Matthew Taylor

Sunday shows round-up: herd immunity was ‘not at all’ government policy

Sunday shows round-up: herd immunity was ‘not at all’ government policy
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Priti Patel: The BBC’s reputation ‘has been compromised’

Today’s political shows were dominated by the fallout from the Dyson inquiry into the BBC and its relationship with the journalist Martin Bashir. The findings of Lord Dyson’s report have already seen Tony Hall, the BBC’s former director-general, resign his post as chair of the National Gallery. The Home Secretary, Priti Patel, spoke to Trevor Philips – who will be replacing Sophy Ridge while she is on maternity leave – about the issue:

PP: The BBC itself – one of our great institutions – its reputation has been compromised… and they themselves will have to reflect upon the report, and spend a great deal of time, I think, looking at how they can rebuild trust and confidence… They will have a great deal of work to do.

‘All options will have to be considered’ ahead of BBC’s mid-term review

Andrew Marr also interviewed Patel about the BBC, asking her about whether the Culture Secretary Oliver Dowden would be considering reforms ahead of the corporation’s mid-term review of its charter, due in 2022. Patel kept things vague, but hinted that the BBC would be being kept on its toes:

PP: The Culture Secretary is absolutely right around governance, accountability, transparency… I think we also have to reflect that we live in the age of multi-media… This is the Netflix generation – how relevant is the BBC?… I’m sure there will be many many issues… I think all options will have to be considered.

Herd immunity was not government policy

Dominic Cummings has wandered back into the spotlight once again, accusing the government of originally planning to pursue a strategy of herd immunity to the coronavirus, eventually relenting in March when counselled that doing so would lead to a ‘catastrophe’. He has also claimed that lockdowns could have bene avoided with ‘competent people in charge’. Cummings’ Twitter outburst foreshadows an appearance before Parliament’s joint inquiry into the pandemic next Wednesday. Patel denied Cummings’ claims that herd immunity had been the preferred option at the outset:

AM: Can you now admit as government that herd immunity was the policy until March?

PP: Not at all, no…

AM: Presumably therefore [Cummings] can’t be bringing hard evidence of this?

PP: …Our strategy was always about protecting public health, saving lives, and protecting the NHS.

Immigration policy will set ‘framework for the future’

Phillips went on to question Patel about immigration. Patel announced that tomorrow she will be revealing the government’s plans for ‘simplifying’ the UK’s immigration restrictions now that it has left the European Union, which include some visitors having to apply for ‘Electronic Travel Authorisation’:

PP: What I’m unveiling and proposing tomorrow is a new Legal Migration and [Border Control] Strategy, which very much sets the framework for the future, which is based upon digitalisation of our borders, but also… we’re currently in the process of simplifying almost 500 pages of immigration legislation and rules.

Sturgeon’s stance ‘a sorry state of affairs’

Phillips asked Patel if she and Nicola Sturgeon were poised to clash over an immigration raid in Glasgow earlier this month. Protestors at the scene put a halt to the raid and secured the release of two detained men from the back of a Home Office van. Scotland’s First Minister has attacked the UK wide immigration policy as ‘appalling’ and called on the government to reverse it:

PP: [Sturgeon’s] comments also reflect on the nationalist position when it comes to removing people that have no legal basis to be in the UK… Immigration and Enforcement were absolutely doing their job… I think it’s… a sorry state of affairs that we see the nationalists in Scotland basically trying to thwart the safety and security of the British people.

‘A lot more work to do’ for Windrush victims

The government’s Windrush Compensation Scheme, set up in 2019 to amend for the hardship caused by the Home Office’s previous policies, has been attacked by MPs and the National Audit Office for being too slow and inefficient. Patel defended the scheme’s performance under her watch:

PP: The Windrush scandal has been an absolute stain, quite frankly, on our country… Because the [compensation] scheme was simply too slow and complicated… I overhauled the scheme… In March… over £8 million of compensation was paid out… But Trevor, there is a lot more work to do here.

Nick Thomas-Symonds: Government ‘broke’ the asylum system

Phillips moved on the Patel’s opposite number, Nick Thomas-Symonds. The Shadow Home Secretary had a withering assessment of the government’s record on asylum services:

NTS: The government keeps saying the asylum system is broken. They’ve been in power for 11 years and they broke it. If you look at 2014, 87 per cent of asylum claims were being dealt with within 6 months. That figure had fallen to 20 per cent by 2019… What we don’t want to see is the government deflecting blame for their own failure.

Passengers should pay for hotel quarantines

Marr queried Thomas-Symonds about Labour’s stance on international travel. Thomas-Symonds proposed that the entirety of the government’s ‘amber’ list should be transferred to the ‘red’ list, meaning that people hoping to travel to these countries would be required to isolate in a specially provided hotel on their return, rather than at home. As it stands, the amber list is substantially longer than the red list. Marr asked who would foot the expected £1,750 per traveller:

NTS: Clearly the hotel quarantining would be paid for by the passengers… You [can] put particular concessionary arrangements in place, like loans and other things to deal with particular situations, where, for example, a family member has died and you have to attend the funeral… It should be essential travel only, rather than the mixed messaging that the government has been putting out.

BBC needs to show Bashir situation ‘could not happen again’

Thomas-Symonds also gave his two cents on the imbroglio faced by the BBC over Martin Bashir:

NTS: Fundamentally, the BBC now needs to show that what happened with the Martin Bashir interview couldn’t happen again - that obtaining of an interview by deception. And we’ve seen the impact that has had on the royal family… I think there is a specific question too, over how the BBC came to employ Mr Bashir again in 2016.

Jenny Harries: I was not at any meeting where ‘herd immunity’ was put forward

Marr put the accusation made by Dominic Cummings about herd immunity to Dr Jenny Harries. Harries was previously the Deputy Chief Medical Officer for England, before moving to her latest role as chief executive of the new Health Security Agency in April:

JH: I can categorically say I have never been in any government meeting where herd immunity was put forward at that point in the pandemic as a mechanism for control… Actually, what we are doing with the vaccine… is developing herd immunity, so just talking about herd immunity is… rather simplistic.

Andrew Morton: Diana would have spoken out anyway

Andrew Morton, the journalist most famed for his biography of Diana, Princess of Wales (‘Diana: Her True Story’) spoke to Phillips about her infamous interview with Martin Bashir. Though he had plenty of scorn for Bashir, Morton downplayed the idea that there was a direct link between Bashir’s conduct in the interview and the events leading to Diana’s eventual death, such as the dismissal of her royal security team:

AM: Diana wanted to speak her truth… Yes, she was terrified into doing the interview by Bashir… but what she had to say was very much reflective of what she truly felt… She would probably have said these things to somebody else… It so happened that Bashir beat the pack by lying to her.

John McDonnell: ‘It’s time to move on’

And finally, the former Shadow Chancellor John McDonnell kept the flame burning for his comrade Jeremy Corbyn, who remains an independent MP after being suspended by Keir Starmer for his reaction to the EHRC report on anti-Semitism last year:

JM: Keir, when he was elected leader said that he would unite the party… and one step in demonstrating that he is uniting the party would be to give Jeremy back the whip. I think most of us can’t believe that he had the whip withdrawn in the first place…

TP: …Some of the MPs who accused Jeremy Corbyn of enabling anti-Semitism might think ‘a bit too soon, don’t you think?’

JM: I think it would be one small step in uniting the party… I just think it’s time to move on now.