Covid is not over.

Government

We’re still in a pandemic, yet the Government is treating it as if it’s already over.

As shops, pubs, leisure centres and beauty salons continue to reopen there is a definite unease around. Many people continue to be worried by the prospect of doing what, until a few months ago, were ordinary things. It is because there is no reassurance or clear signs that it is genuinely going to curtail the virus.

Frankly, this has not been handled well at all by the UK Government. A poll conducted here showed all respondents agreeing with that. There have been several reports of the failure to act quick enough on lockdown measures may have contributed to deaths being twice as high as they could have been. These numbers are not a political statement. They are a reflection of poor strategy and lax message discipline, which continue to seep through.

Compared to the response in the other three home nations, serious questions remain about the situation in England. There have been few deaths in Scotland, Northern Ireland and Wales in the past few days, even factoring in smaller population sizes. And yet, when there were over 100 deaths in England yesterday, up considerably compared to previous weeks, people continued to take to the pubs.

I have also seen people dismissing these figures as a one-off, but what this pandemic has shown is the importance of analysing the data, and that wishful thinking does not help in reality.

Now there is talk of increasing the mandatory use of face coverings in settings such as shops. It’s a sensible message – but one that feels like it has been adopted far too late and handled poorly.

The Government are giving mixed messages here, with Boris Johnson seeming to promote stricter mask-wearing during a photo opportunity in his Uxbridge constituency. Meanwhile, Cabinet Office Minister Michael Gove said in the Marr programme that he trusted people’s common sense on the issue. It does not clarify anything and further increases uncertainty.

You would think that over a few months, Number 10 would have learnt that they need to handle things better, not just rely on common sense and give a decisive message to people. Take the second “Boris Broadcast” which was possibly one of the worst public addresses made by a Prime Minister, and something that every in Number 10 should have been trying to avoid repeating.

Is it that they are trying to pass the blame to the individual? Or is it an admission that they have given up or feel economically threatened?

Either way, the response in the past few weeks seems to be designed for short term popularity rather than long term public health benefit.

Why are we debating whether “conversion therapy” should or shouldn’t be illegal in the UK in 2020?

Government

It has only been four days since Pride Month ended, and yet, in an insensitive move that has rightly backfired, the Petitions Committee wanted to gather more intel on how to define “conversion therapy” and the impact that it has on the LGBT+ community by getting people to fill out a survey as a platform for people to share their opinions about something that is clearly wrong.

This sparked outrage because it felt like the process was being drawn out, and people were being asked to justify why something that causes incredible harm like this form of torture should be made illegal. It also came across as tone-deaf, with a handful of unsympathetic questions.

In a response that was welcomed, links to the survey were subsequently deleted, although there were some reports of the survey still being active hours after this. The apology itself (below) sounds incredibly arrogant, but at least they responded quickly.

What this does highlight is unnecessary levels of intransigence and delay, which characterise many other areas of policy I discuss here. And there is a clear way to approach this.

The Government committed to taking action on this two years ago. A petition (and I note, that petitions are something that the Government has not initiated) with enough signatures to be debated in Parliament may have reminded them of this, but the response will not exactly be reassuring.

When responding to the petition, equalities minister Kemi Badenoch said that the Government was still considering how to move forward with this “very complex issue”. I can think of other “very complex issues” which have been being discussed relentlessly at a similar time to this which apparently are not a problem (Brexit).

I would be interested to know what exactly is complex about “conversion therapy”. If anyone had undergone significant amounts of psychological trauma that were later revealed, action would be demanded. This is exactly what “conversion therapy” involves. Anyone who says otherwise is just trying to defend the indefensible. And yet, nothing obvious is being done about this issue which continues to have an impact on people’s lives on a daily basis.

Things like “conversion therapy” still being legal highlight the UK still has a long way to go in overcoming LGBT+ discrimination and poor treatment. It’s not just about putting up a Pride flag for one month a year, it’s about taking real action.

Action in the future is not good enough. Action needs to happen now.

Cummings strikes again with a reshuffle

Government

Today, Boris Johnson carried out a much anticipated Cabinet reshuffle. The whole plan was to promote a “new generation” of talent. Behind this, many have speculated that Dominic Cummings may be trying to increase his influence over the Cabinet to achieve his aims.

This was made particularly clear with the resignation stroke dismissal (take your pick) of now-former Chancellor Savid Javid when Johnson/Cummings told him he had to sack all of his advisors as a condition of keeping his role. Although I’m not a personally a fan of Javid, I have some respect for him standing up for his team at the last moment.

His replacement, Rishi Sunak – the MP who covered for Boris Johnson in some of the TV election debate and is from an investment background, takes his place. Sunak is seen amongst numerous Tories as a ‘rising star’; although this could be a disadvantage as expectations are high. He is favoured by Cummings and Johnson, which many have interpreted as a sign of him being a yes person.

And this points to a glaring problem. If the Cabinet is full of yes people, then this results in tunnel-vision which doesn’t allow for reasonable points to be raised from those with reservations. Yes, this may be an attempt from the PM and those around him to give the perception they are getting stuff done; but it only takes a severe misjudgement or wrong move to unravel, opening them to accusations of irresponsibility.

An even bigger issue is the influence of Dominic Cummings, who seems to be carrying out his work unchecked and with no accountability. Which is an interesting coincidence, especially as he was behind a campaign with the core message of taking back control from “unelected bureaucrats”.

This reshuffle also does very little about diversity. There is no LGBT+ representation in the Cabinet still. Women, in general, are in a worse position in this Cabinet than the last. Yes, there is an increase in BAME representation, but this doesn’t go far enough. And under-qualified people like Dominic Raab are still there.

What this tells us about the next few years is a bit unnerving. Not only is the Cabinet full of lackeys, but it’s also struggling with diversity and seems to be a clear indication of Cummings making a power grab.