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Tory MP Sir David Amess kicked off Prime Ministers Questions by indulging in a blatant self-serving plug for his own, soon to be released book, which I will not dignify by promoting here. This really was a disgraceful example of a Tory abuse of privilege in the Chamber during a televised period specifically designated for necessary scrutinizing of the Prime Minister. He boldly reassured his Tory cronies the dubious contortions that now increasingly pass for democracy, were all documented within its pages. In order to make his brazen advertising pitch tangentially relevant to the important business of PMQs in the Chamber, Amess deftly segued over to testing the mettle of the PM with regard to Brexit. Framed as a typical “Does my right hon. Friend agree…” non-question, he first defined the core goal of the Covert 2019 Rigged Election, saying it, “was categorically about ensuring that the result of the 2016 referendum is implemented in full?” Finally he asked the PM if he would, “confirm that he intends to see that happen?”
The PM readily conceded saying, “I can indeed.” In a tacit approval of his colleague’s use of the Chamber for free TV advertising he obligingly added, “I congratulate my hon. Friend on his new book,” before reinforcing the deceitful pledge of his own pet project; crash-out Brexit, despite the catastrophic damage he knows it will cause and the severe hardship it will inflict on ordinary working people. He said, “I assure him that this country has not only left the European Union, but that on 1 January we will take back full control of our money, our borders and our laws:” knowing that an extraordinary level of power would soon be entirely in his hands! Keir Starmer chose to focus on the current crisis saying, “This is a crucial moment if we are to gain control of the virus, yet for eight days nearly 16,000 positive tests were missed by the Government. That means that about 48,000 contacts were not traced. As of yesterday, thousands had still not been reached. Does the Prime Minister accept that this very basic mistake has put lives at risk?”
If Starmer was hoping for humble contrition he really should know by now that such tactics will always be ignored by Boris Johnson who routinely deflects all blame. The PM replied, “This is certainly a problem that we have fixed. The computer glitch and error to which the right hon. and learned Gentleman refers has been addressed. All the 16,000 people he refers to have, in fact, got their positive test results and should be self-isolating. As soon as we became aware of the missing data, we brought in 800 people to chase up those index cases, and we continue to chase their contacts. I think it will be for the reassurance of the House and the country that the missing data points do not, now that we look at them, change in any way our assessment of the epidemiology, the spread of the disease. That is why we continue with our package to suppress the virus not just nationally but locally and regionally.”
Starmer was determined to make another attempt at exposing the flaw to solicit contrition and guilt, “This is not just a technical issue; it is a human issue. The attempted reassurance by the Prime Minister just does not wash. In Greater Manchester, some of the missing cases date back to 18 September. That is two and a half weeks ago. There are three very serious consequences: first, it is now much harder to reach the contacts of the 16,000 people after so long; secondly, even if they are contacted successfully, for many the self-isolation period has already expired; and, thirdly, important decisions on local restrictions were made using the wrong data. Some £12 billion has been invested in this system, and yet a basic Excel error brings it down. No wonder it has been described as “intergalactic” incompetence. Why, at this crucial moment, did it take so long to catch this error and address it?”
The PM curtly replied, “The right hon. and learned Gentleman cannot have it both ways; he cannot call it a human error and a basic Excel error. Let me just remind the House and the right hon. and learned Gentleman of what I just said. The crucial thing is that, yes, of course there has been an error, but the data points—the cases—that we are looking at do not change the basic distribution of the disease. It is very important for people to understand that. That is really what he was, I think, trying to drive at. Although the cases are considerably up across the country this week on last week, the seven-day statistics show that there are now 497 cases per 100,000 in Liverpool, 522 cases per 100,000 in Manchester and 422 in Newcastle. The key point there is that the local, regional approach combined with the national measures remains correct, I think, because two thirds of those admitted into hospital on Sunday were in the north-west, the north-east and Yorkshire. That is why, I think, that approach continues to be correct.”
Shaming the PM, Starmer said, “The Prime Minister says that it does not alter the basic distribution, yet thousands of people have been walking round when they should have been self-isolating. It patently has an effect on the basic distribution. If this was an isolated example, I think the British people might understand, but there is a pattern here. On care homes, protective equipment, exams, testing: the Prime Minister ignores the warning signs, hurtles towards a car crash, then looks in the rear mirror and says, ‘What’s all that about?’ It is quite literally government in hindsight. Today it is 100 days since the first local restrictions were introduced. 20 local areas in England have been under restrictions for 2 months. Prime Minister, in 19 of those 20 areas, infection rates have gone up. In Rossendale and Hyndburn they have gone up tenfold. Yet all the Prime Minister has to say is, “It’s too early to say if restrictions are working.” But it is obvious that something has gone wrong here, so what is he going to do about it?”
As is so often the case, the PM deviated from the question, “As the right hon. and learned Gentleman knows, we are continuing to provide support, with £5 billion of support for the north-west and north-east for the lockdowns, the extra restrictions, that they are experiencing. We will continue to support all areas across the country that have to go into local measures. Two weeks ago, I set out that strategy. I said that we would go forward with the national measures such as intensifying the rule of six, making sure that we reinforced the rule of six. Two weeks ago, the right hon. and learned Gentleman supported it. In fact, I think he went on the Nick Ferrari show saying, ‘I support the rule of six—yes I do.’ Yet last night the Labour party abstained on the rule of six. He asks what we are doing to enforce local measures; he cannot even be bothered to get his own side to support them himself.”
Starmer was going to spell out his last question despite knowing this tactic always fails to solicit an answer from Johnson, “For the Prime Minister’s benefit, let me take this slowly for him. We support measures to protect health. We want track and trace to work. But the Government are messing it up and it is our duty to point it out. Let us get back to the questions, because these are not trick questions; I have the figures here, Prime Minister. In Bury, when restrictions were introduced, the infection rate was around 20 per 100,000; today it is 266. In Burnley, it was 21 per 100,000 when restrictions were introduced; now it is 434. In Bolton, it was 18 per 100,000; now it is 255. The Prime Minister really needs to understand that local communities are angry and frustrated. So will he level with the people of Bury, Burnley and Bolton and tell them: what does he actually think the problem is here?”
The PM still didn’t reply, he said, “The problem is, alas, that the disease continues to spread in the way that I described to the House earlier. The figures that the right hon. and learned Gentleman gives are no surprise, because they are fundamentally a repetition of what I have already told the House. What we are doing is a combination of national and local measures which one week he comes to this House and supports, and from which, the next week, mysteriously, he decides to whisk his support away. He cannot even be bothered to mobilise his own Benches to support something as fundamental as the rule of six, which he himself said only three weeks ago that he supported. He cannot continue to have it both ways. Does he support the rule of six, yes or no?”
Johnson was yet again trying to turn PMQs into Opposition questions; frustrated, Starmer said, “Yes. But if the Prime Minister cannot see and hear local communities when they say that the infection rate has gone up tenfold under restrictions, and he does not realise that is a problem, then that is part of the problem. There is a further cause of anger… Prime Minister, if you actually listen to the question, we might get on better—which is the lack of clarity about why particular restrictions have been introduced. For example, in the Prime Minister’s own local authority of Hillingdon, today there are 62 cases per 100,000, yet no local restrictions, but in 20 local areas across England, restrictions were imposed when infection rates were much lower. In Kirklees, it was just 29 per 100,000. Local communities genuinely do not understand these differences. Can he please explain for them?”
Johnson replied, “The right hon. and learned Gentleman has heard from me and heard repeatedly from the Government why we are bringing in differentiated local restrictions. I have just given the figures for the north-east and the north-west. I wish I could pretend that everything is going to be rosy in the midlands or, indeed, in London, where alas we are also seeing infections rise, but that is why we need a concerted national effort. We need to follow the guidance. We need ‘Hands, face, space’ and people to get a test if they have symptoms and to obey the rule of six. I think it quite extraordinary that the right hon. and learned Gentleman just said that he personally supports the rule of six while allowing his entire party to abstain.” Despite the Tory Party majority, Labour’s gutless abstention on key issues is an embarrassment and a disgrace; the message to the public is, just don’t bother voting! In a Canary Article entitled, “PMQs just exposed Starmer’s complete lack of principles” they elaborate on the abstention issue.
The Canary say that, “it seems Starmer could tell his MPs to vote against the 10pm rule. But this is particularly damning given the bills he’s asked MPs to abstain on. What a shame he couldn’t do the same over, say, the potential torture and murder of people by UK government actors? The covert human intelligence sources (CHIS) bill has hit the news this week. LabourList said it: aims to give legal protection for a previously secret power, ‘the third direction’, allowing MI5, police forces and other specified public bodies to authorise agents and informants to commit criminal offences. Amnesty UK has warned that ‘this bill could end up providing informers and agents with a licence to kill’ and stressed that it ‘does not explicitly prohibit MI5 and other agencies from authorising crimes like torture and killing’.” Even the equivalent US legislation rules out torture and murder. Why did Labour abstain?
Ignoring the abstention issue and still not making the slightest bit of headway, Starmer responded by essentially pressing the same point, “The Prime Minister cannot explain why an area goes into restriction, he cannot explain what the different restrictions are and he cannot explain how restrictions end. This is getting ridiculous. Next week, this House will vote on whether to approve the 10 pm rule. The Prime Minister knows that there are deeply held views across the country in different ways on this. One question is now screaming out: is there a scientific basis for the 10 pm rule? The public deserve to know and Parliament deserves to know. If there is a basis, why do the Government not do themselves a favour and publish it? If not, why do the Government not review the rule? Will the Prime Minister commit to publishing the scientific basis for the 10 pm rule before this House votes on it next Monday?”
Johnson replied, “The basis on which we set out the curtailment of hospitality was the basis on which the right hon. and learned Gentleman accepted it two weeks ago, which is to reduce the spread of the virus. That is our objective. That is why we introduced the rule of six, which again he supported only two weeks ago,” he boldly taunted, “yet last night the Opposition abstained and today they are withdrawing their support for other restrictions. What kind of signal does that send to the people of the country about the robustness of the Labour party and its willingness to enforce the restrictions? That is not new leadership; that is no leadership. We are taking the tough decisions necessary, imposing restrictions, which we do not want to do, locally and nationally to fight the virus to keep young people and kids in education and to keep the bulk of our economy moving. At the same time, we are getting on with our agenda, our lifetime skills guarantee and our green industrial revolution, by which we will take this country forward and build back better.”
The Tory MPs have obviously been primed to keep repeating the PMs worthless catch phrases so John Stevenson obliged saying, “Two of the Government’s central policies are levelling up and housing.” After making a very targeted pitch for his constituency of Carlisle and Cumbria to get “further infrastructure investment” he stressed the “capacity for increased housing development,” with a “garden village to the south” appealing again to that fake “levelling up agenda” and to reduce “strain on housing in the south of England,” he suggested that in moving “parts of Government Departments out of London to the provinces” Carlisle would be a better location than Manchester or Leeds and would the PM consider it. In a reply that had us speculating over a possible affair… Johnson said, “I have spent at least one very happy night out in Carlisle, and it is a wonderful place. I will certainly look with interest at my hon. Friend’s suggestion. We have an ambitious programme to disperse and to unite and level up across our country.”
SNP Leader Ian Blackford raised an issue never on the PMs radar, saying, “This week is Challenge Poverty Week, and I would like to thank all the organisations across Scotland and the United Kingdom that are helping families through the most difficult of times. Their dedication and commitment should inspire every single one of us in the fight to end poverty. With mass unemployment looming, having the right social security measures in place to help families over the long term is vital. The Chancellor has so far refused to commit to make the £20 universal credit uplift permanent, which means that 16 million people face losing an income equivalent of £1,040 overnight. Will the Prime Minister now commit to making the £20 uplift to universal credit permanent?”
Callously deflected the question sideways to frame it as an endorsement of UC the PM said, “I welcome the right hon. Gentleman’s support for universal credit, which the Conservative party introduced. I am proud that we have been able to uprate it in the way that we have, and we will continue to support people across the country, with the biggest cash increase in the national living wage this year. The result of universal credit so far has been that there are 200,000 fewer people in absolute poverty now than there were in 2010. I know that he was not a keen supporter of universal credit when it was introduced, but I welcome his support today.”
In exasperation Blackford responded, “One of these days, the Prime Minister might consider answering the question.” Blackford was not about to let the PM off the hook, so he clarified, “it was about making the £20 increase permanent. The Joseph Rowntree Foundation has painted a clear picture for his Government: strip the £20 universal credit uplift away, and 700,000 more people, including 300,000 children, could move into poverty, and 500,000 more people could end up in severe poverty—more than 50% below the poverty line. The Resolution Foundation has called the £20 uplift a ‘living standards lifeline’ for millions of families during the pandemic. Challenge Poverty Week is a moment for all of us to take unified action against poverty. The Prime Minister has an opportunity here and now. Will he do the right thing, will he answer the question, and will he make the £20 uplift permanent?”
The answer was no, but the PM said, “I do not want in any way to underestimate the importance of what the right hon. Gentleman is saying. It is vital that we tackle poverty in this country. That is why this Government are so proud of what we did with the national living wage. We are putting another £1.7 billion into universal credit by 2023-24. If that does not give him the answer he wants, he can ask again next week. We will continue to support people and families across this country, and we will continue to spend £95 billion a year in this country on working-age welfare. But the best thing we can do for people on universal credit is to get this virus down, get our economy moving again and get them back into well-paid, high-skilled jobs—and that is what we are going to do.”
This same important issue was raised by Labour MP Steven Timms who suggested a vital compromise saying, “The Government were right to increase universal credit by £20 a week to help families with the extra costs of the pandemic but, at the moment, that increase is due to be removed next April. The Prime Minister has declined today to commit to making it permanent, but will he at least agree with me that it would be unthinkable to cut everyone’s benefit before the pandemic is over?” Once again the PM tried to turn the request into an endorsement of the dysfunctional Universal Credit system, but his reply might indicate that the Government will succumb to pressure on this, as he said, “Of course, we keep all these things under constant review, but I am glad that the right hon. Gentleman joins the Opposition in support—and approval now—for what the Government have done with universal credit.”
Tory MPs were keen to parrot the shallow Tory slogans paraded at Tory Conference earlier this week, trying to cram ‘levelling up’ into their obscure “does the Prime Minister agree with me…” non-question mutual stroking interventions that have reduced PMQs to a televised Tory Party Political Broadcast. Several Opposition MPs expressed concern over the need for an extra extension of the furlough scheme in areas that are forced back into lockdown, but Starmer should have demanded to know why Tory areas with high infection rates were not as restricted as Labour areas with fewer Covid cases. Starmer and the PM have settled into a routine role play; Starmer with pathetic appeals for contrition taking precedence over more robust scrutiny and Johnson just ignoring and evading only to turn the tables demanding justification and answers from Starmer or launching into another tediously repetitive PR pitch. Despite access to fact checking Johnson repeatedly lies for the TV cameras, but he cannot be called a liar in the Chamber.
Keir Starmer’s farcical opposition is so ineffectual that even without his stolen majority Johnson could trample all over the hollowed out shell of the Labour Party. It was encouraging to see that the Unite Union have reduced the amount of financial support they will contribute to the Labour Party, but I fear other special interest groups may negate the impact of this decision. Keir Starmer is being caught out and recognized as the toxic Trojan horse, destructive force he represents, and law suits could still expose the smear campaign of ‘fantisemitism’ paving the way for Corbyn to return. We so need a Whistleblower to provide the crucial evidence to destroy the credibility of that fake Tory ‘landslide victory’ with an Investigation to overturn the result of the Covert 2019 Rigged Election so that we can Get The Tories Out! I believe that Cummings might turn Whistleblower if his position controlling the PM was to become untenable. Cummings is the grenade; oust him and you pull the pin! We must fight to remove both Party Leaders. DO NOT MOVE ON!