Iain Dale: My end of term report on the Cabinet. Part Two.

31 Jul

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

Last week, I awarded my end of term marks for half the Cabinet. Here are my marks for the second half…

Robert Buckland – Secretary of State for Justice

B +

A calming voice on the media, Buckland comes over as the voice of reason in a world often dominated by unreason. One of the few former Remainers left in government, he has been totally loyal to the Prime Minister and embarked on an important programme of reform in the justice and prison systems.

Liz Truss – Secretary of State for International Trade

B –

A survivor, Truss was tipped to be sacked after the election, but she kept her job…and is now tipped for the sack again. If she negotiates a host of free trade agreements before the end of the year, it would render her unsackable. Japan and New Zealand look to be the first ones, which could be announced in the autumn.

Therese Coffey – Secretary of State for Work & Pensions

C +

A surprise appointment when Amber Rudd resigned, Coffey is a solid performer and simply got on with the job of trying to ensure the benefits system meets the demands of the Covid crisis. She sorted the initial creaks in the Universal Credit system, where people couldn’t access the website or phone lines and neutered it as an issue. Number Ten are said to be unhappy with one or two comments in interviews but she lives to fight another day.

George Eustice – Secretary of State for DEFRA

B –

George Eustice’s great advantage is that he is actually a farmer himself and, in this job, that helps. He chaired quite a few of the Covid press conferences without either putting a foot wrong or saying anything very meaningful. One of the greyer figures in cabinet he needs to up his charisma factor a tad if he is to be able to sell a post Brexit message of optimism for the farming and food sectors.

Robert Jenrick – Secretary of State for Housing, Communities and Local Government

C

Given the two big scandals he’s faced over the last few months, no-one could accuse the Cabinet’s youngest member of lacking resilience. He’s knuckled down and got on with his job, although his effectiveness within Cabinet has to be questioned given what he’s gone through.

Alistair Jack – Secretary of State for Scotland

C

Largely anonymous to us south of the border, Jack has also failed to fill the charisma gap in Scottish politics left by Ruth Davidson. So has Jackson Carlaw – who has now resigned. Jack needs to be getting out there to sell a positive pro-union message, but seem to be finding it difficult to do so.

Simon Hart – Secretary of State for Wales

Tiggerish and a total enthusiast for politics, Hart has been busy selling the Conservative message in Wales, in a way his Scottish counterparts find more difficult, possibly because of the way the Scottish media works.

Oliver Dowden – Secretary of State for Digital. Culture, Media & Sport

B

After an awkward start in the job, Dowden, commonly considered one of the cleverest people in politics, has come into his own in recent weeks. His statement on Huawei in the House was a master lesson in how to deliver a difficult message and answer questions from MPs fluently and convincingly.

Baroness Evans – Leader of the House of Lords

B

A warm and empathetic character, Natalie Evans is a much unde-rused asset by the government. She doesn’t do enough media, and I say that because she’s good at it and does ‘human’ very well. A popular figure in the Lords she has kept their Lordships onside during some hairy moment.

Anne-Marie Trevelyan – Secretary of State for International Development

C +

Still a Secretary of State despite her department being abolished. Since her appointment at the election, she hasn’t had much of a public profile, but has hopefully brought some renewed rigour to a department that sorely needed it. The question is: Will the Prime Minister deliver on his promise to find a new cabinet job for her when her department is subsumed into the Foreign Office in September?

– – –

And now to the ministers attending Cabinet. By the way, it is a travesty that the Chief Secretary to the Treasury and Leader of the House aren’t full members of the Cabinet. There was a time when Leader of the House was considered one of the top five jobs in Cabinet.

Steve Barclay – Chief Secretary to the Treasury

B

If controlling spending was the criteria to judge a Chief Secretary by, Steve Barclay would rate a Z, but as we all know, it’s not his fault. He could have been very hacked off about his apparent demotion from Brexit Secretary, but he’s got on with the job, and used his previous experience of being a Treasury Minister to good effect. He does a good job in media interviews, albeit possibly a little bit too much on message. He’s got a good sense of humour and should use it more.

Jacob Rees-Mogg – Leader of the House of Commons

C+

Seems to have been neutered since his election campaign gaffe. He used to be ubiquitous in the media but has now completely disappeared from view and is only ever seen speaking publicly on the floor of the House of Commons. One of the few characters in the cabinet; for Number Ten, he seems to have become rather too much of a character.

Suella Braverman – Attorney General

C+

Has to try harder than her predecessors to gain the respect of the legal profession. There’s a bit of misogyny here, and has had to contend with the fact that there were better qualified candidates for this hugely important job. She’s made a quiet start, but possibly got involved in party politics a tad too much, given the independent nature of the role.

Mark Spencer – Chief Whip

B –

A popular figure with many on the government benches, he’s come under fire over several controversial decisions, not least to withdraw the whip from Julian Lewis, while allowing the likes of Rob Roberts in Delyn to keep it. The Lewis affair was completely mishandled, although the jury is out on how much it was down to Spencer or how much the key decisions were taken in Number Ten.

Chandra Kanneganti: The Coronavirus challenges I’ve seen as a doctor and a councillor

31 Jul

Dr Chandra Kanneganti is the Chair of North Staffordshire’s GP Federation, and is a Stoke-on-Trent City Councillor.

It’s been almost six months since we have been dealing with Covid-19 pandemic. With the benefit of hindsight, it can be said that we could have handled the health crisis better.

We should have imposed the lockdown much earlier, and made sure we had enough PPE to support and protect our health care workers. We could have communicated better the precautionary measures that should be taken. As we move forward, it is critical that we evaluate our Covid-19 response. However, such assessments should be defined by empathy and humility.

I am a GP of 14 years’ experience. As medical professionals, we were never trained to handle a health crisis of this magnitude. Like military exercises during peacetime, the healthcare professionals never conducted nation-wide pandemic-response exercises during normal times. Much less, many health care professionals never even attended a single workshop on pandemic response during their careers.

This is not surprising, since we have never seen something like this in our country or for that matter, no country has ever anticipated a crisis of this magnitude. Our health care infrastructure was tested and stretched by this once in a generation health crisis. Our people and the health care professional community have demonstrated remarkable resilience in the combat against the deadly pandemic.

Over the past few months, my colleagues and I worked every weekday and many weekends in GP practices, in Covid Hot clinics and extended access clinics. Many of us had at least 40-50 contacts of patients every day as a GP. During the breaks, which were always few, we would ruminate on the experiences narrated by the pandemic infected patients, and we would think of the safety of our loved ones at home.

But there was always extraordinarily little time to pause, and we had to get back to patients to work with clinical precision. In the midst of all this, I had to respond as Chair of British International Doctors Association (BIDA), and have led campaigns to scrap the NHS Immigration Health Surcharge for NHS workforce and for research with actions into disproportionate BAME Covid deaths and infections.

As a Conservative councillor, being there with the residents in my ward provided me with the opportunity of experiencing the remarkable ‘British resilience’ up and close. I had the privilege of working with the local church to start a voluntary group that helped in distributing medicines as well as food and shielding patients. It was heartwarming to see people supporting each other in the communities. A resident in my ward collected food and kept it outside every week for anyone to come and collect it.

I am sure there are many such good Samaritans in all communities. The lockdown also provided us with an opportunity to get potholes fixed in my ward by the council. Keeping up the local business in lockdown was also an important priority. I worked with the local authorities to deliver grants to businesses quickly and offered help to vulnerable people.

While there were PPE problems in some parts of the country, Stoke On Trent and North Staffordshire never faced such issues. This was largely due to innovative solutions created by people working collaboratively to supply PPE to general practices and care homes. Indeed, one of our administrators made visors for doctors working in Covid hot clinics. Further, these clinics to see Covid-suspected patients were opened in record time. We must note with some pride that Stoke had one such clinic, which was first of its kind in the entire country.

It is essential to recognise the achievements in our pandemic response, as it will help us to build a more robust health care infrastructure. Based on my work as a medical professional and as a councillor, let me share with you four important accomplishments.

First, in terms of infrastructure, hospitals have come up with Covid wards in record time with well-trained staff ready to serve. Our health care staff was trained quickly to shield vulnerable people and protect them. Today, there are thousands of intensive care beds, ventilators ready to be used along with Nightingale Hospitals across the country. There was no problem in accessing an intensive care bed and ventilators during the pandemic in our country. Thankfully, we will be spared the experience of Italy, where doctors, unfortunately, had to choose patient’s for ventilation and treat the patients in corridors.

Second, with regards to processes, general practices have been trying to digitalize for ages. Within one week of Covid pandemic, GPs across the country shifted to remote consultations, using various digital tools and continued to be there every day for their patients. Whenever there was a perception that the decision-making process was erring in its policies, there were quick corrective measures. For instance, all doctors’ associations have united in one voice to support BAME NHS Staff who are disproportionately affected. Eight GP colleagues and a Practice Manager in Greater Manchester prepared a risk assessment tool called SAAD tool in memory of a GP colleague who unfortunately died of Covid.

Our democratic political process and the elected, as well as accountable leadership, are important assets that we have. We are one of those few countries in the world that reported Covid deaths with complete openness and transparency.

In fact, the fatality rate may have been over-reported. I have seen a number of reports of deaths, particularly in care homes that were reported as Covid deaths, based on care staff and paramedics observations without any valid medical test results. Our democratic ethos and administrative frameworks do not permit us to push inconvenient numbers under the carpet.

Third, the response of our political leadership has been brilliant throughout the pandemic. Boris Johnson has been in ICU with high flow oxygen and has recovered. The Prime Minister gave us hope and showed considerable fortitude in crisis. Rishi Sunak was fantastic, and all my constituents have nothing but praise for him. Matt Hancock’s knowledge of the issues and his engagement with scientific and medical advisors showed a mature health secretary with a reassuring presence in the hour of crisis.

We are at the forefront of vaccine development with contracts of millions of vaccines in place, which is marked contrast to some of the developed economies which are yet to sign a contract with vaccine producers.

Fourth, there was a robust societal response. The British public has demonstrated remarkable generosity with the wonderful campaign of Sir Tom Moore. His campaign collected £32.79 million. I had the first-hand experience of the British kindness, as I was able to collect 17,000 in a short time through British International Doctors Association (BIDA), and distributed this to number of stranded doctors for their living expenses. Through various symbolic measures, such as clapping, our society has shown immense appreciation to all the key workers for the work that they are doing.

Despite these achievements, we must never forget the fatalities that we registered due to the pandemic. Death is not a statistical data point, and the loss of life of a mother, a father, a child, and a key worker can never be filled. There are concerns that there may be a second wave of coronavirus in the winter. There is no time to rest. We must continue to help each other and support the government. We are in this together – and will come out of this much stronger as a country.

Michelle Lowe: Local government has an important role in helping us beat obesity

31 Jul

Michelle Lowe contested Coventry South at the General Election last year and is the former Deputy Leader and Cabinet Member for Housing & Health at Sevenoaks District Council.

Governments for decades have planned to fight obesity and help the nation lose weight with schemes from the sugar tax to the Prime Ministers new plans to ban junk food advertising before 9pm, calorie counts on restaurant menus and GP’s prescribing Weight Watchers. These measures will probably make a difference, but in my experience as Deputy Leader of Sevenoaks District Council overseeing a health-in-all-policies approach to tackle obesity, this will only scratch the surface.

Most overweight people know the causes are poor diet and lack of exercise. They also know that eating better and exercising more will not only help them lose weight but will make them healthier – yet they do not take the difficult path to shed the extra pounds. To help them the government needs to understand the reasons why people choose unhealthy lifestyles and tackle the causes as well as the symptoms.

Obesity is linked to mental ill-health. People who feel anxious and/or depressed are unlikely to feel motivated to lose weight even if deep down they would like to. Tackling mental ill-health, something that may have been made worse by lockdown, will help to fight obesity. As well as prescribing Weight Watchers it might also be worth prescribing specialist, holistic weight loss schemes that also includes counselling, exercise and practical advice about debt.

You are probably wondering what debt has to do with obesity. In my experience quite a lot. Debt can lead to mental ill-health, which is linked to obesity, but it can also be linked to choices. People running out of electricity may choose not to cook a dinner and risk the kids not eating it – and buy them a filling bag of chips instead. People on lower incomes are less likely to buy fresh fruit and vegetables unless they live near a supermarket as they can’t risk it going rotten before it is eaten – buying crisps is a better bet.

Lifestyle also has a lot to do with obesity. People working fulltime do not always have time to cook healthy meals – it is often easier to throw unhealthy meals together quickly that the whole family will eat. There are some people that don’t know how to make a healthy meal as we have lost a lot of practical skills such as these over the generations. Busy people may not have time or the energy for extra exercise over and above what they do during the day, which means active travel needs to be incorporated into their daily routine. This is where local government comes in.

Local government is great at social prescribing. At its best, it understands its local area and population and can work with other agencies and charities to put together social prescribing programmes that meet local peoples’ needs. Mental health support and debt advice needs to be included in some weight loss programmes, in order to tackle the symptoms as well as the causes, and local councils should understand how this mix will work for their locality.

Councils can encourage people to take on allotments which will help them understand food better. It is a healthy outdoor activity in its own right – that can lead to healthier eating. This can be linked to educating children and their parents through schools and other outlets about how to make fast, healthy, cost-effective meals.

Councils are also the leisure authority and can link leisure centres, local tennis courts and other activities into social prescribing activities. They are also the planning authority and if they plan well can make sure walkways and cycling paths, secure places to lock bikes are included in new developments – and incorporated in existing ones where possible. They can also control the types of food outlets and vans through planning and licensing, and I also believe there is a bigger role for Environmental health in promoting healthier choices on menus when they inspect restaurants.

Taking a holistic approach to obesity and its causes with central government, local government, schools and the NHS working together to identify the causes and solutions in particular localities will yield longer term, sustainable results.

Carlaw resigns. Counter-intuitively, the Scottish Tories may need a proper leadership contest.

30 Jul

Almost a year to the day after Ruth Davidson dramatically decided to step down as leader of the Scottish Conservatives, her successor has done the same.

Jackson Carlaw, who stepped in as interim leader before being effectively crowned in a lopsided leadership contest against Michelle Ballantyne in February, has decided that he is not the man to lead the Tories into the 2021 Scottish elections.

The immediate result is a great deal of confusion. As the Scottish Tories have two deputy leaders, at the time of writing not even the MSPs know who is stepping up as deputy leader.

More uncertain still is the question of who will succeed him. There is no obvious dauphin amongst the Scottish Parliament group, many of whom were only elected in 2016.

Adam Tomkins, one of Ruth Davidson’s most high-profile allies, is stepping down in 2021 (as is Davidson herself, at least at the time of writing) and in any event had perhaps blotted his copybook by toying with Murdo Fraser’s old idea of breaking away from the Conservative Party. (The band of Scottish Tories who believe in this plan didn’t field a candidate in February – will they this time?)

Twitter, meanwhile, is abuzz with speculation that Douglas Ross, the Member of Parliament for Moray, is about to throw his hat into the ring.

Ross, who was reportedly Davidson’s preferred successor before winning his Westminster seat, resigned from the Government in May rather than defend Dominic Cummings. This may give him some distance from the Government which may help him with Scottish voters who haven’t warmed to Boris Johnson. There is also precedent for an MP simultaneously sitting at Holyrood for a time – Alex Salmond did it between 2007 and 2010.

But would the man Downing Street sources branded ‘Mr Nobody‘, and who split with the UK close-knit leadership, be able to count on the support he’ll need from the UK Conservative machine?

All of which leads to the question of how the transition should be managed. With less than a year to go until what could be a make-or-break Holyrood poll the temptation to avoid a full contest will be strong.

But there is also a case to be made that the Party needs a fuller debate about where it is and how it got here. Carlaw’s resignation follows the planned departures of both Davidson and Tomkins and the stepping down in January of Eddie Barnes, the Tories’ long-serving ‘top spinner’.

The machine which delivered their stand-out 2016 result, of which Davidson was a necessary but not sufficient component, has been shedding parts for a while. A new leader is not the whole solution, any more than the old one was the whole problem.

Daniel Pryor: Letting asylum seekers work is common-sense Conservatism

30 Jul

Daniel Pryor is Head of Programmes at the Adam Smith Institute.

Just over a year ago, former Home Secretary Sajid Javid told Parliament that “it is time for reform” of the outdated ban on asylum seekers working in the UK.

The world has hugely changed since then. But there remains an urgent need to allow asylum seekers to become less dependent on taxpayers, contribute to our economy, and support integration.

That’s why we at the Adam Smith Institute are proud members of the Lift the Ban Coalition: a group of over 200 businesses, trade unions, charities, think tanks and faith groups that campaign for the right to seek work for people seeking asylum.

In a new report, the coalition is calling for the Government to lower the waiting period before asylum seekers can work from one year to six months, as well as letting them apply for jobs outside the highly restrictive Shortage Occupation List (which includes classical ballet dancers and hydrogeologists).

Giving those seeking asylum the right to seek work – unconstrained by bureaucrats who think they understand the labour market better than British businesses – is common sense. Relaxing our current year-long work ban would promote integration with local communities, protect vulnerable people from forced labour, save the taxpayer money, and give asylum seekers the dignity of providing for themselves and their families.

The Home Office announced a review of the current policy 18 months ago, but have been silent since. Unfortunately, Home Office delays are a big part of the problem with our asylum system. By March 2020, the majority of people (31,516) waiting for a decision on an asylum claim were doing so for more than six months: the highest number since public records began. Those awaiting the results are left struggling to support themselves and their families on just £5.66 a day.

Conservatives pride themselves on championing the dignity of work: the sense of meaning, purpose, and belonging that comes from gainful employment. This is something that many millions of us have come to appreciate the value of even more as vast swathes of the United Kingdom remain furloughed.

Frankly, it is cruel and counterproductive to deny that opportunity to asylum seekers who want to use their skills to help rebuild our economy. Sitting at home all day with no job and a meagre government-granted allowance – all in the midst of the Covid-19 pandemic – is a challenge for anyone’s mental well-being.

It also makes it more difficult to successfully integrate into their local communities. Work would give asylum seekers the opportunity to meet and socialise with people, as well as a strong incentive to improve English language skills.

The economic case for reform is equally compelling. Our latest estimates show that lifting the work ban could save taxpayers £98 million through more income tax receipts and less asylum support payments. Previous research on the effects of work bans also points to a potential reduction in crime from lifting the ban: hardly a surprise for conservatives who recognise the link between labour market opportunities and crime.

Other developed countries seem to recognise the benefits, and the UK remains an international outlier on its waiting periods: Australia, Canada and many European countries have far less restrictive rules.

Critics raise concerns that allowing asylum seekers to work would encourage more to come to Britain. But worries about creating such a ‘pull factor’ are not based on real-world experience. A systematic review of research into the relationship between labour market access for asylum seekers and overall numbers failed to find a single study showing a long-term relationship. This should hardly be surprising – most asylum seekers aren’t even aware that they are banned from working upon arrival in the UK, never mind the idea that they base their decision on such information.

Most Brits are rightly unconvinced by the ‘pull factor’ argument. Reform has proven to be consistently popular with the electorate and UK businesses. Survation polling has found that a remarkable 71 per cent of the public believe lifting the ban would help integration, while more than two-thirds of business leaders are supportive of the change.

Lifting the ban is also in keeping with this Government’s wider approach to immigration policy. The Prime Minister has already scrapped the notorious ‘tens of thousands’ target, revived the post-study work visa, and mandated lower, looser salary thresholds in our post-Brexit immigration system. Following these sensible changes with asylum working reform would be a welcome instance of consistency from the Government.

If we’re serious about rebooting Britain post-Covid, we should let asylum seekers work. People from many different political backgrounds support reform, but the key arguments in favour are most familiar to Conservatives. If this Government continually denies access to paid work in favour of state handouts, maintains barriers to integration, and hobbles our vulnerable economy with unnecessary red tape – what is the point of the Conservative Party?

Daniel Pryor: Letting asylum seekers work is common-sense Conservatism

30 Jul

Daniel Pryor is Head of Programmes at the Adam Smith Institute.

Just over a year ago, former Home Secretary Sajid Javid told Parliament that “it is time for reform” of the outdated ban on asylum seekers working in the UK.

The world has hugely changed since then. But there remains an urgent need to allow asylum seekers to become less dependent on taxpayers, contribute to our economy, and support integration.

That’s why we at the Adam Smith Institute are proud members of the Lift the Ban Coalition: a group of over 200 businesses, trade unions, charities, think tanks and faith groups that campaign for the right to seek work for people seeking asylum.

In a new report, the coalition is calling for the Government to lower the waiting period before asylum seekers can work from one year to six months, as well as letting them apply for jobs outside the highly restrictive Shortage Occupation List (which includes classical ballet dancers and hydrogeologists).

Giving those seeking asylum the right to seek work – unconstrained by bureaucrats who think they understand the labour market better than British businesses – is common sense. Relaxing our current year-long work ban would promote integration with local communities, protect vulnerable people from forced labour, save the taxpayer money, and give asylum seekers the dignity of providing for themselves and their families.

The Home Office announced a review of the current policy 18 months ago, but have been silent since. Unfortunately, Home Office delays are a big part of the problem with our asylum system. By March 2020, the majority of people (31,516) waiting for a decision on an asylum claim were doing so for more than six months: the highest number since public records began. Those awaiting the results are left struggling to support themselves and their families on just £5.66 a day.

Conservatives pride themselves on championing the dignity of work: the sense of meaning, purpose, and belonging that comes from gainful employment. This is something that many millions of us have come to appreciate the value of even more as vast swathes of the United Kingdom remain furloughed.

Frankly, it is cruel and counterproductive to deny that opportunity to asylum seekers who want to use their skills to help rebuild our economy. Sitting at home all day with no job and a meagre government-granted allowance – all in the midst of the Covid-19 pandemic – is a challenge for anyone’s mental well-being.

It also makes it more difficult to successfully integrate into their local communities. Work would give asylum seekers the opportunity to meet and socialise with people, as well as a strong incentive to improve English language skills.

The economic case for reform is equally compelling. Our latest estimates show that lifting the work ban could save taxpayers £98 million through more income tax receipts and less asylum support payments. Previous research on the effects of work bans also points to a potential reduction in crime from lifting the ban: hardly a surprise for conservatives who recognise the link between labour market opportunities and crime.

Other developed countries seem to recognise the benefits, and the UK remains an international outlier on its waiting periods: Australia, Canada and many European countries have far less restrictive rules.

Critics raise concerns that allowing asylum seekers to work would encourage more to come to Britain. But worries about creating such a ‘pull factor’ are not based on real-world experience. A systematic review of research into the relationship between labour market access for asylum seekers and overall numbers failed to find a single study showing a long-term relationship. This should hardly be surprising – most asylum seekers aren’t even aware that they are banned from working upon arrival in the UK, never mind the idea that they base their decision on such information.

Most Brits are rightly unconvinced by the ‘pull factor’ argument. Reform has proven to be consistently popular with the electorate and UK businesses. Survation polling has found that a remarkable 71 per cent of the public believe lifting the ban would help integration, while more than two-thirds of business leaders are supportive of the change.

Lifting the ban is also in keeping with this Government’s wider approach to immigration policy. The Prime Minister has already scrapped the notorious ‘tens of thousands’ target, revived the post-study work visa, and mandated lower, looser salary thresholds in our post-Brexit immigration system. Following these sensible changes with asylum working reform would be a welcome instance of consistency from the Government.

If we’re serious about rebooting Britain post-Covid, we should let asylum seekers work. People from many different political backgrounds support reform, but the key arguments in favour are most familiar to Conservatives. If this Government continually denies access to paid work in favour of state handouts, maintains barriers to integration, and hobbles our vulnerable economy with unnecessary red tape – what is the point of the Conservative Party?

Henry Hill: If Gove and Johnson want to save Britain, they’re going to have to use the word ‘Britain’

30 Jul

Gove digs out Better Together’s greatest hits as Davidson heads to the Lords

Michael Gove has been in Scotland this week, fronting a new push by the Cabinet to raise the Government’s profile north of the border ahead of next year’s Holyrood vote – with a particular focus on the under-35s.

Following polls which suggest that independence is not a priority for the Scottish electorate, the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster has said that he will not be ‘distracted’ by those showing majority support for breaking up Britain.

He has also adopted an identifiable style – perhaps informed by Downing Street polling – which appears to be setting the tone for the pro-UK effort. It includes repeatedly stressing that devolution is not only ‘working’ but, in a phrase dredged up from 2014, offers “the best of both worlds”.

As I wrote for the Daily Telegraph this week, this is a tactical position with huge strategic dangers. The insistence that ‘devolution is working‘ makes it difficult to attack the SNP’s many failures, or to answer the separatists when they pose the simple question of why, if Holyrood is using all these powers so well, should it not have even more?

Worse still, Gove’s article for the Times makes repeated references to the “four nations” and “different nations” of the UK, but doesn’t mention ‘Britain’ or ‘British’ once. It bodes ill for any effort to build an ’emotional case’ for the Union if Cabinet ministers dare not speak the nation’s name.

Ruth Davidson, however, has struck a different note to this softly-softly approach, suggesting that Unionists should have been more combative and “put the boot in” to the SNP in the aftermath of the 2014 vote. This comes as the Press & Journal reports SNP fears that she is being elevated to the Lords to launch high-profile attacks on them (surely a reasonable assumption).

With the Government preparing to face down the Scottish Government over control of the British internal market, and another row brewing over the proposed ‘Shared Prosperity Fund’, the best that can be hoped is that Gove is speaking softly so as not to draw attention to a big, big stick. Or boot.

New parties shaking up the unionist and separatist camps in Scotland

With the possibility of a second independence referendum possibly riding on the results of next year’s Scottish Parliament elections (although it shouldn’t), the stakes are extremely high – and have tempted new entrants into the ring.

In the nationalist corner is the new Alliance for Independence. This has been set up with the express intention of gaming Holyrood’s electoral system by contesting only the list vote, attracting vast numbers of SNP second preferences, and delivering a separatist supermajority next year.

However it has already become a locus for deeper tensions within the independence movement, with Nationalist figures dissatisfied with Nicola Sturgeon’s safety-first strategy rallying to its defence. There are also concerns that it could become a vehicle for Alex Salmond to stage his next comeback.

(On a related note, the Daily Record reports that the Scottish Government is set to miss an important deadline for turning over documents to the inquiry into the debacle with the former First Minister.)

On the pro-UK side, meanwhile, is George Galloway’s Alliance 4 Unity. This is an explicitly ecumenical effort, distinct from his Workers Party GB: he has openly stated that he will work with Tories in the name of defeating the SNP, and attracted candidates from a range of backgrounds to stand under the A4U banner.

Despite that, Galloway’s big opening might be on the left, exploiting the gap in the market created by the moribund Scottish Labour Party (more below) and wooing Lab-Nat switchers tempted by the radical promises of independence supporters.

Crack in DUP unity as Foster spurs rebellion over Stormont changes

A major crack in the discipline of the Democratic Unionist Party appeared this week, when Arlene Foster found herself facing the largest Stormont rebellion in the Party’s history.

The revolt was staged over a controversial bill intended to give increased powers to individual ministers in Northern Ireland’s power-sharing executive, the News Letter reports. The move has been pushed through by the DUP and Sinn Fein, whilst being opposed by the Ulster Unionists.

Senior DUP figures have accused the First Minister of trading away important safeguards secured for Unionism at previous negotiations. Outside observers have also suggested that it will increase the exposure of Executive decisions to legal challenge.

If this comes to pass, it will join the St Andrews Agreement in the line of Stormont fouling itself up with self-directed reform.

BBC urged to drop Sturgeon’s ‘political broadcasts’

The BBC has been urged to stop broadcasting Nicola Sturgeon’s coronavirus press briefings on the basis that she is using them for party political purposes.

According to the HeraldScottish Labour have demanded a meeting with the head of BBC Scotland and claim that the broadcasts are “in breach of the Charter of the BBC”. The Tories have made the same claim – in their case slightly awkwardly, as the Prime Minister is in the process of trying to set up a similar press briefing at Westminster.

Sturgeon has been accused of misrepresenting Scotland’s Covid-19 statistics, and downplaying the scandal in Scottish care homes revealed by the BBC.

Labour veteran calls on Leonard to step down ‘for the Party’

Lord Foulkes has called on Richard Leonard, the leader of the Scottish Labour Party, to step aside ahead of next year’s Scottish Parliament electons, the Daily Record reports.

The peer, a former MP and MSP, suggests that Jackie Baillie, the punchy and relatively right-wing deputy leader, could take over on an interim basis for the 2021 campaign.

Leonard is a left-winger who was a close ally of Jeremy Corbyn. His leadership has seen a fresh waning in the Party’s fortunes, losing all but one of its MPs (again) at the 2019 election and fifth place at the final European elections. Labour are currently bumping along at 15 per cent in the Holyrood polls.

Henry Hill: If Gove and Johnson want to save Britain, they’re going to have to use the word ‘Britain’

30 Jul

Gove digs out Better Together’s greatest hits as Davidson heads to the Lords

Michael Gove has been in Scotland this week, fronting a new push by the Cabinet to raise the Government’s profile north of the border ahead of next year’s Holyrood vote – with a particular focus on the under-35s.

Following polls which suggest that independence is not a priority for the Scottish electorate, the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster has said that he will not be ‘distracted’ by those showing majority support for breaking up Britain.

He has also adopted an identifiable style – perhaps informed by Downing Street polling – which appears to be setting the tone for the pro-UK effort. It includes repeatedly stressing that devolution is not only ‘working’ but, in a phrase dredged up from 2014, offers “the best of both worlds”.

As I wrote for the Daily Telegraph this week, this is a tactical position with huge strategic dangers. The insistence that ‘devolution is working‘ makes it difficult to attack the SNP’s many failures, or to answer the separatists when they pose the simple question of why, if Holyrood is using all these powers so well, should it not have even more?

Worse still, Gove’s article for the Times makes repeated references to the “four nations” and “different nations” of the UK, but doesn’t mention ‘Britain’ or ‘British’ once. It bodes ill for any effort to build an ’emotional case’ for the Union if Cabinet ministers dare not speak the nation’s name.

Ruth Davidson, however, has struck a different note to this softly-softly approach, suggesting that Unionists should have been more combative and “put the boot in” to the SNP in the aftermath of the 2014 vote. This comes as the Press & Journal reports SNP fears that she is being elevated to the Lords to launch high-profile attacks on them (surely a reasonable assumption).

With the Government preparing to face down the Scottish Government over control of the British internal market, and another row brewing over the proposed ‘Shared Prosperity Fund’, the best that can be hoped is that Gove is speaking softly so as not to draw attention to a big, big stick. Or boot.

New parties shaking up the unionist and separatist camps in Scotland

With the possibility of a second independence referendum possibly riding on the results of next year’s Scottish Parliament elections (although it shouldn’t), the stakes are extremely high – and have tempted new entrants into the ring.

In the nationalist corner is the new Alliance for Independence. This has been set up with the express intention of gaming Holyrood’s electoral system by contesting only the list vote, attracting vast numbers of SNP second preferences, and delivering a separatist supermajority next year.

However it has already become a locus for deeper tensions within the independence movement, with Nationalist figures dissatisfied with Nicola Sturgeon’s safety-first strategy rallying to its defence. There are also concerns that it could become a vehicle for Alex Salmond to stage his next comeback.

(On a related note, the Daily Record reports that the Scottish Government is set to miss an important deadline for turning over documents to the inquiry into the debacle with the former First Minister.)

On the pro-UK side, meanwhile, is George Galloway’s Alliance 4 Unity. This is an explicitly ecumenical effort, distinct from his Workers Party GB: he has openly stated that he will work with Tories in the name of defeating the SNP, and attracted candidates from a range of backgrounds to stand under the A4U banner.

Despite that, Galloway’s big opening might be on the left, exploiting the gap in the market created by the moribund Scottish Labour Party (more below) and wooing Lab-Nat switchers tempted by the radical promises of independence supporters.

Crack in DUP unity as Foster spurs rebellion over Stormont changes

A major crack in the discipline of the Democratic Unionist Party appeared this week, when Arlene Foster found herself facing the largest Stormont rebellion in the Party’s history.

The revolt was staged over a controversial bill intended to give increased powers to individual ministers in Northern Ireland’s power-sharing executive, the News Letter reports. The move has been pushed through by the DUP and Sinn Fein, whilst being opposed by the Ulster Unionists.

Senior DUP figures have accused the First Minister of trading away important safeguards secured for Unionism at previous negotiations. Outside observers have also suggested that it will increase the exposure of Executive decisions to legal challenge.

If this comes to pass, it will join the St Andrews Agreement in the line of Stormont fouling itself up with self-directed reform.

BBC urged to drop Sturgeon’s ‘political broadcasts’

The BBC has been urged to stop broadcasting Nicola Sturgeon’s coronavirus press briefings on the basis that she is using them for party political purposes.

According to the HeraldScottish Labour have demanded a meeting with the head of BBC Scotland and claim that the broadcasts are “in breach of the Charter of the BBC”. The Tories have made the same claim – in their case slightly awkwardly, as the Prime Minister is in the process of trying to set up a similar press briefing at Westminster.

Sturgeon has been accused of misrepresenting Scotland’s Covid-19 statistics, and downplaying the scandal in Scottish care homes revealed by the BBC.

Labour veteran calls on Leonard to step down ‘for the Party’

Lord Foulkes has called on Richard Leonard, the leader of the Scottish Labour Party, to step aside ahead of next year’s Scottish Parliament electons, the Daily Record reports.

The peer, a former MP and MSP, suggests that Jackie Baillie, the punchy and relatively right-wing deputy leader, could take over on an interim basis for the 2021 campaign.

Leonard is a left-winger who was a close ally of Jeremy Corbyn. His leadership has seen a fresh waning in the Party’s fortunes, losing all but one of its MPs (again) at the 2019 election and fifth place at the final European elections. Labour are currently bumping along at 15 per cent in the Holyrood polls.

Newslinks for Thursday 30th July 2020

30 Jul

Isolation for Covid-19 ‘to be increased by three days’…

“People with symptoms of coronavirus will be told to stay home for 10 days, amid fears that Britain is facing a second wave of the virus. The period of isolation – which is currently seven days – will be increased by three days, the Deputy Chief Medical Officer will announce. However, the Health Secretary will on Thursday say that ministers are now exploring ways to reduce the 14-day quarantine period for those entering the UK, which could mean that quarantine and self-isolation periods are standardised at 10 days. All this comes after Boris Johnson expressed fears about the threat of a second coronavirus wave across Europe, with concerns that it could arrive in the UK in the next two weeks.” – Daily Telegraph

  • Prime Minister ‘scrambles to avoid new lockdown’ – Daily Express
  • Johnson faces demands from Tory MPs and industry for airport testing – Daily Telegraph
  • Davis leads calls for Boris Johnson to introduce shorter isolation periods – Daily Mail
  • MPs urge government to provide targeted emergency support – The Guardian

Comment:

  • The figures on a second wave don’t add up – Ross Clark, Daily Mail

….as Government to expand Covid-19 rescue loan scheme

“The government is expanding its Covid-19 rescue loan scheme to cover small businesses on the edge of collapse, a move that Labour warned would come too late for many troubled firms. With less than a week before the furlough scheme covering 9 million employees is cut back, plunging more employers into debt, the Treasury said it would use a change in EU state aid rules to allow firms previously locked out of the coronavirus business interruption loan scheme (CBILS) to access government funds. The economic secretary to the Treasury, John Glen, said he would write to major lenders advising them of the change, which will make more small businesses – specifically those that have racked up large losses and debts – eligible for loans of up to £5m. By the end of June, more than £11bn had been lent to more than 50,000 businesses under CBILS.” – The Guardian

  • Furlough scheme has cost taxpayer more than £30 billion, Treasury data reveals – Daily Telegraph
  • UK strikes deal for 60m Covid-19 vaccine doses with Sanofi and GSK – FT

More:

  • Baffling advice raises risk of second wave, says BMA chief – The Times
  • MPs claim care homes were ‘thrown to the wolves’ – The Sun
  • Outbreaks highlight disparities in UK test and trace regimes – FT

Shapps arrives back in UK to start quarantine

“Transport Secretary Grant Shapps has arrived back in the UK after cutting short his Spanish holiday. The minister was on a family holiday when new travel restrictions came in to force at the weekend and will now have to self-isolate for two weeks himself. The move to scrap the so-called travel corridor with Spain, which came following a spike in cases in the country, has caused chaos for airlines and the travel industry at the peak of the summer holiday season. But speaking on his return Mr Shapps said he “cannot rule out” that other countries could be included under the UK’s quarantine measures. He told reporters  that the decision to require travellers arriving in the UK from Spain to isolate for 14 days was the “right thing to do”.” – Daily Telegraph

  • Fears over coronavirus second wave starting to roll across Europe, warns Hancock – The Sun
  • Britain must plug ‘alarming’ gaps, MPs warn – Daily Express
  • Doctors should use WhatsApp to give patients test results, says Hancock – Daily Mail

Comment:

  • Stranded Britons should take more responsibility – Clare Foges, The Times
  • Ditch overseas holidays to eliminate coronavirus – David Hunter and Neil Pearce, The Guardian

No 10 ‘wants woman’ for daily White House-style press briefings

“No 10 is on the hunt for a female broadcaster to host daily White House-style televised briefings and broadcast its message directly to the public. Boris Johnson wants to build on the success of the coronavirus press briefings with the new format starting in October. The successful candidate will be paid more than £100,000 to field questions from lobby journalists — more than MPs and on par with most cabinet ministers. It is understood that the government is determined to hire a woman to counter the impression that Mr Johnson has a “woman problem”. Three quarters of his cabinet ministers are men, and No 10 has been criticised for the lack of women fronting its coronavirus briefings.” – The Times

Paul Goodman: Johnson’s majority may not survive the tough decisions ahead

“Are Tory MPs really up for the hard choices ahead? Two examples suggest they may not be. The first took place in the plain light of political day. Marcus Rashford, the Manchester United footballer, led a campaign to extend free meals for schoolchildren during the summer holidays. Prominent Tory MPs, such as Robert Halfon and Tracey Crouch, threatened to vote with Labour to support it. The Government caved in. The second was less blatant, but it worried the Treasury more. Most Conservative MPs like to think of themselves as champions of lower taxes and a smaller state. But when Covid-19 came, their response was much the same as the Labour big state politics they had denounced at the election only a few weeks previously.” – Daily Telegraph

Gove urges sceptical businesses to embrace £50m customs broker scheme

“The government has urged business to take advantage of a £50m grant scheme to boost the training and recruitment of 50,000 new customs brokers for the coming trade border with the EU, despite industry warnings that the scheme is insufficient and “flawed”. Customs, logistics and haulage industry leaders said the drive to expand capacity in the customs sector before border checks come into force in January next year was facing headwinds caused by Covid-19 and the uncertainty around EU-UK trade talks. “I urge the intermediary sector and businesses to take advantage of the help on offer now,” said Michael Gove, the cabinet office minister, adding that brokers, freight forwarders and express parcel operators will play a “critical role for businesses” from January.” – FT

  • Johnson’s new immigration system ‘risks opening up UK to over 600 million people’ – The Sun
  • French minister says ‘No Deal Brexit is better than a bad deal’ – Daily Mail

Johnson ‘planning second peerages list to reward donors in autumn’

“Boris Johnson is understood to be planning a second list of peers as early as September to reward leading businessmen and financial donors to the Conservative Party. A list of dozens of new members of the House of Lords, including ex-cricketer Sir Ian Botham, Sir Eddie Lister, Mr Johnson’s Number 10 chief of staff, and the former Labour MP Gisela Stuart is due to be announced within days. However, financial supporters including Peter Cruddas and Johnny Leavesley, who have backed the party in the past, have been shunted to a second list in the early autumn. It is also understood that Michael Spencer, a businessman and the party’s treasurer from 2006 to 2010, will also have to wait until the autumn for his peerage.” – Daily Telegraph

  • Donations of £1bn trigger calls for parties to adopt corruption checks – The Times

Britain is in ‘panicked’ discussions with Five Eyes allies to combat the West’s reliance on China

“The UK government is in ‘panicked’ discussions to revive the Critical 5 alliance to combat the West’s dependence on China for its infrastructure. Five Eyes countries – Australia, Canada, New Zealand, the United Kingdom, and the United States, are said to be in ‘feverish discussions’ to resurrect the Critical 5 branch of their agreement from 2012 which deals with critical infrastructure such as water, energy and communications… ‘They haven’t met for five years but fears over supplies and our ability to secure ourselves have grown so great that the governments are resurrecting this historic body in order to tackle security together.’ The source added that many ministers in the UK Government see the Critical 5 initiative as an ‘oven-ready’ structure to deal with the challenge of China’s stranglehold on the supply chain on a ‘multilateral basis’.” – Daily Mail

Corbyn acted in ‘self-interest’ when deleting Wiley tweet, says anti-Semitism charity

“Jeremy Corbyn has been accused of “acting purely out of self-interest” after he deleted an old tweet thanking Wiley but failed to condemn the rap star’s anti-Semitic rant. The former Labour leader became the latest public figure to distance themselves from the 41-year-old rapper, known as ‘the Godfather of grime’ following his anti-Semitic rants over social media. Mr Corbyn – whose five-year leadership of the Labour Party was repeatedly dogged by complaints of anti-Semitism and became embroiled in multiple scandals – deleted a tweet from December thanking the musician for his support at the 2019 general election, in which his Conservative Party rival, Boris Johnson, won an 80-seat majority.” – Daily Telegraph

  • Corbynite rebellion crumbles after plot to undermine Starmer backfires – Daily Express

More:

  • Khan ‘thought Brexit was bigger risk’ than coronavirus – The Sun

Comment:

  • To rebuild the left, let’s look beyond the Labour leadership – Neal Lawson, The Guardian