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Conduct unbecummings?

Updated: Oct 3, 2020

Are we past the worst? Or facing new and greater perils? Depends who you ask. Are primary schools about to reopen? Depends where you are. Are the Prime Minister’s edicts set in stone, and is his top aide secure in his job? Depends what day of the week it is. As our Political Correspondent Peter Spencer reports, just telling us all to stay home was the easy bit. ‘Is you is or is you ain’t my baby, baby, baby? The way you’re acting lately makes me doubt.’ That Yankee hit record from the 1940’s keeps coming back. Substitute the words ‘is you is or is you ain’t my saviour, Bojo,’ and it works just as well today. On the plus side, ministers have promised a huge wodge of notes to bolster the Covid-19 vaccine project pioneered by Oxford University and the drug company AstraZeneca, which could turn out millions of doses by September. Also a new coronavirus swab test that gives results in minutes, as opposed to days, is being tried out. And new antibody tests that check if someone’s had the virus in the past will start being rolled out this week. Against that, we learned earlier this month that UK had the highest Covid-19 death toll in Europe. The figure came from the Office for National Statistics. Official, then. But since then, fatalities have been falling so quickly that it may be ‘difficult to find’ people who’ve died of it by the end of next month. That’s according to Professor Carl Heneghan. He’s the director of the Centre for Evidence-Based Medicine at Oxford University, so he ought to know. Not that that’s done the trick for head teachers and local authorities agonising about whether the little ones can go back to school at the beginning of next month. Boris Johnson says they really should, as there’ll be a ‘world beating’ contact tracing system in place in time, though doubts abound about that. Oh well, plenty of time for perplexed parents to make up their minds. Not. There’s also the matter of Bojo’s top man apparently breaking the government’s own lockdown rules, visiting his parents hundreds of miles from London while showing coronavirus symptoms. He says he needed childcare help while he and his wife were sick, but that doesn’t solve the them and us problem. Conduct unbecoming, Cummings? Seems Dom’s lapses extend beyond his questionable dress sense. Tasteless to mention, perhaps. Then there’s the question of whether people coming in from overseas, be they holidaymakers or Brits returning home, might cause another spike. It’s widely argued a quarantine system introduced months ago would have saved many lives. But it’s taken until this week for the government to finally defy the travel industry and set one up. Pretty nearly everyone will have to fill in a form on arrival saying where they plan to spend the next fortnight, meaning the Border Force will be able to keep tabs on overseas visitors after that. An obvious exception will be the army of fruit pickers imported, largely from Eastern Europe, to do the backbreaking work the locals aren’t too keen on. Which opens a whole new can of worms for the government. If we really are dependent on these folk to keep our farms viable, what happens when we exit the EU and end free movement of people? Apologies, everyone, for mentioning the dreaded ‘B’ word, but it is relevant just now, as the deadline for extending the transitional phase is almost upon us. We’ve been spared the details in recent months, but the talks have been tottering grumpily on. And the gulf between the two sides is now looking unbridgeable. Meaning instead of waiting to overcome coronavirus, then finding time to sensibly fix Brexit, we could well crash out at the end of this year. Not as if the nation’s exactly flush just now. Government borrowing’s already surged past sixty-two billion, the highest figure on record, largely due to the cost of propping up people’s wages. And it’s forecast we’ll end up with a tab more than five times bigger than was expected back in March. The Chancellor says things would have been even worse if he hadn’t stepped in, and millions would doubtless say amen to that. Still it’s a whopping stash of cash. And it makes the NHS surcharge levied on foreigners, especially those who actually work in the service, look spectacularly small beer. It was sold as a way of cutting out so-called health tourism. But now that these good people are so obviously risking their lives to save ours, for example Johnson’s, polarities have shifted. And, after much humming and hawing, the government’s finally taken the hint and reversed its policy. Shock! Horror! U-turn! Alternatively, just good old British common sense. You know, the stuff Bojo’s been banging on about recently. Credit for this lightbulb moment is shared between the growing band of Tory rebels outraged at the hypocrisy of simultaneously clapping carers and penalising them, and the labour leader Keir Starmer. Seems he’s having rather a good war. The latest YouGov survey puts him two points ahead of the Prime Minister in the favourability stakes. And the same pollsters have found more people are giving the government the thumbs down than up over its handling of the pandemic. That’s a first, and not one Boris will like very much. Still, he will at least be chuffed that the corruption inquiry into his, ahem, chumminess with the American businesswoman Jennifer Arcuri is winding down. The suggestion was he’d used his position as London mayor to slip backhanders her way. The independent sleuths say he may have been up to no good with the lady, but the cops should put the matter to bed, so to speak. Daresay new squeeze/mum Carrie Symonds won’t be heartbroken about that either. We can also all be cheered at the new news from China. A law’s just been passed in Wuhan, where the pandemic’s thought to have started, banning breeding, hunting and eating of wild animals. Given it was probably all down to bats, it’s good these guys have spotted the obvious in the belfry. And, crazy as it sounds, BAT could yet come to the rescue. British American Tobacco is to test a COVID-19 vaccine using proteins from the dreaded weed on humans, after it generated a positive immune response in pre-clinical trials. With a bit of luck and a following wind, the company says it could in time produce millions of doses a week. Who’d have thought baccy, of all things, could do as much good as harm? Sure is a mad world. Nowhere more so, mind, than Westminster, where they’re mulling over ditching virtual sittings and bringing back the real thing next month. Of course, health is a vital concern. But the commons leader Jacob Rees-Mogg’s thought of that, suggesting with a perfectly straight face MP’s should be put in Perspex boxes, complete with lids. Someone at the planning meeting sensibly pointed out they’d each need their own oxygen supply, same as publicity. Another person present later put it succinctly. ‘People thought he was taking the p**s.’ Poor Jacobean Jake, perhaps it’s time for him to put his feet up. Again.

Peter Spencer has 40 years experience as a Political Correspondent in Westminster, working with London Broadcasting and Sky News. For more of his fascinating musings on the turbulent political landscape, follow him on Facebook & Twitter.


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