So Boris Johnson will finally face some questioning today, when he appears at his first Downing Street briefing since he was taken ill with coronavirus. I would much prefer to see him in the Commons, facing Keir Starmer and other MPs, and I believe he should have volunteered a statement to the Commons on his first day back.
As we will have to wait for that, journalists have a special responsibility today. Any question about babies or flypasts, or which allow him simply to repeat whatever he says in his opening remarks, or launch into war rhetoric and homilies, is a wasted question.
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Johnson will be reporting on the outcome of this morning’s cabinet meeting, and hopefully giving some kind of route map for the future management of the crisis. The early indications are there will be no easing of the lockdown, but I suspect they are keeping something up their sleeves so they can at least indicate forward direction of travel.
The media, as we have seen on the testing issue, have a tendency to opt to report a new pledge ahead of proper scrutiny of the here and now, so should be wary. Today is a day to get some straight answers to straight questions about where we are now, and how we got here.
I hope at least some of the questions below are asked:
- Although France was far quicker to respond to the crisis than the UK, President Macron has nonetheless apologised to the French people for mistakes made early in the handling of the crisis. Would you now do the same, and do you not think if you did so the public might be more trusting of advice you give now to continue with the lockdown?
- Is the fact that we are going to be held longer in lockdown related to the fact that we were one of the countries to go last into it?
- On what possible basis could you describe as an “apparent success” the UK heading to the top of the European death league table?
- On what possible basis can you describe as an “apparent success” the fact that the UK has one percent of global population, and almost 20 per cent of global Covid deaths?
- Can you name some of the NHS workers who have died? Have you written to their families, as previous prime ministers have written to the families of soldiers killed in battle?
- Do you agree with those nurses and doctors who have said they do not appreciate the constant language of war used by politicians, and, in particular, what do you say to Nicki Credland, chair of the Association of Critical Care Nurses, saying this: “We are not martyrs, angels or heroes. We are critical health professionals who simply want to do the job that we chose safely and with respect.” Or Doctor Rachel Clarke: “We’re not soldiers. We didn’t sign up to die for a cause. We don’t want Red Arrows, medals, jingoism or war rhetoric. We want masks, gloves, gowns and visors. Could you actually focus your minds on that please?”
- It is now over a month since you told the House of Commons that care home workers would have the PPE they needed “by the end of the week.” By the end of which week will that pledge be fulfilled?
- Was it deliberate trickery not to include care homes in the daily calculation of death rates, and does this not underline that you have consistently relegated the care home sector to the level of second class service?
- On how many occasions since you became Tory leader have you committed to setting out long-term plans for the care sector? Are we not seeing the consequences of your failure actually to do so right now?
- What is actually happening in care homes that the rate of transmission is higher than elsewhere? Which minister is directly in charge of analysing what appears to be the biggest problem area right now?
- When you committed to 250,000 tests per day, was that a slip of the tongue? And will you apologise on behalf of the government for the failure to meet the pledge of 100,000 tests by today?
- What is the point of these repeated moving pledges when so few of them are met and yet nobody is held accountable?
- Chancellor Merkel explained recently the consequences of different stages of easing lockdown in terms of the R factor, what each stage would mean in terms of increasing the rates of infection. Could you do something similar for us now?
- What investigation is being done into whether the high incidence of Covid in Liverpool is related to the football match you allowed to go ahead, attended by almost 3,000 people from Madrid, which was already in lockdown?
- Are you aware that the organisers of the Cheltenham race festival say your encouragement that it should go ahead was a prime reason in their decision not to cancel? Will you therefore accept at least some responsibility if people contracted the illness, and died, as a result of attending at a time so many other countries had already banned large events?
- What, specifically, have you learned from seeing how other countries have managed the crisis?
- Would you congratulate Jacinda Ardern in New Zealand, where the government appears to have defeated the virus? Do you wish we too had “gone early and gone hard?”
- When you said we would “send the virus packing in twelve weeks” what did you mean by that, and have we sent it packing?
- Given the scale of the crisis, and the economic challenge it poses, do you not accept that all but the most ideological of Brexiteers would see sense in pushing back the deadline on talks to agree our future relationship with the EU?
- Whilst we all accept you must focus on what is happening now, and how you deal with it, given the scale of loss of life, do you agree there must be a judge-led independent inquiry into the crisis once we are through the worst?
Alastair Campbell is a writer and strategist.