One rule for the plebs and proles, another set for the Imperator and Patricians in No 10

Owl thought to please Boris with a classical reference to the way he governs.

Now we learn Dominic Cummings is the latest to have more houses than the rest of us to run to when the going gets tough.

The “Torygraph” isn’t happy, neither is Owl.

By Gordon Rayner, Political Editor 23 May 2020 
Dominic Cummings facing calls to be sacked after breaching lockdown rules

Boris Johnson faced calls to sack his chief aide Dominic Cummings after it emerged he was investigated by police after breaching lockdown rules.

Mr Cummings drove from London to Durham with his wife and son to stay with his elderly parents after developing symptoms of coronavirus.

Downing Street said at the time that Mr Cummings was “at home” in isolation, when in fact he was more than 260 miles away.

Police in Durham were tipped off by a member of the public about Mr Cummings’ presence at his parents’ house and explained to the family that lockdown rules – imposed by Mr Johnson days earlier – outlawed such visits.

Opposition parties said Mr Cummings’s position was “completely untenable” and that Mr Johnson now faced a “test of leadership” over the matter, with even Government ministers questioning whether Mr Cummings could now stay in his role.

However, Mr Johnson appeared ready to stand by his long-time ally, with Government sources insisting Mr Cummings and his wife, who was also ill, had taken “what they believed to be the right decision in the interests of their young child”.

Earlier this month Prof Neil Ferguson quit his role as a government scientific adviser after The Telegraph disclosed that he had broken lockdown rules to meet his mistress.

Matt Hancock, the Health Secretary, said at the time that Prof Ferguson’s behaviour had left him “speechless”. Mr Cummings attends meetings of the advisory group from which Prof Ferguson resigned.

The revelation that Mr Cummings broke the Government’s lockdown rules raises serious questions both for him and for Downing Street, which gave journalists the clear impression he was in London despite repeated questions about his whereabouts.

One minister said: “He’s going to have to go. It’s just arrogance.” Another minister said it was “hard to see how [Mr Cummings] can stay based on what we know”.

The minister added: “How can any minister ask the public to obey the rules when the adviser closest to the Prime Minister so flagrantly ignores them?”

Mr Cummings, 48, developed coronavirus symptoms at the end of March and had to self-isolate with his wife Mary Wakefield and their young son for 14 days.

On March 31 the Prime Minister’s official spokesman was asked where Mr Cummings was, and said: “I think he’s in touch with No10 but he is at home, he is self-isolating, he has some symptoms.” 

In fact, he was in Durham at the time, not at his home in London, as police made clear in a statement following an investigation by the Guardian and Mirror newspapers.

A spokesman for Durham Constabulary said: “On Tuesday, March 31, our officers were made aware of reports that an individual had travelled from London to Durham and was present at an address in the city.

“Officers made contact with the owners of that address who confirmed that the individual in question was present and was self-isolating in part of the house.

“In line with national policing guidance, officers explained to the family the guidelines around self-isolation and reiterated the appropriate advice around essential travel”.

Ms Wakefield later wrote about how the couple had “emerged from quarantine into the almost comical uncertainty of London lockdown”.

According to the Guardian, Mr Cummings was also spotted near the gate of his parents’ home on April 5, five days after the initial complaint to police and the same day that the Prime Minister was admitted to hospital.

The witness, told the Guardian: “I was really annoyed. I thought ‘it’s OK for you to drive all the way up to Durham and escape from London’. I sympathise with him wanting to do that, but other people are not allowed to do that. It’s one rule for Dominic Cummings and one rule for the rest of us.”

At the time, the Government rules on lockdown stated: “You should not be visiting family members who do not live in your home. 

“The only exception is if they need help, such as having shopping or medication dropped off.”

Prof Ferguson is not the only government adviser to resign for breaking lockdown. Scotland’s chief medical officer, Catherine Calderwood, quit her role after making two trips to her second home.

But Sir Ed Davey, the acting leader of the Liberal Democrats, said millions of people had made “incredible sacrifices” to stop the spread of the virus, adding: “If Dominic Cummings has broken the guidelines he will have to resign, it is as simple as that.”

Ian Blackford, the SNP’s Westminster leader, said: “Dominic Cummings’ position is completely untenable – he must resign or be sacked.”

A Labour Party spokesman said: “If accurate, the Prime Minister’s chief adviser appears to have breached the lockdown rules. The Government’s guidance was very clear: stay at home and no non-essential travel.

“The British people do not expect there to be one rule for them and another rule for Dominic Cummings. Number 10 needs to provide a very swift explanation for his actions.”

As news of Mr Cummings’ transgression broke last night, Mr Johnson tweeted a message which said: “Self-isolate and get tested if you have symptoms. Don’t risk spreading the virus.”

Downing Street was approached for comment.

Boris to get his old job back?

We have “three houses” Robert Jenrick and now we could have “two jobs” Boris as No 10 seeks to take control of lifting lockdown in London.

Confirms Owl’s view that this country is ruled by London for London.

By Gordon Rayner, Political Editor 22 May 2020 
London could see coronavirus lockdown lifted earlier as Number 10 moves to take control of process

London could come out of lockdown “quicker” than other parts of the country after Boris Johnson moved to take over control of the capital’s coronavirus response from its Mayor, Sadiq Khan.

A task force has been set up to “restart” London’s economy and will be jointly chaired by Robert Jenrick, the Communities Secretary, and Mr Khan.

It is the first time the Government has set up a separate body to oversee lockdown measures in a specific part of the country, suggesting that Mr Johnson is moving to a “London first” approach to easing restrictions.

London has a lower rate of virus infection than other parts of the country and, with the south-east region, accounts for 40 per cent of GDP – making it vital to economic recovery.

The most recent figures also show that, on some days, the city is recording no new cases of the virus.

Asked whether London would come out of lockdown first, the Prime Minister’s official spokesman said: “Without talking about a specific part of the country, what is clear in the plans is that, as we are able to gather more data and have better surveillance of the rate of infection in different parts of the country, we will be able to potentially lift measures quicker in some parts of the country than others.

“We will also be able to put the brakes on more quickly in some parts of the country than others.”

Mr Jenrick announced that he will jointly chair a London Transition Board with Mr Khan, which will “co-ordinate London’s response as it emerges from the lockdown and begins to reopen its economy while controlling the virus”.

The Government has, until now, been at pains to say that the country will come out of lockdown as a single entity – but Mr Jenrick’s announcement contained no mention of the rest of the country, suggesting a significant shift.

Mr Khan has been involved in a power struggle with Number 10, with Mr Johnson increasingly getting the upper hand over the man occupying the office he used to hold.

The Mayor was accused of mismanaging the finances of Transport for London after being given a £1.6 billion emergency bailout by the Government to keep Tubes and buses running, and had to agree to increase fares as a condition of being given the money.

Mr Jenrick said: “Now we are past the peak, [of coronavirus] it is right that we focus on safely reopening the capital, taking the necessary steps to control the virus.  

“Through this new Transition Board, we will carefully build on the extensive planning already under way to get life and business in London – the most dynamic capital city in the world – safely back on track.”

The task force will oversee infection control, “phasing in and out of varying levels of lockdown” and “recovery of public services, such as transport”.

Coronavirus: Sunseekers ‘could return lockdown to square one’

Owl has been receiving reports that Exmouth beach was heaving with cars and people on Wednesday and Thursday in particular. Car Parks full, many camper vans with occupants making breakfast on the pavements, social distancing difficult etc. This is echoed in the following article from the Times.

Owl regards Tim Spector’s Covid-19 symptom tracker project as the “canary in the cage”. It uses a statistical filter of reported symptoms as a proxy measure of infection.

Its advantages are that it is based on a phone app and is therefore instantaneous; has a national sample size of over 3 million participants; and, most importantly, it is consistent. I.e. will tell us whether infection rates locally are going up or down around a week or two before anything the Government publishes. At the moment they are static. Owl will report soon on exciting new developments with this work.

Fiona Hamilton, Crime Editor | Harry Shukman | Charlotte Wace 

Matt Hancock last night warned [Thursday] of the risk of returning to “square one” of the coronavirus lockdown as police chiefs said people were becoming blase about social distancing.

As thousands took advantage of glorious weather by flocking to beaches and beauty spots around the country, the health secretary called on the public to renew their efforts to stick to the rules. He added: “Let’s not go back to square one. We can all play our part in the national effort.”

His comments at the Downing Street press conference were echoed by senior police who said that the guidance to stay two metres apart, and meet only one other person, was being routinely ignored since the slight easing of the lockdown rules.

One chief constable told The Times: “I think people no longer understand what they can do, or they think it is no longer important.”

Another senior officer said there was “no doubt at all” that public resolve had weakened and that the guidance around meeting one person outside the household was “forgotten shortly after the words were spoken”.

In Newquay, Cornwall, police patrolled caravan sites and woke up visitors in campervans at 6am for breaching lockdown by staying overnight at the tourist hotspot. Councils closed car parks at other beaches around the country when thousands of people arrived to relax in the sunshine.

Colin Cox, Cumbria’s public health director, advised the public to stay away from the Lake District. “I continue to urge people to keep their Lake District plans on hold as we grapple with the ongoing Covid-19 outbreak in the county,” he said. “I understand that people may feel their individual visit won’t cause a problem, but when thousands of people have the same idea then that has the potential to create genuine issues.”

The authorities’ fears of a second spike of coronavirus infection have been heightened by the coming bank holiday weekend and forecasts of warm weather.

Half term begins tomorrow, meaning that many families, freed from the constraints of homeschooling, will be tempted outdoors, and to staycations. Ramadan also comes to an end this weekend and Mr Hancock said: “I hope people can enjoy Eid celebrations but I know they’ll be different from usual.”

His intervention came as a new survey revealed that more than half of under thirties are no longer sticking strictly to the lockdown rules.

Researchers who questioned more than 90,000 adults found that “complete” compliance with safety measures has dropped in the past two weeks from an average of 70 per cent of people to under 60 per cent. The University College London (UCL) study found compliance among young adults at less than 50 per cent.

Police have already warned that relaxed lockdown rules are “unenforceable” because people have many more reasons to be out and about. They voiced alarm at the large numbers of people appearing to gather in groups at beauty spots.

Ilfracombe and Braunton police said on Twitter that roads towards the North Devon coast had become “gridlocked”, adding: “We have vehicles from all over the country identified, please do not travel here.”

Southend, which like many seaside towns launched a “don’t visit” campaign, saw hundreds of people descend on its beaches to swim and sunbathe.

Fairy Glen, a popular beauty spot in Lancashire, was closed earlier this week after a flood of people visited over the weekend. Despite the warning, police confirmed that a number of parking fines had been handed to people parking “irresponsibly” and “causing a danger”.

Police have already fined more than 14,000 people for lockdown breaches but enforcement has “fallen off a cliff” since the guidance was eased, sources said.

Katy Bourne, chair of the Association of Police and Crime Commissioners, said that the public flocking to beaches presented a difficulty for officers because they were not breaching the law.

She said: “There are no powers available to police that stop people from visiting the beach or beauty spots. Going into the lockdown was a shock to our system but coming out was always going to be the challenge.

“The police are only there to uphold the law. They’re not out holding tape measures, that’s not the police’s job to do. The police aren’t there though to enforce social distancing because the law doesn’t allow it. We are asking people to be socially responsible.”

Despite the public’s increasingly blasé attitude towards the lockdown measures, a survey has shown that the spring bank holiday is set to be the quietest on the roads in at least seven years.

A poll conducted by the RAC indicates that 9.4 million leisure journeys will be made by car between Saturday and Monday, compared with 16.8 million over the same period last year.

About 68 per cent of the 1,500 drivers questioned do not expect to drive for recreational purposes this weekend, while 15 per cent said that they did not plan on driving more than ten miles for leisure.

“This weekend will be anything but a traditional sunny bank holiday weekend, and in fact nationally it could turn out to be the quietest on the motorways and major roads ever,” Rod Dennis, a spokesman for the RAC, said. “While it’s true that some car parks in popular locations were quick to fill up last weekend, it was positive to see that many of the fears around people swarming to tourist destinations thankfully didn’t translate into widespread problems.”

“Independent” Councillor to Tory Councillor to Advocate for “Build,build,build”

Owl has been struck by the strength of Cllr. Helen Parr’s advocacy for “build, build, build” in the three major planning applications Owl has featured this week. (Extracts from the posts below)

This is a cautionary tale for those in the rump of Ben Ingham’s group who are genuinely Independent. They should urgently consider the need to differentiate themselves from any closet Conservative Independents in the group.

Helen Parr was first elected in 2003 as an “Independent” Councillor for Coly Valley and topped the poll, but by the next election in 2007 she had morphed into a Conservative. In retrospect we can all see why.

She is obviously seen as “sound” on local Conservative development policy (which is the very opposite of conservative with a small “c”) as her preferments include Chairman of the Development Management Committee (DMC).

She is, ironically, “Lead Member for Planning Design and Heritage” in what was Ben Ingham’s “Independent” led Council until he resigned himself and his cabinet last Monday.

Three examples of blind advocacy

Daisymount McDonald’s drive-thru and service station – rejected

(A previous application on the site had been approved many years ago but never implemented)

Agreeing with the applicant, Cllr Helen Parr said: “While the extant scheme may not be implemented, it could be, and therefore this application is preferable as there is much less landscape impact.

“This is preferable, there will be social and economic benefits, and the harm won’t be there to the wider landscape.”

The committee, however, rejected the scheme on the grounds it would cause ‘significant harm in the open countryside in terms of landscape impact’ and that it was ‘unsustainable’.

They added that only very limited weight should be given to the fallback and previously consented scheme.

Go-ahead for 33 new homes on East Devon and Exeter border

The bid is part of an eight-phase development at Redhayes and Tithebarn Green, close to Exeter Science Park.

Members had previously deferred making a decision on the proposals as they were unhappy that eight ‘affordable’ homes would be ‘stuck in the corner’

Council policy says that such properties should be ‘pepper-potted’ across a development.

The DMC were told that the applicant was not prepared to amend the layout as it considered it reflected the size of other affordable housing clusters approved on other Redhayes and Mosshayne developments, though the applicant was willing to provide integral bat and bird facilities and hedgehog ‘highways’.

Proposing the scheme be approved, Cllr Helen Parr said that, as other neighbouring developments have similar levels of pepper-potting, it would be unreasonable to make the applicant do it any differently.

The Coly Valley has two district councillors and in the 2019 election Paul Arnott, Independent East Devon Alliance (EDA), beat Helen Parr into second place. Regrettably, Paul was the only independent candidate.

EDA Indys are opposed to inappropriate development and it will not, therefore, come as a surprise that what he said is a contrast.

Councillor Paul Arnott said that, while he was delighted for the bats, birds and hedgehogs, these were ‘tiny wins’.

He added: “This is a game of semantics and a legacy of the terrible deal that was done for the area. This isn’t pepper-potting at all but clustering, so I cannot vote for this.”

Green light for East Devon business park expansion plans

Cllr Helen Parr threw her support behind the scheme and recommended it be approved. She said: “There is extremely strong comments from the economic development officer about this and we must have more small units for people to work. This is a very good application and I have no hesitation in supporting this.”

In contrast Cllr Paul Arnott said: “While I am sympathetic to the need of the economic argument for units in the area, the fact is it is trumped by this not being part of the Local Plan or the Neighbourhood Plan. I am sympathetic to what they want to do but it may have to come back when we have revisited our Local Plan. With regret, I cannot support this.”