November 24, 2020

Thursday briefing: No 10 feuding explodes into open as top aide quits – The Guardian

Top story: Tory MPs hope Cummings goes too

Hello, I’m Warren Murray – another Thursday morning, another carefully selected blend of news to help you get up to speed quickly.

Lee Cain, one of Boris Johnson’s top advisers, has quit No 10 within hours of being tipped for promotion as the prime minister’s chief of staff. Differences with Carrie Symonds, the PM’s fiancee, are said to have been a factor in his departure. The director of communications’ possible elevation is said to have sparked bitter infighting in the PM’s office. Critics of the government have repeatedly cited how tensions between senior members of Johnson’s team – and his refusal to sack Dominic Cummings earlier this year – have hindered the country’s efforts to get on top of the pandemic.

Cain, 39, was regarded as one of Johnson’s most loyal and low-key longstanding staffers. Friends indicated that Cain had clashed with the incoming Downing Street spokeswoman Allegra Stratton. A number of Conservative MPs expressed delight at the row. One said they would be “over the moon” if Dominic Cummings also departed – he worked with Cain on the Vote Leave campaign. Another said it was “a chance to get the old Boris back and out of the grip of these people”.

One senior MP signalled hope that a battle for influence with the prime minister was being slowly won by Symonds and her allies, rather than Cummings. “Boris must take this chance to pivot back to being the liberal unifier, sack a chunk of these cabinet no-hopers and start a new team.” A Labour spokesperson said: “On the day the UK became the first country in Europe to report 50,000 coronavirus deaths and the public endure another lockdown, Boris Johnson’s government is fighting like rats in a sack over who gets what job.” James Slack, the prime minister’s official spokesman and the former political editor of the Daily Mail, is set to take over as director of communications.

‘Fig leaf’ – Chinese officials could face further sanctions after the Communist party had four lawmakers disqualified as “unpatriotic” from Hong Kong’s legislature – prompting a mass resignation by their fellow pro-democracy MPs. The UK’s foreign secretary, Dominic Raab, said Beijing had carried out “a further assault” on Hong Kong’s freedoms that were granted under the handover deal when Britain handed back the territory. The US national security adviser, Robert O’Brien, said China had “flagrantly violated its international commitments … ‘one country, two systems’ is now merely a fig leaf covering for the CCP’s [Chinese Communist party] expanding one-party dictatorship in Hong Kong”.

Next president gets on with job – Joe Biden is making good on his promise to begin the transition with or without the help of the Trump administration. The president-elect has named his chief of staff: Ron Klain, whom Biden has worked with from the 1980s including during Barack Obama’s presidency. Pressure is increasing on Trump to concede defeat with several Republican governors among those condemning his behaviour. The election loser has laid a wreath at Arlington national cemetery for Veterans Day – the only thing he appears to have done in a week apart from pay a visit to his golf club and tweet out unfounded election fraud claims. Could the president cling on via some sort of constitutional coup? Unlikely …

Nurse accused of eight baby murders – A nurse is due in court today charged with eight counts of murder and 10 of attempted murder following an investigation into baby deaths at the Countess of Chester hospital neonatal unit. Police said Lucy Letby, 30, would appear at Warrington magistrates court to face the charges, relating to the period from June 2015 to June 2016. Letby was arrested for a third time on Tuesday as part of an investigation that began in 2017.

Getting reunion visas ‘too dangerous’ – Children and adults are being forced to navigate war zones, risk sexual violence or imprisonment and pay smugglers so they can exercise their right to a family reunion visa to enter the UK, the Red Cross has said. The paperwork must be lodged in person and getting to Home Office-run visa access centres (VACs) in countries presents serious dangers in countries like Eritrea, Sudan, Iran and Syria. The Red Cross says people should be able to submit their paperwork online and only have to travel to a VAC to receive their visa once approved. The Home Office says it needs to collect applicants’ biometric data and do safety checks.

God save the date – Britain is set to be treated with an extra day off in 2022 to mark the Queen reaching 70 years on the throne. The May bank holiday weekend will instead run for four days from Thursday 2 June 2022 to allow for what is being billed as a “blockbuster” celebration of the platinum jubilee. Following a tradition stretching back to the reign of Queen Victoria, a platinum jubilee medal will be awarded to people working in public service, such as armed forces personnel and those in the emergency services.

Today in Focus podcast: Can friendship trump politics?

Karen Ward and Karen Cotter live in the town of Bloomsburg, Pennsylvania. There is one thing on which they really don’t agree: politics, and in particular, Donald Trump. Despite everything that sets them apart, these two women have become close friends and believe there is a way to heal the political rift that has torn apart so many communities in the past four years.

Today in Focus

Can friendship trump politics?

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Lunchtime read: Why intersectionality matters

Kimberlé Crenshaw, a lawyer and one of the most influential black feminist legal theorists in the US, founded “intersectionality” – the idea that different forms of discrimination, such as sexism and racism, can overlap and compound each other. From police brutality to sexual harassment, she fights to ensure black women’s experiences are not ignored. So why are her ideas being denounced?

Kimberlé Crenshaw, American lawyer, civil rights advocate, philosopher and leading scholar of critical race theory

Kimberlé Crenshaw, American lawyer, civil rights advocate, philosopher and leading scholar of critical race theory. Photograph: Philip Cheung/The Guardian


Ninety-two hopefuls will line up for the Masters at Augusta with the sport of golf edgy over what will transpire if Bryson DeChambeau shows this iconic course can be dismantled by power. Gareth Southgate says that Greg Clarke had no alternative but to resign from his position as the FA’s chairman after making remarks that were “not acceptable” on Tuesday. Joe Gomez has suffered an injury at St George’s Park in the preparations for today’s England friendly with the Republic of Ireland at Wembley.

Professional female footballers have been left in the dark during the pandemic, with players’ unions in 47 countries – 69% – reporting that communication from clubs and leagues has been poor or very poor. The former captain Dylan Hartley was a surprise addition to England’s training bubble on Wednesday as Eddie Jones’s side ramped up preparations for their Autumn Nations Cup opener against “brutal” Georgia. Wales sacked their defence coach, Byron Hayward, after a first home defeat to Scotland for 18 years on Halloween, but of the players who started in Llanelli that afternoon 14 have kept their places for Friday’s Autumn Nations Cup opener against Ireland in Dublin. And British Cycling has sacked the coach entrusted with helping Jason Kenny become Britain’s most successful Olympian in Tokyo next year for gross misconduct after “repeated warnings that his behaviours fell short of the standards expected”.


Britain’s low- and middle-income households are “sleepwalking into a debt crisis” after a steep rise in emergency borrowing to cope with the Covid-driven recession. The debt charity Stepchange found that household borrowing and arrears linked to the coronavirus pandemic have soared 66% since May to £10.3bn. The number of people who are in severe debt has nearly doubled to 1.2 million since March. The FTSE 100 is set to tumble 1% when it opens later this morning. The pound is on $1.321 and €1.122.

The papers

The third-edition splash in the Guardian is “Downing Street in turmoil after key Johnson adviser steps down”. Our earlier front-page lead was the government admitting that millions may get vaccines that are less effective if they prove more speedily available than the most promising versions. The Telegraph has “PM’s adviser quits in No 10 power battle” and in the Times it’s done as “Brexiteer quits No 10 after power struggle”.

Guardian front page, Thursday 12 November 2020

Guardian front page, Thursday 12 November 2020. Photograph: Guardian

“For pity’s sake, just let them hold hands” – the Mail campaigns for Christmas family reunions for care home residents, while “Meltdown at No 10” is a puff across the top, with a picture implicating Carrie Symonds in Cain’s departure (“Carried away” could have been a starter there, oh well). “Vaccine safe enough for my mum” says the Mirror, a sentiment expressed by Jonathan Van-Tam, the deputy chief medical officer. In a dubious move the Metro goes with “Van-Tam: jab for mam”.

The i has more Van-Tam advice: “Save vaccines for the NHS” – he said they should be distributed based on need and not sold privately, so the wealthy can’t jump the queue. The Sun put some words about TV celebrities in a bag, shook it and this headline fell out: “The only Wales is Essex”. The Financial Times has a story we’ve covered here: “Sunak review targets increase in capital gains tax to boost coffers”. Phrases like “review targets” and “boost coffers” are probably on keyboard shortcuts over at the FT.

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