Boris’s Covid disaster: Tory backbenchers in revolt over No.10’s TWELVE bungling WFH and lockdown U-turns as poll finds crisis has poisoned public’s view of PM – but Starmer’s standing has improved
- Boris Johnson facing mounting Tory unrest for government coronavirus handling
- Poll finds crisis has resulted in the public having far more negative view of PM
- By contrast Labour leader Keir Starmer’s standing has improved over the period
The huge damage to Boris Johnson’s reputation from the coronavirus crisis was laid bare today after another humiliating U-turn.
A poll for MailOnline found 39 per cent of the public have a more negative view of the PM due to the shambolic handling of the pandemic.
Meanwhile, just 21 per cent said their opinion had improved. Alarmingly for Downing Street, the results were starkly different for Labour leader Keir Starmer – with his stock having risen significantly.
The findings in research by Redfield & Wilton Strategies comes amid mounting Tory panic over the performance of the government.
Mr Johnson was roasted at PMQs yesterday for overseeing ‘mess after mess’ after the latest chaotic shift of position on lockdowns. Bolton and Trafford were among a series of areas in the North West due to see restrictions eased – but the plan was abandoned at the last moment.
Sir Graham Brady, chair of the Conservative 1922 backbench committee, said this morning that the shift was ‘disappointing’. He also complained that there had been a problem for ‘months’ with official guidance on working from home contradicting the government’s push to get people back in offices.
And he warned that rumoured tax rises to fill the Treasury’s financial black hole left by Covid could ‘stifle’ the recovery.
‘The necessity is that we don’t make this crisis any worse than it needs to be,’ he told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme.
A poll for MailOnline by Redfield & Wilton Strategies found 39 per cent of the public have a more negative view of the PM due to the shambolic handling of the pandemic
Signs that Chancellor Rishi Sunak (pictured yesterday) is planning to increase taxes in the Autumn Budget to stabilise the government finances – with briefings about a 5p hike to fuel duty – have also caused widespread anger
The laundry list of government U-turns
Lockdown was due to be eased in Bolton and Trafford yesterday, along with other parts of the North West.
However, the proposal was ditched at the 11th hour after furious protests from local politicians who said infections were too high.
Working from home
A publicity drive to encourage people to return to offices was due to be launched this week.
But it was pushed back at the last moment, apparently after the Cabinet Office decided not enough civil servants had resumed duties in their normal workplace.
The Ministry of Housing initially said that the temporary ban on evictions in England and Wales, imposed during lockdown, would not be extended.
But the policy was extended by four weeks after pressure from charities and warnings of a spike in homelessness before Christmas.
PM meeting bereaved families
Boris Johnson indicated he was ready to meet relatives of those who died from coronavirus to discuss the response.
However, they complain that he has now reneged on the promise, saying that the possibility of them taking legal action means it is not permitted.
Face masks in schools
Ministers initially insisted that there was no need for pupils to wear masks in schools.
However, after Nicola Sturgeon took the opposite view in Scotland, the position changed.
The government is now advising that face coverings should be worn by secondary school pupils and staff in some areas of England.
A-level and GCSE results U-turn in England
Following criticism from students, headteachers and a backlash by Tory MPs, the Government announced A-level and GCSE grades would be based on teachers’ assessments rather than a controversial algorithm devised by regulator Ofqual. Prime Minister Boris Johnson and Gavin Williamson had previously defended the ‘robust’ system, which saw almost 40% of A-level grades reduced from teachers’ predictions.
The government refused to impose broad quarantine rules as the crisis erupted, claiming they were not effective.
However, after the peak restrictions have been imposed to stop cases being ‘imported’ from high-infection countries. Ministers say it is a different stage of the crisis.
Government’s coronavirus contact-tracing app plans ditched
A new NHSX app for contact tracing was announced by Health Secretary Matt Hancock on April 12, pledging that it would be ‘crucial’ for preventing the transmission of coronavirus. It was trialled on the Isle of Wight but was then ditched on June 18 as the Government allowed Apple and Google to take over the project. A national rollout date has still not been set.
Primary school children to return
In early May, Mr Williamson set out the Government’s ambition that all primary-age children in England would have at least four weeks in school before the summer. But on June 9, he said there was ‘no choice’ but to scrap those plans amid concerns that the two-metre social distancing rule would make a full return impossible.
Coronavirus testing target
On April 2, Mr Hancock set a goal of 100,000 coronavirus tests a day by the end of the month. Tt the Government’s daily briefing on May 1, Mr Hancock said testing figures had hit 122,347 on April 30. However, the figures included the number of home tests (27,497) that had been sent out as well as the number of tests sent out to satellite sites (12,872). It suggested that the number of tests actually processed was closer to around 81,978 – short of the Government’s target.
NHS surcharge for overseas health and care staff
On May 21 the PM stood by the fee that overseas health workers were being charged to use the NHS. However, just hours later, following mounting pressure from senior Tories, it was announced that foreign health and care workers would be exempted from the scheme.
School meals voucher scheme
England footballer Marcus Rashford was credited as playing a key part in forcing the Government to U-turn on its decision not to extend the children’s food voucher scheme into the summer holidays. On June 16, Cabinet minister Grant Shapps said that free school meals are not normally extended to cover the summer period. Yet a few hours later, No10 reversed its stance, confirming that it would in fact extend the programme.
Bereavement scheme to NHS support staff extended
After criticism that care workers, cleaners and porters were being excluded from a Home Office scheme granting families of health workers indefinite leave to remain in the UK if they die of Covid-19, the Government announced an extension of the scheme on May 20. The scheme had been introduced in April to help support families affected by the pandemic. Home Secretary Priti Patel said the extension would be ‘effective immediately and retrospectively’.
But the move was abandoned at the 11th hour after a furious backlash from local politicians including Manchester mayor Andy Burnham, who said infection levels were still far too high.
As the dramatic volte face emerged, Mr Johnson was lashed by Sir Keir at PMQs for ‘making it up as he goes along’.
A clearly stung PM retorted by branding Sir Keir ‘Captain Hindsight’.
But ministers are increasingly scrambling to quell Tory unrest, with backbenchers incensed at the disastrous GCSE and A-Levels marking saga.
In a round of interviews this morning, Health Secretary Matt Hancock said: ‘People understand, and your viewers understand, that we’re in an unprecedented situation, we’re dealing with a virus which we increasingly know more about, we’re also dealing with a virus which suddenly expands in areas… and therefore we have to take action.
‘If the numbers change of course… we move swiftly and decisively.’
Signs that Chancellor Rishi Sunak is planning to increase taxes in the Autumn Budget to stabilise the government finances – with briefings about a 5p hike to fuel duty – have also caused widespread anger.
Mr Johnson and Mr Sunak had a stormy meeting with around 100 MPs from ‘Red Wall’ constituencies yesterday afternoon.
The premier delivered a grim assessment that the crisis had ‘been tough’ but was ‘about to get tougher’. ‘The waters are about to get choppier,’ he said.
Mr Sunak pleaded for space to get the government back on track, saying they would have to be ‘honest’ with the public about the need to balance the books.
‘We will need to do some difficult things, but I promise you, if we trust one another we can overcome the short term challenges,’ he said.
‘Now this does’t mean a horror show of tax rises with no end in sight.
‘But it does mean treating the British people with respect, being honest with them about the challenges we face, and showing them how we plan to correct out public finances and give our country the dynamic, low-tax economy we all want to see.
However, the opposition such drastic steps would face was demonstrated when Work and Pensions Secretary Therese Coffey used a round of interviews to suggest taxes should be cut in the Budget, saying it could actually bring in more revenue for the government. ‘This is what we will deliver for you.’
In another grim development, the Bank of England warned yesterday that the ‘scarring’ to the economy might be even worse than the permanent 1.5 per cent loss of GDP it previously predicted.
Giving evidence to the Treasury Select Committee, Governor Andrew Bailey and other senior figures also poured cold water on hopes of getting large numbers of people back in offices – considered crucial for reviving town and city centres.
Ms Coffey told Times Radio: ‘I will point out to you that in the past when we’ve actually cut tax rates, we’ve actually seen taxes increase.
‘So tax rates is a very dynamic situation, we need to make sure our chancellor has the best opportunities when he announces to the country in actually quite a short time…
‘Some people might assume the only way to get tax up is to increase tax rates but we have shown in our economic history the opposite.’
Appearing before MPs on the Treasury Committee this afternoon, Mr Bailey said on balance he still expected the long-term damage from the crisis to be equivalent to around 1.5 per cent of GDP.
But deputy governor Sir David Ramsden described the figure as a ‘good starting point’.
‘Unless the adjustment is very quick and happens quite easily the changes are that the scarring effects over time may be larger than that,’ he said.
‘We’ve highlighted that the risks are that the scarring impact could be greater than a shortfall of GDP of 1.5 per cent.’
He added: ‘For me all the risks are really that that number will be greater than 1.5 per cent.’
Mr Bailey said that while some areas, including the housing market, have been rebounding quickly, others, such as ‘social spending’ including restaurants and theatres, could take longer to recover.
He added that the bounceback in retail has in part been driven by online sales, as the proportion of items sold over the internet increased from 20 per cent to 30 per cent of the total in about a year.
‘This underlines the point on how much we are going to see structural changes,’ he said.
Some workers are likely to have to retrain to work in new sectors.
Mr Ramsden said: ‘One of the sectors where we’ve seen a lot of growth in employment in recent years is in retailing.
‘Potentially, as more retailing moves online, it may be that more investment could take place in capital stock than in labour. That would have an impact on the labour market… but it also could lead to greater productivity over time.’
He added that the Bank was only starting to scratch the surface on this ‘really complex set of factors’.
The executive director for financial stability, Alex Brazier also gave a downbeat assessment of the changes of getting people back to offices.
He said it was clear that the ‘people have a caution about the public health issues’.
Sir Graham Brady, chair of the Conservative 1922 backbench committee, complained that there had been a problem for ‘months’ with official guidance on working from home contradicting the government’s push to get people back in offices
Boris Johnson (left) branded Keir Starmer (right) ‘Captain Hindsight’ after the Labour leader accused him of overseeing ‘mess after mess’ at PMQs yesterday
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