Covid-19 has made a government of disgrace the new normal

For any government, facing a global pandemic would be an enormous political challenge. The implementation of an unprecedented nationwide lockdown could never have been predicted back in December, when the Tories won their majority. However, the actions they have taken will indiscriminately define the rest of their tenure.

Regardless of the demanding nature of our current climate, without a doubt, this crisis has exposed this government and the Prime Minister, for what they really are.

Crises are known for bringing to the surface the real nature of leaders in defining moments. For over a decade, our country has been led by the same party, but the crisis has revealed ever more blatantly, the kind of politics they wish to govern by. In the wake of the pandemic one would hope the world will become a better place. But will this transfer to British politics?

The country held its breath when Boris Johnson was taken into intensive care in early April and it was a defining moment in the nation’s experience of the crisis. Furthermore, the Health Secretary, Matt Hancock, contracted the virus at the end of March. Unlike Johnson, Hancock managed to escape with a mild experience of the virus. Despite having a real and life threatening experience, it seems ludicrous that the PM has opened the floodgates as early as July 4th, even encouraging a return to hustle and bustle, despite a still ever present threat in circulation

Image: Insider. Soho, London, 4 July.

Furthermore, these past few weeks have seen the rise of racial tensions in Britain, in response to the death of George Floyd, who was murdered by a white policeman in Minneapolis. The Black Lives Matter movement has hit many cities and towns across the country in joining the fight against exposing the persistent racial inequality in our country and expressing solidarity with America. However, this was also met with protests from the far right, evoking, “scenes of violence, desecration and racism” in central London just a few weeks ago. 

Johnson’s treatment of the BLM movement was half hearted and his address only initially prompted by the leader of the opposition at Prime Minister’s Questions.

Moreover, the biggest blunder during the address of the BLM movement was Dominic Raab’s treatment of “taking a knee.” The term refers to the symbolic gesture adopted by footballer Colin Kaepernick in 2016, during a national anthem to highlight the persistent racism underpinning American society. Despite this, the foreign secretary described it as “a symbol of subjugation and subordination” originating in the Game of Thrones TV series.

Not only does this show a sheer lack of sensitivity during a pivotal moment for the BLM both here and in the US, but a mirror into how out of touch this party really is. 

Scenes from Central London, depicting a far-right protest. Image: The Guardian

The Covid crisis has exposed the bare bones of the charleton, Johsnon. He is a career politician that thrives from using the tactic of “political bluster” as seen in this season’s PMQs. It worked with Jeremy Corbyn, however, with the meticulous Keir Starmer, he only appears more out of touch than usual.

During the crisis, we’ve already witnessed two major U-turns in the government, with the abandonment of the NHS surcharge for migrant healthcare workers and the Marcus Rashford led campaign to continue food provision for some of Britain’s poorest families. U-turns alone are not proof of weakness, but these examples certainly illustrate that this crisis reveals a government and leader out of touch with the rest of society and their concerns. 

And then there’s Dominic Cummings. The evident breaking of the lockdown rules by the government’s chief advisor was the cherry on the cake in terms of symbolising hypocrisy and ignorance.

If the maker of the rules himself could not abide by them, how was there ever any hope for the public? The Cummings debacle may have been brushed under the carpet, but it is one that will certainly define the Tory’s handling of this pandemic in years to come. Moreover, it provides us with the most glaring of symbols into the realities of this government. 

The sea of social change anticipated by the joint experience of Covid-19 and the BLM movement could be on the horizon, however, the leadership of this government has maintained its status quo and exposed itself for what it really is; a government of disgrace, hypocrisy and removed from the issues felt by the majority.

Experience of a crisis can often bring out the best in people, however, for the Tory’s, their worst sides have definitely been revealed. The most worrying part? It has become the new normal. 

PMQs ~ “The Prime Minister should welcome challenge that could save lives”

This weeks PMQs saw the return of Boris Johnson refusing to co-operate by avoiding difficult questions. Just days before the grand reopening it is worrying that the PM cannot even give the public an ounce of clarity.

This week in politics (so far)

It’s been a bit of a rough week for Keir Starmer. The lingering impact of the sacking of Rebecca Long-Bailey, the former shadow Education secretary, is still sparking fury from members of the party and MPs. Long-Bailey was sacked for re-tweeting an article containing an anti-Semitic conspiracy theory. In The Guardian, she issued an apology and explained her actions amidst a plea for re-admission to the shadow cabinet.

Starmer has also been criticised for comments made about the Black Lives Matter Movement, stating that de-funding the police was, “nonsense“. De-funding the police is one of the main agendas of the movement, as activists are campaigning for investment in the police force to be redistributed to social care provision and rehabilitation schemes. Starmer has been criticised by writer and activist, Reni Eddo-Lodge and MP Bell Ribeiro-Addy for dismissing a main element of the BLM movement which seeks to disentangle systemic racism still prevalent in our institutions – most notably, the police.

This week Johnson announced a ‘New Deal‘ to prepare for the economic fallout caused by the Covid-19 crisis. Focus is on building homes and investing in employment training with a new national skills fund. The government plans to spend £5b on infrastructure in England.

The first local lockdown was announced in Leicester before England is due to experience the biggest lifting of restrictions since the full lockdown. Residents in Leicester were told that shops, pubs and non-essential retail would not be re-opening with the rest of the country at the weekend. Restrictions will last until at least July 18. William Bach, Leicester’s leading Police and Crime Commissioner has critiqued the government for a lack of guidance and pre-warning.

PMQs summary

  • Starmer opened the session with exposing the weaknesses in the government’s Test, Track and Isolate system, as two thirds of those testing positive are not being reached.
  • Johnson claimed TTI was successful and Starmer should support the government in channeling its use to quell the spread of the virus.
  • Starmer responded by asking the PM again what is happening to those who haven’t been reached, but his question wasn’t answered.
  • Johnson claimed Starmer’s questions were “misleading” and that he needs to start supporting the government.
  • Starmer stated the, “Prime Minister should welcome challenge that could save lives”
  • Starmer pushed the PM on the lack of clarity over local lockdowns, following ongoing criticism about Leicester. Johnson claimed the government were engaging in a, “cluster busting operation” to keep future potential outbreaks under control. No detail was given to how this is going to be implemented.
  • Starmer also pressed the PM on the failures of the NHS app which the PM promised would be ready by 1 June, the government having spent £12m on it.
  • Johnson claimed the app had minor significance in beating the virus, despite the amount of spending and time that has gone into it. He argues that no country in the world has an efficient app.
  • Starmer pointed to Germany whose tracing app has already hit 12 million downloads.

Analysis

All in all, not many answers were gained from this session. Starmer posed difficult but essential questions in front of the PM who simply dismissed them or refused to answer. As the country is due to come out of lockdown, it is worrying that he can’t give the public any answers. Issues over TTI and the app are significant, as we’ve been told throughout that this is imperative for preventing the spread of the virus.

Starmer himself was able to adequately summarise the problems with the session, stating the PM should “welcome challenge” instead of avoiding it. It seems a genuine discussion of government inadequacies simply cannot happen when the PM refuses to engage.

Johnson recycled the rebuttal of Labour’s confusing position on children returning to school, amidst Starmer’s demand for the PM to correct his out of date figures on child poverty, stated a few weeks before. Johnson’s use of false figures and denial has not gone unnoticed by the leader of the opposition, as it’s set to be a theme dominating the future of PMQs.

As England is set to be unleashed by the weekend, one would think an active dialogue between leaders of opposing parties would take place. With the daily press conferences no longer on the cards, the public have been largely left in the dark. The provision of a coherent, active debate between leaders would do the world of wonders. One can only hope that things will get better, and that Johnson will soon abandon his rhetoric of denial and avoidance – for all our sakes.

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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Podcasts getting me through lockdown

Since lockdown started nearly three months ago, I’ve been really into podcasts. I’ve been having more baths so that means more podcasts and I have now gotten into the habit of listening to them whilst running – which has changed my life! But I’ll leave discussing that for another day…

I actually find it quite hard to find podcasts I like and want to stick to. What I listen to largely depends on my mood. Sometimes I like to listen to historical/political podcasts which are more educational and then other times (like this week) I just want to chill out and listen to something lighthearted and entertaining.

I’ve compiled a list of the ones I’ve been listening to and thought I would share them with you. If you have any you’ve been enjoying please comment them down below! I’m always in the mood for listening to more podcasts.

1619

In an attempt to educate myself and understand the Black Lives Matter movement and the ongoing, systemic racial inequality in America and all over the world, I have been listening to 1619. It is a podcast by the New York Times, hosted by Nikole Hannah-Jones. Each episode takes a thematic approach, for example, looking at democracy, the economy or music, but places these within the historical framework, starting from 1619. 1619 was the year in which the first African slaves were brought to North America on an English ship into Virginia.

I have listened to two episodes so far and have found them to be so informative – but not too heavy. Each includes individual experiences and voices alongside the history, in an attempt to place the origins of racial injustice in its modern day context. Nikole Hannah-Jones, the host, also has a very nice voice to listen to, so that’s a plus!

Each episode looks primarily at the history of slavery, the black struggle and tries to answer how this has shaped modern America. It is eye opening and incredibly informative. I would highly recommend this!

Football, Feminism & Everything in Between

This re-ignited my podcast obsession and I have not been able to stop listening! Hosted by Grace Campbell, comedian and feminist activist and her Dad, Alastair Campbell, journalist and former advisor to Tony Blair, each episode (bar the lockdown ones) features a special guest and an informal, comedic chat.

Each interviews combine, you guessed it, a bit of football, feminism and everything in between. The ‘everything in between’ part usually centers on politics but it is usually influenced by the type of guest they have on the show or the events going on in the world at the time. Guests range from Julia Gillard, Kay Burley, Sean Dyche to Ed Miliband. There’s been a few people they had on that I didn’t even know but still enjoyed, which just shows you what a good repertoire the two have to keep me engaged!

The duo have also done a series of lockdown podcasts where they both reflect on the political goings on in number 10 and what they’ve each been doing to fill the days. Every podcast has me at least laughing and rolling my eyes and all most all of them get me thinking. I think the fact these two are Father and Daughter really makes the podcast. They have a very natural relationship which shows in each podcast.

It combines a bit of everything that I like – politics, dislike for the Tories, feminism, mental health, books and journalism so in my opinion, it could never go wrong!

About Race with Reni Eddo-Lodge

Image: Spotify

I have really enjoyed this one too. Hosted by the bestselling author and journalist, Reni Eddo-Lodge (Why I’m No Longer Talking to White People about Race), this podcast looks at the history of race in Britain and ties it into contemporary politics. Unlike 1619, each episode is shorter, and hence why I have gotten through them a bit more.

Episodes often feature outspoken political activists, like Owen Jones and Billy Bragg, and center around a specific issue. Like the rise of far right politics in the UK and the lead up to the EU referendum. Reni Eddo-Lodge methodically picks apart each issue and places them in context to fully explain the ongoing racial inequalities in British society today. The BLM movement has evidently been huge in America, but it is important to be aware that it has so much significance in Britain, as we are still far from perfect.

The episodes also have great music with them – which makes the listening experience even better. I have found the analysis of the history of racial inequality, alongside the explanation of the rise of far right politics in he UK incredibly insightful and interesting. These feel very light and easy to listen to, despite dealing with heavy topics.

I have been learning a lot from this podcast and think it is very well put together.

My Favourite Murder with Karen Kilgariff and Georgia Hardstark

Image: Exactly Right

I recently discovered this one when having a bad week and I just wanted to listen to something lighthearted, without having to think too much about what I was listening to. At first (I admit) I did have to get over the overwhelming American ascents, but after that I was fine.

Each episode (and there are so many!) looks at a variety of different things; from historical crimes, more recent crimes, to weird stories and personal experiences sent in by listeners. Each episode is introduced by a long, informal and funny chat by the two women, which almost always has me grinning. They are two very down to earth and funny people which are great to listen to when you are feeling a bit down. I’ve also learnt a lot about some horrific crimes in America. Like the Kent state massacre in 1970, and the Pacific Southwest Airlines Flight 1771, which crashed along the West coast in 1987, as a result of an airliner pilot being shot by a passenger.

I just love these podcasts because I can just have them on in the background whilst I’m cooking or washing up, as I’m getting ready in the morning or just chilling in the evening before I get into bed. They are funny, chatty, and entertaining – with a dash of education. Love them!

If you have any recommendations, don’t forget to pop them down below.

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The actions of Dominic Cummings symbolise the wider government failures during this crisis

In the early hours of last night, we were greeted with the breaking news story that Dominic Cummings, the senior advisor to the Prime Minister, Boris Johnson, had broken lockdown rules by leaving London to travel to his family’s farm in Durham

Here reportedly, his wife was unwell with Covid symptoms. Cummings’ motives and further explanation, was that this was an essential journey as he had to help with childcare. There is confusion over whether at the time of travel, Cummings had symptoms or not but even so, he ignored his own public guidance to stay put and “protect the NHS and save lives.”

It doesn’t serve the public message and only adds to further confusion. Additionally, his sister and nieces (who hadn’t developed symptoms) had already offered to help look after the children. In the wake of the findings, the Tory party seem to be divided over whether these actions are forgivable or not. Michael Gove, in a Tweet, proclaimed, “Caring for your wife and child is not a crime” – it seems politicians are exempt from their own rules.

If we put the actions of Cummings aside for one moment, we can see how this lack of responsibility has been a prominent feature at the heart of the UK government during the COVID-19 crisis. As an individual, isolated issue, it does partly feel like the media are dragging it out a bit, when we should be focusing on more prominent issues. I think it’s wrong what he did, and he does deserve to be sacked, but I think it’s significance is in the bigger picture it points to.

Image: SkyNews

There are many instances of this, “do as I say, not as I do” attitude from senior government officials, which points to further failures of dealing with this crisis. Most notably, this includes Neil Ferguson, who’s epidemiology model on the virus was used to shape lockdown regulations in the UK. Ferguson broke lockdown rules to receive frequent visits from a lover (who wasn’t a part of the same household). Although I am not a fan of the “name, shame and blame” culture, it does point to some wider issues that surround this crisis. Failures from individuals, and the government as a whole, illustrates the aversion of responsibility and denial culture that Boris Johnson’s Tory party embodies.

Image: Yorkshire Post

Take the return of Prime Minister’s Questions. In his second performance as new Labour Leader, Keir Starmer pressed the PM on when exactly the Test, Track and Trace facility will be available ahead of the plan to reopen primary schools in England from June 1st.

It took time and time again before Johnson eventually blurted out that he “promised” that by next month this system would be in place. The week before, Johnson claimed the meticulous Starmer was “ignorant” and didn’t know the facts. Besides from reading out the advice from the government papers themselves, this mere slither of Johnson’s performance feels to me like a blueprint for what’s to come over the next four years. In professing the “ignorance” of the opposition, Johnson uses rhetoric to avert attention from his own scrutiny, and avoids delivering a response to the criticism at hand.

Johnson also told the House of Commons he wished the Leader of the Opposition wouldn’t be so, “negative”. This is a dangerous line of defense, which allows Johnson to appear to have the upper hand. The very point of facing the opposition is so the government can be scrutinized, the PM is evidently aware of this, however, he uses it to his advantage to avert any responsibility. Starmer’s criticisms over the government matter more than ever in the light of their appalling handling of this crisis. 

In deliberation, Johnson uses this unique characterization that he has managed to perfect over the years. He plays the idiot to avoid responsibility and always fails to directly answer a line of questioning. It’s this ignorance and sheer lack of accountability that is a sign of the deterioration of the Conservative Party. They may be ahead in the polls and be the shining beacon in many minds of the public, but in reality, they lack imperative accountability and the humanity to admit mistakes. If Cummings, Matt Handcock, (the Health Secretary) and Johnson were simply able to apologize for their mistakes and move on – they would at least have a portion of respectability, even if it were to be short lived. 

Keir Starmer was never the ideal Leader of the Opposition in my eyes, but I have to admit, his performance at PMQs has taken me by surprise. He is definitive, meticulous and has an unwavering sense of dominion over Johnson who appears to be crumbling at the seams as the weeks go on. Without the support of his backbenchers, Johnson is revealed for what he really is. He’s not a leader, he doesn’t have the accountability that politicians need, for he was always a mere campaigner even back in his Mayor of London days. Faced with criticism, Johnson never accepts responsibility. Will he ever accept failure over the horrific PPE shortage that NHS workers have had to deal with? 

Johnson told the public to practice, “Good, solid, British common sense” with the loosening of the lockdown. The switch from, “Stay at Home” to, “Stay Alert” is irrefutably vague. However, it seems that even before this subtle change, his own senior advisors couldn’t cope with following the simplest of instructions. And when faced with criticism (rightly so) senior Tory’s practice their public school boy tradition of worming their way out of accountability – it’s what they do best. 

Johnson and his clapping for the NHS whilst stripping them of adequate PPE, and formally making immigrated NHS workers pay a £400 surcharge for using the NHS, shows himself for what he really is. He’s hypocritical and all about proclaiming a false image of national unity in a time of crisis. It’s the illusion of display at its finest – however, it doesn’t take much for the cracks to be revealed.

In the weeks since recovery and addition of another heir to the great Johnson bloodline, the PM has taken a back seat in the workings of his government. Barely appearing in daily Press Conferences, it does beg the question over whether this figure of fun is more of a part-time Prime Minister who simply lacks the skills of tackling scrutiny. Where is he today to defend the actions of his senior advisor? It would certainly fit in with the theme of avoiding accountability that has protruded during the worst health crisis of a generation.

Have an opinion? Join in with the debate in the comments 🙂

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