Inside Politics

Inside Politics: Tories keep safe seat in Old Bexley and Sidcup by-election – but with reduced majority

Boris Johnson’s Conservatives will trumpet winning over 50 per cent of the vote, but Labour will strike an upbeat tone 10 per cent swing to party, writes Ashley Cowburn

Friday 03 December 2021 08:11

In the latest iteration of cabinet ministers offering contradictory and unofficial Covid guidance to the public this Christmas, Sajid Javid, the health secretary, has let it be known he is passionate advocate of kissing under the mistletoe. The bizarre comments came after No 10 dismissed the freelance suggestion from Therese Coffey, the work and pensions secretary, that there “should not be much snogging under the mistletoe” this festive period. Mr Javid, however, insisted last night: “People can snog who they wish. I’ll certainly be kissing my wife under the mistletoe — it’s a Javid family tradition”. Luckily, parliamentary recess is just around the corner and everyone can, hopefully, take a short break.

Inside the bubble

Alongside the inevitable political reaction from the by-election in Old Bexley and Sidcup, Parliament’s Friday sitting is (as it stands) dedicated to private members’ bills, with the Labour MP Kevin Brennan putting forward proposals to update legislation for streaming music. He’s written a piece for The Independent outlining his plans.

Daily Briefing

TRUE BLUE:  The Conservatives have held on to the safe seat of Old Bexley and Sidcup in last night’s by-election — triggered after the death of the 53-year-old former minister James Brokenshire. The party’s candidate, Louie French, paid tribute to his “good friend” Mr Brokenshire as he was elected MP. But on a cold December day, turnout was low in the safe Tory seat in south-east London and the party’s majority was slashed from almost 19,000 that Mr Brokenshire had in 2019 to 4,478. Perhaps more importantly, the vote share for the Conservatives was also cut from 64 per cent to 51 — down 13 per cent — while Labour’s candidate, Daniel Francis, increased the party’s vote share by around 7 per cent. Labour will today strike an upbeat note, despite the loss, highlighting the party’s highest share in the seat for 20 years. The Conservatives, meanwhile, will be on the airwaves trumpeting the fact they won over 50 per cent of the vote in a parliamentary by-election despite the party being in government for the last 11 years. Something for everyone. Attention will soon focus, however, on the upcoming by-election in North Shropshire, which was announced after the resignation of the Conservative MP Owen Paterson amid a row over sleaze. With Tories appearing more nervous over this vote, it’s certainly one to watch.

NON: After the death of 27 people attempting to cross the English Channel last week, the UK government reiterated its offer for British police and border officials to conduct joint patrol on the beaches around Calais to deter migrants making the treacherous crossing. But in a letter to Boris Johnson last night, the French prime minister Jean Castex said we “cannot accept” the presence of UK forces because it would compromise the nation’s sovereignty. Instead, he has urged the Home Office to open legal immigration paths to those who have legitimate reasons to enter the country and promised France would examine other proposals in “good faith” to resolve the crisis. It comes amid the backdrop of an increasingly bitter relationship between London and Paris over the issue of Channel crossings and post-Brexit fishing rights. Just earlier this week, the French magazine Le Canard Enchaîné reported that Mr Macron had referred to the prime minister in private as “un clown” and his administration as a “circus”. There was no immediate response from the Elysée Palace.

COVID: How dangerous is the new Omicron variant? Well, according to government advisers, the true threat posed by the variant is unlikely to be determined until the turn of the new year. Experts from the Scientific Pandemic Influenza Group on Modelling (SPI-M) believe “the worse the problem is going to be, the earlier we will know” – but it’s expected to take a month before data indicates whether omicron will drive a surge in hospitalisations among the vaccinated. It comes after more than 40 cases have been identified in the UK while the country recorded a total of 53,945 positive cases of Covid on Wednesday, according to government data. In more positive news, The Times reported that booster jabs “massively” strengthen the body’s defences against Covid as the government seeks to ramp up the programme in the coming weeks.

FURLOUGH 2.0: Amid the uncertainty over the Omicron variant, debate has inevitably turned to whether more restrictions are needed (a la Christmas parties, snogging under the mistletoe), ministers are also being told they must rapidly restart the furlough economic support programme if further measures are imposed. TUC general secretary, who helped negotiate the original furlough scheme with the chancellor, said that ministers must be ready to step in to provide “immediate financial support” for jobs at “a worrying and uncertain time for workers and businesses”. After enduring three lockdowns, it is perhaps not surprising the public appears to have little appetite for further draconian restrictions, according to a new YouGov poll. It shows 68 per cent are opposed to the closure of pubs, 61 per cent against banning people from meeting outside their household indoors and 56 per cent also opposed to brining back the “rule of six” rule for outside gatherings.

ON THE CONTINENT: In a significant ramping up of measures in Germany, the outgoing chancellor Angela Merkel announced that people who are not vaccinated will be excluded from non-essential stores, culture and recreational venues in an effort to curb Covid infection rates. After Austria announced it was planning compulsory vaccinations for all a fortnight ago, the German chancellor also spoke in favour of the measure, telling reporters on Thursday: “Given the situation, I think it is appropriate to adopt compulsory vaccination”. Asked about the issue on the BBC’s Andrew Marr programme recently, however, Sajid Javid, the health secretary, stressed it was not something Britain “would ever look at” — despite mandating jabs for social care workers and NHS staff from the spring.

On the record

“We don’t want people to cancel such events and there is no government guidance to that end.”

PM’s official spokesperson when questioned on Christmas parties

From the Twitterati

“Watch the full interview folks ... Don’t kiss with people you don’t know... government working exceptionally hard with NHS and the Jabs Army to get boosters in arms so we can all enjoy a proper Christmas knees up.”

Work and pensions secretary Therese Coffey doubles down on her advice not to kiss strangers as Covid cases rise

Essential reading

Andrew Grice, The Independent:Therese Coffey gets her tongue in a twist over snogging guidelines

Cathy Newman, The Independent: Domestic abuse will now be treated like knife crime. Quite right, too.

Anoosh Chakelian, The New Statesman:My dad fled Lebanon for a new life. He found dry land, but others aren’t so lucky

Bel Trew, May Bulman, The Independent: Britain promised to take in these Syrian families. Instead, they’re scavenging through bins to survive

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