PMQs: Chaotic and dangerous “bluster” meets data-focused analysis

Today’s Prime Minister’s Questions session was all about the data for Keir Starmer. The Labour leader described the “bluster” with which the PM announced his economic recovery plan yesterday, again calling for a “laser-like focus” on jobs. He highlighted the gaps in the government’s handling of the crisis and a deeply worrying failure to grasp the detail. And he did so just as the UK approaches its ‘Independence Day’ and the return of the British public to pubs across the country. Boris Johnson continued in the same vein as his “whack-a-mole” comments earlier in the week. The difference between chaotic and the detail-orientated was clear.

Kicking off with the outbreak in Leicester, Starmer asked the Prime Minister why it had taken 11 days for the government to take action and impose a lockdown in the city – “Why was the government so slow to act?” He focused on why, in particular, “only half the data” had been shared with the local council. They had “pillar-one Covid tests – that’s NHS, care workers and tests in hospitals”, he explained. What they didn’t have, was data for the virus in the community. “What that meant was that the local authority thought there were 80 positive tests in the last fortnight, when the real figure was 944,” he said. That figure was only shared with the council last Thursday, Starmer explained, declaring it a “lost week” in the authority’s response. The PM can’t continue to “bat away challenges”, the Labour leader concluded as Johnson insisted that the data had been shared previously – contrary to reports from the mayor of Leicester.

Starmer then quoted the PM’s recent response to local government figures asking how seaside towns will cope with an influx of tourists in hot weather: “Show some guts.” The Labour leader highlighted that just two days later, we saw massive crowds take to the beach in Bournemouth and a major incident declared. Ahead of a nationwide lifting of lockdown this weekend, there are very real concerns outstanding, the Labour leader warned – we are heading into this easing “without an app, without clear data for local authorities, or the world-beating system we were promised”. Adding that three-quarters of those with Covid are not being contacted by the tracing system, he remarked that the PM is continuing with his usual tactic: “Brushing away serious concerns.” He next asked how many jobs Johnson’s recovery plan will protect, but no answer was given by the PM: “I’m not going to give a figure for the number of job losses that may or may not take place.”

The difference in approaches is stark, as ever. The Labour leader worked his way methodically through the data; he called for caution; he pushed, again, for a detailed focus on jobs; he demanded a “cast-iron guarantee” that no local council will be placed in the same situation as Leicester; and he highlighted the significant gaps in the UK’s preparedness for lockdown easing this weekend. Meanwhile the Prime Minister continued with bluster and evasion. Starmer’s cautious, data-obsessed approach made for a clear comparison. He again used the platform of PMQs to emphasis his ‘forensic’ approach against that of Johnson. Starmer is making clear to people that, ahead of the largest easing of the lockdown since the crisis began, Johnson’s approach is either dangerous – “show some guts” – or full of “bluster”, in the form of his vague recovery plan. At the same time, the Labour leader continues to bid for public support as the ‘sensible’ politician – the grown-up in the room.

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