The Times - UK (2020-10-14)

(Antfer) #1

8 2GM Wednesday October 14 2020 | the times


Quentin Letts

MPs mooed like cows

separated from calves


abour’s Sir Keir Starmer
may lust for national
incarceration — what else
did you expect from a
former prosecutor? — but in
the Commons the traffic was
steaming in the opposite direction.
We had the government accused of
tyranny. We had despair at the

commercial ruin caused by
constraints on freedom. We had a
prediction that Threadneedle Street
would order the government to cut
public spending unless ministers stop
interfering in people’s lives. Those
were just the comments from Tories.
The mooing was so prolonged and
plaintive, one could have been in a
byre of cows newly separated from
their calves. At close of play the
government won its business. Of
course. Labour saw to that. But the
grumbling among its backbenchers is
back to Brexit levels and the
personnel are this time from a wider

range: from house-trained Remainers
such as Tom Tugendhat and Huw
Merriman to bookish Andrew
Murrison and Bob Seely, who had
mislaid both his cufflinks; from
“Boris babes” representing
Peterborough and Bolton and West
Dorset to the chairman of the 1922
Committee, Sir Graham Brady.
Then there were those two
snorting tuskers, Sir Christopher
Chope and Sir Edward Leigh, diggin’
in with their entrenching tools and
flinging mud in all directions.
The funny thing about Chope and
Leigh is that anyone ever thought a
“K” would cork them. The public
health debate was opened by Matt
Hancock, secretary of state for
health. He is no longer liked by his
party. With each surge of
parliamentary unease in this
pandemic, Mr Hancock has become
increasingly hoity-toity.
Before the debate there was a
three-minute pause (I almost said
circuit breaker) and Hancock leapt

around the front bench, stretching
his groin, wisecracking and subtly
patronising his shadow, Jonathan
Ashworth. More timid souls, even
among the whips, crouched on their
benches with their little faceless
masks, drudges in terror of authority.
Hancock fancies himself that
authority and is enjoying it
immensely. He bared his braying
gums. He rejoiced in his prominence.
A cocky man with little to be cocky
Dame Eleanor Laing, the deputy
speaker, complained when a few
Hancock stooges made planted
interventions. She said that they
were being “dishonourable”. Mr
Hancock boldly contradicted her.
Dame Eleanor let it go through to
the wicketkeeper but had Sir Lindsay
Hoyle been in the chair he would
have taken no such nonsense. Sir
Lindsay has the measure of Hancock.
Steve Brine (C, Winchester)
wondered what would happen if
Covid-19 vaccines did not work. Mr

Hancock, briskly: “We’ve bought six
of them.” Mr Merriman: “Do the
positives of these restrictions
outweigh the negatives?” Hancock
said “yes” so speedily, Vicky Pollard
could have lent it more sincerity. He
also rubbished, aggressively, the
Barrington Declaration by scientists
sceptical about the lockdown
measures of many western
governments. Steve Baker (C, High
Wycombe) politely pointed out that
one of the hallmarks of good science
was humility. Ha! What’s that?
By the time many other
backbenchers spoke, the secretary of
state had scarpered, called away to
more important things.
Earlier I went to the funeral of my
friend, Bomber. Solid English hymns.
We were meant to hum but plenty
(including the parson) sang. How
dare ruddy politicians tell us
otherwise? And we had that prayer
about “the day long of this troublous
life”. For Boris Johnson’s party
managers, troublous times indeed.

Political Sketch

News Coronavirus

mal”. “We do not rule out
further restrictions in the
hospitality, leisure, enter-
tainment or personal care sec-
tors,” he said. “But retail, schools
and universities will remain open.”
Sir Graham Brady, chairman of the
influential 1922 Committee of Tory
backbenchers, said that simple steps
such as getting rid of the 10pm curfew
could mitigate some of the worst effects
of the lockdown. “After two and a half

Matt Hancock has faced down lock-

down sceptics in his own party, warning

that thousands more people will die

and “harder economic measures” will

be needed without tough new corona-

virus restrictions.

The health secretary warned of loss

of life “too great to contemplate” as he

attacked those in his own party who

oppose curbs on hospitality.

In a vote that underscores the anger

on the Tory back benches, 42 Conserv-

ative MPs, including the former cabinet

members David Davis and Esther

McVey, rejected the 10pm curfew on

pubs and restaurants, amid accusations

that the country was “going bankrupt”.

One MP resigned from his junior role

in government saying that the “cure” of

lockdown was “worse than the disease”.

In a letter to the prime minister, Chris

Green, MP for Bolton West & Atherton,

said that he could no longer serve as a

parliamentary private secretary

because restrictions had brought local

businesses “to the brink of collapse”.

MPs approved the tiered

system of lockdown

that was announced

on Monday but

used a separate


vote on the clos-

ing time of hos-

pitality venues

to register their


with the govern-

ment’s direction

of travel. Defend-

ing No 10’s coronavi-

rus strategy, Mr Han-

cock poured scorn on the idea

of herd immunity and said that elderly

people could not be fenced off from risk

while everyone else “returns to nor-

Hancock attacks

rebels who oppose

hospitality curbs

months of controls we must be told how
and when the restrictions will be lifted,”
he said. “This half-alive state that we
have come to inhabit cannot be allowed
to become permanent.”
Sir Edward Leigh, Conservative MP
for Gainsborough, demanded the
scientific basis for the 10pm closing
time. “We are going bankrupt as a
nation,” he said. “There won’t be the
money to pay for the NHS or pensions.”
Tory backbenchers are also demand-
ing that Rishi Sunak, the chancellor,
extend support to hospitality business-
es caught in tier-two lockdowns.
Venues ordered to close by the gov-
ernment will be given grants of up to
£3,000 a month and the government
will also pay two thirds of staff wages.
However pubs and restaurants in
tier-two regions such as Manchester,
Leeds, Birmingham and Newcastle will
not be eligible for support since they are
allowed to stay open — although the
10pm curfew remains in place as well as
a ban on household mixing.
UK hospitality said that businesses in
tier-two areas were seeing only
40-60 per cent of normal trade. The
British Beer and Pub Association said
that “thousands” of local pubs and jobs
would be “lost for good”.
Andy Street, the Conservative mayor
for the West Midlands, expressed anger
that Birmingham had been placed in a
tier-two lockdown and called for the
government to compensate hospitality
businesses for their loss of income.
Under pressure from backbenchers
to provide further financial support,
Steve Barclay, chief secretary to the
Treasury, warned against spending
“more and more”, saying the govern-
ment had committed more than
£200 billion to fighting the pandemic.
From today Liverpool will be placed
into a tier-three lockdown, meaning
that bars, gyms, betting shops and
leisure centres will be forced to shut.
Restaurants will remain open as well as
pubs that serve “substantial” meals.
Daniel Finkelstein, page 25

George Grylls, Chris Smyth

Lucy Fisher, Andrew Ellson

Pub curfews and the end to the
government’s Eat Out to Help Out
scheme prompted Britons to spend
an extra £261 million on alcohol at
supermarkets last month.
The 10pm curfew, introduced at
the end of last month, has led to
plunging sales for hospitality
chains but alcohol sales have
soared at supermarkets as people
stock up to drink at home instead,
data from Kantar shows.
Shoppers were moving their
eating and drinking back into the
home as a result of rising infection
rates, restricted opening hours at
hospitality venues and the end of
the eat out to help out scheme,
Fraser McKevitt, head of retail
and consumer insight, said.
Scientific advisers have said that
the curfew would be unlikely
to stop the virus’s spread.
Supermarkets have had
a boom in sales in the
pandemic. Grocery
sales rose by 10.6 per
cent in the four weeks
to October 4.

Home drinkers

spend £261m

Ashley Armstrong Retail Editor

tttors,” he s
and universitie
Sir GrahamB


r Han-
n on the idea
y and said that elderly

the curfew
to stop
a bo


here were cheers
as “overpriced”
bottles of water
and glasses of
wine made a
return to the West End
(David Sanderson writes).
A musical finally came
back to theatreland as the
London Palladium played
host on Sunday to two

Thank you for

the music, say

West End fans

Matt Hancock’s message was clear

as he attended cabinet yesterday

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