WESTMINSTER (Labour Buzz) - For the last PMQs of 2020 Starmer compiled the greatest hits of Johnson’s failures over the pandemic. He had plenty of ammunition to help him. From a late lockdown to the antics of Dominic Cummings, the government has lurched from one misstep to another.
But it was a surprising set of rules from a local Conservative party which stole the show.
It was with his final question of the session that Starmer delivered his most devastating blow. With Johnson going against the advice of the scientists and the devolved authorities, he asked whose advice he was following.
Then he gave an answer producing a remarkable leaflet sent by Wellingborough’s Conservative party about how to deal with difficult questions.
“Say the first thing which comes into your head,” he said, as giggles rippled around the chamber.
“It will probably be nonsense, and you may get a bad headline, but if you make enough dubious claims fast enough you can get away with it.”
The giggles became outright laughter as he continued.
“Sometimes it’s better to give the wrong answer at the right time rather than the right answer later,” recited Starmer.
What he wanted to know was whether Johnson was the inspiration of the advice or its author.
Saying the wrong thing
Speaking of saying the wrong thing, Johnson managed a personal best of being proven wrong even as he was speaking.
The was unanimity, said Johnson, among the devolved authorities, about what the government was doing. This was almost instantly refuted when Wales announced it would reduce Christmas bubbles from three households to two with a level 4 lockdown following immediately afterwards on the 28th.
Scotland’s First Minister Nicola Sturgeon has also suggested Scotland may diverge from its neighbour down south. Not for the first time, then, Johnson’s statements had veered from reality. However, it might be the first time that events were proving him wrong even as the nonsense was leaving his mouth.
A year of failure
Elsewhere the session looked back at some of the biggest failures of 2020 and there are plenty to choose from. Starmer took Johnson back to the start of the year as he resisted calls for a lockdown even as evidence from across Europe and medical experts suggested it would be inevitable.
He recalled how Johnson insisted a lockdown would be a disaster before sticking it on the table and voting for it a short time later.
Johnson’s slowness to respond, Starmer said, had led to “more deaths, a longer lockdown and a worse economic downturn.”
For those who won’t take his word for it, he even offered up the office for budgetary responsibility which said: “Britain locked down later and longer than neighbours and experienced a slower economic recovery.”
“Why does the Prime Minister think that Britain, the sixth richest country in the world, ends 2020 with one of the highest numbers of COVID deaths in Europe and the deepest recession of any major economy,” asked Starmer.
According to the latest analysis, Britain has suffered the second-worst economic downturn in the developed world. Only Argentina has recently edged ahead of us.
Next up was the Prime Minister’s erstwhile special adviser Dominic Cummings. “Another mistake had been losing public trust,” Starmer said, “and we all know what the tipping point was, the 500-mile round trip to Barnard Castle.”
With news emerging that Cummings had got a pay rise, how could he justify it.
The news feels even worse when we look back to Cummings’ work with Vote Leave. Back then he was railing against the elite and specifically what they were being paid. Nobody, he said, should ever be paid more than £100,000. The revelation that he himself took around £140,000 will, unfortunately, come as no surprise to anyone familiar with the machinations of this government.
Johnson attempted to pivot back to his old safety zone, of attacking Starmer’s reluctance to take a position.
However, Starmer shot back pointing out that Johnson had repeatedly made the same mistakes time after time, throughout this virus riddled year. Labour had warned cases would rise in Tier 2 and Tier 3 and that’s exactly what has happened.
A humiliating performance
There is one thing missing from this review, and that’s the responses from the Prime Minister. The truth is there weren’t any. Other Prime Ministers have ducked questions before; some might have been a little inventive with their answers. Johnson refused to acknowledge the existence of the questions at all.
Pressed on the UK’s disastrous record, Dominic Cummings and his repeated failure to heed expert advice, he instead dug into the guidance for Wellingborough’s local Conservatives and spouted the first thing which came into his head. As predicted, it sounded like nonsense, but saying the wrong thing at the right time didn’t help him.
It’s tempting for a site which sits very firmly in the red part of the political sphere to celebrate in such a one-sided fiasco. Unfortunately, very quickly comes the realisation that this turnip in human form makes decisions which affect all of us. As the experts say, his refusal to take leadership and listen to the experts is likely to cost lives over the Christmas period and cause immeasurable hardship.
The harsh truth is this government is heading into 2021 like Thelma and Louise who have just spotted an inviting looking cliff. And we’re all going along for the ride.
(Written by Tom Cropper, edited by Klaudia Fior)