A classic morning media round bombing by care minister Helen Whately this morning. Asked by Nick Ferrari whether Gavin Williamson’s confusion of two black English sports stars was down to racism or incompetence, Whately defended him by saying “I don’t know”:
Ferrari: Is he racist or incompetent?
Whately: You’ll forgive for for saying, I again have probably seen no more of this than what you have seen
Ferrari: What more do you need? He’s mixed up two prominent English black sportsmen, he’s got them the wrong way round, I repeat my question – is this through incompetence or racism?
Whately: Honestly I don’t know
Ferrari: So it could be racism?
Whately: He’s put out his explanation and there’s really nothing more than I can say about it.
Looks like both Whately and Williamson should be grateful there’s no reshuffle today…
With an extra £100 million added to the cost of Boris’s planned “trade yacht” in just one week, Dominic Raab had the unenviable task of justifying the hefty price tag on this morning’s media round. Speaking with Nick Ferrari on LBC, Raab said:
“It’s easy to underestimate the work that the Royals do […] the soft power they yield on our behalf, and we consistently under-estimate what they do…
The investment is worth it if we can make sure that it’s expanding our influence and reach overseas, creating jobs for the UK, extending our soft power, being a force for good in the world. All of those things come together, and a yacht can really boost our ability to do all of those things…”
This is exactly what we were told would justify the £7.6 billion Queen Elizabeth and Prince of Wales aircraft carriers – which have the advantage of combining hard and soft power. Given the Royals themselves apparently won’t even use the yacht, Guido still has a few questions over just how valuable it’ll will be…
Guido presents the highlights from Boris’s interview this morning with LBC’s Nick Ferrari:
On the ongoing Cummings melodrama:
“I don’t wish to comment any of the sayings of any of my former advisers, who are now many…just in the last year, I think we’ve had about 220 people arrive in Number 10 – I don’t know how many have left, quite a few – and I’m sure they’ve all got something interesting to say. But I have no intention of commenting on it…”
On police pay:
“No one would want to pay our fantastic police more than I would. We’re just going through a tough time financially for the government and I think most people do understand that.”
On Cressida Dick’s job performance:
“I think that she’s a formidable police officer … [it’s] a matter for the Mayor of London and the Home Secretary.”
On Sadiq Khan:
“This is not the occasion for me to give the Mayor of London one of my ritual kickings…since you invite me to do so, I think there is more that could be done to fight knife crime on the streets of London, and I would urge the Mayor to do it, I hope. The issue for me, is it’s about taking responsibility…”
On the pandemic:
“We’ve seen some encouraging recent data, there’s no question about that. But it is far, far too early to draw any general conclusions…the most important thing is for people to recognise that the current situation still calls for a lot of caution.”
Boris also acknowledged his phrase “the ketchup of catch-up” was not one of his better ones…
Under Keir Starmer, Labour’s stance on NHS pay is unclear; Shadow Cabinet members have variously called for a 2.1%, 12.5%, and 15% pay rise, with different ministers backing and rejecting a nurses’ strike. So once again, nobody actually knows what Labour precisely stands for now the government has accepted the official advice and awarded a 3% rise…
On March 7, 2021 Labour demanded “at least” a 2.1% pay rise for nurses whilst refusing to take a position on exactly how much the rise should be. Starmer equivocated three times over how much he would give NHS workers in an interview on March 5, saying:
“They [nurses] need a fair rise in pay above inflation to be properly recognised and rewarded for what they’ve put in the last 12 months”.
However, Keir told LBC today that the government’s proposed 3% pay rise was “not enough” and “not fair”. Not only that, Labour’s Mark Drakeford has also backed a 3% pay rise for Welsh NHS staff. So no one – perhaps not even Starmer – knows if a 3% pay rise is really unacceptable to Labour or not…
Later on LBC, Starmer described a 15% pay increase as “high”, contradicting the far-left Labour MPs led by John McDonnell, who argued that the party should back the eye-watering 15% rise.
Further, it remains completely unclear whether Labour will back a nurses’ strike or not. Jon Ashworth previously refused to rule out backing industrial action by NHS staff, saying“I will always support our nurses”, yet on LBC this morning Starmer stated “nobody wants to see strike action.” Labour’s lack of a clear direction is confusing everyone, even its own leadership…
Following Guido’s story yesterday that Boris’s food tsar Henry Dimbleby is proposing huge taxes on foods high in sugar and salt (plans which would cost every household an estimated £172 every year), Robert Jenrick made this morning’s media round to push back on the proposals and insist that they are not government policy – yet. Speaking on LBC, Jenrick said:
“Well that isn’t the government’s policy… I think you have to be very cautious before putting burdens on members of the public, particularly those on lower incomes. That’s my long-standing view… going to consider it carefully, and set out our national food strategy in the coming months…I think you do have to be very careful about going down that road, because I don’t want to make life more difficult for people on low incomes.”
Dimbleby himself also gave an interview this morning, appearing on the Today programme to defend the plans and once again insist that they’re necessary to protect the NHS:
“The junk food cycle is, we think, the thing that is causing the harm…we do not actually believe [the taxes] will hike the price. What it will do is it will reformulate, it will make people take sugar and salt out…there may be some products that you can’t reformulate…the question you have to ask then is: ‘is the freedom to keep Frosties cheap worth destroying the NHS for?'”
UPDATE: Boris has also come out against the snack tax plans during his levelling up speech, saying:
“I’m not, I must say, attracted to the idea of extra taxes on hard-working people. Let me just signal that.”
A much clearer statement than the rest of that speech…
The bounds of cabinet collective responsibility clearly don’t apply when it comes to the culture wars. Either that or Priti Patel is deliberately choosing to ignore them…
In an interview yesterday for GB News, Patel claimed the England team were engaging in “gesture politics” by taking the knee, and that fans’ booing was “a choice for them“. She added:
“It’s all well to support a cause and, you know, make your voices heard, but actually, quite frankly, and we saw last year in particular with some of the the protests that took place, I speak now very much from what I saw and the impact on policing. It was devastating.”
This despite Downing Street’s insistence late last week that fans shouldn’t boo the team following criticism over the government’s mixed messaging…
The mixed messaging is continuing nonetheless, with Michael Gove appearing on LBC this morning to directly contradict Patel’s comments:
“No I think that if people want to show the strength of their feeling in that way against prejudice, that’s entirely respectable… I think the main thing is that we should be cheering on our teams.”
So Boris, Gove, and Zahawi support it; Priti Patel and Gillian Keegan oppose it. Guido’s keeping score…