Tuesday briefing: PM faces confidence crisis

Top story: Problems pile up for Johnson

Morning everyone. I’m Martin Farrer and these are the top stories today.

Boris Johnson is facing serious questions about his competence and drive from Conservative MPs after he gave a rambling speech to business leaders yesterday and was accused of losing his grip over a series of policies from social care to rail. After a backbench rebellion over the controversial social care cap continued a run of chaotic policy U-turns and embarrassments, dismay increased after his performance at the CBI conference in South Shields. Johnson lost his place for an excruciating 20 seconds, and diverted into a lengthy tangent about his trip to Peppa Pig World and being motoring correspondent for GQ, complete with car noises.

A former cabinet minister said there was “an accumulation of things building up, really relating to his competence and that is beginning to look very shaky”. One of the government’s growing problems is how to stem the flow of migrants across the Channel and it has emerged that home secretary Priti Patel is coming under “immense pressure” from No 10 to do more on this touchstone issue.

Care rebellion– MPs have passed a controversial amendment to England’s social care cap which will disproportionately hit poorer pensioners, despite a rebellion from backbenchers. The change means that council contributions to care fees would not go towards the cap, meaning that people who receive means-tested help would end up paying the same as wealthier people if they needed care for a significant amount of time. The exchequer stands to save £900m a year by 2027, but analysts say it could be “catastrophic” for poorer homeowners, who might be forced to sell their homes to fund care. The vote passed by 272 to 246, a majority of 26.

Depression therapy – Millions of people with mild depression in England should be offered therapy, exercise, mindfulness or meditation before antidepressants, according to the first new NHS guidelines in more than a decade. The National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (Nice) recommends the “menu of treatment options” be offered to patients by health professionals before medication is considered. Currently, those with mild depression are offered antidepressants or a high-intensity psychological intervention, such as cognitive behavioural therapy.

Workforce shrinks – The economic fallout from the coronavirus pandemic has made Britain’s workforce smaller, younger and more female after a sharp rise in people leaving work during lockdown. The Resolution Foundation said the number of people who had exited the workforce and were no longer looking for a job had increased. Around 586,000 older workers had opted for early retirement. Young people and women have taken the hardest psychological and financial hit from the pandemic, according to a YouGov survey taken in 27 countries. In Britain, France and Australia, for example, around half of young people said the pandemic had taken a toll on their mental health, against only a quarter of those 55 or older.

Bulgaria crash – At least 45 people have been killed after a bus travelling from North Macedonian plates caught fire on a road in western Bulgaria on Tuesday. The victims included children, and seven people with burns were taken to hospital in the capital, Sofia, officials said. Most of the victims were from North Macedonia.

Waukesha charges – A 39-year-old man has been charged with five counts of homicide over the deaths of five people who died when a driver ploughed a car into a Christmas parade in Waukesha, Wisconsin on Sunday. Another 48 people were injured, including two children who remained critical. Darrell E Brooks was involved in an unspecified domestic disturbance immediately before the parade incident, police said, and further charges were expected.


Hellbound Photograph: NETFLIX

Horror show – First there was Squid Game. Now there’s Hellbound. Another South Korean fantasy horror series from Netflix has become an overnight global phenomenon, with the latter toppling the former as the most-watched TV show on the streaming platform. The series centres on a team of demons, who hunt down sinners who have been previously visited by a celestial being who has informed the victim of their date and time of death. Squid Game was watched by an estimated 142m households in 94 countries and has made $900m in profit for Netflix.

Today in Focus podcast: World of woe

Qatar says it has reformed conditions for workers building its World Cup facilities, but, less than a year out from the competition, change is hard to see on the ground, reports Pete Pattisson.

Today in Focus

World Cup woes

Lunchtime read: Diana Gabaldon on writing Outlander

Diana Gabaldon

Diana Gabaldon. Photograph: Sarah Lee/The Guardian

Diana Gabaldon wrote the first of her time-travelling Outlander novels in secret while her husband slept. Now she’s published the ninth in the hit series. She talks to Alison Flood about explosive sex scenes – and where George RR Martin went wrong.


Michael Carrick, Manchester United’s temporary manager, will be watched closely despite little time to prepare for the Champions League encounter with Villarreal after Ole Gunnar Solskjær’s sacking. The International Olympic Committee has been accused of engaging in a “publicity stunt” over the wellbeing of the Chinese tennis player Peng Shuai, amid growing momentum behind a diplomatic boycott of the Beijing Winter Olympics. Eddie Jones believes mental fatigue caused by Covid restrictions was a significant reason why the major southern hemisphere rugby nations failed to stay the distance in the autumn series in Europe. Lewis Hamilton will go into the crucial penultimate round of the Formula One season with a vital advantage in his Mercedes car after team principal Toto Wolff confirmed he would be reverting to his newest engine in Saudi Arabia. A whistleblowing hotline launched by Yorkshire to allow people to safely report discrimination has been contacted by 36 individuals in its first week.

Mavys Álvarez, a Cuban woman who had a relationship with the late footballer Diego Maradona two decades ago, has alleged the Argentine player raped her when she was a teenager. Mark Cavendish suffered a collapsed lung and two broken ribs in a crash during the Ghent Six Day track event on Sunday night, his Deceuninck-Quick-Step team announced. And in an interview with the Guardian, Milan and Sweden striker Zlatan Ibrahimovic has spoken about barging César Azpilicueta, the Premier League, and the secret of his longevity.


Bulb Energy has gone bust and will be placed into an untested bailout process that will rely on public money to manage the biggest collapse yet from the energy market crunch. The company will be handed to a “special administrator” that could cost the taxpayer £2bn to keep supplying Bulb’s 1.7 million household customers. Analysis of recruitment data shows employers in the UK are stepping up demands for staff to be vaccinated against Covid-19. Markets picked up in Asia overnight after Jerome Powell was handed another term as Fed chief but the FTSE100 will dip a touch at the open. The pound has slid to $1.339 although it’s up to €1.192 as the euro wilts amid the threat of lockdowns.

The papers

Guardian front page, Tuesday 23 November 2021

Photograph: The Guardian

The Guardian leads with Boris Johnson’s CBI speech fallout – “Johnson is ‘losing the confidence’ of Tory party” – while the Mirror questions the government’s social care policy: “That’s rich”. The Yorkshire Post also looks at the CBI story – “Government ‘too fixated on the South’” – and the Express has another headache for Johnson: “It’s a ‘national emergency…’ Anger at migrant crisis”. The Scotsman chips in with “Patel: SNP refuses to help with asylum seeker crisis”.

The Mail leads with “Parole shake up to keep public safe” and the Times says “Britain ‘put at risk by civil service groupthink’”. The Telegraph has “Cut taxes or Brexit will fail, says Frost” and the i goes with “Take a Covid test before Christmas shopping”. The FT splashes on “Biden chooses continuity in picking Powell to lead Fed”.

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