London: As England is inching towards another full-scale lockdown, renamed a circuit breaker, a three-tier system has been introduced—traffic lights without a green light. For “Lockdown Sceptics” it is more like the three tears—there is no light or tier that reflects the old normal. These tiers have more or less shut down hospitality and the arts. The hospitality and entertainment industries have Covid-compliances that make business unsustainable; in some areas alcohol can be purchased only alongside “substantial meals”. London is on Tier 2 “High Alert”, with the Chief Medical Officer and Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer calling for the circuit breaker over the October schools half-term. Liverpool is alone on Tier 3 “Very High Alert”. Manchester’s Labour Mayor is negotiating for more financial support before being moved up to Tier 3.
In a simmering rebellion, 82 MPs (including 42 Tory MPs) voted against the government’s coronavirus measures. Lockdown Sceptics (LS) are fearful that Tiers 2 and 3 will come nationwide, their arguments are repetitively admonished and they are accused of wanting “to let the virus rip”. LS need a new mojo. Why not contrast UK’s pessimistic projections and ad-infinitum lockdown with India’s narrative of low death rates and high recovery? Why not progress treatments for Covid-19 in parallel with vaccine development? It is already known that Hydroxychloroquine, Remdesivir, Regeneron’s RGN-COV2 and Dexamethasone help in some cases; trials might lead to remedies or prophylactics and normal life. India’s narrative puts the end in sight. UK’s narrative is perpetual incarceration and more deaths.
Prime Minister Boris Johnson is still adamantly “protecting the NHS”, which LS now call the National Covid Service, apparently oblivious to the suicides and quantity of excess deaths in a home setting from cancer and other illnesses. Specialists all over UK are crying out for resumption of routine appointments for diagnosis, treatment and support systems for cancer. The ONS figures for excess deaths show numbers decreasing in care homes and hospitals but rising in homes, nearly 26,000 non-Covid related excess deaths between 9 March and 2 October, as a consequence of lack of treatment and Covid prioritising.
The government has been accused of outsourcing Covid-related projects and services to cronies. Allegedly these contracts are awarded under the emergency powers act without tender or merit due diligence. P14 Medical a small provincial firm run by a Conservative Councillor was awarded a £156million contract to import PPE from China. Andrew Mills, an advisor to Liz Truss Trade Secretary of State, brokered a face mask contract worth £252 with Ayanda Capital, where he was a senior advisor. Meller Designs, Clipper Logistics, Globus and Randox are owned by Tory donors and have been awarded PPE or testing contracts. Owen Patterson, MP, is an advisor to Randox. Public First, owned by James Frayne an old associate of Dominic Cummings, Johnson’s Chief Advisor, was contracted to research public opinion for £840,000. And Hanbury Strategy, founded by Cummings’s associate Paul Stevenson, was contracted to research pandemic behavioural patterns. Medpro’s PPE contract worth £122million, through urgency escaped the tender process; the founder of Medpro was the brand manager of Tory Peer Baroness Mone. The Chief Scientific Advisor Sir Patrick Valance was recently discovered to be holding a deferred bonus of 43,000 shares in GSK, from the time he was President of GSK, who have been contracted by UK and US governments to develop vaccines.
Serco and Sitel have been awarded £108 and £83million respectively for not so world-beating test and trace systems. Serco is run by Rupert Soames, Churchill’s grandson. Dido Harding, Chair of NHS Improvement and overall in charge of Test and Trace, married to Tory MP John Penrose, the government’s anti-corruption champion, had £12billion at her disposal yet the latest figures show only 68% of positive test contacts have been reached. The excel spreadsheet glitch that caused thousands of positive tests to be left off UK’s records is still an embarrassment for Baroness Harding. The GMB Union would like her to “consider her position” and her performance raises issues about the government judgement in managing the pandemic. Boston Consulting Group Consultants are being paid roughly £7K per day, to work on Test and Trace, equal to £33K per week; a contrast to an NHS nurse earning £30K-£35K per year.
These are a few examples of probably innocent coincidental links; other contracts have been awarded to arguably unsuitable or inexperienced companies without the usual competitive tender processes. Only some of these contracts have been made public and transparent within the statutory 30 days; the media and “The Good Law Project” are holding the government to account, because holding back information that should be public makes folks suspicious. Labour MPs and communities are seeking advantage, alleging profligacy and calling for accountability in the spending of public money.
The National Cyber Security Centre and the government published a series of ads captioned “Rethink, Reskill, Reboot”, encouraging people in existing professions to change to a career in cyber. A ballerina was amongst the chosen professions, as ballerinas train from the age of 6 and endure 16 years of diet and discipline before they become dancers. This thoughtless advertisement affronted not just the arts sector but the general public.
To the public’s horror Dominic Cummings, has escaped 20 years of retrospective council tax on properties in Durham.
Boris Johnson is defecting from the 15 October Brexit deadline; not dying in a ditch as he said he would rather than walk away from the deadline, thus the EU knows UK will do a deal, what Withdrawal Agreement Sceptics are calling a “fudge of a fudge”.
Support for Scotland’s independence is ratcheting up, with 58% now in favour. The Conservative Party are a weak opposition to the SNP in Scotland. The Westminster Covid response has introduced a dangerous disparity with Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales, Johnson needs to step up and defend the Union. Michael Gove had a fine idea to give the First Ministers of the three devolved nations a seat in cabinet, apparently Johnson dismissed it.
With theatres limited, Covid is the only show in town, folks want example and leadership, not more controls which enable the government to act unfettered, it could be a slippery slope to authoritarianism.