The UK recorded its highest number of Covid cases in a 24 period with 33,470, while becoming became the first country in Europe to pass 50,000 deaths from the virus.
Infections in over-80s are soaring while the NHS reports the number of people waiting a year or longer for surgery is 107 times higher than 12 months ago, 139,545 patients now compared to 1,305 in September 2019. The consequences are tragic.
Christmas is coming and the economic forecast is bleak. The vaccination and mass testing of the population is set to take off three weeks time – when England’s second lockdown officially ends. An exit strategy and route out of the current restrictions for people and businesses has not been published. Students wonder if they will be stranded at university. Redundancies continue to rise.
And that’s without even mentioning Brexit.
The shock exit of Lee Cain, Downing Street’s director of communications late last night, depletes the PM’s coterie of trusted confidants – the half-a-dozen hard-line Brexiters led by Dominic Cummings, including the UK’s chief Brexit negotiator Lord [David] Frost.
So it is significant, very significant that the prime minister’s director of communications has resigned at such a critical moment, throwing Downing Street into chaos right at the time of multiple national crises.
Yet Cain’s exit has been spun by the political class into a navel gazing exercise. The intrigue at the power-play playing-out in No10 has become irresistible and speculation abounds as to whether the PM’s fiancé Carrie Symonds, mother of Johnson’s newest born son, has the PM’s ear and final say on political appointments.
‘It is court gossip masquerading as journalism’
Guardian columnist George Monbiot put the spotlight on the media’s spotlight, criticising editors for focusing on the “distraction” caused by Cain’s resignation, rather than the Brexit Armageddon about to tear the UK asunder.
“Putting the resignation of a Downing Street adviser as top headline during a moment of multiple global and national crises is political reporting at its worst, it is court gossip masquerading as journalism,” Monbiot told today’s BBC’s Politics Live.
“It doesn’t make any difference anyway, their job is done,” said Monbiot, predicting Cummings may leave with Cain at the end of the year, having “steered through the Brexit transition period” to arrive at no-deal, “which is certainly what they wanted.”
“They will bequeath to us the deregulatory dystopia that they see as Nirvana so for them it’s mission accomplished. Job done,” said Monbiot.
Brexit is the proclaimed raison d’être of Johnson’s government elected less than a year ago with the promise of an “oven ready deal” to “get Brexit done”.
Except it is far from done and, given the timeframe, is looking ever less likely to be so. Ireland’s foreign minister Simon Coveney warned yesterday that the last gasp talks could “fall apart” and force a no-deal., admitting: “That wouldn’t shock me at all.”
“Level playing field” guarantees on workers’ rights, environmental regulations, state aid for industries, tax and fishing remain the blocks to a deal, which if not agreed by “some point next week” will mean “real problems” said Coveney.
Johnson has a herculean task with Brexit and the pandemic coinciding and his success will depend on how much he can win over public support. Communications will of course be key but he has just lost his key man and is starting from a desperately deep place already, given the prime minister’s reputation.
‘The best liar ever to serve as prime minister’
Just last week Rory Stewart – who challenged Johnson for the Conservative party leadership and keys to No10 in 2019 – branded Johnson as the “most accomplished liar in public life” and perhaps “the best liar ever to serve as prime minister”.
In a scathing piece for the Times Literary Supplement Stewart opines that Johnson may have a “natural talent” for lying “but a lifetime of practice and study has allowed him to uncover new possibilities”.
Stewart was kicked out of the Conservative party along with 20 other Tory MPs for opposing the government’s Brexit policy last summer, and stepped down as an MP in October to run as an independent candidate for London mayor.
The position served as a springboard in Johnson’s long campaign to become PM and though Stewart still aspires to the same ascent, he withdrew his candidacy to become London mayor after the 2020 election was postponed because of the coronavirus.
‘Gammons 4 London’ is UKIP’s actual London mayoral candidate
With just over six months before the election, the race to become the capital’s mayor returned to social media today with “Gammons 4 London” trending on Twitter after users responded to UKIP’s announcement that Dr Peter Gammons is their candidate to take on Sadiq Khan.
Gammons is “an internationally respected motivational speaker and an award-winning and best-selling author”. However “gammons” is also a popular term deployed on social media and used as “insult with which to describe red-faced conservative men and Ukippers ranting about Brexit.”
Actor David Schnieder’s tweet encapsulated the sense of being trolled by UKIP and the levels of bafflement arising from Gammons’ selection, surmising: “Whoever’s writing the script for 2020 just jumped the shark.”
Others pondered the theory of nominative determinism and how far a person’s life is influenced by their given name, reminding that UKIP’s former leader launched a stream of similar memes, jokes and parody posts when he was appointed to head the party – was Dick Braine.