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The Pascoe emails: London to be locked down until Spring


The £12 billion splurge of taxpayer cash into a test-and-trace system meant that due process was suspended. Cash was spent without question, shortcuts were taken, and basic questions were dodged. For example: was contact tracing ever going to stop a virus which, as we knew as early as March, left no symptoms in many of those it infects?

As well, in the rush, mates were hired pretty quickly. Today’s Sunday Times focuses on a scandal that has been brewing for some time now: the way that friends of well-connected Tories have been looped in on the biggest Covid projects. Some are on rich contracts, others as unpaid advisers. If you’re a lobbyist, like Portland chairman George Pascoe Watson, you don’t need the money. The ability to boast about close government contacts is gold dust. But let’s get back to him in a second.

It emerged last week that Kate Bingham, the venture capital chief hired to run the vaccine taskforce, charged the taxpayer £670,000 for a team of public relations consultants. You can argue that, broken down, it wasn’t as excessive as it seems at first glance. But when she came under fire it was her husband, Jesse Norman MP, who used his contacts book to do damage-limitation PR on her behalf. He didn’t just privately reproach those who criticised her, but was suggesting to his contacts that they come to her defence. His Twitter feed has turned into a pro-Bingham PR campaign. As Financial Secretary to the Treasury, PR is not exactly his job. He’d have spousal sympathy, of course, but for a minister to run her personal campaign is a bit much. You’d expect Treasury ministers to be scrutinising the value for money that consultants like Bingham deliver when they run up such PR bills. His campaign underlines a certain cosiness – and a use of an informal chumocracy network – which is seldom a good look.

One of those who tweeted a defence of Bingham was Pascoe Watson. “Only in this country could we shaft a true hero,” he said. But he didn’t – and has never – disclosed that he was roped in as an unofficial adviser. It wasn’t long before he was back to giving clients advanced warning of government policy on lockdowns. The emails, published in the Sunday Times this morning, are below – and there’s one line that jumps out. If Pascoe is right – and given the quality of his connections we might assume just that – London is set to be locked down in one way or another until the spring, despite the virus being very much under control in the capital.


Pascoe Watson to clients — 12.30pm, 15 October


I have been privately advised that tier 2 restrictions will be imposed on London until at least the spring of next year. This will be subject to review every few weeks. But the decision-makers have told me personally that spring is likely to be the first opportunity to lift the restrictions. The impact of this is clear. No meeting of people from different households INSIDE (a house, a bar, a restaurant) and essential travel only. Offices and schools remain exempt although the advice is to wfh rather than travel.


George Pascoe Watson, chairman of PortlandPortland to clients —29 October

From a senior partner at Portland

National restrictions

  • We are told that as it stands, it is likely that the PM will announce next week that he is prepared to ‘sacrifice November to save December’
  • This would mean London and the South joining the rest of the country in tier 3 restrictions
  • There are discussions ongoing about whether this should be extended to a new tier 4 which would be closer to national lockdown (and could include closures of non-essential retail)
  • If no action is taken, the whole country will be in tier 3 restrictions by Dec 11 anyway, which means Christmas will happen with no social contact
  • So it seems inevitable there will be fresh restrictions on London and the South in November
  • Should it be tier 3 — that means bars and pubs to close (unless they serve full meals) and restrictions on travel. They could go further but the PM would not countenance a French system of carrying papers
  • The PM hopes that if this strategy is implemented then he will be able to lift restrictions in December for the sake of the economy and for families to enjoy Christmas
  • He particularly wants hospitality and retail to benefit from the Christmas period
  • They are then weighing up a week’s break from restrictions over Christmas — during which people will have to take responsibility for their own behaviour and they will be warned to be very careful about who and how they mix with others

    This debate is ongoing for the next few days but as it stands, a decision is due by the middle of next week.