Variant of Concern #1, Boris Johnson was on the end of more unflattering headlines this week as Emmanuel Macron reportedly referred to the PM as a 'clown' and a 'knucklehead'. It is a sign of how low Anglo-French relations have fallen that this story was scarcely reported and a sign of how low our own expectations of Johnson have fallen, that news of this barely merited a shrug amongst the UK public and media. Under Johnson's leadership the UK appears to be mirroring the reputational decline suffered by the US under 8 years of George W. Bush whose Presidency began with many detractors, but many more staunch allies and the respect of the international community, and ended in ridicule and decline. If the UK is to avoid tracking this trajectory, then reports of Conservative plotting to remove Johnson before the next election will need to step up a gear.
As we gear up for another nervy winter, there are a number of confusing and contradictory stories about the new variant, its transmissibility, and its Infection Fatality Rate. As is ever the case, the Government is failing to provide consistent messaging, let alone speak with one voice on the issue, and appears to have learned little from last year's on-again-off-again Christmas restrictions that contributed to the UK's horrendous peak of infections and deaths last January and February. The constant push-pull of optimism, pessimism, caution and impatience, 'listening to the science' and 'drowning out the science with Xmas songs' has brought us back to this familiarly disorientating state, Schrodinger's conga.
Whereas the PM, with predictably boosterish jollity, has suggested that we can socialise when we want to, the Health Secretary has suggested getting tested first and the Science Minister proposes having Xmas parties (close your eyes)... over Zoom. If the idea of a work Xmas party on Zoom makes you cringe, Work and Pensions Secretary Therese Coffey then weighed in with the helpful, 'I don’t think there should be much snogging under the mistletoe.' Especially at the Downing Street knees-up, I should hope.
It will come as no surprise if people, given this lack of leadership and direction, simply continue to do as they see fit, with similarly dismal outcomes
that the UK has seen throughout the pandemic.
As the UK struggles to agree on either tough measures or a laissez-faire approach, there are signs that our European neighbours are prepared to take a much harder-line approach, especially with regards to vaccinations. Austria is introducing compulsory vaccination, Greece has banned the unvaccinated from public indoor spaces and will be fining all unvaccinated over-60s €100 per month from January, Germany is only allowing the unvaccinated into supermarkets and pharmacies and Slovakia is offering a €500 inducement to get jabbed. Given the UK's political climate, the prevalence of faux-rebellious anti-vax poseurs, and the vast void in our political leadership, it is almost impossible to imagine these restrictions being applied here, and yet it will be interesting to see whether these initiatives lead to civil unrest or, conversely, to a swift uptake in vaccinations.
By the time you read this the result of the Old Bexley and Sidcup by-election should be in. A solid Tory seat
with a 19,000 majority and a 62% leave vote
, it is not likely to change hands this time, but the Conservative turnout and the composition of the opposition votes may be instructive. Labour and the Lib Dems are reported to have come to the type of informal anti-aggression pact that was impossible under Swinson and Corbyn. This arrangement has benefitted the Lib Dems in Chesham and Amersham
, where they unseated the Tory incumbent and Labour in Batley and Spen
, where Labour held the seat by a mere 323 votes with Keir Starmer under extreme pressure.
Two other candidates to look out for are Richard Hewison of Rejoin EU and Richard Tice of 'Reform UK' (UKIP 3.0). Despite the somewhat amusing fact that the two Richards have often been confused for one another on the doorstep, it will be interesting to see how this area responds to the ongoing Brexit drama and where the potentially disgruntled Tory votes go to.
Having grown up in this constituency, it is of particular interest to me personally. The seat was held for many years by the not famously congenial ex-PM Edward Heath, and in the 1992 election, my school friends and I witnessed his concession to campaigning in person. He entered The Anchor pub, stage left, walked down the bar, saying 'Hello, hello, hello', and promptly left stage right. The entire event lasted about 25 seconds. As we have often lamented, safe seats do not encourage conscientious representation, but it is our job as voters, activists and Renew candidates to make these people work and fight for every vote.
For us in Renew, we will stick to our principles of supporting reform, fairness and participation, and we will stand up to be a part of what comes next.
It's time for something new.
If you want to be a part of this new chapter for Renew, look at our refreshed website
to learn more and sign up to be a member
Have a great week,
James and the Renew Team