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.

Isolation day 95: heatwave, ‘independence’ day and insomnia

Just thought I would write a quick update, I’ve been incredibly quiet on here this week, only publishing one blog post. We are experiencing a heat wave here in the UK and while I like the sun, it also makes me feel very lethargic.

The heat and accumulating tiredness from nights of lost sleep has sucked away my motivation to write. The previous few weeks I was writing several things in one day and I felt full of motivation. In reality I did see the ‘crash’ coming, I thought I would reach a point where I couldn’t bring myself to punch the keys or pick up a book. It’s strange how some weeks go.

My sleeping habits are all over the place from experiencing bouts of insomnia. One night I will oversleep, getting between 9-10 hours, and the next I will under-sleep and get 4-5. I can’t seem to strike the balance. I guess the key thing is to keep to the same wake up time, but that’s not always easy. This morning I had to force my eyes open to prevent myself drifting off and over sleeping again. Strangely, the heat doesn’t seem to influence my sleep, it all seems to be in my mind.

The lockdown announcement last week has been playing on my mind. Boris Johnson, our Prime Minister, has effectively called July 4th our ‘independence day’ despite the rate of infection still at a level rate, not actually declining fully and still higher than our European counterparts. The news has been showing us scenes of overcrowding on beaches and endless queues for Primark. The vast majority of the public seem to believe the pandemic is over. Partly, I don’t blame them as the government is reinforcing this message. It doesn’t help that our PM has told people he wants to see the return of ‘bustle’ in our cities and towns and denies the possibility of a second wave. It’s all very worrying.

I couldn’t bring myself to do a PMQ’s review this week as I’ve found the political situation too draining – I will try again next week. I don’t want to pressure myself to do it religiously, but I do want to get better at writing short, snappy political analysis.

Although I keep telling myself that it is pointless for me to worry about everything – as these political decisions are out of my control, I can’t help but sometimes loose sleep over it.

I have woken up a bit more motivated and with more energy today so I am hoping that over the weekend I will get some more blog posts out. I have a review of The Sacrifice that should be going up tomorrow and a few other things in the pipeline.

Also, I have now made a Medium account if anyone would like to follow. I might be publishing original content on there or just re-publishing posts, I haven’t quite decided what to do with it yet!

I hope you are all doing well and continuing to stay safe.

Violet x

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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Isolation day 87: retail, furlough, brain fog, and podcasts

England is taking its first tentative steps forward, nearly three months on from an unprecedented, national lockdown. Tomorrow will see the opening of “non-essential” shops, as the great British people prepare to flood the high streets during a pandemic which is yet to disappear.

As I sit here writing this, I do wonder what will be going through those peoples’ minds as they make trips into local towns and cities across the country, acting as if the pandemic has magically gone away. It’s safe to say I will not be in a rush to visit shops any time soon.

Many major high street retailers will be adopting the “quarantine items” approach and storing things for 72 hours to kill off the virus. Many shops will not be allowing customers to try items on, and instead encouraging them to take them back to their own homes and bring back if need be. This all seems so comical to me. If the queues for McDonald’s reopening are anything to go by I think the turn out for retail will be just as crazy…

Meanwhile, my furlough has been extended for the time being, I have no definitive date for going back to work but expect it may be between July-August. It feels so strange to realise I have not been to work since the end of March. The world feels so different to the last time I got on that commuter train and made my last latte. I’m pretty sure I won’t even know how to operate the coffee machine when I return… (sorry to my boss if you happen to see this!)

These past few weeks have been pretty rough. I almost feel as if I’ve had this cloud of fog over my brain. Any time I have go to do something, I have found a million excuses why I shouldn’t or just put it off for as long as possible. I feel like my attention span is now worse than ever and I find it hard to concentrate on anything that makes me think. I still feel like there’s a thousand things I could be doing that I’m not. I actually plucked up the courage to send pitches in for national news outlets but have heard nothing back which is disheartening. However, I know that I can’t give up and I need to keep trying. It’s annoying though because the piece was quite “time-sensitive” and I can’t re pitch it as it just wouldn’t be relevant now. I find that half the battle is getting the article idea in the first place.

Sitting in the park

I’ve been lax with exercise too. At the beginning of lockdown I was taking the daily exercise allowance quite seriously and would go for walks most days, however, since it has gotten busier outside with the loosening of the lockdown, I now feel more worried about going outside. I do generally feel like most people are acting like the pandemic is over and the virus has just disappeared. It worries me because you can never predict how anyone is going to behave, I actually wrote a piece for empoword journalism about this. But I am managing to at least get in one run a week – this week I actually managed two so I guess that’s pretty good going.

Day by day, the political response gets worse. What worries me more than anything is the sheer lack of integrity and accountability that Boris Johnson shows. When he even bothers to turn up for the daily conferences (which now seems to be like a weekly thing) he doesn’t answer the questions, he silences the scientists and offers no valid information for the public. His treatment of the Black Lives Matter movement has been diabolical, it took a prompting from the leader of the opposition at PMQ’s for him to even address it, and even when he did it was shoddy and half hearted. I can never agree with Conservatives politically, but at least some in the past haven’t been so full of hypocrisy. It really worries me.

I’ve recently re-discovered the value of podcasts and how great they are to listen to whilst you are doing other things. I love cooking but sometimes I just get a bit bored chopping and waiting for things, but now I tend to pop something on to keep me entertained. I also listen to them in the bath a lot – which I am still having loads of. They make me happy and content which is what I really need right now.

For some unforeseen miracle, we managed to get our hands on some flour – the first time in about three months. I have since made two batches of Irish soda bread – as we’ve got the flour but still no yeast – and have been enjoying the taste of fresh bread. Although maybe a little too much, because on the second bake I basically ate the whole loaf to myself which resulted in a carb induced coma for the rest of the day. I wouldn’t recommend.

My bread, not perfect but something

I am actually really proud of my blog at the moment and how far it has come since the start of the year. In January when I properly started I could count the amount of followers I had on two hands, and now I am fast approaching one hundred. I know that isn’t much in the grand scheme of things but I think it’s mad that so people want to hear what I have to say. And I am so pleased that I managed to save up enough to get myself a new laptop – my old one was so clunky, heavy and slow and now I have a really fast laptop which feels lovely to type on. Getting it at this time was definitely a good idea.

Anyway, I’ll stop rambling. That was my isolation update. I thought I would be doing more of these but I guess I didn’t realise how “samey” the days would be.

Hope you are all keeping safe and well 🙂