Starmer Presses Johnson on Lesson Learned

With Starmer self-isolating it was a virtual leader of the opposition who took on the Prime Minister, but the result was more of the same.

FILE PHOTO: British Prime Minister Boris Johnson holds a media briefing on the coronavirus pandemic in Downing Street, London, Britain January 15, 2021. Dominic Lipinski/PA Wire/Pool via REUTERS
Bywire - Claim your free account nowBywire - Claim your free account now

LONDON (Labour Buzz) - For this week’s PMQs we’re changing the format a bit. The exchange has often been likened to a boxing match and as Johnson’s suggestions to take the virus on the chin shows, he loves a sporting analogy. In keeping with that, we’ll score PMQs in the same way. 

Each of the six questions counts as a round. We’ll award one point for anyone who lands a blow in a round and two points if anyone lands what we’d consider a knockout. 

So, with Johnson in the blue corner and Starmer in the red, it’s seconds away and….

Round one 

Predictably Starmer’s first focus was the grim milestone of 100,000 deaths from COVID 19. This, he pointed out, is about more than just the numbers. “Behind every death is a grieving family,” he said. 

“The question on everyone’s lips this morning is ‘why?’ Why does he think the UK has ended up with the highest death toll in Europe?

Johnson repeated his line from yesterday that he takes responsibility for all actions he had taken. However, he said, now is not the time. What the country wants is for us to ‘come together,’ he said.   

Verdict: one point to Starmer.

Johnson didn’t have the ‘common decency’ as Starmer put it to give an answer. This is not a question of points scoring, it’s about lessons which can be learned to ensure Johnson’s handling of this crisis is not as catastrophic in 2021 as it was in 2020. Johnson isn’t interested in learning lessons until it’s too late which is no good for anyone.  

Round two: Going early 

With Johnson not answering, Starmer turned to the chief scientific officer who had done so. Yesterday Patrick Vallance said: “The lesson is go earlier than you think you want to, go harder than you think you want to, and go a bit broader than you think you want to in terms of applying the restrictions.”

Starmer asked if Johnson agrees. 

Johnson went into the boxing equivalent of a clinch, getting his head down and trying to avoid the punch. 

“When you have a new virus and a new variant when you have dilemmas as hard and heavy as the government has had to face,” he said. “There are no easy answers.”

Score: Draw. 

Johnson didn’t answer the question, but when does he ever. However, his point that ‘there are no easy answers’ is valid. So, we’ll give him the benefit of the doubt. 

Round 3 

Next up was the question of the border. Last week Starmer hauled the Prime Minister over the coals over his refusal to listen to his Home Secretary’s advice to close the borders. This week he did it again. The government kept these borders open, he said, for far too long given that there are variants coming into the UK from overseas and we don’t know the route. 

Johnson tried to claim that the UK had some of the strictest restrictions in the world. He pointed to the upcoming announcement from Priti Patel where she was expected to announce quarantine restrictions against all red list countries. 

Score: One point each 

Johnson is a little on the ropes on this one, but there wasn’t a sense that Starmer landed a killer blow, particularly because some of his past statements have not been strong enough to say, ‘I told you so.’ Johnson will have thought he landed a punch by pointing to the comments from the Shadow Transport Minister, but Starmer correctly points out that these criticisms are coming not from him, but from his own Home Secretary.  

Round 4: Vaccinating teachers 

Starmer returned to schools for the next round, asking if Johnson would commit to vaccinating teachers once the most vulnerable had been given the jab. 

Johnson’s response was odd, even by his own standards. He tried to turn things back on Starmer, demanding to hear a statement from the leader of the opposition about whether or not he thought the schools were safe. 

This is an odd line of attack to take at a time when the schools are closed because they are not safe. Johnson is attempting to drive a wedge between Starmer and the teachers union. But in doing so he makes himself look rather silly. 

Score: Point to Starmer

This goes down as a point for Starmer, not because he landed a punch effectively, but because Johnson’s answer was so ridiculous. Johnson is effectively saying Schools are safe but are closed. He ended up effectively punching himself in the face. 

Round 5: Remote learning 

Starmer kept punching away at schools to good effect. While they were closed, he said, it was the government’s duty to ensure every pupil had everything they needed to learn from home. However, more than a year into the pandemic that had not happened. 

One in three parents, said Starmer, said they did not have enough laptops and computers at home to learn. 400,000 children could not get online to learn.

“Does he know how angry families are and how does he intend to get to grips with it?”

Johnson muttered something about understanding their frustrations before promising new announcements of support to come. However, once again he tried to demand Starmer state schools are safe and once again he sounded silly doing it. Lindsey Hoyle stepped in to remind Johnson that it was Prime Minister’s Questions and not the other way around.  

Score: Two points to Starmer. 

It’ll be a rule of these reviews going forward that any time the speaker has to intervene to put one of the leaders in the right direction it’ll be an automatic point against him. Johnson, though, suffers a second set back because one again he tried to urge Starmer to make a nonsensical claim about schools and once again the punch landed on his own face. 

(Written by Tom Cropper, edited by Klaudia Fior)

Bywire will email you from time to time with news digests, stories & opportunities to get involved. Privacy

Bywire - Claim your free account nowBywire - Claim your free account now