Some of the Questions Bojo ducked in Exeter

Why is he “Frit”? (one of Maggie T’s favourite derogatory descriptions.) – Owl

Questions we wanted to ask Boris during his Exeter visit – DevonLive

Paul Greaves www.devonlive.com 

Prime Minister Boris Johnson was in Exeter today [Tuesday] to deliver an important speech about the Government’s plans to boost training and education.

He stopped off at Exeter College where he was photographed laying a brick in a wall and looking busy during a construction class.

He even had time to ‘misspeak’ when incorrectly explaining the ‘Rule of Six’ to a question about the North East local lockdown.

DevonLive brought you the latest updates as they happened in our live blog and photo gallery.

What might not have been apparent to the watching and reading public was the fact that DevonLive was not one of the news organisations invited to attend.

In fact, the guest list was restricted to a select few, primarily London-based, outlets chosen by Number 10.

You can make up your own minds whether closing the doors to local media – not just DevonLive – at a time when trust is in Government is more important than ever is the appropriate way to conduct such an important visit.

There is no shortage of important issues in a city and region where students are in a ‘targeted’ lockdown, children are isolating and businesses are crying out for help.

Here is a selection of questions we would have asked on your behalf if we had been given the chance.

Prime Minister:

  • Given the much lower prevalence of Covid-19 in Devon compared to other parts of the country, can you explain why the same rules need to apply?
  • If the number of cases in Devon remains low will some of the restrictions be lifted soon? And if not, why not?
  • What extra support will you be offering businesses that will be adversely affected by the new rules and restrictions?
  • Given that students have now arrived at University of Exeter, can you assure people that they will be able to return home for Christmas, or whenever they wish? And that they won’t spend months confined to their halls of residences?
  • Explain why it is safe for me and five friends to sit down in a pub with lots of people we don’t know and watch a game of football, but we can’t stand in an outdoor stadium and watch the match?
  • When is he going to review the 10pm curfew for hospitality businesses?
  • Should the Government convert the loans given to businesses into equity?
  • What extra help can the Government give to the South West businesses, as it is the worst hit region economically from the pandemic?
  • Should the Government be doing more to assist commercial landlords who are facing problems collecting rent from tenants?
  • Should the Government set up a special task force to look at the future of UK city centres as they now face becoming wastelands?
  • What help can the Government give to the estimated 3million UK businesses, including many in the SW, that have not been able to access support packages so far?
  • Should the Government be preparing a financial support package for football clubs outside the Premier League which face having no income until fans are allowed to attend matches?

 

Extraordinary Parish Council Meeting – Clyst St Mary – Tonight 7:30 pm

Winslade Manor planning application 

Owl has been made aware that the Parish Council is holding an online meeting to discuss the objection that Charlie Hopkins has written on behalf of the Parish Council. They will also be discussing the latest amendments to the planning application at Winslade Manor and surrounding buildings.

Details of how to join the Zoom meeting are given below. Owl understands that If you want to speak you are more than welcome to in the “Open Session” when the Chairman asks.

Topic: Extraordinary Parish Council Meeting

Time: Sep 29, 2020 07:30 PM London

Join Zoom Meeting

https://us02web.zoom.us/j/5615375088?pwd=MUxIRVh1ZHloNWF0ME1HN0Y0SlcyUT09

 Meeting ID: 561 537 5088

Passcode: 425992  

 

Sasha Swire’s diaries reveal the crass elitism of the Cameron government

Just in case you haven’t got it yet – Owl

I felt a scintilla of pity for David Cameron plugging the paperback of his memoirs in recent weeks. In his eager, smoothie-chops interviews, he cradled the hope that enough time had passed and the current government was so dreadful that he might surf a ripple of coalition nostalgia. Oh, remember Nick and Dave in the rose garden; lovely Sam; all so courteous and collegiate in those halcyon pre-culture wars days…

By Janice Turner www.newstatesman.com 

Yet not only does Cameron remain solidly unforgiven, but up popped a book to make his No 10 tenure look worse than we ever thought. I recommend Sasha Swire’s diaries to my jaded fellow centrists. Like a chili pepper inserted into a racehorse’s anus, this book is guaranteed to get your class war dander up.

At a dinner party in 2011, I met a woman related to a key player in Swire’s book who said she fancied being an MP and Dave was going to get her on the candidate list. I asked if she’d always been interested in politics. “Not really,” she shrugged. Was she driven by a particular cause? “No,” she said, “I just think it would be a fun thing to do next.” Flabbergasted by her insouciance and entitlement, I spent the rest of the evening in silent rage. But that’s the thing about being on the left: we tend to forget not everyone’s politics are powered by injustice or even a basic altruistic desire. Some people just want a nice job.

Sasha Swire’s book begins after the 2010 election when her Tory MP husband Hugo gets a pretty nice job. He’s made Northern Ireland minister, so the Swires get to live in Hillsborough Castle with a butler and a gazillion rooms. Although they have to share it with Owen Paterson, the Secretary of State, whose wife pinches the Swires’s curtains and replaces them with ghastly chintz. Meanwhile, Nick Clegg and George Osborne, who have even nicer jobs, fight over who gets Dorneywood House, the latter driving down to plant his toothbrush so Cleggers has to share Chevening with William Hague. No doubt New Labour thrilled over grace and favour furbelows too. Indeed, Swire notes the Dorneywood guest book brims with John Prescott’s family jokes about Jags. But the Cameroons treated government like a luxury holiday villa, with couples vying for the best room.

Swire is not unaware of the failings of her clique. “The closeness of this circle is unprecedented,” she writes. “They are all here… intimately interlocked, some from university days, some from the research unit… We text each other bypassing the civil servants… This is a very particular, narrow tribe of Britain and their hangers-on. It’s enough to repulse the ordinary man.”

Not that the “ordinary man” enters the Swire sphere. Rather, it is peopled with the extraordinarily rich, like the Rothermeres: Claudia in her Jilly Cooper heroine white jodhpurs striding around their flawless country house, surrounded on all sides by land bought to protect their privacy, except for one unobtainable hill. Or the eccentric oligarch Evgeny Lebedev who, having bought himself into the inner-most establishment, seems not to know what he wants from it. He chats about the Bolshoi and obsesses about honey produced in the Swire hives, getting flunkies to email for more jars.

The first half of the book is the more entertaining since Sasha is inside the power tent, squirrelling away anecdotes so ten years later she can piss in on her friends. The post-referendum second half revolves around “Old Ma May” (as Swire calls the new PM), so material is gleaned from gossip rather than witnessed, and mainly concerns the Brexit machinations which, like the plot of Game of Thrones, I once followed avidly but now can’t bear to think about at all.

Brexit is the only political issue ever mentioned, since it affects the allocation of the nice jobs. A cameo from Rachel Johnson, furious about plans to privatise the Forestry Commission, is an exception. (Sasha mocks her conviction.) Having just read Gabriel Pogrund and Patrick Maguire’s book Left Out, I kept thinking: well, Project Corbyn harboured anti-Semites, was creepily pro-Putin, authoritarian, crank-ridden and tragically incompetent, but it saw politics as a mechanism to improve the world. It believed in things.

At the height of austerity, as libraries closed and benefits froze, you might think Tories on Polzeath beach or hiking in the hills near Chequers might fleetingly discuss the impact of their policies. Once, Swire remarks to Cameron that “women are at the coalface of the cuts” and he mutters a bit. But mainly Dave is enjoying nursery food and fixating on Keira Knightley’s nipples in Atonement. After Gaddafi falls in Libya, DC is childishly ebullient: “What more do I want? A great day on the beach, I’m with my old friends the Swires and I’ve just won a war.”

Yet besides her sharp eye for backstage detail, Swire has a shrewd political mind – she is, after all, a Tory thoroughbred, the daughter of Thatcher’s defence minister John Nott. (“Sir John”, as she always calls him, bemoaning he was never ennobled.) She finds the Cameroons obsessed with branding over substance, moving MPs around the government chessboard according to shallow criteria such as “good back story”, “woman”, “ethnic” or “good on TV”, rather than how well they’ll fulfil a ministerial brief. This, she believes, is why Hugo – although “brilliant”, as Osborne puts it, at “swanking around the embassies” – never gets a position in the cabinet. Too male, white and posh to offset the PM.

Swire is best at portraying the trials and dilemmas of a modern political wife. She stands outside her kitchen window alone in the dark, looking in at Hugo bent over his red box: “Our marriage is in a difficult place. I barely see him any more.” After some unexplained crisis, she rings the Camerons, who give her sanctuary at Chequers, while Dave bollocks Hugo on the phone.

Her generation of professional women thought they’d escaped being unpaid constituency dinner plus-ones. But such are the demands of political life that they must choose between tagging along or never seeing their husbands at all. What, asks Swire, should these women do, being “deeply involved but [having] no official status. Do we play submissive? Do we play supportive? Do we get lippy?”

Frances Osborne has to be cajoled into living in Downing Street, ignores Dorneywood visitors, and when George declares he’s going to hold a birthday party, says: “What on earth for? It will be just like you having a wedding to yourself.” Sam Cam and Sarah Vine, Michael Gove’s wife, bond over babies and share school runs, but their husbands’ hierarchy always defines their relationship: Sarah toils over fish pie for a Downing Street do, while Sam titivates upstairs. When Gove backs Brexit, not only he but Sarah and their children are banished forever from the Cameron house. These political break-ups are infused with real human hurt.

Sasha, who worked as Hugo’s assistant (before family members were forbidden to do so), is both supportive and lippy. She insists on being driven home after an official function while Hugo goes off to vote, although this breaks ministerial rules. “Do they really expect me to find my own way, in a long dress and painful heels, to… sit next to some Godawful bore,” she rants, “pay for the taxi to get there, and then get left stranded on some dark corner trying to find a non-existent taxi home.” Her predicament evokes both sympathy and disdain.

Much has been said about how gleefully Swire has dobbed on her mates, how no one will speak to her ever again. But she is careful about her proper friends – like Amber Rudd and Cameron’s adviser Kate Fall – and you suspect she never really liked the rest. Especially Dave, who, as with her husband, can’t overcome his upbringing and education to see women as equal minds. She sneers at his downward tumble out of power into podgy, golf-playing, stay-at-home dad, now just second banana to fashion designer Sam.

Crucially, she notes he is so bored writing his memoir that he simply speaks it into a Dictaphone, with no care for its literary merit. Was this the catalyst for Swire – a former journalist who writes very well, not just on politics, but about marriage, social mores and the English countryside – to publish her diaries? A political era is too often defined by cautious male dullards. About time sharp, funny, indiscrete women had a go.

Janice Turner writes for the Times

 

‘No community wants this’: Sussex new town plans anger local Tories

“Local opponents say the project – which could ultimately create a town of around 10,000 people – threatens rare wildlife, an increase in car congestion and risks becoming a dormitory [for London commuters].”

Been there, done that in EDDC!

Ultimate size of 10,000 people looks small to Owl, how about 22,000 like Cranbrook?

Robert Booth www.theguardian.com

Plans for a new town in rural Sussex backed by one of the Conservative party’s biggest donors and close allies of Prince Charles, are exposing a split in the Tory party over how to rapidly accelerate housebuilding.

Kingswood, a scheme for 2,850 homes, is being proposed on open fields at Adversane near Horsham which have been assembled by hedge fund billionaire Sir Michael Hintze who has given £4.6m to the Conservatives. Its design is partly inspired by Poundbury, the ersatz Georgian town in Dorset created by Prince Charles, and Sir Michael Peat, the Prince of Wales’s former private secretary is a director of the development company.

But it is being opposed by local Conservative MP Andrew Griffith, who said it is “the wrong type of development in the wrong place” and local Tory councillors who have warned: “No community wants this on their doorstep.” It looks set to be a test case for the government’s controversial new planning strategy announced last month which is set to relax national planning rules and set significantly higher local housebuilding targets in areas including Horsham.

John Halsall, the Tory leader of Wokingham borough council in Berkshire, which is also facing central government demands to build significantly more homes warned of a high political cost telling the Guardian: “You won’t have a Tory left in the south or south-east of England.”

Some of the land is owned by Eton College, the alma mater of the prime minister, Boris Johnson. The largest parcel which would be built over is a farm purchased by Hintze for £10m from Mike Stock, the songwriter behind a string of 1980s hits by Kylie Minogue, Rick Astley and Bananarama.

Local opponents say the project – which could ultimately create a town of around 10,000 people – threatens rare wildlife, an increase in car congestion and risks becoming a dormitory for London commuters.

“There is an enormous amount of antipathy to this scheme,” said Julian Trumper, a local resident organising opposition. “Horsham has already taken enough of Sussex’s requirement to build housing and this potential growth is unsustainable. Infrastructure and road and rail links are insufficient. The displacement to wildlife and established ecosystems by building a new town in open countryside is incalculable.”

The website says the project “focuses on building a community for people of all ages and providing a platform for economic opportunity and sustainable growth” and will champion the principle of “beauty” in town planning identified by Sir Roger Scruton in his report to the government on planning and architecture.

It promises a “socially inclusive, mixed-income development” with “community at the heart of our plans”.

But the row over whether it should go ahead exposes a growing schism in Conservative ranks over two proposed reforms to accelerate housebuilding.

The first is a new planning system that will make it easier and quicker for developers to build on greenfield sites, which Conservative councillors have complained undermines local democratic involvement by proposing zones where detailed planning consents would not be required.

The second is new inflated house building targets which backbench Conservative MPs and council leaders have criticised as too high and ignoring local needs. The new target for Horsham would see the area required to deliver 1,715 new homes a year, more than double the current target of 800.

The high status of Kingswood’s backers – with close links to the top of government and the monarchy – has also sparked fears that local influence could be further undermined, with opponents citing the planning scandal earlier this year in which it emerged that the housing secretary, Robert Jenrick, backed a project by party donor Richard Desmond against the advice of officials.

“After what we saw with Jenrick and Desmond, we have the impression that the property developers are doing all this with barely any local democracy at all,” said Trumper.

The developers and landowners declined to comment to the Guardian, but a spokesperson for Horsham district council said: “Any site that is allocated in the next step of the local plan process will be subject to full public scrutiny at a public examination conducted by an independent planning inspector. Each site will be assessed to determine whether it is suitable, achievable and available, in a public arena.”

The local Conservative MP, Andrew Griffith, said: “We are building on greenfield, we’re not using brownfield land. This is the wrong type of development in the wrong place. The identity of the landowner is not important. I am giving voice to constituent concerns.”

He told a Commons debate earlier this month: “So many of my constituents from Adversane to West Grinstead, Barnham to Wineham, and in villages of every letter of the alphabet in between, are having their lives blighted by the prospect of inappropriate and unsustainable development”.

Philip Circus, a Conservative member of Horsham council in whose ward the development is proposed, added: “I am not interested that people are connected with royalty or people that donate to the Conservative party. It cuts no ice with me. We don’t feel any compulsion to doff our caps to anyone other than the residents. This is a rural community which in infrastructure terms does not look like an area for a major housing development.”

The Kingswood masterplan has been submitted for inclusion in Horsham district council’s local plan, which is currently out to public consultation. It features traditional terraces of houses which seek to avoid the identikit housing of many modern housing estates and promises schools, a town centre, woodlands and allotments. The director of the development company, Dominic Richards, was formerly a director at the Prince’s Foundation for Building Community – the heir to the throne’s architecture and planning charity which promotes traditional urbanism.

 

Abolish district councils to help shore up ‘red wall’, suggests top Tory

Gerrymandering is a practice intended to establish an unfair political advantage for a particular party or group by manipulating district boundaries, which is most commonly used in first-past-the-post electoral systems – Owl

Robert Booth www.theguardian.com 

Letter to PM from Hertfordshire county council leader says move would cut opposition in former Labour strongholds

Nottinghamshire. Bassetlaw was captured by the Tories but has a Labour-controlled district council. Photograph: Stefan Rousseau/PA

Abolishing district councils could help bolster Conservative MPs in former Labour strongholds by reducing local opposition, a leading Tory has suggested to the prime minister in a leaked letter.

Boris Johnson has been urged to scrap the midsized local government bodies in part to help Conservatives in the so-called “red wall” seats that were gained in the December 2019 general election from Labour in its former northern strongholds.

The call comes from David Williams, the leader of Hertfordshire county council, who heads the Conservative group at the County Councils Network. It reveals a party political dimension to plans to simplify local government by removing district and borough councils, leaving only very local parish and town councils and larger unitary authorities like county councils. Williams is among local government leaders frustrated at government delays to reforms.

In the letter, seen by the Guardian, Williams told Johnson not to “ignore the political implications [of reform] for both Conservative councillors and MPs … and in particular our new red wall MPs”.

Williams said: “It is no surprise to me that many of those celebrating reports of delays are Labour and Liberal Democrat district councillors who regard the prospect of strong county based unitaries as threats to their strongholds.”

Seats such as Bassetlaw in Nottinghamshire and Burnley in Lancashire, gained by the Conservatives last year, overlap with Labour-controlled district councils, providing the party with a base from which to fight back, Conservative activists fear.

Williams said: “Conservative representation at the county level remains strong but even in solidly Conservative counties like Surrey, only just over a third of local councillors within district and borough councils are Conservatives.”

Prof Tony Travers, from the LSE Department of Government, said there was “no question” that abolishing opposition local councillors would help some MPs retain power, but he pointed out that sacrificing district councils would also mean losing thousands of Conservative local politicians in the south of England, many of whom form the backbone of campaigning operations at national elections.

Conservatives are in a stronger position on county councils, where they control two-thirds of seats, than they are on district councils where they have 48% of seats.

Williams urged the PM to ignore resistance to the abolition of district councils from district councillors themselves, saying they are “interested in self-preservation”.

“It is no surprise that so much of the vitriol aimed at Robert Jenrick [the housing secretary] for driving a unitary agenda has come from those sources obsessed with self-protection above good governance and a chance to transform our society for the better.”

 

Tory MP claims Boris Johnson is ‘under the spell’ of his advisers

A senior Tory MP today claimed Boris Johnson is ‘under the spell’ of his advisers as he compared the Prime Minister to King Theoden from The Lord of the Rings. 

Jack Maidment www.dailymail.co.uk

Former Brexit minister Steve Baker said Mr Johnson needs to be ‘woken up’ from his ‘slumber’ as he suggested the PM’s aides like Dominic Cummings are in control of the Government’s coronavirus response. 

The comments came amid a growing Tory rebellion over ministers imposing Covid-19 rules without first putting them to a vote in the House of Commons.  

Senior Tory MP Steve Baker today compared Boris Johnson to a character from J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings who is put under a spell and controlled by his advisers

Mr Baker likened Mr Johnson to King Theoden and said ‘at the moment somebody needs to wake’ the Prime Minister ‘from his slumber’

Conservative backbenchers have accused the Government of ‘ruling by decree’ during the crisis. 

This week they will try to secure votes in Parliament on any future measures before they are rolled out. 

Mr Baker is one of the leaders of the Tory revolt and he warned yesterday that ‘liberty dies’ when governments are allowed to ‘exercise draconian powers without parliamentary scrutiny in advance’.

Today he went further as he compared the PM to King Theoden – a character from J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings who is put under a spell and controlled by his advisers. 

Mr Baker told Times Radio: ‘People have got a great deal of faith in Boris Johnson. 

‘But, I’ll push the boat out, many of us will have seen Lord of the Rings and there is a scene in Lord of the Rings where Theoden, the king, is under the spell of his advisers. 

‘And he has to be woken up from that spell and when he wakes from that spell joy comes to pass in the kingdom.

‘And I am afraid at the moment somebody needs to wake Theoden from his slumber. 

‘When Theoden awakes, and I mean Boris, everything will come right.’ 

Downing Street dismissed Mr Baker’s claims. 

Asked if Mr Johnson is ‘under the spell’ of his advisers, the Prime Minister’s Official Spokesman said: ‘As he has said in the past, he is responsible for all the decisions that he takes as Prime Minister.’ 

Mr Johnson is under mounting pressure to give Parliament greater power to debate and vote on coronavirus restrictions with more than 50 Tory MPs signalling they could revolt on the matter. 

Conservative rebels seized upon an assessment by academics at University College London (UCL) which concluded that ‘Parliament has been consistently sidelined during the pandemic’.

MPs will vote on Wednesday on whether to renew the Coronavirus Act, and dozens of Conservatives have signed up to an amendment tabled by Sir Graham Brady, chairman of the influential Tory backbench 1922 Committee, calling for ministers to consult Parliament before introducing new curbs on people’s freedoms.

The size of the rebellion could see the Government facing defeat if the amendment is selected for a vote and opposition parties join forces with Sir Graham.

 

Outrage works!

Parliament’s bars will not serve alcohol after 10pm, Commons confirms

Another U-Turn – Owl

Simon Murphy www.theguardian.com 

Alcohol will not be served after 10pm in parliament in an apparent U-turn, after it emerged that Commons bars would be exempt from strict early closing rules imposed across the country.

Facilities serving alcohol on the parliamentary estate would not have to abide by the earlier closing time because they fell under the description of “a workplace canteen”, the Times reported on Monday.

But after the development was immediately condemned by some MPs, the Commons was forced clarify that alcohol would not be served after 10pm.

Exemptions to the rules introduced last Thursday state that “workplace canteens may remain open where there is no practical alternative for staff at that workplace to obtain food”.

Bar staff and customers in the Palace of Westminster reportedly would not have had to follow new stricter rules on face coverings introduced for other licensed premises, and visitors to parliamentary bars would not be asked to supply their details on entry for test and trace.

Within hours, the apparent move was criticised by MPs. Labour’s deputy leader, Angela Rayner, tweeted: “Not good, so many in the hospitality sector on the verge of collapse or struggling to cope, they will be rightly very angry to read this. We should get our own house in order before demanding others follow regulations, people are fed up with this nonsense.”

Wes Streeting, the shadow exchequer secretary to the Treasury, wrote: “This is ridiculous and makes parliament look ridiculous. This has got to change immediately. We can’t have one rule for parliament and one rule for everyone else.”

The Labour MP Sarah Owen called the apparent move “absolutely ridiculous”, tweeting: “I know the Govt have got used to setting one rule for some and another for everyone else but this is another level.”

However, in a change effective immediately, a House of Commons spokesman said on Monday: “Alcohol will not be sold after 10pm anywhere on the parliamentary estate.”

Commons catering facilities will remain open later to serve food when the Commons is sitting, with all measures kept under review.

Johnson announced new restrictions in England last week including the 10pm closing time for pubs, bars and restaurants, with hospitality venues only allowed to offer table service. Masks were also made mandatory for retail and hospitality staff.

The Pugin Room, Strangers’ Dining Room, the Adjournment and the Members’ Smoking Room are reportedly among parliament bars that reopened before the summer recess.

Parliament’s website boasts that Strangers’ is “a magnificently decorated event venue”, saying: “Combined with the intricate wood carvings, the elaborate red flock wallpaper – designed and favoured by Augustus Welby Northmore Pugin (1812-52) – provides an elegant setting for your event.”

Earlier, a spokesperson for the Commons had reportedly said: “As catering outlets providing a workplace service for over 3,100 people working on the estate, the current regulations on hospitality venues do not apply to Commons facilities.”

 

Importance of thriving local press to democratic engagement in elections

Local papers pledge

Short article in The Times 28 September – Owl, so far, has been unable to track down the original source:

 

“Ministers pledged to do more to help the local press after research found that election turnout was higher in towns with thriving local papers. For every one percentage point increase in daily circulation of a local paper, local election turnout rose by 0.37 percentage points, according to the government-commissioned study. Areas served by more than one local paper saw greater democratic engagement.

Planning applications validated by EDDC week beginning 14 September