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 ~ “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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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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My (Current) Preference for Labour Leader

Image: BBC

When I was seventeen, I signed up to join the Labour Party, and have been a member since. This election was the first time I began to become active in the party, alas the election defeat left me very deflated about who to vote for and how.

I am constantly torn between voting for a candidate I truly believe in or to vote for someone who is perhaps, more ‘electable’ – whatever that means.

This article will act as an overview of my current thoughts about the candidates and order of preference.

Rebecca Long-Bailey MP for Salford and Eccles (1)

Like many Labour voters, I truly believed in the policies which were in 2019’s manifesto. For once, politics seemed to offer a slice of hope. No, I was not concerned about the cost because I believed in the type of society that Jeremy Corbyn’s policies were going to create. Any cost was worth it in my eyes.

Rebecca Long-Bailey appears to be the only candidate who is closely aligning herself to maintaining these policies in stating she is, “totally committed to the policies.” Thus, at current, she is the most likely candidate to have my vote. However, I do have reservations about her.

Already deemed as the, “continuity candidate” most closely aligned with Corbyn politics, this label could already steer away more centrist Labour voters or simply those who could not vote Labour due to Corbyn’s leadership. I truly believe in Long-Bailey’s type of politics but whether she could be elected as Prime Minister is another question.

Yes, I would love to vote with my heart but I would also like to see Labour winning some future elections, having been stuck with a Tory austerity government most of my life.

Keir Starmer MP for Holborn and St Pancras (2)

Already in the lead by a mile, Keir Starmer allegedly is the most popular candidate, having secured the most backing from MPs and by the largest trade union in the United Kingdom, Unison.

Starmer’s legal background on the one hand, gives him credibility as a leader and challenger to Boris Johnson. He’d probably be great in the House of Commons and in debate. However, I fail to be convinced by his politics. He was the architect of Labour’s Brexit position in the 2019 election, which arguably, lost them the General Election. Additionally, he is another member of the London elite, which will perhaps do him no favors in winning back Northern, working-class voters.

Additionally, Starmer appears to be in favour of renewing Trident, the UK’s nuclear deterrent, which doesn’t sit well with me. However – I can see him being Prime Minister regardless.

Emily Thornberry MP for Islington South and Finsbury (3)

I used to be more of a fan of Emily Thornberry, before she revleaed on Marr last week that she was rather a fan of the Royal family. Again, another member of the London metropolitan elite, it is difficult to see her winning the trust of Northern voters.

Upon looking at her voting record, Thornberry appears to have very similar views to Jeremy Corbyn. Additionally, she is the most experienced politician in the race and has spent more time in parliament than Starmer. Of all the women candidates, she strikes me as the most convincing. I am hoping that just her presence on the ballot paper will be enough to reduce votes for Jess Philips.

Lisa Nandy MP for Wigan (4)

Unfortuantely, before the leadership contest I had never even heard of Lisa Nandy. And part of having her so low down in the list is influenced by this. She has been out of the limelight since the contest began with most media coverage focusing on Starmer, Long-Bailey and Jes Philips.

The MP for Wiggan presents a complex view on Brexit. Once a proud remainer she came out criticisng the Remain position of the Labour party for not doing enough, but then tried to appeal to the more pro-Brexit opinions of her constituents. Although Brexit will soon be irrelevant (we hope) it does worry me that she appears to be so flippant.

Continuously criticizing Labour’s policies and former leader is also not the right approach for me and doesn’t win my vote.

Jess Philips MP for Birmingham Yardley (5)

If Jess Philips ever becomes leader of the Labour Party, I will seriously think about leaving it.

Being an out spoken critique of your own party is never a good look. Philips has been a staunch critique of Corbyn ever since he was elected which has nonetheless, contributed to the divisions within the party. She is never capable of not putting herself first, which I think is a very worrying type of leadership.

And it hasn’t just been Corbyn at the disposal of her ridicule, Diane Abbott has also been the but of her jokes on too many occassions. Philips even told Abbott to, “fuck off” during a meeting in 2015.

Let’s not forget the fact she is an outspoken, known feminist, but pursues a type of feminism which is only for white, middle-class women. Jess also seemed an eager fan of Jacob Rees-Mogg, who she descrimed as, “a real gent.” It speaks for itself. I could go on, but I won’t. I will leave below a brilliant quote from an article written by Leah Cowan of gal-dem, it tells you all you need to know.

“We need a Labour leader who isn’t going to use misappropriate the phrase “working class” as a dog whistle for appealing to white racist voters, at any cost. We need a leader who will bring our communities together, not entrench racist stereotypes that play directly into the rhetoric of the far-right. We need a leader who recognises that foreign policy, climate change, and the trident nuclear warheads are feminist issues, as women of colour in the global south are most directly impacted by Britain’s wars and exploits globally. Progress has been made on the left which must not be undone by a new leader whose white feminism leaves women of colour and marginalised communities out of a  vision for the way forward. We must continue to believe and act on the premise that a different politics is possible.”

Leah Cowan

Those are my thoughts on the leadership at present – I am sure they will change over the coming weeks somewhat. Remember – if you want to have a vote, you have to sign up by 20th January.