Reply To: Elections Aftermath: Was our 2019 Vote & the EU Referendum Rigged? #TORYRIG2019


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Kim Sanders-Fisher

Spot’ the new trend… Spots have infected the attire of MPs of all ‘stripes,’ but plaids also abound as we enter the season of gosh distracting ties! So, following the bold example of his fierce Labour Lioness deputy, did Starmer put Johnson on the spot… or not? Decisively not! After a Labour Conference speech that was shockingly abysmal, but eager to trash Corbyn and all the progress of the Socialist Left, the lumbering beast that burdens the opposition with his lily-livered leadership still limps on. Ready to cower and capitulate to earn the most meagre of media sound-bites in his decimation of all credible opposition, while Labour members desert in droves, Prime Minister’s Questions offered up yet another pathetic act of the ‘Starmite Marmite.’ Boris Johnson had his PR spin readily prepared for combating vague and repetitive questions, with his traditional added insult of “kiss my ring Keir” style taunting demand for support, from the feeble, certainly far less formidable opponent than he was surprisingly caught off guard by last week.

Lee Rowley began with the standard Tory non-question incitement to self-congratulation from the PM saying, “Yesterday evening, in order to keep the spread of the virus as low as possible, the Prime Minister announced a series of changes that none of us ever wanted to see; and residents of my constituency are understandably concerned and anxious. Will he reassure us all, and my constituents in North East Derbyshire, that the primary focus of the Government remains protecting both lives and—just as importantly—livelihoods?” The Prime Minister eagerly replied, “Yes, indeed. My hon. Friend can certainly reassure his constituents that our purpose, and the purpose of the package that carried overwhelming support in this House yesterday, is to continue to drive down the R number while keeping businesses open and pupils in school.” Thankfully Johnson’s PR pitch was briefer than usual.

Keir Starmer lumbered into position to ask a barely relevant question, “Three months ago today the Prime Minister said that Test and Trace could be a “real game changer” for us. He was backed up by the Health Secretary, who said: ‘Finding where the people who test positive are is the single most important thing that we must do to stop the spread of the virus.’ Yesterday the Prime Minister said the complete opposite. Standing at that Dispatch Box, he said: ‘Testing and tracing has very little or nothing to do with the spread or the transmission of the disease.’ [Official Report, 22 September 2020; Vol. 680, c. 822.] Both positions cannot be right. Which one is it, Prime Minister?” The PM cannot have felt even mildly challenged by such inconsequential hair splitting.

Baffle with a conundrum of conflicting words the PM must have thought as he swiftly replied, “It is an obvious fact of biology and epidemiology that, alas, this disease is transmitted by human contact or aerosol contact. One of the great advantages of NHS Test and Trace—which, alas, we did not have working earlier in the pandemic because we simply did not have it in the spring—is that we now have the ability to see in granular detail where the epidemic is breaking out and exactly which groups are being infected. That is why we have been able to deliver the local lockdowns and it is why we are able to tell now, at this stage, that it is necessary to take the decisive action that we are taking and which I think the right hon. and learned Gentleman supports—he did yesterday anyway—to drive the virus down, keep kids in school and keep our economy moving. That is the point.”

Starmer decided to waste another opposition question by repeating himself and not presenting a new one, “So why yesterday did the Prime Minister say: “Testing and tracing has very little or nothing to do with the spread or the transmission of the disease.”? Johnson gleefully replied, with his usual PR spin, “I hesitate to reprove the right hon. and learned Gentleman for a flaw that he sometimes seems to fall into, which is not listening to my previous answer. I gave a very clear answer. The answer, simply and sadly, is that it is an epidemiological fact that transmission of the virus takes place via human contact from person to person. Test and Trace enables us to isolate the cases of the virus in ever greater detail, which we were not able to do before. Thanks to the efforts of NHS Test and Trace, through many thousands of people, trainee nurses, doctors, young people and members of the armed services, we are not only testing more than any other country in Europe, but capacity today is at a record high. He should pay tribute to that work.”

Starmer sounded hurt, “I listened to the answer that the Prime Minister gave to the questions; that is why I asked him the question, because yesterday he said the complete opposite of what he said today. Everybody who was in the Chamber, and everybody who reads Hansard, will see it. He talks about testing. May I remind the Prime Minister that last week, before the Liaison Committee, he admitted that testing currently ‘has huge problems’? Dido Harding said, ‘plainly we don’t have enough testing capacity’. The Health Secretary said that fixing testing would take weeks. Pretending that there isn’t a problem is part of the problem, Prime Minister.” Was Starmer trying to pit ‘Tallyho Harding’ with her long track record repeated failure against his incompetent Health Minister?

Starmer continued, “Let us test what the Prime Minister’s explanation is—it is unclear. Is the explanation for the problems that we do not have enough capacity? He says, “Which problem?” The problem that he acknowledged one week ago before the Liaison Committee. Is the explanation from the Prime Minister that we do not have enough capacity because nobody could have expected the rise in demand? That is the Dido Harding defence. Or is it that we have all the capacity we need; it is just that people are being unreasonable in asking for tests? That is the Hancock defence. Which is it?” It was a tricky game of splitting hairs when in fact there were far more damning revelations made by the PM at the Liaison Committee, but his ‘forensic’ mind had missed the point.

Johnson hastened to the rescue of a damsel in distress challenged by a cowardly knight, “The continual attacks by the Opposition on Dido Harding in particular are unseemly and unjustified. Her teams have done an outstanding job in recruiting people from a standing start, but this is not for a moment to deny the anxiety of those who want a test, which I readily accept. Of course we would love to have much more testing instantly. It is thanks to the efforts of NHS Test and Trace that we are not only at a record high today, testing more people than any other European country, but that, to get to the point that the right hon. and learned Gentleman raises, we are going to go up to 500,000 tests by the end of October. That is the work of Dido Harding and her team. What we want to hear—what I, frankly, want to hear—is more of the spirit of togetherness that we had yesterday. This is an opportunity to support NHS Test and Trace. This is an opportunity to get behind that scheme, to encourage people to believe in it and its efficacy. Instead the right hon. and learned Gentleman constantly knocks it from the sidelines.”

Mr Speaker, “Sorry. I will just say to the Whip, the hon. Member for Halesowen and Rowley Regis (James Morris), that there is a little bit of rowdiness coming from the Opposition, but also from your good self—I would normally never have that from you. I want to be able to hear the Prime Minister. When I cannot hear him, I worry about the people who watch our proceedings. If you have further comment to make, please speak to me afterwards.” As sparkly occupied as the Chamber now is there is still heckling noise.

Starmer stumbled on defensively, “The Prime Minister knows that my complaint is not with the NHS; it is with the Government. My wife works for the NHS. My mother worked for the NHS. My sister works for the NHS. So I will not take lectures from the Prime Minister on supporting the NHS.” His next question had the promise of a ‘bear trap’ for the PM; was he about to unleash forensic skills at last? Starmer asked, “The Prime Minister says we have capacity, he goes on and on about capacity. Let us test that. Three weeks ago, millions of children went back to school, that is a good thing. Then the inevitable happened. Kids get coughs, bugs, flu. That is what happens; it is in the job description. But there is no effective system in place to deal with it. Many cannot get tests quickly. Schools are allocated only 10 tests, and many wait days for results. The outcome is obvious: child and siblings off school; mum, dad or carer off work; and in some cases, all-year groups off school. How on earth did we get into this mess?”

Johnson failed to spot the trap, and jovially said, “Come on: the right hon. and learned Gentleman knows perfectly well—or he will have read the advice from the four chief medical officers—that there is an exceptionally small risk to children of primary and secondary school age from this disease. He knows that children have a significantly lower rate of infection. That is all in the letter that they published today. But he also knows that we are doing our level best to get every child who has symptoms a test, and further, that thanks to the efforts of teachers in this country, and of parents and pupils, 99.9% of our schools are now back, in spite of all his attempts throughout the summer to sow doubt on the idea that schools were safe. The people of this country had more common sense.” In a Skwawkbox Article with Video evidence the report how, “after months of saying the opposite, Johnson admits virus passes ‘readily’ from children to adults.” Would the forensic minded Lawyer ensnare him in this trap?

So how did Starmer respond, “That is such a poor defence.” Skwawkbox note that, “For months now, the Tories, with the eaer agreement of Labour’s current front bench, have justified their haste to return children to the classroom by insisting that children are safe from the worst effects of coronavirus infection – and that there is no evidence that children can infect adults. But Johnson has now confessed that by forcing children into clearly unsafe classrooms he is putting millions of vulnerable adults in their family circle at grave risk, making a mockery of the already-obvious sham of his new ‘restrictions’ that leave workplaces, schools, pubs and restaurants to act as vectors for the second wave.” Starmer missed the opportunity entirely, launching of in an entirely different direction he said, “The point is not whether the children have got covid, but that they have got covid symptoms and then they are off school. Contrary to the PMs claim, those not at school are not nursing ‘the sniffles,’ but have been instructed to self-isolate.”

Opportunity missed, Starmer continued, “The Government’s own Department has shown that one in eight children are off school this week. That disrupts their education. Whether it is covid symptoms or other symptoms is not the point. If the Prime Minister does not see that, he is really out of touch with families and what they have been going through in schooling, day in, day out in the last few weeks. The reality is that losing control of testing is a major reason why the Prime Minister is losing control of the virus. As a result, he is phasing in health measures—restrictions that we support—but at the same time, he is phasing out economic support. Health measures and economic measures are now dangerously out of sync. Let me quote the director-general of the CBI: ‘there can be no avoiding the crushing blow new measures bring for thousands of firms… It is vital that all announcements of restrictions go hand in hand with clarity on the business support that protects jobs’. Why was that not announced yesterday?”

Johnson launched into his standard routine of PR bragging, “Let us be in absolutely no doubt that the work that this Government have done to protect this country’s economy and support the jobs of 12 million people through the furlough scheme and overall expenditure of about £160 billion is unexampled anywhere else in the world,” He then threw in his usual contemptuous demand for praise that I now call the “kiss my ring Starmer” appeal. He fully expected, “The right hon. and learned Gentleman should pay tribute to the Chancellor and his work. We will go forward with further creative and imaginative schemes to keep our economy moving. That is the essence of our plan and proposals. The right hon. and learned Gentleman talks about our plans; he supported them yesterday. I hope he continues to support them. The essence of what we are saying is that we want to depress the virus but keep pupils in school and keep our economy moving. That is the single best thing we can do to support firms across the country.”

Starmer meekly replied, “I am not asking about the support that was put in place in the past. We support that. I am asking about the support that is needed now, particularly in light of the restrictions that were announced yesterday. This is not theoretical. Yesterday, 6,000 jobs were lost at Whitbread, one of the major employers in the hospitality sector. The CBI, the TUC and trade unions, the Federation of Small Businesses, the British Chambers of Commerce and the Governor of the Bank of England are all calling on the Prime Minister to stop and rethink, support the businesses affected, not to withdraw furlough. We have been saying it for months. When is the Prime Minister finally going to act?” He had managed to spit out another question.

Johnson said, “These are indeed tough times and I have no doubt that many businesses and many employees are feeling a great deal of anxiety and uncertainty and we will do our level best to protect them throughout this period. But we will get through this by precisely the methods that we have outlined and that were agreed upon in the House yesterday. The reality of the Opposition position has been exposed—the cat is out of the bag—because the shadow Education Secretary said of the current crisis, ‘don’t let a good crisis go to waste’. That is the real approach of the Labour party—seeking to create political opportunity out of a crisis, out of the difficulties and dangers this country is going through, while we are taking the tough decisions to get the virus down, to keep our education system going and to keep our economy moving. The right hon. and learned Gentleman supported that yesterday. I hope that, in a spirit of togetherness and unity, he will continue to give it his support.” Ever the opportunist he nabbed that quote.

The SNPs Ian Blackford attacked, “Last night, the Prime Minister and leaders of the devolved Governments announced restrictions aimed at stopping the number of covid cases reaching a predicted 50,000 a day by mid-October, but there are other major threats that we face this October. There is another set of numbers, all this is of the Tory Government’s own making—with 1 million jobs at risk if furlough ends early, a £30 billion-a-year bill to the taxpayer from a no-deal Brexit, and today we learn of 7,000 trucks queuing for days at Dover. If those numbers become a reality, the Prime Minister is leading us into another winter of discontent. Our First Minister has shown leadership on all fronts during this pandemic. However, the responsibility and powers for extending the furlough scheme lie with the Prime Minister and the Chancellor. The Prime Minister must announce an immediate extension—no half-measures, no half-baked projects—of this vital and life-saving scheme. Will the Prime Minister show the leadership required and save the jobs?”

A Canary Article had remarked that “PMQs was a waste of 12 minutes, until the SNP stepped in,” I totally agree; this is so often the case now! Johnson cynically retorted, “I notice that both the leader of the Scottish nationalist party and the Leader of the Opposition now support an indefinite extension of the furlough scheme. That is what he said. What we will do, as I have said throughout, is continue to put our arms around the people of this country going through a very tough time and come up with the appropriate creative and imaginative schemes to keep them in work and keep the economy moving. That is the essence of our approach.”

Blackford replied, “That is so poor. What we are talking about is protecting the jobs of people today. It is not indefinite and nobody, nobody, Prime Minister, has asked for that. The first step to any recovery is admitting that there is a problem. Even the Governor of the Bank of England is telling the Prime Minister to stop and rethink. The solution for millions of people right now is an extension of the furlough scheme beyond October. The alternative is putting 61,000 jobs in Scotland at risk. Yesterday, the only reassurance the Prime Minister gave those Scottish workers was saying that he would throw his arms around them. I can tell the Prime Minister that the last thing those 61,000 Scots are looking for is a hug from him. They need the security of knowing that they can hoos ld on to their jobs and incomes for themselves and their families. Time is running out. Workers are facing the dole today. Will the Government instruct the Chancellor to extend the furlough scheme and stop 1 million workers being sold on to the scrapheap by this Government?”

The PM replied, “What I can certainly tell the right hon. Gentleman is that the furlough scheme has already been extended until the end of October, and people should be in no doubt about that. As I have said before, we will continue to provide the best support we can possibly give to keep people in jobs and to get people into work, new jobs are being created, while suppressing the virus. I can imagine that he does not want a hug from me, but that was a metaphor. It is physically incarnated by the £12.7 billion of Barnett consequentials that we are seeing come from the UK Exchequer to support people across the whole of our country.”

Oh please, not another Tory death hug, but it seems others are less repulsed by his offer. The Speaker chimed in with a cynical dig saying, “I suspect, Prime Minister, that you might get a hug from Andrew Bowie.” Yes, you can always count on another Tory MP to provide ‘stroking’ to sooth the PMs fragile ego But still, ‘a hug’ was a step too far as Andrew Bowie briskly responded, “I couldn’t possibly, Mr Speaker—not in present company. It is interesting that the leader of the Scottish National party went on jobs, given that on this side of the House, we voted this week and last to protect 500,000 jobs by enshrining Scotland’s most important market, our internal UK market, in statute. Why does my right hon. Friend think the SNP did not support that Bill?”

Johnson turned on the charm, “I have absolutely no idea. It is totally baffling, because it is a Bill that underpins a massive transfer of powers back to Scotland from Brussels. About 70 powers and prerogatives go back to Scotland, which SNP Members would throw away again, as they would throw away again the entire beautiful, glistening haul of Scotland’s spectacular marine wealth by handing Scotland’s fisheries straight back to Brussels. That is what they want to do.” Scotland and the SNP won’t fall for such lies!

Our solitary Green MP Caroline Lucas, asked, “Last week, a Royal Society for the Protection of Birds report noted that the UK has seen a lost decade for nature, with the Government failing to reach 17 out of the 20 targets they had signed up to. There is a major United Nations biodiversity summit next week. It is a vital moment to put this right and to show some real leadership. The EU’s biodiversity summit aims to protect a minimum of 30% of land and sea for nature by 2030, so will the Prime Minister commit now at least to match that goal of 30% of land and sea for nature by 2030 and deliver the funding via the forthcoming spending review?”

Johnson aiming to charm said, “The hon. Lady simply cannot be unaware that the campaign to get the world’s leaders to sign up to a leaders’ declaration on biodiversity has been led over the past few weeks by this Government. She knows that, Mr Speaker. It is this Government who devised the charter. It is this Government who are leading the world in protecting biodiversity across the planet, and we will put in the funding. We pioneered the 30% idea, and we will certainly put in all the funding required.” Was that a yes? The PM had enjoyed such an easy ride, so a small concession was in order; or do women seriously intimidate the Johnson? Several of the other questions focused on the imminent ending of the furlough scheme and the urgent need to extend the program to protect jobs and stave off destitution. But the working poor are not a priority for this Tory Government whose planned ‘Slaughter of the Sheeple’ will cull the weakest from society. We need to Investigate the Covert 2019 Rigged Election and Get the Tories out! DO NOT MOVE ON!