Top story: Biden – ‘He was told how dangerous this virus was’
Good morning, Warren Murray rounding out the week with this Friday edition of the morning briefing.
Voters have heard dramatically different visions from Donald Trump and Joe Biden during clashing town hall-style TV events less than three weeks before the election.
Claims by the president, appearing on NBC, were repeatedly refuted by the interviewer, Savannah Guthrie, as she pressed the president on his debts, his actions on coronavirus, and the rightwing conspiracy theory QAnon, which he refused to condemn. Guthrie demanded Trump explain a QAnon tweet he sent carrying a false claim that Joe Biden had a navy Seal team killed. “That was a retweet! People can decide for themselves!” Trump said. Guthrie responded: “I don’t get that. You’re the president, not someone’s crazy uncle.” It was a nightmare scenario for the president, who has restricted himself in recent weeks to rightwing media where he is allowed by interviewers to ramble on unchallenged.
Over on ABC, voters asked an at-ease Biden about his plans for the pandemic, taxes and the supreme court. On coronavirus Biden said “[Trump] missed enormous opportunities and kept saying things that weren’t true … The president was informed how dangerous this virus was.” He refused to state his position on the supreme court, which is set to veer to the right with the expected appointment of Judge Amy Coney Barrett. Amid suggestions he would appoint more judges to redress this, Biden said voters “do have a right to know where I stand. And they’ll have a right to know where I stand before they vote.”
The candidates were originally scheduled to debate in Miami, but after Trump tested positive for coronavirus he refused to debate remotely as ordered by the nonpartisan debates commission. David Smith, our Washington DC bureau chief, writes that “for some the two men talking at the same time on two different channels was at least preferable to them talking at the same time in the notoriously rancorous first presidential debate”.
Coronavirus latest – The number of Covid infections is rising across the UK but until recently England’s northern cities were doing worst, with London better off. But second-tier restrictions in the capital from Saturday herald the possibility that it will not escape a a second wave. From immunity levels to behaviour patterns, here are some of the leading theories about differences across Britain’s regions in Covid-19 infection rates.
Downing Street’s flagship policy for tackling the coronavirus in England has descended into chaos after mayors and MPs from the north-west railed against being moved into the highest lockdown level and accused ministers of treating the region with contempt. The Guardian has been told Treasury is urgently weighing up offering more support to the affected regions. Leaking vials and suspected contamination were identified among more than 500,000 test tubes produced for the NHS Covid test and trace operation over the summer, whistleblowers have said. UK-based supplier Life Science Group (LSG) said it had destroyed 6,000 tubes that had been compromised by a relabelling process. More updates on the coronavirus situation at our global live blog.
Tuition scheme stumbles – The £350m “massive catch-up operation” pledged by Boris Johnson to help pupils rebound from lockdown has had 40% of its funding go unspent so far. An investigation by Schools Week found that only £106m of the £350m fund will go towards the national tutoring programme (NTP) backed by Johnson for disadvantaged pupils. By earlier this month only “hundreds” out of England’s more than 22,000 state schools had expressed interest in signing up. The investigation found that the DfE has underspent by £139m and appears unlikely to find ways to spend it on tuition for the current school year as promised. Here is where the money is supposed to go and what is actually happening. School leaders have been largely sceptical of the tuition programme, with most saying they would prefer to be given more funding to use on their own schemes.
New Zealand decides – After a month’s delay caused by coronavirus, New Zealanders will finally head to the voting booths on Saturday for their national election. For months now, opinion polls have shown Jacinda Ardern’s governing Labour party streets ahead of the opposition National party, and Ardern also leading in polls as the preferred prime minister. National, who have had three leaders in six months, are flailing, with even the indomitable Judith Collins – nicknamed Crusher Collins – failing to ignite, making repeated bizarre missteps – including slamming people with obesity for lacking personal responsibility and planting campaign supporters on her walkabouts. A million people out of about 3.4 million registered voters have already cast their ballot in advance.
Toy story – A Super Mario-themed Lego set and “loveable” animatronic Present Pets pups are predicted to be Christmas bestsellers at the retailer Hamleys. Victoria Kay, head of buying at Hamleys [other toystores are available], said creating “simple Christmas magic” would be important after a tough year. She thought new versions of classic family games such as Cluedo and Monopoly would also sell well. “We can see carefree shared play and togetherness featuring heavily this year,” she said.
Last year Hamleys became part of Reliance Industries, owned by India’s richest man, Mukesh Ambani. The absence of tourists in central London has hit trade at its flagship store. It is opening 11 pop-up stores around the country including in Leeds, Liverpool and Manchester. “We have had huge success with our online business,” said Kay. “Central London is challenging but our shopping mall stores are bouncing back.”
Today in Focus podcast: The Covid north-south divide
Strict new measures have been imposed on cities in the north of England this week in an attempt to control the increasing spread of Covid-19 infections. But the way the new restrictions have been rolled out has angered local leaders and residents alike, says Josh Halliday.
Lunchtime read: Is this Britain’s most creative family?
Skepta, JME, Julie and Jason – the four Adenuga siblings – laugh as they remember building a go-kart as kids, raiding the factory next door for crates and pallets, their father’s toolbox for screwdrivers and bolts, wheels from a discarded pushchair, and steering made from string. “If you wanted something and it wasn’t there, you just made it,” says Jason.
That has been the guiding mantra for a family who could lay a claim to the title of the most creative clan in Britain. In the past decade, the two older brothers and famed MCs, Skepta and JME, steered grime’s second wave; while Julie swiftly went from presenting on Rinse FM to being one of three main presenters on Apple’s radio station Beats 1. Jason was a producer on Skepta’s album Konnichiwa and, as a graphic designer and artist, has made album covers for both his brothers. A new memoir by their mother, Ify Adenuga, Endless Fortune, explains how they got here. Aniefiok Ekpoudom gets together with them around the table.
Gareth Southgate has defended himself against the accusation he is too cautious by highlighting the goalscoring record of his England team and the risks he has taken in blooding young players. English Football League clubs have rejected a £50m rescue package for League One and League Two after deeming the bailout inadequate and insist Championship clubs should be part of any deal. England’s cricketers are in discussions over a short tour of Pakistan in January – their first visit to the country since 2005 – as a show of gratitude for helping to rescue the recent international summer.
The medical tribunal of the former Team Sky and British Cycling doctor Richard Freeman now looks increasingly likely to drag on until after Easter 2021 after yet more delays caused by the release of a new tranche of medical data. Sam Querrey, the tennis world No 49, was placed in isolation by Russian authorities after testing positive for the coronavirus but left the country on a private plane, organisers of the St Petersburg Open have said. Formula One’s chief executive, Chase Carey, is optimistic the sport will be able to host a full season of racing in 2021. And the organisers of Birmingham 2022 believe they have negotiated a schedule that will allow top athletes to compete at the Commonwealth Games, but a date when tickets will be sold to the public is still uncertain.
The government’s bill for private consultants working on the pandemic has climbed to £175m, with the public accounts committee (PAC) of MPs stepping in to investigate. Spending rose by £65m since the end of August, a 35% increase, according to analysis. Meg Hillier, the PAC chair, said: “You cannot just tear up the rules and dish out taxpayers’ money in this way.” A government spokesman insisted that “every pound spent is contributing towards our efforts to keep people safe”. The FTSE 100 is set to pick up 0.6% when it opens this morning while the pound will buy you $1.289 and €1.102.
Our Guardian print edition’s front page has a picture of the king in the north, Andy Burnham, the greater Manchester mayor, and the headline “We must not make the north a sacrificial lamb”, as the government finds itself facing a wall of opposition over moving to the highest lockdown level. Other titles have variations of Burnham in the same stance – the i says “Lockdown rebellion growing”, the Mirror says it’s a “Northern revolt” while the Metro calls Burnham “No 10’s night mayor” (and if that’s a Game of Thrones reference, mine was better)?
The Mail deplores “An epidemic of madness” saying new restrictions are “draconian” and came “on the day infections went DOWN” no less. The Telegraph has “PM pushed towards national lockdown”. “Ticking time bomb as 26m miss GP visits” – the Express revisits the obviously important story that many fewer people are getting to surgeries.
The Times’ splash seems slightly off-piste but honestly, good luck to them: “Russians spread fake news over Oxford virus vaccine”. The Sun’s headline is “Where regals dare” after the Queen visited Porton Down without wearing a mask. And the FT leads with Brexit news: “Johnson ready to force Brussels’ hand by beefing up no-deal talk” – here is the latest that has gone down in trade negotiations.
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