Tag Archives: coronavirus

A Christmas Cracker of Covid Cheer? Perchance it is a dream…

Covid cases have been soaring across the UK and England just a few days ago been plummeting towards another lockdown or circuit breaker. We seemed destined to have a cracking Christmas followed by a New Year’s Eve singing Auld Lang Syne at a social distanced.

Yesterday, though, there was better news. Separate analyses published by Imperial College and Edinburgh University concurred with research funded by the South African Medical Research Council and a modelling exercise by a Danish institute. All four studies suggest Omicron will lead to less severe illness than Delta and less hospitalisation.

The results, which are provisional, look like a bonus for the NHS which is usually rammed to the rafters in winter and this year faces bigger than usual staff shortages due to self-isolation.

The studies are a huge boost for Boris Johnson, who’s premiership has been on the line over Covid restrictions (along with the loss of the North Shropshire by-election). He must make a decision in the next few days whether to follow Scotland and Wales in increasing restrictions, including cancelling New Year. His instinct will be to impose minimalist intervention rather than face letters of no confidence from his backbenchers.

But unless we “Jab the World” we are at risk of more waves of infection.

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Johnson’s nightmare Plan B debate – Lib Dem speeches (videos)

I used to look forward to a visit to the ice cream after school. “99”, I would cry out. Now 99 has a new meaning. It is the number of Conservative that rebelled against the prime minister on his Plan B yesterday evening. That vote has weakened his authority in his party, by which I mean the political party. A threat to his leadership now looks credible.

The North Shropshire by-election is tomorrow. It is neck and neck between Helen Morgan standing for us Lib Dems and Neil Shastri-Hurst for the Conservatives. If the Conservatives lose the seat, then surely Boris Johnson is finished.

During the debate, Layla Moran said that there is new evidence that Omicron affects children more than Delta has done. She asked: “Where is the plan for children?” She also called for more ventilation in public spaces and schools.

Daisy Cooper told MPs that the removal of restrictions on mask wearing in July was more a political move than health management. She said the UK Health Security Agency had warned that “stringent national measures” will need to be imposed by 18 December.

Wera Hobhouse supported mask wearing and warned sceptics of restrictions that our civil liberties do not include the liberty to harm others. She asked what was being done to ensure the housebound received their boosters.

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Omicron: Daisy Cooper says emergency plan needed within 72 hours

There is a lot to be learnt about Omicron. We know it is spreading fast. Faster than the dominant variant Delta. We don’t yet know its health impacts, the risks of those with one, two or three doses of vaccine getting Covid-19. We don’t yet know the health impacts of Omicron, the extent it will increase hospitalisation, lead to long term health consequences and deaths.

It is very early days on Omicron. The London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine study that triggered today’s media statement by Daisy Cooper has yet to be peer reviewed. But if there is a single lesson from this epidemic, is that earlier planning and earlier action can improve health outcomes and save lives. That is why she is calling for Boris Johnson’s government to set out its emergency plans to Parliament in the next 72 hours.

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Observations of an Expat: Nation v the World

I told you so. In all humility, I was not alone. The WHO issued a veritable flood of dire warnings. Dozens of NGOs did the same. So did an army of globalists who argued that common sense dictated that Covid is a global problem that requires global cooperation to save lives and a world economy of which we are all a part.

We argued that Africa, with poor its health conditions and poorer health facilities, was likely to produce a highly transmissible mutant virus that would find its way north and bite a Europe and America that ignored Africa firmly in the bum.

I may be overstating the case. Scientists are waiting for more data before a judgement on the seriousness of the Omicron variant. So far there appears to be good news and bad news in initial reports from Africa and the 29 non-African countries to which it has spread in a matter of days.

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World Review: Oil, vigilantism in America, refugees, Swedish politics and Omicron

Prepare for an oil price war in 2022. The combatants are OPEC and a consortium of top energy consuming countries including the US, China, UK, Japan, India and South Korea. All of these countries have built up huge strategic oil reserves in case of emergency such as war or another 1973-style OPEC oil embargo. The US has the largest reserves with 638 million barrels tucked away in storage facilities in Louisiana, Mississippi and Texas. The last two times America’s oil reserves were used was after Hurricane Katrina and during the Gulf War. Biden is depleting them to combat the energy shortage which has pushed up prices to $81 a barrel and is threatening the US and world economic recovery from the pandemic.

The OPEC countries (and Russia), however, like the high prices and they are used to controlling the market to suit their needs by raising and lowering production. They fear that Biden’s move on economic rather than security grounds threatens their historic stranglehold on the market. An OPEC summit is planned for 2 December. The oil ministers were planning to announce a 100 million barrel increase in production from January; not enough to substantially reduce prices, but possibly enough to stabilise them. That is expected to be off next week’s agenda. President Biden also has internal problems in the form of the Republicans who advocate increasing domestic oil production and reinstating projects such as the Keystone XL oil pipeline to reduce reliance foreign sources. But that, of course, runs afoul of climate change promises.

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World Review: America and China, Austrian vaccination and India’s farmers

It has been an interesting week for Sino-American relations and China in its own right. It started with the two countries agreeing to cooperate on climate change policies. There were no details in this proposed pact, but a start had been made. This was followed by a three-hour virtual summit between Joe Biden and Xi Jinping. Both sides basically re-stated long-held positions on trade, Taiwan, the South China Sea and human rights. But it was done in a friendly manner which meant another reasonable start. Then things started going downhill. The Americans are very upset about the new Chinese hypersonic missile and are being loud in their condemnation. Then Biden said he was considering refusing to send a diplomatic delegation to the Beijing Winter Olympics. The athletes can go, but the normal contingent of accompanying politicians are now expected to stay at home to protest Chinese human rights abuses in Xinjiang.

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Brexit preparations hindered a government unprepared for pandemic

A report from the National Audit Office published this morning reveals Brexit preparations hindered the government’s response to the Covid-19 pandemic how badly prepared the government was a major health emergency. :

This pandemic has exposed a vulnerability to whole-system emergencies – that is, emergencies that are so broad that they engage the entire system. Although the government had plans for an influenza pandemic, it did not have detailed plans for many non-health consequences and some health consequences of a pandemic like COVID-19. There were lessons from previous simulation exercises that were not fully implemented and would have helped prepare for a pandemic like COVID-19. There was limited oversight and assurance of plans in place, and many pre-pandemic plans were not adequate. In addition, there is variation in capacity, capability and maturity of risk management across government departments.

Ed Davey call on Boris Johnson to apologise: “That failure has cost many lives and contributed to an economic collapse the scale of which we are yet to understand. Most hurt of all will be a generation of school children left behind by the Conservatives.”

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World Review: COP26, sleaze, Africa at war and Covid

COP26 negotiators have as of this writing (Friday) entered the final stages of a draft agreement. It’s not great news for Planet Earth. So far, the gathered pledges will reduce temperature rises from the current 2.5 degree level to 2.4 degrees centigrade—well short of the 1.5 degree limit which climatologists say is the maximum the planet can bear to avoid worldwide environmental disaster. There are, however, some streaks of silver in this dark cloud. One is that the negotiators have agreed to meet in Egypt next year in a bid to make further progress. Originally it was going be another five year gap. There has also been agreement to stop deforestation. Coal has for the first time been singled for as a main polluter and many countries have promised to end its production and use. Although the US and China, the two biggest users, are dragging their feet.

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Lib Dems attack ministers on Covid as Ed Davey urges beefed up Plan B

Today’s i newspaper features Sir Ed Davey’s call for the government to bring in a beefed up version of Plan B as a matter of urgency to avoid a winter lockdown. Daisy Cooper also criticises the new Minister for Vaccines and Public Health for keeping a low profile. In the Commons yesterday, Layla Moran challenged the government on whether it is operating a policy of herd immunity.

The Plan B Plus would make face masks mandatory, people would be instructed to work from home and social distancing rules would be reimposed. It would not include Covid passports which the Lib Dems oppose.

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Munira Wilson calls for emergency SAGE Meeting

Liberal Democrat Health Spokesperson Munira Wilson has demanded that the government hold an emergency SAGE meeting to discuss soaring Covid cases.

The Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies has stopped meeting weekly and most recently met on 22 July, 9 September and 14 October.

The call comes as it emerges that government scientists have not met to discuss Covid for weeks and cases are running at nearly 50,000 a day.

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Munira Wilson: Ministers are burying their heads in the sand over rising Covid cases

The Liberal Democrats have demanded that the Government hold an emergency SAGE meeting to discuss surging Covid cases, and what measures may be needed to curb infections and protect the NHS and schools this winter.

It comes as it emerges that Government scientists have not met to discuss Covid for weeks and cases are running at nearly 50,000 a day.

Health Spokesperson, Munira Wilson MP said:

Covid cases are surging and millions of vulnerable people are yet to receive their booster jabs, yet ministers are burying their heads in the sand.

The Government cannot simply ignore the scientific advice and act as though this pandemic is over.

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World Review: Afghanistan, child labour and vaccine passports in France

In this weekend’s World Review, Tom Arms reports the Taliban is proving to be a loose coalition that is quickly falling apart along centuries-old tribal lines and more contemporary political axes. He turns his attention to the impact that Covid is having on child labour in the developing world. And he reviews how Marcon’s insistence on vaccine passports turned France from an country opposed to vaccination to one where 74% of adults have had at least one dose.

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Sunak and Johnson in “Barnard Castle on steroids” escape from self-isolation

You couldn’t make it up. It’s like reading the cover of Private Eye. Health secretary Sajid Javid gets a positive Covid-19 result. If the Prime Minister and Chancellor, who met with him on Friday,  were ordinary mortals, they would have been banished into the self-isolation wilderness for 10 days.

But those at the heart of government live more privileged lives. Driving to Barnard’s Castle to test eyesight. Sneaking a clinch with a mistress, though forgetting to smile for the CCTV. And now Johnson and Sunak, who must not to be confused with the comedy act Laurel and Hardy no matter how tempting that is, are on a trial. They are piloting a stop at work with Covid scheme and testing daily.

 

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Is Boris Johnson gambling on tonight’s Euro final to boost herd immunity?

Crowding together. Shouting. Singing. Welcome to the excitement of football. As England and Italy prepare for the Euro final, scientists are concerned that football is helping drive up Covid-19 infection rates by allowing potentially super spreader events such as the finals at Wembley and Wimbledon. It is predicted that seven million pints will be served during the Euro final tonight in pubs across the land. Health secretary Sajid Javid has suggested we might be heading towards 100,000 new cases a day. Did he take sporting events into account?

It’s coming home but could coronavirus also be coming home with the fans? Maybe Boris Johnson and Sajid Javid want that. Could the Euro final be a booster jab that gets us closer to herd immunity.

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Moran attacks Hancock on his denial that there was a PPE shortage early in pandemic

The collective memory, the memories of the front like medical workers and the records in all manner of media outlets are wrong. The PPE shortage in the early months of the pandemic was an illusion, maybe a few shortages locally. That’s according to Health Secretary Matt Hancock.

He is blind to PPE shortages and the consequences. His appointment at Specsavers is overdue. Today, Layla Moran takes Hancock to task and tells of harrowing evidence she has heard from families who lost loved ones to Covid caught on wards, and from NHS and care home staff who were left without adequate PPE.

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World Review: Netanyahu, G7, corporation tax and going green

In this week’s look at world news, LDV’s foreign affairs editor Tom Arms reviews the situation in Israel where Netanyahu looks set to be ousted by a coalition held together, for now at least, by their opposition to the country’s leader of 12 years.

Cornwall will host the G7 summit later this week. Boris Johnson could join his peers having been defeated in the Commons over cuts to overseas aid. Coronavirus, climate change and promotion of green industries are on the agenda.

Finance ministers are expected to agree a base rate for corporation tax today but it is not necessarily a done deal. The proposal must be approved at the G20 summit meeting in Venice in July and countries that benefit from a low corporation tax regime, such as Ireland, are bound to challenge the proposal.

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Local lockdowns by stealth?

The Government has been having to deal rapidly with the cock-up over the restrictions in areas where the Indian variant is spreading.

Munira Wilson was in the Guardian today, after confusion reigned in Westminster:

An appearance in the House of Commons on Tuesday by the vaccines minister, Nadhim Zahawi, failed to clarify the matter.

“What we’re asking people in those affected areas is to be cautious, is to be careful – so on visiting family, meet outdoors rather than inside where possible. Meet 2 metres apart from people you don’t live with, unless you have formed a support bubble,” said Zahawi. “Yes, people can visit family in half-term, if they follow social distancing guidelines.”

But then he added: “Avoid travelling in and out of the affected areas, as the prime minister said on the 14th, unless it is essential, for example for work purposes.”

In the House of Commons, the Twickenham MP, Munira Wilson, challenged Zahawi about whether her constituents should be avoiding travelling across the borough boundary into neighbouring Hounslow to shop or go to school.

The minister replied: “People need to exercise that caution, that common sense.”

It’s a pity that the Government didn’t follow it’s own advice and act with common sense in the first place.

Layla Moran, who chairs the All Party Parliamentary Group on Coronavirus, joined in on the BBC News:

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Ed Davey has to self isolate

Ed Davey announced last night that he and his family have to self isolate as someone who helps him and his wife Emily care for their disabled son John has tested positive for Coronavirus.

All of us at LDV wish the family well and hope that the person who tested positive makes a quick and full recovery.

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Daisy Cooper challenges the government on return of students to university

Daisy Cooper, MP for St Albans, Deputy Leader and spokesperson for education has just been challenging ministers in the Commons on the problem students have been experiencing during the pandemic. She said that students felt forgotten, that their mental health had deteriorated and government funds for students facing hardship should be doubled.

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Rennie marks 10,000 deaths of people with Covid-19 in Scotland

Responding to Scotland having passed 10,000 deaths from covid-19, Scottish Liberal Democrat leader Willie Rennie said:

“When I think of 10,000 deaths, I think of 10,000 broken families and friends. I think of the pain and the loss. 

“For their sake we must learn the lessons of what went right and what went wrong.   

“With one of the highest numbers of people dead in Europe, Scotland has a special responsibility to conduct an early public inquiry. That inquiry must look at the lack of testing for new care home residents, the lack of preparation in the summer for

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The word “truth” is being hijacked by fake news conspiracy theorists who claim their dark ideas are light

There have been too many victims of Covid-19. People for whom coronavirus was the primary cause of death. Many others whose death was accelerated or whose recovery from other diseases was cancelled through catching Covid.

Truth has been a victim too. Conspiracy theorists and populists have been promoting a distorted review of reality. Uncertainty, crisis and threat have always been fertile grounds for conspiracy theories. But has never been so important to get the truth right.

A “truthpaper” is currently been pushed through doors around the country. Truth? Not in my book.

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Negative impact of Covid-19 on people with a learning (or intellectual) disability

This is a version of a post, revised by the author, that originally appeared earlier this week.

The covid-19 pandemic has highlighted the unacceptable health inequalities faced by people with a learning (or intellectual) disability. This has been brought home by the JCVI decision not to prioritise them adequately during the vaccination programme and has been highlighted in an article in the British Medical Journal on which this blog draws heavily for the benefit of a lay readership.

It is estimated that only about 250,000 adults are registered as having a learning disability with their GP’s, although there are estimated to be c.1.5 million people in this country with this particular diagnosis.  One of the serious indications of learning disability is an inability or difficulty in reading the written word, a difficulty shared by many more who don’t meet all the criteria to have a learning disability, including for example, over 50% of those in prison in the UK. Inability to read is often accompanied by other limitations on comprehension, which helps to explain why people with learning disability are slow to understand when they are ill and to seek or be offered medical care.  The result is reduced life expectancy – people with learning disability die on average 25 years earlier than the general population.

The charity Beyond Words produces books and leaflets that tell stories with pictures to help people with learning disability lead their lives.  It has produced a series of books since the outbreak of COVID to explain about COVID – the symptoms, how to keep safe, vaccinations etc.

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A year on from the day that would go on to change our lives

The 31st January 2020 began, as it often does, with urgent Council business.  I was visiting the Network Rail Operating Centre in York, with other Council leaders from North Yorkshire and Leeds, to discuss rail investment in our region with the Secretary of State for Transport.

Immediately after the visit, I noticed a missed call from Sharon Sholtz, the Council’s Director of Public Health, which at the time was unexpected. On ringing back, I arranged to immediately walk into the Council’s offices to be briefed on what would soon to become a pandemic that would change our lives.

It is incredible to think that a year has passed since the first cases of Coronavirus were declared in our city and efforts to combat a virus, we knew nothing about, began. Whilst we still have some way to go in overcoming this unprecedented challenge, residents, businesses, and communities have time and time again showed the absolute best of our city. From the very beginning of this crisis, York has worked together to save lives and livelihoods.

I am grateful to all key workers, partners and council staff who have gone above and beyond to support our local communities and businesses. From the outset of the pandemic, the council has acted swiftly to support local businesses. From processing over £140 million in financial grant and relief support to businesses heavily impacted by the pandemic, to setting up our own £1 million emergency fund to help those businesses who missed out on Government grants.

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Who gets the vaccine next?

I’m losing track of calls for vaccine priority for one group or another. Teachers, police, this morning port workers – one might logically add the whole food supply chain of 4 or 5 million people. Unpaid carers have been raised (currently in group 6 of phase 1 ahead of 60-64 year olds in group 7).

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Lockdown weak, NHS in danger, where next?

With coronavirus case numbers still growing strongly (though perhaps slowing a little according to symptom tracking) and the NHS struggling to cope with the numbers of people needing hospitalisation already, driven by the much lower case numbers of 2 or 3 weeks ago, this is clearly the most dangerous time of the whole pandemic for any of us to contract the virus; there is every chance, wherever we live, that the NHS may not be able to give us the treatment we might need.

Acceleration of the vaccine programme is of course essential and the delay to second doses to give more people the protection of a first dose is a proportionate response to a crisis of this magnitude. But it will take until mid February to vaccinate (first dose) the most vulnerable 15 million people, accounting for 88% of deaths. So we should expect a big drop in pressure on the NHS by mid March. But that is 7 weeks away. For now, growth in the virus is adding pressure faster than vaccination can relieve it.

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That was the year that was (with apologies to Ms Millicent Martin) – Part 2, COVID

We have been living with the fallout from the 2016 Referendum for more years than many of us would care to admit to. After the General Election last December, many really did think that, followed by our exit from the EU we really had reached the “end of the beginning”. However, who would have thought this time last year that we would have spent most of 2020 hunkering down and ending with probably our largest ever peace time deficit? And for once we were not alone. How we humans have got to where we are exposes several theories. My personal view is that we humans are paying the price for encroaching ever closer to the animal world. Given nature’s shrinking environment it is not surprising that viruses are continuing to cross the species barrier and pose serious threats to our survival. What we have experienced all over the world for most of this year has been war by any other name. Just as two world wars in the space of thirty years witnessed the evolution of the aeroplane from the wood and canvas biplane of 1914 to the all metal jet plane of 1944, so the combined efforts of teams of scientists around the world have produced vaccines in less than twelve months that before had taken years to perfect, and in the case of a vaccine against HIV/AIDS, not at all.

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Munira Wilson leads parliamentary debate on Excluded

It’s a year today since Munira Wilson was elected as MP for Twickenham. Since then, she has held one of the most stressful roles, as Health Spokesperson, holding the Government to account for its often reckless and chaotic handling of the Coronavirus pandemic.

Like all other MPs, though, she will have a lot of casework from people who have had the financial rug pulled from under them – owners of small businesses whose activities have been curtailed or stopped altogether during the pandemic. People who run events companies, creative industry freelancers such as make-up artists are just some examples of those who simply have had no income and no support since March. Then they were struggling. Now they are desperate.

Lib Dems have led the fight for support for this group. Jamie Stone set up an all-Party Parliamentary Group and our MPs have repeatedly pressed the Government  to do more.

This week, Munira led a parliamentary debate to highlight the plight of those 3 million people who have been excluded from the Government’s support schemes:

You can read the whole debate here.

In her opening speech, Munira highlighted the impact the Government’s failure to provide support has had:

There has, at times, been a suggestion that some of the excluded are highly paid and dodging tax in some way, especially those paid via dividends. My constituent, Fraser Wilkin, who runs a travel company in Twickenham, pays himself by dividends because of the huge fluctuation in annual income due to events outside his control, such as the coronavirus. If he had drawn a regular salary through the year, he would have been unable to fulfil his statutory and contractual obligations to his clients, in terms of prompt refunds when their holidays were cancelled due to the pandemic.

Universal credit is cited as the fall-back. A survey of more than 3,000 individuals found that almost three quarters were unable to access universal credit. Let us face it: we all know that universal credit is not meaningful support. Otherwise, the Government would not have felt the need to create the furlough scheme or the self-employed income support scheme.

We know that the mental health impacts on many of those excluded from support have been stark. There have already been eight reported suicides, and one respondent to the House of Commons digital engagement team said that she almost took her life several times, and one week spent every day in contact with the Samaritans.

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Thinking about both sides of the letterbox

I was born in the same year as Donald Trump and Dolly Parton. No problems deciding which is one of my favourite Americans! Actually I was born on exactly the same day as the late Freddie Mercury (infinitely more Dolly than Donald). Do the sums and you will realise that I was surprised to find myself an endangered species – sorry, vulnerable category, when the virus came knocking on too many doors.

My colleagues were quite firm as to what I should and should not do. I consider myself pretty fit for my years, which is mainly due to delivering a few thousand Focus leaflets, or some other pieces of paper, every time we go to press. My legs do not take kindly to an absence of walking the streets but by temperament I am not into exercise for its own sake.

So after a few weeks of little more than telephoning constituents to see how they were faring, online casework and zoom meetings, I was very happy to join in our Ward Audit programme. I went out most days, without speaking to a soul, but peering down gullies, taking pictures of fly-tipping and noting faded road markings.

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The Late Late Toy Show – an Irish institution

This Friday, Christmas in Ireland will officially begin. The institution that is The Late Late Toy Show will be aired live on RTE One and internationally on the RTE Player.

It is the job of the Irish emigrant to explain to her non-Irish friends exactly what the appeal of The Toy Show is. Why do grown adults drop everything to get the goodies in, get settled in for the evening and pretend that they are children again? Why does Ireland stop for this one night, and in this Covid world we currently live in, why is the Irish Government desperately working to set out the exit plan from lockdown in time for The Toy Show? What is it about this magical Toy Show that brings grown adults to their knees?

The Late Late Toy Show began as a segment on toys on The Late Late Show back in 1976. The legendary broadcaster, Gay Byrne, saw the appeal of this segment and grew it into a fully-fledged dedicated programme once a year. If you’re of a certain age, you will remember the cheesy children from various stage schools singing and dancing, you might remember the precocious children showing off the toys they were to demonstrate or you might remember the delightfully entertaining children who could not but put a smile on your face. The Toy Show is warm television viewing with a heart. The key to its success is its values – an expectation of what childhood should be like putting family at the core of it.

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LISTEN: Ed Davey on Any Questions

Ed Davey was on Any Questions last night. The other panelists were Kim Darroch, the UK’s Ambassador to the US until last year, Diane Abbott and Prisons minister Lucy Frazer

The first question was on the various comings and goings at No 10. Ed pointed out how awful it was that in the middle of a huge public health and economic crisis, the people around the Prime Minister were jockeying for position.

He also reminded us how Dominic Cummings was the biggest opponent of free school meals during the coalition years when he was Michael Gove’s Special Adviser. Obviously that situation has parallels today with the Conservatives being so set against the very sensible step of providing help with meals during the holidays to those who need it most.

When Lucy Frazer tried to defend the indefensible, he was pretty effective in demolishing her argument, telling her that the Government has had to be dragged kicking and screaming into taking the half hearted measures that it has.

Kim Darroch made the point that the best advisers tend to be invisible, drawing from his own experience working in No 10 under Blair and Cameron.

The next question was about when Trump’s rantings become an attempted coup rather than the rantings of s sore loser.

Darroch said that Trump has a genius for creating a different reality that he genuinely believes. Trump, he feels is signalling to his supporters that the election has been stolen and this is about maintaining his relevance and base when Biden gets into the White House. He highlighted how popular Trump still is within Republican voters. He raised the spectre of a second Trump run for the presidency in 2024.

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