It is the halfway point of the week. When Wednesday is over, we are closer to the weekend. Closer to freedom. Are we all trapped in an infinite cycle, wishing our lives away for nuggets of recreation? Are we forever stretching to the future and disregarding the present moment? Perhaps.
But perhaps not, if you are one of the leaders of the two main political parties. If you are, then Wednesday represents the point in the week when – as Prime Minister – you defend your week in politics to the hilt, or – as the leader of the opposition – fight hard to scrutinise power and discredit the PM’s actions. It’s Prime Minister’s Questions day, of course.
“I wish I was with you in the Commons chamber” - Johnson, 1/10
Starmer immediately challenged Johnson for his u-turn on self isolation. When he was originally notified that he had been in contact with Sajid Javid, who has coronavirus, Johnson said he had been selected to participate in a trial in which he would be tested daily rather than isolate.
People were furious and said he was following one rule for himself while issuing different rules for the general population and so he swiftly backtracked.
Regardless, of course Johnson isn’t sat at Chequers wishing he was seeing Starmer in person.
Johnson says you should self isolate if you are advised to do so. So why was his first instinct to dodge the rules? @Keir_Starmer #PMQs
“The British people are trying to follow the rules. How can they when his ministers keep making them up as they go along?” - Starmer, 7/10
Starmer referenced times in which government ministers have contradicted each other about the NHS app, which tells people if they have been in contact with coronavirus and need to self-isolate.
Lord Grimstone of Boscobel stressed in a letter to one large employer that the app was only an “advisory tool” and that people were not under any “legal duty” to isolate because of it, The Times reported.
Meanwhile, business minister Paul Scully said self-isolating after being told to by the app was a decision for individuals and employers.
Starmer urged Johnson to issue a clear and consistent message, and it was important for him to do so.
A good summary from @Keir_Starmer in his question to the PM: "The British people are trying to follow the rules. Ho… https://t.co/eDkxOCVqIR
“Everything might be calm for the PM in his country retreat... we are heading for a summer of chaos.” - Starmer, 6/10
Starmer said that the number of people being ‘pinged’ by the app and told to self-isolate was causing businesses to close and schools to be emptied. He said that it was not clear who was exempt from isolation as the rules keep changing.
He also used the Royal Haulage Association accusation that the government was making the rules up “on the hoof”.
“Summer of chaos” is certainly a punchy line, and perhaps should also be used by the marketing team at Love Island.
“Feeble stuff... on what was meant to be a glorious 60th anniversary edition of PMQs” - Johnson, 0/10
Poor Johnson. He wanted a happy and cheery edition of PMQs where they could all sit round (virtually) and clap him for being a brilliant leader before going off on their holibobs. But that pesky Starmer just had to oppose him. What a shame.
Later, Johnson accused Starmer of opposing him for the sake of it and trying to score “cheap political points.” He often fails to understand the assignment and is ruffled when the leader of the opposition... opposes him and Starmer finally bit back.
He said: “The Prime Minister keeps asking me if I will support his chaos? No!”
"The PM keeps asking me if I'll support his chaos. No!"
It seems even world leaders are not immune to problems with technology, and the Speaker of the House, Sir Lindsay Hoyle, had to ask Johnson to turn his sound up when he was answering a question.
Safe to say, it caught Johnson off guard, broke his flow, and gave Labour MPs a giggle.
“Glorious” 60th anniversary edition of PMQs indeed.
“When it comes to creating confusion, the Prime Minister is a superspreader.” - Starmer, 8/10
Government communications during the pandemic has been horrendous, we would argue. Rules have changed a huge number of times and people have consistently been confused about how coronavirus spreads, how to stop it, and what is and isn’t allowed.
Starmer had a point, and he delivered it well.
Keir Starmer tells Boris Johnson he is a "super-spreader" of confusion around the Covid-19 rules #PMQs
“I think we need to check that the line to Chequers is working because the answers he is giving bare no resemblance to the questions I’m asking.” - Starmer, 7/10
Starmer turned to allegations made by Dominic Cummings that Johnson had disregarded the lives of those over 80 in the pandemic and suggested that there should . He asked for Johnson to apologise over these words, instead Johnson stuttered and started talking about? The vaccine rollout of course.
"I asked if he'd ever used the words 'COVID is only killing 80-year-olds'. Now we have the proof he did."
Labour l… https://t.co/hbWBj3JwEi
Look, we are as tired as anyone of Johnson’s slogan politics but making this one up on the spot with only a bit of spluttering and stuttering was just a bit entertaining.
With the Prime Minister tucked away in Chequers, he appeared more comfortable than he does when faced with Starmer in person and was undistracted by the jeering of the House.
However, Starmer was buoyed by the support of his MPs cheering for him, while Johnson was alone and adrift.
There’s probably something to be said about the psychology of interacting via a screen instead of in person, and how it adjusts subtle power balances. If it does have an impact, then whichever politician fared better this week arguably did so because of this shift, rather than their own merit.
Talking over Zoom also created technology issues not usually seen in this traditional and formal setting.
Zoom, therefore, is the winner of this edition of PMQs. We’ll see what happens after recess.