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After the PMs obligatory preamble about ‘meetings’, Prime Ministers Questions began with Tory Gary Sambrook launching straight into a typical ‘stroking’ non-question, setting the tone for a session designed to heap praise on Boris Johnson over the vaccination program as if it had little to do with the NHS. Thousands of people had been asked to get a test due to a small number of South African variant cases in Sambrook’s constituency; he duly requested the PM join him in thanking those involved and encouraging those not yet tested to visit one of the designated sites? The PM was thrilled to be able to embellish on the one aspect of his thus far shambolic handling of the Covid crisis that was going well; it obscured the 120,000 dead! He said, “Yes, indeed. I thank my hon. Friend for raising this issue and, indeed, join him in thanking the NHS staff who are scaling up the surge testing in the way that he describes. I encourage everybody in the area and, indeed, throughout the country to get a vaccine when they are asked to do so.”
It was trusty Trojan horse Sir Keir Starmer’s turn to grovel and heap praise on Boris Johnson so he said, “May I begin by thanking everybody involved in the vaccine roll-out? We have now vaccinated 12.6 million people and are on course to vaccinate the first four priority groups by the end of this week. That is a truly amazing achievement.” Then a quick question: “Can the Prime Minister confirm today that the Government will extend business rates relief beyond 31 March?” The PM stole the praise, “I am glad to hear the right hon. and learned Gentleman join in the praise of the vaccine roll-out, which is indeed a tribute to NHS staff, the Army, the volunteers and many, many others. On the right hon. and learned Gentleman’s point about the extension of business rates relief, he knows that this Government are committed to supporting businesses, people and livelihoods throughout the pandemic. That is what we will continue to do, but he should wait until the Budget for the Chancellor to explain exactly what we are going to do.”
The answer was predictable and Starmer must have anticipated this. Perhaps it was just a public warning to remind Rishi Sunak of what was expected of him; more likely it was Keir’s attempt to embellish his ‘pro-business’ credentials. He said, “I think that answer was that the Prime Minister cannot give an answer yet, but hundreds of thousands of businesses are affected by this. The trouble is that businesses do not work as slowly as the Prime Minister, they need an answer now. As the British Chambers of Commerce says, businesses ‘simply can’t wait until the March Budget.’ Let me try another vitally important question for businesses and for millions of working people. Can the Prime Minister confirm today that the furlough scheme will be extended beyond April?”
It was another predictable, ‘not going to answer that now question’ as the PM preferred to keep the working poor in a constant state of anxiety over their income: it was the Tory way. He replied by assuming the mantle of ‘the people’ as if the entire UK population reveled in Tory torture, he replied, “I think most people in this country are aware that we are going through a very serious pandemic in which rates of infection have been steadily brought down thanks to the efforts of the British people. I also think that Members of this House are familiar with the notion that in just a few days we will be setting out a road map for the way out of this pandemic, a road map that I hope the right hon. and learned Gentleman and his colleagues will support, although their support, as we know, tends to be a transitory thing: one week we have it, the next week we do not. He will not have to contain himself for very long.”
Starmer derided the sadism of this tactic saying, “Let me let the Prime Minister into a secret: he can take decisions for himself and he does not need to leave everything to the 11th minute. If I were Prime Minister, I would say to businesses, ‘We will support you now. We will protect jobs now.’ The CBI, the Federation of Small Businesses, the Institute of Directors and the British Chambers of Commerce have all said the same thing: they all say that they cannot wait until the Budget. The Prime Minister may disagree with me, but he is actually disagreeing with businesses. Why does the Prime Minister think he knows better than British business?”
It was more a taunt than a question, but the PM still grasped for the upper hand responding, “Most business people that I have talked to, I have talked to a great many in the past 12 months, would agree that no Government around the world have done more to support business, wrapping our arms around it. I am delighted to hear this enthusiasm for business from the Labour party, which stood on a manifesto to destroy capitalism at the last election and, indeed, to dismantle the very pharmaceutical industry that has provided the vaccines on which we now rely. Will the right hon. and learned Gentleman now repudiate that policy?” The PM was clearly annoyed, Labour could’t steal business support from the Tories, he claimed the Tory ‘death hug’ had enveloped the sector. Had his Trojan horse not understood the dictat to shower praise on the PM for his vaccine victory; he taunted with a question…
Politely omitting the obscenity Starmer replied, “We all know what the Prime Minister once said that he wanted to do to business.” Ouch! Johnson’s past throwaway remark hit hard. Starmer was still courting business, “We on these Benches would rather listen to businesses. We have no decision on business rates, no decision on furlough. Let us try another crucial issue. This time there is no excuse for delaying, because this has to be decided before the March Budget and the Prime Minister does not need to check with the Chancellor, will he now commit to extending the evictions ban on residential properties beyond 21 February?”
Johnson cloaked himself in that failing Tory ‘death hug’ yet again claiming, “I have said repeatedly that what we will do in this Government and throughout this pandemic is put our arms around the British people, support them throughout the pandemic and make sure that they are not unfairly evicted during the pandemic. That is what we will do. What I very much hope that we hear from the right hon. and learned Gentleman is that he has had not only a Damascene conversion to the importance of business, but a Damascene conversion to supporting all the Government’s policies that support business, rather than sniping from the sidelines. Why does he not get behind us and back the Government, back us in our efforts to back business and back the British people?” He was really annoyed; his Trojan horse wasn’t dutifully groveling in praise: PMQs was Johnson’s weekly Tory propaganda splurge!
Starmer sniped, “I am not going to take lectures from a man who not only wrote two versions of every column he ever wrote as a journalist, but proposed Donald Trump for a Nobel peace prize and gave Dominic Cummings a pay rise. Let us go back to the question. Another area where the Prime Minister has repeatedly delayed and now changes his policy pretty well every day is securing our borders against variants of covid. Every week, the Prime Minister comes here and says, ‘We have one of the toughest regimes in the world’. We know that his Home Secretary disagrees with him. We know that the Health Secretary disagrees with him. Luckily, Oxford University keeps track of how tough border restrictions are in every country. It says that there are at least 33 countries around the world that currently have tougher restrictions than the United Kingdom, 33, Prime Minister, including Canada, Denmark, Japan, Israel and many others. In fact, Oxford University says that we are not even in the top bracket of countries for border restrictions.”
Starmer demanded, “It is 50 days after we first discovered the South African variant, 50 days. How does the Prime Minister explain that?” The PM floundered, “There are some countries in Europe that do not even have a hotel quarantine scheme such as the one that we are putting in on Monday. We have among the toughest border regimes anywhere in the world. People should understand that, on a normal day at this time of year, we could expect about 250,000 people to be arriving in this country. We have got it down to about 20,000, 5,000 of whom are involved in bringing vital things into this country, such as medicines and food, as we discussed last week and which the right hon. and learned Gentleman agreed was a good idea. Unless he actually wants to cut this country off from the rest of the world, which, last week, I think he said that he did not want to do, unless of course he has changed his mind again, I think that this policy is measured, it is proportionate, and it is getting tougher from Monday. I hope that he supports it.”
Emphasizing unanswered queries Starmer said, “The truth is this: the Prime Minister is failing to give security to British businesses and he is failing to secure our borders. The Prime Minister often complains that we never put forward constructive proposals, so here are two for him: support businesses and protect jobs now by extending furlough, business rates relief and VAT cuts for hospitality; and, secondly, secure our borders with a comprehensive hotel quarantine on arrival. No more delays: will he do it?” Defensively Johnson replied, “We have just announced the quarantine policy, which, as I have said to the House, is among the toughest in the world and certainly tougher than most other European countries. I am delighted that the right hon. and learned Gentleman is now supporting business, not a policy for which he was famous before, in his latest stunt of bandwagoneering. He has moved from one side of the debate to the other throughout this crisis.”
Then Johnson strayed into territory he really should have avoided considering the shocking track record of his Tory Party with regard to profiteering from the Covid pandemic with their costly untendered private contracts siphoning off public funds to enrich Tory donors. The PM quoted a poorly expressed comment from a Labour MP, “Some people have said that this is a ‘good crisis’. Some people have said that this crisis is ‘a gift that keeps on giving’. Those people sit on the Labour Front Bench. It is disgraceful that they should say those things.” Johnson failed to recognize the hypocrisy of his criticism; he needed to plug his one success and keep it front and centre at PMQs. He said, “This is one of the biggest challenges that this country has faced since the second world war and, thanks to one of the fastest vaccine roll-outs anywhere in the world, it is a challenge that this country can meet and is meeting. I believe that this vaccine roll-out programme is something that this House and this country should be very proud of.”
Tory Julian Smith rescued the agenda by ‘stroking’ with praise, “I thank the Prime Minister for the decisions he took last year that have meant that the vaccine programme is in such a good position this week. Despite that success, it is vital that the programme keeps pace with the changing variants. Will he update the House on where the UK stands on ensuring that the UK supply chain is in place and that we do not get behind as the virus mutates?” Relieved to hear his praise back on track the PM gratefully replied, “My right hon. Friend asks an extremely important question. We recently announced an agreement for 50 million doses with the manufacturer CureVac because we believe that that may help us to develop vaccines that can respond at scale to new variants of the virus. As the House will have heard from the chief medical officer, the deputy chief medical officer and others, I think we are going to have to get used to the idea of vaccinating and then revaccinating in the autumn as we come to face these new variants.”
The Speaker broke in to cut short Boris’s bragging, “Let us head up to Ross, Skye and Lochaber with the Scottish National party’s Westminster leader, Ian Blackford.” He asked, “New research from the Joseph Rowntree Foundation and the baby bank charity Little Village has revealed that 1.3 million children under five in the United Kingdom are living in poverty. That is a truly shocking figure that should make this Tory Government utterly ashamed. The Scottish National party has repeatedly called for a financial package to boost household incomes and reverse this Tory child poverty crisis. The Prime Minister has the power to tackle child poverty right now by making the £20 uplift to universal credit permanent and extending it to legacy benefits. The Tory Government have been stalling on this for months. Will the Prime Minister finally act, or will he leave millions of children out in the cold?”
Demonstrating no shame, contrition or empathy Boris Johnson disgracefully appealed for unwarranted praise for his corrupt Tory Government’s cruel and utterly shambolic policy decisions that continue to drive more of the working poor into destitution as he abandons his most vital duty as PM, to protect vulnerable children. Boris bragged, “The whole House and this country should be proud of the way in which we have tried to look after people, the poorest and neediest families throughout the country, not just with universal credit, which the Opposition would actually abolish, but by helping vulnerable people with their food and heating bills through the £170 million winter grant scheme, and looking after people with the free school meal vouchers. As I have said before, we will put our arms around the people of the entire country throughout the pandemic.” Oh please, could you quit the ‘death hugs?
Blackford was stunned replying, “I have to say that that was pathetic, that was no answer. We are talking about 1.3 million children under five in poverty. Let me quote: ‘She cried on her doorstep because I gave her nappies, wipes and winter clothes for her child. I went away with a lump in my throat.’ Those are the words of Emilie, a baby bank worker who is supporting families that the Tories have pushed into poverty through a decade of cuts. They do not need more empty words from a Prime Minister who simply does not care enough to act. This morning, a new report from Citizens Advice Scotland warned that Tory cuts could reduce the value of universal credit by as much as a quarter, just when people need that money the most. Will the Prime Minister agree to meet me and other Opposition parties ahead of the Budget for an urgent summit on tackling child poverty, or will he be yet another Tory Prime Minister who leaves a generation of children languishing in poverty?”
Johnson’s ice cold heart would not thaw as he responded in stark denial of the facts, “I must say that I reject entirely what the right hon. Gentleman has just said. I do not believe that any Government could have done more to help the people of this country throughout this pandemic, and we will continue to do so. Yes, of course we bitterly lament and reject the poverty that some families unquestionably suffer. It is tragic that too many families have had a very tough time during the pandemic, but we will continue to support them in all the ways that we have set out. I may say to the right hon. Gentleman that there is a profound philosophical difference between him and me; the Scottish nationalist party is morphing into an ever more left-wing party that believes…”
Despite his childishly repeated snub of misnaming the Scotish National Party yet again, as he baited them for their leftist leanings in expecting him to care about poor children who were on the brink of starvation, he was interrupted two of their MPs, as both David Linden and Patrick Grady who proudly cheared, “Hear, hear!” But Boris Johnson shamefully blundered on saying, “There you go, Mr Speaker. They believe fundamentally that it is the duty of the taxpayer to pay for more and more and more.” Better to squander taxpayer money on Trident why not? Ignoring the inevitable fact that unemployment would rise due to the joint crisis of Covid compounded by Brexit, the PM had the gall to say, “We want to get people into jobs, and it is in that respect that the Scottish nationalist party is, I am afraid, failing…” He was again interrupted by Speaker Lynsey Hoyle, “Order. Prime Minister, we both know that you are only teasing and trying to wind up the leader of the SNP; please, let’s drop it. Let us move on, because Lee Anderson is waiting for you.”
Lee Anderson hailed a pet Tory project, “A new freeport for the east midlands will create over 60,000 new jobs and provide a massive boost for employers such as Caunton Engineering and Abacus in Ashfield. After decades of neglect from Labour MPs, we now feel a sense of hope in the red wall seats. My mum and dad voted Conservative for the first time at the last general election and were touched when the Prime Minister acknowledged that their votes were lent. Could my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister please reassure my mum and dad, my friends, my family and all my constituents that our area will never be let down again?” The unregulated Freeports would facilitate Tory exploitation and hide their ill-gotten gains within the UK. The PM said, “Absolutely,” and thanked his Tory colleague for reinforcing the ‘Borrowed votes’ lie of the stole Covert 2019 Rigged Election; it was a chance to brag about his deceitfully fake agenda of austerity, ‘Decimating Down’ on the poor, disgustingly rebranded with the ‘Lev…up’ Lie.
Johnson had wanted to double-down on that vile deception by claiming the fictitious Tory commitment was, “absolutely rock solid throughout this country,” but the Speaker had perfected a cut off technique that rivaled the mute button as once again he abruptly forced the PM to shut up! Hoyle said, “Let us head to Meirionnydd with Liz Saville Roberts” who began with a few words in Welsh, “Diolch yn fawr iawn, Lleferydd. As we just heard, the Government claim to have a levelling-up agenda underpinned by a research and development road map. The trouble is that the Tories’ track record on this is not good: in fact, it is abysmal. Wales receives the lowest R&D spend per person of the four nations, at around 40% of spend per head in England, and Westminster’s obsession with the golden triangle of Oxford, Cambridge and London shows no sign of abating. Will the Prime Minister now commit to a further devolved R&D funding settlement to the Senedd, or is he content for Westminster’s road map to be Wales’s road to nowhere?”
There was more denial from Johnson as he said, “I am afraid that I think that the right hon. Lady is doing Wales down, the people of Wales down and the ingenuity of Wales down, because I think about a quarter of the airline passengers in the world are borne aloft on wings made by the Welsh aerospace sector. Bridgend is going to be one of the great centres of battery manufacturing in this country, if not the world. Wales is at the cutting edge of technology under this Government’s plans for record spending on R&D, £22 billion by the end of this Parliament and Wales, along with the whole of the rest of the UK, will benefit massively.”
Labour MP Yasmin Qureshi reinforced the reality of Tory lies, “This Government said that no council would be suffering as a result of the pandemic, and the Chancellor said that he would do everything, ‘whatever it takes,’ to help them. Yet Tory-controlled Bolton Council has just announced £35 million of cuts in towns and an increase in the council tax budget of 3.8%. Can the Prime Minister assure my constituents and my town that that money will be given to them, or will this join a long list of Tory failed promises?” Still determined to praise Tory failures the PM replied, “I want to congratulate the great Conservative-controlled council of Bolton on everything that it is doing and continuing to do throughout this pandemic to look after the people of Bolton. I know what incredible work the local officials do, and I thank them very much for it. Since we believe so strongly in local government, as a creature of local government myself, I am proud that we have invested £4.6 billion in supporting local government just so far in this pandemic.”
Lib Dem MP Layla Moran said, “It is estimated that up to 400,000 people are living with the debilitating effects of long covid, and some of them are NHS heroes, who caught covid in that first wave.” Highlighting the case of one Doctor she declared it should be recognised as “an occupational disease,” and she requested, “a compensation scheme similar to what we offer our armed forces, so that we ensure that those who have lost their livelihoods by saving lives are fully supported?” Ignoring the responsibility his own Tory Government played in failing to protect NHS staff with adequate levels of PPE, Johnson said, “I thank the hon. Lady, because she is right to highlight the incredible sacrifice and effort of NHS staff, many of whom, sadly, have contracted covid in the course of their duties…” With no solid commitment to compensate the PM made another unlikely empty pledge, “We must study the long-term effects of covid and ensure that we continue to look after our wonderful NHS staff throughout their careers.”
Tory Julian Sturdy banged the drum for getting children back to school with no mention of safety or readiness in his ask. When Tories rant about, “the damaging effects of being away from school” they fail to even consider how many are trying to learn while severely debilitated by hunger. Despite any ongoing risks, the PM confirmed his determination, “if we possibly can,” force kids back into unsafe classrooms by the 8th of March. They will drive a new wave of mutant Covid! Tory Sovereign Dictator Johnson announced that, “in the week of 22 February, we will be setting out a road map and the way forward for schools. We have to make sure that we keep this virus under control. It is coming down, but we cannot take our foot off its throat.” Sadly Boris Johnson’s Tory boot remains firmly stomped on the throats of the working poor of this country, choking the life out of us all! We must protest the ongoing neglect and injustice, challenge and demand full Investigation of the rampant Tory corruption to remove them from office. DO NOT MOVE ON!