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Before Prime Minister’s Question Time, Speaker Lindsey Hoyle, wanted to be absolutely clear regarding the PM passing the buck. He said, “I wish to make a short statement. On Monday, in answer to a question from the hon. Member for Swansea West (Geraint Davies) about virtual participation in debates, the Prime Minister inadvertently, I would accept—said ‘I defer to you and the House authorities.’ [Official Report, 12 October 2020; Vol. 682, c. 40.] As the Prime Minister will know, decisions on the scope of virtual participation are for the House itself. All decisions have been made on the basis of motions moved by the Leader of the House. I know that the House of Commons Service would be more than happy to facilitate virtual participation in debates, if the House voted for it. If the Government wished to pass me the power, I would be more than happy to accept it, but the decision to bring forward the relevant motion is a matter for the Prime Minister and the Government he leads, not for me and the House authorities.”
MP Mr Vara launched the PMQs scrutiny session with a typical Tory cheerleading non-question, saying, “During this pandemic, in my constituency of North West Cambridgeshire, I have seen a number of instances of ordinary citizens doing extraordinary work helping the elderly and vulnerable, and that has been repeated across the country in every single constituency, giving true meaning to the words ‘community spirit’. Would my right hon. Friend take this opportunity not only to acknowledge the fantastic work that has been done by so many people, but to give a huge thank you to each and every one of these unsung heroes of our country?” You would think this was a response to a resounding Tory triumph when the PM replying, “I thoroughly concur with my hon. Friend, and I congratulate all the volunteers for their spirit and the achievements they have delivered for the people of this country. I was delighted that we had a first chance to honour them in the birthday honours list at the weekend, or just some of them.”
While we are all grateful for the work, sacrifice and volunteer efforts of the public, in reality this ‘community spirit’ demonstrates the resilience of the British in response to the most shambolic mismanagement of a serious health crisis in modern history. But beyond the accolades and awards, we should reward these efforts with decent levels of pay and adequate support for those forced out of work. But PMQs moved on to that familiar very irritating pattern of ‘Parliamentary Ping Pong.’ ‘Ping’… Keir Starmer went into bat saying, “On 11 May, the Prime Minister said that the Government’s covid strategy ‘will be governed entirely by the science.” [Official Report, 11 May 2020; Vol. 676, c. 36.] On 21 September, the Government’s own scientific advisers, the Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies, gave very clear advice. They said that a ‘package of interventions’ —including a circuit breaker—would be needed to prevent an ‘exponential rise in cases’. Why did the Prime Minister reject that advice and abandon the science?”
In betrayal of his constant claims of ‘following the science’ Pong… the PM batted back saying, “We will do whatever it takes to fight this virus and to defeat it, but since the right hon. and learned Gentleman quotes the SAGE advice, I might just remind him that, on page 1, it states: ‘All the interventions considered have associated costs in terms of health and wellbeing…Policy makers will need to consider analysis of economic impacts and the associated harms alongside this epidemiological assessment.’ The advice that I have today is that if we do the regional approach that commended itself to the House and, indeed, to him on Monday, we can bring down the R and we can bring down the virus. Will he stick to his position of Monday and support that approach?”
Starmer knew his deviation from unchallenging support of the PM hurt the PM, Ping… he hit back by doubling-down on his original demand saying, “I do not think that approach goes far enough, and neither does SAGE. The Prime Minister talks of the costs. Since he rejected SAGE’s advice on 21 September, I remind him that the R rate has gone up, the infection rate has quadrupled and hospital admissions have gone from 275 a day to 628 a day in England. Yesterday, 441 covid patients were on ventilators and the number of deaths recorded was, tragically, the highest since 10 June. That is the cost of rejecting the advice. SAGE has a clear view on why that is happening. What is the Prime Minister’s view on why these numbers are all heading in the wrong direction?”
Pong… The PM said, “I set that out very clearly in the House on Monday. The difference between this stage of the pandemic and March and April, as the House knows very well, is that the disease is appearing much more strongly in some parts of the country than others. In Liverpool, for instance, alas, the figures are now running at 670 cases per 100,000, against 33 cases per 100,000 in Cornwall. There are 540 cases per 100,000 in Newcastle, alas, against 32 in North Norfolk. That is why the three-tiered approach that we set out on Monday, which the right hon. and learned Gentleman supported, is the right way forward. We want to put in the most stringent measures necessary in the places where the virus is surging, in order to get it down where it is surging. That is the logical thing to do. Will he get on to his Labour friends in those parts of the north of England whom we want to work with to put those very stringent measures in place, in order to deliver the reductions that the whole country wants to see? Will he support those measures? He would not support them last night.”
Ping… Starmer continued the volley of inept chiding of the PM, “I think the Prime Minister is behind the curve again. He probably has not noticed that this morning, the council leaders in Greater Manchester that he just quoted, including the Mayor and the Conservative leader of Bolton Council, said in a press statement that they support a circuit break above tier 3 restrictions—keep up, Prime Minister. The big problem the Prime Minister has, as the SAGE minutes make absolutely clear, is that his two main policies—track and trace and local restrictions—simply have not worked, and we cannot stand by. In July, the Prime Minister told me that track and trace, ‘will play a vital part in ensuring that we do not have a second spike this winter. Those were his words. Three months later, SAGE has concluded that track and trace is only ‘having a marginal impact on transmission’. It goes on to say, and this is the really worrying part, that this is likely to ‘further decline in the future’. So the PM ditched ‘the science’ we knew that.”
Starmer felt it was necessary to spell out the reason for PMQ entails the asking of questions, demanding appropriate scrutiny, he scolded, “Let us not have the usual nonsense that anyone asking the Prime Minister a question about track and trace is somehow knocking the NHS. This is SAGE’s assessment—the Government’s own advisers. After £12 billion, let us have a straight answer: why does the Prime Minister think that his track and trace system has gone so wrong?” Does Sir Keir really think that the PM is going to admit that his worthless centralized Track and Trace program was just a money making scam for the Tory elite?
The ‘Pong’ was becoming a rancid stench of decomposing questions ignored by the PM, but he defensively hit back, “It is thanks to NHS Test and Trace, which is now testing more people than any other country in Europe, that we know where the disease is surging. We know that it is regionally distributed, rather than nationally distributed, at the moment, and that gives us a chance to do the right thing. The right hon. and learned Gentleman wants to close pubs. He wants to close bars. He wants to close businesses in areas across the country where the incidence is low. That is what he wants to do, and he wants to do it now, yet he voted to do nothing last night—nothing—in the areas where the incidence is highest. He says one thing at 5 o’clock about calling for a national lockdown. When it came to a vote in the House of Commons to impose more stringent measures, he failed even to turn up.”
Ping… Starmer wasn’t deviating from his core chide and challenge hit, “I know that, for someone who has been an opportunist all his life, this is difficult to understand, but having read and considered the SAGE advice, I have genuinely concluded that a circuit break is in the national interest, genuinely concluded. It is the failure of the Prime Minister’s strategy that means tougher measures are now unavoidable. That is SAGE’s view. SAGE has advised that a circuit breaker should act to reduce R below 1, should reset the incidence of disease to a lower level and should set the epidemic back by approximately 28 days or more. All three are vital, and that is why Labour backs it, so can the Prime Minister tell us what is his alternative plan to get R below 1?”
The rancid ‘Pong’ was getting stronger as the PM dodged accountability and attempted to distract by reverting to his strategy of claiming ‘you had supported me now you don’t’ saying, “The plan is the plan that the right hon. and learned Gentleman supported on Monday. The whole point is to seize this moment now to avoid the misery of another national lockdown, into which he wants to go headlong, by delivering a regional solution. Opportunism is, I am afraid, the name of the game for the party opposite, because they backed the rule of six or he backed the rule of six and then refused to vote for it. I think at three o’clock, the shadow Health spokesman said that a national lockdown would be ‘disastrous’; at five o’clock, he was calling for it. Let us go back to the approach that he was supporting on Monday.” Had Johnson managed to confuse the issue enough to spread the responsibility around?
Pong… The PM whimpered as he danced on the head of a pin trying to split hairs to avoid the inevitable decision he will be forced to make in a week or less; he was loath to hand Starmer a victory. He sounded pathetic as he whacked the ball across the net saying, “Let us try to avoid the misery of another national lockdown, which he would want to impose, as I say, in a headlong way. Let us work together—let us work together, as he was prepared to do on Monday—to keep kids in school, who he would now yank out of school in a peremptory way, keep our economy going, and keep jobs and livelihoods supported in this country. Let us take the common sensical regional approach, and will he kindly spell out to all his colleagues across the whole of the country that that is the best way forward, as indeed he did on Monday?”
Ping… Starmer hit the sweet spot, “Following the advice is now, apparently, opportunistic. Presumably the Prime Minister will say the same to the leader of Bolton Council, a Conservative leader, who this morning said he supports a circuit break. I have just listened to what the Prime Minister said about his strategy to get R below 1, but I cannot think of a single scientist who backs it. He will know that the chief medical officer said on Monday that he, the chief medical officer, is—his words: ‘not confident, and nor is anyone confident, that the tier 3 proposals for the highest rates…would be enough’. That is tier 3 the highest tier. So why is the Prime Minister so confident that his approach will get the R rate below 1 so confident or is that no longer the Government plan?”
Pong… the PM hit back, “I am afraid the right hon. and learned Gentleman is misrepresenting the position, doubtless inadvertently. Our advice is that, if the regional measures are tier 3 and at all levels were implemented in full with the support and the active co-operation of local leaders, as indeed we have seen from the leader of Liverpool city region, and I pay tribute to him and I thank him for what he is doing, and if we saw full and proper enforcement and if they were able to conduct proper local test and trace, with the support of the £500 million that we are giving, then yes, those measures would deliver the reduction in the R locally or regionally that we need in order to avert what none of us wants to see, what none of us wants to see, except now the right hon. and learned Gentleman, having performed this extraordinary U-turn, and that is the disaster, in the words of the shadow Health spokesman, of a national lockdown. We do not want to go there. We want the regional approach. He should co-operate with it.”
Ping… A desperately defensive tap as Starmer tried to reassure to PM that he was still true to his commitment to capitulation, he just couldn’t resist getting the jump on the PM regarding the U-turn he will be forced to make anyway within a week so. He pleaded that, “I have supported the Government on all their measures so far, and I have taken criticism on it, but I think this measure is wrong and a circuit breaer is in the national interest. I have read the advice of SAGE and the Government have rejected it.” Then despite warning there was no new hit, “This is my last question, and I am sure the Prime Minister has his pre-prepared rant ready as usual, but we are at a tipping point. Time is running out. Maybe he can seize the moment and answer a question. This morning, The Daily Telegraph quotes senior Government sources saying the chances of the Prime Minister backing a circuit break in the next two weeks are about 80%. Is that right? If it is, why does he not do it now, save lives, fix testing and protect the NHS?”
Pong… It was the PM’s last chance for game, set, and match as he focused on totally redundant argument of, ‘now you’re with me, now you’re not’ just to sew confusion, before MPs realized that the party Leader most likely to U-turn in the coming week was Boris Johnson. The PM hit back with, “The right hon. and learned Gentleman claims to be supporting the Government one day, and then performs a dramatic U-turn the next. He claims to support the rule of six one day, then pulls his support the next. He wants tough measures, and then refuses to vote for them. Everybody can see what he is doing. Labour have said it themselves. They see this as a ‘good crisis’ for the Labour party and one they wish to exploit.” Not quite, because none of the opposition parties have had the opportunity to trouser massive quantities of public money by assigning it to their donors and elitist chums the way the Tories have!
Pong… The PMs last hit sent the ball bounding right out the door into the wild blue yonder with his meaningless prattle. He said, “We see this as a national crisis that we are going to turn around, and the way we are going to do it is—and I rule out nothing, of course, in combating the virus, but we are going to do it with the local, the regional approach that can drive down and will drive down the virus if it is properly implemented, and that is what I believe he should be supporting. He said he would support it on Monday. This is our opportunity to keep things going: to keep our kids in school; to keep our businesses going. That I think is what the people of this country want to do. This is our opportunity to do that, and to suppress the virus where it is surging. He refuses to accept that approach today. I hope that, not for the first time, he will change his mind and think the better of his actions.”
SNP Leader, Ian Blackford warned, “Yesterday, the founder of BrewDog warned that ‘the end of the Job Retention Scheme will lead to a tsunami of unemployment’. BrewDog is just one of thousands of businesses across Scotland and the United Kingdom demanding that the Tory Government U-turn on their reckless plans to scrap the furlough scheme. There are just two weeks left to save people’s jobs and livelihoods, so in the next fortnight the Prime Minister has two choices: extend the full furlough scheme or inflict a tsunami of unemployment on our people this winter. Which is he going to choose?” The PM was emphatic replying, “As the right hon. Gentleman knows, the Chancellor has already unveiled the job support scheme, which will go through till next year. Those on low incomes will also have the additional benefit of universal credit, which again is going through, in its uplifted form—£1,000 extra per year—to next April at least.” Those on legacy benefits like the disabled on ESA have not received extra money.
Blackford responded by showing his utter disgust for the PM, “My goodness. That really does show that the Prime Minister does not get it. Universal credit, is that really what the Prime Minister is saying to those that could be saved? People do not want to hear the boasting and the excuses that we get; they want action. These half-measures do not cover it. Thousands have already lost their jobs. The Office for National Statistics has confirmed that we have the highest rate of redundancies since 2009. We are heading towards a Tory winter of mass unemployment created by the Prime Minister and the Chancellor. We know what the Prime Minister’s Tory colleagues are saying: the Prime Minister’s next job could be on the Back Benches; he just does not know it yet. If the Prime Minister will not U-turn on his plans to scrap furlough, does he realise that he will never, not ever, be forgiven for the damage that he is just about to cause to people up and down Scotland?” I must add, that would be right across the UK!
The PM did not relent, “As I have said many times to the right hon. Gentleman, this Government are continuing to support people across the whole of the UK, with many billions of pounds in Barnett consequentials—at least £5 billion in Barnett consequentials for Scotland alone. But one thing I will congratulate him on is the Scottish nationalist party’s support for the tiered approach, which I think is still its policy, unlike the Labour party. At least it is showing some vestige of consistency in its normal gelatinous behaviour.”
SDLP MP Colum Eastwood kept up the pressure, “By the weekend, Northern Ireland will be in an effective lockdown. Under the Chancellor’s new furlough scheme starting in November, a minimum wage full-time employee, a normal worker, will be entitled to £227 per week. I doubt that this Prime Minister could survive on that. How, and under God, does he expect ordinary decent workers to survive on that?” The PM stubbornly evaded the question saying, “I am proud of what the Government have done to raise the national living wage, which this Government introduced. What I can tell the hon. Gentleman is that whatever happens, a combination of the job support scheme and universal credit will mean that nobody gets less than 93% of their current income.”
Virginia Crosbie continued the Tory tradition of ‘me first’ saying, “My constituency has the best nuclear site in the UK. Will the Prime Minister confirm to me and the people of Ynys Môn that he is 100% behind Wylfa Newydd?” The PM glowed as he replied, “Yes, indeed. I congratulate my hon. Friend on her fantastic campaigning for a nuclear future for Ynys Môn. She has no more fervent supporter in that objective than me.” Like the Tory commitment to fracking it’s proof the Tories will ditch ‘the Green crap!’
Labour MP Matt Western focused on yet another Tory corruption scandal highlighting the fact that, “The Secretary of State for Housing, Communities and Local Government has a habit of hitting the headlines, and not always for the right reason. At the weekend, we discovered that his constituency had been awarded £25 million from the regeneration scheme and that that was approved by one of his own Ministers. The Secretary of State returned the favour by approving funding for that Minister’s constituency. We have one Department, two Ministers and tens of millions of pounds of taxpayers’ money. Does the Prime Minister think that the approval process is appropriate, or does he think that the public might be right in thinking that this all looks a bit grubby?” ‘Nothing to see here’ according to the PM, “All this was independently approved, but if the hon. Gentleman has some serious allegation to make against my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State then may I suggest that he has the guts to make it?”
Labour MP Neil Coyle said, “Two weeks ago, the Prime Minister told me that he would support charities to be able to open covid-safe accommodation for homeless people this winter, but yesterday the Government announced a £3 million cut in the cold weather fund this year, despite higher covid-related costs. Will the Prime Minister at least guarantee that all Government funds can be used to cover anyone and everyone needing shelter?” The PM said, “Of course, we will make sure that local authorities get the support they need. As the hon. Gentleman knows, we have already put in an extra £3.7 billion into helping local authorities and, I think, a total of £28 billion into tackling the local consequences of covid. We will continue to support people throughout the country.”
There were other interventions before the Tory Party Political Broadcast that is euphemistically called Prime Minister’s Questions ground to a close. It was the same old redundant fare of Starmer v Johnson Ping-Pong with the stench of betrayal getting stronger by the week. The Captain of Capitulation whining about the PMs failures trying to solicit an apology, but only now after weeks in lockstep with the PM finally offering a hint of opposition. Johnson turned every attempt at scrutiny into an insult of other people and a ‘now you’re with me now you’re not’ melee. All critics ignored, the standard Tory fawning was used to embellish the PMs boastful lies in his PR spin. Really vital issues are being rushed through Parliament like the CHIS Bill, while the public are distracted trying to fathom restrictions. We need robust opposition that requires removing Starmer over his betrayal of Labour members and the Tories over corruption that includes the Covert 2019 Rigged Election: expose, Investigate, and remove them all from office ASAP! DO NOT MOVE ON!