July 09, 2020
You’re reading The Waugh Zone, our daily politics briefing. Sign up now to get it by email in the evening.Safety first, last and alwaysChancellors are often drunk on praise on the day of a fiscal event, but it’s only the morning after that we discover whether they’re suffering a political hangover or not.
Why The Fear Factor Is Boris Johnson’s Biggest Failure On Covid To Date
Thanks to his meal deal, Rishi Sunak got some of the newspaper front page photos and headlines he wanted. But things looked distinctly queasy after the IFS and Resolution Foundation trashed his mini-Budget as poorly targeted and inadequate to the scale of the unemployment crisis facing the country.‌
Worse still, within less than 24 hours of his ‘Plan for Jobs’, Boots and John Lewis announced thousands of layoffs. The timing wasn’t deliberate trolling of the chancellor, but it was a reminder of the hard truth that he had done little to help high street retailers with his summer statement.
Business owner after business owner lined up to say this £1,000 per worker ‘retention bonus’ was so flimsy it wouldn’t stop them slashing costs and staff this winter. Add in the chief taxman (HM Revenue and Customs boss Jim Harra) telling Suank that there were “value for money risks” with the plan - allowing Labour to present itself as the saviours of fiscal rectitude - and the hangover looked heavy.
The key worry in government is that the public are just too scared to venture out into shops, workplaces and even pubs and restaurants to get the economy trundling along, let alone motoring. A new YouGov poll today showed that 52% of Brits said they had no plans to make sure of the ‘eat out to help out’ meal discount in August. Just a third planned to take up the 50% off deal.
And the fact is that city centres remain deserted, in part because office workers are forbidden by their own companies from turning up, in part because the staff themselves are worried about packing onto trains, buses or Tubes, even if they can get on in the first place. With no office workers, many urban pubs, cafes and restaurants face permanent closure.
Tonight’s further opening up of gyms, nail bars, beauty salons, swimming pools and outdoor theatres may be a welcome relief to many people. Yet the fear factor that stalks the land, as well as the social distancing restrictions, could make the reopening unviable. Similarly, Matt Hancock’s move to allow visitors to care homes could well be met with reticence even from loved ones.‌
At least in care homes, Hancock is finally moving towards routine testing of staff and residents. Today, after much pressure from Tory grandees like Jeremy Hunt and William Hague, it emerged that the government will at least pilot asymptomatic testing of the population, albeit for ‘high risk’ sectors like taxi driving and cleaning in ‘high risk’ areas: Bradford, Brent, Newham and Oldham.
Of course, a fully functioning test and trace system is what will really go a long way to calming public fears about venturing out. The good news today was that we now have a record capacity for testing, with a huge 311,000 tests possible per day. The bad news was that NHS Test and Trace is still only reaching 77% of people who test positive.
Similarly worrying was that for yet another week, the percentage of “close contacts” of those who test positive and are being reached by tracers has fallen again. It stood at 90% in the first week but is now just 70.8%. Government insiders stress this is down to the change in mix of the covid cases away from NHS and care homes (where it’s easier to trace contacts) and towards individuals in the community (where it’s more random).
But the fact remains that it was Sage, the government’s own scientific advisers, who said back on May 1 that “at least 80%” of contacts of someone with covid would need to be reached for any test-and-trace system to be “effective”. Sage said it was “essential” this capability was reached before the autumn/winter flu season.
And at that same Sage meeting the scientists warned the public would be “less willing to comply” if they “are impacted financially” by self-isolation. Yet nearly eight weeks later the government has still not devised a special ‘self-isolation payment’ for workers that would encourage them to stay at home if advised to do so.
Statutory sick pay and its eligibility requirements mean millions will be hit in the pocket for doing the right thing. We learned yesterday that £10bn has been allocated to NHS Test and Trace, but a fraction of that could surely be spent on a worker support scheme - especially given the small numbers being asked to self-isolate. Public health messaging is often about reassurance and this remains a baffling omission.‌
The lack of ministers wearing masks (Rishi the waiter included) is another example where Boris Johnson is failing to tackle the fear factor head on. The lack of scientists at No.10 briefings to reassure the public that the gyms, nail bars, pubs and public transport are safe is another big miss.‌
And, as we discuss in this week’s Commons People podcast with Labour peer Stewart Wood, it’s the overall failure to match the big furlough scheme with a big fiscal stimulus that could prove the PM’s undoing on those Job figures.
Johnson’s spending plans last week weren’t even a pale facsimile of FDR’s ‘new deal’, and the mini-Budget was similarly unambitious. If this government really had paid attention to Roosevelt, it should perhaps have recalled the most famous line of his inauguration speech: “the only thing we have to fear is...fear itself”.
Back in 1932, the US president was dealing with a situation where every single state had suspended banking or restricted access to cash. After the Wall St crash, the public feared they’d lose their money if they didn’t withdraw from the banks. The only way to reassure Americans was with a huge state backed programme of reform and investment.
In the summer of 2020, the only way to reassure Britons will be to throw everything at the test and trace system: a worker support package, routine testing using the huge new capacity, plus a major public information campaign to get people to take tests in the first place. If not, while the number of cases may slowly come down, the real fight against the jobless tide may be lost before it’s even started.Quote Of The Day“It makes me question what I was doing during the last 10 years of my life”
Rory Stewart tells the IfG podcast his despair at the state of the Johnson Tory partyThursday Cheat SheetHealth secretary Matt Hancock revealed to ITV News that care homes would be opened up for visitors within the next few days.
Culture secretary Oliver Dowden announced that indoor gyms, swimming pools and leisure centres will open on July 25. Outdoor polls, theatres and other performance spaces will be open from this Saturday.
The long-awaited ‘Russia report’ of the Intelligence and Security Committee should be published “as soon as possible” after its members are confirmed next week, No.10 said. Confirmed nominations are Chris Grayling as chairman, John Hayes, Julian Lewis, Mark Pritchard, Theresa Villiers (all Con); Kevan Jones, Dame Diana Johnson (both Lab); and Stewart Hosie (SNP).
EU chief Brexit negotiator Michel Barnier said “significant divergences” remain between the EU and the UK on a post-Brexit trade deal after informal talks in London. Barnier also wrote back to Tory Brexiteer Mark Francois to point out he’d voted for the political declaration he now dislikes.
The PM will not appear at the Commons Liaison Committee before summer recess. But he will give evidence on September 16.What I’m ReadingThe Brilliant Larry Brilliant On How The World Is Coping With Covid - WiredGot A Tip?Send tips, stories, quotes, pics, plugs or gossip to waugh.zone@huffpost.com. Subscribe To Commons PeopleEach week, the HuffPost UK Politics team unpack the biggest stories from Westminster and beyond.
Former Gordon Brown and Ed Miliband aide Stewart Wood is our special guest on the podcast this week. Hear us chat through the mini-Budget, corona and why Labour really should back a “wealth tax” at some point. Click HERE to listen on Audioboom, HERE on Spotify. Search for Commons People wherever you listen to podcasts and subscribe.Related... Gyms And Swimming Pools To Reopen On July 25 As Lockdown Eased A Wealth Tax 'Has To Happen', Says Senior Labour Peer And Ex-Gordon Brown Adviser 70% Of Covid 'Close Contacts' Reached By NHS Test And Trace
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