tv Dateline London BBC News January 18, 2021 3:30am-4:01am GMT
the headlines: the russian opposition activist alexei navalny has returned to moscow, where he was detained when his flight landed. he'd spent five months in germany recovering from being poisoned with a nerve agent. the kremlin denies ordering the attack. mr navalny told reporters he was not afraid, before being led away. a republican congresswoman and ardent supporter of president trump has had her twitter account suspended for 12 hours. marjorie taylor greene has repeatedly made false claims about election fraud in her state, georgia, and has previously expressed support for the qanon conspiracy group. riot police and the military in guatemala have fired tear gas at a caravan of thousands of central american migrants bound for the united states. several people were injured. the guatemalan government says it's deported almost 1,000 people to honduras in the past three days for entering the country illegally.
now on bbc news: dateline london. hello, i'm shaun ley. welcome to a programme that brings together some of the uk's leading columnists, bbc specialists and foreign correspondents who file their stories for audiences back home from the dateline london. this week, a dickens of a programme with an election past, an election present and an election still to come — which may be sooner than we think. and we've a spirited panel, even though they're not a panel of spirits. polly toynbee�*s column appears every week in the guardian, a liberal newspaper in the uk. jonathan sacerdoti is a political commentator, explaining the uk and europe
to audiences in the middle east. he also campaigns against anti—semitism. and with me in the studio, hugh pym, who is the bbc�*s health editor. he has been guiding audiences through the pandemic, as well as all of us in bbc news who rely on the specialist knowledge of hugh and his team. welcome to you, hugh, and to you, polly and jonathan. it's good to have you back with us on dateline. now, during the four years following the referendum here in which the uk voted to leave the european union, we used to joke on dateline that we couldn't wait for the day when we could talk about something other than brexit. more fool us! coronavirus, or covid—19 — a label which tags it with the year it first emerged — is a global health pandemic, has triggered an economic crisis and is a challenge to politicians that will enhance the reputation of some and destroy others. here in the uk, what are known as "excess deaths" are running at a rate not seen since the end of the second world war. some who survive the virus are stuck with life—changing effects on their bodies. as for people with other conditions, in england, the number of patients waiting for more than a year has gone from 1,600 just before the pandemic began to 192,000
110w. hugh, it is an extraordinarily complicated picture. broadly, though, given the terrible effects this has had in the uk and around the world, how is the uk system bearing up — both the health system and the people who are ultimately accountable for it, the government? well, shaun, if you go into hospitals — as i have been privileged to do, along with colleagues — you see the extraordinary dedication of frontline nhs staff working in really difficult conditions — as they are in hospitals in all health care systems — but with intensive care patients, the strain and the stress on staff — they went through it all last march and april, then in the autumn and then now, and it is really, really admirable, seeing what is going on there and the national health service, i think we should all be proud of the national health service for what it's been doing. the uk is at a very, very important phase in this pandemic because we have got to the stage where senior health officials are saying that the peak in terms of new cases may have passed in some parts of the south—east of england and london.
but you've then got a delayed reaction, as always, in terms of new patients going into hospital and deaths. so we learned from health officials that probably the peakfor the nhs is 7—10 days away — a lot more pressure there on hospitals — but with deaths, it could take even longer. and you have got to 87,000 deaths now in the uk and it's a pretty sobering reminder that the death toll could continue to rise — the daily death toll continue going up. and the path out of this in terms of living with covid which — we in the uk and people around the world will have to adjust to doing perhaps for years to come at some level — how kind of treacherous
is that path out? well, the vaccine rollout has been widely, widely praised for where the uk has got to — more than 3 million actually vaccinated now with the first dose — 300,000 recorded in one day — and there is a target to get to the middle of february where vulnerable groups, the over 70s, care home residents and workers and health care workers will all be vaccinated — about 15 million people. the government will have to be held to account over that but beyond that, the rollout of the vaccine does offer hope but this virus will be around for a long time and people have to get used to a new normal, i think. polly toynbee, you wrote this week about something that people perhaps hadn't even thought about very much in the uk — that election yet to come, which you think might — conceivably, at least — come a little sooner than it has to. you might not think this is much of a backdrop in which to even be thinking about for any politician who actually wants to keep theirjob to be thinking about an election. politicians always think about elections all over the world. it is never far from their
mind, making that calculation. that's the nature of democracy. there is a problem for our government, which although he had a phenomenal success a year ago in the election with a very large majority, looking ahead to win the next election would be — if we stuck to our fixed terms, which would be in 2024, things will look very grim indeed. 0ur economic think tanks, our economists are all warning that that is about the time when the government will have to be pulling in its horns. just at a time when governments usually want to splurge money on the electorate just before an election, they'll be having to tighten everything up. it will be a very rough time. jobs may not have fully recovered, people's personal incomes will onlyjust about get back to where they were then, and a lot of people may be feeling very sore. we will have had, you know, the next three years very tough indeed.
so the one opportunity might be if boris johnson can really pull off the vaccinations at the pace at which he says he will — and he has given some very firm dates — there will be such joy over the world, such a sigh of relief. it is the one thing everybody longs for that will set us all free — or, as hugh pym says, to some extent. i mean, it will not quite be normal but at least much freer than the current very strict lockdown. so it could be if vaccinations went well, there could be a kind of roaring '205 feeling — euphoria, everybody rushing out restaurants, reopening pubs, clubs, dancing in the streets almost. and so, in that mood, it may be a good time — the very beginning of next year, perhaps — to cash in on that, have an election and then not have to have an election when things economically will be looking very dark. afterall, by then, people will be saying "how come we both had the worst economic hit in europe" — it's an 11% hit — "and the highest number of deaths and the worst numbers of infections" so it could just be a small window.
i don't know if he will dare take it, but he might. well, politicians often dare and certainly a risk, jonathan. but he is a passionate supporter, borisjohnson — his idol is winston churchill and that bit of history ought to remind him that you can be standing on the balcony with the king and queen, waving to the ve crowds one day, celebrating victory, and you can be out of downing streetjust a few months later because the electorate said "great, you won the war but we want somebody else to fight the peace". well, i think — if i may — i think the idea of borisl johnson planning a flash election at the momentl is a bit fanciful. i think it seems like a mixture of wishful thinking _ and conspiracy theory —| or perhaps just a playful framing device for an article i complaining about everything he got wrong. i don't know exactly. but i think that he would not necessarily want to call - an unnecessary election. i don't think the public would want it. - and i realise that, you know, we've all got plenty-
of complaints about - the government — like most people, i certainly do and howl they are handling the pandemic — but i also think that, l as we live through these extraordinary times, i it is worth both taking into account the enormousl challenges they are dealing with and also looking not only. at the areas of bad performance but also where we have done well as a country. j the economy contracted by 2.6% in november — i that's the first fall after six months of significant - increases, and it's less . than the 5.7% contraction that many expected. the first lockdown in april last year saw an 18.8% . contraction in that month, - and our economy is 8.5% smaller than it was before that crisis, | so i think the government has a lot to deal with and i think it has acted fast and done i whatever was needed as it could. _ hasn't always got it right, but no government has. l and i think they spent £280| billion supporting businesses and workers, they protected 9.6 million jobs, they had that - job retention scheme. just — i mean, think about a year back —| who would have imagined i a conservative government paying 80% of the wages l of huge numbers of people in this country?
and they argue it is their responsible attitude - to spending in the best - of times that has allowed them to cope with these worst of times. i now, i will reiterate — i am not totally happy with every decision - the government is making but i think that most - of the broadcast media has scoffed at — at... ooh, i think you've lost me. polly, let's come back to you because we could hear him but we have lost the picture. do you want to just briefly come back on that, and we will move on? i mean, he's quite right. the people are giving — cutting a lot of slack to the government and saying "this is a very hard time. who'd want to be running the country at this moment?" true all over the world — a very hard time for government. so i think the fact that labour and tories are more or less neck and neck in most polls, though labour has come up hugely from its disastrous last election a year ago under jeremy corbyn. even so, i think there's a lot of anger and distrust now at the government about their failure on testing and tracing.
they kept promising moonshots and world—beating this and that. we're not world—beating, we've been the worst. and we haven't been the most generous in terms of protecting jobs — some other countries have been more generous. so how it all falls out at the end of this, i do think that a really successful vaccine operation could wipe out a lot of the painful memories of how badly this government has done. after all, it's had 64 changes to its rules about how far you should lockdown, who, where in the country should lockdown, left people very confused and very angry about some of the government's own advisers, like dominic cummings, failing to keep to the rules themselves and not being punished for it. so, there's a mixture of things here. my suggestion there might be an election is only that that is certainly a window of hope, if all goes well. and i don't think there will be a great deal of hope later after that. well, let's see if somewhere there perhaps mightjust give borisjohnson cause to be tempted — that's
the election present. the country in the lead in the global vaccination stakes is israel. the first recipient there was prime minister benjamin netanyahu — that was one month ago. on thursday, as the two millionth dose was injected, mr netanyahu was there again, congratulating the woman who received it. in fact, he's been a ubiquitous presence, welcoming deliveries at the airport, visiting vaccination centres across the country. with polling day in march, that election present, he's hoping israelis notice, which they probably will — there's not much else to do at the moment, except watch television — israel is on its third national lockdown. jonathan, you're back with us. you heard benjamin netanyahu on thursday saying at that event there is light at the end of the tunnel for israelis. do you think perhaps he sees a bit of the light at the end of the tunnel for him too, after what had been very,
very difficult months for his premiership? look, i feel like you and ii have had this conversation before, because every time i we come to discuss an israeli election — and there have been quite a few of them in recent l years — i try to explain why benjamin netanyahu — - or bibi, as his supporters call him — might actuallyl remain in power, even though i much of the western media likes to demonise him as a far—right bogeyman. i main reason, in short,| is he simply is not that and many israelis have been| impressed by his leadership. of course, some are not. covid—19 has been an i interesting test for him, as i suppose it has been for. leaders all around the world. israel started with incredibly impressive results at - containing the spread - of the virus, but then went on to lift its the lockdown far too quickly and it - saw disastrous results. and now, it is doing. impressively well again with its vaccination programme. and britain is doing i very impressively too with its programme. israel has vaccinated far more of its population than any- country in the world. sure, it has a relatively small population, but nonetheless, j it has acted swiftly - and in a very organised way to achieve that and, yes, - netanyahu will be hoping voters remember that when they vote in march. i israel might not have - wanted another election,
but perhaps the timing of this one has at least helped - accelerate that vaccine i programme and, in this instance, that is a wonderful, unexpected side—effect — - but not of the vaccine, - of the democratic process. he has been at the airport, welcoming every batch - of vaccines in for the cameras, so he is definitely making hayl while the sun shines in that regard. - but i do remember that, more broadly speaking, i when he came here in 2018 to the united kingdom, - he gave one of these stump speeches at every public- event he did. and being in the press. pack that followed him, i remember one of the things he specifically talked - about was the large amount - of investment israel was making under him into digitising i its health records through the system they have | there of social health, but run by different health . organisations which compete with each other. so it has the benefits - of a private system with, of course, the free _ at the point of delivery people that need for a social health care system. i and by digitising it, - he made it possible to get all these vaccines, - because pfizer and the other vaccine developers have been delighted to get the data -
in realtime. we will talk about potentially the health lesson with you but what about palestinians because health care is delegated to the pa, palestinian authority as far as west bank and gaza. but the oslo accord is very clear that any crisis health care is ultimately the responsibility of the israeli government? there has been a lot of this. in the press and it might have helped israel on the pr front they had given vaccines - to palestinians but the facts . unfortunately don't always bear out what certain media outlets want to write about. _ i think it is not - the responsibility of the israeli government under the oslo accord to look- after the health needs of the palestinians, i they have their own health organisations and health l ministry. in fact they did noti ask for the vaccines in the beginning. israel has provided - a small number to them which i understand were|
swallowed up by wealthy influential people and that is perhaps what underlines - the real problem here - which is there may be less take—up amongst palestinians, less organisation amongst - leaders who are trying to get the vaccines. i they said they would get them through the who and israel. like every country, wants . to prioritise its own citizens, it is vaccinating palestinian citizens of israel along - with other citizens of israel in order of priority - for the health needs. i will not get into a dispute over the oslo accord, i noticed the spectator magazine said, "it is required to step in as and when needed", and i guess a global pandemic might be regarded as an ultimate need and it is in all of our interests for everybody to be vaccinated but on the point about the impact for benjamin netanyahu, could it be a way out for him? this is not an election of his choosing, it was forced on him because of the politics of the dispute over the budget, something under the coalition agreement he signed
was supposed to be passed and he was resistant to it. there are some suggestions he may have wanted an election because he was about to have to hand over the prime ministership to the other party of the coalition and it is a good way of stopping that happening. he is also facing charges on three separate criminal trials, he is in some trouble. i think the success of the vaccination may well see him home or much better than he would have done before. the interesting thing about covid is it has shone a light on the gross inequality in this country, in israel because the palestinians have not been offered the same level or any level of vaccination and i think everywhere we are seeing people who are poorest who have least power and voice have done worst.
people with the worst living conditions and in manualjobs in this country have died in the greatest number and those of ethnic minorities, so we can think of covid as being a quite cruel searchlight on the nature of the societies we live in. hugh, what might we learn from israel? it is a remarkable progress of vaccination, driven hard by the prime minister there. that is a relatively small country with a relatively small population but could it provide some sort of model and could scientists globally learn about covid because of this programme? i think the digitisation of health records has been very important allowing for instant communication in terms of getting the vaccine rolled out but also allowing data
to drug companies to do their research. israel is well ahead, then you have the uae and bahrain and then the uk so the uk has done relatively pretty well and that is partly down to our largely down to the regulatory system, the nhra moved swiftly to give approval to the pfizer vaccine ahead of other global regulators and the us and europe and the uk were criticised for moving too quickly but i think most people would say the mhra moved quickly and oxford astrazeneca as well so there has been this determination and drive to get them into the system ahead of other european countries although the us and certainly germany have begun to move more quickly as well. we were hearing on friday that the us is expecting the uk variant as it is known to become the dominant strain there by march.
we are hearing about a brazil variant, your lockdown, beginning on monday in terms of travel access to the uk people having to have a test or isolating. how much confidence is there that the vaccine so far developed can deal with the new variants. scientists say as of now there is no evidence that any of these variants will be resistant to the vaccine but they have got to keep monitoring it. the situation is moving so quickly. with brazil, there are two variants, one is in the uk but thought not to be particularly problematic and then another one which is much more so which has appeared in japan. the uk variant, which is known as the kent variant from the south—east of england, was moving very fast in december but the figures for the uk suggest cases may be coming down off the peak since it has been tackled effectively
by lockdown measures. this issue of variants is a very big potential problem longer term but i think for vaccines not at the moment. donald trump began his four years in the white house by having his press secretary pick a fight with the media overjust how many people came to watch his inauguration. it wasn't the "largest ever", as claimed. this coming wednesday, though, he may derive some small satisfaction that his successor will probably have the smallest crowd to assemble in washington, dc in modern times. the fear of armed extremists disrupting the inauguration means the biggest group in attendance will be the military and the police. polly, i was in washington the last time there was a contested election. the election past had almost been forgotten by inauguration day, everyone was focused
on george w bush, the former governor of texas, it was all rhinestone and stetsons at the parties, very different this time. is that a sense this election past is going to be much harder for america to move beyond? that's the great question. that is what we don't know, we know america is a deeply divided society, 70 million people voted for donald trump, are they going to regret their vote or still feel cheated? it depends how the republican party behaves. we are beginning to see some of the most extreme republicans who went on pretending this was a stolen election back off and realise possibly they were doing huge damage to their country but also their party. if the republican party returns to something resembling a democratic conservative model then i think things can be held together. if there go on being significant numbers of people
in congress who are willing to keep pretending this was a stolen election then i think that is dangerous. i am sure we will get through the inauguration itself, there are police who were not there before and the army, people being kept away but the atmosphere will be alarming and sad that it will not be celebrated a, that everybody will be trepidatious about it. here we have a thoroughly decent democratic head of the most important country in the world, all democracies around the world would have heaved a sigh of relief once joe biden is sworn in and we hope we'll return to having a strong democratic leader of the world who can be a beacon of hope again instead of somebody who supported dictators everywhere and despise democracy. jonathan, you have written extensively about the threat from domestic terrorism.
it looks like the fbi thinks some people on the fringes of politics have attached themselves to this cause of a stolen election and has unleashed some forces that the system is finding it hard to contain. how big a threat potentially do some of these armed individuals pose? what is interesting - is the discussion of violence, who incites it and carries it out and who should censor what to avoid it and i am j very concerned about big technology companies, apple, google, amazon web servicesj and twitter who have all acted to censor- trump and shutdown competitive service parler because they l will not accept the promotion of violence but twitter has . long hosted violent hashtags, kill trump, assassinate trump.
only a few weeks ago twitter published iran's so—called . supreme leader's threat to israel- and in 2018 described israel on twitter as a malignant - cancerous tumour that has to be removed and eradicatedj and he was not blocked. the are fine with overt and specific threats i of violence like that _ and however much some people dislike donald trump - it is worth remembering that when censorious and - illegitimate actions are taken to counter bad people it sets a precedent for them to be l taken against good people . and we do not need to agree who is good and bad to accept| that is worrying for technology companies run by unelected wealthy people and - unchallengeable by ordinary citizens to make those - decisions about what type of legally expressed news and opinions we can read. it is dangerous and wrong. i don't like how donald trump has reacted to losing - the election and the violence in the us is deeply worrying, coming from those fringes and potential domestic-
terrorists but i don't. just mean the storming of the capitol building, - i mean the months of violence and rioting that america has i suffered recently and watching all of it unfold over so many months in a country i have i enormous amounts of respect and love for is really unsettling. - it is vital that any of usl who condemn politically motivated violence from people we disagree with should also i condemn violence carried out by people who we agree - with and if we only condemn one side we are not truly idea logically opposed l to violence, we are just political opportunists. i and that's true on both sides, left and right. i i think increasingly both sides are guilty of this. i one really has to be precise. when donald trump, when charlottesville, neo—nazis killed somebody and donald trump said it is both sides, very often the violence has been much greater and more frightening from the trump supporters who are neo—nazis with swastikas and confederate
flags. but to simply say it is all equivalent with black lives matter, mostly peaceful demonstrations, sometimes a bit of rioting about nothing on the scale of intentional violence of the nazis. i think that is actually dishonest and we have to call out the right things. i completely agree that iran should not be allowed to put out death threats to israel on social media, i agree we should have the same standards of threatening violence whenever it comes in the world but let's be careful about one kind of demonstration and another. the biggest challenge is covid, 100 million people vaccinated in 100 days which is an easy headline, held for the country to move forward for this. it is hard for all economies and nations to move forward together as a particularly high
level of covid and as we have discussed so much depends for all these political leaders on how quickly covid can be brought under control but the final thought is one health official said the virus will not go away, it could become like flu, that you have an annual vaccine but it will not go away and how health systems and governments respond in the next nine months will be crucial. that at least something no spirits past, present, orfuture could predict, it would be unwise to do so. thank you for being with us. that's it for dateline london for this week — we're back next week at the same time. goodbye.
this is bbc news. very good to have you with us. welcome if you're watching here in the uk or around the world. i'm rich preston. our top stories: russian police detain the kremlin critic alexei navalny — who was nearly killed by nerve agent poisoning last year — as he lands back in moscow. twitter suspends the account of us republican congresswoman marjorie taylor greene for repeatedly making false claims about election fraud. riot police in guatemala use batons and fire tear gas at a caravan of thousands of central american migrants bound for the united states. a year ago this week, china issued its first coronavirus lockdown. we return to hubei, where the global emergency started. and the american music producer phil spector,