Asking government ministers about restrictions that they have put into place with little debate or scrutiny, affecting millions of people in the country, has a “gotcha” element to it. That is according to Business Secretary Alok Sharma, who compared the question to that of a “quiz show” this morning, and also presumably according to the Prime Minister who was unable to explain the coronavirus rules for the North East yesterday. That we still don’t have a handy way of checking local restrictions on the Covid app or a simple postcode-entering tool on a government website is bad enough, but there is no hope if Boris Johnson can’t be bothered to remember what is coming into force ahead of a national TV appearance – even after a minister made the same blunder that very morning. Angela Rayner called it “grossly incompetent”.
As for the economic side of the crisis, Anneliese Dodds has written to the Chancellor with seven ways his winter plan “fails Britain’s workers”. Mocking the slick, neatly branded graphics always put out by Rishi Sunak to celebrate his policy announcements, and showing an awareness that he is the favourite to replace Johnson, a new Labour attack line has also emerged: “Rishi Sunak’s name is all over it”. And exploring the detail of Labour’s problems with the winter plan, Dan Carden has written for LabourList to point out the gaps in Rishi Sunak’s new job support scheme and set out Labour’s genuine job recovery scheme proposal.
As Carden says of Sunak’s update last week: “It is staggering that the Chancellor had nothing to say to the millions facing unemployment and real hardship over the winter.” Labour has consistently called for five urgent changes to social security, which will be desperately needed over the coming months, but there is no sign of them being implemented. 50 organisations have now demanded that the planned cut to Universal Credit – which would take away the temporary £20-per-week Covid increase – does not go ahead in April. Jonathan Reynolds is supporting the campaign.
The Downing Street residents may be blundering their way through Covid with remarkable little care, but for now the Tories still have an 80-seat majority – and they were able to get Commons approval for the internal market bill without a single Conservative MP voting against it. Closing the debate for the opposition, Ed Miliband expressed hope that the Lords would “bring this bill into compliance with the rule of law and salvage our reputation”. We know that there will be Tory peers uncomfortable with giving ministers the power to override parts of the withdrawal agreement with the EU, such as Richard Keen who resigned over it and former leader Michael Howard. But was it all just showmanship, a ploy for EU negotiations?
Yet more Tory rebellion is threatened over the Coronavirus Act. One question is whether such a rebellion will even have the opportunity to manifest itself, as Speaker Hoyle is no Bercow and he is thought unlikely to select the Brady amendment. Another is whether Downing Street will bow to pressure anyway in a bid to improve its handling of party management – and the cross-party demands for some parliamentary scrutiny of Covid rules are, after all, very reasonable. We’ll find out more from the chamber this afternoon, plus we’ve got PMQs at the usual midday and a coronavirus press conference at 5pm. Sign up to LabourList’s morning email for everything Labour, every weekday morning.