‘Complete shambles’ as Conservative conference hit by tech glitches

Another “Omnishambles” – No end in sight, they just keep piling up! – Owl

Francis Elliott, Political Editor www.thetimes.co.uk 

Business leaders awaiting a virtual Q&A with the prime minister and the chancellor were left staring at a buffering screen for almost an hour as technical glitches dogged the Conservatives’ “virtual conference”.

Some of the UK’s most senior industry figures were among those expecting to take part in an exclusive online question-and-answer session yesterday morning with Boris Johnson and Rishi Sunak.

The session, available to those businesses who paid for accreditation to the online conference, was delayed by at least 50 minutes.

The fact that it coincided with the government’s embarrassment over the data mishap that has delayed the tracing of tens of thousands of people possibly infected with Covid-19 did not go unremarked.

“The system has crashed meaning that various fee-paying business leader guests have spent the last 50 minutes looking at a screen with the Conservative logo and an uploading circle,” complained one industry leader. “It’s not a great advert for a government battling off allegations of technical incompetence in other areas.”

When the session did start it was repeatedly interrupted because of a “dreadful feed”, a guest said. Ministers’ “break-out” sessions yesterday afternoon were similarly bedevilled by technical glitches. “It’s been a complete shambles to be honest,” one disgruntled figure said.

Complaints over accreditation failures that left many frozen out of the first day of the conference have fuelled discontent. Although some have applauded a brave attempt to replicate the annual gathering, others say it has made painfully obvious the vacuity of much of the content of a conference which has a main purpose of raising cash from paying attendees and sponsors.

Cabinet ministers privately admit that participation in the event has been an afterthought and that planning has not been as meticulous as in previous years. The level of media coverage has disappointed Conservative Campaign Headquarters.

Yesterday’s buffering screens followed a notorious Zoom call last month with the prime minister and Tory MPs. Thanks to a technical failure Mr Johnson dropped off the call as he was seeking to defend his decision to break international law to change the Brexit deal.

MPs were unmuted and Michael Fabricant started singing Rule, Britannia! to fill the time. Colleagues did not join in.

The arch-Brexiteer Steve Baker quipped to the group that he could take over the call and chair it, to which Theresa May joined in the joke and said “no”.

The failures will sting at CCHQ which prides itself in being better at digital campaigning than Labour and the other parties. It was an early pioneer of social media advertising and spent considerable sums during last December’s elections on its digital content. One of Mr Johnson’s doorstep offers was better internet connectivity.

Coronavirus: We were sacrificed for sake of London, northern leaders say

Lockdown was eased on a timetable with London in mind, leaving the north of England struggling to get cases down, according to northern leaders.

Charlotte Wace, Northern Correspondent | Kat Lay, Health Correspondent www.thetimes.co.uk 

Industrial areas, where most people do not have the option to work from home, and pockets of deprivation in which residents cannot afford to self-isolate have also played a role, health experts said.

According to Public Health England figures published late last week, the five areas with more than 200 cases per 100,000 population were in the north, where Covid-19 rates have remained stubbornly high despite local lockdowns. Newcastle upon Tyne had a rate of 250.5 per 100,000, Knowsley 246.7, Liverpool 239.3, Manchester 200.3, and St Helens 200.

The bottom end of the list featured southern councils: the Isle of Wight had only 4.2 cases per 100,000, Suffolk 6.1 and Dorset 7.7.

Admissions to hospital and deaths in hospital in the North West are rising rapidly and the number of coronavirus patients in the North West is eight times higher than those in the South East. Of 219 deaths in English hospitals in the week ending September 28, most were in the North East and Yorkshire, the North West and the midlands. Only 48 came from London, the South East, South West and East of England.

All ten of Greater Manchester’s boroughs have infection rates that are higher than those of Leicester when it went into local lockdown, despite weeks of restrictions on household gatherings.

Andy Burnham, the mayor of Greater Manchester, pointed to a table comparing cases in Greater Manchester with those in London. It showed that as schools reopened in June Greater Manchester still had a rate of 28.9 cases per 100,000 population, against 4.6 in London. When pubs reopened in July the figures were 13.4 and 3.2.

In a tweet on Saturday Mr Burnham said: “The timing of the lifting of national lockdown was London-centric. Please remember this the next time you see politicians pointing fingers at our people.”

Restrictions have also been in place for weeks in Lancashire but some boroughs still have high case numbers.

Rishi Sunak, the chancellor, insisted that localised restrictions were working and that, if ignored, they would be replaced by a blanket national lockdown. “If you look at places like Leicester or Luton who have had these restrictions and had them lifted, that shows there can be light at the end of the tunnel,” he told BBC Breakfast.

Sakthi Karunanithi, director of public health for Lancashire county council, said: “Hindsight always helps. We should have waited for a sustainable reduction in cases before introducing the lifting measures and just thinking about this as a blanket, ‘whole country in the same situation’ — which has never been the case — that has played a part.”

He added that existing measures did not seem “precise enough to target the behaviours causing the transmission”.

A further “massive disadvantage” had also been difficulties with the test-and-trace system that failed to give local health teams the resources to “blitz” the community with tests and support. “The underpinning issue is resources,” he said. “That argument has been made so many times but it feels like it is falling on deaf ears. They need to resource our efforts at a local level, properly supporting local teams to work with the national teams.”

Manchester says that a lot of its high case numbers are in student halls of residence but other parts of the region point to different factors.

Sarah McNulty, director of public health for Knowsley, said: “We know that we are a very deprived borough and the evidence tells us that means people have less choices. For instance, they are more likely to have low-paid front-facing jobs, and we don’t know if there are issues of having to work.”

Officials are starting to see more cases in the over-65s category, “which is a concern”.

More deprived areas nationally have been harder hit by Covid-19. The Office for National Statistics said that in July there were 3.1 deaths per 100,000 people living in the most deprived areas, compared with 1.4 per 100,000 in the most affluent.

Tories won’t forgive No 10’s incompetence

At Westminster and around the country Tories are increasingly disillusioned with their leader. As one senior backbencher who voted for Mr Johnson in last year’s leadership contest puts it: “I’m not the only one who has got a severe case of buyer’s remorse.”

Rachel Sylvester www.thetimes.co.uk 

Boris Johnson should be addressing the Conservative conference this week as his party’s conquering hero, basking in the glory of having won an 80-seat majority at the general election and then got Brexit done. In fact, the prime minister, traditional darling of the grassroots, is fortunate to be speaking on a video link rather than in person because he might have received a less rapturous reception than normal. At Westminster and around the country Tories are increasingly disillusioned with their leader. As one senior backbencher who voted for Mr Johnson in last year’s leadership contest puts it: “I’m not the only one who has got a severe case of buyer’s remorse.”

By imposing tough coronavirus restrictions and threatening to break international law the prime minister has managed to unite Covid libertarians and constitutional liberals in opposition to his plans. There is also a more profound explanation for Mr Johnson’s increasingly dysfunctional relationship with his party. The Conservative leader is heading a government that is deeply unconservative and so it is not surprising that Tories from both left and right feel uncomfortable with his approach.

Conservatives instinctively want to conserve — the clue’s in the name — but this is an administration of disrupters. Dominic Cummings, the prime minister’s senior adviser, is not even a member of the Tory party and treats its elected representatives with contempt. Munira Mirza, Mr Johnson’s head of policy, used to write for Living Marxism, the in-house magazine of the Revolutionary Communist Party. Michael Gove, the Cabinet Office minister, had a picture of Vladimir Lenin on his office wall and shares his analysis that “sometimes history needs a shove”.

The risk-takers and radicals around Mr Johnson have rejected the traditional Tory respect for continuity and compromise in favour of creative destruction. Downing Street wants to “whack” the BBC, bash the impartial civil service, biff the judiciary and wage a “war on woke”. The prime minister and his aides float hair-raising “blue skies” ideas for wave machines in the Channel and “Operation Moonshot” mass coronavirus testing schemes.

What infuriates senior Tories most is that the Conservative emphasis on managerial capability and economic credibility has also been thrown out of the window by No 10. The extraordinary failure to report — and then trace the contacts of — almost 16,000 Covid-19 cases is only the latest “glitch” from a government that seems increasingly shambolic.

One veteran former cabinet minister and Tory peer denounces the “feckless incompetence” of the prime minister and his top team. “I am a Conservative but we don’t have a Conservative government,” he told me. “Conservatives believe in parliament, they don’t try to bypass it, Conservatives believe in the rule of law, they don’t announce to the House of Commons and the world that they are going to break the law. Conservatives believe in the Union and in trying to hold on to the best aspects of diplomacy like the Good Friday agreement. This is a bad English nationalist government with no idea of where it’s going.”

It is a political tension that also runs through the ministerial ranks. Jesse Norman, the financial secretary to the Treasury and biographer of the Conservative philosopher Edmund Burke — who favoured evolution over revolution — told the Bright Blue think tank at the weekend that “radical change” was “profoundly foolish”.

“Conservatism means acknowledging that institutions are wiser than individuals,” he said. “You could look at many institutions and call them relics of a bygone era, or you could see them for what they are: the product of innumerable compromises that contain a great deal of knowledge and wisdom. That we may fail to understand this is often due to our own limited understanding.” Whether deliberate or not, it was a clear rebuff to the Cummings approach.

In her book Twilight of Democracy, Anne Applebaum writes that all over the world the new populist right “is more Bolshevik than Burkean: these are men and women who want to overthrow, bypass or undermine existing institutions, to destroy what exists”. Many of them were her friends — including Mr Johnson, who was in the Bullingdon Club at Oxford with her husband, Radek Sikorski, the former Polish foreign minister. She describes the “burning resentment” harboured by right-wing ideologues in Poland against the old Communist establishment. “If you are someone who believes that you deserve to rule, then your motivation to attack the elite, pack the courts and warp the press to achieve your ambitions is strong,” she explains.

There is a similar political dynamic at work in this country. Lord Frost, the Brexit negotiator, was recently described to me as an “outsider-insider”, who had worked at the Foreign Office but was willing to challenge its assumptions. “His attitude is: these people never valued me and now I’m back and screw you, I’m in charge,” says one Whitehall source.

You could say that this is a government of outsider-insiders who harbour a grudge against an establishment that they think never took them seriously enough. Mr Johnson was dismissed as a joker, then had the last laugh by getting to No 10. Suella Braverman, the attorney-general, casts herself as the victim of a liberal progressive legal elite when she started as a young barrister in London. She was, she said, “the shy Tory in my chambers of ‘right-on’ human rights lawyers” who overcame the “social stigma” to become a Conservative. Priti Patel, the home secretary, lashed out at “leftie lawyers” thwarting the government’s attempts to control the asylum system. Liz Truss, the international trade secretary, describes herself as a “freedom fighter” standing up to the health and environmental police.

This is the myth the Vote Leave crew have built around themselves: that they are the plucky Brexit-supporting Davids taking on the Remain Goliath. Many of them are, in fact, part of the elite they purport to despise. Mr Johnson was educated at Eton, Mr Cummings’s father-in-law owns a castle, Rishi Sunak went to Winchester College. More importantly they are now in power. The outsiders have become the insiders, populating the corridors of power with their friends and political allies just as their predecessors did — their very own Brexit “blob”.

The anti-establishment radicals are the establishment these days and it turns out that they’re not very good at it. Being responsible for running things is, they have discovered, a lot harder than railing against the status quo. “It’s all very well bashing and dismantling everything but you have got to know what you are putting in its place,” one senior Tory says. “What’s your vision for how it should work? It’s easy to say what’s wrong, it’s difficult to put it right. The lack of competence is what’s really bothering everyone and the problem is now they’re in charge they haven’t got anyone else to blame.”

Boris Johnson to unveil plan to power all UK homes with wind by 2030

“It was offshore wind that puffed the sails of Drake and Raleigh and Nelson, and propelled this country to commercial greatness.”

Boris Johnson expected to shoot the breeze in his conference speech today.

[There is also the small matter of the Sizewell “C” nuclear power plant to consider – Owl]

Fiona Harvey www.theguardian.com 

Boris Johnson will promise to power every home in the UK with offshore wind energy within a decade, pledging to make the coronavirus pandemic a catalyst for green growth.

In a speech to the virtual Conservative party conference on Tuesday [today], he will say that the government will invest in a clean energy future to create “hundreds of thousands, if not millions of jobs” in the next decade.

The prime minister said the UK would “become the world leader in low-cost clean power generation – cheaper than coal and gas”, comparing the UK’s resources in offshore wind to Saudi Arabia’s oil wealth.

“We believe that in 10 years’ time offshore wind will be powering every home in the country, with our target rising from 30 gigawatts to 40 gigawatts,” he will say. “Your kettle, your washing machine, your cooker, your heating, your plug-in electric vehicle – the whole lot of them will get their juice cleanly and without guilt from the breezes that blow around these islands.”

The government has come under fire in recent months for failing to set out plans for a green recovery that would put the UK on track to meet its goal of reaching net zero carbon emissions by 2050. Apart from £3bn for insulating homes, there were no green measures in the Covid-19 recovery plan.

No 10 said the pledge was the first step in a 10-point “Build Back Greener” plan, which the prime minister would set out later in the year and includes new targets and investment into industries, innovation and infrastructure.

The prime minister made no mention of onshore wind, which is the cheapest form of wind energy, but has been subject to stringent planning regulations brought in under David Cameron, which have meant few onshore turbines have been built in the UK in the last five years.

Johnson will say that the government will invest £160m in manufacturing the next generation of turbines, including floating windmills capable of delivering 1GW of energy by 2030, over 15 times the current floating offshore volumes worldwide.

Downing Street said the initial investment would rapidly create about 2,000 construction jobs and enable the sector to support up to 60,000 jobs directly and indirectly by 2030 in ports, factories and the supply chains.

“Far out in the deepest waters we will harvest the gusts, and by upgrading infrastructure in places like Teesside and Humber and Scotland and Wales we will increase an offshore wind capacity that is already the biggest in the world,” Johnson is expected to say.

“As Saudi Arabia is to oil, the UK is to wind – a place of almost limitless resource, but in the case of wind without the carbon emissions and without the damage to the environment.”

In a tacit acknowledgment of how wind power has been controversial among the Conservative grassroots, Johnson said it had been used throughout key moments of British history.

“I remember how some people used to sneer at wind power 20 years ago and say that it wouldn’t pull the skin off a rice pudding,” he will say. “It was offshore wind that puffed the sails of Drake and Raleigh and Nelson, and propelled this country to commercial greatness.”

Johnson said the target would help the UK reach its target of net zero by 2050 – a target which has been criticised by campaigners as under-ambitious.

Downing Street said new floating offshore technology would allow windfarms to be built further out to sea in deeper waters, boosting capacity even further where winds are strongest and ensuring the UK remains at the forefront of the next generation of clean energy.

The boost for offshore wind was welcomed by green campaigners, who urged him to go further with his plans by providing incentives for electric vehicles and other low-carbon infrastructure.

Caterina Brandmayr, head of climate at the Green Alliance thinktank, said: “A green recovery is the best way to create jobs in every part of the UK, to lead the world in tackling climate change, and to protect our precious natural world. The race is now on for the government and British businesses to replicate the success story of offshore wind in electric vehicles, smart grid technology and future-proofed homes.”

John Sauven, executive director at Greenpeace UK, said: “If carried through, [the commitment] would help cement the UK’s global leadership in this key technology. But delivering 40 gigawatts of power on to the grid by 2030 requires action in this parliament. We now need to see the prime minister’s newly found enthusiasm is followed through by knocking down all the barriers that the offshore wind industry faces in delivering its ambition.”

The UK is set to chair the next round of UN climate talks, Cop26, which have been delayed from November to next year because of the pandemic.

Later this autumn, Johnson is expected to accelerate the shift to electric vehicles, another step in the planned green economic recovery from the coronavirus pandemic.

The decision to end the sales of new petrol and diesel vehicles by 2030 would put the UK ahead of France, which has a 2040 ban in the pipeline, and in line with Germany, Ireland and the Netherlands. Norway will bring in a ban in 2025.

The announcement of the Build Back Greener plan is tentatively scheduled for November and is expected to follow the advice set out by the Committee on Climate Change, including support for the UK’s nascent clean hydrogen industry to help cut carbon emissions from homes and heavy industry.

Lawyers accuse Cabinet Office of bias over Cummings ally’s PR firm contract

Campaigners have launched legal action against the government over its decision to award a contract to a lobbying and PR firm co-founded by an ally of Dominic Cummings without a competitive tender during the pandemic.

David Pegg www.theguardian.com 

A group of lawyers is challenging the Cabinet Office’s decision to give the contract to Hanbury Strategy, which was co-founded by Paul Stephenson, who worked alongside Cummings as the director of communications during the 2016 Vote Leave campaign.

In legal papers lodged in the high court, the Good Law Project accused the Cabinet Office, headed by Michael Gove, of apparent bias and favouritism in giving the £580,000 contract to Hanbury.

Hanbury was the fourth Tory-linked firm known to have been awarded work during the pandemic under emergency procedures that permit public bodies to give contracts to commercial firms without asking other firms to bid for the work.

News of the legal challenge has emerged as the Guardian can report that the Cabinet Office is refusing to disclose any documents under the Freedom of Information Act that would explain what was discussed at an official meeting between Gove and Hanbury on 6 February.

The Cabinet Office said disclosure of the documents “would weaken ministers’ ability to discuss controversial and sensitive topics free from premature public scrutiny”. The only information that has been made public by the Cabinet Office about the meeting is that it was about “the Union and devolution”.

Hanbury was set up in 2016 by Stephenson and Ameet Gill, David Cameron’s strategy director in Downing Street, and gives political and communications advice to firms. Stephenson was one of the first people to be recruited by Cummings to work on the 2016 Brexit campaign, according to one account.

The Cabinet Office hired Hanbury on 16 March, just before the lockdown, to carry out polling to gauge public opinion during the pandemic. The work ended in July.

The Good Law Project, a not-for-profit group that aims to use legal methods to expose wrongdoing, is seeking to have the decision to give the contract to Hanbury declared unlawful.

The Good Law Project alleged that the government had clearly broken its mandatory obligation to make public the contract within 30 days, as required under official guidelines. The contract only came to light last month through a freedom of information request by the Guardian.

Government lawyers are resisting the lawsuit, arguing that the group has no legal right to take legal action as it is not a rival company that has lost out on the opportunity to win the contract. “It is merely a campaigning group with no special interest in the communications sector,” they said.

They argued the Good Law Project has initiated six other lawsuits against the government over the awarding of contracts to commercial firms during the pandemic. They “strongly contested” the group’s right to take any of these lawsuits.

In another lawsuit, the group is alleging that the Cabinet Office was also biased when it gave a £840,000 contract to a company owned by two long-term associates of Gove and Cummings, without putting the work out for tender. The contract to research public opinion about government policies was given to Public First, a small policy and research company.

The Treasury also awarded a three-month £68,000 contract to Hanbury to carry out polling without a competitive tender.

A government spokesperson said official guidelines allowed it to award contracts to firms without a competitive tender during national emergencies. The research conducted by Hanbury had helped to make official messages more effective, it added.

Hanbury has said its team included some of the UK’s leading experts in polling and data strategy.

COVID cases flattening according to COVID Symptom Study Infection Survey

Covid.joinzoe.com October 1

According to the COVID Symptom Study (CSS) UK Infection Survey figures, there are currently, 19,777 daily new symptomatic cases of COVID in the UK on average over the two weeks up to 27 September (excluding care homes). This figure is based on the number of newly symptomatic app users per day, and the proportion of these who give positive swab tests. The latest figures were based on the data from 8,377 swab tests done between 13 September to 27 September.

This week’s data shows that the number of new cases of COVID-19 in the UK has flattened across the UK in the last four days, with the highest numbers still in the North of England suggesting that the situation is slowing down. The CSS Infection Survey found that almost twice as many people under 30 were reporting positive tests (0.49%) compared to the prevalence rate for people above or equal to 30 (0.26%). This higher level of cases in younger people could explain why there is currently less pressure on the NHS compared to the first wave.

The CSS UK Infection Survey R values for the UK are; England 1.2, Scotland 1.3 and Wales 1.4. These R values have fallen since last week which reflects the slowing down of new cases being observed.  

Although new cases may be not rising, we estimate that 230,966 people currently have symptomatic COVID in the UK (prevalent disease), This figure does not include long term COVID sufferers.

The CSS UK Infection Survey has been running since early May when the COVID Symptom Study commenced its daily swab testing programme provided by the Department of Health and Social Care and has so far recorded over a million swab results from app users. The CCS UK Infection Survey estimates the number of current COVID-19 positive cases in the community based on the information logged by users in the app and the results from the swab testing programme.

It identifies differences in numbers within the regions throughout the UK, and tracks the change in estimated cases over time. It is the largest survey of its kind in the UK, bigger than the ONS’s COVID-19 Infection Survey and the research conducted by Imperial College London.

The COVID Symptom Study app is a not-for-profit initiative that was launched at the end of March 2020 to support vital COVID-19 research. The app was launched by health science company ZOE with scientific analysis provided by King’s College London. With 4 million contributors globally, the Study is the world’s largest ongoing study of COVID-19.

Tim Spector, Professor of Genetic Epidemiology at King’s College London, comments:

“We are confident that this flattening in the data looks real and that this might be an early sign of infection rates slowing down. This may be due to a number of factors including social distancing and the “rule of six”, but we can’t discount the role of less susceptible people and prior immunity in those exposed and the natural cycle of the virus. We are seeing nearly 50% of our cases are coming from the under 30s, which is more than in the spring, which may explain why the pressures on the NHS are less. We still need to continue to work together to make sure this flattening off isn’t a small blip. As we head into winter we all need to be cautious and pay attention to the advice we are being given around local restrictions, social distancing and avoiding gathering in large groups. ”

Second-home council tax to fund affordable housing

Eighteen affordable homes will be built in a Pembrokeshire village thanks to a grant funded by council tax premiums on second homes.

www.bbc.co.uk

A community land trust in Solva will work with the county council and a housing association on the project.

Councillor Bob Kilmister, cabinet member for finance, said the land trust project was “ground breaking and the first of its type in Wales”.

A football field earmarked for the development will be replaced elsewhere.

The 18 homes will be designed and allocated to residents by housing association Ateb, in collaboration with the trust, with rural development organisation Planed also involved.

Council leaders heard that the development would “seek to ensure the scale and design of the housing is acceptable to the community”.

Mr Kilmister said that the community fully backed the plan for “much needed” affordable housing in the area and welcomed the innovative scheme.

“It’s slightly more complicated because there is no ‘road map’ [for such a project] available and we have had to create one,” he said.

The cabinet member for housing, councillor Michelle Bateman, said it was exactly the type of partnership the authority wanted to be involved in, saying it added “another arm” to housing provision.

Pembrokeshire’s cabinet also approved the long lease of land owned by the authority alongside the A487 at Bro Dawel for the development, according to the Local Democracy Reporting Service.

A council tax premium of 50% on second homes in Pembrokeshire was introduced during 2017-18 while a 25% premium on properties empty for three years or more followed in 2019-20.

Thousands of Covid tests missing in space. Is this what the PM meant by a moonshot?

Sarah Wollaston www.independent.co.uk 

The government website strikes a reassuring note: the NHS Test and Trace service ensures that anyone who develops symptoms of coronavirus can be tested quickly to find out if they have the virus, and help to trace close recent contacts of anyone who tests positive to notify them that they must self-isolate at home.  

This rhetoric is far removed from the reality. Even the name is wrong. It isn’t an “NHS” operation at all, but was farmed out to private interests with little or no experience, and with predictable consequences. Yet from the outset there were clear warnings not to bypass the expertise of local directors of public health.  

The government are running out of scapegoats for the latest incompetence as we discover that, far from infections levelling out, results were somehow being lost in space. Perhaps this is what the prime minister meant by a moonshot?  

Even employing Johnson’s other metaphor, closer to planet earth, how can you “whack a mole” if you don’t know where the moles are surfacing? We now know that 15,841 confirmed cases surfaced over the past week without being counted, let alone passed on to contact tracing. Of those, almost 12,000 missed the timeframe where contact tracing and isolation would have had the greatest potential for reducing the risk of further spread. That, after all, is the whole point of test and trace. It also matters when it comes to understanding where the infection is spreading and which groups are most affected in order to prioritise local measures.  

The problems do not only relate to the issue of reporting, but also, for too many people, to simply tracing a test in the first place. I know of people still being directed from Devon to South Wales for example, only to find on closer inspection of the website that the test centre is in an area of local lockdown and only open to local residents. Few will risk driving 200 miles each way to a test centre, especially if they are feeling unwell, if they fear they will be asked to turn around when they get there.  

The same concerns apply to those being asked to increase the viral load of their own exposure to infection whilst driving an infected individual too unwell to get there themselves. Many people are simply deciding to delay or, more worryingly still, not to take a test at all, with serious consequences for areas where the disease may be accelerating unnoticed.

Overpromising and underdelivering has long been the hallmark of the government’s handling of the pandemic, be that on the failure to protect nursing home residents and staff, our dismal record on excess deaths and even on the roll-out of the contact tracing app.  

The sad truth is that the only thing “world beating” about test and trace, as for so many other aspects of their response, has been the government’s incompetence, and failure of ministers to be held to account.

Sarah Wollaston is the former MP for Totnes and immediate past chair of the Health and Social Care Select Committee