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Despite the shocking events of the past week Boris Johnson sounded upbeat as he waded into a potentially scathing session of Prime Minister’s questions by jovially “wishing everyone a very happy St Patrick’s day. I was delighted to visit Northern Ireland last week where I was able to thank military and emergency response teams for their brilliant work throughout the covid-19 pandemic.” Tory MP Simon Fell lamented that “A decade ago, GlaxoSmithKline announced a £350 million investment in my constituency, which would have led to 1,000 jobs. In 2017, it reneged on that, and a few weeks ago it announced that it is closing its business altogether. We have gone from the very real prospect of having 1,000 high-paying, high-skilled pharma jobs in my constituency to the risk of having none by 2025.” I wonder why? Could it be just one of the negative consequences of Brexit…? The PM blathered on “Bioscience is one of the great growth areas for this country in the future… take part in that boom… other high technologies.”
After St Patrick’s Day wishes Starmer said, “My thoughts, and I am sure those across the whole House, are with the family and friends of Sarah Everard, who will be suffering unspeakable grief. There are five words that will stick with us for a very long time: she was just walking home. Sometimes, a tragedy is so shocking that it demands both justice and change. The Stephen Lawrence case showed the poison of structural and institutional racism. The James Bulger case made us question the nature of our society and the safety of our children. Now the awful events of the last week have lifted a veil on the epidemic of violence against women and girls. This must also be a watershed moment, to change how we as a society treat women and girls, and how we prevent and end sexual violence and harassment. I believe that, if we work together, we can achieve that, and the questions I ask today are in that spirit. First does the Prime Minister agree that this must be a turning point in how we tackle violence against women and girls?”
Given the gravity of use of force at the vigil this was a weak request; the PM said “Yes I do, and I associate myself fully with the remarks that the right hon. and learned Gentleman has made about the appalling murder of Sarah Everard. I am sure that those emotions are shared in this House and around the country. That event has triggered a reaction that I believe is wholly justified and understandable, and of course we in government are doing everything that we can. We are investing in the Crown Prosecution Service, trying to speed up the law; we are changing the law on domestic violence, and many, many other things. But the right hon. and learned Gentleman is right, frankly, that unless and until we have a change in our culture that acknowledges and understands that women currently do not feel they are being heard, we will not fix this problem. That is what we must do. We need a cultural and social change in attitudes to redress the balance. That is what I believe all politicians must now work together to achieve.”
Starmer groveled “I thank the Prime Minister for that answer. In that spirit, can I turn to the practical challenges we face if we are collectively to rise to this moment? The first challenge is that many, many women and girls feel unsafe on our streets, particularly at night. What is needed is legal protection. That is why we have called for a specific new law on street harassment and for toughening the law on stalking. Both, I think, are absolutely vital if we are going to make meaningful changes in the everyday experiences of women and girls. So can the Prime Minister commit to taking both of those measures forward?” The PM replied “We are always happy to look at new proposals. What we are already doing is introducing tougher sanctions on stalkers. That is already being brought in and we are bringing in new measures to make the streets safer. Of course that is the right thing to do. Last night there was a Bill before the House on police, crime and sentencing, which did a lot to protect women and girls. It would have been good, in a cross-party way, to have had the support of the Opposition.”
Starmer said “I will come to last night’s Bill later, but it did say a lot more about protecting statues than it did about protecting women. Let me, if I may, given the gravity of the situation, continue in the spirit so far. I thank the Prime Minister for his answer. The next practical challenge is that many, many women and girls who are subjected to sexual violence do not feel confident to come forward and report what has happened to them. Nine out of 10 do not do so. We have to improve the support that is provided for victims. The Victims’ Commissioner published a report last month with 32 recommendations about this. This week, Labour produced a detailed survivor support plan, and five years ago I introduced a private Member’s Bill, with cross-party support, for a victims’ law to give legally enforceable rights to victims. The shadow victims Minister, my hon. Friend the Member for Hove (Peter Kyle), has tabled a similar victims’ Bill that is before Parliament now. It is ready to go. All it needs is the political will to act.”
Starmer asked “So will the Prime Minister commit now not just to the idea of a victims’ law, which I think he supports, but to a tight timetable, of ideally six months or so, to actually implement such a law? The PM replied “As I say, I would be very happy to look at new proposals from all sides of the House on this issue. That is why we are conducting an end-to-end review of the law on rape and how it works, and investing in the criminal justice system to speed up cases and give women and girls the confidence they need. The point the right hon. and learned Gentleman makes about victims and their need to feel confident in coming forward is absolutely right. That is why we have put £100 million so far into services for dealing with violence against women and girls, particularly independent domestic violence advisers and independent sexual violence advisers. I do not pretend that these are the entire solution; they are part of the solution. It is also vital that we have long-term cultural, societal change to deal with this issue.”
Starmer said “I agree with the Prime Minister on that last point. Can I gently remind him that for 10 years this Government have been promising a victims’ law? I think it has been in his party’s last three manifestos. It still has not materialized. We do not need more reviews, consultations, strategies. The conversations our shadow Minister is having with Government, constructive conversations, are exactly the same conversations that I had five years ago: constructive conversations. We just need now to get on with it. Let me press on with the practical challenges. The next challenge is this. For many, many women and girls who do come forward to report sexual violence, no criminal charges are brought. Only 1.5% of rapes reported to the police lead to a prosecution. Put the other way, 98.5% of reported rapes do not lead to a prosecution. That is a shocking statistic. I appreciate that efforts are being made to improve the situation, but can the Prime Minister tell us: what is he going to do about this not in a few years’ time, not next year, but now?”
Had Boris expected a more vigorous attack? Starmer was delivering the kid-glove accommodating, zero opposition treatment, the PM replied “The right hon. and learned Gentleman is entirely right. I agree with him; one of the first things I said when I became Prime Minister was that I believed that the prosecution rates for rape were a disgrace in this country. We need to sort it out. That is why we are investing in confidence-building measures, such as ISVAs and IDVAs, and investing in the Crown Prosecution Service in trying to speed up the process of the law to give people confidence that their cases will be heard in due time. We are also doing what we can to toughen the penalties for those men, I am afraid it is overwhelmingly men, who commit these crimes. I think it would have been a good thing if, last night, the whole House could have voted for tougher sentences for those who commit sexual and violent offenses and to stop people from being released early. In that collegiate spirit, I ask him to work together with us.”
Starmer boasted “I was Director of Public Prosecutions for five years and spent every day prosecuting serious crime, including terrorism, sexual violence and rape, so I really do not need lectures about how to enforce the criminal law. Walking on through the system, as many women and girls have to do, and facing up to the challenges that we need to face as a House, the next challenge is the point that the Prime Minister just referenced, the sentences for rape and sexual violence, because they need to be toughened. Let me give the House three examples. John Patrick, convicted of raping a 13-year-old girl, received a seven-year sentence. Orlando and Costanzo, who were convicted of raping a woman in a nightclub, received a seven-and-a-half-year sentence. James Reeve, convicted of raping a seven-year-old girl, received a nine-year sentence. Does the Prime Minister agree that we need urgently to look at this and to toughen sentences for rape and serious sexual violence?”
If there was a giant bear trap Starmer just blundered into it! Johnson crowed “Would it not be a wonderful thing if there was a Bill going through the House of Commons that did exactly that? Would it not be a wonderful thing if there were measures to defend women and girls from violence and sex criminals? Would it not be a wonderful thing if there was a Bill before the House to have tougher sentences for child murderers and tougher punishments for sex offenders? That would be a fine thing. As it happens, there is such a Bill before the House. I think it would be a great thing if the right hon. and learned Gentleman had actually voted for it. He still has time. This Bill is still before the House. He can lift his opposition. They actually voted against it on a three-line Whip and I think that was crazy.” It was also targeting Gypsies for ethnic cleansing, criminalizing protests and all in all the most aggressive assault on our civil liberties in decades, but who reads through the fine print in the Tories toxic legislation?
Keir Starmer plodded on unruffled by gravity of the horrendous Policing Bill being rammed through Parliament he said “The Prime Minister mentions the Bill last night. That provided for longer maximum sentences for damaging a memorial than the sentences imposed in the three cases of rape I have referred the House to, which were all less than 10 years. I thank the Prime Minister for providing me with the best examples of why the priorities in his Bill were so wrong. Nothing in that Bill would have increased the length of sentence in any of those rape cases, nothing in that Bill. Let me try to return to the constructive spirit, because I think that is demanded of all of us. If this House came together on the points raised today, and there has been agreement across the Dispatch Boxes, it would make a real difference to victims of crime. This week, Labour published a 10-point plan. We published a victims’ law. In coming days, we are going to publish amendments in relation to the criminal justice system to make it work better.”
Starmer’s constructive spirit should be confined to a few drams at the bar but he continued his tedious groveling saying “I do not expect the Prime Minister to agree with all of this and, frankly, I do not care if this becomes a Government Bill or Conservative legislation. All I care about is whether we make progress, so will the Prime Minister meet me, the shadow Home Secretary, my right hon. Friend the Member for Torfaen (Nick Thomas-Symonds), my hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Yardley (Jess Phillips) and victims’ groups, who have spent many years campaigning on this, so that we can really and truly make this a turning point?” Relieved to see his faithful Trojan horse behaving so well that day Johnson said “I am grateful to the right hon. and learned Gentleman for the collegiate way in which he is addressing this and the way in which he is reaching out across the Chamber. I think that is entirely right in the circumstances, but I do think that he should not misrepresent what the Bill was trying to do.”
The PM continued “The average sentence for rape is already nine years and nine months, as he knows full well, and the maximum sentence is already life. What we are trying to do is stiffen the sentences for a variety of offenses to protect women and girls and others, and that is entirely the right thing to do. We will go on with our agenda to deliver on the people’s priorities, rolling out more police, 7,000 we have already, investing in ISVAs and IDVAs and doing our utmost to accelerate the grinding processes of the criminal justice system, which, as he rightly says, are such a deterrent to women coming forward to complain as they rightly should. Until we sort out that fundamental problem, and until women feel that their voices are being heard and their complaints are being addressed by society, we will not fix this problem. I warmly welcome what he suggests about wanting to fix it together, and I hope that, in that spirit, he can bring himself to vote for the tougher sentences that we have set out.” ]
At this point the Speaker interjected “We have to be a little bit careful, because nobody would misrepresent anyone in this House.” You could have fooled me. At a later point in PMQs the Speaker called ‘Order’ to clarify that “The hon. Lady just said ‘you.’ We cannot use ‘you’. I am not responsible for this,” despite the fact that ‘you’ was clearly aimed at the PM. I continue to take offense at the extraordinary scope the Speaker allows Boris Johnson in his expansive bragging that includes blatant lies. At the same time it violates the rules on the House of Commons to actually call out another MP for lying in the Chamber, (not to mention disrespectfully sprawling across the green benches!) This flaw in the system gives televised Parliamentary credence to Johnson’s pervasive lies.
After a grateful plug from Tory Steve Double thanking the PM “for bringing the G7 leaders’ summit to Cornwall this summer” the SNP Leader Ian Blackford also joined in wishing everyone a happy St Patrick’s day. He then unleashed his wrath on the PM, this is what opposition looks like Starmer! He said “Across Scotland this week, a tale of two Governments with two very different sets of values has again been exposed. Yesterday, the Scottish National party Government passed landmark legislation that will put the UN convention on the rights of the child into Scots law, putting children at the vanguard of children’s rights. In contrast, we have a UK Government who have to be shamed into providing free school meals, who will clap for nurses but will not give them a fair wage, and who plow billions into a nuclear arsenal that sits redundant on the Clyde. Does the Prime Minister understand that the Scottish people are best served by a Government who live up to their values, a Government who prioritize bairns not bombs?”
Once again Johnson arrogantly claimed to be speaking for the majority of Scotts as he said “I think what the people of Scotland need and deserve is a Government who tackle the problems of education in Scotland, a Government who address themselves to fighting crime and drug addiction in Scotland, and a Government who can wean themselves off their addiction to constitutional change and constitutional argument, because they seem, in the middle of a pandemic when the country is trying to move forward together, to be obsessed with nothing else, nothing else, but breaking up the country and a reckless referendum.” Blackford tried to remind Johnson that “Of course, this is Prime Minister’s questions, and maybe the Prime Minister might, just once, try to answer the question that is put to him. We are talking about a Tory plan to impose a 40% increase in nuclear warheads” The Speaker has given up reprimanding Boris for this repeated transgression.
Blackford said “Our children have the right to a future that no longer lives under the shadow of these weapons of mass destruction. As the Irish President said on this St Patrick’s day, we need to find ways to make peace, not war. Every single one of those weapons will be based on the Clyde, so can the Prime Minister tell us exactly when the Scottish people gave him the moral or democratic authority to impose those weapons of mass destruction on our soil in Scotland?” They have every right to be outraged, but Johnson still tried to claim their support “The people of Scotland contribute enormously to the health, happiness, wellbeing and security of the entire country, not least through their contribution to our science, our defenses, our international aid and in many other ways. I am very proud that this Government are investing record sums in defense, including maintaining our nuclear defense, which is absolutely vital for our long-term security, and helping, thereby, to drive jobs not just in Scotland, but across the UK.”
Tory Nick Fletcher started winging about not being one of the favored Tory constituencies to be blessed with a fanciful promise of a new Hospital, “among the first 40 hospitals promised in the manifesto,” he went on to allude to the latest expansion of the PMs empty pledge re “building of a further eight specialist hospitals.” Johnson fed into this illusion by telling him Doncaster was “very much in the running in the current open competition for the next eight hospitals, on top of the 40 that we are already building.” They say if you are going to lie, make it a very big lie and Boris really knows how to present some whopping Porkies, but no one in the UK Media is demanding the details on these elusive 40 new Hospitals, no one is calling him out on whether they are real or not.
Green Party MP Caroline Lucas packs a hefty punch when she crams a massive opposition rebuke into her fast-paced question of the PM. She said “The creation of a no-protest zone around Parliament, a 266% increase from a maximum of three months to 11 months’ imprisonment for protest organizers, a direct attack on the Gypsy, Roma and Traveler community, up to 10 years in prison for any offense committed by destroying or damaging a memorial, and criminalizing people for taking part in protests where they ought to have known police conditions were in place. Does the Prime Minister agree that if the UK is to be a force for good in a world where democracy is ‘in retreat’, as the Foreign Secretary is saying today, it needs to start at home with the protection of the long-standing, precious and fundamental right to peaceful protest, which is a cornerstone of liberal democracy?” Can you imagine how badly she could decimate the Tories if they allowed our Geen Party Leader to as six questions in a row?
The PM defensively replied “The hon. Lady is quite right to stick up for peaceful protest, and I understand and sympathize with that, but there are a couple of points. First, we are facing a pandemic in which, alas, we have to restrict human contact,” he halted in response to Lucas’s gesture of disgust over this no longer valid excuse to prohibit well-organized Covid safe events like this weekend’s prohibited vigil. He continued “Although the hon. Lady shakes her head, I think the people of this country do understand that and do understand the restrictions we are now under. I think we also have to strike a balance between the need to allow peaceful protests to go ahead, and we do on a huge scale in this country, and the need to protect free speech and vital parts of the UK economy.” He was referring to the right for the police to support Corporate thugs in bullying the public into silence. Tory Andrew Jones was quick to leap to the defense of the new powers Tories voted for in the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill.
What a pity men dominated PMQ when the focus was on the plight of women but Labour MP Charlotte Nichols weighed in saying “With the Government’s end-to-end rape review remaining unpublished, two years after it was promised, rape conviction rates having fallen to their lowest point on record and almost 90% of sexual harassment complaints not even reported to the police, women are increasingly being left without legal recourse against sexual violence. I have parliamentary privilege and can name the men who have hurt me, but millions of women in this country do not have that. Women are stuck between a criminal justice system in which only 1.4% of reported offenses result in charges being laid and too many survivors who speak out being pursued through the civil courts by their abusers to silence them. Can the Prime Minister advise how they are meant to get justice?”
The PM’s shameless reply was to say “I am afraid that the hon. Lady is completely right, and I know that she speaks for many women up and down the country. We can do all the things we have talked about, two men arguing over the Dispatch Box. We can bring in more laws and tougher sentences, which I hope she will support. We can support independent domestic violence and sexual violence advisers. We can do all that kind of thing, but we have to address the fundamental issue of the casual everyday sexism and apathy that fail to address the concerns of women. That is the underlying issue.” The Tories decimated legal aid while raising the bar for rape prosecution eligibility, but they have also disproportionately targeted women with austerity cuts. After a decade long assault, punishing the most impoverished families, no one can convince me that women voted for their children to starve to secure the fake Tory ‘landslide victory’ in the Covert 2019 Rigged Election: demand a robust Investigation of the result! DO NOT MOVE ON!