The Wokingham Paper

TONY JOHNSON: Fever, Fervour Fer … … goodness sake

Boris Johnson and President Macron
Boris Johnson and French Emmanuel President Macron outside 10 Downing Street Picture: Pippa Fowles / No 10 Downing Street

Last week, the United States had a week where many were called but few had chosen, to attend Mr Trump’s rally; where C-in-C stood for Covid Infection Central; where Mr Trump claimed that “if we stop testing right now we’d have very few cases” (of Coronavirus).

In Britain it was a week when the PM ‘reinterpreted’ the UK quarantine ‘rules’ to meet the the President of France and where Mr Hancock’s contact tracing dis-App-eared, behind a fog of ministerial ‘intransigence’ with Apple.

Locally it was a week when Wokingham Borough Council (WBC) said a couple things it shouldn’t have.

It’s one rule for them …

The Prime Minster is in a bit of a bind. His star guest of the week could hardly visit the UK and spend 14 days in quarantine could he? 

Isn’t it lucky that the ‘exemptions to the quarantine rules’ published on May 22 were changed? They’re now all on HTML instead of one of those pdf thingies that are so damnably difficult to change. Except that someone preserved a copy of the original pdf. Oh – and one of the changes was the introduction of “Representatives of a foreign country” in clause 3. 

Which wasn’t in the original. 


Still, according to the Director of the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, Professor Peter Piot, that’s not a problem because while quarantine for returning travellers might have “made sense at the very beginning“, it’s “completely useless” at this stage and we should “concentrate on what works”.

… And another rule for us

While being questioned about new rules for lockdown, Matt ‘the mystified’ Hancock was asked if “this will all be written down”? 

He responded saying that “we’re going to set all of that out this week” which as we now know isn’t exactly ‘yes’.

It’s Minister speak for ‘we’ll be making it up on the hoof’ errr … sorry, that’s ‘we’ll be guided by the science’. Which was duly trotted out less than ten seconds later, somewhere between ‘mitigation’ and ‘pub lunch’.

As for the dis-App-appearance it’s possible that as well as going through battery life like there was no tomorrow and not working with iPhones, Apple’s technology may not have kowtowed to the NHSX App’s centralised data collection. Or had advisers at 85 Albert Embankment and 10 Thorney Street already guided Lord Bethell’s comment to the Science and Technology committee “If we didn’t quite get it right the first time round, we might poison the pool and close down a really important option for the future.“?

Lest we forget

Phase two of the Grenfell Tower Inquiry will examine the causes of the events that led to the deaths of 72 people in the Grenfell Tower fire and the Inquiry will resume on July 6th.

Property developer Berkeley Homes Group called for a relaxation of the ban on Grenfell type cladding just days after the fire’s third anniversary, At the same time they announced a profits target of £500 million over the next five years

This week the National Audit Office issued a damning report revealing that three years after the fire only £1.4M of the government’s allocated £200 million had been disbursed – that’s just 3%.

Firefighters pointed out that a 97% failure to perform is shameful and, despite the last three month’s focus on Coronavirus, it’s no excuse. One who attended the blaze pointed out this week that two thirds of the UK’s buildings with the same cladding still haven’t had it replaced.

Of Time, Sex and Travel

‘Matt the mystified’ came to the aid of ‘Robert the rotten’ on Sunday, saying “Mr Jenrick answered questions for an hour in the House of Commons this week” before concluding “So I think his explanation is entirely reasonable”.

In this sense “came to the aid of” might not be terminologically exact …

Tower Hamlets Council might not agree with “entirely reasonable” as Mr Jenrick’s ruling the day before their increased developer contributions cut in would have cost the council £40 million.

According to InsideHousing, on appeal to the High Court “Tower Hamlets … would show how he was influenced … to help the developer avoid the new CIL charges” and ‘the rotten’s’ ruling was overturned.

Then again “answered questions for an hour” might be considered by some to be unparliamentary language.

According to Hansard and, on Monday, June 15, Mr Jenrick spent around 57 minutes in the chamber but was only ‘on’ for 28 minutes, of which he spent just under 7 minutes 30 seconds in dealing with Westferry Print Works questions, some of which might involve parliamentary privilege:

Video of questionText of questionAnswer
Steve Reedfull disclosure?Not answered
Liz Twistwhy not recuse himself?Not answered
Sarah Jonesknowledge of new levy?“All parties would have been aware of that”
Tommy Sheppardpublic confidence in him?Not answered
Ruth Cadburyno record of dinner?“Dept. fully informed”
Wendy Chamberlainwho re-decides now?“Different minister in the Dept”.

By Saturday, Times readers learned of a video shown to Mr Jenrick, also that he claimed he’d followed the rules “then admitted that he didn’t”; along with waiving the affordable housing rules which were “estimated to have saved … a further £106 million”.

So one wonders whether the Conservative party will be returning the developer’s reported £12,000 contribution to party funds – paid a fortnight after ministerial approval but before everything got overturned?

If quite reminds one of the latter days of the Conservative Government of Sir John Major when it seemed that hardly a week went by but what there was a scandal – usually involving sex, or travel, or both.

When ‘The Numbers’ ARE the story

Back in April, we were being told that the numbers of fatalities from Covid-19 were between 450 and 950 each day. However ONS data published later shows that the reality was well over 1,000 deaths a day for 22 days, peaking at 1,445 on April 8, when Dominic Raab had reported just 881.

Meanwhile over in Japan, with almost twice the UK’s population crowded into much, much less space, the death toll from Coronavirus on June 18 was 935.

That wasn’t 935 for the day, it was 935 in total.

No wonder Boris is uncomfortable with us making international comparisons.

17 times table

On a happier note, there was talk this week that, as part of the efforts to get the economy kick-started, VAT would be reduced and a figure of 17% was being mentioned.

And if we can all remember our 17 times table this will go swimmingly well.

One can’t help but wondering that if you wanted to kick start an economy but still get something back in the way of a tax on transactions, then replacing 20% with 10% for a while would be a much simpler proposal.

Going, Going, Not Gone

While mentions of Dominic Cummings had dropped to 222 articles per week, as compared with 440 the week before and 1,070 at their peak, they’ve gone back up to 270 over the last seven days.

This is partly because of a rumoured private prosecution; rumbles over excluding the chief nurse from daily briefings; after-shocks from that Newsnight introduction; and Boris’ mishandling of the whole thing.

So much for the “dead cat” strategy.

Meanwhile Transcript Central managed to get 4 of the week’s 5 possible transcripts uploaded without prompting.

Chaos descends into Farce

Locally it was the first virtual Council meeting – saying farewell to the old Mayor and welcoming the new one. Except it was a virtual meeting and there was an ‘introduction scrum’ at the start.

Chris-ley Karen du Firmison announced themselves, followed by Olli-bill-ene Ther-man-wick a second later.

Then there was a point of order about block voting by party leaders, when we learned that each group leader would cast all their members’ votes at once, then “if anyone disagreed” they could do so immediately after (HAH!!!).

The electronic “show of hands” that followed showed that some councillors couldn’t vote because their tech didn’t work with WBC’s tech, so it was back to the verbals and they held a named vote. 

Whereupon we found out exactly who was present and who wasn’t. Except that some councillors hadn’t switched off their videos or their microphones and the electric string in and out of Shute End was overloaded. One Conservative councillor was reduced to using the “chat function” (whatever that was) but luckily this got spotted by an opposition member who called it to everyone’s attention.

Malcolm the Silent

But the trials and tribulations of the new fangled ‘virtual meeting’ technology weren’t over.

For some reason best known to the denizens of the IT Crowd (in the second sub-basement, third dungeon on the left, Shute End Towers) after the new mayor had been elected, we were entertained by ‘the Alison Swaddle show’.

This wasn’t her fault, but the left half of the screen was a black square with her picture in the middle – wasting 50% of the video capability.

Maybe it was the new Mayor or the way he muted his microphone but left the video on. Maybe it was those rascally denizens or just ‘Gremlins’.

But when it was time for him to speak, he (“Unmute please”) started talking but we (“switch your mic. ON”) couldn’t hear what (“MALCOLM  – UNMUTE”!!!) he was saying.

Meanwhile WBC’s answers were well up to their usual standard, vis:

I wanted to give you a short answer.

But I thought you’d understand it.

So I’ve given you a long one instead.

Then in the middle of one Executive Member’s answer … the mayor cut the answer off, along with the questioner and their supplementary (aka ‘real’) question, moving on to Councillor questions instead. But before he could get there the Leader interrupted, block voting all the Conservative questions off the agenda. What was he afraid of – restoration of democratic accountability perhaps?

Audio quality was so bad through the night that in a later sub-meeting, an officer questioned a Conservative member after he’d voted “AGAINST” his own party’s candidate – because the officer hadn’t heard him, apparently.

Comparing us with other councils, why does WBC technology give such poor results and why aren’t more Councillors using some of their £500 annual IT allowance to get audio and video that everyone can see and hear?

Out of their Mouths …

But for political theatre during the Annual Council meeting, the unwitting star of the show was …

… the Leader of the Council.

Things were going quite well until the question about WBC flying the Pride flag, when he unaccountably conflated Pride with Black Lives Matter (BLM), declaring that WBC wouldn’t support BLM ‘because it was political’.

And that declaration earned him and the Council a prominent spot on the front page of The Wokingham Paper last week, supported by an inside page in which he tried to explain himself.

And that’s where it should have ended, but it didn’t.

Through lockdown, the Leader of the Council has led Wokingham Borough well and done a great job for care home residents, helping Wokingham officers stand firm against Government diktat.

Yet last weekend, he blundered again with his social media comms, apparently learning little from the conflation problem he’d had in the Council Meeting.

Aren’t there any social-media savvy Conservatives who can work with him to help?

Borough ‘In Briefs’

Wokingham Borough Council’s social media channel continued to publish information on giving and receiving help during the pandemic along with other important matters. Here’s a look at what they created and posted last week (no ratings for other people’s work).

June 15thWokingham, Woodley and Twyford are open for business20
Learning Disabilities Week11
June 16thSupport Local Services and Businesses8
Talk to our team about Fostering6
Take part in our Library Survey37
Wokingham Borough Mayor’s Year in Review33
June 17thFoster Care Fortnight (video)5
Tackling Racism85
Wokingham, Woodley and Twyford are open for business11
June 18thFood Hub. Helping everyone move forwards11
New Free Online Courses10
Cantley Park soports are back22
June 19thAddington School expansion progressing well (video)50
Wokingham is open for business13
Why not joine the Library Online?7
June 20thStay Safe, Shop Local196
“Scoop my poop. hooman.” Bag it, bin it.41
Face Mask Exemptions22
June 21stReady for a new challenge? Join Us6

With a total of 196 Likes, Comments and Shares Stay Safe, Shop Local received the most attention, while Tackling Racism (85) had the most comments.

Barbecue of the vanities – Total Recall

That Wokingham Borough Council saw fit to issue a “recall” notice for their press release of the previous day (which had announced the Council’s refusal to renew a popular Wokingham Trader’s license) is a welcome sign of WBC’s desire for factual accuracy.

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