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It is shockingly disappointing that Starmer chose to squander his allotted opportunity for scrutiny at Prime Minister’s Questions by decided that the most impactful tactic he should stick to was the failed admonishment model of, “who’s been a naughty boy then?”
While it was entirely right to strongly criticize Johnson’s appalling insult to Care Home staff in blaming them for the failures of his Tory Government, requesting a public apology is not a question. The well deserved Care Home insult rebuke should have been added as an extra barb at the tail end of another genuine question. This same tactic of added pestering could be applied to the overdue firing of Dominic Cummings and the release of the Russia Report as a constant additional dig. There’s so little scrutiny of this Government now without wasting precious avenues like PMQs, especially when everyone knows it will accomplish nothing. Unsurprisingly the response from Johnson was entirely predictable; he is a totally spineless individual: Boris doesn’t do apologies!
First out of the gate with an important question was Anne McMorrin asked, “I am shocked and angered at workers in UK clothing factories such as Boohoo being paid a mere £3.50 an hour and being forced to work in totally unacceptable conditions. In the 21st century, there must be no room for exploitation and modern slavery. We must call time on fast fashion for the sake of people and our planet, so my question is simple: what will the Prime Minister do about it?” The Prime Minister replied claiming, “First, it is this Conservative Government who set out laws against modern slavery. It is this Conservative Government who massively increased the living wage—not only instituted the living wage, but massively increased it. We hoped that it would be the Labour mayor of Leicester who would stand up for the interests of the workforce in his community. That is what we will do.” Without actually saying what he would do Johnson seized the opportunity to start bragging about the so called ‘living wage’ that is not enough to live on!
Keir Starmer began his inconsequential finger wagging by stating, “On Monday, when asked why care home deaths had been so high, the Prime Minister said that ‘too many care homes didn’t really follow the procedures in the way that they could have.’ That has caused huge offence to frontline care workers. It has now been 48 hours. Will the Prime Minister apologise to Care workers?” A really forensic questioner would have blocked off Johnson’s excuse route in advance, exposing the long asymptomatic incubation period of potential transmission for Covid 19 that was widely publicized with the Brighton ‘Super Spreader’ in the first week of February. Asking, with that knowledge, what precise steps were put in place to contain the virus and why were Hospital patients moved into highly vulnerable settings like Care Homes without being tested? Starmer could then have stressed the real reason underlying Care Home deaths and appealed for the PM to have the courage to apologize to staff offended by his remarks.
Johnson started into his “I didn’t do it Gov” reply saying, “The last thing I wanted to do was to blame Care workers for what has happened, or for any of them to think that I was blaming them, because they have worked incredibly hard throughout this crisis, looking after some of the most vulnerable people in our country and doing an outstanding job, and as the right hon. and learned Gentleman knows, tragically, 257 of them have lost their lives. When it comes to taking blame, I take full responsibility for what has happened.” He lied by claiming that the Government didn’t know the dangers, “But the one thing that nobody knew early on during this pandemic was that the virus was being passed asymptomatically from person to person in the way that it is, and that is why the guidance and the procedures changed. It is thanks to the hard work of Care workers that we have now got incidents and outbreaks down in our care homes to the lowest level since the crisis began. That is thanks to our Care workers and I pay tribute to them.”
Starmer stated the blindingly obvious as if he was genuinely expecting a more positive response, saying, “That is not an apology, and it just will not wash.” He reminded the Chamber that, “The Prime Minister said that ‘too many care homes didn’t really follow the procedures in the way that they could have’. It was clear what he was saying. The Prime Minister must understand just how raw this is for many people on the frontline and for those who have lost loved ones. I quote Mark Adams, who runs a social care charity, who spoke yesterday. He said: ‘You’ve got 1.6 million social care workers going into work to protect our parents, our grandparents, our children, putting their own health and potentially lives at risk. And then to get the most senior man in the country turning round and blaming them on what has been an absolute travesty of leadership from the Government, I just think it is appalling.’ Those are his words. I ask the Prime Minister again: will he apologise to Care workers? Yes or no?”
Johnson defied the call to apologise, saying, “The right hon. and learned Gentleman keeps saying that I blamed or tried to blame Care workers, and that is simply not the case. The reality is that we now know things about the way the coronavirus is passed from person to person without symptoms that we just did not know. That is why we instituted the care home action plan on 15 April. That is why we changed the procedures. Perhaps he did know that it was being transmitted asymptomatically—I did not hear it at the time. Perhaps Captain Hindsight would like to tell us that he knew that it was being transmitted asymptomatically. Of course it was necessary to change our procedures. I want to thank our care workers for what they have done, and this Government will continue to invest massively in our Care Homes and in our Care workers. By the way, it is this Government, as I said just now, that put up the living wage by record amounts, and that is something that we can do directly to help every Care worker in the country.”
In his third wasted opportunity to scrutinize Boris Johnson’s Tory Government the Labour Leader was like a dog with a bone; would Starmer have actually had a genuine question to pose if Johnson had summoned the courage to offer an apology? But no, he kept on going with the same failed line of attack, insisting, “By refusing to apologise, the Prime Minister rubs salt into the wounds of the very people that he stood at his front door and clapped. The Prime Minister and the Health Secretary must be the only people left in the country who think that they put a ‘protective ring’ around care homes. Those on the frontline know that that was not the case. I quote one Care Home Manager from ITN News yesterday. She said this:‘I’m absolutely livid at the fact that he says we didn’t follow the procedures. Because the Care Assistants, the Nurses, everyone in the Care Home, have worked so hard. And then he’s got the audacity to blame us.’ Those are her words. What would the Prime Minister like to say to that Care Home Manager?”
In a reply where Johnson tenaciously clung to his lack of responsibility he had the audacity to demand that the opposition had a duty to support reform the Tories had dithered over for the last decade! He replied, “What I would like to say to the lady in question, and indeed to every Care Home worker in the country, is that this Government appreciate the incredible work that they have done, and we thank them for the incredible work they have done. Let me say further that we will invest in our Care Homes and we will reform the Care Home sector. I hope, by the way, that we will do it on the basis of cross-party consensus and get a lasting solution to the problems in our Care Homes and the difficulties many people face in funding the cost of their old age. That is what we want to do. That is what this Government have pledged to do after 30 years of inaction, and I hope that the right hon. and learned Gentleman will join us in doing it.”
Was it really appropriate to register approval for Johnson’s notoriously empty pledges? Starmer thought so, replying, “I am glad to hear it.” He tried a slightly less aggressive tone to yet again ask Johnson to tell Care workers they were not to blame for the PM’s incompetence and shambolic Tory Government messaging. He said, “I gently point out that his Government have been in power for 10 years, with no plan and no White Paper. Of course we will join in plans for reforming social care, but 10 years have been wasted.” Starmer didn’t demand a time frame for this he moved on with, “The reality is that more than 19,000 Care Home residents have died from covid-19. It is a far higher number when we include excess deaths. Overall, around one in 20 Care Home residents are estimated to have died from the virus. One in 20 – it is chilling. These are extraordinary numbers, yet the Prime Minister has consistently ducked responsibility for this. Will he accept that it is not Care workers who are to blame; it is his Government?”
Boris Johnson smugly replied, “I think the right hon. and learned Gentleman has got the old vice of reading out the pre-prepared question without listening to the answer I have just given. I have made it absolutely clear that this Government take responsibility for everything that we have done throughout this crisis. Of course I pay tribute once again to the work of every Care worker in the country and I thank them, but what we have also done is put forward a Care Home action plan that has helped our Care workers and our Care Home industry to get the incidence of Coronavirus right down in every Care Home in the country to the lowest level, and we are now putting in monthly testing for every resident in our Care Homes and weekly testing for every Care Home worker. That is thanks to the fantastic efforts of everybody involved in NHS testing and tracing—and I think, by the way, that the right hon. and learned Gentleman should pay tribute to them as well.”
Despite widening the scope of his criticism over the Tory Government’s mishandling of Covid 19,Starmer wasn’t deviating from his failed strategy, he protested, “The Prime Minister continues to insult those on the frontline by not taking these issues seriously. The Prime Minister must recognise that huge mistakes have been made. Two months ago at PMQs I highlighted the weakness of the early guidance on Care Homes. The Prime Minister, typically flippant, simply said it was ‘not true’. There were repeated warnings from the Care sector and repeated delays in providing protective equipment – this was not hindsight; they were raised here day in, day out and week in, week out. It was not hindsight; it was real-time for the frontline. It was the same with routine testing. And the decision to discharge 25,000 people to Care Homes without tests was clearly a mistake. Will the Prime Minister simply accept that his Government were just too slow to act on Care Homes, full stop?”
Johnson must have felt relieved by Starmer’s myopic approach replying, “The right hon. and learned Gentleman knows very well – or he should know very well – that the understanding of the disease has changed dramatically in the months that we have had it. When he looks at the action plan that we brought in to help our Care workers, I think he would appreciate the vast amount of work that they have done, the PPE that they have been supplied with and the testing that they have been supplied with. That has helped them to get the incidence of the disease down to record lows, and it has enabled us to get on with our work, as the Government, in getting this country through this epidemic – getting this country back on its feet. That is what this country wants to see. We have stuck to our plan to open up our economy gradually and cautiously; one week he is in favour of it, the next week he is against it. What this country wants to see is a steady, stable approach to getting our country back on its feet. That is what we are delivering.”
His last of six allotted questions and at last Starmer managed to come up with one asking, “Finally, to add further insult to injury, there are reports this morning that the Government are to remove free hospital parking for NHS workers in England. The Prime Minister will know that this could cost hundreds of pounds a month for our Nurses, our Doctors, our Carers and our support staff. We owe our NHS workers so much. We all clap for them; we should be rewarding them, not making it more expensive to go to work. The Prime Minister must know that this is wrong; will he reconsider and rule it out?”
Johnson replied, “The hospital car parks are free for NHS staff for this pandemic – they are free now – and we are going to get on with our manifesto commitment to make them free for patients who need them as well. The House will know that that was never the case under the Labour Government – neither for staff nor for patients.” He must have felt relieved Starmer was so inept at exerting pressure or scrutiny; it was time for him to start crowing and bragging about his empty pledges so he taunted, “May I respectfully suggest that the right hon. and learned Gentleman takes his latest bandwagon and parks it free somewhere else? One week he is backing us; the next week he is not. One week he is in favour of a tax on wealth and tax on homes; the next week he tries to tiptoe away from it. We know how it works: he takes one brief one week, one brief the next. He is consistent only in his opportunism, whereas we get on with our agenda: build, build, build for jobs, jobs, jobs. The House will hear more about that shortly.”
The SNPs Ian Blackford said, “I am sure that you, Mr Speaker, the Prime Minister and indeed the whole House will want to join me in marking Srebrenica Memorial Day, which takes place this Saturday, for the first time happening online. We should never forget the terrible genocide that took place 25 years ago. May I associate myself with the concerns about Tory hospital parking charges? The Scottish National party Government abolished them in Scotland 12 years ago, and I urge the Tory Government to do the same, so that NHS workers and patients will not be penalised.” He asked, “Some 3.8 million people across the United Kingdom could face unemployment when the furlough scheme ends. The job retention scheme has been a lifeline to millions; yet we could see progress unravel as the scheme ends. Millions of people could find themselves out of work, struggling to pay bills and to put food on the table. Will the Prime Minister commit today to extending the furlough scheme? People must not lose their jobs because the Tories refused to act.”
Ian Blackford was skilled in his questioning, reinforcing Starmer’s appeal over NHS staff parking charges and still pitching his own question. But Johnson, elated over the paucity of tough targeted scrutiny so far was on a roll. Why not reinforce that toxic Tory ‘hug’ illusion; the Government dedicated to increasing Covid deaths and ‘decimating down’ wanted us all to believe that they had done more than any other country to help support people during the crisis! He said, “I think that most people looking at what has happened in the UK over the last three or four months around the world have been overwhelmingly impressed by the way that we, as a Government, have put our arms around people, with £164 billion invested in jobs, in incomes and in supporting people. It has been a massive effort.” In reality the UK has become a global outlier, an appalling example of bad practice and poor management that has resulted in the highest death toll in Europe; it will require a lot more targeted economic support to get us out of this mess.
Johnson, was expecting support when he stated, “I know that a lot of people in this House will agree with me that we cannot go on forever with a furlough scheme that keeps employees in suspended animation in the way that it does.” The PM knows there will be massive unemployment; the furlough scheme was only intended to spread the damage out over a longer period. Johnson said, “We need to get our economy moving again. That is what I think the people of this country want to see, in a sustainable and cautious way. I am sure that the right hon. Gentleman is constantly saying this, but I would just remind him that the reason the job retention scheme – the furlough scheme – has worked is because of the power and the efficiency of the UK Treasury. It is the UK Government that have funded the furlough scheme and £4.8 billion in Barnett consequentials to Scotland alone. I am sure that he does not hesitate to remind his colleagues of that.” He ended his bragging with a targeted barb aimed at the SNP.
Blackford countered, “Of course, it is about the future, and it is about making sure that people can be protected. Just this week, we have seen Spain look to extend its furlough scheme into 2021. Research has shown that prematurely ending the job retention scheme risks higher unemployment and weaker productivity, with a potential loss of up to £50 billion to GDP. The Resolution Foundation is calling for £3 billion to £5 billion to be spent on extending furlough payments for the hardest-hit sectors, and the TUC is warning of the effect that ending the furlough scheme early will have on people who are shielding and in difficulties. This is about not throwing away the benefits that we have accrued. The Prime Minister seems intent on sinking the lifeboat that has been keeping so many people afloat. If the Prime Minister will not extend the furlough scheme, will he give Scotland the powers so that we can do it ourselves?” Sadly the PM is more likely to place further restrictions on the devolved Governments after Brexit.
Johnson was able to bat off this question rather easily as unfortunately, it was a repetition of the initial question from Blackford, he just said, “I think I have answered the right hon. Gentleman’s question already. I believe it is absolutely essential that we invest in our people and protect them from the effects of this epidemic, as we have done at huge expenditure, quite rightly, but it is also essential that we get the economy moving, including in Scotland. I hope that he supports that objective as well.” At least Blackford had asked a real question which was highly relevant considering Richi Sunak was about to announce more Government spending.
SNP Angela Crawley asked about, “Hundreds of my constituents have been excluded from the furlough scheme or support for the self-employed due to gaps in the legislation. Barriers to that support include real-time information cut-off dates and the 50% cap on non-trading income. The Government’s solution for those constituents is to take out loans, which for many is untenable and will lead to unemployment and bankruptcy.” Labour’s Catherine West, asked, “230,000 renters are going to be at risk of homelessness or eviction as we emerge from lockdown. Will the Prime Minister urgently, today, lay legislation so that, on a cross-party basis, we can support those people at risk of homelessness before we break up for the summer recess?” As ‘Rich Richi’ Sunak prepared to splash the cash, it was businesses prepared to continue exploiting young people with below poverty line wages, home buyers and those able to afford the luxury of eating out who profited; the working poor would be left to rot. The PM was not offering a lifeline.
I copied the full transcript of both Starmer and Blackford’s interventions at PMQs which so often pass unnoticed by the public. This offers a unique insight into the abject failure of Labour Leader Starmer. Amid all of his valiant, but entirely worthless protestations on behalf of Care Holmes Starmer really only managed to ask a solitary question on Hospital parking for NHS staff. This was a free ride for Boris Johnson who, entirely predictably, just repeated his pathetic denials several times over. When so many vital points needed to be raised it fell to backbench MPs, who will not be reported in the media, to ask about the gaping holes in the Tory Party Pandemic safety net. If Starmer had raised these issues ahead of Sunak chucking money in the wrong direction the public would be focused on the real betrayal of the most vulnerable swirling the ‘Sunak Sluice’. In reality there will be no justice until this Tory Government are removed from office, Investigating the Covert 2019 Rigged Election is a priority, firing Cummings might just pull the pin on a truth grenade! DO NOT MOVE ON!