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At (PMQs) Prime Minister’s Questions on Wednesday first to put forward an obsequious non-question was Tory Martin Docherty-Hughes dutifully following the typical format I refer to as ‘stroking’ as he weighed in behind Boris Johnson’s grossly inappropriate choice to head up his thoroughly redundant review of racial disparities in the UK. He began reframing the hard-right agenda, trying to forge acceptance of Johnson’s effort to double-down on ‘blaming the victim; by saying, “The journey of Munira Mirza from the pages of the Srebrenica-denying Living Marxism and the Revolutionary Communist party into the heart of No. 10 has not gone unnoticed. On Monday, the Prime Minister appointed them to lead the commission—the Government’s commission—on racial inequality, and it was greeted with some disbelief, given their well-known views on the matter. So I wonder: can the Prime Minister tell us today, does he agree with Ms Mirza that previous inquiries have fostered a ‘culture of grievance’ within minority communities?”
Boris Johnson revelled in this overt style of grovelling from his MPs, perfecting the art was perhaps a prerequisite for climbing the conservative greasy pole. Beaming with approval he responded by saying, “I am a huge admirer of Dr Munira Mirza, who is a brilliant thinker about these issues. We are certainly going to proceed with a new cross-governmental commission to look at racism and discrimination. It will be a very thorough piece of work, looking at discrimination in health, in education and in the criminal justice system. I know that the House will say we have already had plenty of commissions and plenty of work, but it is clear from the Black Lives Matter march and all the representations we have had that more work needs to be done, and this Government are going to do it.” What the protesters were really saying was stop procrastinating and start actually doing something about the copious evidence you already have regarding this matter, but Johnson had just ordered a few more gallons of whitewash.
Yet another sickening call to arms came from Tory MP Andrea Jenkyns who said, “Following the disgraceful events of the last week, with folks defacing national monuments, including Churchill and Queen Victoria, and offending the memory of hero PC Keith Palmer, what will the Prime Minister do to uphold British values and carry out the rule of law?” The far-right racists are baying for blood, coapting bully-boy thuggery in faux defence of statues, undeserving of our reverence, despite the protective detail afforded by police. These radical extremists find support among Tory MPs for whom it’s far more important to shield the bronze and plaster icons of Imperial rule and jingoistic subjugation of the global south than it is to safeguard the hard-working, loyal and dedicated living decedents of those poor exploited people among our key workers and the heroes of our NHS still dying from Covid 19!
We cannot extricate Churchill from our past, but his history belongs on display in a museum along with a detailed explanation of his contribution to our past, depicted truthfully without the one-sided propaganda of hero worship. In Parliament square he remains a divisive monument glorifying his status, while in opaque denial of his significant flaws and appallingly grisly atrocities. A history of half truths, that obscures horrendous mistakes that must never be repeated, underscores why we so consistently fail to heed any “lessons learned.” The relocation of Churchill is not, as Johnson claims, an attempt to “photo-shop” history, it is a chance to be brutally honest about our past; to ditch the propaganda of conquest and acknowledge the pain and suffering caused by our colonial greed. It is time for British people to stop pretending that Foreign Aid is a benevolent salvation given out of generosity; in reality it is a paltry contribution to repayment of the debt we owe to commonwealth nations we plundered in our global expansion of power.
Who might be less controversial, more inclusive and universally acceptable by the entire British public as a worthy replacement for Winston Churchill on that venerated plinth in Parliament square? What truly heroic figure from the devastating years of world war trauma, adored as much by the veterans who fought in Burma’s jungles as the worried wives they left behind to endure the blitz? Please not another towering man of endless brutal conflict and cruelty, but instead a noble woman of compassion and strength, whose commitment and courage took her to the front line unarmed, not carrying the bandages to heal wounded bodies, but blessed with the powerful voice that soothed desolate, fearful and tormented minds. Even a firmly committed pacifist could rejoice in her contribution to preserving the flagging morale of our embattled people in our darkest hour; I speak of course of Vera Lynn.
I abhor the term “British values” as it is inherently racist, a disgusting form of othering that feeds the veracious beast of nationalistic superiority as It implies that British values are more desirable, worthy and honourable that those of any other nation or their people. From the appalling example set by our current leadership we must deduce that honesty, transparency, integrity, trust, accountability and generosity are certainly not British values. A charitable commitment to help those less fortunate doesn’t make the list and a humble apologue should never be considered for an instant. Translated from the Latin the motto of my first school was “Always tell the truth” and I was taught that “an Englishman’s word was his bond:” try telling Boris Johnson that! Should we now espouse these despicable Tory values of selfish superiority, bigotry, exploitation and greed?
Personal values are not dictated from a bully pulpit by a narcissistic tyrant devoid of any redeeming altruistic qualities; they are the core beliefs demonstrated by worthy charitable examples of making a genuine positive contribution to society. This noxious Tory Government is trying to totally eradicate our innate humanity, by forcing our retreat into the toxic isolation of far-right nationalism of divide and subjugate as they try to inculcate their warped range of selfish elitist Tory principals on an austerity weary population too battered to resist. We must proactively dismantle their systemic faults and prejudices by encouraging our young people take the lead, drawing upon the rich diversity of our multi-ethnic population to compile a list of universal values that we can all proudly emulate in solidarity. This offers a path to healing the injustices of the past, mindful of our duty to the vulnerable and those who are less fortunate as we strive for greater equality in modern day society. For me, “the courage to say I’m sorry” would be near the top of that list.
But I digress, how did Boris Johnson respond? He said, “I am grateful to my hon. Friend. I can tell her and the House that any incident of vandalism or attack on public property will be met with the full force of the law, and perpetrators will be prosecuted. I can also confirm that we are looking at new ways in which we may legislate against vandalism of war memorials.” It is vitally important that the Government protects monuments that glorify war; without such potent symbols how could they drive the next generation of compliant cannon-fodder to enlist? Tougher sentences to quell protest and resistance; that’s a promise this ruthless authoritarian would-be dictator will likely keep; all others are subject to an abrupt and cowardly U-turn.
Feeling the need to placate Johnson’s insatiable ego, Keir Starmer, started by congratulating the PM and then complementing him on his most recent humiliating defeat saying, “Can I start by welcoming the announcement of a major breakthrough in the treatment of coronavirus by UK scientists? That is really fantastic news. We are all behind it and I pay tribute to all of those involved. Can I also welcome the Prime Minister’s latest U-turn, this time on free school meals? That was the right thing to do and it is vital for the 1.3 million children who will benefit. It is just one step in the fight against child poverty.” It was now time to hit him with a demand, he continued, “A report last week from the Government’s Social Mobility Commission concluded that there are now ‘600,000 more children…living in relative poverty’ than in 2012. The report went on to say: ‘Child poverty rates are projected to increase to 5.2 million by 2022.’ What does the Prime Minister think caused that?”
Starmer’s style of asking an unaccountable, pathological liar to admit guilt and apologize for the ruthless decimation and neglect of a decade of Tory austerity is bordering on delusional as it just invites Johnson to double-down on his prolific lies. The PM replied, “I am grateful to the right hon. and learned Gentleman for what he said about dexamethasone, and I am glad that he is finally paying tribute to the efforts of this country in tackling Coronavirus. But I can tell him, on free school meals, that this Government are very proud that we set up universal free school meals. I am very pleased that we are going to be able to deliver a Covid summer food package for some of the poorest families in this country and that is exactly the right thing to do. But I must say that I think he is completely wrong in what he says about poverty. Absolutely poverty and relative poverty have both declined under this Government and there are hundreds of thousands—I think 400,000—fewer families living in poverty now than there were in 2010.”
Starmer stays on the same track saying, “The Prime Minister says that poverty has not increased. I have just read a direct quote from a Government report, from a Government commission, produced last week, which says that it has gone up by 600,000. The Social Mobility Commission has a clear answer to my question: ‘This anticipated rise is not driven by forces beyond our control’. I gave the Prime Minister the number: 600,000. He did not reply. The report goes on to say, and this is a real cause for concern… The Prime Minister is chuntering. He might want to listen. This is a real cause for concern because the commission goes on… I am sure that the Prime Minister has read the report. On the increase to 5.2 million, it states that ‘projections were made before the impact of COVID-19, which we expect to push more families into poverty.’ This is a serious issue. I am sure the Prime Minister would agree that an even higher child poverty rate would be an intolerable outcome from this pandemic. So what is he going to do to prevent it?” Does Starmer really think this public scolding will accomplish anything more than another round of lies?
Johnson hits back by rejecting the current situation and decrying the ominous future speculation saying, “I have understood that the right hon. and learned Gentleman is talking about what he calls an anticipated rise rather than a rise that has actually taken place. A new concept is being introduced into our deliberations. What we are talking about is what has actually happened, which is a reduction in poverty.” Conflating stark current statistics with future projections in a classic bait and switch, Johnson then switched to his favoured tactic of “I can say” bragging. The PM continued, “I can tell him that of course we are concerned. The whole House will understand that of course this Government are deeply concerned about the impact of Coronavirus on the UK economy.”
Johnson then enlisted his non-existent public support saying, “I think everybody with any fairness would acknowledge that this Government have invested massively in protecting the workforce of this country, with 11 million jobs protected by the coronavirus job retention scheme, unlike anything done anywhere else in the world, and £30 billion-worth of business loans. We intend to make sure that we minimise the impact of Coronavirus on the poorest kids in this country. One of the best ways in which we could do that, by the way, would be to encourage all kids who can go back to school to go back to school now, because their schools are safe. Last week, I asked him whether he would say publicly that schools were safe to go back to. He hummed and hawed. Now is his time to say clearly that schools are safe to go back to. Mr Speaker: your witness.” This was the new trick he was so proud of; turn Prime Ministers Questions into a spurious grilling of the opposition on an issue he had absolutely no control over.
Starmer started with more insults that don’t seem to bother Johnson in the least as he’s totally detached from the reality of the dire chaos he is causing; the wealthy elite are feeling no pain and those are the only people the PM cares about. “The Prime Minister obviously has not got the first idea what the social mobility report, from a Government body, actually said last week. He talks to me about consistency and U-turns. The Government have had three U-turns in the last month. First, we had the immigration health charges; then we had MPs’ voting; and then we had free school meals. The only question now is whether U-turns at the Dispatch Box are before or after. Three U-turns. He argues about one brief one week and one the next; he is an expert in that.”
Starmer’s tactic of taunting the PM over U-turns might make Johnson even more entrenched in his shambolic policies and less likely to retreat in future; sadly the political point scoring of competing alpha males always prevails at PMQs. Starmer continued his onslaught with, “This is not the only area where the Government are falling short. During the pandemic, local authorities have been working flat out on social care, homelessness, obtaining protective equipment for the frontline, and delivering food and essential supplies. On 26 March, the Communities Secretary told council leaders directly and in terms, in a letter to council leaders and in a speech: ‘The Government stands ready to do whatever is necessary to support councils in their response to coronavirus’. Does the Prime Minister believe that the Government have kept that promise?”
Johnson shot back with a few meaningless large sums of cash that mysteriously never appear to materialize, but they do sound suitably impressive when announced. He boasted, “We put £3.2 billion extra into local government to tackle coronavirus, but I must say that we did not hear an answer, did we Mr Speaker? How can the right hon. and learned Gentleman talk about tackling the effects of Coronavirus on the most disadvantaged? It is the most disadvantaged kids who need to go back to school, and it is those groups who unfortunately are not going back to school. Let’s hear it from him one more time: will he say that schools are safe to go back to? Come on!” He sounded like a broken record asking for a damaging capitulation he knew he would not get.
Starmer pointed out the obvious by stating, “This is turning into Opposition questions. If the Prime Minister wants to swap places, I am very happy. I could do it now. The only bit of an answer he gave to the question I asked was about £3.2 billion… It is a lot of money. The Conservative-led Local Government Association has said that councils will have a shortfall of £10 billion this year… The Health Secretary heckles. The Conservative leader of Lancashire County Council wrote a letter to the Communities Secretary a month ago, on 7 May. He said that ‘the overall financial impact on councils nationally and locally will be far in excess of the £3.2 billion provided to date.’ He went on to say that ‘we…would like some assurance from you that all councils will be fully reimbursed for the costs of…covid-19′. These are the Prime Minister’s own council leaders. He must have known about this problem for months. Why has he been so slow to act?”
Time to throw some more big cash amounts into the mix; the PM bragged, “We have not, because in addition to the £3.2 billion, we have already put in another £1.6 billion to support councils delivering frontline services, plus—from memory—another £600 million to go into social care. I want to return to this point about poverty. We want to tackle deprivation in this country. I want kids to go back to school. The unions will not let the right hon. and learned Gentleman say the truth. A great ox has stood upon his tongue. Let him now say that schools are safe to go back to.” Johnson’s response was beyond unimaginative and defensive it was truly desperate as if – the record’s stuck… the record’s stuck… the record’s stuck…
Starmer ignored the broken record and kept up the attack with, “The Prime Minister just does not get how critical this is. I spoke with council leaders from across the country this week. The Prime Minister must know that they face a choice between cutting core services and facing bankruptcy under section 114 notices. Either outcome will harm local communities and mean that local services cannot reopen. That will drive up poverty, something the Prime Minister says he does not intend to do. Local councils have done everything asked of them in this crisis—the Government have not. Will the Prime Minister take responsibility and actually do something?” It’s called ‘Decimating Down’ Starmer; that is the reality of the Tory propaganda on ‘Levelling Up’
Johnson started into his reply with fake respect ahead of the next rash of false promises, “With great respect to the right hon. and learned Gentleman, I have outlined what we are doing to support local government, and I think this country can be very proud of the investments that we have made. It can be very proud of the incredible work that local government officials have done across this country, but I must say that there are some councils, particularly Labour councils, alas, that are not opening their schools now when they could be opening their schools. I say to him, for I hope the last time: now is the moment when he can say to those Labour councillors that it is safe for kids to go back to reception, to year 1, to year 6, to early years, as they can. Will he now say it?” The record’s stuck; how absurd to expect the leader of the opposition to endorse the forced reopening of schools despite the Tory Government’s failure to put appropriate provisions and safety measures in place!
Starmer might think he is getting under Johnson’s skin, but the PM has a very thick shell! He stated that, “Every week, the Prime Minister seems to complain that I ask him questions at Prime Minister’s questions. If he wants to swap places, so be it. Finally, I want to return to the Prime Minister’s other recent U-turn, which was on the immigration health surcharge for NHS and care workers. Following Prime Minister’s questions on 20 May, the Government announced that they would drop that deeply unfair charge—that is nearly a month ago. Nothing has happened. The British Medical Association, the Royal College of Nursing, the Royal College of Physicians and Unison have all written to the Prime Minister, so he must know about this. One doctor was quoted on Monday as saying: ‘My colleagues who have applied, even yesterday, one of them said he had to pay for himself, his wife and four kids so that is £6,000…The Home Office is…saying that…nothing has been implemented’. These are people on the frontline. The Prime Minister said he would act. When is he going to do so?”
Oh no, now Starmer was actually expecting the Tory Government to follow through on a pledge, obviously he didn’t realize it was just a fleeting PR stunt; this Englishman’s word is definitely not his bond, it never was… The PM said, “I am genuinely grateful for an important question, because it is vital that people who are working on the frontline, and NHS workers in particular, get the support that they need. That is why I said what I said a few weeks ago. What I can tell the right hon. and learned Gentleman is that NHS or care workers who have paid the surcharge since 21 May will be refunded, and we are getting on with instituting the new arrangements as fast as we possibly can.” Postpone implementation then drown retrospective claimants in a sea of bureaucratic paperwork that frustrates until they simply give up in exasperation; it has worked so well with Windrush it’s the Tory model.
Tory Lia Nici piped up to stroke the PM’s ego over his moronic commitment to crash-out Brexit by saying, “I welcome the Prime Minister’s rejection of the extension to the Brexit transition period. Does he agree that taking back control of our fishing waters in January 2021 will benefit the fishing communities within the Great Grimsby constituency?” We may try to block any other boats from fishing in our waters, but we cannot force the EU to continue buying our fish; just one more industry the Tories will throw under the bus! Johnson responded with the standard Brexit delusion saying, “I can tell my hon. Friend that it certainly will when we become once again an independent coastal state. I know how brilliantly she campaigns for fisheries in Grimsby and I urge her to engage with the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs to make sure that the people of Grimsby can exploit the recapture of our spectacular natural marine wealth.” Not much good if the EU no longer buy our fish.
Ian Blackford praised the determined football star who had shamed Johnson into his latest U-turn, stating, “Marcus Rashford has shown more moral leadership in tackling poverty in a matter of days than this Tory Government have in the past decade of cuts, but, as he says, people are struggling all year round and more needs to be done. This morning, the Joseph Rowntree Foundation and Save the Children published research showing that the ongoing health crisis is causing six in 10 families to borrow money, seven in 10 to cut back on essentials and over five in 10 to fall behind on rent and other essential bills. An extra £20 a week in social security support would prevent millions of families from having to make the choice between paying their bills or feeding their children. Will the Prime Minister now immediately uplift the child element of universal credit and child tax credit by £20 per week?”
Asking for money for those barely subsisting on paltry benefits with their children living in grinding poverty was never going to fly, it did not unfreeze the heart of the imposter part-time PM; he has no heart. Johnson started bragging again, “This is a Government who have done everything we possibly can so far to help families in need to make sure that nobody is penalised for doing the right thing during the crisis. I know how difficult it has been. That is why we uprated the universal credit by £1,044, benefiting, I think, 4 million families in this country. I say in all sincerity to the right hon. Gentleman that we are fully aware that there will be tough times ahead and we do stand by to do more where we can.”
Blackford kept pitching for that meagre extra cash for impoverished families asking, “Twenty pounds a week—twenty pounds a week to help families with children. That is what we are asking for. We are talking about an extra £20 a week to stop families having to make the choice between paying their bills or feeding their children. That is the harsh reality, Prime Minister. This is a question of helping people survive. This Tory Government have seen a decade of austerity that has driven people into poverty, and they have scrapped child poverty targets. Rather than reversing their damaging policies that have pushed millions into poverty, the Prime Minister is more interested in finding money to spend on his own vanity project: a luxury VIP plane. Is he seriously saying that he will not find £20 a week to help families who are struggling to survive?”
He had to compare the plight of poor children to the obscene extravagance of Johnson’s VIP plane; Trump had a plane, he needed one too. Just deny and distract, the PM continued, “No, of course not. That is why we are investing massively in universal credit, employment and support allowance, and benefits across the board, to say nothing of the novel schemes we have introduced, such as the Coronavirus job retention scheme, which is a model that I think the whole world is admiring. There is no other country that has put its arms around 11 million workers in the way that this Government have supported jobs and supported incomes across the whole of the UK. We are going to get this country through it, and I hope the right hon. Gentleman supports our measures.” Johnson evoked that ‘Tory hug of death’ that had so disgusted the public when applied to neglected Care Homes; it was no less offensive repeated here.
For some reason several Tory MPs felt the need to complement the PM’s vigour and health with statements like, “It is really good to see the Prime Minister looking fighting fit.” There were also a number of gratuitous comments that offered Boris Johnson the perfect opportunity unleash a stream of self-congratulatory statements about money allocated that in many cases had either been insufficient to meet genuine needs, highly conditional with regard to access or had yet to materialize. Just like the compensation for Windrush victims these announcement target the attention of the compliant press with impressive commitments that are never intended to be met. These euphemistically termed, ‘questions’ classically begin with the words, “Does the Prime Minister agree with me…” going on to describe one of Johnson’s fanciful proposed investments in infrastructure or industry that is designed to placate the wary masses as another thinly disguised compliment is unveiled and nauseatingly exploited by the PM in his response.
I believe that this wretched Tory cabal are getting seriously worried as the desperation of their efforts becomes more blatant by the day. Even with the backing of a fully compliant media, and the fastidious shielding of the BBC, their fake messaging is not cutting through and approval ratings for Boris Johnson are in freefall. The tone deaf response to the ‘Black Lives Matter’ protests has become a self-inflicted wounding of the Tory brand while Johnsons refusal to fire Cummings has universally alienated those of all political persuasions. The victorious Brexit finish line is sight, beyond that point all rights and freedoms can be stripped away without recourse to resistance as the EU will no longer have a cause to intervene on our behalf. The need for complete exposure of the Covert 2019 Rigged Election, an urgent investigation and an appeal to the European court to correct the injustice of the hijacked, stolen, corrupt and reckless Tory decision-making process shares this same impending deadline. We must not give up.