Long stories short
- Volodymyr Zelensky accused Putin of genocide in the Donbas and western governments of seeking to appease him.
- Parents in Uvalde, Texas, said heavily armed police waited an hour to act against the gunman who killed 19 children and two teachers at Robb Elementary School.
- Virtual “abbatars” played to a packed, purpose-built arena in London in front of the King and Queen of Sweden, and Abba (more below).
In the 48 hours since Sue Gray’s report on Downing Street lockdown parties was published, five more Conservative MPs have said they no longer have faith in Boris Johnson’s leadership. That makes a total of 22, well short of the 54 needed to trigger a no-confidence vote. But the odour of lies and hypocrisy (and vomit) in Number 10 is growing, not fading in spite of expensive efforts by Rishi Sunak next door to change the subject to the cost of living.
- The lies. The single most important conclusion to be drawn from the Gray report is not stated in it. She says many of the 16 events investigated were not “in line with Covid guidance at the time”. Johnson has told the Commons that, on the contrary, they were. He therefore misled parliament, which traditionally is a resigning offence.
- The hypocrisy. Gray notes that across the country people who observed the guidelines were unable to see “loved ones in their last moments”. Johnson said after publication of the report he respectfully disagreed with those who said it wasn’t right to hold leaving parties for his colleagues during lockdown. So he asserted the right to say goodbye to them while ordinary citizens were barred from saying goodbye to dying relatives.
He also broke the law and has been fined for it – traditionally another resigning matter. But “traditionally” is the keyword. Johnson has shown repeatedly he is no respecter of tradition, especially by Conservative standards. Whether to step down for lying or lawbreaking is ultimately a political call and on Partygate he has made the call to brazen it out.
That leaves his party demoralised. The latest YouGov poll of voting intentions shows Labour’s lead steady from a week ago at eight per cent. MPs defending thin majorities fear the next election and many tacitly share Iain Martin’s devastating view that instead of a functioning government Britain now has “drift, decay and a disintegration of decision-making”.
Sunak’s £15 billion package announced yesterday to help households with energy bills has been broadly well-received (more below). But inflation will get worse before it gets better, not least because of a dramatic 500,000 decline in labour force participation since the start of the pandemic.
This half-million-strong exodus is part of an overall decline of 900,000 in the number of people in work in Britain since late 2019. As the FT’s Chris Giles and Michael Saunders of the Bank of England’s Monetary Policy Committee make clear, it has produced a structural labour shortage that
- drives inflation;
- is UK-specific (the UK’s employment rate relative to late 2019 is the lowest in the G7);
- is partly a result of sickness, including long Covid;
- but is also a result of Brexit.
Sunak told the BBC this morning his colleagues at the Department of Work and Pensions and the Home Office were working to get UK citizens back into work and qualified migrants into the UK. Meanwhile, his neighbour awaits the findings of the third and possibly the least sympathetic Partygate investigation – by the House of Commons’ privileges committee – and living costs head on up, helped along by energy prices not due to plateau until January.
Gray didn’t do for Johson, but stinkflation still could.
In Monday’s Sensemaker: a close-up look at a different sort of prime minister, France’s Elizabeth Borne, running for office for the first time in her life at 61.
CAPITAL ECONOMY, BUSINESS AND FINANCE
Rishi Sunak surprised the pundits, helped the poor, annoyed the heck out of the oil companies and went some way to salvaging his career yesterday. He did so by doing what chancellors alone in the UK can do: promising to spend a lot of money. His £15 billion package to alleviate the cost of living crisis was 50 per cent higher than some had forecast and entails £10 billion of extra borrowing at a time of rising interest rates as well as £5 in extra taxes, mainly from oil and gas firms making record profits but also from higher business taxes generally. Some Tory MPs asked what had taken him so long. Others were just relieved to see some action. Its most significant component will be a £650 one-off payment to the country’s 8 million poorest households, out-redistributing Labour and just possibly putting the dish back into Dishi Rishi.
CULTURE soCIETY, IDENTITY AND BELONGING
Abbatars and Tom
This weekend is shaping up to be a good one for entertainment if not for originality. Top Gun: Maverick is opening 36 years after the original and Abba is performing as live in London courtesy of two-dimensional avatars that enraptured concertgoers – and reviewers – swore looked as good as 3D and, frankly, better than their human originals, who now have a combined age of 300. The Top Gun sequel has more five-star reviews than it can shake a gunsight at and the Abba Voyage concert is, the Telegraph’s chief music critic says, “a mind-blowing high-tech celebration of some of the greatest pop music ever made”. The Times would have preferred humans but thought it was still “out of this world”. The Guardian said avatars are the future. They are certainly the present. In any case, enjoy. Tickets start at £21.
TECHNOLOGY AI, SCIENCE AND NEW THINGS
Russian airlines are having to ground dozens of planes to cannibalise them for spare parts because parts can no longer be sourced from Airbus or Boeing. The aviation press had a heads-up on this story earlier this month but the WaPo now has some numbers: Pobeda Airlines, part of the Aeroflot group, has shrunk its operational fleet from 41 to 25 planes to make the others available for parts. Ural Airlines, which operates more than 50 Airbuses, says it will have to start grounding and cannibalising within a few months. The Kremlin wants Russia’s own aircraft makers to step up, and they have the advantage of domestic supplies of aluminium and titanium that aren’t affected by sanctions. But a leaked government report says the war could still lead to the grounding of half Russia’s commercial fleet.
The 100-year life health, education AND GOVERNMENT
A doctor performed a surgery he pioneered on more than 200 women who might not have needed it, leaving some in excruciating pain. Anthony Dixon became well known for performing laparoscopic ventral mesh rectopexy (LVMR) procedures – plastic mesh used to repair weakened pelvic floor often after childbirth – in Bristol. A review by the North Bristol NHS trust found that nearly half the women he operated on between 2007 and 2017 at Southmead hospital suffered harm, as did 93 he treated at Spire Hospital. 47-year old Tracey Hanman, who still suffers painful side-effects, tells the BBC: “Every day you battle with the fact someone has done that to you and they didn’t need to”. An initial review by the trust in 2017 following a BBC investigation led to Dixon’s suspension. But concerns were first raised in 2013 and reported to the General Medical Council in 2015. Last month the UK government released the results of a survey titled ‘Women’s Health – Lets talk about it” ahead of an imminent women’s health strategy. 84 per cent of nearly 100,000 respondents said there had been times when they, or the woman they knew of, felt they were not listened to by healthcare professionals.
Our planet CLIMATE AND geopolitics
Legend has it that Alexander the Great’s soldiers planted walnut trees in a heavenly alpine valley in Central Asia on their way to India 23 centuries ago. Whatever its true origins, there is a wondrous walnut forest on the slopes above Arslanbob, a hidden mountain sanctuary on the northern edge of the Fergana Valley in Kyrgyzstan. But climate change is drying out pastures higher up and forcing livestock down into the trees, where they are eating nuts and underbrush and thinning out the forest. A local NGO has developed an app to enable herders to help map those pastures, identify areas of overgrazing and let them recover, while the government is working to boost supplies of seeds from healthy pastures to regrow denuded ones. Deutsche Welle has the story. Could more tourism alleviate Arslanbob’s dependence on livestock?
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With additional reporting by Phoebe Davis.
Photographs Simon Dawson / No 10 Downing Street, Skydance Media, Getty Images
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Another American school massacre
The gunman who killed 21 people including 19 children at a school in Uvalde, Texas used two AR-15 assault rifles. Why, despite so many mass shootings, can you still buy military-style weapons in America?