LDV’s Sunday Six – 10 January 2021

Welcome to another selection of interesting articles from this week’s Sunday papers. It’s been a dramatic week, but we start off with something a bit closer to home:

The Observer has an article about how the huge number of elections due to take place in England could be run:

Measures such as switching to postal votes or extending the time in which ballots can be cast are regarded as logistically impossible in England.However, election officials are looking at simple measures to reduce transmission, including a publicity campaign asking that voters bring their own implement to make their mark.

“Voters can bring their own pen or pencil to vote,” said Craig Westwood, the Electoral Commission’s director of communications, policy and research. “While you can do that in any election, it’s another measure to help keep safe. Voters will be hearing these messages from us, and others, in the weeks leading up to the polls.

“We are focusing a lot more on the voting options that people will have, including postal and proxy voting, and making sure that polling stations are safe places to vote. We’re comfortable that local authorities can make them safe, with support from voters in following the advice they’re given. This will all be similar to what we’re already experiencing in our daily lives, in terms of social distancing, hand sanitiser and masks.”

They ruled out extending the time for voting. It would perhaps be sensible to have the voting over a weekend rather than just a Thursday.

Liberal Democrat guidance is to assume that the elections are going to go ahead in May regardless of any speculation to the contrary. That means that we continue to campaign in Covid-safe ways and if we have to go on for longer, then we’ll be in really good shape to do so.

In the Independent, Jim Moore urges Keir Starmer to look to Stacey Abrams, who has done so much to level the playing field in Georgia where Republican voter suppression had given them so much of an advantage. Her work at making sure people were registered to vote has been credited with both Joe Biden’s victory in the state and those of Raphael Warnock and Jon Ossoff to take control of the Senate. Moore argues:

So to Sir Keir. The Tories have been increasingly using the same language adopted by the Republicans when it comes to voting, despite the UK’s Electoral Commission stating in 2019 that there remains no evidence of large-scale electoral fraud.

For the record, there were more than 32 million votes cast in the UK General Election that year, but just 161 cases of fraud reported to the police and only a single conviction.

As in the US, enforcing voter ID in Britain looks very much like a solution in search of a problem that doesn’t exist. But if it can swing you a few constituencies – and it might do that because poorer, and younger, voters who are less likely to have ID are typically more likely to vote Labour – then hey, why not.

These are the sorts of things that have been raised time and again by Liberal Democrat MPs and peers. It would be really helpful if Labour got their act together and really started pushing against the Government’s plans which so transparently follow the Republican voter suppression 101.

A distressing interview in the Sunday Mirror with a nurse shows the pressure that NHS staff are under.  She was speaking after four patients she was caring for had died in two days.

Given the pressure on her, it was really worrying to see that when she is not at work, she can’t sleep because of the nightmares she’s having.

She begged people to follow the rules to avoid catching Covid.

Her message to anti-lockdown groups is simple: Get real.

Ameera said: “They don’t have any medical qualifications yet feel it’s OK to make unfounded comments.

“When will they realise what’s really going on? Will it be when they lose someone they love? We can have a day where patients are dying all day long and you are having to quickly wash them and zip up a body bag.

“None of the people from anti-lockdown groups will ever zip up a body bag in their lives.” Doctors and nurses are risking their lives to treat patients, day in, day out.

Back to the Observer and Bill Clinton’s former Labor Secretary Robert Reich gives us a long list of people who should pay the price, along with Donald Trump, for the events this week.

Those who tried to object to certifying the election results should be banned from holding office ever again, he said, showing  nothing but scorn for people like Lindsay Graham and Cabinet members who are deserting the sinking ship now but who have contributed to raising of the temperature.

He also took a swipe at media and social media companies and ends with a warning:

All are parts of the ecosystem that led to Trump’s sedition. That ecosystem is still in place.

Those who say we should “look forward” to a new administration and forget or dismiss what occurred last week are delusional. Unless all who participated in or abetted the attempted overthrow of the US government are held accountable, it will happen again. Next time it may succeed.

 

Trust the Government to protect people from eviction during the pandemic? Nope. The Independent highlights how, in England, landlords will now have more scope to throw tenants who have hit financial trouble during lockdown onto the streets:

These “substantial” rent arrears were previously defined in law as equivalent to nine months’ rent, but debt accrued since the first lockdown on 23 March was not allowed to be counted in the total.

This rule was to make sure people who lost their jobs during the pandemic were not made homeless because the government had forced their workplace to close.

But the new legislation removes this protection and redefines “substantial arrears” to cover many more people.

A tenant can now be evicted if they have been unable to pay their rent for six months, and most crucially, rent accrued since the pandemic began is no longer excluded.

The charity Citizens Advice estimates that around half a million tenants are in arrears, with the average amount owed being £730.

Housing activists warned that the new loophole leaves in tatters the government’s promise that no one will lose their home because of the pandemic.

And finally, politicians from all but the Tories have called for Donald Trump to be prevented from fleeing to Scotland at the end of his term of office as Scotland on Sunday reports.

Lib Dem MSP Mike Rumbles is quoted:

I believe Mr Trump clearly comes into the category of an undesirable person and that there are enough grounds for the UK Government to bar his entry into the country. The loss of life caused by his incitement of the mob in Washington is proof of that.

“I hope that if Mr Trump attempted to come to Scotland, the UK Government would take the appropriate action to bar his entry.”

 

* Caron Lindsay is Editor of Liberal Democrat Voice and blogs at Caron's Musings

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24 Comments

  • Laurence Cox 10th Jan '21 - 12:16pm

    The Observer article doesn’t even mention the single largest super-spreading risk; the Count, with hundreds of people, both counters employed by the Returning Officer and Counting Agents representing the political parties, all crammed together in a sports hall for many hours at a time with no opportunity for social distancing.

  • Helen Dudden 10th Jan '21 - 12:39pm

    Laurence Cox. I thought about that one. You also have to touch the ballot paper.

  • More relevant than anything Mr Rumbles may say (he vociferously shouted out opposition to a covid travel ban in Parliament in November), the Scottish Justice Secretary, Humza Yousaf, has written to the Home Secretary, Priti Patel urging her to make an exclusion order against Mr Trump on the grounds that his presence would not be conducive to the public good.

    UK Home Office guidelines state exclusions on non-conducive grounds mean it is undesirable to admit the person entry “because they pose a threat to UK society”. It applies to conduct both in the UK and overseas, and is a Westminster decision in Scotland.

  • neil sandison 10th Jan '21 - 1:07pm

    I was arguing in September that COVID 19 wasn’t going to go away quickly it is unlikely the vaccine will be widely distributed by May . A full postal vote with electronic counting is doable . But the government must act now .We could move the elections to June but their is no guarantee the virus will have sufficiently depleted to make it safe for all voters to go to the polling station.

  • According to the World Health Association there is very little risk of spreading the virus on paper. If (as is unlikely) there were serious worries ballot papers could be isolated for three days before a count.
    As for social distancing at the count, it is not essential to do it all at one venue. Our District used to have five counting stations, where we now have two. If the size of stations were the same but with more of them and a dispersal of staff they would be much safer than most supermarkets.
    If the candidates and media have to wait longer for results – well, tough!

  • “Measures such as switching to postal votes or extending the time in which ballots can be cast are regarded as logistically impossible in England”

    This is total nonsense

    IN 2004 all postal voting was introduced for 4 regions. The legislation for that received Royal Assent on 1st April 2004, the regulations were published some time after that and at very short notice. Even the advance notice was quite limited – my copy of ALDC’s Grassroots Campaigner from Jan 2004 refers to two regions getting all postal elections on the recommendation of the Electoral Commission, Feb 2004 refers to ‘the recent announcement’ about all-postal voting.

    In short there is more time to prepare for al all postal election this year than was given in 2004.

    I don’t know who the person most opposed to all postal voting elections would be in the Lib Dems – but I’m probably going to be in the top 50. But given the exceptional circumstances currently I think it’s far from the worst option.

    The count also presents some difficulties – I wonder if it would be possible to have a count carried out under some sort of camera supervision so vote counting can be observed at a distance? That said I’m not aware of any reports from America of virus spreading related to counting venues so there may be some good practice to build upon.

  • Whilst I sympathise with the nurses working conditions I find her comments about lockdown sceptics to be nonsensical e.g:

    “Ameera said: “They don’t have any medical qualifications yet feel it’s OK to make unfounded comments.”

    The global anti-lockdown movement is led by some of the worlds leading infectious disease experts. Their proposal is shielding the people most vulnerable to the virus whilst avoiding lockdown for those less at risk. They argue that this would protect hospitals whilst minimising the enormous harm to public health caused by lockdowns.

    Although their recommendations have largely been ignored by policymakers there is a smear campaign underway to blame them for the winter rise in cases.

    I wonder who put the nurse up to it.

  • Tony Greaves 10th Jan '21 - 10:14pm

    Just to say – the 2004 elections were in June (joint Euro and Council). I remember them well – glorious sunshine and I got back on the Council after a break of six years!

    There are very serious problems in small authorities which are already cut to the bone and where lots of staff are working from home and lots of staff doing Covid work instead of/as well as their normal jobs. A massive PV operation would be difficult but the main problem is with physical voting and counting (you can’t do it from home). Counts could take place slowly over two or three days with minimal attendance – but eg in Pendle we will have three full elections – an all-out for Pendle Borough, all the County seats, and the Police Commissioner. The problem is the people not the paper.

    Polling stations are a potential nightmare. The EC is saying double the staff so it can be done in shifts. Plus a cleaner all day plus a “greeter” at the door to stop more than two voters at a time and keep social distancing in the queue, plus one-way systems, bring your own pencils, etc etc. Venues to be deep cleaned the day before and day after and school already complaining. Tellers??? The EC say guidance to come but different parties will have to stay apart!!! Polling day staff are all volunteers whether or not they work for the Council. Already signs that people don’t want to do it (not least if they are working from home!)

    I think we are saying to the Government to delay until late June or July. There is talk in the Sunday Times today of delay until September.

  • @Marco

    I really cannot fathom why you would even reference the “Great Barrington Declaration” again, considering how discredited it was back then and especially now when we can see the crisis that we are facing in the NHS with severe shortage of ICU and acute medicine beds.

    Infections and deaths are on the rise in care homes again. This is despite vigorous infection controls, regular testing of staff, PPE and visitor bans. It is extremely difficult to keep vulnerable people safe with shielding when they need access to medical and social care.

    And lets not forget it was written by the same professor who claimed that the UK had already reached herd immunity.

    Given the crisis that this country and the NHS faces, I think we should be putting the Great Barrington Declaration to bed once and for all.

  • @ Matt

    The Great Barrington Declaration is not discredited at all. It hasn’t been tried so cannot be blamed for the winter spike. If anything, if GBD had been adopted there would by now be more immunity in the population which would have slowed the winter spread.

    It is lockdowns that have been pursued and they have turned out to be ineffective in containing the virus or protecting the vulnerable as you sort of acknowledge. The case is made through fear, guilt and graphs and data that don’t really tell us anything.

    You can tell lockdowns don’t work by the never ending tightening of regulations, desperately searching for more and more things to close or ban along with unnecessary draconian policing.

  • @Marco

    If it works, then please explain the rise in cases in care homes?

    We have the benefit of hindsight to show us that it is nonsense and does not work.

    You cannot shield the elderly and vulnerable entirely as they are dependant on receiving care and support from outside.

    The more that the virus is spreading outside, the more those carers / support workers / medical personal are coming into contact with the virus, which inevitable finds it way into the vulnerable group.

    That is fact and is being shown in real time data.

    Things are bad enough as it is, doing as you propose would be even more catastrophic.

    The reason I suggest lockdowns are not as effective this time round is because the lockdown is not as tight as the first one and there is far less compliance. That is not an argument for loosening them.

    And besides, it takes several weeks of full lockdown to see the effects, because so many hospital admissions and deaths are sadly already baked into the numbers because there is a lag between infection > Hospital admission > Death .

    I know personally of people who have gone into Hospital for non-covid treatment, including an 18 year old who I have mentioned on here before receiving cancer treatment at addenbrokes, who has now tested positive for covid whilst in the ward.
    Hospitals are struggling to keep covid out of non-covid wards, I do not say that to scare people, I get no joy in that whatsoever, but it is a fact, this virus is so highly transmissible, even with vigorous hospital control measures in place, it is still finding its way on to other wards that must be kept covid free

  • @ Matt

    “ doing as you propose would be even more catastrophic.”

    Not so because if if there were more recovered and immune people by now they would act as a buffer against transmission that would protect other people.

    The problem in hospitals and care homes is the lack of immune people to act as buffers. However I would argue that the rate of transmission in these settings is independent of the transmission rate in the wider community.

    Many care homes have been well protected since the Spring and a large number have never had any outbreaks. In those that have it might be due to poor procedures or lack of compliance.

  • @Marco

    “In those that have it might be due to poor procedures or lack of compliance.”

    As I have said in another thread, I have 2 sisters who work in care homes, they have very strict control measures in place, they have been following the rules vigorously, staff being tested regularly and yet both nursing homes are now experiencing outbreaks again which has sadly left to more deaths and more residents being sent to hospital.
    One sister said all but 3 of their permanent staff are infected and are now relying on agency staff. I happen to believe them. It cannot be a coincidence that they managed to get through the first wave without incidence, but have not been successful with this new more transmissible strain.

    “Not so because if if there were more recovered and immune people by now they would act as a buffer against transmission that would protect other people.”

    And yet we only have to look at countries like Mexico where they had very high infection rates in the first wave and are still seeing high rates. The same with New York.

    The known facts now, do not support The great Barrington Theories that were suggested at their time earlier in the pandemic.
    Probably the reason why we are no longer hearing from the professors who were proposing it at the time, as their theory has now been proven to have been wrong

  • Peter Hirst 11th Jan '21 - 6:59pm

    Regarding your reference to the leader of the Labour Party what about making our core strategy making it a clear choice between him and Ed for people’s votes? This would move the debate from the Conservatives and put us in a situation that we can win. I know it goes against our culture on campaigning on issues but these are extraordinary times.

  • @ Matt

    Even Neil Ferguson AKA Professor Lockdown acknowledges that herd immunity is building:

    “There is quite a lot of herd immunity in places like London. Maybe 25% to 35% of the population has now been infected”

    https://mobile.twitter.com/freddiesayers/status/1348202341355442177?ref_src=twsrc%5Egoogle%7Ctwcamp%5Eserp%7Ctwgr%5Etweet

  • @Marco

    There is a vast difference between we have reached herd immunity and herd immunity is building. Considering Dr Gupta was making those claims back in March last year at the beginning of the pandemic and looking at the levels of daily infections we are seeing in the uk now, almost a year on, clearly I would have thought it shows she was incorrect.

    Yes, I have seen it reported that maybe 25% of people in some areas may have now contracted the virus i.e London but since herd immunity requires much higher numbers than this and I have seen it reported to be as much as 70% although they do not know the exact number for Covid yet, different viruses require different levels of immunity as in Measles 95%, Polio 80%.
    But it is quite clear, we are nowhere near the 70% threshold and so to take London as an example, we only have to look at the extreme and in come places critical pressures London Hospitals are under at present and now having to cancel life saving elective surgery again.

    Evidence shows that lockdowns do work, they slow down the spread, which is the aim of lockdown.
    The problem we have now is the Government are still trying to do this half-baked lock down and trying to do it by issuing guidance rather than regulation.
    Guidance is no longer working and so it is time to go down the legislation route.
    We have come so far, been through so much to throw it all way now when we are so close to getting the jabs into peoples arms in the numbers we need

  • @Marco

    Furthermore Marco, when hospitals are at critical point as they are and are at capacity, I struggle to understand how anti-lockdown protestors can still try and validate their arguments when the facts are real and there to see in real time.

  • @Matt

    The 70% figure for the herd immunity threshold is a guess based on among other things an assumption that 100% of the population is susceptible which they may not be if there is some prior immunity from exposure to other coronaviruses. Some experts therefore believe that the HIT is much lower than that.

    Furthermore, the threshold does not have to be reached to see the benefits of rising immunity which reduces the effective R rate. If an R rate was 2 and 1/2 people had immunity then the R rate would effectively be 1 because instead of passing the virus on to two people you would only pass it to one. Hence why Prof Ferguson said that it “adds to the reduction of transmission”.

    Finally in winter R rates are higher therefore the HIT is higher and immunity declines – hence the winter spike (as we see each year with Flu which we have a herd immunity relationship with). The GBD scientists were ahead of the game on this, predicting a possible winter crisis due to not enough immunity having been acquired.

  • @Marco

    Nothing to say about the lack of ICU and acute beds in hospitals that are either already running above capacity or at critical stages?

    As I said, you surly cannot dispute these facts which proves the need for immediate lockdown.

    We are not anywhere near the threshold for herd immunity and look at the state hospitals are in today.
    If we were not in lockdown and reducing our social contacts it does not bare thinking about what would be happening in hospitals and to public health.

  • Nonconformistradical 13th Jan '21 - 9:32am

    “We are not anywhere near the threshold for herd immunity”

    As I understand it the increased infecitivty of the UK variant will make achieving herd immunity more difficult – a higher proportion of the population needs to be immune.

    https://www.wsj.com/articles/covid-19-variant-could-make-herd-immunity-more-difficult-says-biontech-11608646717

    “BERLIN—The new coronavirus variant that is spreading across the U.K. could make it more difficult to reach so-called herd immunity, according to the chief executive of BioNTech SE , the German company that developed the Covid-19 vaccine with Pfizer Inc . “

  • Richard Underhill. 13th Jan '21 - 9:53am

    “different parties will have to stay apart”
    There was a Parliamentary by-election when David Cameron resigned. A teller from UKIP was a particular problem. He did not respond to normal conversation, as others did.
    In a local election a member of staff and told the UKIP teller that she was too loud , should leave and not return. Later in the day she was allowed back.

  • Richard Underhill. 13th Jan '21 - 9:54am

    “different parties will have to stay apart”
    There was a Parliamentary by-election when David Cameron resigned. A teller from UKIP was a particular problem. He did not respond to normal conversation, as others did.

    In a local election a member of staff and told the UKIP teller that she was too loud , should leave and not return. Later in the day she was allowed back.

  • Richard Underhill. 13th Jan '21 - 10:14am

    13th Jan ’21 – 9:54am
    Sorry about the apparent repetition.

  • I am glad to see that Oldham Council has now included rough sleepers as part of the priority group to be vaccinated first.

    They are an extremely vulnerable group with low life expectancy as it is due to their living conditions and poor health.
    I wish more council would come on board with this

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