Which science do you follow – how it played out

Fightback against rise in Covid cases thrashed out at No 10 summit

[A companion piece to https://eastdevonwatch.org/2020/09/22/follow-the-science-but-which-science-do-you-follow/%5D

Deep into Sunday night, a debate was playing out in the heart of Downing Street. The prime minister had gathered the UK’s most eminent scientists – and was learning that “follow the science” is not as simple as it sounds.

Severin Carrell www.theguardian.com

After more than a week of worrying news, with cases rising dramatically across the UK, some of the scientists at the late-night summit were in fierce disagreement over what to do.

Boris Johnson and Rishi Sunak, the chancellor, held a summit of scientists from the government’s Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (Sage) to help thrash out how to proceed.

Among those also present were two Oxford University figures – Sunetra Gupta, professor of theoretical epidemiology, and Prof Carl Heneghan, director of the Centre for Evidence-based Medicine.

Heneghan and Gupta have voiced caution over blanket, nationwide lockdown measures and are understood to feel strongly about the presentation of data on rising cases. They have argued for more targeted measures to protect the vulnerable, such as in care homes, so that new measures do not affect those younger people who are least at risk.

There was some controversy over data showing an exponential increase in cases, such as the one showing a jump from 6,000 a day now to 50,000 in mid-October, which could lead to 200 deaths a day by the following month.

Predictably, when it was presented at the media briefing by England’s chief medical officer, Prof Chris Whitty, and Sir Patrick Vallance, the chief scientific adviser – who stressed it was not a forecast – it was this slide that created the headlines.

A Downing Street source said the prime minister had wanted to hear “a wide range of views” from scientists and other experts.

Heneghen and Gupta have since written an open letter to the prime minister and to Whitty and Vallance to try to persuade them to change course – and to impose more targeted measures to contain the virus.

The measures expected to be announced on Tuesday – to close pubs and restaurants at 10pm and limit service to tables only – are softer than had previously been predicted or advised. Over the weekend, a source in one of the devolved administrations said there was also a concerted push from health officials to “move hard and fast: do it now and do it hard”.

That response led to some pushback from the Treasury, according to several sources, amid concern that businesses and industry had no buffer to absorb any further impact. “The economy is in a very different place to March,” one Whitehall source said. The source stressed that did not mean economic advisers had told No 10 not to act.

Leaked advice to the Scottish government laid out proposed plans for a so-called “circuit breaker” lockdown – two weeks of more severe measures – which for now appear to have been rejected by the prime minister.

Written by Scottish government officials last Saturday, based on advice given by Sage scientists who cover the whole UK, it also suggests a “rolling lockdown” for different parts of Scotland linked to October’s half-term holidays, including travel restrictions, closing play parks and shutting down hairdressers.

The measures were revealed in a leaked document marked “official sensitive”, which suggested a “general message” that people should again stay at home except for essential shopping and exercise and also avoid public transport.

At the weekend a flurry of telephone briefings took place to discuss the strategy, including a cabinet phone briefing with Whitty and Vallance on Saturday, as well as the chief economic adviser Claire Lombardelli.

The strategy was finally signed off at a Covid strategy committee meeting, involving Johnson, Sunak and Matt Hancock, the health secretary. The prime minister then briefed the heads of devolved administrations, who will join a Cobra meeting on Tuesday.

Labour officials had to scramble to respond. Keir Starmer’s keynote conference speech in Doncaster on Tuesday was hastily brought forward by two hours after the prime minister said he would make a statement to MPs in the House of Commons on Tuesday, so the Labour leader could be back in London in time to respond.


Follow the science – but which science do you follow?

Covid UK: scientists at loggerheads over approach to new restrictions

Rival groups of scientists are at loggerheads over how government should handle the Covid pandemic, with one advising that only over-65s and the vulnerable should be shielded, while the other backs nationwide measures.

Sarah Boseley www.theguardian.com 

The conflicting advice to the UK government and chief medical officers (CMOs) came in two open letters issued on Monday by the rival camps.

It came as Prof Chris Whitty, England’s CMO, and the chief scientific adviser Sir Patrick Vallance made a national TV broadcast to set out the risk of the virus spreading exponentially, with a corresponding increase in cases and deaths, if public behaviour does not change.

Thirty-two scientists signed one letter [including Professor Louise Allen; Professor of Geriatric  Medicine, University of Exeter – Owl] warning the government is heading down the wrong road and must reconsider its policy to suppress the virus, adopting a targeted approach instead.

Prof Sunetra Gupta and Prof Carl Heneghan from Oxford University, Prof Karol Sikora from Buckingham and Sam Williams of the consultancy Economic Insight issued their warning, with 28 other signatories, to the prime minister, chancellor and the UK’s four CMOs.

Support for the CMOs and Vallance, who appear to be advocating greater restrictions, came from a letter signed by second group of scientists, headed by Trisha Greenhalgh at Oxford University and backed by 22 others.

“We strongly support your continuing efforts to suppress the virus across the entire population,” they say, in what will be seen as a rebuttal of Gupta and colleagues. Segmenting the population and shielding the elderly until herd immunity has developed will not work, they add.

The two stances underline a schism within the scientific community over how to tackle the second wave of coronavirus in the UK.

The Gupta-Heneghan-Sikora letter warned that imposing lockdowns and restrictions wherever case numbers rise and potentially across the whole of the country is “leading to significant harm across all age groups, which likely offsets any benefits”.

“The existing policy path is inconsistent with the known risk-profile of Covid-19 and should be reconsidered. The unstated objective currently appears to be one of suppression of the virus, until such a time that a vaccine can be deployed. This objective is increasingly unfeasible,” they add.

Gupta and colleagues say we should think beyond coronavirus, taking account of the deaths that will occur from other causes because people are too anxious to go to their doctor or the NHS cannot treat them. And we should think about the economic and social impact of lockdowns. “Blanket Covid policy interventions likely have large costs, because any adverse effects impact the entire population,” they say.

Asked what would be an acceptable level of Covid deaths under this scenario, Williams said: “That’s not so much how we would think about it.” There were avoidable deaths from other causes during the lockdown. “You have to be quite sure you are going to save lives if you take measures that will cost them,” he said.

They say the focus on case numbers and the R number (showing the rate of infection) is wrong and they are subject to interpretation, with outcomes mattering, not case counts.

Deaths are mostly in the older population: 89% are in the over-65s and 95% in people with pre-existing medical conditions. “The harm caused by uniform policies (that apply to all persons) will outweigh the benefits,” they write.

Those at risk should be told, so that they can make their own decision about their safety. “Give the public honest and objective information about the risks they face,” Williams said. Instead, the dangers for everyone had been talked up, making people with low risk factors more scared than they should be.

The second letter, from Greenhalgh and colleagues, says that deaths and severe illness have occurred in all age groups. They argue that “long Covid” – extended and debilitating illness – has affected tens of thousands of people in the UK, many of them young.

They say it is not practical to cut off a cohort of vulnerable people from the rest in an open society “especially for disadvantaged groups (e.g. those living in cramped housing and multi-generational households). Many grandparents are looking after children sent home from school while parents are at work.”

They share the desire of the public to return to “normality”, but it must be balanced with variable restrictions to control the virus “which respond to the day-to-day and week-to-week changes in cases. “Normality” is likely to be a compromise for some time to come.

Some of the authors are members of Independent Sage, a group that established itself because of concerns over the transparency of the government’s own scientific advisory committee on epidemics, which is chaired by Whitty and Vallance.

The science itself cannot be definitive, they acknowledge. “Whilst it is always helpful to have more data and more evidence, we caution that in this complex and fast-moving pandemic, certainty is likely to remain elusive.

“A research finding that is declared ‘best evidence’ or ‘robust evidence’ by one expert will be considered marginal or flawed by another expert. It is more important than ever to consider multiple perspectives on the issues and encourage interdisciplinary debate and peer review,” they say.


The Guardian view on the Covid crisis: Boris Johnson let it happen

Downing Street is in the grip of a groupthink that delegitimises independent voices. The country is paying a heavy price

Editorial www.theguardian.com 

The United Kingdom is facing a Covid calamity, and it is a situation that was made in Downing Street. Infections and hospital admissions are rising rapidly. An exponentially growing epidemic is outpacing the rate at which the testing regime is expanding, meaning that it is not possible to properly track the spread of the disease. If nothing changes, the government’s chief scientific adviser, Sir Patrick Vallance, warned on Monday, there could be 200 deaths a day by mid-November.

It is clear that transmission of the disease through the population needs to be stopped. This might not require a nationwide lockdown, where schools and workplaces are closed. However, stringent measures ought to come into force across the country, alongside a clear strategy to rebuild the test and trace system. Boris Johnson needs to move decisively to contain the risk. There will be a balance to strike. Dilemmas such as the tension between reducing social contact and continuing economic life are not easy to resolve. But the lesson from earlier this year was that in a pandemic it’s best to move fast.

The trouble is that Britain has the wrong government for the Covid era. Boris Johnson has not yet shown that he can weigh the seriousness of the situation and act appropriately. He let events spin out of control, because he believed he could spin his way out of the problem. All too often, the prime minister has overpromised and underdelivered – if he delivered at all. Mr Johnson is unwilling to take responsibility for his missteps during the pandemic. His psychological strategy is to avoid admitting fault. This has led him to snub the checks and balances designed to ensure that the British state learns from experience to improve services. The idea is to update views to take better decisions in future.

Mr Johnson prefers non-accountability in government policy. Parliament has been sidelined during the pandemic. Graham Brady, the chair of the 1922 Committee of backbench Tory MPs, is right to insist that further Covid restrictions be debated – and voted on – in the Commons. The prime minister will probably resist this move, and he will be wrong to do so. Parliament can give the public a window on why the government acts as it does. Mr Johnson sees little value in this. He wants the public to face punitive fines for breaking lockdown while his chief adviser smirks that he did so earlier this year to test his eyesight.

Downing Street is in the grip of a groupthink that delegitimises independent voices. The clearout at the top of the civil service is part of that. What Mr Johnson seems to run is a gang rather than a government. He does not appoint people for competence but loyalty. This promotes an us-versus-them worldview. Dido Harding, the businesswoman and Conservative party peer who failed to get the test and trace system running effectively, has been picked to run Mr Johnson’s new public health system. Her qualification is that she will defend incompetence by blaming the public. Labour’s Lord Falconer calls it a “corrupting” of the constitution. He’s not wrong.

The disinformation is designed to put Downing Street above morality and the truth. There are things the country can and cannot do, and things Mr Johnson can and cannot do. The prime minister does not care that there is a difference. He tells voters that he can do anything and that the country can deliver whatever they want. He is gambling that his government will not be judged at the next election on its inept coronavirus response. It may work. Mr Johnson has reached the top by peddling half-truths. Britain’s high Covid death toll points to a set of real issues: a political culture of exceptionalism, shrivelled public services, rampant inequality and poor health. The unanimity of views in No 10 may be hard to escape, but the accumulation of blunders has led the country into a crisis.


More on the background to the Cranbrook town centre postponement

Decision on Cranbrook town centre will have to wait

Daniel Clark www.devonlive.com

A meeting that was set to determine how future development for Cranbrook’s long-awaited town centre would happen has been postponed.

East Devon District Council’s Strategic Planning Committee on Wednesday were due to discuss and make a recommendation over the way in which development would come forward.

They would have been faced with two competing proposals – one from the East Devon New Community Partners and one for the council to develop its own masterplan approach – with officers advising that the Cranbrook Town Centre Masterplan SPD should be the way forward.

However, the proposals put forward by the EDNCp – who are the developers for the majority of Cranbrook and have control of the land in the town centre – were significantly amended last week.

East Devon District Council have subsequently taken the decision to postpone the scheduled meeting so that the proposed changes can be fully considered and councillors properly advised of the proposed deal and its impacts.

A new report for the Committee will now be written detailing the amended proposals from EDNCp and help Committee councillors and the community to understand the proposals that are being put forward.

Cllr Dan Ledger, the district council’s portfolio holder for Strategic Planning, said: “The council understands the need for services and facilities to be delivered in Cranbrook Town Centre as soon as possible and remains committed to moving forward with discussions as a matter of urgency.

“It’s vital however that the discussions are informed by the most up-to-date and accurate information and that the proposals to be discussed are in the public domain and discussed in an open and transparent way. This would not have been the case had the scheduled meeting gone ahead.”


So far, more than 2,100 homes have been built in the new town in East Devon, as well as a train station, a primary school, a secondary school, a pub, and a neighbourhood centre with a general shop and a pharmacy.


The proposal from the consortium of developers included:

  • A 2,500 square metres Morrisons supermarket with an additional 1,000 square metres of retail space on Tillhouse Road (around 10 to 12 shops);
  • A town square
  • A nursery
  • Around 350 town centre homes
  • Town hall with café, meeting spaces and around 15 rentable office units (including land and around one-third of the construction costs)
  • Children’s centre, youth centre and library in a single building (including land and the construction costs to the Section 106 value)
  • A skate park
  • Land for extra care facilities delivered by Devon County Council
  • Land for a “blue light” facility to house fire, police and ambulance services
  • Opportunities to provide additional retail outlets
  • Public conveniences, if not built within a commercial building
  • Option to purchase an acre of land to safeguard land for any additional development needs identified in the future, e.g. a leisure centre, workshops or light industrial units.

The main benefit of the EDNCp proposals is the short-term delivery of a supermarket and the additional 500sqm of commercial space beyond the S106 requirements, the report said.

It added: “The desire to see some delivery of services and facilities within the town centre is well understood and officers share this desire. The community questionnaires over the years have made it clear that the community want to see something delivered as soon as possible.

“This ambition is shared and there is no doubt that this would deliver a big short term gain for the town but in the long term the proposals would prevent the town centre from meeting the needs of the community in the future, lead to greater levels of out commuting, impact on health and wellbeing as well as the sustainability of the town.”

The report says that the EDNCp proposals provides clarity over how the Section 106 obligations for 500sqm retail space, youth facility, library, town council offices, health and wellbeing centre, extra care housing and public square are to be met, would see the early delivery of a supermarket, and the delivery of children’s day nursery, providing nursery care for under 2’s, not currently available in Cranbrook in a nursery setting.

The Cranbrook Consortium proposals for the town centre

But it says that it would see a lack of space for additional retail, business, leisure and community spaces to be provided, minimal employment opportunities for residents, and the lack of space for a leisure centre despite this being a policy requirement in the Cranbrook Plan DPD.

There would be no affordable housing, a sub-optimal location for the Health & Wellbeing centre and extra care facilities, no likely connection to district heating , no or very limited contributions towards the delivery of additional infrastructure arising from the residential development, and housing types which won’t deliver the footfall necessary in a town centre location

It would have long term impacts upon health & wellbeing of residents from having a lack of employment opportunities, facilities and services in the town, the report says.


The report to the committee had said that it was considered that the SPD offers the opportunity for the Council to take a lead on the delivery of the town centre by developing its own proposals and consulting the community on these to engage the wider community in this debate.

The work seeks to use the EDNCp proposals as a starting point by incorporating their proposals for the town centre, and would see the library, youth centre, children’s centre and blue light services provided.

But the proposal would make the remainder of town centre land available for a mixture of commercial, community and leisure uses to meet the needs of the town in the future.

The location of the extra care facility would be changed, while it may make provision for a hotel in the town, and would continue to plan for the proposed leisure centre to be provided.

Pros of the masterplan approach, the report says, would be that it would allow for the delivery of the commercial scheme of them Morrison’s supermarket, High Street shops and children’s nursery, allows for the Section 106 requirements to be located in optimal locations, and enables the future proofing of the town centre through setting aside more land for future needs while still enabling significant housing development to take place.

It would provide over 250 additional jobs to the EDNCp scheme with consequential economic benefits and retained business rates income, has the potential to deliver affordable housing, the potential to achieve connection to the district heating network, and achieves greater self-containment within the town leading to less out commuting, more sustainable journeys and better health and wellbeing outcomes.

But as the land is not owned by East Devon District Council, it would be uncertain how this could be viably delivered, and the delivery of the full suite of existing town centre S106 obligations would be subject to EDNCp proceeding to reach 3,450 occupations or delivery of these being negotiated in any land deal.

The report added: “A significant concern with pursuing an SPD to deliver the indicative masterplan or something similar is how it could be delivered. The land within the town centre is understood to be entirely controlled by Hallam Land and negotiations to date have indicated that they would only be willing to sell land within the town centre at residential land values even though there is no planning policy basis for valuing all of the town centre land on this basis.”


The Cranbrook Strategic Delivery Board had said they were in favour of pursuing the delivery of the Consortium proposals and does not support the SPD/Masterplan proposal;

Fewer affordable homes is always a concern for elected members but Cranbrook has a very good record of delivery across the development with a high percentage delivered to date, they said.

They added: “The question of a leisure centre is not regarded as problematic in the town centre area from the members’ point of view given the facilities available at the Cranbrook Education Campus which are available to the wider community and include a sports hall and other indoor and outdoor sporting facilities.

“Further sports facilities are already delivered at Ingram’s with more planned for the expansion of the town which will create opportunities to provide additional sports and leisure facilities and there has been no interest in a hotel provider coming to the town.

“While the aim of the SPD and Masterplan is, undoubtedly, to bring forward a more extensive and holistic town centre for Cranbrook, there are clear and unavoidable risks associated with this approach and therefore considerable concern within the local community that this will take a long time to achieve and, more worryingly, may never be achieved.

“It is clear that the approach via an SPD / Masterplan will not be attractive to the Consortium and therefore the likely scenario is that the plan would be progressed through compulsory purchase of land by a local authority and subsequent marketing of the various parcels to attract commercial interest. This is potentially costly to the public purse at this time of economic uncertainty and carries with it great financial risk.

“Existing Section 106 obligations, brought forward under the Consortium proposal, will revert to the original trigger points. This means that four elements (children’s centre, blue light facility land, skatepark and 500m² of retail space) will come forward in the foreseeable future while other obligations are not due until 3,450 occupations which is probably 7 + years away.”

But Gill Munday, Head of Primary Care (North & East), NHS Devon Clinical Commissioning Group, said the small stand-alone building that just houses GP services as envisaged under Option 1 is considered sub-optimal and will not meet the needs of the growing population of Cranbrook over the longer term.

And Peter Gilpin, CEO of LED Community Leisure said that the Cranbrook School facilities are already unable to meet the demand for activities that LED is being asked to provide and that and given the future population growth, these facilities cannot be expected to provide for the future leisure demands of the town.

He added: “Whatever the eventual operating arrangements, there is a clear case for the provision of a 4-court sports hall, or the equivalent space for alternative leisure activities, within a leisure centre with unrestricted opening hours and access for the general public, and a 6-lane pool (plus teaching pool) should be provided, as originally planned for.”

Planning officers, in their recommendation, had said: “The consortium proposals may deliver what the town needs now but in so doing it precludes the delivery of future commercial and community spaces that the town will need as it grows from its current 2100 homes to around 8000 in the future. Failure to meet the long term needs of the town as it grows jeopardises the future of Cranbrook as a sustainable and healthy new town.”

But with the consortium having changed their proposals, a new report, with new recommendations, will now be written.

The council will be looking to set a new date for the meeting in October.


Boris Johnson’s ex boss says ‘cavorting charlatan’ will be unfunny joke as PM

The test of time.

Owl revisits this profile of Boris Johnson written by Max Hastings in June 2019. (Since then Labour have replaced Jeremy Corbyn with Keir Starmer)

Max Hastings www.mirror.co.uk 

Six years ago, the Cambridge historian Christopher Clark published a study of the outbreak of the First World War, titled The Sleepwalkers.

Though Clark is a fine scholar, I was unconvinced by his title, which suggested the great powers stumbled mindlessly to disaster.

On the contrary, the maddest aspect of 1914 was that each belligerent government convinced itself that it was acting rationally.

It would be fanciful to liken the ascent of Boris Johnson to the outbreak of global war, but similar forces are in play.

There is room for debate about whether he is a scoundrel or mere rogue, but not much about his moral bankruptcy, rooted in a contempt for truth.

Nonetheless, even before the Conservative national membership cheers him in as our prime minister – denied the option of Nigel Farage, whom some polls suggest they would prefer – Tory MPs have thronged to do just that.

I have known Johnson since the 1980s, when I edited the Daily Telegraph and he was our flamboyant Brussels correspondent.

I have argued for a decade that, while he is a brilliant entertainer who made a popular maître d’ for London as its mayor, he is unfit for national office, because it seems he cares for no interest save his own fame and gratification.

Tory MPs have launched this country upon an experiment in celebrity government, matching that taking place in Ukraine and the US, and it is unlikely to be derailed by the latest headlines.

The Washington Post columnist George Will observes that Donald Trump does what his base wants “by breaking all the china”. We can’t predict what a Johnson government will do, because its prospective leader has not got around to thinking about this.

But his premiership will ­almost certainly reveal a contempt for rules, precedent, order and stability.

A few admirers assert that, in office, Johnson will reveal an accession of wisdom and responsibility that have hitherto eluded him, not least as Foreign Secretary.

This seems unlikely, as the weekend’s stories emphasised.

Dignity still matters in public office, and Johnson will never have it. Yet his graver vice is cowardice, reflected in a willingness to tell any audience whatever he thinks most likely to please, heedless of the inevitability of its contradiction an hour later.

Like many showy personalities, he is of weak character.

I recently suggested to a radio audience that he supposes himself to be Winston Churchill, while in reality being closer to Alan Partridge. Churchill, for all his wit, was a profoundly serious human being.

Far from perceiving anything glorious about standing alone in 1940, he knew that all difficult issues must be addressed with allies and partners.

Churchill’s self-obsession was tempered by a huge compassion for humanity, or at least white humanity, which Johnson confines to himself. He has long been considered a bully, prone to making cheap threats.

My old friend Christopher Bland, when chairman of the BBC, once described to me how he received an angry phone call from Johnson, denouncing the corporation’s “gross intrusion upon my personal life” for its coverage of one of his love affairs.

“We know plenty about your personal life that you would not like to read in the Spectator,” the then editor of the magazine told the BBC’s chairman, while demanding he order the broadcaster to lay off his own dalliances. Bland told me he replied: “Boris, think about what you have just said. There is a word for it, and it is not a pretty one.”

He said Johnson blustered into retreat, but in my own files I have handwritten notes from our poss-ible next Prime Minister, threatening dire consequences in print if I continued to criticise him.

Johnson would not recognise truth, whether about his private or political life, if confronted by it in an identity parade. The other day I came across an observation made in 1750 by Bishop Berkeley: “It is impossible that a man who is false to his friends and neighbours should be true to the public.”

Almost the only people who think Johnson a nice guy are those who do not know him.

There is, of course, a symmetry between himself and Jeremy Corbyn. Corbyn is far more honest, but harbours his own delusions.

He may yet prove to be the only possible Labour leader whom Johnson can defeat in a general election. If the opposition was led by anybody else, the Tories would be deservedly doomed.

As it is, the Johnson premiership could survive three or four years, shambling from one embarrassment and debacle to another, of which Brexit may prove the least.

For many of us, his elevation will signal Britain’s abandonment of any claim to be a serious country.

It can be claimed that few people realised what a poor Prime Minister Theresa May would prove until they saw her in Downing Street.

With Boris, however, what you see now is almost assuredly what we shall get from him as ruler. We can scarcely strip the emperor’s clothes from a man who has built a career, or at least a lurid love life, out of strutting without them.

The weekend stories of his domestic affairs are only an aperitif for his future as Britain’s leader.

I have a hunch that Johnson will come to regret securing the prize for which he has struggled so long, because the experience of the premiership will lay bare his ­absolute unfitness for it.

If the Johnson family had stuck to showbusiness like the Osmonds, Marx Brothers or von Trapp family, the world would be a better place.

Yet the Tories have elevated a cavorting charlatan to the steps of Downing Street, and they should expect to pay a full forfeit when voters get the message.

If the price of Johnson proves to be Corbyn, blame will rest with the Conservative party, which is about to foist a tasteless joke upon the British people – who will not find it funny for long.


We’ve had Sasha on “Dave”: what do Boris Johnson’s Mates and Coworkers Say About “Him”?

What Our New PM Boris Johnson’s Mates and Coworkers Say About Him

Gavin Haynes www.vice.com

Well Britain, we’ve really done it this time. Big congrats to every single one of us for destroying literally any semblance of respect we might have held on an international political stage. Yes, of course, there was our whole British empire fuckup, which retrospectively, was not good, but we had moved away from that a bit! It was getting better! We stopped colonising places! And then Brexit came, and we fucked it, and just when you didn’t think it could get any worse: Boris Johnson.

Johnson. Johnson. What greater emblem of the entire failure of our political system than a man so fundamentally determined to lie and climb the political ladder, who is frequently touted as bad at his job, bad at creating and implementing policy, bad at managing teams, actively dangerous when it comes to international relations and routinely an embarrassment outside of the UK has become our Prime Minister. Some of his own MPs preemptively said they would not work under him – an unprecedented declaration of mistrust – and the entire of the UK has never been so politicised nor the Tory party.

Notably, Johnson’s election campaign has been characterised by a total lack of detail or policy initiative beyond “miraculously pull us out of Europe on 31st October”. Beyond grandly announcing to “defeat Jeremy Corbyn” in today’s speech, we’re unlikely to get any more detail around what he intends to do in Number 10.

So we decided to go to Johnson’s own friends and colleagues – the ones who know him best – to figure out what exactly our new *choking, barely able to get the words out* Prime Minister has in store for us.


Sonia Pernell, Boris Johnson’s colleague at The Daily Telegraph, writing in the Times:

“Boris Johnson can change from bonhomie to a dark fury in seconds… [he[ has the fiercest and most uncontrollable anger I have seen… It was the sight of Boris Johnson in full flow that convinced me all those years ago in the 1990s, when I worked alongside him in Brussels reporting on the EU for The Daily Telegraph, that he was temperamentally unsuitable to be entrusted with any position of power, let alone the highest office of all, in charge of the United Kingdom and its nuclear codes.”

Peter Guilford, who worked with Johnson in Europe as a Times journalist, in the Independent:

“[Johnson was happy to] ham up the story, so there wasn’t much difference between news and entertainment… He would write outrageous stories with only slenderest connection of truth in them.”

Max Hastings, Boris Johnson’s former boss at the Telegraph, writing in the Guardian:

“I have known Johnson since the 1980s, when I edited the Daily Telegraph and he was our flamboyant Brussels correspondent… There is room for debate about whether he is a scoundrel or mere rogue, but not much about his moral bankruptcy, rooted in a contempt for truth.”

Mathew Leeming, a friend at Oxford and former flatmate, writing in the Telegraph:

“He has a low boredom threshold and he does not do detail.”

Matthew d’Ancona, his former editor at the Spectator, writing in the Guardian:

“Especially in his early years, Johnson had the will to power of Pinochet and the social graces of Gussie Fink-Nottle. He was clever without being a swot. He winged it, which drove his editors mad but inspired considerable envy in his peers. He was fun. He activated the narcotic weakness within the English for eccentricity – especially potent when it is suspected that the eccentric in question may one day be the leader of the gang.”

Max Hastings:

“As it is, the Johnson premiership could survive for three or four years, shambling from one embarrassment and debacle to another, of which Brexit may prove the least.”

Sonia Purnell:

“That anger remains an issue. Rachel [Johnson’s sister] in particular is said to fear her brother’s ire if she dares to criticise him in public, or make her disagreement with his “leave” stance on Brexit too obvious. She has also talked of her brother’s “very Sicilian” attitude to anyone who crosses him.”

Matthew Leeming:

“Boris is the only front-line politician who can make us see Brexit as a huge opportunity.”


Max Hastings:

“For many of us, his elevation will signal Britain’s abandonment of any claim to be a serious country.”

Matthew D’Ancona:

“His shtick was no longer an aspect of his politics. It was his politics. While the rest of Westminster operated within the structures of 20th-century political discourse, Johnson worked on his material like a standup preparing for a Netflix special.”


Max Hastings:

“I have argued for a decade that, while he is a brilliant entertainer who made a popular maître d’ for London as its mayor, he is unfit for national office, because it seems he cares for no interest save his own fame and gratification.”

Mathew Leeming:

“Boris has an ability to articulate what the majority of people think and know, just as Margaret Thatcher did…. Boris has extraordinary talents and needs extraordinary circumstances for those talents to take him to the very top, just as Churchill did.”

Conservative MP Sir Alan Duncan, who worked under Boris Johnson and Jeremy Hunt in the Foreign Office, speaking to the BBC:

“I’ve served both Foreign Secretaries and I’ve got no doubt which is the more capable and competent. I have very grave concerns that he flies by the seat of his pants and is all a bit haphazard and ramshackle… I think he’s going to go smack into a crisis of government.”

Sarah Hayward, former leader of the London Borough of Camden who worked with Johnson as the Mayor of London, writing in the Guardian:

“The most important aspect of Johnson’s working style is his lack of attention to detail. In every setting, from one-to-one meetings to big set pieces, such as the annual London government dinner, he would be ill-prepared. This comes across as disinterest or worse. But this isn’t a problem of his manner or working style. Those who worked as his closest advisers in City Hall are quite open about the fact that Johnson would lose interest if a policy briefing took more than a few minutes, five maximum…

The challenges, first of Brexit and then of the huge domestic conundrums we face – housing, adult social care, post-Brexit industrial and trade policy – all require attention to detail, hard work and tough choices. The Boris Johnson I and many of those around him have seen has shown no evidence that he is capable of that.”


Boris Johnson accused of corrupting constitution over role for Lady Harding

Can Dido mix two high profile public service roles, subject to the civil service code, with her political role taking the Conservative whip in the Lords? – Owl

Oliver Wright, Policy Editor www.thetimes.co.uk 

Boris Johnson has been accused by a former Labour lord chancellor of corrupting the constitution by appointing the Conservative peer Baroness Harding of Winscombe to a leading role in the fight against Covid-19.

Lord Falconer of Thoroton, QC, said it was inappropriate for Lady Harding to have an executive role running the test and trace system as well as her appointment as head of the new National Institute for Health Protection.

He spoke out as Baroness Smith of Basildon, the Labour leader in the House of Lords, wrote to Simon Case, the cabinet secretary, asking for urgent clarification of what appeared to be a clear breach of civil service rules.

They argue that in both roles Lady Harding, 52, works as a public servant and is covered by the civil service code, which states that civil servants should not “act in a way determined by political considerations”. She sits as a backbench Tory peer and takes the Conservative whip.

Lord Falconer told The Observer yesterday that he had never known of anyone being allowed to mix public service and political roles in such a way and demanded that she either sit as a non-aligned crossbench peer or be appointed as a government minister. She could then be held accountable and answer questions in the upper house.

“It is such a corruption of our constitution to make a Tory backbencher in parliament a senior civil servant without any process and without even requiring the most basic rules of political impartiality,” Lord Falconer said.

Government sources said that Lady Harding, a former chief executive of TalkTalk, had shown herself to be accountable and had appeared last week before the science and technology select committee to answer questions about the Covid-19 testing system that she has led since May.

She was also tipped yesterday as a potential successor to Sir Simon Stevens, who is expected to stand down as head of NHS England next year.


Plans for 39 new homes at Rolle College site submitted to planners

Plans to develop Exmouth’s former Rolle College campus into 39 new homes have been submitted to planners in East Devon.

Joseph Bulmer exmouth.nub.news

The 39 new homes would comprise of 10 houses and 29 apartments, with Grade II Listed Eldin House being converted and refurbished into apartments.

If the plans are successful a number of buildings on the site would need to be demolished.

The planning application was submitted on Friday, September 11, by LRM Planning Ltd on behalf of developer Acorn Property Group.

The site measures 0.78ha in area and is roughly rectangular in shape, and slopes downwards from the north/northwest to the south east. The site forms part of a wider campus directly adjacent to the west, which is now being developed by the Exeter Royal Academy for Deaf Education.

The planning application’s Design and Access Statement states: “The site was formerly used as an educational campus.

“Since the campus closure, the brownfield site has fallen into disrepair and suffered from antisocial behaviour, vandalism and unmanaged vegetation growth.

“The site contains a number of buildings on the former campus site. The buildings represent a range of different building styles, ages, scales and materials.

“These buildings range from 19th century villas to post war education buildings. With the exception

of Eldin House, the majority of buildings on site are low quality post-war education buildings which are in a state of disrepair and no longer fit for purpose.

“It is proposed that these are demolished to allow for more appropriate building in keeping with the surrounding character.”

An apartment building would be located in the south western part of the site: “The apartment building has been designed to provide a range of different apartment sizes from two to three bed dwellings, all of which have been designed internally to facilitate a range of homeowner needs, including spacious and open living spaces and appropriate levels of storage.

“Each apartment has been designed to benefit from either south facing views, or views out towards Eldin House and the landscaped courtyard space to the north. At ground level,undercroft (at grade parking) is provided with bin and cycle stores.

“Generous floor to ceilings and appropriately placed windows, will create light and airy places to live. Each dwelling will have amenity space in the form of a balcony or terrace. The top floor is recessed to allow for generous outside terraces.”

The developer is conscious of the impact building work could have on the neighbouring Deaf Academy, ‘ it is of the utmost importance to ensure that the needs, comfort and safety of the Academy and young students are considered and respected’.

Currently the main entrance to the site is to the south west of Douglas Avenue. If this application is granted the gate pier and entrance wall would need to be widened to accomodate residents’ vehicles.

No date has yet been set for the plans to be discussed by East Devon District Council’s strategic planning committee.

So far there have been no comments from local residents on the planning application, if you feel strongly about the above application feel free to get in touch with Exmouth Nub News editor Joe Bulmer, joe.bulmer@nub.news.

If you would like to view the application for yourself, click here and use the following planning number to search for the application: 20/1838/MFUL.


East Devon rejects ‘ludicrous’ algorithm doubling number of homes to be built in the district

Owl is delighted to read of this example of cross party support and cooperation in strategic policy development.

Joseph Bulmer and Daniel Clark sidmouth.nub.news 

East Devon District Council has registered its opposition to a ‘ludicrous’ algorithm that could see double the number of new homes have to be built each year.

The Government is set to change the method they use for calculating the amount of housing each district should provide each year, with the new method seeing the numbers in East Devon rise by 67 per cent, Mid Devon by 75 per cent, and Teignbridge by 102 per cent.

But councillors have said that the figures are ‘completely unacceptable’, have come from an algorithm that makes no sense, and that it is very difficult to see there being enough people in the country that would want or be compelled to move to the areas to fill this number of houses.

But East Devon District Council and Teignbridge District Council so far have agreed to oppose the proposed approach, believing that the numbers are both too great and most likely, undeliverable.

Last week’s East Devon District Council Strategic Planning Committee also unanimously agreed to adopt their proposed response would see opposition to the methodology.

Ed Freeman, service lead for planning strategy and development, in his report, said: “The East Devon housing requirement is increased by a massive 67 per cent from 928 dwellings to 1,614 new homes per year. The increase, by any standards, can only be seen as a staggeringly high increase on top of what was a high level anyway.

“It must be seriously questioned whether the number of houses for East Devon, and surrounding areas, even if credible land could be allocated for their development, will actually be built. It must be seriously questioned whether there would be sufficient numbers of people wishing to buy or rent a property in East Devon and surrounding areas to sustain the level of growth the figures imply.

“Short of a massive boon in jobs in our part of England or there being some other compelling reason why people will move here, it is extremely difficult to see anything approaching a market of sufficient size to see these levels of houses built. A move to greater homeworking my generate greater levels of migration to East Devon but the long term levels of migration arising from changes in working practices as a result of the current pandemic are unknown.

“In the case of East Devon, recent research for the Council undertaken by the consultancy firm ORS shows that to meet trend based needs there is a need for 757 dwelling a year and to address pent-up demand a need for 59 dwellings a year, giving a total of 816 dwellings per year. Deducting this figure from a district total of 1,614 implies that 798 households would need to move in to East Devon each year over and above established trends.

“This level of increase is simply not a credible prediction and much less so a credible policy response when it comes to planning for housing provision.”

Councillor Mike Allen said that being asked to increase by the numbers in this way was ludicrous. He said: “There is something fundamentally wrong with the algorithm, and it shows no relevance whatsoever to local democracy and reality on the ground.”

Councillor Ian Thomas added, referring to the chaos over exam results, said: “It has not been a good summer for the Government and algorithms. To jump by 67 per cent and 102 per cent worries me and it simply isn’t credible. We are dealing with a half cooked algorithm and whipping numbers out of the air is not acceptable.”

Councillor Kevin Blakey said that as developers won’t be keen to develop properties that they can’t sell very quickly, this couldn’t possibly work, while councillor Eleanor Rylance said that ‘if we don’t resist this, we will cover the West End in housing with no transport infrastructure’.

Teignbridge’s portfolio holder for planning, councillor Gary Taylor said: “One of the most contentious issues is the suggestion that housing numbers will be based on a nationally set formula where more homes have to be built annually in areas where open market housing is often not affordable to local residents.

“In Teignbridge, the changes mean that our housing requirement could increase by 101% to 1,532 homes, double the current requirement to build 760 houses a year. This is a figure which I am sure councillors will consider unacceptable.”

Councillor Taylor said that within the consultations there is a suggestion that the identified annual housebuilding figure would be varied by the availability of land and could be reduced if there was evidence of the lack of suitable space in Teignbridge for building.

“This is a consultation and no final decisions will be made by the Government until later in the year” he added. “But as a Council we will be responding to the consultation, welcoming changes designed to make the planning system more responsive but strongly opposing the housing numbers which will adversely impact on our communities and environment.”