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Westlake Legal Group > Posts tagged "Nicola Sturgeon MSP"

WATCH: Sturgeon – ‘I regret and apologise for every death’

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WATCH: Blackford – ‘Caution in Scotland rewarded by improved performance’ in tackling virus

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WATCH: Sturgeon admits people should not have moved from hospital to care homes without tests

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Henry Hill: Why the Scottish Conservatives are leading the charge against Cummings

In deciding to try and tough out demands for Dominic Cummings’ resignation, the Prime Minister has turned his Chief of Staff’s fate into a trial of strength between himself and his administration’s various foes.

But criticism is not confined to the Government’s opponents. Polls show majorities of both Conservative and Leave voters back his dismissal. A growing number of Tory MPs have called for Cummings to go.

Douglas Ross, the MP for Moray, has gone further, resigning from the Government rather than defend Boris Johnson’s decision to his constituents, as he would have been obliged to do as a junior minister. This ought to worry the Government more than it does.

Whilst Downing Street sources are dismissing Ross as a ‘Mr Nobody’, many Scottish Tories are seriously concerned that whether Cummings stays or goes is a test not just of the Prime Minister’s strength, but of his commitment to the Union – and the consequences of failure could be catastrophic.

Anyone who remembers ‘Operation Arse’, their ill-fated effort to bar his path to Number Ten, will know that relations between the Prime Minister and the Scottish wing of the Party have never been stellar.

But that hasn’t stopped them working with him over the past year. Those I spoke too were keen to stress that the current row is not simply about re-fighting old battles. Perhaps this is why Ruth Davidson, whose antagonistic relationship with Johnson was well known before she resigned as Scottish leader, has broadly kept her counsel – to prevent serious strategic concerns being written up as a soap opera.

In fact, the reasons pushing the Scottish Conservatives over the trenches on Cummings are much more acute.

First, there is a quite reasonable fear of looking like hypocrites. The Party was extremely vocal in pressing Nicola Sturgeon to dismiss Catherine Calderwood, her Chief Medical Officer, after the latter was caught breaking lockdown to visit her second home. The First Minister was eventually forced to do so, after an ill-judged attempt to keep her on, and MSPs felt they could not apply another standard to Cummings.

But the much bigger problem is that the perceived problems with the UK Government’s response, especially with regards to messaging, is making it extremely difficult for the Tories to hold the SNP to account for their mishandling of Covid-19 in Scotland.

The Scottish Government’s record ought to be a target-rich environment for the leading opposition party. Scotland’s care home deaths are an emerging national scandal; the SNP has not once hit its testing targets; it has lagged behind England recruiting trackers and setting up supermarket deliveries for vulnerable citizens; and much more. On the big-picture stuff, meanwhile, it has broadly followed the same approach as London.

Yet as Johnson’s ratings dive, Sturgeon has so far managed to maintain the rally-round-the-flag poll bounce. Both she and her administration are extraordinarily popular, a fact the Scottish Tories attribute to the First Minister’s comprehensive victory in the messaging game. Contrast Sturgeon’s press conferences with comparable performances by Johnson or Matt Hancock, and remember that many voters only really engage with stories on that level, and the problem is obvious.

The Cummings story, Conservative strategists fear, may be a moment that ‘crystallises’ a growing sense, across a broad swath of the Scottish electorate, that Edinburgh is outperforming London. A sense that will be no less damaging to the Party or the Union for its being, in policy terms at least, false.

It’s true that the Tories don’t have the luxury of four years’ breathing space, facing as they do Holyrood elections scheduled for 2021. But some see the challenge as much more existential than that. An SNP/Green majority next year creates a strong (if not insurmountable) mandate for another referendum on independence, one in which popular perceptions of Westminster’s poor handling of the Covid-19 crisis could play a pivotal part.

The pandemic ought to be an opportunity to demonstrate the utility of the Union, not least via the awesome firepower of the Treasury. It would be extraordinary if, having navigated Brexit without handing the Nationalists the opening they anticipated, the Government were to hand them another.

But do they really care? North of the border, there is a growing sense that the current administration do not take the Union especially seriously – and that Cummings is part of the problem. Brexiteer MPs who recently learned they have voted to introduce a trade border between Great Britain and Northern Ireland, on the basis of blithe promises from Downing Street that it could be scrapped later, may share their suspicions.

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Henry Hill: Sunak squares up to the SNP over the future of furlough

Jack attacks SNP for plotting independence as Scottish Government clashes with the Treasury

Alister Jack, the Scottish Secretary, has accused Scottish Nationalists “with too much time on their hands” of trying to break up Britain even whilst the nation grapples with Covid-19, the Times reports.

This follows news that senior figures in the party are drawing up plans for a second referendum on independence, even as the Scottish Government draws on the huge resources of the British state to finance their lockdown measures. Tory MSPs have urged the Government to clarify that it won’t let another independence push distract from the task at hand.

Meanwhile there is a clash looming between the Scottish Government and the Treasury over the future of lockdown following reports that Rishi Sunak might turn off the taps for programmes such as furlough if Edinburgh tries to break ranks with London over the timetable.

Whilst it seems unlikely that the Chancellor is going to insist on a single lockdown exit date for the whole UK – after all, Jack has reportedly dropped his opposition to England relaxing the rules sooner if circumstances permit it – it may be that he will insist that a UK-wide strategy of variegated relaxation is conducted under the aegis of Westminster, rather than giving Holyrood a blank cheque to spend UK taxpayers’ money without any accountability to them – especially if delays stem in part from the Scottish Government’s own incompetence.

There may also be an opportunity for the Treasury to use its muscle support local government in Scotland, with pressure growing for different policies in different parts of the country.

Welsh Government bites bullet and signs up to UK-wide approach

From the start of the pandemic, a running story in this column has been how the devolved administrations, whilst cleaving to the Government on top-level policy, have made a hash of things in other areas by needlessly insisting in separate schemes for such things as NHS volunteering and emergency supermarket deliveries.

This week saw some welcome progress on this front when the Welsh Government abandoned efforts to develop a separate online platform wherein key workers could book Covid-19 tests. They have instead opted into a system set up by the British Government to which both Scotland and Northern Ireland had already subscribed.

Vaughan Gething, the health minister, said that he was “really not bothered into getting into how much we spent” on the alternative, which was over ever rolled out in south-eastern Wales. None of this will surprise readers of the Daily Mail, which this week ran a comprehensive account of the Welsh Government’s botched handling of the pandemic.

In other news, it turns out that Cardiff Bay ministers have sent thousands shielding letters, intended for those most at risk from Covid-19, to the wrong addresses – only a month after the last time they did so – and Mark Drakeford has faced tough questions over missing his ‘tiny’ testing target. As WB Yeats once put it: “You have disgraced yourselves, again!”

Gove confirms that British goods will face Ulster checks

This week has seen more reporting on the widening realisation of what Boris Johnson’s u-turn on the Irish Protocol – which is being described in the Irish press as “an almost complete British retreat” – means for trade with the Province.

Michael Gove has confirmed that existing customs infrastructure at Northern Irish ports will need to be expanded, but that no new posts will be built. He has also insisted that Ulster’s position in the United Kingdom is “constitutionally secure“, although unionists are deeply concerned that the arrangements with re-orient Northern Ireland’s entire economic outlook on a north-south axis.

The Government is reportedly trying to adopt a ‘light-touch’ approach towards policing the new Irish Sea border, but this has apparently put them on collision course with Brussels again. Given the Prime Minister’s track record, we can probably expect a fresh capitulation over the summer if that’s what it takes to avoid extending the transition period.

Comment:

  • Covid-19 is putting a spotlight on the SNP, and their reputation should not survive – Henry Hill, Daily Telegraph
  • Sturgeon is pulling the wool over our eyes – Clare Foges, The Times
  • The First Minister must prove there was no Covid-19 cover-up – Brian Wilson, The Scotsman
  • SNP is exploiting Covid to push its nationalist agenda – Dr Azeem Ibrahim, CapX
  • Welsh ministers don’t even know their own rules – Marcus Stead, Spiked!

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Craig Hoy: We must be ready – the Scottish Nationalists certainly will be

Craig Hoy is a former Downing Street lobby correspondent and is a member of the Conservative Party in Scotland.

For many voters, the absence of party politics will be one of the very few silver linings emerging from the Covid-19 crisis.

But as we move cautiously from lockdown to life in a socially distanced world, there are signs this may be changing.

In Scotland, voters have been spared the opening shots of the Holyrood 2021 campaign. But with the election still scheduled for May next year, this cannot last forever.

Nicola Sturgeon insists that political considerations are having no bearing on the decisions she takes. But every leader gets their Falklands moment.

The First Minister has, in public, “had a good war” against Covid-19. She has maintained a cool head in her daily media briefings – even if she fails to grasp the concept of over-exposure.

But look beyond the carefully crafted press conferences and a far more chaotic picture emerges.

This started with Sturgeon clinging to her Chief Medical Officer after she sneaked off to her coastal bolt-hole. It continues with reports of a crisis in our care homes and an alleged cover-up over Scotland’s first Covid-19 outbreak.

Across the UK we are now at an inflection point. Last weekend the Scottish and UK Governments set out on divergent paths.

For Nationalists this was an opportunity for Scotland to assert its independence: even though the strong shoulders of the Union continue to bear the financial burden of supporting business and combating the disease.

Initially, the scale and urgency of the crisis resulted in the UK’s four governments adopting an almost absolute alignment. But that consensus has cracked.

On a recent call with CEOs, bosses with cross-border operations expressed frustration at the failure to adopt a “one island” approach, blaming devolution for hampering their business recovery strategies.

Under the terms of devolution it is entirely justified for Scotland to respond differently to crises such as Covid-19. But this should only be the case when there is a clear justification for doing so.

Scottish Tory leader Jackson Carlaw has written to the First Minister asking to see the evidence which supports the decision to prevent Scotland proceeding in “lock-step” with our friends south of the border.

The list of questions Sturgeon needs to answer grows by the day.

What is the ‘R’ rate and why is it so much higher in Scotland’s care homes? Why is Scotland conducting just one third of the coronavirus tests it has the capacity to deliver?

As building sites begin to open in Berwick-Upon-Tweed, why do they remain firmly locked up in North Berwick?

Why do the gates to council dumps remain closed in Scotland?

Vitally, why did Scotland not operate full disclosure about its first Covid-19 outbreak in February?

Misalignment is bad for business, it hampers effective communications and, in some cases, it is also patently absurd. Here, in the home of golf, our courses remain shut. While you cannot hit a ball, you can cycle the 18 holes or play frisbee with your family in a bunker.

The First Minister will shoot critics down in flames for alleging that there is anything political in her response. But as Thomas Mann said “everything is politics”.

The reality of Scottish politics is that we are never far from the issue of Independence. Sturgeon’s decisions reinforce the point that Scotland is, and can be, different from the rest of the UK.

The decisions are also emotive. Maintaining lockdown for longer makes the Scottish Government appear more committed to saving lives, even if the evidence fails to support this.

There are also personality politics in the mix. Sturgeon loathes Boris Johnson, failing to address him as Prime Minister during the COBRA meetings reports she regularly leaks.

Anyone who watched Sturgeon’s hate filled speech at her pre-election rally in Glasgow saw her true colours.

Her response is not just personal, it is also institutional.

The First Minister has little time for Westminster and the machinery of Whitehall. She believes that it is in the crucible of the Scottish Parliament and in Old St Andrew’s House where critical decisions should be taken.

This crisis comes as devolution reaches the ripe old age of 21. The Scottish Parliament was meant to be about doing things differently when it made sense to do so. This was never meant to be the default position.

Political debate north of the border has moved way beyond the merits of devolution. The fault-line of Scots politics were once based on the left, right divide. Then on the principle of pro or anti-home rule. The dividing line is now focused on a singular issue: Independence.

The SNP shows no signs of letting Covid-19 derail their dream, even as the crisis fatally undermines the economic case for separation.

The SNP wants self-governance at any cost and they will stoke false grievances to achieve it. As a Westminster candidate in December’s election, I recall a first-time voter saying she would like to vote Conservative, but could never do so because “Boris Johnson will sell the NHS to Donald Trump”.

Since Covid arrived on our shores Sturgeon has been forced to furlough the party’s grievance machine. But if you listen carefully you can still hear it.

The First Minister has dropped almost all references to the “I” word. But her colleagues – aided by a compliant Scottish media – still strain at the leash.

The National, a “newspaper” dubbed “McPravda” by its critics, isn’t diluting its dogma. A front page headline this week said it all: “The UK Government ‘Hates the Scottish’.”

Joanna Cherry, who has both eyes fixed firmly on the leadership crown, is using lockdown to position herself as Sturgeon’s successor. She wants activists to use this moment to explore the case for “radical change” to deliver Scottish Independence.

Recent opinion polls suggest the SNP may now be closer to achieving their ambition than ever before. A number of polls suggest they are coasting towards a Holyrood majority.

But the party’s poll numbers could be artificially high and very soft, particularly if Alex Salmond exacts revenge against those who plotted to bring him down.

Despite repeatedly failing the competence test, on public services and now their Covid-19 response, the Nats will be hard to beat. The party continues to be coated in Teflon.

As the official Opposition it falls to Jackson Carlaw and the Scottish Tories to deprive the SNP of a victory next May.

It is still not certain whether the election will go ahead. A decision on whether to postpone the poll will be taken by the Scottish Parliament: where the SNP and the Greens still hold all the cards.

If the election does proceed, Holyrood 2021 will be an air offensive rather than a ground campaign. It will rely more on digital campaigning and less on doorsteps activities, although a hybrid approach is still possible.

It is only right and proper that the election campaign does not begin until we pass the moment of crisis.

But we still need to be prepared, because the SNP will be ready to go just as soon as it is deemed decent to do so.

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Iain Dale: When black women Labour MPs are wrong, white middle aged men should be free to call them out

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

Apparently, middle aged white men are now not allowed to disagree with black female Labour MPs. Just by doing so, you automatically become a racist.

Well, I’m afraid I am not just going to sit by and allow someone to go unchallenged when they accuse the Prime Minister of this country of deliberately wanting people to die of Coronavirus. Dawn Butler, who on a personal level I like, and I were on the Jeremy Vine on Five on Wednesday.

We were talking about the lifting of lockdown, and she came out with this pearl of wisdom: “Boris Johnson is recklessly sending people out to work to catch the virus.” Effectively, she might as well have accused him of political manslaughter.

He has done no such thing of course. He has asked people to go to work if they safely can, and advised them not to use public transport. Dawn would have known this had she actually read the government’s 50 page guidance document, but she admitted she hadn’t read a word of it.

The Vine Show tweeted out a video of the exchange [see above]. And then the heavens opened. How dare I say what I did? I was a racist. I was trying to “tone police” Dawn, apparently.

I have to admit that was a new one on me. I said what I thought, and I stand by every word. It was a disgraceful thing to say on her behalf and she needed to be called out on it.

If Chris Williamson or any other white man had said it, I’d have reacted in exactly the same way.  I don’t see skin colour in a political debate. I don’t judge anyone by whether they have a Y chromosome or not. I judge them by what comes out their mouth. And in this case, it was a load of irresponsible bile.

I mean, think of it this way. If you had contracted the Coronavirus and been at death’s door, just from a logical point of view, would you think that one of the first things you’d do when you came out of hospital would be to deliberately think “I know, I’ll do my best to make sure everyone goes through what I’ve just been through”? You’d have to clinically insane.

– – – – – – – – – –

Having said all that, I can’t in all conscience say it’s been the best of weeks for the government’s communications strategy on virus.

While the PPE issue seems to have becalmed, and the strain on the NHS is reducing by the day, and the death rate is falling, the measures announced on Sunday evening were not explained in a manner which gives people confidence in them.

Some Opposition politicians have perhaps gone overboard in exaggerating the confusion, but confusion there was, and it stemmed mainly from the new “Stay Alert” slogan.

OK, we all know what “Stay Alert” means, but it is just a bit woolly, compared to “Stay at Home. It allowed Nicola Sturgeon to grandstand but, frankly, it was rather difficult to disagree with anything she said.

Scotland is experiencing a higher death rate among the general population and also in care homes than the rest of the UK. Sixty per cent of Covid-19 related deaths in Scotland occur in care homes, compared to 40 per cent in England.

The number of deaths in areas of high poverty are far higher than in England, yet neither she nor the Scottish public health system or its NHS are coming under anything like the criticism that Johnson is.

Part of the reason for this is that she is doing better at talking a good game at her press conferences, and having a clarity of message which seems to be lacking in the same events down south.

She talks like a human being, doesn’t just repeat tired old soundbites, and answers questions from journalists in a seemingly straightforward way, albeit without allowing the journalists a follow-up question. Downing Street could learn a lot from her in communications, if not policy.

– – – – – – – – – –

Reshuffles in the Westminster political lobby are almost as eagerly anticipated (usually by journalists themselves, it has to be said) as their cabinet equivalents. Yesterday, we learned that Tom Newton Dunn, who has been Political Editor of The Sun for what seems like an eon, is moving to be the new chief political commentator for the yet to be launched Times Radio.

He, in turn, is being replaced by Harry Cole, the Deputy Political Editor of the Mail on Sunday. He used to do the same role at The Sun. Harry started out in life running the Tory Bear blog, before making a real reputation for himself as a story-getter for the Guido Fawkes blog.

Another Guido Fawkes alumni, Alex Wickham, sadly lost his job as political editor of Buzzfeed, when they announced they were closing down their UK operation. For my money, he has become one of the top three scoop-getters in the lobby, and it wouldn’t at all surprise me to see him hired by the Mail on Sunday to replace Harry Cole. He ought to be in great demand.

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

Henry Hill: As predicted, the ‘four nations’ approach to Covid-19 is falling apart

‘Four Nations’ approach to Covid-19 breaks down

At the end of April, this column suggested that it might prove extremely tricky to maintain a coordinated approach to lockdown across the United Kingdom as the exigencies of the crisis eased.

Following the Prime Minister’s announcement of a shift in strategy on Sunday, this has happened. Edinburgh, Cardiff, and Belfast have all disavowed the new ‘Stay Alert’ formulation. All claim the Boris Johnson failed to consult them on the change, although in his weekend statement he claimed he had.

Whatever the truth of it, the result has been a dramatic, eye-opening reminder of how far devolution has advanced. The de-alignment of lockdown rules is seeing ‘hard borders’ crop up not just in the Irish Sea (see below) but on the mainland too.

In Wales this has taken an ugly turn, with the Western Mail running an angry and explicitly anti-English message on its front page. The Scottish Nationalists have not been far behind, with one of their MPs calling for the border to be policed – despite senior officers explicitly disavowing the idea – and the Times reports that the party has not let the crisis slow its plotting for independence.

For devolution’s champions, such as Kenny Farquharson, this is the project’s coming-of-age moment: the day when politicians and voters realised the true extent to which the constitution has been transformed by two decades of ‘more powers’. (Of course, devolution’s opponents hope this is true.)

But it isn’t quite that simple: Mark Drakeford can talk piously about proceeding with ‘maximum caution’, but it’s the Treasury which controls the economic policies which make lockdown viable. The Treasury has so far guaranteed the future of furlough to Scottish ministers, but there is obvious potential for tension if devolution ends up meaning that devolved ministers can spend Treasury cash without any accountability for it.

Kawczynski clashes with colleagues over call for debate on abolishing the Welsh Parliament

Speaking of tension, Daniel Kawczynski set the cat amongst the pigeons this week when he suggested on Twitter that the fallout of the pandemic should spur a debate about the future of devolution in Wales. At the end of a statement on the Government’s plan to ease lockdown, the Shrewsbury MP said:

“However, one area which does need more attention is the adverse impact of the growing split between London and the devolved assemblies on border communities such as mine. This pandemic has really exposed how far devolution has gone towards picking apart our United Kingdom – it’s time for a rethink.”

This sparked a backlash from some Welsh colleagues, with Craig Williams writing a letter suggesting that this is not the time for such a debate, and describing the Assembly as “the fundamentals of Welsh democracy”.

But Kawczynski has apparently received quiet support from other Tory MPs, and has no intention of backing down. According to Bubble Wales, he’s been invited to address a Tory association in South Wales when lockdown is over.

Government confirms Johnson’s capitulation on an Irish Sea border

Johnson stood for the Conservative leadership on the position that no Prime Minister could possibly sign up to a deal which placed an EU border inside the United Kingdom.

Once he one he abandoned this position, but insisted that business could throw any extra paperwork “in the bin” and that there would be no disruption.

Now that has been abandoned too. After coming under increasing pressure from Brussels over its plans to honour the Irish Protocol, the Government has confirmed that there will now be border checks at three Northern Irish ports. In the event that UK ends up leaving the transition period without a high-alignment agreement, there is the serious prospect of this new border creating tangible barriers to trade within the United Kingdom.

With Covid-19 dominating the headlines this isn’t getting the attention it otherwise would, but it’s a reminder that the Prime Minister’s unionist problems aren’t confined to the mainland.

Starmer under pressure to expel pro-IRA activists

The Labour leader has come under pressure to take action after a group of activists posted a tribute to Bobby Sands, the Provisional IRA terrorist who died whilst on hunger strike in 1981.

Victims of the troubles have written to Sir Keir to demand an investigation into London Young Labour, which described Sands as a “prisoner of war” and added that: “We continue to fight for an end to imperialism for a free and united Ireland.”

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If you thought staying in lockdown was hard, wait until you see what trying to get out of it is like. But here’s how Johnson could do it.

The Prime Minister’s broadcast to the nation last Sunday evening featured five main slides.  The first showed the Government’s five Coronavirus tests.  The second, the words: “Covid Alert level = R (rate of infection) + number of infections”.

The third displayed this R level applied to a kind of speedometer, with the lowest of five bands coloured green and the highest red – with restrictions on the public kicking in as the dial needle approached the red band.  (There was later a variant which showed this slide set against a map of the United Kingdom with assorted Coronavirus hotspots.)

The fourth showed those green to red level levels in bar form, with each described as an “alert level”.  The fifth showed an uneven hump with a long slope, like a wave, which represented a gradual slide from severe to less severe constraints on public activity.

The point of all this description is to show that although, at one level, Ryan Price is right (“what do you want, a full handbook, to tell you what to do?”), and much of Boris Johnson’s new plan is simply common sense, at another it is all just a bit more challenging.

With its accompanying dials, bars, humps and speedometers, easing a lockdown will be more tricky for Ministers than simply imposing one.  The where you’re going to of the plan may be straighforward, but the how to get there is more complicated.

So if you thought that the Government’s task has been difficult so far, or that its handling of the Coronavirus has been controversial, you ain’t seen nothing yet.  The Prime Minister suggested on Sunday that we have collectively reached the top of the mountain, and now face the daunting prospect of the climb down.

But the way we see it, the British people may not yet have staggered even to the outcrops of K2 – since the prospect of a vaccine, or effective treatments, or herd immunity remain shrouded in mist at the summit (though there may be good news on antibody tests).  And Ministers come to the next stage of the climb winded, for three main reasons.

First, for one that can’t reasonably be claimed to have been their fault.  Namely, that the playbook prepared for government when the pandemic came was a flu-style one, into which the idea of herd immunity was written, rather than a Sars-type one, which would stress testing and tracing, and the quarantining of those infected.

Second, for taking up a mass tracing and testing policy towards the end of last month, some eight weeks after the virus outbreak began to gather critical mass in Britain, in its third iteration of policy.  The date of the change is a matter of record and can’t credibly be disputed.

The third reason is perhaps the most exhausting and certainly as yet unproven.  It is the claim that Ministers and the NHS, in preparing hospital beds for an influx of virus cases, emptied them by sending a mass of infected but untested patients to die in care homes, thus sending UK death rates to the top of the league.

These international tables are riddled with problems and, for the rest, we shall see what the eventual inquiry brings with it.  What’s certain as this third phase of dealing with the Coronavirus begins (we’ve had almost normal; then abnormal; now, “the new normal”) – the Government has less room for manoeuvre than it did before.

True, most voters appreciate the scale of the problem, aren’t lost in the Twitter echo chamber, and don’t envy Johnson his task: many will not have forgotten that he has been through intensive care himself recently – and so is literally leading from the front.

Nonetheless, the lotus-eating experience of furlough – for some, anyway – can’t ultimately shut out the brutal economics of Covid-19, with its further waves of blighted schooling, bankruptcies, illness and job losses to come.  The tower of the Conservative poll lead may be built on sand. And Keir Starmer leads a more effective if unscrupulous Opposition

At any rate, the Government has now settled on a route and, though it may not be able afford many more mistakes, the good news is that the path it has chosen may take us all nearer where we need to go.  That’s to say, if not to the top of the mountain, then at least higher up its slopes.

Much will depend on whether Ministers can make testing and tracking work.  Some believe that the app is a kind of technological red herring, and that the real issue is that the Government may be planning for some 30,000 fewer trackers than it needs.

It may be that this calculation is wrong, or that Ministers are able to scale up numbers quickly, or that the incidence of cases falls swiftly.  In which case, there will be an adequate England-wide capacity to test, track and quarantine.  But though the capability would be national in its scope, the applicability wouldn’t necessarily have to be.

For testing on large scale would show the R-rates that matter: in other words, not a single UK-wide figure, the use of which is limited, but different local ones, showing where the virus is replicating fastest and among whom.  This would allow the opening-up of much of the economy on a regional, area or local basis.

Such a process would side-step the sterile debate about lockdown: after all, South Korea, on which the Government is modelling its policy, has been more limited.  Admittedly, we are starting with higher levels of the virus.  But if the testing plan works, lockdown could stop being a national all-or-nothing business, and become a local mix-and-match one.

How would the transfer of people from fully lockdowned areas to partially lockdowned ones be managed – with the risk of local R-rates being driven up again?  In part by opening some sectors and facilities, such as schools, before others, such as restaurants and hotels.  Though movement might well still happen on a significant scale.

Which tees up a big debate: is it better for the whole UK (or at least England) to move uniformally in lockstep at the pace of the most virus-threatened areas – even if that slows desperately-need economic revival – or to allow the ones that are less seriously affected to stride ahead, and move substantially out of shutdown?

If the testing, tracing and quarantine policy works, this is a debate that is surely bound to happen.  It would be more to the practical point than another: whether the NHS now has enough capacity to cope with any second or subsequent waves?  Raghib Ali, with his epidemiological experience, says yes.  Bernard Jenkin, citing statistics, says no.

The political weather for Johnson has been rougher than it was at the end of February.  And one can see how his political enemies – the Remaniac residue; Starmer; Nicola Sturgeon; his internal opponents – are setting him up for failure.  But there is opportunity as well as danger: a path if not to conquering the virus then at least to checking it.

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