Boris Johnson dodges questions about parties as he announces new cancer waiting time targets – UK politics live

 

Powered by Guardian.co.ukThis article titled “Boris Johnson dodges questions about parties as he announces new cancer waiting time targets – UK politics live” was written by Andrew Sparrow, for theguardian.com on Monday 7th February 2022 15.53 UTC

Streeting says PM’s new cancer targets are same as existing targets not being met

Wes Streeting, the shadow health secretary, said in response to Edward Argar: “This isn’t a Covid backlog. This is a Tory backlog.” NHS waiting lists were already at a record 4.5m before the pandemic, he said.

He said Boris Johnson held a photocall today to announce his waiting list plan, without a waiting list plan ready. It was obvious the Treasury was unwilling to help him out, Streeting said.

Regarding the two targets announced by Johnson (see 12.29pm), Streeting said there was already a plan for cancer patients to start treatment within two months of a referral. It hasn’t been hit since 2015, he said.

And he said ensuring three out of four patients get a diagnosis within 28 days is an existing target that has not been met.

NHS waiting list figure will ‘get worse before it gets better’, health minister tells MPs

In the Commons Edward Argar, the health minister, is responding to the Labour urgent question about the NHS waiting list backlog.

He says there are 6m people waiting for treatment, and this figure will “get worse before it gets better”. He says there were 8.5m people who did not come forward for treatment during the pandemic who in normal circumstances would have done so.

He repeats the two targets announced by the PM in his interview this morning. (See 12.29pm.)

And he says the government must get its overall plan right. He says ministers will update MPs at the earliest opportunity.

Ben Wallace, the defence secretary, has announced that Britain is sending an extra 350 troops to Poland, my colleague Dan Sabbagh reports.

Ben Wallace (right) with Poland’s defence minister, Mariusz Blaszczak, at a press conference at the MoD this afternoon.
Ben Wallace (right) with Poland’s defence minister, Mariusz Błaszczak, at a press conference at the MoD this afternoon.

Photograph: Tolga Akmen/AFP/Getty Images

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Stormont politicians have been urged to work to “salvage” what they can from the “chaos” caused by the DUP, PA Media reports. PA says:

Sinn Féin’s Stormont leader, Michelle O’Neill, was speaking in the assembly after party whips met to discuss how to expedite outstanding legislative bills through to completion before the end of the mandate.

O’Neill was appearing in the chamber for the first time since she was removed from her post as deputy first minister following the resignation of the DUP first minister, Paul Givan, in protest at Brexit’s Northern Ireland protocol.

She made particular reference to uncertainty that now surrounds a scheduled state apology next month for victims and survivors of historical institutional abuse in Northern Ireland.

“The DUP’s actions in unilaterally resigning from the executive are reckless and have caused concern and uncertainty for businesses, for workers, for families and campaigners on a range of many important issues,” she said.

“In terms of the survivors of historical institutional abuse they have caused real hurt and real trauma.

“While the DUP must bear responsibility for that, I am also very conscious that those of us who are serious about showing responsible leadership and delivering for people can and should seek to salvage what we can from the chaos the DUP have caused.”

Updated

Members of the National Pensioners Convention staging a protest against the rise in fuel and energy prices outside Downing Street today.
Members of the National Pensioners Convention staging a protest against the rise in fuel and energy prices outside Downing Street today.
Photograph: Vickie Flores/EPA

Further Downing Street personnel changes to be announced ‘in coming days’, says No 10

At the Downing Street lobby briefing the PM’s spokesperson confirmed that the government was setting two new cancer waiting time targets. (See 1.03pm.) Here are some of the other lines from the briefing.

  • The spokesperson said that further No 10 personnel changes would be announced “in the coming days”. He said:

We still need to announce the new permanent secretary for No 10, for example. So there will be additional recruitment into No 10 and there’s an ongoing process for the PPS (principal private secretary) role too, so that needs to be announced.

The spokesperson said that Boris Johnson had confidence in the chief whip, Mark Spencer, but he sidestepped a question about whether Spencer would still be in his job this time next week. It is expected that he will be replaced.

  • The spokesperson said Henry Newman, a No 10 adviser who is a close friend of the PM’s wife, would leave Downing Street to take up a job with his former boss, the levelling up secretary, Michael Gove. That was a “mutually agreed decision with the prime minister”, the spokesperson said.
  • The spokesperson claimed that Johnson was aware that Guto Harri, his new head of communications, had lobbied the government on behalf of the Chinese telecoms firm Huawei in a previous job. Asked about this, the spokesperson said: “He’s aware of who [Harri] had been working for, and the background of his strong experience in the private sector.” Huawei is being removed from the 5G network in the UK because it is seen as a security risk.
  • The spokesperson said the government was “monitoring very carefully” the situation in Northern Ireland following the resignation of the first minister.
  • The spokesperson said Jimmy Carr’s comment about Gypsy, Roma and Traveller communities was “deeply disturbing”. My colleagues Peter Walker and Jim Waterson have the full story here.
10 Downing Street.
10 Downing Street.
Photograph: Vickie Flores/EPA

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Nicola Sturgeon, Scotland’s first minister, says it is “offensive” for anyone worried about Covid or the cost of living crisis to hear that Boris Johnson is treating his leadership predicament as something to laugh about. (See 12.05pm.)

Starmer says delay in publication of NHS backlog plan more evidence of ‘chaos’ in government

Keir Starmer has used a TV interview to claim that “chaos” in government is to blame for its failure to publish today the full plan to tackle the NHS waiting list backlog. He said:

This is a massive problem. We’ve got 6 million people on the waiting list; we desperately need a plan.

The government said it was going to come with a plan and now it hasn’t, and I think it’s yet more evidence of the chaos, incompetence, particularly of the last three or four months where everybody’s been broiled in allegations about partygate – there is a price for that, and the price is the government not getting on with the job.

Starmer said he did not think the new No 10 appointments announced by Boris Johnson at the weekend would make any difference. He said:

I personally think that nothing will really change until the person at the top changes, because all routes lead to the prime minister, and that’s the change we really need to see now.

And asked about the new book about Carrie Johnson, the PM’s wife, and whether the criticism it contained was appropriate, Starmer said:

I approach politics on the basis that we should treat people with respect … Obviously respect differences of opinion, but I do not go along with the idea that we should drag everybody into the gutter.

Keir Starmer
Keir Starmer.
Photograph: BBC News/BBC News

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There will be two urgent questions in the Commons this afternoon. At 3.30pm Wes Streeting, the shadow health secetary, will ask about the NHS plan to tackle the waiting list backlog that was due to be published today, and after 4.15pm Angela Rayner, Labour’s deputy leader, will ask about Steve Barclay’s appointment as the PM’s new chief of staff.

Johnson dodges questions about partygate as he claims to have no doubts about Sunak’s loyalty

And here are the main points from Boris Johnson’s pooled TV interview with ITV’s Carl Dinnen.

  • Johnson said he was announcing two new targets for the time within which people should be able to get a diagnosis for possible cancer. Confusingly, the targets that Johnson mentioned in his interview (see 12.29pm) are not the same as the ones that the prime minister’s spokesperson told journalists at the lobby briefing that Johnson would be announcing on the visit. The spokesman said that the government was committing to clearing the backlog of patients waiting more than two months for cancer treatment by March 2023 (a target Johnson mentioned). But the spokesman also said that by 2028 the government wanted to ensure that by 2028 75% of people with cancer get diagnosed when it is at stage one or stage two (ie, relatively early on). Johnson did not mention this one in his interview.
  • He said that he had no doubts about Rishi Sunak’s loyalty. Sunak, the chancellor, has been noticeably less enthusiastic in his defence of Johnson over partygate in recent weeks, and this has fuelled suspicions that he is after Johnson’s job. Asked if he was worried about this, Johnson said:

I think that what we’re doing is working together across the whole of government to fix the Covid backlogs which, believe me, is a massive priority for us, for everybody in the country.

Pressed on whether he has doubts about the chancellor’s loyalty, Johnson replied:

Absolutely not. What I would say is that it’s thanks to the investment that we’re able to put in, thanks to the sound management of the economy, everything that we did, if you think about it, all the looking after business throughout the pandemic, that’s enabled our economy to bounce back so well, that in turn enables us to put the investment that we need now in the NHS.

  • Johnson did not deny singing “I will survive” to Guto Harri, his new communications director, in response to a question about whether he would be able to see off attempts to force him out of No 10.
  • Johnson sidestepped a question about whether he takes political advice from his wife, and whether criticism of her over this was fair. In response to this question, he replied:

I think it’s entirely fair for people to focus on the issues that I’m focused on and that is number one, our priority, which is to tackle the Covid backlogs and rebuild our economy.

  • He refused to say if any of the officials who left Downing Street last week were to blame for organising or attending No 10 parties that broke Covid rules. In response to this question, he just said he was focused on addressing the needs of the public, like tackling the NHS waiting list backlog.
Boris Johnson in his pooled TV interview this morning
Boris Johnson in his pooled TV interview this morning.
Photograph: Sky News

Updated

Nobody should have to wait more than two months for cancer diagnosis from March 2023, PM says

Boris Johnson has used a pooled interview on his visit to Maidstone hospital to announce two targets to reducing cancer treatment waiting lists. He said the targets were:

  • Three-quarters of people who suspect they have cancer should be able to get a diagnosis within 28 days, Johnson said.
  • From March 2023 nobody should have to wait more than two months for a cancer diagnosis, he said.

Johnson described these as “very tough targets”. He said they were part of an overall elective recovery plan, to tackle NHS waiting lists, that will be published soon.

I will post more from the interview shortly.

Updated

Boris Johnson with Rishi Sunak during a visit to the Kent Oncology Centre at Maidstone hospital in Kent this morning.
Boris Johnson with Rishi Sunak during a visit to the Kent Oncology Centre at Maidstone hospital in Kent this morning.
Photograph: Gareth Fuller/PA

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PM’s ‘not a complete clown’, says new spin chief as he insists Johnson’s focused on delivery

In his Golwg interview Guto Harri, the PM’s new communications chief, also said that Boris Johnson is “not all clownish”. According to a Google Translate version of the article, Harri said:

Everyone’s attention is on recent events that have caused a lot of hurt, but in the end, that’s nothing to do with the way people voted two years ago.

[Johnson] is not a complete clown, but he is a very likeable character. 90% of our discussion was very serious but it shows that he is a character and that he has fun. He is not a vicious man as some misrepresent him.

Harri also said that Johnson “is aware of the appalling hurt that all the talk about these parties has created” and that he now had to get the government “focused on delivery”.

UPDATE: I have replaced “not all clownish” with “not a complete clown”, a better translation. My colleague Aubrey Allegretti has the full story here.

Updated

‘I will survive’ – how PM channelled Gloria Gaynor to persuade new spin chief he would stay at No 10

Guto Harri, Boris Johnson’s Welsh-speaking new head of communications, has given an interview to the Welsh magazine Golwg. As the BBC’s Ione Wells reports, Harri revealed that when he discussed taking his new job with the prime minister, Johnson’s channelled Gloria Gaynor to say that he would not be leaving No 10.

Here is an extract from the interview, filtered through Google Translate.

I walked in and did a salute and said ‘Prime Minister, Guto Harri reporting for duty’ and he stood up from behind his desk and started taking the salute but then he said, ‘What am I doing, I should take the knee for you.’

“And we both laughed. Then I asked ‘Are you going to survive Boris?’ And he said in his deep, slow and purposeful voice, and started to sing a little while finishing the sentence, saying ‘I Will Survive’.

In an inevitable way that invited me to say ‘You got all your life to live’ and he replied, ‘I got all my love to give’, so we got a little blast from Gloria Gaynor!

Harri knows Johnson from the time when they were both at Oxford together and he worked as Johnson’s head of communications during Johnson’s first term as London mayor. The taking the knee joke was a reference to the incident that led to Harri being suspended as a contributor to GB News.

Government departments can expect less No 10 interference if they’re performing well, says PM’s new policy chief

Andrew Griffith, the Tory MP appointed to head Boris Johnson’s policy unit at No 10 following the resignation of Munira Mirza last week, has used an article for ConservativeHome to set out his agenda. Here are his key points.

  • Griffith says government departments that are performing well can expect less interference from No 10. He says:

Ministers, too, will notice a difference. In today’s complex, competitive and dynamic environment it’s a fallacy to control everything too tightly from the centre. Decisions are usually taken best close to where their impact is felt, and high-performing departments should expect a light touch approach, freeing up bandwidth for deeper interventions elsewhere.

This makes No 10 sound like Ofsted, which also focuses its interventions on poor performers.

  • He describes the government as an “insurgent force” because of the opposition it faces from parts of the establishment, and from the BBC. He says:

In the battle of ideas, we remain an insurgent force: outgunned by the hegemony of leftwing orthodoxy that often lurks without challenge within swathes of the cultural and education establishment and in the state supported media.

  • He suggests Boris Johnson’s leadership has some similarities with Margaret Thatcher’s. He says:

I bring to the role my personal experience of growing up in the early 1980s, when an unconventional Conservative prime minister built an unusually broad coalition of support, secured successive large election majorities, confounded pessimists and radically improved the way that the world and its own citizens perceived Britain.

  • He says the re-establishment of Conservative backbench policy committees will improve policy making in government. He says:

One way we will do this [win the battle of ideas] is through Sir Graham Brady and the 1922 executive’s ambition to re-establish backbench policy committees. The prime minister and I warmly support this, and we are committed to make them work. Covid has suppressed proper policy discussion for too long – indeed, for the majority of the time that I and my 2019 colleagues have sat in parliament.

A large majority is a poor substitute for proper engagement between ministers, No 10 and backbench colleagues who in many cases possess decades of relevant experience. The 1922 backbench policy committees – one covering each major government department – will form just one part of changes in how a sleeker No 10 operation engages with members of parliament.

Andrew Griffith
Andrew Griffith.
Photograph: Dan Kitwood/Getty Images

Updated

Jonathan Ashworth, the shadow work and pensions secretary, also told Sky News this morning that he thought criticism of Carrie Johnson because of her influence over her husband was sexist and misogynistic.

For a defence of the Ashcroft book, do read this article by Paul Goodman at ConservativeHome. Goodman, who edits the website, considers whether singling out Carrie Johnson for criticism is fair. It’s a tricky journalistic task, because Ashcroft owns ConservativeHome, but Goodman does consider both sides of the argument. Happily, though, he sides with his boss. He says:

So it is true that “Carrie Johnson’s behaviour is preventing the prime minister leading Britain as effectively as the voters deserve,” as our proprietor claims?

The full book may help us to reach a decision: all I can say is that such is my impression of the consensus view in Westminster, at least among ministers, MPs and spads [special advisers].

But Goodman agrees with Ashworth on the key point.

But whether the charge is true or not, it deflects from the main point. Which is that the prime minister himself, not his spouse, bears responsibility for his decisions.

It would be unfair to blame others for them, even his politically-engaged wife. After all, he chooses who he divorces, marries and has children with.

Updated

Javid says criticism of Carrie Johnson in Ashcroft book sexist and misogynistic

And here are some of the other lines from Sajid Javid’s morning interviews.

  • Javid, the health secretary, said the criticism of Carrie Johnson, the PM’s wife, highlighted by a new biography yesterday was misogynistic. Asked about the claims in the book by Lord Ashcroft, which were published yesterday by the Mail on Sunday, Javid said:

I don’t think it’s fair or right at all, and I’ll tell you why. I just think as a general rule, a politician’s partner – any politician, any party – should be off limits. It’s the politician that has chosen to have a public life … I think the, this whole focus on Carrie Johnson in some of these reports, I think it’s very undignified and very unfair.

Before her marriage and her relationship with Johnson, Carrie Symonds (as she then was) worked briefly for Javid as a special adviser. Asked on Sky if this criticism amounted to misogyny, Javid replied: “Yes, it is. It’s sexist.” The book accuses Carrie of frequently persuading Johnson to reverse decisions already taken with his official adviser and quotes unnamed sources claiming that her meddling is damaging or ruining his premiership. You can get a flavour of it here.

  • Javid said it was time to “draw a line” under the row about Boris Johnson’s suggestion that Keir Starmer was to blame for the failure to prosecute Jimmy Savile. On Friday Javid disassociated himself from what Johnson said. But today, in an interview with Sky News, he said: “I think we should draw a line under this issue and just try to move on.” He said Johnson has clarified what he meant. But he sidestepped questions about whether Johnson should apologise, or whether he would have made the same comment himself.
  • Javid said he did not think there would be a Tory leadership election. He told Sky News:

I don’t think there is going to be a leadership election. We have got a leader in place who is doing an excellent job, is getting on with the job, is delivering on the commitments that we made, and I am there to support him, along with the rest of us.

Saying there will not be a leadership election is not the same as saying there will not be a vote of no confidence vote. Only 54 letters from Tory MPs are needed for a no confidence vote. But a leadership contest would only happen if Johnson lost or resigned, and 181 Tories would probably have to vote against him for him for the no confidence motion to pass. (There are currently 360 Tory MPs.)

  • Javid said he supported Johnson 100%. Asked if he backed the PM, he told BBC Breakfast:

Absolutely, 100%, and I’ll tell you why. Because despite the challenges, and of course there are many, we are delivering, this prime minister is delivering. When he was elected with a record majority, so many commitments rightly were made to the British people.

He’s saved this country from Corbynism, he’s delivered on Brexit, we’re getting on with the job of levelling up, he’s delivered the most successful vaccination programme in Europe, the biggest booster programme in Europe, making us the freest country in Europe and we have the fastest growing economy in the G7.

Updated

PM’s new communications chief signals boozing culture’s over as he arrives for work on first day

Guto Harri, Boris Johnson’s new director of communications, arrived for first proper day at work carrying a Tesco bag. It is not clear whether he had been shopping at the local Tesco Metro, where under the old regime staff used to buy enough drink to fill a suitcase to fuel their “wine-time Fridays”, but Harri told reporters that he was bringing healthy snacks and mineral water for his team.

It was a none-too-subtle way of signalling that the boozing culture in the press office is over.

This is from Good Morning Britain’s Lorna Shaddick.

Guto Harri, Boris Johnson’s new director of communications, arriving at No 10 today.
Guto Harri, Boris Johnson’s new director of communications, arriving at No 10 today.
Photograph: Tolga Akmen/AFP/Getty Images

Matthew Taylor, chief executive of the NHS Confederation, which represents health leaders, told the Today programme this morning that it was important for the government to set realistic targets for its elective recovery plan. He said:

It is really important that we are accountable for public money that is spent, but the danger is that, if you take on targets that are unrealistic, you end up skewing clinical priorities in pursuit of those targets.

The particular challenge we have got now is, whilst we know we have got millions on the waiting list, we don’t know how many people out there in the community ought to be on the waiting list but didn’t come forward during Covid. I think that big imponderable is why have have got to be a bit careful about targets.

Taylor used to work in Downing Street as head of policy for Tony Blair and yesterday, in a post on Twitter, he suggested that one reason for the delay in the publication of the elective recovery plan was Treasury reluctance to prop up a PM on his way out.

In his interview with Sky News this morning, Sajid Javid, the health secretary, was asked if he agreed with this analysis. “I don’t recognise that at all,” he said. He said that he had a strong relationship with the Treasury and “couldn’t wish for a better partner”.

Boris Johnson jogging in Whitehall this morning, with this dog, Dilyn.
Boris Johnson jogging in Whitehall this morning, with this dog, Dilyn.
Photograph: Jonathan Brady/PA

Javid says ‘very active discussion’, rather than row, behind plan to tackle NHS waiting list backlog being held up

Good morning. Today the government was expected to announce its NHS “elective recovery plan”, giving details of the timetable for tackling the backlog of 6m operations and procedures that has build up during the pandemic. In a crowded field, this is almost at the top of the list of momentous challenges facing Boris Johnson.

But publication of the plan has been held up. This is how my colleague Denis Campbell explains it in our overnight story.

The Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC) was expected to publish the “elective recovery plan” detailing measures to tackle the 6 million backlog, on Monday. That, however, has been delayed for a second time by a fresh bout of wrangling between NHS England and the government over how demanding the targets imposed on hospitals should be.

The disagreement centres on the deadline by which NHS trusts will have to have treated all those who have been waiting either one year or two years for care, usually an operation. “Conversations about the targets have become protracted and difficult. The Treasury wants a certain scale of ambition, they want tougher targets than NHS England thinks is feasible,” said an NHS source.

Another NHS source said: “There will be an aim to end 104-week waiters by the end of March. And nobody will wait more than a year for treatment by March 2025, but the government are trying to bring that forward to March 2024, and that is still being negotiated.”

Sajid Javid, the health secretary, has been giving interviews this morning and he effectively admitted that ongoing negotiations were to blame for the last-minute hold-up. But he said he would not describe it as a row. He told the Today programme:

There’s been no argument. There’s been a very active discussion, within both the NHS and my department, to collectively agree on an elective recovery plan.

Javid also said that the rise of the Omicron variant was the main reason for the delay. And he rejected claims that the Treasury was being difficult. He told BBC Breakfast:

The Treasury is an excellent partner. No department in government works as a silo and it will always be much more effective when we work together and I’m very fortunate, we have a great relationship with the Treasury.

I can just tell you from my own personal experience having been chancellor, having the Treasury working with you in partnership makes a huge amount of difference and and that’s plain to see when you look at the billions of pounds of investment we’re putting into the NHS and social care.

I will post more from Javid’s interviews shortly.

The hold-up comes as Boris Johnson continues his shake-up of the Downing Street operation and anxiously waits to see whether he can get to Thursday, when the Commons starts a mini, half-term recess, with a no confidence vote being triggered. It is possible that more MPs may go public today to say they have submitted a letter calling for a ballot. And there are claims that Dominic Cummings, Johnson’s former chief adviser, may publish fresh claims today intended to undermine the PM.

Here is my colleague Rowena Mason’s latest story on Johnson’s situation.

Here is the agenda for the day.

11.30am: Downing Street holds a lobby briefing.

2.30pm: Thérèse Coffey, the work and pensions secretary, takes questions in the Commons.

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