PMQs ~”getting on, helping companies through it, helping people through it”

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.

Image: CNBC

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.”

PMQs summary

  • 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.

Analysis

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.

PMQs ~ poverty, schools, and the “wibble wobble” opposition

I thought I would trial a new series. For someone who has “politics” in the tag line of their blog, I don’t nearly write enough related to this topic. That said, I am passionate about politics and want to practice my political commentary, so I thought I would start a weekly (where possible) response to Prime Minister’s Questions.

If you’re not from the UK, every week we have a question and answer session in the House of Commons between the Prime Minister, Leader of the Opposition, and elected Members of Parliament (MPs). Some are arguably more insightful than others, but importantly, it allows the elected government to be scrutinized.

I always enjoy watching PMQs even if they make me frustrated. If politics is not your thing and you only come to my blog for reviews – I totally understand, you don’t have to read any of this! The book reviews are still here to stay!

Anyway, I thought I would try something new, so this is my response to this week’s Prime Minister’s Questions (17/06/20). Obviously, it goes without saying, I am no expert, but these are just my thoughts and attempt to analyse what’s going on.

The week in politics (so far)

In the lead up to this week’s PMQs, the Prime Minister faced scrutiny due to his drastic U-turn for free school meals. This new policy, will provide some of the poorest families with weekly food vouchers over the summer holidays. Just 24 hours before the U-turn, the government had rejected the proposal. The PM has now announced a, “covid summer food fund” in response to the campaign led by footballer, Marcus Rashford.

This is the government’s second biggest U-turn during the crisis, just weeks before it revoked the NHS surcharge for migrant workers, amidst mounting pressure from the opposition and some Conservative MPs.

Announced yesterday by the Health Secretary, Matt Handcock, was a new steroid drug for treating Covid-19. The drug, dexamethasone, is said to be able to reduce inflammation for seriously ill patients. Handcock has stated this discovery is, “one of the best pieces of news we’ve had through this whole crisis.”

Returning to Brexit, Johnson announced that he sees no reason why the UK could not guarantee a EU trade deal by the end of July.

PMQs summarized 17.06.20

  • Topics covered this week include: the government’s stance on the vandalizing of monuments, rising levels of child poverty, children returning to schools, lack of local council funding and social security for poorer families.
  • Starmer geared the debate towards the issue of rising poverty, directly quoting from the government led commission which stated that child poverty could increase to 5.2 million by 2022.
  • Johnson stated the government had reduced poverty and critiqued Starmer’s questioning on the basis it was only an “anticipated” report.
  • Starmer pointed out to Johnson that his facts were from a government led commission, to which the PM seemed to know nothing about.
  • Johnson claimed there were 400,000 fewer families living in poverty now than in 2010. This statement has been fact checked, with no proof of credibility.
  • The Social Mobility Commission report stated that, “600,000 more children are now living in relative poverty than in 2012” despite Johnson’s claim it was only a “projection.”
  • Johnson argued (five times to be precise) that it was important to get children back to school to help eradicate the threat of child poverty.
  • Ian Blackford, leader of the SNP, asked the PM if he would consider raising the amount of social security to an extra £20 per family, to cope with added economic pressures. He accused the PM of wanting to spend more on his own “vanity” project.
  • Johnson claimed the government will always “do more where we can” to help families, but did not agree to raise the amount by £20.

Analysis

PMQs felt quite fraught this week, amidst the background of the latest government U-turn, it’s no surprise that the PM seemed more flustered than usual. These were hard questions he evidently didn’t know the answer to. There was no holding back in terms of the personal attacks against the opposition, as the PM was keen to emphasize Labour’s mixed position on pupils returning to school.

On being questioned by Starmer about the levels of poverty exposed in the commission, the PM failed to offer a legitimate line of defense, even using out of date figures. Instead, he used the political tactic of bluster to deflect attention away from the issues at heart. At one point, Starmer even offered to change places with the PM as he was complaining about the difficult questions.

The more I watch PMQs between these two, the more it seems obvious that Johnson simply cannot handle difficult questions. He re-uses the same argument and seems to adopt a stance of confusion that allows himself to escape from providing a response. Starmer throughout this pandemic has offered a clear and concise rebuttal to Johnson’s absurdity- even beginning to turn the tide in YouGov’s polls.

This PMQs saw very little in the way of beneficial debate, Johnson’s continuous deployment of the “bluster” tactic eradicated any real opportunity for discussion and scrutiny. But I’m inclined to think this is the point. The government have blatantly failed on reducing poverty, and I wish we could have seen a proper response from the PM. His out of date statistics on social mobility rendered the discussion of an imperative issue null and void, and revealed how out of touch he is.

The experience of Covid-19 in Britain has already exposed the faults within our society. As a deep recession looms ahead, this government has to be continually challenged on its policy to “do more where we can.” But particularity, on reducing the inherent poverty and inequality of opportunity that lies within, and has been smoldering for over a decade.

That’s it for this week, let me know what you think of this format!

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Reading more poetry

Image: Pixabay

As someone who claims they love poetry, my range tends to stick to those I know, (or studied at A-level) such as Sylvia Plath, Ted Hughes, Carol Ann Duffy and William Blake. During these years I enjoyed studying poetry but was consumed by having to memorise it for an exam.

I’ve decided that I want to read more poetry and have set myself the challenge of reading a new poem every day. Using the book, Poems for Life, I am picking at random a poem everyday to read.

Part of my appreciation for poetry comes from the process of ‘unpicking’. On the first read, sometimes things don’t stick out. On the second, comes the realisation that certain phrases, lines and images are of importance to the central message. I like the fact that the more you read a poem, the more you understand. Above all, what I like is that poetry can have so many different interpretations.

I won’t always be writing a post about each poem I read (as that might get a bit much!) but I thought I would share with you the first one.

Flicking through the pages, I stuck my thumb at a random spot and fell on the poem, “Casabianca” by Felicia Dorothea Hemans. Upon reading it, I had no prior knowledge of the poem (or even when it was written.)

The Poem

The boy stood on the burning deck,
Whence all but he had fled;
The flame that lit the battle’s wreck,
Shone round him o’er the dead.

Yet beautiful and bright he stood,
As born to rule the storm;
A creature of heroic blood,
A proud, though childlike form.

The flames rolled on – he would not go,
Without his father’s word;
That father, faint in death below,
His voice no longer heard.

He called aloud – ‘Say, father, say
If yet my task is done?’
He knew not that the chieftain lay
Unconscious of his son.

‘Speak, father!’ once again he cried,
‘If I may yet be gone!’
– And but the booming shots replied,
And fast the flames rolled on.

Upon his brow he felt their breath
And in his waving hair;
And look’d from that lone post of death,
In still yet brave despair.

And shouted but once more aloud,
‘My father! must I stay?’
While o’er him fast, through sail and shroud,
The wreathing fires made way.

They wrapped the ship in splendour wild,
They caught the flag on high,
And streamed above the gallant child,
Like banners in the sky.

There came a burst of thunder sound –
The boy – oh! where was he?
Ask of the winds that far around
With fragments strewed the sea!

With mast, and helm, and pennon fair,
That well had borne their part,
But the noblest thing which perished there,
Was that young faithful heart.

Reading “Casabianca” for the first time

Before researching , I believed this poem was about the departure of childhood, set against the natural rhythms of nature. The poem features a father and son on board a ship in the middle of the sea. Thus, the passing of nature could be related to the certainty of the end of childhood. Lines such as, “The boy stood on the burning deck, / Whence all but he had fled” and, “Yet beautiful and bright he stood, / As born to rule the storm” suggests the idea of departure with words like, “fled”. Additionally, the image of a boy ruling nature suggests an element of leaving childhood behind.

The poem also contains the repetition of a heroic like theme, words such as, “heroic,” “brave,” and “gallant” which suggests the idea of conquering. Whether that be over nature itself during the sea storm, or over the eventual eradication of one’s childhood. Thus, the conquering of childhood, as it were.

In sum, I read this poem to be about the gradual but relentlessness transition from childhood to adulthood, mirrored by the undulating rhythms of nature presented in the waves. The timeless image of a ship sailing away, relates to the human life cycle passing into the next phase of life, from childhood to adolescence. Like nature – life always has a next stage, or ending.

History and impact

Image: Felicia Dorothea Hemans National Portrait Gallery

Although this poem does contain a considerable element on childhood, it also documents an actual event.

Published in 1826, this poem details events that occurred on the Orient during the Battle of the Nile in 1798. It was a French ship commanded by Louis de Casabianca. The poem features a scene between a 12 year old boy and his Father; whereby the boy refuses to abandon the ship during a series of attacks. It becomes clear during the course of the poem, that the young boy tragically dies, he only ever wanted to protect the ship and perform his expected duties.

Thus, the poem explores elements of death, as well as transitional life. It’s a tale of commitment, resilience and dedication from a young boy, but also the bond between father and son.

The poem became a classroom staple throughout the United Kingdom between the 1850s-1950s. It is therefore, a classic example of classroom poetry recital. It explores a sense of military prowess by featuring the 1798 Battle of the Nile, between the British Royal Navy and the Navy of the French Republic. Hence, I suspect it was chosen for classroom recital due to its demonstration of patriotism and British victory.

Felicia Hemans was a known poet in her day, whose major collections included: The Forest Sanctuary (1825), Records of Woman and Songs of Affections (1830). She was known to be quite popular, especially among women. It is welcoming to note such a successful female poet during this period. Sadly, she died from dropsy in 1835. Despite the beauty of this poem (and probably the rest of her work) it was often used for school children – due to its discussion of morality and patriotism, and easy to remember rhyming rhythm. (see what I did there…)

Upon reading this poem and unpacking it, I was able to reflect on the many things I had learned just from reading these few lines. I had no idea to begin with that it was written so long ago, and about a true event I wasn’t even aware of. I nearly always learn something when I read a new poem, and this one didn’t disappoint!