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Westlake Legal Group > Posts tagged "Columnists"

Iain Dale: Which Starmer will we get as Labour’s new leader this weekend? Radical Starmer? Or Safety First Starmer?

On Sunday morning at 10.45, Keir Starmer will be announced as the new leader of the Labour Party. It’s difficult to imagine any other outcome. The result will be put out in a press release rather than at a triumphant rally.

In some ways, Sir Keir takes over at the worst possible time, given that it will be difficult for him to gain much traction given the coronavirus crisis.

But in other ways he takes over at a time when the Labour Party is in the doldrums and the only way is up. He’s there for the long haul. No one imagines he can turn around Labour’s dire fortunes in six months, but give him four years, and who knows?

He inherits a party which got pasted at the last election, and has shown little signs of understanding why. Indeed, it could be said that Sir Keir himself has avoided answering that hard question during the leadership contest.

There’s a reason for that. He was the architect of Labour’s disastrous Brexit policy, which few of his colleagues could explain properly and was ridiculed by commentators. But it was an indication of how Sir Keir intends to lead.

The aim of the policy was to keep the party together, and you have to say that over the previous three years he had been very successful in steering the party through political minefield after minefield.

Everyone knew he was the archest of arch-Remainers, yet he was successful in tacking towards the leavers in the Shadow Cabinet at appropriate moments. He told me in a recent interview that he realised there was no going back in the immediate future and ruled out the Labour Party standing at the next election on a platform of rejoining the EU.

Just as well. There’s no way he would have a hope in hell of rebuilding that red wall in the north and the midlands if he had succumbed to that particular temptation.

Will we see the radical Keir Starmer many people think he could be? Or will he be Safety First Keir Starmer? We’re likely to get an indication when we see who he fires from the Shadow Cabinet and who he appoints? Will it be a Shadow Cabinet of all the talents or will it be one very much in his own image?

Will he fire people like Jenny Formby, the party’s General Secretary? He may decide to leave that particular pleasure for a bit, but Labour leaders have traditionally wanted their own man or woman in that position, and you can understand why. Seaumas Milne has already fallen on his sword, and surely Carrie Murphy has to go too. That decision should be made on Day One. Signals are important.

There are rumours that Ed Miliband is pitching to be Shadow chancellor. This would be a mistake. That job should go to either Rachel Reeves or Yvette Cooper, assuming that both are willing to serve. Thet have carved out influential positions chairing two leading select committees.

But if Sir Keir Starmer is to succeed he needs to attract back the very best people who felt unable to serve under Jeremy Corbyn. Anyway, if I were him, this would be my Shadow Cabinet:

  • Leader: Sir Keir Starmer
  • Deputy Leader: Angela Rayner
  • Home Office: Yvette Cooper
  • Chancellor: Rachel Reeves
  • Foreign: Emily Thornberry
  • Transport: Andy McDonald
  • Justice: Lucy Powell
  • Work and Pensions: Jess Phillips
  • Environment: Lisa Nandy
  • Business: Angela Eagle
  • Education: Stella Creasy
  • Health: Rosena Allin-Khan
  • DCMS: Tracey Brabin
  • Women & Equalities: Debbie Abrahams
  • International Development: Matthew Pennycook
  • Leader of the House: Meg Hillier
  • Leader of the Lords: Angela Smith
  • Communities & Local Govt: Liz Kendall
  • Cabinet Office: Andrew Gwynne
  • Defence: Jonathan Ashworth
  • Party Chair: Stephen Kinnock
  • International Trade: Seema Malhotra
  • Northern Ireland: Louise Haigh
  • Employment: Anneliese Dodds
  • Wales: Stephen Doughty
  • Scotland: Ian Murray
  • Chief Secretary: Jonathan Reynolds

This would mean there would be 17 women out of a shadow cabinet of 28, with women in all the top three positions. Only seven of Corbyn’s shadow cabinet would survive.

I would choose media friendly spokespeople, and back them up with deputies who are more on the policy wonkish side of things. Having said all that, if I’m right on half of them I’d be pleasantly surprised.

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Over the last few days I’ve been tweeting out a daily video of my bookshelves.

An odd thing to do, you may think, but in these very odd times people like a diversion. I have a massive collection of political biographies and autobiographies, so I’m doing them by letter each day.

Today’s letter will be J. It’s astonishing how people seem to object to my having books about particular politicians on display.

According to one respondent, having books about or by Tony Blair disqualifies me as a serious political commentator.

Christ alone knows that he made of my three biographies of Hitler. He’s the sort of person who would happily burn books by people he didn’t agree with. The intolerance of some people on the Left never ceases to shock me.

Real Estate, and Personal Injury Lawyers. Contact us at: https://westlakelegal.com 

Henry Hill: Anger grows as devolution hinders coordinated response to the Covid-19 crisis

Growing anger as constitution handicaps coordinated response to Covid-19

As the country settles into what may be a long period of lockdown, this week saw the coronavirus crisis highlight some of the damage done to the UK’s ability to respond effectively by the wholesale devolution of health.

For starters, the Scottish Government are facing claims that their own poor testing regime is creating a ‘misleading picture’ of Covid-19 deaths north of the border, according to the Daily Record. Their official figures record only those who died after testing positive for the disease, and not those who pass away after developing symptoms but going untested.

The SNP are also under fire for their decision not to follow the ‘Nightingale’ naming convention for the new emergency hospitals. Whilst the styling will be used across England, Wales, and Northern Ireland, the Nationalists have decided instead to name their first field hospital after a Scottish nurse.

But anger is more acute in Wales, where voters are growing increasingly unhappy about their exclusion from various relief and support programmes the Government has rolled out in England, such as the ability for vulnerable people to sign up for priority supermarket deliveries. This is on top of the growing outcry over the Welsh Government’s insistence on setting up (and then botching the setting up of) a separate volunteer scheme to the ‘GoodSAM’ programme, which we covered last week.

Some Welsh Conservative MPs are apparently starting to get worried by the tone of their constituency post. But any call for more intervention by the Government would almost certainly spark a furious row with the Assembly group, who will naturally oppose any move which might diminish the importance of their institution (and thus, of themselves).

Nor is this problem confined to the UK. Politico reports that the left-wing government in Spain is apparently finding it extremely difficult to corral regional leaders behind a nationwide response, with devolved governments reportedly viewing the declaration of a state of emergency as a ‘power grab’.

This should serve as a warning sign to those who believe the British constitution can be balanced by more devolution: Spain’s strategy of café para todos – “coffee for all” – was supposed to achieve precisely this outcome by devolving power equally to regional units and hasn’t got close.

Meanwhile in an interview given before the outbreak of Covid-19 Jackson Carlaw, the Scottish Conservative leader, launched a broad-spectrum assault on Sturgeon’s domestic record.

Scottish justice: SNP retreat from bid to suspend jury trials and more reading on Salmond

This week saw an important defeat for the Scottish Nationalists when opposition parties united to force them to abandon proposals to suspend trial by jury in response to the Covid-19 crisis.

Ministers advanced the plan in order to help clear an apparently substantial backlog of cases. But it was attacked by senior lawyers as a “sinister attack on justice”, and the other opposition parties joined Tory MSPs in blocking the move.

Whilst we’re on the subject of courts…

Last week’s column reported on the augeries of a civil war inside the SNP on the back of Alex Salmond’s acquittal. Although coronavirus rightly dominates the headlines, this week has seen the publication of some great pieces on it for those of you who want to know more.

Top of the list must be this piece by Dani Garavelli at Tortoise Media, ‘Scotland after the Trial of Alex Salmond‘. It’s a great overview of how the trial was conducted and a cold first look at what the impact is and might be both on the women who brought the allegations and on Scotland more widely.

Next I’d recommend Ian Smart’s threepart series, ‘Grope over Fear’, examining what happened from his perspective not only as a long-time political opponent of the SNP but also as a trial lawyer. Finally, following Ian’s recommendation, this piece by Maurice Smith at the Scottish Review is worth your time too.

Real Estate, and Personal Injury Lawyers. Contact us at: https://westlakelegal.com 

Stephen Booth: Coronavirus will accelerate pre-existing political tensions, in the EU and otherwise

Stephen Booth is Head of the Britain in the World Project.

It is still too early in the Coronavirus pandemic to grasp its long-term implications for international politics.

Two visions of international relations are being put forward, often reflecting the prejudices of their advocates.

We are either headed for a future with a greater focus on national self-sufficiency, potentially leading to more international political conflict.

Alternatively, this is the moment for increased international cooperation that reflects the interconnected nature, for good and ill, of the world in which we live.

The eventual reality is unlikely to be so binary, since the crisis will reinforce both instincts and the policy response will require a bit of each.

National borders may become thicker in response to the crisis, and yet the development and dissemination of a vaccine will be a global endeavour. Supply chains may need to be more resilient in future but autarky clearly isn’t the answer.

Nowhere is this tension between the national and transnational more evident than within the EU, and the eurozone in particular, since it is both a collection of nations and in effect a quasi-state.

In my previous column, I noted that the initial response to the crisis – border closures and the stockpiling of medical equipment – had been characterised by uncoordinated national measures, with the EU institutions struggling to ensure that Europe’s internal borders remain open and that medical goods continue to be traded freely across the single market.

Over the last two weeks, the political and economic dividing lines exposed by the eurozone crisis nearly a decade ago have loomed large, with leaders at odds over how to finance a common economic response.

The European Central Bank (ECB) has once again been called on to do the heavy lifting, as countries increase national deficits to deal with the crisis.

Its new Pandemic Emergency Purchase Programme (PEPP), a bond buying programme of up to €750bn, is more flexible and has less strings attached than previous ECB schemes.

It has already had some success in reducing borrowing costs for countries, such as Italy, which are most in need.

However, the relaxation of the ECB’s usual restrictions under the PEPP is testing the boundaries of what is legally and politically acceptable in the so-called “frugal” member states, chiefly the Netherlands, Germany and Austria.

Under current rules, the ECB is unable to take a direct role in helping individual governments, unless a wider bailout programme has first been agreed by other member states.

In 2018, following legal cases brought in by Germany, the European Court of Justice specifically pointed to previous limitations on the ECB’s bond buying activities when ruling that it was not breaching the ban on direct financing.

Eurozone leaders are therefore examining other means of collective action, rather than relying solely on the ECB.

The politics of this are fraught. As the eurozone crisis eased and took the pressure off to enact further reforms, there was much unfinished business.

Supporters of a common eurozone treasury see this crisis as their chance to further the cause.

Last week, nine EU member states, including France, Italy, Spain and Portugal, called on fellow governments to develop a common debt instrument – so-called “Coronabonds” – to increase the eurozone’s fiscal firepower and display European solidarity.

However, German and Dutch politicians are loathed to enter into mutually guaranteed financing instruments with governments with debts that already amount to near, or well over, one hundred per cent of GDP.

Dutch Finance Minister Wopke Hoekstra sparked a major row after reportedly calling for an audit into why some countries did not have enough fiscal room to cope with the economic impact of the crisis.

The Dutch and German preference is that, if further action is required, the eurozone’s bailout fund – the European Stability Mechanism (ESM) – should be the vehicle.

The problem with this, from an Italian point of view, is that an ESM programme carries the stigma of asking for a bailout and usually has strings attached, such as external budgetary oversight.

This is political dynamite in Rome. After Coronabonds were rejected at last week’s EU meeting, Italian opposition leader Matteo Salvini, whose Lega party tops opinion polls, tweeted, “A far cry from being a ‘union’, this is a den of snakes and jackals.”

Italy may have to say “goodbye” to the EU, he suggested.

A fudge may well be found in the coming days that can calm things down for now, but the fundamental structural and political challenges facing the eurozone have been exposed once again.

The EU will also have to confront another question posed in the wake of the Coronavirus crisis: how much is too much centralised state control and will the freedoms we take for granted be restored?

Many countries are experiencing unprecedented limits on civil liberties to contain the virus, but these restrictions sit uneasily with liberal democratic traditions.

The UK’s emergency powers were passed with the proviso that MPs would vote every six months on whether they should be renewed.

However, the Hungarian parliament this week approved a controversial law that will extend the state of emergency and allow Prime Minister Viktor Orban to govern by decree for an indefinite period of time.

Among other things, the law means that individuals who publicise untrue or distorted facts, in the eyes of the government, potentially face several years in prison.

European Commission President Ursula Von der Leyen did not mention Hungary by name, but in a statement said: “Any emergency measures must be limited to what is necessary and strictly proportionate. They must not last indefinitely.”

The Commission says it will “closely monitor” the situation but this is a long-running story.

In 2018, the European Parliament voted to pursue action against Hungary under Article 7 of the EU Treaty, which allows the EU to give a formal warning to any country accused of violating fundamental rights.

The EU may impose sanctions, such as suspending voting rights. However, these sanctions require unanimity, and Poland, which is also facing an investigation under Article 7, has said it will veto any action against Hungary.

We can already see that the global public health crisis is having profound economic consequences.

The political implications of the coronavirus are far less clear at this stage but will also be hugely important for all liberal democracies as they navigate the geopolitics of the post-virus world.

As recent developments within the EU illustrate, crises tend to amplify and accelerate trends that are already underway.

Real Estate, and Personal Injury Lawyers. Contact us at: https://westlakelegal.com 

Ryan Bourne: A one-off income hit is temporary. The loss of a human life is permanent. We should tolerate the first to help save the second.

Ryan Bourne holds the R Evan Scharf Chair in Public Understanding of Economics at the Cato Institute. 

A pushback is underway. Terrible U.S. unemployment numbers, massive enrolment into Universal Credit here, and cratering worldwide growth forecasts highlight the shocking downturn that Covid-19 will bring. Mandated businesses closures and restrictions on association may be just be two to three weeks old, but the scale of the coming recession is leading some to worry about them already.

Donald Trump says “we cannot let the cure be worse than the problem itself.” The Times published findings claiming that “if the coronavirus lockdown leads to a fall in GDP of more than 6.4 per cent, more years of life will be lost due to recession than will be gained through beating the virus.” The Sun‘s Trevor Kavanagh laments “hysteria.” As the unaffected and recovered grow restless, such sentiment will intensify. Southern Italy is experiencing social unrest already. One hopes Boris Johnson and Rishi Sunak’s unprecedented economic support will prove a palliative here.

Economists see little short-term trade-off

Perhaps surprisingly, though, those most worried about the economics of today’s lockdowns turn out not, by and large, to be economists. Practitioners of the dismal science tend to more sanguine, for two reasons.

First, in the short-term, the “economy is f*cked” either way, as Brad Delong quotably claimed. Even if you could get public buy-in to simply “return to normal,” most models suggest infection rates would spike, hospital capacity would be swamped, and the escalation in deaths would quickly bring economic panic anyway.

More likely, large segments of the public would ignore a stop-go “full re-opening,” particularly if other countries maintained restrictions. Few would return to rock concerts and cinemas. That’s why 97 per cent of economists believe a large downturn is inevitable, desirable even, until infections slow substantially. “Normality” won’t occur through political declarations alone, but when the public health threat subsides, through effective treatment, a vaccine, herd immunity, or confidence that easily contracting covid-19 is unlikely.

Second, with good policy and a bit of luck, economists still assume the virus should not do much permanent economic damage either. Yes, labour supply will be lower in future – the sad consequence of lost life and more sickness. Some spending and production will never occur. But we’d expect a strong bounceback once this episode passes. It’s for that reason that The Times’ reporting was misguided. An induced recession wouldn’t have big negative health consequences unless it significantly affected our incomes permanently. We still hope the virus will not, significantly.

Human lives are valuable

Lost lives from the virus, in contrast, really would be permanent. Though it makes some queasy, the “statistical value of a human life” is likely to be around £5.4 million per life. If Imperial College modellers are right (and there’s huge uncertainty) that 280,000 deaths can be avoided using “suppression” measures compared with “population social distancing,” that policy protects £1.5 trillion in value, equivalent to 65 of last year’s GDP. That’s a lower bound too: it doesn’t take into account reduced lung damage of survivors, for example. It stands to reason then that we should be willing to give up around 65 per cent of one year’s GDP to avoid such deaths. Hence “whatever it takes.”

Now, some might argue it’s wrong to treat all human life as economically equivalent. The Italian median age of death, at least until recently, was 80.5. That implies a life expectancy here of 8 to 9 years, or more probably around 6 equivalent “good years.” The UK government typically values a full-health quality-adjusted life year at £60,000 per year. Eight good years per person saved is £360,000 per life, or £101 billion (4.5 percent of last years’ GDP) if 280,000 lives are saved.

Even this stingier methodology then suggests we should be willing to tolerate a one-time income hit equivalent to two-thirds of the financial crisis to stop these excess deaths. Given economists hope the fall in GDP over the medium-term to be less than this (a sharp fall and then a sharp rebound), and much of it is unaffected by policy anyway, steps that are extremely costly in the short-term might still be worthwhile for now to avoid the worse case death spikes.

Lockdown alleviates the worst, but doesn’t deliver the best

Yet just because incurring costs to avoid deaths is better than not, doesn’t mean we shouldn’t look for ways to lower given number of deaths at the lowest cost possible. Lockdowns are unlikely to be optimal. Two months or so of this might avoid death spikes while preserving economic capacity. Six months or more, as implied by the Deputy Chief Medical Officer, risks severe economic harm. Widespread business failures and defaults, permanently damaged supply-chains, and significant scarring effects on workers would almost certainly result. “Returning to normal,” at that stage, will cease to be an option. The Times’ concerns about longer-term health consequences will have merit.

You simply cannot keep the economy’s supply capacity mothballed for long periods without weakening it. Paying people not to work or keep business paused, desirable in the short-run, becomes damaging over time. We should be using any reprieve from the lockdowns to think through better options.

To be clear: a pandemic brings with it no good economic outcomes. Preventing hospitals being overwhelmed right now is wise. The point is, full lockdowns are unlikely to be optimal policy for prolonged periods. We want, surely, to find the the most cost-effective way of minimising the combined health and economic costs, recognising that only when the virus is no longer a problem for large segments of the population will normality return.

That means thinking on the margin: if businesses can more cheaply eliminate risk with mandated safety equipment such as masks and social distancing, even if the activity is “nonessential,” isn’t that preferable? Same for outdoors activity that brings much happiness at low risk. Germany’s idea for certification for those who pass antibody testing, allowing resumption of normal life, seems sensible. In other words, thinking should be driven by how we can eliminate risk at much lower cost.

What is the current pathway to normalcy envisaged? Just hoping for a vaccine? One model suggests we could achieve the same death reductions as lockdowns at much lower economic cost if we undertook randomised testing of the asymptomatic, enforcing quarantine just on those testing positive, as well as those with symptoms. Rather than a binary debate about lockdowns, this is where thinking should surely be: less costly ways to achieve the same ends.

Health and economic interests largely point in the same direction overall. Lives are economically valuable and a strong economy requires the public health threat gone. Shutdowns, while averting worst-case near-term deaths, are not a cost-effective strategy to normality though. The longer they continue, the messier things will get.

Real Estate, and Personal Injury Lawyers. Contact us at: https://westlakelegal.com 

Daniel Hannan: There must be a point at which the cost of containment, in terms of human welfare and even of fatalities, outweighs the cost of the virus

Daniel Hannan is a writer and columnist. He was a Conservative MEP from 1999 to 2020, and is now President of the Initiative for Free Trade.

One by one, firms starting to go under. They struggle on for as long as they can, furloughing their employees, taking government grants to cover their outgoings. But – especially for companies that don’t qualify for the £25,000 handout – the bills eventually become too much. Yes, 80 per cent of staff salaries is generous. But they still have to cover their rent, rates, utility bills, insurance, council tax, supplier invoices – and, of course, residual salaries. With zero customers, it becomes impossible. Which is why, within the first nine days of the crisis, half-a-million extra people had joined the dole queue.

Even sectors that you would expect to be insulated are being hit. A publisher friend, for example, tells me that book distribution companies are going down, meaning that he, too, has to lay off staff.

We have all spent a lot of time looking at exponential graphs recently. Insolvencies could soon be ticking up faster than infections. The furlough scheme is not designed to last. It makes sense to hold jobs open if the stoppage is brief. But that is the most weighted “if” since the Spartans sent their one word reply to Philip of Macedon.

If most businesses are able to reopen by Easter, the policy will have been triumphantly vindicated. Staff will return to work, the rise in unemployment will be contained, and the economic hit will turn out to have been largely a one-off. If, on the other hand, the shutdown lasts until May, or even June, there will be few customers, since everyone else will also have had to retrench.

That last paragraph will send several readers scrambling furiously for their keyboards. “Typical Tories!” they will say. “How can you even be thinking about businesses at a time like this? How can you put a value on human life?”

Actually, governments are obliged put a value on life all the time. The NICE does it whenever calculates whether a new medical investment is justified. There is even a formula to work out “Quality Adjusted Life Years” (QALY), reflecting the difference between the death of a healthy toddler and that of a bed-ridden nonagenarian. Since, all over the world, we can see a correlation between life expectancy and GDP, it is not unreasonable to ask how many extra years – or how many extra QALY – will be forfeited under the various strategies open to us.

My point is not that shops must reopen at any cost. No one is arguing that. My point is simply that trade-offs need to be made. There must logically be a point at which the cost of the containment measures, in terms of human welfare and even of fatalities, outweighs the cost of the virus.

I am not saying that we are at that point. Indeed, I’m not sure anyone could confidently say so when there are so many unknowns. There are widely varying estimates of how contagious COVID-19 is, and how lethal. We have no idea how many people have already had it. In the circumstances, we can’t say how many would be at risk if the strictures were loosened. Nor, obviously, can we put a number on the indirect costs of the shutdown: no one knows, yet, how many businesses are collapsing.

But the fact that we can’t yet put numbers on these things doesn’t mean that, as we get more data, we shouldn’t keep them under review. Two years ago, during the unusually cold winter of 2017/18, seasonal flu carried away some 50,000 people. No one argued that we should shut all shops to slow the virus. Indeed, according to the UK Influenza Pandemic Preparedness Strategy 2011: “It will not be possible to halt the spread of a new pandemic influenza virus, and it would be a waste of public health resources and capacity to attempt to do so”.

Now the key point. How much we should pay, and who should pay it, are political questions. How much we borrow, how much of a hit we expect businesses to bear, how we compensate them for that hit – these are democratic judgment calls, not medical facts.

It is important to understand the distinction. We should listen to experts in their fields of expertise. But the question of how to allocate limited resources is political rather than scientific. Ministers should defer to their advisers when it comes to charting the epidemiology. But it is unreasonable to ask epidemiologists to rule on, say, the relative costs of closing down all commercial activity versus that of concentrating on protecting only those individuals in high-risk categories. We elect politicians to arbitrate competing claims of this sort.

That is why MPs must continue to meet, virtually if necessary. It is why the identity of the next Labour leader matters. It is why it would be wrong to have a government of national unity. External scrutiny allows different ideas to be proposed, different perspectives to be tested.

Commentators, like MPs, are partially cocooned. People who write columns, as I do, were already largely working from home. Although some media may be forced under by the loss of advertising revenue we have, so far, not lost our livelihoods. Nor have MPs or civil servants: their salaries are unaffected. That isn’t a criticism; it is simply a reminder that the costs of a crisis like this are not felt evenly.

To repeat, I am not in any position to say how high those costs will be, or how high they ought to be. I can’t tell you whether the price of the hospitalisations and fatalities will be higher than that of a two-week lockdown, or a two-month lockdown, or a two-year lockdown. All I am saying is that that grim calculation must at some point be made. Refusing to face it is not an act of high-mindedness, but of dereliction.

Real Estate, and Personal Injury Lawyers. Contact us at: https://westlakelegal.com 

James Frayne: Public opinion is solidly behind the Government – for the time being, at least.

James Frayne is Director of Public First and author of Meet the People, a guide to moving public opinion.

There are two main groups of critics of the Government’s strategy to contain the Coronavirus: those that say the Government is wrongly curtailing our civil liberties; and those that say the Government risks wrecking the economy with the lockdown. Both groups are currently politically weak; and only the second group has any realistic chance of changing Government policy.

As it stands, the Government is seen to be doing a very good job. It has overwhelming support for the lockdown – and clear majorities are in favour of a greater police presence, and even an army presence, on the streets to enforce it (although the police are doing their best to undermine this support with some extraordinary behaviour).

This seems to be for three main reasons: most importantly and obviously, because people are worried about their old and vulnerable family members getting it, as well as themselves; because, now we’ve gone down this route, we should at least do it properly, so we’re not stuck in a sort of semi-lockdown forever; and, in terms of tougher enforcement, because people can’t stand some people ignoring the rules that the rest of us are playing by.

People are aware that their civil liberties are being curtailed, but they’re currently content with this; only a very small minority believe their civil liberties are being wrongly infringed. For the most part, people are essentially volunteering to stay at home. The vast majority of people don’t want to go out and don’t want others to go out either.

To date, the conversation in politics and the media has been understandably primarily focused on the public health aspect of the virus, rather than the existing and potential economic impact. As such, while polls suggest the public expect a serious economic downturn, they also suggest that most people aren’t yet obsessing about the potential impact on their lives.

Of course, immediate fears are very audible from the self-employed above all, and from business owners, but they’re not audible from the public at large. Again, this mainly reflects the fact that people are overwhelmingly worried about public health at this point. But it likely also reflects the success the Government has had in communicating its worker support programme; people feel like they will be looked after. The Government rightly judged that people, perfectly reasonably, will think first of all, and overwhelmingly, about their own wages.

It seems impossible that this relative quiet about the economy will continue for long. For while the Government has reassured the mass of people in the private sector on PAYE about their salaries, many businesses will have to lay off staff regardless of the help the Government is offering if they have no money coming in; and the Government is offering support to keep staff on, they are obviously not banning firms from laying people off.

Even though the Government’s support for employees’ wages is welcome, plummeting revenue will wipe this benefit out and more. If businesses have no money – and yet still have to pay for everything from renting premises to accountancy support to daily expenses – then they just have no money.

Many will start laying people off, and many will go bust. Even the most prudent firms generally only keep three months operating costs in their bank account; a long lockdown eats into this very fast. In such a climate, a comprehensive lockdown of the scale we’re now seeing isn’t sustainable.

There is another issue, of course, that hasn’t yet been discussed. This is the extent to which social problems emerge because of people being kept in isolation. Again, the polling suggests that people don’t view this as a problem at this point and say they’re feeling positive about isolation, but the media are beginning to report some of the darker things that are going on behind all those closed doors. Related to this, we will likely start to see a rise in general health problems as the NHS focuses on the impact of the virus. This will also add to pressure for change.

Public opinion is solidly behind the Government and the strategy it has laid out but, in the environment of a lockdown, where days feel like weeks, and weeks feel like months, things could change quickly. People will always put health first, but they will start to call for serious mitigating action to protect the economy when the first signs of high-profile business closures are seen. There were suggestions this week that the lockdown could continue for six months. Very few businesses could survive a lockdown of the type we’re currently in for that period of time. A sustained lockdown will have to be more focused.

Real Estate, and Personal Injury Lawyers. Contact us at: https://westlakelegal.com 

Richard Holden: Here in my local car park, social distancing from my voters as required, I mull why it all feels different in County Durham.

Richard Holden is MP for North West Durham.

Tesco Extra Car Park, Consett

What a fortnight it has been. Last week, as Westminster wound down to an early recess, the talk from colleagues and the phone and email chatter from constituents was the same: “bet you didn’t think this would be what we/you would be dealing with three months after being elected.” They’re right. I didn’t imagine that we’d be staring down the barrel of a global pandemic as we passed the first 100 days.

Members of Parliament are almost all naturally social creatures ,and when they return to their constituencies for most it feels like returning to be with friends: cisiting local businesses, holding surgeries, popping round to see people. Instead, this time, I’m making a couple of notes for my column while sat in a car park with a boot full of shopping as I socially distance from the people who elected me, for at least the best part of a month and almost certainly much longer.

There is a sense that life has taken an odd turn. But while the flood (we’re seeing three or four times as many) of emails from constituents doesn’t cease, there is a strong sense of something different here is the constituency compared to when I was in Westminster last week.

“What do you feel is different about North West Durham, compared to other places in the country?” is something I’ve been asked since I was elected, as another way of political people and journalists asking: “why did it swing so hard away from Labour in your neck of the woods?”

Now we’re in a real national crisis, a part of an international crisis, that question is one I  reflected on as I perused the (pretty full, except for dry pasta) shelves of my local ‘big’ Tesco – as any fan of AFC Consett will know there’s also a little one in Blackhill.

Here, on the ground, away from the jostling for position and the ‘flavour of the month’ nature of the Westminster and  London bubble, things are different. The aspiration is for success for yourself and for your family, but there is a broader aspiration for your community to succeed, too. Ours is a pretty inclusive largely civic community based on place. Somewhere where you can belong not only to a friendship group or network of mutual interests, but also to a community, a place, a county and a country.

The local response to Coronavirus reflects this, too. It’s not just about you or even you and your family getting through, it’s about the whole of local society coming through it together. Dozens of local community networks sprang into action before central organisations even considered volunteering. That’s not to say that there’s no-one who isn’t totally isolated – there are – there are just fewer, due to the nature of the community.

There is also a sense of something else, too, that is cutting through, especially since the broader social distancing measures a week ago. The nation feeling like it is coming together. There’s a commonality and national feeling about Downing Street for the first time in a very long time. A clear view of our national NHS getting resources to where there is need now, like the large temporary hospitals, in the knowledge that they will come to us if (more likely when) it gets worse in our area too.

What was astonishing to me last week was that, after repeatedly coughing across the dispatch box towards the Prime Minister, Health, Scottish and Home Secretaries on Wednesday, Jeremy Corbyn didn’t get it. At a moment when communities are stepping up, when the country and our NHS are stepping up to levels never seen before, Corbyn stepped into it.

His departure interview with the BBC showed a level of unearned self-regard and distain that I haven’t seen since I was a swaggering intellectually and morally superior teenager myself. It was probably the worst television interview I have seen a politician give: attempting to use a moment of not only national crisis but of national fear to talk himself up left me dazed. Adrian Mole with no redeeming features. Here was the leader of the party who had recently lost an election saying that the people were wrong and he was right.

Opposition should be so easy. In crisis setting, you show you’re up to governing and support the Government where you can. When you’re not in crisis, when the Government does something wrong or inept you show you’re better than them. It’s simple.

However, Corbyn and his fellow travellers need to be right all the time. It’s why they don’t understand the communities they represented for so long. In order to get along as part of a local community or even a family, you’ve got to be willing to get along with people and win people over who you might often disagree with to a common cause. For Corbyn and his acolytes, the common cause is their own sense of righteousness and no-one can be won over to that.

Within a month, we’ll have a new opposition. Politically, if this crisis has shown anything so far, it’s that the governing party understands the people who elected it a damn sight better than the opposition who it rejected do. To take over as an opposition leader at this time will be very challenging, but it will change the whole domestic dynamic. We’ll see if the new Labour leader is able to put himself or herself into the shoes of their average voter Labour lost across North of England – they’ll either sink or swim pretty quickly. If it’s the latter, politics will be very different when we emerge from this crisis.

Finally, given my mum is currently working in an small community hospital and is having to self-isolate from my dad and grandma (dad’s her carer) I’d just like to add a little tribute to those who are working in the caring professions and ask everyone to #StayHomeSaveLives.

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David Gauke: The virus – and my journey from serving as Lord Chancellor to volunteering to stack shelves

David Gauke is a former Justice Secretary, and was an independent candidate in South-West Hertfordshire at the recent general election.

“Are you relieved not to be dealing with this?” is a question I am asked quite a lot at the moment. The honest answer is “not really”. I suspect most former Ministers feel a sense that they would rather be back in post, at the centre of things, able to make a difference.

That said, I feel great sympathy for my former colleagues who are in office. They face far greater challenges than any their recent predecessors faced. There are a range of only bad options, the evidence of the nature of the threat and the advice received by Ministers can change very quickly and there is a strong desire in the media to apportion blame. If something is wrong, someone must be at fault. Ministers will always be high up on the list of candidates.

Not everything has gone smoothly in terms of communication but sometimes it is necessary to try to convey quite complex messages. The Government has tried to communicate messages that reflect a dynamic situation that moves us along the spectrum from ‘business-as-usual’ towards ‘lockdown’. If, as a society, we can only cope with simple, binary positions we will not be able to respond sensibly to the threat we face.

Getting the judgements and messages right has been difficult as we adopt extraordinary measures to combat the virus. This may be even more challenging when it comes to deciding how to relax these measures. There will always be a case for delaying any relaxation, but at some point we will have to move in the direction of normality. Those decisions will probably be the hardest to make.

– – – – – – – – – –

A further challenge for the Government is that there plenty of things which people are demanding be done immediately which is just not operationally possible. Most journalists and politicians spend their time focused on the questions of ‘what’, ‘why’ and ‘who’ but the most important question at the moment is ‘how’.

How do you provide support to the self-employed? How do you expand healthcare provision in a pandemic? How do you enrol millions of new claimants onto Universal Credit?

Apart from the NHS, the two most important delivery departments at the moment are HMRC and DWP. I spent nearly seven years as the responsible minister for one or the other of them, and the tasks in front of both of them are enormous.

As far as I can see, the staffs at both organisations are responding very impressively but do not underestimate how challenging then next few weeks and months will be for both organisations. Operational constraints mean that some problems don’t have a perfect answer.

– – – – – – – – – –

Progress in delivering public services digitally is helping us get through this crisis better than we would otherwise do. When I was at the Treasury, I was a strong supporter of updating how PAYE operated and brought in Real Time Information, which is crucial to the operation of the Government’s furloughing scheme. I also initiated Making Tax Digital, which – as the name suggests – meant that our tax system became more digital.

It was always going to be a long term reform but considerable resistance to the plan meant that it isn’t as advanced as it might have been. Had it been more advanced, I cannot help think that it would have been easier for the Chancellor to develop policies to help the self-employed.

Once we are over the current crisis, we will need to think about how public services can be more resilient in the event of a future pandemic. Improving our capability of delivering services remotely will be key to that. Online school lessons and university courses. GP surgeries by videolink. Greater ability for prisoners to maintain contact with their families electronically.

And are there some tasks which need to be done but don’t require people at all? We need tube trains to keep running. The Docklands Light Railway isn’t vulnerable to drivers being sick because they don’t need drivers. It is time that we move to the same situation with the London Underground.

– – – – – – – – – –

Ten days or so ago, my wife returned from our village supermarket. The shelves were empty not because the shop didn’t have the necessary items, but because they didn’t have the staff to stack the shelves. Our friendly but frazzled store manager was doing it all himself.

Keen to make use of my career experience (the bread and other bakery products shelves, Asda, Ipswich, summer 1991), I went down to the shop and offered to volunteer to do some shelf-stacking. Our store manager was keen but called the regional office, and it was all too difficult with worries about liabilities and so on.

As the response to the National Help Service demonstrates, there is a big appetite for people to volunteer. In the weeks ahead, we may see many shortages in critical parts of the labour market – not just in relation to the NHS – and emergency volunteers will be crucial in plugging gaps.

For the most part, the market will fill lots of shortages (supermarkets are rapidly recruiting new staff) but finding ways of quickly filling an emergency shortage with a willing volunteer – removing all bureaucratic obstacles – would be very beneficial.

Of course, identifying what needs to be done is easy. The challenge is how, operationally, this could be done.

– – – – – – – – – –

It is quite possible that, in a few weeks, we will have in society a special class of person. This will be a person who has been tested for the Covid-19 antibodies and is found to be immune from catching and spreading the disease.

Anyone who has received such a greenlight could return to living a normal life or could become super-volunteers, able to perform urgent people-facing tasks without the risks facing the rest of the country.

If that situation emerges (and it is, as yet, only a possibility dependent on many assumptions), there will be a new divide in society. The ‘greenlighters’ versus the rest. The greenlighters will be able to do more for the rest of society but it will be impossible to impose on them the restrictions that apply to everyone else.

This will create its own difficulties. For example, how easy will it be to maintain a message that most of the population have to stay at home but the minority who are greenlighters can go to the pub with their greenlighter friends served by greenlighter bar staff?

For a short period of time, a new caste of the Covid immune will enjoy their privileges, whilst the majority look on enviously.

– – – – – – – – – –

We are often being told that the current crisis is like the Second World War and that, once this is over, we will move in the direction of higher spending and higher borrowing. If we can do that now, why not in the future?

I suspect we may see higher spending, but I think it is worth reminding ourselves about one oft-forgotten attribute of the post-War Attlee Government. From 1948/9, it ran big Budget surpluses. Exceptional borrowing is justified in exceptional circumstances. Once the exceptional circumstances are over, the exceptional borrowing must come to an end.

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Iain Dale: If the Second World War had been fought in the days of 24 hour news channels, we’d have lost

Iain Dale presents the evening show on LBC Radio and is a commentator for CNN.

This may sound odd, but I’ve never particularly enjoyed writing. I never pitch columns to newspapers like some of my contemporaries. I don’t need to write to earn a living. My mouth, as they say, does all the talking.

If a newspaper rings me up and asks me to write a column, sure, I’ll do it, and I hope I do it reasonably well, but I rarely enjoy it. I’ve noticed in recent weeks that I am getting an increasing number of approaches from newspapers where the conversation will start something like this: “Our Editor has got a bee in his bonnet about xxxxx and wonders if you’d like to write a column pointing out x, y and z.”

They then go into detail about some harebrained idea their Editor has had, imagining that I will be perfectly happy to bend my own views to his/hers. Three times in the last few days I’ve said no.

No, I don’t believe Boris Johnson is likely to be (or should get) toppled as Prime Minister. No, I don’t believe that the Coronavirus plays into the BBC’s hands in its fight against government reforms, and I most certainly don’t believe Jeremy Corbyn’s departure as Labour leader will be a loss to the body politic. So there.

– – – – – – – – – –

There isn’t a sector of society or the economy that hasn’t changed over the last month. Even politicians of different parties are being nice to each other, rather than acting in a partisan way. The media has had to change the way it operates, with studios shut to guests, and indeed in many cases presenters.

What hasn’t changed is the attitude of some journalists, who seem to think their well-learned modus operandi shouldn’t change at all. I’ve always thought that if the Second World War had been fought in the days of 24 hour news channels, we wouldn’t have won.

You can see it in the media today, which seems to think that everything that is happening should have been anticipated, that all Government politicians and civil servants are incompetent morons whose only interest is allowing as many people as possible to die.

Any new initiative that is announced is looked upon with scorn, and if all the measures haven’t been introduced within 24 hours in a perfect manner, this is cited as further evidence of government incompetence.

I am getting heartily sick of interviewers, especially on TV, who seem to think the public enjoy ‘Gotcha’ interviews at the moment. They don’t. Times are different. Interviewers should be informing and elucidating through their interviews and not, from the outset, trying to skewer.

I saw an interview the other day where a Minister had ventured onto a programme which Downing Street has been boycotting – wrongly in my view. By the end of the interview, I imagine the minister would have decided never to go on again.

The interviewer may have got a lot of satisfaction from the fact that the Minister was ritually humiliated, but what did the viewer learn? Only that the interviewer loved the sound of their own voice and was needlessly aggressive.

Of course we are all there to hold the government to account and question what it does. But there are ways of doing this without being a complete and utter arse.

– – – – – – – – – –

I’ve been in splendid isolation for ten days now. I thought I might become bored, but far from it. I haven’t even binged on box sets, restricting myself to one episode of Madam Secretary each night.

In recent days I have taken to sorting out my bookshelves, after an appearance on Sky News which had them in the background. People commented on the tidiness and were clearly far more interested in my bookshelves than anything I was saying.

I then rather stupidly decided to make a short video, giving a tour of some of my bookshelves. This video, believe it or not, was watched nearly 30,000 times. It prompted the proprietor of this website to wonder where his book was, as he hadn’t seen it in the video. Patience, my Lord, patience. I am currently rearranging my biography section and it will feature in that…

My partner is furious that I am putting all this on the internet. “Can’t you keep anything private?” is a question I’ve grown used to over the years. You can imagine how the pictures of my makeshift broadcasting studio in my bedroom have gone down with Him Indoors.

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Henry Hill: Welsh Tories’ anger as devolution hinders NHS volunteer scheme

Government presses Welsh ministers to set up a parallel scheme

One of the features of devolution is that our ‘National’ Health Service is not terribly national. Each of the devolved legislatures is responsible for healthcare in its territoriy – often with less than spectacular results.

With the nation trying to pull together to combat the spread of Covid-19, Conservative MPs are deeply frustrated that even as hundreds of thousands of English people sign up to the Government’s NHS volunteer scheme, there is no such programme in Wales.

This anger is not confined to the devosceptic usual suspects, either. At Prime Minister’s Questions yesterday Craig Williams, the new MP for Montgomeryshire who formerly sat for Cardiff North, asked Boris Johnson:

“I welcome the Prime Minister’s approach to devolution. Wales has two Governments, and his mature approach, and that of the Welsh Government, has meant that we have delivered fast legislation and efficient help, but any divergence on policy or communication causes anxiety for my constituents. The Secretary State for Health and Social Care has made an announcement on volunteering. Sadly, Welsh volunteers cannot take part in that scheme—we are cross-border—so will the Prime Minister get on the phone to the Welsh Government and say, “Let’s work together”?”

Meanwhile Simon Hart, the Welsh Secretary, has written to Mark Drakeford to ask that he make the establishment of such a scheme an urgent priority – and “to explain why the proposals are likely to be different to the UK Government version.” Stephen Crabb has also said that “Wales should be part of the main scheme from the get go”.

Nor is this the only place where devoscepticism seems to be taking root. A suitably-outraged report in the separatist National newspaper tells us that Chris Elmore, who was standing in for the Shadow Scottish Secretary, asked the following of Alister Jack:

“The coronavirus has shown that local services have been decimated by the Scottish Government. They’ve passed on four times the austerity to local councils that they have received themselves. Would you agree with me that any additional budget resourcing should be passed to Scottish local councils to help bolster already under pressure local services?”

He makes an excellent point – under devolution the SNP have pursued an aggressive policy of centralisation, undermining the financial autonomy of Scottish local government. A policy wherein HM Government set aside the idea of Holyrood as a gatekeeper and liaised directly with councils would be most welcome.

Alas, we’re not there yet and Jack merely said that, “under the devolution settlement”, it was a matter for the Scottish Government.

Salmond gathers his forces as SNP civil war looms

This column didn’t get into the details of Alex Salmond’s trial – there was plenty on it in the press. But as I noted on Tuesday, his shock acquittal on all charges made a civil war within the Scottish National Party more likely than not.

Well, we’re two days on and they haven’t wasted any time. Senior Nationalists are already calling for an inquiry into whether or not there was a ‘conspiracy’ against the former First Minister at the top of the Party. Jim Sillars, another figure on the ‘fundamentalist’ wing of the separatist movement – of which Salmond is effectively figurehead – has also claimed that he had been ‘set up’ by his former party.

For his own part, the Times reports that the ex-SNP leader intends to publish a ‘revelatory’ book covering the period of the scandal which will take aim at SNP figures he believes conspired against him. He reportedly claims it will include “certain evidence” which, for some reason or other, he hadn’t been able to use in his trial.

However he may not be out of the woods yet – four women in London have reportedly made complaints to Scottish detectives about the former MP’s behaviour whilst in the capital.

On the other side of the field, allies of Nicola Sturgeon apparently fear that Salmond’s re-admission to the SNP will be ‘automatic’, as he resigned his membership before they had an opportunity to suspend it over the allegations against him. The First Minister herself risks seeing her reputation severely damaged as furious Salmondites press her on what she knew, and when.

As Alex Bell points out in a scathing Courier column, the coming battle can only damage the SNP. The row could open a rift between a substantial portion of the separatist movement, where Salmond remains a giant, and the current Nationalist leadership plus “just about every female MSP”.

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