Sir Keir Starmer, not floundering Boris Johnson, is acting in the national interest - Tom Richmond

BORIS Johnson is delusional if he believes that Sir Keir Starmer has placed the Covid-19 national consensus at risk.

Boris Johnson was left floundering at PMQs over care homes. Even the flatfooted Theresa May was more nimble over Brexit.
Boris Johnson was left floundering at PMQs over care homes. Even the flatfooted Theresa May was more nimble over Brexit.

Quite the opposite. It is the PM who is guilty of jeopardising the political ‘truce’ after woefully inadequate answers to Sir Keir’s constructive questions at PMQs.

And those excruciating exchanges – rarely has a Prime Minister been left floundering to such an extent at a time of crisis – were the culmination of a series of events which pointed to a cavalier inattention to detail.

Even the flat-footed Theresa May was more nimble over Brexit. Mr Johnson is struggling without Ministers being able to whisper answers to him or his cheerleaders on the backbenches creating a frenzy of noise.

Sir Keir Starmer exposed the Government's record on care homes at PMQs. Was he right to do so?

First, the Government’s initial guidance did play down the likelihood of infections into care homes. Why? Sir Keir’s questions were, therefore, within reason.

Next, it was Mr Johnson – not the national newspapers – who built up expectations over the lockdown being lifted by indicating that “we will want, if we possibly can, to get going with some of these measures on Monday”. This was compounded by unofficial briefings in which the contents of his prime-time speech were leaked.

Another tactical blunder, the change of advice from ‘stay at home’ to the more ambiguous ‘stay alert’ spooked the leaders of Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland who expressed disquiet as the Covid-19 crisis in care homes deepened.

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More than 850 deaths in Yorkshire care homes linked to coronavirus since start o...
Boris Johnson at Prime Minister's Questions.

Effectively, it left the PM with nothing meaningful to say when he addressed the country. Even Cabinet colleagues were bemused and confused by muddled and contradictory protocols on the return to work.

Little wonder, therefore, that Sir Keir made social care the focus of his forensic questions in Parliament after the PM himself conceded that the number of Covid-19 cases and deaths in care homes was an “awful epidemic”. Not to have done so, even in such tragic circumstances, would have betrayed the national and public interest.

And, given this, Mr Johnson only served to further highlight his own policy failures in a subsequent exchange of correspondence with Labour’s leader. “I would remind you of the commitment you made, when you became Leader of the Opposition, to work constructively with the Government,” the PM wrote tersely. “The public expect us to work together.”

True – but this assumes that the Prime Minister grasps the care home crisis. And this one does not.

AS Communities Secretary, Robert Jenrick should have been prepared for questions on social care when he went on national television.

Sophy Ridge on Sky News wanted to know – quite reasonably – the Covid-19 reproduction rate in the country’s care homes. Any Minister worthy of a Cabinet post could have foreseen this question.

“I don’t know the exact figure,” replied Mr Jenrick. “But we do believe that we are possibly through the peak...and are starting to be on a downward trend.”

Sorry, it smacked of obfuscation from a Government whose complacency towards social care – widely highlighted on these pages long before Covid-19 – has now been exposed for all to see.

BY circumventing Parliament to rush out its Covid-19 recovery plan, did the Government flout its own rules?

“It is vital that Parliament can continue to scrutinise the Government,” says the new guidance. “Parliament must set a national example of how business can continue in this new normal...”

Why, therefore, did Mr Johnson decline to put his plans before MPs for sensible scrutiny and redrafting before then going on TV to address the nation?

BACK to Sir Keir Starmer. He will face far tougher tests in the months to come – he has to reappraise Labour’s entire policy programme, including Brexit, as the country faces its deepest recession in history.

He also has to deal with some of his more intolerant backbenchers. Just as it is right for Sir Keir to question the PM so forensically, Labour MP Dawn Butler was out of order when accusing Boris Johnson of “sending people out to catch the virus”. Whatever the PM’s faults, that unwarranted remark was unworthy of any Opposition party. I look forward to Sir Keir making that clear.

IT’S interesting how many people have come forward, after my column last week, to complain about Health Secretary Matt Hancock’s failure over many months to respond to correspondence.

Perhaps he should embrace the example of his colleague Michael Gove after gardener and TV presenter Alan Titchmarsh wrote to 10 Downing Street about the reopening of garden centres.

The Ilkley-born gardening guru was pleasantly surprised to receive a “detailed” reply within 20 minutes from Mr Gove, the Minister for the Cabinet Office, and the promise of a personal reply from Boris Johnson. Or could it be that there’s one rule for TV celebrities and another for the rest of us? Surely not.

IT was announced on Tuesday that Leeds City Council chief executive Tom Riordan has been seconded to work on the Government’s nationwide roll-out of the Covid test and trace programme.

Good for him. Yet, when I had to take an ‘essential’ journey into Leeds the following day, the newly-erected roadside information signs were very revealing – the message to motorists was to “stay at home” as opposed to Boris Johnson’s new “stay alert” mantra.

I don’t blame the council. Like all other town halls, its response has exceeded expectations. But its choice of words is emblematic of the chaos and confusion.

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