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Jake Berry of the Northern Research Group. Photo: Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Govt / Flickr / cropped from original / CC BY-ND 2.0, license linked at bottom of article

Jake Berry of the Northern Research Group. Photo: Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Govt / Flickr / cropped from original / CC BY-ND 2.0, license linked at bottom of article

The Tories are failing in the most basic principle of government, to keep its people safe, and its uniting people against them, writes Terina Hine

The government appears to be in complete disarray. There’s a rising in the North, a breakdown of authority at Westminster, and with no coherent Covid strategy the virus is out of control and the NHS has reached its winter crisis before the end of autumn.

Opposition to No. 10 is building from all sides, including its own. It began on the political stage last week with Andy Burnham in Manchester, continued with a ridiculous own goal scored by the PM against Man Us Marcus Rashford, and has today taken the form of 55 Tory MPs protesting over the deepening North-South divide.

And today 367 Covid deaths were recorded in the last 24 hours; the highest number since May.

Writing to the PM, the newly formed Northern Research Group (NRG) of MPs displayed the extent of their unease with their own government. Led by Jake Berry, former Northern Powerhouse minister and longterm supporter of Johnson, the group has criticised the handling of negotiations with Greater Manchester and the lack of a clear exit strategy from Tier-3 Covid restrictions.

The disparity between North and South experienced throughout the pandemic has, as the NRG said, sharpened the “systemic disadvantage faced” by northern communities. The group has made two demands: a clear road map out of Tier-3 and an accelerated recovery plan for the North. Neither are likely to be realised.

The “shovel ready” levelling up plans for the North, promised during the 2019 election, were put on hold last week by Chancellor Rishi Sunak when the autumn spending review became a victim of the virus. Sunak, never a great supporter of the levelling up programme, has now made it clear it is a priority the country can no longer afford.

And the open ended nature of the Tier-3 restrictions? This is simply the consequence of introducing measures which everyone knows will be ineffective in bringing the R-number below the magical 1. Without significant additional measures, case numbers simply cannot fall to a level low enough for restrictions to be safely lifted.

The Tier-3 measures may slow the spread of the virus, but like a car crawling towards a cliff edge it is only by going into reverse that catastrophe can be averted. It is the direction of travel rather than speed that is crucial. While R remains above 1 the direction is clearly the wrong one.

Of course reducing case numbers could enable the test and trace system to kick into gear, but while Dido Harding and her Serco colleagues remain clueless as to how many cases the system could effectively handle, the prospect of a realistic exit strategy will remain an illusion.

To make matters worse, today we had reports of the NHS reaching saturation point. Hospital admissions have been growing for weeks, especially in the north, and trusts have now begun to cancel elective procedures.

More than a quarter of beds at the Liverpool University Hospital Trust are occupied by Covid-19 patients, and although cancer and urgent elective care is continuing there for now the news coming out of Northern Ireland does not bode well for the future.

Over a hundred cancer patients had their surgery cancelled this week in Northern Ireland. Many hospitals are operating at full capacity and asking patients to stay away where possible. The chair of the British Medical Association in Northern Ireland said today, there is "a real risk" of health services being overwhelmed in the next few weeks.

The Westminster government has turned its back on the regions, has shown complete contempt for democracy, and lacks the basic competencies necessary to devise a coherent national Coronavirus strategy. It is failing in the most basic principle of government, to keep its people safe.

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