'Levelling Up': Covid Deaths Data Leaves Boris Johnson With Nowhere To Hide

The virus mortality rate is more than twice as high in the most deprived areas of England compared to the wealthiest - the PM must act.
Boris Johnson leaves 10 Downing Street.
Boris Johnson leaves 10 Downing Street.

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Stand and deliver

Many will remember the last day of campaigning in the 2019 general election for one thing: Boris Johnson hiding in a fridge.

Aside from the desperate attempt to avoid Piers Morgan’s difficult questions not exactly being the PM’s finest hour, it also undermined his eve of poll message to the electorate.

Johnson had wanted photographers to snap him at the Yorkshire dairy preparing for the milk round, as a leader that can deliver (geddit?) on his pledge to “level up and unite” the country.

Tomorrow will mark six months since Johnson romped home to victory with an 80-seat majority.

Former Labour voters - many for the first time in their lives - backed the Conservatives in their droves.

They wanted to “get Brexit done”, yes, but they were also assured that long-standing inequalities, not least in health and education, would finally be tackled.

Coronavirus has, of course, turned the world upside down since December.

But data released by the ONS on Friday starkly underlined how vital it is for the PM to keep to his word.

The coronavirus mortality rate is more than twice as high in the most deprived areas of England compared to the wealthiest (on average 128 deaths vs 58).

Outside of London, the north-east, where Johnson won four new ‘red wall’ constituencies, had the highest death rate.

Speaking at the daily Downing Street briefing, transport secretary and northern powerhouse minister Grant Shapps said “more always needs to be done to tackle health inequalities” but said little else to address the point.

The ONS had little good news for the government, revealing that GDP fell by an unprecedented 20% in April - the first full month of the lockdown.

Pressed on the threat of unemployment those figures point to, Shapps replied that “in common with the rest of the world we have an enormous battle on our hands”.

The same story of inequality is true of education. According to the Sutton Trust, two-thirds of children have not taken part in online lessons during the lockdown, and pupils at private schools are more than twice as likely to get daily online tuition.

Tory backbenchers are anxious that the shine is coming off Johnson’s “new government”, and understandably so.

Not only because predictions of gloom for the UK economy are widespread (the OECD thinks the UK could be the worst-hit industrialised nation in the world) but because the Conservatives have competition.

In fact, a new Ipsos Mori poll on Friday said Labour’s new leader Keir Starmer is the most popular opposition leader since Tony Blair, with a net satisfaction of +31%.

Although Starmer is still trailing Johnson for “most capable prime minister”, by 43% to 38%, the personal approval rating puts the former head of the Crown Prosecution Service level with Blair’s 1994 ratings.

While the next election may be another four years away, Johnson needs a recovery plan that delivers on those election pledges.

Or soon there will be nowhere to hide.

Quote Of The Day

“She has attended them many times before. I notice that at the top of the No 10 Twitter feed I see one of her tweets pinned,” transport secretary Grant Shapps, when asked if chief nurse Ruth May had been barred from the daily briefing for refusing to support Dominic Cummings.

Friday Cheat Sheet

Cabinet Office minister Michael Gove has confirmed the UK Government will not extend the Brexit transition period, despite the first ministers of Scotland and Wales calling for the government to do so.

He tweeted: “I formally confirmed the UK will not extend the transition period & the moment for extension has now passed. On 1 January 2021 we will take back control and regain our political & economic independence.”

Tens of thousands fewer students could start university this year amid the Covid-19 pandemic, Ucas has predicted.

In a worst-case scenario, up to 46,000 fewer domestic students will start courses this autumn compared to last year, a blog from the admissions service estimates.

Transport secretary Grant Shapps has said remembering face coverings should become part of daily routine as they become mandatory on public transport in England from next week.

Anybody taking a bus, train or Tube from Monday can be refused travel if they are not covering their nose and mouth.

The Sun has said it did not intend to “glorify” domestic abuse after it was criticised over a front page story featuring JK Rowling’s ex-husband.

The story was headlined “I slapped JK and I’m not sorry” and featured quotes from the Harry Potter author’s first husband, Jorge Arantes.

What I’m Reading

India’s coronavirus agony: ‘I did everything to save my wife and baby’ - the Guardian

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