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All revolutions devour their own children. Just look at the Brexiteers | Nick Cohen

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As the Observer goes to press on Christmas Day, the UK’s ruling Conservatives are contemplating breaking the back of the National Health Service. Maybe they are right to avoid taking all but the most cursory precautions against Omicron. Perhaps the relative mildness of the new variant will outweigh its wild infectiousness. The fact remains that, although they want the crisis to be over, they have no idea if it is over. And on this speculative hope, Conservative MPs are prepared to run the potentially fatal political risk of collapsing the NHS.

So much attention focuses on Boris Johnson’s unfitness to be prime minister that the dissolution of the parliamentary Conservative party into warring bands of ideologues and fantasists is in danger of being lost. Its contempt for rules, its willingness to gamble away its chances of holding power show a movement in the grip of radical rightwing delusion. Contrary to much political commentary, the Conservatives have not reinvented themselves to advance the interests of their new working-class voters. The aristocratic disdain of a Downing Street that partied while forcing the country to lock down shows how widely the values of the Tory elite and the average voter have diverged.

A supposed truth about politics, which has been dignified with the technocratic title of “May’s law of curvilinear disparity”, holds that the professional politicians at the top of a party cannot afford to be as extreme as activists below them. Members are free to indulge their whims. Serious politicians must hug the electorate close if they hope to attain power. All attempts to create laws as certain as the laws of physics to predict human behaviour fail. The state of the Conservative party shows that May’s law is no exception. A study for the UK in a Changing Europe thinktank found Conservative MPs were more lost in rightwing ideology than Conservative members, Conservative voters and, naturally, the electorate as a whole. Almost a quarter of Conservative members and 73% of the public agreed that there was “one law for the rich and another for the poor” (as Johnson’s career has shown). Just 5% of the Conservative MPs the authors surveyed believed it. Large majorities thought that big business takes advantage of the public and that ordinary people do not get a fair share of the nation’s wealth. Conservative politicians did not.

The rightwing doctrine they cling to is not a coherent system of thought. I find the best way to understand it is as truculent over-confidence. Like angry children, Conservatives demand that the world be as they want it to be and not as it is. They do not realise that they have caught themselves in a feedback loop. The nationalism and Thatcherism that once brought them electoral successes are threatening to destroy the values they think they uphold.

Read the Tory press and you cannot miss the laments at the failure to turn the UK into a capitalist powerhouse. Lord Frost walks out of the cabinet saying Brexit should have brought a “lightly regulated, low-tax” country. Liz Truss positions herself to benefit from Johnson’s downfall by posing as a free-trade fundamentalist who will unchain Britannia from the shackles of the state.

They still cannot admit that Brexit was an attack on wealth-creation. The Office for Budget Responsibility forecasts it will cause twice the long-term economic damage of Covid, leave trade 15% lower, bring a £100bn annual hit to national income and cost £40bn in lost tax revenue. When you shrink the tax base, you have to raise taxes to cover the shortfall just to stand still. When you shrink the private sector, the size of the state grows in comparison by definition. When you pull your country out of the largest free-trade area in the world, you have no right to protest about economic decline.

“Move fast and break things” may work as a slogan in Silicon Valley but it isn’t a programme for government. The creative destruction Conservatives thought they were unleashing with Brexit has created nothing of value and left only rubble behind.

Their behaviour shows that at some level they grasp the magnitude of their failure. All revolutions devour their own children as the euphoria of the initial uprising degenerates into panic. The speed with which the Brexit revolutionaries are devouring theirs is the best indication of the depth of their insecurity.

They don’t even have the table manners to wait until the kids are out of nappies before sharpening the carving knives. Johnson won the Brexit referendum and the 2019 election. Now the right cannot wait to be rid of him. With a roar of “enough is enough”, Steve Baker bans Nadine Dorries from a Conservative WhatsApp group for the crime of praising the prime minister. Her work in undermining the BBC counts for nothing. In Conservative culture, as in all cancel cultures, you must show a demeaning adherence to the ideological line or you are finished. When Johnson made Sajid Javid health secretary in June, the Tory press hailed him as a Covid “hawk”, who would resist any attempt to lock down the economy. This month, fears about the Omicron variant compelled him to introduce modest restrictions. Conservative MPs did not say that, if even Javid believed there was danger ahead, they should take notice. They heckled him in the Commons as he made the case for caution with cries of “resign” and “what a load of old tripe”.

“Instead of taking him at face value, they are painting him as the enemy,” Labour’s health spokesman, Wes Streeting, told me in a voice filled with disbelief, and I thought, with a hint of anticipation as well.

Every senior opposition figure I talk to believes the Conservatives are no longer capable of governing themselves or the country. They have dissolved into an extremist rabble that is contorted by magical thinking, heresy hunts, fits of temper and doctrinal spasms.

If the opposition parties cooperate, and if Labour can break with the calamity of the Corbyn years, there is a chance that they can eject this government from power. A faint chance, I grant you, given the scale of the Tories’ electoral advantage but a chance nevertheless. And with that uncharacteristically cheery thought, I wish you all a merry Christmas.

Nick Cohen is an Observer columnist

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Solar storms may cause up to 5500 heart-related deaths in a given year

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In an approximate 11-year cycle, the sun blasts out charged particles and magnetised plasma that can distort Earth’s magnetic field, which may disrupt our body clock and ultimately affect our heart



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17 June 2022

A solar storm

Jurik Peter/Shutterstock

Solar storms that disrupt Earth’s magnetic field may cause up to 5500 heart-related deaths in the US in a given year.

The sun goes through cycles of high and low activity that repeat approximately every 11 years. During periods of high activity, it blasts out charged particles and magnetised plasma that can distort Earth’s magnetic field.

These so-called solar storms can cause glitches in our power grids and bring down Earth-orbiting satellites. A handful of studies have also hinted that they increase the risk of …

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UK Covid infection rate rising, with more than a million cases in England | Coronavirus

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Coronavirus infections are rising in the UK, figures have revealed, with experts noting the increase is probably down to the more transmissible BA.4 and BA.5 Omicron variants.

The figures from the Office for National Statistics (ONS), based on swabs collected from randomly selected households, reveal that in the week ending 11 June an estimated one in 50 people in the community in England are thought to have had Covid – around 1.13 million people.

The figure is even higher, at one in 45, in both Wales and Northern Ireland, while it was highest in Scotland where, in the week ending 10 June, one in 30 people are thought to have been infected.

While the figures remain below the peak levels of infection seen earlier this year, when around one in 13 people in England had Covid, the findings are a rise on the previous week where one in 70 people in England were thought to be infected. Furthermore, the data reveals increases in all regions of England, except the north-east, and across all age groups.

Experts say that a key factor in the increase is probably the rise of the Covid variants of concern BA.4 and BA.5.

“Infections have increased across all four UK nations, driven by rising numbers of people infected with the BA.4 and BA.5 Omicron variants,” said Kara Steel, senior statistician for the Covid-19 Infection Survey.

While Steel said it remained too early to say if this was the start of another wave, others have warned it may already have begun, with increased mixing and travelling among other factors fuelling a rise in cases.

Among concerns scientists have raised are that BA.4, BA.5 and another variant on the rise, BA.2.12.1, replicate more efficiently in human lung cells than BA.2.

Prof Azra Ghani, an epidemiologist at Imperial College London, said the latest figures were not surprising, and might rise further.

“This increase in infection prevalence is likely due to the growth of the BA.4 and BA.5 Omicron subvariants, which as we have seen elsewhere in Europe, appear to be able to escape immunity generated from previous Omicron subvariants,” she said.

“It is therefore possible that we will continue to see some growth in infection prevalence in the coming weeks and consequently an increase in hospitalisations, although these subvariants do not currently appear to result in any significantly changed severity profile. This does however serve as a reminder that the Covid-19 pandemic is not over.”

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NHS to offer women in England drug that cuts recurrence of breast cancer | Breast cancer

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Thousands of women in England with breast cancer are to benefit from a new pill on the NHS which reduces the risk of the disease coming back.

The National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (Nice) has given the green light to abemaciclib, which cuts the chance of breast cancer returning after a patient has had surgery to remove a tumour.

Trials showed that patients who had the drug with hormone therapy had a more than 30% improved chance of their cancer not coming back after surgery, compared with hormone therapy alone.

“It’s fantastic thousands of women with this type of primary breast cancer will now have an additional treatment option available on the NHS to help further reduce the risk of the disease coming back,” said Delyth Morgan, the chief executive of charity Breast Cancer Now.

“The fear of breast cancer returning or spreading to other parts of their body and becoming incurable can cause considerable anxiety for so many women and their loved ones.

“New effective treatments such as abemaciclib, which can offer more women the chance to further reduce the risk of the disease recurring, are therefore extremely welcome and this is an important step change in the drug options available for this group of patients.”

The twice-a-day pill is suitable for women with hormone receptor-positive, HER2-negative, node-positive early breast cancer at high risk of recurrence who have had surgery. About 4,000 women will benefit initially, Nice said.

Helen Knight, the interim director of medicines evaluation at Nice, said the draft recommendation came less than a month after abemaciclib received its licence.

“The fact that we have been able to produce draft recommendations so quickly is testament to the success of our ambition to support patient access to clinically and cost effective treatments as early as possible,” said Knight. “Until now there have been no targeted treatments for people with this type of breast cancer.

“Abemaciclib with hormone therapy represents a significant improvement in how it is treated because being able to have a targeted treatment earlier after surgery will increase the chance of curing the disease and reduce the likelihood of developing incurable advanced disease.”

Abemaciclib works by targeting and inhibiting proteins in cancer cells which allow the cancer to divide and grow. It normally costs £2,950 for a packet of 56 150mg-tablets, but the manufacturer, Eli Lilly, has agreed an undisclosed discounted price for NHS England.

“Thanks in part to this latest deal struck by NHS England, NHS patients will be able to access another new targeted drug for a common and aggressive form of breast cancer,” said Prof Peter Johnson, the cancer director of NHS England.

“Abemaciclib, when used alongside a hormone therapy, offers a new, doubly targeted, treatment option, helping to increase the chances of beating the cancer for good, as well as meeting the NHS’s commitment to delivering improved cancer care under our long-term plan.”

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