Top story: Win may ease Johnson leadership jitters
Hello, I’m Warren Murray and here is as much as I’ve prepared to tell you.
The Conservatives have held the safe seat of Old Bexley and Sidcup with a reduced majority, in the first in a series of closely watched parliamentary byelections. Louie French was elected as the new MP, replacing the well-liked former cabinet minister James Brokenshire, who died in October after suffering lung cancer. French won 11,189 votes, ahead of the closest challenger, Labour’s Daniel Francis, who got 6,711.
The result will help calm jitters within the party about Boris Johnson’s leadership. However, there are further byelections to follow. Later in December the Tories will try to hold North Shropshire, vacated by Owen Paterson after the disgraced former MP was found to have committed an egregious breach of paid lobbying rules. A byelection will also be held in Southend West after the murder of its MP, Sir David Amess – however, the Conservatives are expected to be the only major party to contest it as Labour and the Liberal Democrats plan not to field a candidate out of respect.
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Boost for boosters – Covid booster shots can dramatically strengthen immunity, according to a UK study. Among participants in the research, booster recipients had immunity between eight and 25 times higher than the unboosted. Black and south Asian people need to get their Covid jabs, doctors have urged, after data revealed hospitalisations and deaths are higher in those groups despite infection being more prevalent among white people. NHS England meanwhile is forecasting there will be 230,000 new cases of post-traumatic stress disorder as a result of the pandemic. It is based on the effects of the pandemic on domestic abuse victims, children and young people, relatives of Covid survivors, health and care workers, and those who have lost friends and family. In global Covid news, multiple Omicron cases have been detected in New York as Joe Biden announced a nationwide booster campaign and tighter restrictions on international travel. Follow latest developments at our live blog.
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Lords complaint over Tory peer – The Conservative peer Michelle Mone has been accused of sending a racist message to a man by WhatsApp in June 2019 during a disagreement following a fatal yacht crash off the coast of Monaco. Screenshots were sent to the House of Lords commissioner for standards as part of a complaint about Mone. The commissioner, Martin Jelley, said he could not investigate because the Lords code of conduct applies only to members “in the course of their parliamentary duties and activities”. Contacted by the Guardian, a representative of the Tory peer initially said: “Baroness Mone is 100% not a racist. Baroness Mone and her husband have built over 15 schools in Africa in the past three years.” Her lawyers later provided another statement in which they said Mone had “no access” to the messages and no “detailed memory of them”.
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‘Massive impact’ – Teacher absences are the biggest barrier to children recovering the learning lost during the pandemic, according to head teachers in England, as new data showed that shortages in key subjects such as physics are becoming worse. More than half of the 1,000 senior teachers in England surveyed by the Key – a support service for school leaders – said they had insufficient staff due to absences, caused by Covid and illnesses, to help pupils fill the gaps arising from school closures. “Staff absences are having a massive impact,” one respondent said. “Children learn best with their own teacher, not supply teachers.” Three-quarters of those surveyed said their pupils were “behind” or “significantly behind” compared with previous years.
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Sanction Pegasus makers, EU told – Dozens of human rights organisations including Amnesty have called on the EU to impose global sanctions on NSO Group. They cite allegations reported by the Guardian and others that NSO’s Pegasus software was used to hack the devices of six Palestinian human rights activists. It follows publication of the Pegasus Project, which exposed its use to target journalists, human rights activists and other members of civil society. NSO has said that technology, which has been sold to government clients around the world, is only meant to be used against serious criminals and terrorists. It has denied many of the allegations and has said it investigates credible claims of abuse of its software. The Biden administration has added NSO Group to a commerce department list that in effect blacklists the company in the US.
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Heroic effort – Is Superman Circumcised?, a study of the superhero’s Jewish influences, has resoundingly won the competition to be named “oddest book title of the year”. The Diagram prize, run by The Bookseller magazine and voted for by the public, pitted six titles against each other, from Curves for the Mathematically Curious to Hats: A Very Unnatural History. Second placed this year was The Life Cycle of Russian Things: From Fish Guts to Fabergé. Previous winners have included How to Avoid Huge Ships and The Big Book of Lesbian Horse Stories.
Today in Focus podcast: Virgil Abloh, more than streetwear
This week, Virgil Abloh’s final menswear collection for Louis Vuitton debuted at Miami Art Basel – a few days after Abloh’s sudden death at 41 from cancer. The son of Ghanaian immigrant parents to the US found fame as Kanye West’s creative director, and redefined luxury fashion to include chic hoodies and highly covetable sneakers.
Lauren Cochrane tells Nosheen Iqbal that Abloh’s influence can be seen in the way all of us dress. British fashion designer Samuel Ross says Abloh pushed back against the “streetwear” label and wanted his creative legacy to extend well beyond fashion.
Lunchtime read: Into the Clooneyverse
He acts, he directs, he even does the washing-up – is he the perfect man? George Clooney discusses with Hadley Freeman marriage, raising twins, turning down $35m for a day’s work, and his new film, The Tender Bar.
Cristiano Ronaldo’s second goal of the night sealed a 3-2 win for Manchester United against Arsenal after Emile Smith Rowe’s bizarre opener, scored with David de Gea lying on the turf after being injured by Fred, had given the visitors to Old Trafford the lead. Ralf Rangnick, United’s interim manager, was in the stands to see the victory, after which caretaker manager Michael Carrick announced his departure from the club. At Tottenham Hotspur Stadium, an own goal from Sergi Canós and Son Heung-min’s second-half effort secured Spurs a 2-0 win over Brentford. China has attacked the Women’s Tennis Association’s boycott in response to the treatment of Peng Shuai, as two other major international tennis associations steered clear of the subject of future events in a market worth billions of dollars. Lewis Hamilton has said he is not comfortable competing in Saudi Arabia given its repressive laws regarding the LGBTQ+ community.
Henrik Stenson and Luke Donald are the leading contenders to captain Europe in the 2023 Ryder Cup, with Lee Westwood’s move to withdraw his name from the running leaving the European Tour with a decision that is far from straightforward. A former amateur rider who says that she was left in tears in a weighing room after fellow jockey Robbie Dunne accused her of “cutting him up” in a race has told a disciplinary hearing that Dunne’s account of the incident was “incredible”. Adam Gemili and Laviai Nielsen have been removed from UK Athletics’ world-class programme after opting to stay with their coach Rana Reider. Chris Woakes has insisted England’s and Australia’s recent off-field scandals will be off-limits when it comes to sledging out in the middle during the Ashes. The organisers of the Champions Cup have urgently relaxed registration rules to help the clubs caught in travel and quarantine chaos following the rise of the Omicron variant. And Chelsea forward Erin Cuthbert has spoken to the Guardian about her route to the top from a “rough area of Scotland”, last season’s struggles and taking revenge on a junior coach.
The $75bn takeover of Cambridge-based chip designer Arm by its rival Nvidia is in jeopardy after US regulators followed the UK and Europe in moving to block “the largest semiconductor chip merger in history”. The US federal trade commission said: “This proposed deal would distort Arm’s incentives in chip markets and allow the combined firm to unfairly undermine Nvidia’s rivals.” This morning the FTSE is flagged to open higher. The pound is on $1.329 and €1.176 at time of writing.
Lead story in our Guardian print edition today is “Blow for Starmer as biggest union backer cuts funding for Labour”. Unite’s new general secretary, Sharon Graham, said it would still pay £1m in affiliation fees to Labour but “there’s a lot of other money that we use from our political fund where, actually, I’m not sure we’re getting the best value for it … Labour needs to talk about workers, needs to defend workers and needs to defend communities.” Len McCluskey, the previous leader of Unite, was a vehement supporter of Jeremy Corbyn and had already reduced its financial commitment to Labour since Starmer replaced him. The Mirror has “Make your mind up over Christmas” as Tory ministers give contradictory party advice.
Several front pages today, including our own, have a picture of Arthur Labinjo-Hughes whose father and stepmother have been found guilty of killing him in a “campaign of appalling cruelty”, two months after social workers found no evidence of safeguarding concerns. It makes horrifying, heartbreaking reading. “A bruise for every day of lockdown” is the Telegraph’s headline. “Why didn’t they save Arthur?” asks the Daily Mail and the Sun agrees, asking: “Did they learn nothing from Baby P?”
The Express has “Little Arthur, the boy who never stood a chance” – its main story on the front is “Boris blasts bah humbug cancel Christmas brigade”. The Times leads with that booster story: “Jab results boost hopes of beating Omicron”, saying the third shot gives immunity a “massive lift” according to the results. The i has “Deleted: NHS Covid app use is falling, raising fears over Omicron”. “Maskless forced to pay up” – fines and ejections from public transport in the Metro. And the top story in the Financial Times is “Saudi Arabia agrees to raise oil supply after US charm offensive”.
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