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The reality of Boris Johnson’s 80-seat advantage over the Opposition was brutally evident today. Not only did he barely bother answering any real PMQs, he then staged a ‘People’s PMQs’ which as light and trite as anything he’s ever done in politics (and that’s a high bar).
To cap it all, his blue wall of MPs easily overturned the Lords’ last ditch attempt to include child refugee protections in the Brexit bill. For Labour MPs looking on with despair, the tyranny of the majority suddenly looked like a very apt phrase. Johnson sounded like the ‘world king’ he always wanted to be.
At least Greggs the bakers got some publicity out of the day’s events. Rebecca Long-Bailey had started it with a Mirror interview in which she confessed their vegan sausage rolls were her ‘guilty pleasure’. Jeremy Corbyn expanded the theme in PMQs, telling Johnson he would give him a free roll himself if the PM could explain why it was fair for Greggs workers on Universal Credit to be deprived of 75% of their annual bonus.
Corbyn was making a serious point, of course, about the way the Tories’ flagship welfare policy was actually harming the working poor. Thanks to the Guardian, we have learned that Greggs staff on UC have to give the government a whopping £225 of their £300 bonus, courtesy of the fiendish ‘taper’ rate. The Resolution Foundation had also laid bare the serious distress of many claimants generally.
Johnson’s answers were a mix of arrogant disdain and complacent soundbitery. At first he didn’t even engage, but even when the penny dropped he could only blurt out that “Greggs is producing record figures—£7 million extra”. Just one person had complained about the bonus system, he added. He sounded completely tone deaf to the plight of low paid staff, many of whom, wait for it, work in the north that his party is now meant to represent and care about.
When Corbyn widened the issue to cover the government’s two-child policy and its well-established (by countless think tanks) impact on child poverty, Johnson ploughed on with a robotic stat attack (40 new hospitals, 50,000 more nurses and 20,000 more police officers, all promised and not yet real) that would make Gordon Brown blush.
He got away with it thanks to the cheers of his backbenches and to Labour MPs’ own muted approach to their leader. It’s easy to imagine a less defeated-looking leader of the Opposition really making Johnson squirm at the Greggs story. In fact, Lisa Nandy had only that day previewed PMQs in her own speech focusing on the bonus, though with a neat line that in Tory Britain “baker’s bonuses are taxed more than bankers’ bonuses”.
Perhaps the most depressing answer in PMQs came when Johnson actually gave Corbyn what sounds like his new catch-all response that will last until his replacement is elected: “I refer the Right Hon. Gentleman to the answer that the British people gave to him four weeks ago.” Cue huge guffaws on Conservative benches (it was an insider’s gag about referring MPs to previous answers in the chamber, keep up British public).
A more worried PM would have realised this Greggs bonus issue was about the state effectively imposing a huge marginal tax rate on those barely making ends meet on a £13,000 salary. A leader who talks about helping the less well off with tax cuts ought to at least be consistent. And Greggs is a great northern success story, one of the country’s most socially responsible employers.
The ‘People’s PMQs’ on Facebook was even less edifying. Johnson came out with such revelations he liked to drink tea, but had nothing against coffee. He claimed (wrongly) his cut in national insurance would “disproportionately” benefit those on lower incomes. Oh, and he told us about which shampoo he used. Or didn’t. “I don’t know. It’s the same stuff I use for all cleaning purposes - and it’s blue.”
That’s at least an apt colour. Forget Blue Monday, this was Blue Wednesday: the day in the new year when Labour MPs’ depression hits a new low, as they realise a Conservative PM is totally in charge - and doesn’t care how that looks. Whether it becomes an annual event for the next four years is down to whoever succeeds Corbyn. But it’s also down to Johnson.
Quote Of The Day
“I don’t know what they expect me to do, start, like, paragliding on a Friday night or something”
Rebecca Long-Bailey on why she’s proud of her Netflix-takeaway-and-pyjamas habit.
Lisa Nandy secured her place on the Labour leadership final ballot, having won the endorsement of the GMB and NUM unions, and today clinching affiliate group Chinese for Labour. Earlier, Nandy passed the Today programme test, as well as burning Piers Morgan over racism and Meghan Markle.
Jeremy Corbyn’s chief of staff Karie Murphy went on a European city break just days before the general election, HuffPost UK revealed.
Brexit secretary Steve Barclay urged Europeans concerned about how to prove their rights in the UK after Brexit to print off emails - which state “this letter is not proof of your status”.
The Times revealed that Boris Johnson would scrap the £30,000 minimum salary threshold for migrants, in a major softening of the policy under Theresa May.
What I’m Reading
What We Know About CoronaVirus - Scientific American
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