative cat among the uber-woke pigeons.

But I’m afraid we are way past the point of message-sending being enough to save the BBC from itself. Earlier this month, some hopeful conservatives were hailing Tim Davie, the latest Director-General of the BBC, as a man with a plan that could save the broadcaster from Titanic-like disaster.

Consider, for example, reports that Davie was set to tackle “perceived left-wing comedy bias” as he arrived, dressed in jeans, for his first day in the job. At this point, Frankie Boyle seems to have decided to ask Davie to hold his beer – and watch how it’s done.

During his BBC Comedy New World Order show, in which humour masquerades as virtue signalling and applauding each other’s woke credentials, so-called comedian Sophie Duker cracked a so-called joke about killing white people.

She said: “When we say we want to kill whitey, we don’t really mean we want to kill whitey,” before adding, “we do”. The rest of the panel quickly realised there is no way in which they could surpass what Duker had just contributed to the wokeometer. The BBC has refused to be drawn on the row over the show. So much for challenging left-wing ‘comedy’.

The Corporation’s new boss also spoke about cost-saving measures. The BBC’s rich list was published last week to much outcry: in total staff pay has soared from 3.5 per cent to £1.5 billion, while the BBC pushes ahead with its plans to strip a million over-75s of their free TV licences.

Gary Lineker earned a table-topping £1.75 million in 2018/19, and the Guardian reported that he has agreed to a pay cut – a new five-year contract worth a quarter less than his current one – adding that Gary “knows his responsibility to the BBC in terms of his use of social media”.

Yet as soon as the first shoots of change were beginning to sprout, Lineker dismissed the Guardian’s report of the story as untrue, and said that the Corporation recognises he “tweets carefully”. In what reality? Lineker has a history of virtue-signalling on Twitter on everything from the English Channel crisis to Brexit, and all semblance of impartiality is thrown from the window. So, no change there either then.

To rub further salt in the wound, Zoe Ball is now earning £1.3 million, after the BBC pledged to tackle the gender pay gap. She got a £900,000 pay rise, despite losing a million listeners last year. Would this be allowed to happen in the private sector just to fiddle their gender pay gap statistics?

And as the BBC spends our own cash on lecturing us about what good value for money the licence fee is and boosting their diversity, you’d be forgiven for believing that the liberal bastion’s only diversity issue is its lack of diversity of thought. But it now seems to be intent on getting rid of the much-loved 64-year-old Sue Barker from A Question of Sport. The only under-represented groups on our screens are the disabled and the over-50’s.

Why should we believe that any new Chairman could have any meaningful impact and deliver change, when the new Director-General has seen his pledges fail in his first month in the job?

What it all boils down to, ultimately, is that we, folks, are utterly powerless to do anything about this. Just to watch our telly sets, we are forced to fund the salaries of those that luxuriate in millions of pounds, pay for hate-filled so-called comedy and put up with right-on woke opinions that blatantly breach impartiality rules – or face the threat of prison. It’s just not on, and the licence fee should have been decriminalised yesterday, never mind today.

We at Defund The BBC will not be pacified by totemic position holders, even one as gifted as Moore, and it would seem the public agrees with us. We’ve already raised £60,000 in our crowdfunding efforts from those that recognise that the licence fee is a regressive anachronism in the modern broadcasting world.  And it’s time for the Conservative Party to pull its finger out and drags the Corporation, against its own will, into the twenty-first century and back in touch with the public that it purportedly serves.

Shaun Bailey: We can’t let London grind to a halt

23 Sep

Shaun Bailey is a member of the London Assembly and the Conservative candidate for Mayor of London.

Remember the days when London’s transport network led the world? It wasn’t that long ago. Look back to before Sadiq Khan and you see what we used to be capable of. When Boris Johnson was the Mayor of London, we signed off Crossrail 1. We started planning Crossrail 2. We got Boris bikes. We rolled the Overground out to more areas than ever. And we had a congestion charge that raised money without being extreme.

How times have changed. Now we’ve got a Mayor who spent four years managing Transport for London so inefficiently that he had to be bailed out by the government. He let TfL debt rise to a historic £13 billion. He hiked the congestion charge to £15 and extended it to seven days a week. He came into office with Crossrail on time and on budget, but managed to delay it and increase its cost. And he has allowed countless bridges to close, turning journeys across the river into Homeric odysseys, as our former Mayor might have said. These days the only way our transport system leads the world is in headlines about how London’s bridges are falling down.

It’s incredibly disappointing. Forget about the rest of the world — our transport system is what makes this city possible. It’s how businesses get around but it’s also how we see family and friends. That’s why I believe Londoners have the right to an efficient transport system. And I believe it’s the Mayor’s responsibility to deliver it. So I can’t understand why Sadiq Khan has let our transport network fall into its current state.

I don’t buy the narrative that failure is inevitable. After all, it’s not like we’ve seen these transport failures in other parts of the country. Far from it. Conservative mayors like Andy Street and Ben Houchen are setting a great example for London, something our Mayor should take note of.

Andy Street, the Mayor of the West Midlands, is pioneering a Metro system and opening new stations in Coventry and Wolverhampton. Ben Houchen, the Mayor of the Tees Valley, saved the local airport from closure and helped bring new investment into the region. They are doing exactly what Conservative mayors always do: working with business and government to deliver improvements in people’s lives.

Recently, Greg Hands and I had to take some of Khan’s job description into our own hands. When Hammersmith Bridge was closed yet again, Khan refused to take responsibility yet again. But the consequences were too great for us to ignore. Residents faced three-hour bus rides just to get across the river. Emergency services struggled to respond to call-outs. Businesses were reporting that trade was down between 30 per cent and 40 per cent.

So together, Greg and I asked the government to intervene and take over Hammersmith Bridge. And we are hugely grateful that the government listened. Grant Shapps, the Transport Secretary, bailed out Sadiq Khan by taking over the bridge and funding the repairs.

But even though Grant Shapps did the right thing, it should never have come to this. As the Mayor of London, I’ll make it my priority to get TfL’s finances back in order. I’ll cut waste, end inflated executive pay, and provide the leadership TfL needs. That way, Londoners will have a transport network fit for a global city — and we can start to lead the world once again.

Starmer’s speech: Passionate, confident – yet, will it prove his patriotism?

22 Sep

After Labour’s disastrous performance at the last General Election, Keir Starmer was keen to put the Corbyn years behind him at the party’s conference today. He gave one of the most passionate speeches of his career, telling voters that “[t]his party is under new leadership.”

It had been carefully constructed, and tried to address many of the reasons why Labour lost, as well as giving Starmer some much-needed personality. At one point he commented that “while Boris Johnson was writing flippant columns about bendy bananas, I was defending victims and prosecuting terrorists”. He later attacked the Tories on Covid-19 and social care, the latter of which the Labour leader said was a “disgrace to a rich nation”.

Starmer reinforced his commitment to “root out the antisemitism that has infected” Labour and repeatedly spoke about “security”, in yet another attempt to reverse Corbynism. No doubt many voters will still remember the former leader failing to condemn Russia after it launched a chemical attack on Britain, among other events, and Starmer knows he has a lot to do – to prove that Labour can protect the country.

This is why patriotism was such a dominant feature of Starmer’s speech. He talked about “the country I love”; his desire for Britain to be “the best country to grow up in and the best country to grow old in”, and how he’s “hugely ambitious for this country”.

But will this do the trick? Much of the reaction – on Twitter, at least – was incredibly optimistic about Starmer, partly spurred by recent polling on Labour – which shows the party closing in on Conservatives.

Even so, it’ll take a lot more than overuse of the word “country” to convince the electorate, particularly in the Red Wall, that Labour is now patriotic. The biggest reason for this is Brexit, in which voters expected all politicians to stick up for Britain – and instead found Starmer and others pushing for a second referendum.

Today he promised that Labour “is not going to be a party that keeps banging on about Europe” – and it’s no wonder he wants to move on, given his previous actions. During the speech he discussed “decency” and “fairness”, but 17.4 million people will be wondering where these traits were when he, and other MPs, tried to overturn their vote.

Furthermore, Starmer’s speech lacked substance. Though he has promised new leadership for the party, it’s not obvious what this looks like in policy terms, although he promised Labour’s manifesto “will sound like the future arriving” (whatever that means). Without more concrete proposals, and given the continued factionalism of Labour, many will simply think it sounds like more of the same.