As the country opens up further, the problems caused by the crisis are mounting. Thousands will be out of a job by the end of the year, and many businesses are on the brink of closure as our already desolate high streets struggle with the cost of Covid-19.
Rishi Sunak’s announcements may seem like a beacon of hope for some, but for many others, it bears no insight into their reality. The pressure is mounting even further as the government prepares for the inevitable – a second wave.
The week in politics so far
This week marks another U-turn to add to the collection as the government announced from 24 July, face masks will be compulsory in shops in England and refusing to wear one could result in a £100 fine.
This was announced just days after Michael Gove, Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster, said that wearing masks should not be mandatory, as he believed the British public had a great conduct of common sense.
Although welcomed, this policy has also been criticized for its lateness and for its exclusivity to shops. Many have called for the wearing of masks in office spaces and other workplaces.
Tensions have increased between the UK and China, as the Culture Secretary, Oliver Dowden, told the House of Commons that Huawei will have no involvement in the building of the UK’s 5G network. This follows a background of sanctions from Washington, as Donald Trump gears up his rhetoric against the rival super power.
This week, experts have predicted the worst case scenario for a second wave of Covid-19, suggesting a death toll of 120,000 in the coming Winter. Pressure has been mounting on the government to reveal their plans ahead of a second wave.
Rishi Sunak’s economic policies were announced last week, including reducing V.A.T from 20 to 5% to encourage consumer spending. The announcement also included a job retention bonus of £1000 per employer, and a new voucher scheme to encourage families to “eat out to help out.”
- Keir Starmer opened with a critique of the economic announcements, highlighting there was no sector specific support.
- Boris Johnson defended the criticism in claiming there were a range of measures issued by the Chancellor, including the job retention bonus and a kick starter scheme. He was keen to point out that the government cannot save every job.
- Starmer refused to engage in“rhetorical nonsense” as we saw the return of the PM using this tactic to avoid scrutiny from the opposition.
- Starmer drew attention to the new report on the worst case scenario and asked the government what their plans were. Starmer asked the PM if he had read the report, to which he replied, he was aware of it.
- Johnson stated the government were preparing for a second wave by investing in the NHS and preventing it from becoming overwhelmed in the months to come.
- Starmer returned to Test and Trace, pointing out that the number of people contacted had fallen from 90% to 70%.
- The PM reassured Starmer that we had the best system in the world and 144,000 people, as a result of Test and Trace, had agreed to self isolate.
- The PM was keen to point out they were doing everything in their power to prevent a second outbreak but did not give details about how.
- Sir Ed Davy MP tried to get the PM to commit to a future inquiry into the Covid crisis, amidst the UK having one of the worst death rates in the world. Although the PM didn’t commit to one there and then, it appears it is not off the cards entirely.
- Darren Henry MP raised the issue of the mental health implications from the crisis and asked the PM what the government planned to do. The PM cited a new mental health investment of 12.5 billion.
I’m finding listening to PMQs increasingly tiring as the weeks go on. This is part of the reason why I don’t do these every week. Each week we see the return of the same rhetoric issued by Johnson, as he avoids scrutiny from the opposition.
When faced with difficult questions, the PM simply turns the criticism on its head. This diverts attention away from the PM and the issue at hand, and allows him to get away with it. The debate becomes one of rhetoric, rather than policy.
At the heart of preparations for a second wave appeared to be financial investment, mainly within the NHS. Money is all well and good, but it would have been beneficial to see an outline of the policies that are going to reduce the severity of a second wave. Indeed, it was slightly worrying that the PM was aware of the recent report from experts, but didn’t appear to have read it himself.
Each PMQs paints an increasing picture of government confusion as the current crisis unfolds. In a time of penultimate upheaval, it is endlessly disappointing that the PM cannot issue the public with the answers they deserve.