Dominic Cummings, Boris Johnson’s former chief adviser at No 10 who is now his fiercest critic from the right, has used his latest post on his subscription-only Substack service to suggest that Labour should ditch Sir Keir Starmer for someone like Lisa Nandy.
Here is an extract.
The ideal replacement is a woman from the Midlands who can focus on the public and build a team. I don’t know much about Labour MPs, and obviously you need to focus group the hell out of this, but Lisa Nandy seems the closest fit to the job description. Boris cannot take women seriously. Both in Vote Leave 2015-16 and government 2019-20, I brought in some brilliant young women to key roles. Boris, like many men in politics/government, struggled to listen to them. As one woman who knows Boris extremely well and has worked very closely with him said to me last year, ‘he can’t take women seriously, he can’t help staring at tits and talking like we’re idiots’. He will massively struggle with a woman opponent and he is already very vulnerable with women under ~50.
Nandy is actually from Greater Manchester, where her Wigan seat is, not the Midlands, but presumably Cummings knows that. As his tweets about his article show, he has discounted another woman who ran for the Labour leadership is does come from the Midlands.
Sir Keir Starmer has said the government’s plan A is “failing”. He said the government should respond by beefing up the booster vaccination programme, aiming for 500,000 vaccines to be delivered a day.
Echoing what Jonathan Ashworth said in the Commons earlier (see 11.48am), Starmer said:
The government said that the vaccine would be the security wall against the virus and now the government is letting that wall crumble.
We’ve seen those that most need it not able to get the jab they need. Only. I think, 17% of children have got the vaccine. And the booster programme has slowed down so much that at this rate we’re not going to complete it until spring of next year.
So the government needs to change these, it needs to get a grip. I think it needs to drive those numbers up to at least 500,000 vaccines a day. And that can be done, I think, by using community pharmacists … pop-up centres for vaccines, and mobilising those retired health workers as we did before.
Asked if it was time for plan B, Starmer said asking about plan A or plan B was the wrong focus. He went on:
The question we need to ask is why is plan A failing? And it’s failing because the government has allowed that wall of the vaccine to crumble.
The government’s Covid dashboard has just been updated, and it shows that there have been 52,009 new coronavirus cases. That is the highest daily total on this measure, and the first time the daily tally has topped 50,000, for more than three months.
Daily new cases were last at this level on 17 July, when 54,674 were recorded.
Some readers have been in touch to say that, even though the government is saying people can book a booster vaccine appointment six months after their second jab without having to wait to be asked (see 10.08am), in practice that is not possible. In the Commons the Lib Dem MP Daisy Cooper made the same point.
Speaking in the Commons, where, bizarrely, the vaccines minister Maggie Throup delivered a statement on Covid despite answering a UQ on the exactly the same topic earlier in the day, Cooper said:
Many of my constituents are absolutely desperate to get their third jabs and their boosters.
The minister said that if their invitation hasn’t arrived that they can book on the national booking service or call 199, but that is simply not working.
When they get onto the national booking service it says that they’re not eligible if they haven’t received an invitation letter, and if they call 119, 119 is telling them that it can’t override the system. So will the minister please urgently look into this and fix the system?
Throup said she would look into this. “If there is a problem with the system, we will get it fixed,” she added.
Boris Johnson has recorded an interview for broadcasters in Northern Ireland. Here are the key points.
- Johnson insisted that there was no need for the government to move to ‘plan B’ because Covid cases were not rising beyond expectations. Asked why plan B was not being triggered now, he said:
We are continuing with the plan we set out in July. We are watching the numbers very carefully every day.
The numbers of infections are high but we are within the parameters of what the predictions were, what Spi-M [modelling group] and the others said we would be at this stage given the steps we are taking. We are sticking with our plan.
He also said the position going into the winter was “incomparably better” than it was 12 months ago.
- He urged people to get their booster vaccines, saying that was the most important thing people could do.
- He said any problems with the booster rollout were caused by people not coming forward, not by a shortage of vaccines. He said:
There’s certainly no shortage of supply. We’ve got the jabs. We’ve got huge quantities of vaccine, of Pfizer, and AstraZeneca but Pfizer is the one that we’re using for the for booster. Come forward and get it when you’re when your time comes. It’s a demand issue; we really urge people to come and do it.
- He would not comment on whether the government is considering shortening the time required between the second dose and the booster vaccine. Jeremy Hunt has proposed this. (See 12.09pm.)
- Johnson said that he did not think the Northern Ireland protocol was “coherent with the Belfast/Good Friday agreement” and that it needed to be changed “pretty fast”.
- He confirmed that he wanted to stop veterans being put on trial over historic abuses in Northern Ireland. He said he wanted a solution “that brings people together, allows people to grieve, but also allows people to move on”. But he did not say any more about when the government would try to legislate for its highly controversial amnesty plan announced earlier in the year.
Pension funds will be required to set out how their investment strategies support the fight against climate change under new government proposals, PA Media reports. Thérèse Coffey, the work and pensions secretary, said in a speech that regulations would be amended so trustees have to explain how their investments align with the Paris agreement’s commitment to limit global warming to 1.5C.
Coffey said that with total assets of £2tn the UK’s occupational pension schemes had huge power to channel capital into the infrastructure needed to move to net zero emissions. She went on:
With the capital clout to drive investment in things like green infrastructure and technology, pension schemes can become a superpower in the fight against climate change.
This new metric will be a powerful method of communicating in a simple and straightforward way a scheme’s progress in managing the transition to net zero and how exposed members’ savings are to risks relating to climate change.
These measures may seem techie but they are transformational, placing pension schemes further at the heart of our response to climate change and the transition to net zero.
At his news conference yesterday Sajid Javid, the health secretary, made the headlines when he said Covid cases in the UK could rise to 100,000 per day. But Dr Chris Smith, a virologist who lectures at Cambridge University, told the BBC earlier that the UK is probably already close to that number, because around half of cases are asymptomatic. He said:
So probably, with detected cases at 50,000, we’re probably already close to 100,000 cases a day anyway, we just don’t know about lots of them.
We are looking very hard, we’re doing more than a million tests a day now, but probably we do have really high levels bordering on that sort of number at the moment.
The UK Health Security Agency, which has replaced Public Health England, has published its latest weekly Covid surveillance report. Here are some of the key findings.
Church leaders have come together to deliver a message of reconciliation at a cross-community service to mark the centenary of the formation of Northern Ireland, PA Media reports. PA says:
Boris Johnson and Irish foreign minister Simon Coveney were among dignitaries who attended the service at St Patrick’s Church of Ireland Cathedral in Armagh.
The event, titled A Service of Reflection and Hope, was organised by the leaders of the main churches.
Secretary of State for Northern Ireland Brandon Lewis, First Minister Paul Givan, DUP leader Sir Jeffrey Donaldson, UUP leader Doug Beattie, SDLP leader Colum Eastwood and Alliance leader Naomi Long also attended the service.
Sinn Féin did not send a representative.
The Queen had been set to attend but was unable to travel after she fell ill.
The sermon was delivered by the president of the Methodist Church in Ireland, Dr Sahr Yambasu.
Originally from Sierra Leone, he is the first African-born leader of one of Ireland’s main churches.
He said he hoped the event could help people in Northern Ireland to choose a way forward which is mutually beneficial for everyone.
He said: “Today, we are marking a point in our history. We have come a long way – not just a century but centuries. During that time, people have cared for one another and made efforts to build community.
“But we have also been blighted by sectarian divisions, terrible injustices, destructive violence and by win-lose political attitudes.
“So, this service provides us with an opportunity to give thanks and, also, lament; to imagine what could be and to choose the way forward that can be mutually beneficial.”
Although unionists have been keen to celebrate the 100th anniversary of Northern Ireland this year, it was created by the partition of Ireland and nationalists have less positive views of the anniversary. Kevin Meagher explains this well in his very good new history of Northern Ireland, What a Bloody Awful Country. Meagher, special adviser to Shaun Woodward when he was Northern Ireland secretary, describes Northern Ireland as “a masterclass in failed statecraft” whose creation led to a 50-30-20 century – 50 years of unionist dominance and Catholic oppression, 30 years of violence, and 20 years of stop-start progress.
At his news conference yesterday Sajid Javid, the health secretary, implied that it was up to individuals to act to bring Covid cases under control, by getting booster vaccines and by acting responsibly. On the World at One, Prof Robert West, a professor of health psychology and a member of the Scientific Pandemic Insights Group on Behaviours (Spi-B), which is effectively a Sage subcommittee, said he did not think this message would be effective. He explained:
I think people will be a bit suspicious and think, ‘Hang on a minute, what about you? What is the government doing because it’s not just about us it’s about everyone taking responsibility and that does include the government.’
West also said he thought it was important for MPs to be seen wearing masks. Referring to the sight of MPs not wearing masks in the Commons, he said:
Actually people who are ambivalent, it gives them a kind of excuse if you like to say, ‘If they’re not doing it why should I do it?’
It’s about leadership. And politicians often talk to members of the public and sports personalities and so on about setting a right example for the public, and I do think it behoves them to do the same thing.
Yesterday Sajid Javid, the health secretary, said Tory MPs should be more willing to wear masks. He was responding to a question at his press conference about why most Conservative MPs refuse to wear masks in the Commons chamber, even when the benches are crowded. Javid conceded that the questioner had a point, and he said MPs should be “setting an example as private individuals as well”.
While Conservative MPs have mostly refused to wear masks in the chamber in recent weeks, on the oppostion benches mask wearing is commonplace.
At business questions this morning Pete Wishart, the SNP spokesman, said that behaviour of Tory MPs in this regard was “comic”. He said that four of the 14 Conservatives in the chamber at the time were wearing masks (earlier in the day the proportion was even higher), which he said was more than normal, but he challenged Jacob Rees-Mogg, the Commons leader, to accept that Javid was right.
But Rees-Mogg essentially rejected Javid’s proposal. He told Wishart:
There is no advice to wear face masks in workplaces. The advice on crowded spaces is with crowded spaces with people that you don’t know. We on this side know each other.
Now, it may be that [Wishart] doesn’t like mixing with his own side, wants to keep himself in his personal bubble. He may find the other members of the SNP – who I normally find extraordinarily charming – he may not take this catholic view of his [colleagues] … But we on this side have a more convivial fraternal spirit, and for our calling the guidance of Her Majesty’s government.
Earlier, when Thangam Debbonaire, the shadow leader of the Commons, raised the same point, Rees-Mogg said that at the Labour party conference people were not wearing masks. He particularly cited the lack of mask wearing at the Daily Mirror conference party, and claimed this was evidence that “masks are worn more by socialists when there are television cameras around than when they are not going to be seen”.
UPDATE: At the morning lobby briefing Downing Street sided with Jacob Rees-Mogg rather than Sajid Javid on this issue. Asked if the PM agreed with Javid about the need for MPs to wear masks in the Commons chamber, the PM’s spokesman said:
I haven’t spoken to the prime minister about this today, obviously he’s over in Northern Ireland all day. It remains the case that it’s a matter of personal judgment for all individuals on wearing a mask.
We have very clear guidance which sets out that people are recommended to wear face coverings in crowded, enclosed spaces where they come into contact with people they do not normally meet.
At the Downing Street lobby briefing the prime minister’s spokesman said the government’s science advisers have not formally requested a move to the plan B measures in the winter Covid plan.
Asked if Prof Chris Whitty, the government’s chief medical adviser, or Sir Patrick Vallance, the government’s chief scientific adviser, have called for the activation of plan B, the spokesman said:
They are independent and I can’t speak for them. If you are asking me if they have formally requested that change to move to plan B, they have not.
I was not listening to the briefing today – I’ve taken the quote from PA Media – but it seems the word “formally’ is quite important in that sentence. Government scientists have made no secret of their preference for a precautionary approach (see 9.44am), although Whitty and Vallance have also always been scrupulous in accepting that policy decisions are ultimately a matter for elected politicians, not expert officials.
The spokesman also said the government listened carefully to organisations like the NHS Confederation and the British Medical Association which have both called for the implementation of a plan B. He said:
Whilst we listen to them carefully, we don’t always agree with the positions they set out.
We listen to a range of experts – including Sage, CMO (chief medical officer) and CSA (chief scientific adviser) advice – and consider that in the whole when considering the needs to protect lives and livelihoods.
Later MPs will hold a general debate on Cop26. Caroline Lucas, the Green MP, says she will be saying the government must go much further and faster to reduce emissions.
Earlier campaigners handed in a petition at Downing Street highlighting the key demands from the Zero Hour campaign on the climate crisis.
The LSE has published new research about the reasons for vaccine hesitancy amongst minority ethnic groups. “Lower rates of vaccination are due to failures of the government and the media in establishing trust with people from minority ethnic communities,” the report says, perhaps predictably.
What may be most interesting is what the report says about policy options that might make a difference. Offering people a choice of vaccine would work best, it suggests. It says:
We found little evidence to support the existing policies that have been used to overcome vaccine hesitancy in minority ethnic communities, such as promoting vaccination through community or religious leaders and providing vaccines at community centres or places of worship. In fact, those who were vaccine hesitant had lower levels of trust in community and religious organisations than the other survey participants and were also less likely to be politically engaged.
Finally, we asked participants how various policies might change their attitudes towards vaccination, ranging from giving people the choice of which of the available vaccines to take, to providing financial incentives and making it a mandatory condition for continued employment. We found that policies such as mandatory vaccination and financial incentives had polarising effects on our vaccine hesitant respondents – some reported that such policies would convince them to take the vaccine, but higher numbers said that such policies would fuel their distrust and further decrease their likelihood of getting vaccinated. The most promising of the policies we asked about was providing a choice regarding which of the available vaccines to take. Given this choice, a fifth of vaccine-hesitant respondents reported they would take it.
And here are some more points from the Covid UQ in the Commons earlier.
- Jeremy Hunt, the Conservative chair of the Commons health committee, said people should get booster vaccines after five months, not after six months. He said:
At its peak in the spring we were jabbing 400,000 people a day. Now it’s less than 200,000 people a day.
If you look at the higher hospitalisations, cases and death rates, compared to countries like France and Germany, the heart of it is not actually things like mask wearing and Covid passports, it is their higher vaccine immunity …
Does it really matter when it’s only nine weeks until the Christmas holidays if someone has their booster jab after five months? And should we not look at whether there should be flexibility in that decision so we can get more people in more quickly for their booster jabs?
In response Maggie Throup, the minister for vaccines, said the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation were advising that six months should be the minimum gap between the second jab and the booster.
- Sir Lindsay Hoyle, the Speaker, criticised Sajid Javid, the health secretary, for making a statement about how MPs should be wearing masks at his news conference last night, not in the Commons. Hoyle said:
I will work with any secretary of state or any minister to avoid this embarrassing situation where they think it is more appropriate to brief the media rather than this House. It won’t happen. If it does, we will see more urgent questions, the government ministers will get blocked.
It is not what I want. I want to work together but I want due respect for the members who are elected to this chamber.
As my colleague Jessica Elgot reports, Hoyle seems to have missed the point that Javid only made this comment in response to a question from the FT’s Sebastian Payne.
- At least two Conservative MPs stated their scepticism about the value of masks. In one question Andrew Murrison complained about “an obsession with non-pharmaceutical interventions, such as mask wearing”, saying that vaccines were the best way to combat the threat posed by Covid. And Sir Desmond Swayne said masks containted gaps that “that are 5,000 times bigger than the virus”.
- Throup defended the fact that, unlike her predecessor, Nadhim Zahawi, she does not attend cabinet. When Jeremy Hunt suggested she should, Throup replied: “I have regular meetings with the prime minister and the prime minister takes the vaccine rollout extremely seriously, as does the secretary of state.”