A Tory Said What: February 2021

'So we have got to be very prudent and what we want to see is progress that is cautious but irreversible. I think that is what the public, people up and down the country, want to see.'

Boris Johnson (MP for Uxbridge and South Ruislip and Prime Minister) 15th February

Speaking to BBC News, the Prime Minister was speaking about what he hoped would be in his announcement for the path out of the current lockdown, due on 22nd February. He acknowledged that cases there are still more patients in hospitals now with Covid than there were at the April 2020 peak. Given that was the case, it does not make sense to me why we are even talking about potentially relaxing restrictions?

At this point, my thoughts were full of dread and seeing Tweets that day I don’t think I was alone. It had an awful feeling of de ja vue about it. Would he seriously start reopening society too soon again and thinking it would lead to anything more than thousands of unavoidable deaths and even more economic damage caused by a fourth lockdown? This was a worry I shared with Palliative Care Doctor DR Rachel Clarke, who couldn’t quite believe the Prime Minister was even thinking of reopening when we were still averaging over 600 deaths per day.

His wording regarding that was also frightening. Irreversible. Does that mean that’s it? No more lockdowns no matter what, even if the numbers were again increasing to staggeringly high numbers he would do nothing? Of course, he can have the stated aim of it being the last lockdown but if the situation deteriorated it caused a terrifying feeling he would do nothing. The other potential interpretation of that is that he was setting himself up to fail by saying it is irreversible because he cannot tell if the numbers will allow that to be the case.

but as we grope our way back to towards the light in life and getting on with rebuilding our society from what has been a historic hit by any standard. We do need to remember that yes coronavirus cases getting too high would ht the economy irrespective of policy but also we need to remember that livelihoods affect lives. We do know that if people are in poverty that shortens their lives need to remember that people being in poverty'

Steve Baker, (MP for Wycombe), 15th February

The MP for Wycombe was also appearing on BBC News as they gave coverage to the letter sent by the Covid Recovery Group and signed by 63 Tory MPs to the Prime Minister urging him to remove all Covid lockdown restrictions by the end of April. Seeing the BBC give him so much air space though left what Labour MP Barry Shearman described as ‘Serious concern that powerful far right faction in the Tory Party will push our weak Prime Minister into relaxing Covid restrictions too quickly!’. It is a concern I shared.

It is strange seeing him say he cares about peoples livelihoods and people being in poverty when his voting record paints a different picture. His voting record is there for all to see at theyworkforyou.com. All MPs voting records are available on that site.

He voted against fees charged to tenants by letting agents, voted to restrict the scope of legal aid and by extension access to justice to those less well off. The MP has also voted consistently against raising benefit payments in line with prices so their ingoings do not keep up with outgoings, consistently voted to reduce welfare spending to help people in poverty and if they had a spare bedroom, he consistently voted in favour of the so-called bedroom tax. He doesn’t believe it’s the job of the Government to help people on benefits to afford their council tax. He voted in favour f making it the responsibility of local authorities to help those in financial need and even voted to cut that support.

All of this is there to see. It was also not lost on Labour MP Nadia Whittome, who shared screenshots on social media too. Should she have done that? I’m not sure but for those unfamiliar with the site. Do you really think he is that concerned about people living in poverty?

well I think the Prime Minister was you know very very cautious and clear saying you know, we will look at all the evidence and share the evidence with the roadmap on the 22nd but you know this virus will continue to you know mutate and we have to be ready to act upon it. The one thing you know about this Prime Minister is he acts. On the 18th December he received the information about the Kent mutation which is now the dominant strain in the UK. On the 19th he took the decison to go into Tier 4

Nadhim Zahawi (MP for Stratford upon Avon and Minister for Covid-19 Deployment), 16th February

The Vaccines Minister had the morning media round on the 16th and this comes from his interview on BBC Breakfast. One of the things that was discussed was the insistence from the Prime Minister that the easing of lockdown would be ‘irreversible’. The question put to the Minister was ‘if you say irreversible and the data tells you something will you have to go backwards?’.

Mr Zahawi’s response is just surprising and at its worst, it is pure gaslighting! Does Boris Johnson act fact? Seriously! He took three holidays at the end of last year and has only put is into lockdowns at the very last moment as a last resort. He was slow putting us into lockdown last March and in the days before eventually announcing the lockdown was merely advising people not to go to pubs etc. Had it been imposed a week earlier than the death toll in the first wave could have gone from 36,700 to 15,700. He delayed on a second lockdown, the circuit break advice he received from SAGE for SEVEN weeks before he put us into the second national lockdown in November. Then, even a matter of hours before imposing the third national lockdown he was insisting schools were safe! He does not act fast!

I think you are barking up the wrong tree when you think this is some kind of ideological issue on behalf of the Home Office. I think the Home Office would have been very interested in the visa proposals that the EU were putting forward if they were firm guarantees, if they were actually binding, which they weren’t, if they actually delivered what we needed, if they didn’t ask in exchange for us to sign up to something that any other G7, any other big nation, has signed up for with the EU. It is not an ideological thing; it is a common-sense position.'

Caroline Dinenage (MP Gosport and Secretary of State for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport), 16th February

The Culture Minster was appearing before another committee. This time, the Digital, Culture, Media and Sport Committee had a one-off session concerning the visa situation after Brexit. Visa-free travel is not guaranteed for musicians or any other touring artists.

She accused the Committee of ‘barking up the wrong tree’ if the resulting situation that the music and the arts currently face is a result of any ideological concerns of the Home Office in regards to immigration. It is a change of tune from the Minister. She is on record several times now, most recently in front of the Petitions Committee eight days prior saying, ‘It is simply not consistent with the manifesto commitment to take back control of our borders, and it wasn’t consistent with the idea of Brexit that the majority of people in this country voted for’.

Our universities have a long and proud history of being places where students and academics can express themselves freely, challenge views and cultivate an open mind. That’s why I’m taking measures to strengthen free speech in higher education'

Gavin Williamson, (MP for South Staffordshire and Secretary of State for Education), 16th February

You know, with Schools closed since 4th January, nothing said yet on how they could be made safer before their inevitable return, pupils futures up in the air again this year with exams cancelled and no announcement of what would replace them forthcoming, you would be forgiven for thinking that the Education Secretary would have enough on his plate. That said, he felt it necessary to make a statement on free speech at Universities. Surely, those teachers and pupils deserve answers from the Education Secretary before he wants to embark on a made-up culture war.

Under the plans he announced, the Education Secretary would appoint a new ‘Free Speech and Academic freedom Champion to investigate potential infringements.’ Such infringements would include ‘no-platforming speakers or dismissing of academics and would leave liability with the Universities.

Strangely, and this was pointed out by Micky Smith, the Daily Mirror Political Correspondent, there was not one such example provided in the press release. He asked the Department of Education if they could provide examples where this new Free Speech Champion would have sought to intervene. They failed to do so. Instead, they could only point to two reports in the media such as Felix Ngole who was kicked out of University for homophobic comments but won his case in the Court of Appeal.

So, homophobia and speaking out against Brexit are perhaps things the Minister does not want to see cut down on in Universities? I may have misunderstood what I read. If that is the case then I will withdraw the comments. However, I cannot help but feel that this again is just seeking to distract from what is going on within education and the lack of progress I mentioned above.

'Freedom of speech is at the very core of our democracy. It is absolutely right that our great universities – the historic centres of free thinking and ideas – will now have this freedom protected and bolstered with stronger legal protections.'

Boris Johnson (MP for Uxbridge and South Ruislip and Prime Minister), 16th February

Perhaps unsurprisingly given he has often sued the phrase, ‘rewriting history’ several times last summer, the Prime Minister got involved in the act of this two-pronged attack on Universities and history. Should I remind the Prime Minister that history being rewritten happens all the time whenever a new book is published something he should know having written a couple of such books himself.

In terms of free speech, something central to that is the freedom of the press. It was not lost on Good Morning Britain host Piers Morgan that the Prime Minister has a bit of a chequered past there. His government boycotted the show for a large part of last year and the Prime Minister himself has not appeared on the show since 2016, well that is if you don’t include when he hid in a fridge during the 2019 Election trail.

Well, why don’t you pause and let me explain, it and then you can pick holes in afterwards? I think people get fed up with the media not allowing us to try and give at least honest answers, even if you don’t accept them

Dominic Raab (MP for Esher and Walton and Foreign Secretary and First Secretary of State, 17th February

With Piers Morgan and Susanna Reid not hosting Good Morning Britain this week, the Foreign Secretary came up against Kate Garraway and Ben Shepard. He may have thought he was going to be in for a more comfortable ride than if it had been Mr Morgan. It should be remembered that Kate Garraway’s husband, Derek Draper has been in a Coma since contracting Covid last year, she has been hurt by the pandemic more than most tv hosts. She should not need that though to be any further motivation to hold Ministers to account on serious issues related to the pandemic.

The Minister accused Ms Garraway of being ‘cynical’ in her line of questioning as he seemingly wanted to take about a ceasefire across the globe to allow for a vaccination rollout. That’s a very good topic to talk about. However, Raab wanted to return to it arguing that ‘enforcement is difficult in a country where we don’t have the control over the law enforcement authorities’ prompting Ms Garraway to reiterate she was talking about [the UK], Where we do have control.”

The way he just says this though as the discussion escalates just feels patronising, like a little kid chucking his toys out of the pram because he cannot say what he wants to say and has to answer questions.

I’ve set out that we’ve got extra checks, we've got the protection via the requirements pre getting on the plane but with all law enforcement the question is quite how proportinate the measures are…as with all the measures we've taken through the pandemic and follow the rules…its to cover the cost of doing it’.

Dominic Raab (MP for Esher and Walton and Foreign Secretary and First Secretary of State, 17th February

The car crash interview concluded in the same vein as Kate Garraway put this question to Dominic Raab, ‘The question I’m trying to ask is about policing. If I’m someone that’s declared that I’ve come from [another] country and I’ve been honest, I’ve taken the fact I’ve got to pay… and go into quarantine, I’m going to feel pretty bitter if the idea – that you argue is a good one, to have this system – isn’t enforced. We’ve seen all the way through [the pandemic] good ideas from the government… not being enforced. So if you’ve put something into place like this, how can people be sure that you’re enforcing it and making it happen? Where are the numbers? Where’s the money for the numbers? Where’s the support for that?”

We can all see where she is coming from. She is asking on behalf of those following the rules and serving the Quarantine that they’ve had to pay for when someone may not have been picked up on. She was asking about how it is being enforced and what numbers they have to say how many are successfully following it. Given how the Foreign Secretary discusses other measures it does not feel like he answered the question.

Kate Garraway was not left convinced she had received an answer and neither was Ben Sheppard convinced.

I am hugely honoured to have been appointed Minister to take forward our relationship with the EU after Brexit. In doing so I stand on the shoulders of giants & particularly those of @michaelgove who did an extraordinary job for this country in talks with the EU over past year

Lord David Frost, 17th February

You may well be thinking reading this that David Frost is not a Conservative MP so why on earth am I including a comment from him when he is not an MP. You would be right. However, in the above tweet, the former Brexit negotiator was expressing his honour of having been appointed to the Cabinet as a Minister of State for the Cabinet Office which will take effect from March 1st.

While the electorate never selects the Cabinet, they do elect the MPs that sit in Westminster and are chosen by the Prime Minister to make up said Cabinet. So, who elected Lord Frost? Is he just another unelected bureaucrat helping dictate the direction the country travels in when the Vote Leave campaign and giants he refers to painted a negative picture of the EU as being unelected bureaucrats. I almost certainly would not consider Michael Gove to be a giant either but each to their own. That said, have we just traded one set of so-called unelected bureaucrats for another?

Within the UK, to go to the pub, the theatre or whatever…no. I believe it unethical…but I understand that a small minority do not want to have the vaccine and I don’t think its right in a democracy that should be about majority rule and minority rule to implicitly coerce those peple to have a medical procedure that they don’t want

Steve Baker (MP for Wycombe), 17th February

The MP for Wycombe and deputy Chairman of the Covid Recovery Group was the in-studio guest on ITV’s Peston when the issue of so-called Vaccine Passports was brought up. Unsurprisingly, he lockdown sceptic was not in favour of such an idea.

He believes it to be unethical as it could amount to ‘implicit coercion’ against those who decide not to have the vaccine if they then cannot be allowed to go to the pub. Robert Peston was a bit surprised by the initial comment as he pressed, ‘if you can get your freedom back by sacrificing one freedom whats wrong with that’.

He may not think it is right but what if it is something that businesses decide they want to do to ensure the safety of everyone present at their establishments? He cannot stop businesses from doing that. AS for people who for whatever reason could not take the vaccine, I have read nothing about such ideas that would be discriminatory against them but as for people not wanting the vaccines, it’s a viewpoint I do not understand.

I’ve got it, I’ve got it, I’ve got it, It’s like OJ Simpson!

Boris Johnson (MP for Uxbridge and South Ruislip and Prime Minister), 17th February

What is the Prime Minister doing here? He was visiting a vaccination centre in Wales when he made this joke comparing putting on latex gloves to the infamous moment in the OJ Simpson murder trial. OJ Simpson had been acquitted of murdering former wife Nicole Brown Simpson and Ronald Goodman with a key part of his defence being unable to get his hands into the black leather gloves found at the scene. I know it was intended as a joke but perhaps he could have picked his words better.

That’s true to say we did see a drop in applications around that time and we have now introduced a new maintenance grant for nurses studying so nurses get at least £5,000 per year to study nursing

Helen Whately (MP for Faversham and Mid Kent and Minister of State for Health and Social Care), 18th February

The Minister for Health and Social Care was on the morning media round and this comes from her interview on BBC breakfast with Naga Manchetty. The interview was slammed for her inability or refusal to directly answer the questions she was asked. One of the topics raised was the news that there had been a 34% increase in applications to start studying nursing in the next academic year. The Minister indicated that the increase took the numbers to 50,000.

When it was pointed out to the Minister that applications dropped around the time that the Government scrapped the nurse’s bursary. The nurse’s bursary was scrapped by George Osborne in 2016 and was worth up to £10,000 per year and resulted in an approximate 40% drop in applications. The Government have been keen to say they re-introduced this last year. That is what the Minister is referring to when that drop in applications after 2016 was put to her by Ms Manchetty. However, this new grant of £5,000 is just that, a grant. It is not as generous as what was there before 2016 and it is still debt added on to the final total accumulated by the prospective nurses during their studies.

Compared to where they were before 2016, a nurse will qualify with more debt having received less funding. Compared to the intervening years when there was no bursary or grant, it is still more support but it is debt.

'We want to, and need to, increase the number of people working in it and that includes our determination to have an extra 50,000 nurses in the NHS by the next parliament.'

Helen Whately (MP for Faversham and Mid Kent and Minister of State for Health and Social Care), 18th February

Earlier in that same interview, the Heath and Social Care Minister referred to the Conservative Party manifesto commitment to having 50,000 more nurses in the NHS. That figure was misleading and was exposed as such at the General Election when Boris Johnson confirmed it on 8th December 2019. The 50,000 nurses were reliant on 19,000 being able to stay in the NHS. That was something the Minister was forced to admit that apart from retirements, ‘there are some nurses who aren’t staying with the NHS and we really want more people to stay.

You know, I don't have that figure at my fingertips'

Helen Whately (MP for Faversham and Mid Kent and Minister of State for Health and Social Care), 18th February

What number did Helen Whately not know? The starting salary for a Nurse in the NHS after boasting ‘Something that we’ve done is we have been increasing the pay for newly qualified nurses…of 12% since we put in place the Agenda for Change pay deal’. If you are going to boast about a 12% pay rise the natural assumption would be you know what that does to a nurse’s salary. That is what Nick Ferrari asked but she did not know. Instead, she had to be told, ‘It’s £24,000 for newly qualified, it rises to £33,000 on average once you’ve got years of training…’ This further car crash interview just ended up showing just how arrogant out of touch the Care Minister and the rest of the Government are in their view of the NHS.

I suppose really what we set out to the Prime Minister in our letter last week which is once you’ve protected the top four most vulnerable groups and they’ve been vaccinated and their vaccinations become effective by March 8th….once you’ve vaccinated the top nine groups that means you’ve protected groups that account for 99% of the deaths so far and over 80% of hospitalisations'

Mark Harper (MP for Forest of Dean), 21st February

As a member of the so-called Covid Recovery Group, Mark Harper was the first politician to be interviewed on the Marr Show. As a member of the Covid Recovery Group, Mr Harper has been putting pressure on the Prime Minister to ease restrictions sooner, ideally no longer than April. Here he is in his opening comments insisting that there should be no delay to beginning to relax restrictions from March 8th.

His reasoning for this is that the most vulnerable should have been ‘vaccinated’. True, by then the top four JCVI will have received a vaccine dose. That is one dose. The vaccines are to doses to offer the most effective protection.

He also states that for those who in the top four groups, vaccines will have become effective by March 8th. By personal experience, I can disprove that! At the start of the week, over 1.7m people were added to the shielding list, effectively pushed up into that top four groups. Two days before this interview, I received one such letter. I have had no contact at this point about a vaccine so as someone who is now considered in the top 4 groups, I will not have had a vaccine dose that will have taken effect by March 8th as he seems prepared for.

People can make up their own view about whether I should have told my team to stop buying PPE and spend the time bringing forward those transparency returns by just over a fortnight or whether I was right to buy the PPE and get it to the frontline. You tell me that that's wrong. You can't and the reason you can't is because it was the right thing to do and legal cases about timings of transparency returns are completely second order compared to saving lives. There is no health secretary in history that would have taken the view that they need to take people off the project of buying PPE in order to ensure nine months later the health secretary didn't have a slightly bumpy interview on the Marr programme. It is not what it is about, it is about doing the right thing

Matt Hancock (MP for West Suffolk and Secretary of State for Health and Social Care), 21st February

Just two days after the High Court found that he had acted unlawfully in the procurement contracts for PPE, the Health Secretary was facing the media. Uncharacteristically, he appeared in a very combative mood.

Legally, the government have to disclose the details of the contract award notice’ within 30 days. This did not happen on a ‘wholesale scale’ and the Good Law Project took the legal action and judge Chamberlain concluded, ‘The public were entitled to see who this money was going to, what it was being spent on and how the relevant contracts were awarded.’ With this, there was the VIP lane that saw companies with people running them with links to the Tory Party

On the Marr Show, Andrew Marr asked the health Secretary had anything to apologise for having lost the case. Brazenly, he did not and instead went on the offensive arguing that breaking the law is all second nature to ensure they got adequate supplies to the frontline of the pandemic. However, that was not what was delivered either. How much waste was there in PPE supplies that were brought in but were deemed inadequate?

His attempt to trivialise the law-breaking extended as he insisted the delay was just over a fortnight’. That proved not to be the case every time. In the worst cases, some contracts weren’t published until 78 days late! If it is only that small a breach as he says, why did he spend £200,000 on defending the case? That is taxpayer money, £200,000 of taxpayer money on defending a case he knew he did not have a leg to stand on. Why not gain some credibility and integrity by holding your hand up and admitting that under the stressful and unprecedented circumstances, it was a regrettable mistake instead of fighting it. It is perhaps a more believable angle to take. His arrogance in trying to trivialise it as such about just an interview with Marr is also staggering!

Also, note his attempt to deflect responsibility. Several times in the interview, he phrased it as ‘my team’ as a means of trying to spread the responsibility out. It is clear something went wrong in the department that broke the law. Otherwise, the court ruling would not have been what it was. Does responsibility lie with the entire department or the person at the top? If you use the football analogy if a team is struggling, who often pays the price? The manager and in this scenario the responsibility falls upon the Secretary of State.

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