Commons Confidential: Boris’s spray-paint speeches

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Tetchy Boris Johnson was at his petulant worst, I’m told, in a conference call with the business lobby immediately after his televised address to a confused nation on 10 May. The Prattle Minister’s growing irritation was audible as heads of the BCC, the CBI, the IoD and others interrupted his waffle about harnessing technology to prevent future pandemics in order to demand answers on the here and now. With the government keen for millions to return to work, factual replies were in short supply from the evasive chap supposedly in charge. Johnson speaks not so much in broad brushstrokes as spray paint to hide his ignorance of vital details.
 
Gavin Williamson may prove the best recruiting sergeant that England’s teaching unions have ever had in his role as Education Secretary. My radar-lugged snout reported the Yorkshire Tory bluntly declared that he is focusing on reopening schools for Reception and Year 1 and 6 pupils because primary schools “aren’t as unionised” as secondaries. That might change by 1 June.
 
Earning favourable reviews for his deft skewering of Johnson over the coronavirus catastrophe, Keir Starmer may be relieved the crisis allowed him to tip-toe out of a Kashmir minefield. Labour’s leader calmed uproar among more than a million mainly Labour-voting Britons of Pakistani heritage by reasserting the party’s support for Kashmiri self-determination after earlier declaring it a matter for the Indian parliament. Former foreign minister Denis MacShane dubbed Kashmir “pure political poison for Labour” and recalled marches in Birmingham against Robin Cook when he committed a similar gaffe in 1995.
 
The Lib Dems are considering a virtual conference in September to replace the Brighton shindig, and an online leadership contest. The TUC is also close to conceding that its annual Congress is another virus victim. Labour and the Tories continue to hope for the best while fearing cancellations. The hats of Lib Dem MPs Layla Moran and Wera Hobhouse have been thrown into the ring for the leadership, with that of acting leader Ed Davey expected to follow. Social distancing from the yellow bird is a national passion since it served as Cameron’s patsy.
 
The Chilcot Inquiry into Iraq took seven years to publish, the Saville Report on Bloody Sunday spanned a dozen. My Tory contact whispered nobody should bet their house on a coronavirus public inquiry concluding before the next election.
 
With Dominic Raab the First Secretary, Robert Jenrick is now known as the Fourth Secretary to accommodate all the homes he owns, lets and rents. No wonder the Housing Secretary is a champion of the rentier class.

Kevin Maguire is Associate Editor (Politics) on the Daily Mirror and author of our Commons Confidential column on the high politics and low life in Westminster. An award-winning journalist, he is in frequent demand on television and radio and co-authored a book on great parliamentary scandals. He was formerly Chief Reporter on the Guardian and Labour Correspondent on the Daily Telegraph.

This article appears in the 15 May 2020 issue of the New Statesman, Land of confusion

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