NEWS DIGEST 18.10.2020: London’s COVID-19 policy might be splitting the UK

Good morning/afternoon/evening! This Sunday’s News Digest comes to you via the Google News UK service. The coronavirus pandemic has fundamentally and possibly forever changed how societies across the world function, and this has had both negative and positive consequences. Much, though, has been negative, and the virus has helped expose and inflame tensions within society. In the UK, the Conservative government which had been managing the outbreak since coronavirus first arrived on our shores around January 2020, has been accused of being ill-prepared, and at the other extreme, downright incompetent.

This morning, the leading news stories from the British media have laid that bare. As the Tories bringing kicking into action a three-tier localised form of lockdown, UK newspaper The Guardian has said that the central government mandated virus ‘diktats’ have only helped create divisions between Westminster, the home countries and even counties and cities, each with their own idea of how to manage the epidemic. Boris Johnson, the British prime minister, was slated by the paper for failing his ‘one nation, one aim’ pledge on COVID-19, as leaders in Greater Manchester metropolitan rebelled against them, Wales instituted a country-wide lockdown, and the city of Liverpool chafing against the federal government placing it under Tier 3 rules, the most severe of the three level system – How coronavirus ‘diktats’ from Downing Street tore Britain apart (The Guardian)

Photo by Jeffrey Czum on Pexels.com

Manchester’s city mayor, Andy Burnham, is feeling pressure to strike a deal with Westminster after it was reported that Liverpool and the Merseyside region, in north-eastern England, received a large sum of COVID-19 funds from the central government, which Liverpool plans to use as aid for local business affected by the new lockdown. Manchester claims that no new discussions regarding funding have been made with London, a claim strongly denied by 10 Downing Street – Coronavirus: Pressure builds on Greater Manchester after Merseyside gets extra COVID funds (Sky News)

Burnham also directed his ire in particular at Chancellor of the Exchequer (finance minister) Rishi Sunak, claiming that Sunak was the ‘problem’ getting in the way of Manchester obtaining funds for struggling businesses and support for the nationwide ‘Track and Trace’ system being run by the country’s NHS (National Health Service). Burnham said that Sunak had made ‘poor judgements’ in his handling of the crisis, and in particular condemned the Chancellor’s ‘Eat Out to Help Out’ scheme that ran through August this year, where people were encouraged to dine out at restaurants at a heavily-discounted price. Allies of the Chancellor went on the counter-attack, accusing the Mancunian leader of using coronavirus as his ‘soapbox moment’ – Mayor Andy Burnham blames Chancellor Rishi Sunak for being ‘the problem’ in row over financial support for Manchester Tier 3 lockdown and accuses him of making ‘wrong judgements’ throughout pandemic (Mail Online)

Meanwhile there are signs the British public are becoming weary of a return to the restrictive lockdown measures that took over the country this spring, and that the central government can no longer expect voters and civic leaders to continuously give approval to the severest elements of their safety-first COVID-19 strategy. The rebellion of Manchester’s mayor, according to The Telegraph, is a sign of that change in opinion, of a society fed up with quarantine – No 10 must forget the polls to grasp the shift in public opinion (The Telegraph)

Some observers in the media have heralded this political unease in the UK at the moment as a paradigm shift which will usher in a new age of strong local and regional leaders who are not afraid to stand up to Downing Street. Leaders in Scotland, Wales, Manchester and elsewhere are defying the prime minister in an unprecedented manner, and the combination of the effects of both the virus and Brexit are sure to accelerate this shift faster – The revolt over lockdown has given rise to a new political era of powerful local leadership (Independent)

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