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COMMENT: PMQs bear pit may have gone but stakes are sky high

By Toby Neal | Opinions | Published:

Stop being negative!

The stakes are high as PMQs take place in a socially-distanced House of Commons

Over 35,000 dead, the economy off a cliff edge, an entire population virtually locked up, a monthly record increase in the number of people claiming unemployment benefits...

To mention just some of the positive things going on at the moment.

I'm not sure if that's what Boris Johnson was really saying when he chided Sir Keir Starmer for the Leader of the Opposition's down-in-the-mouth assessment of inadequate testing and the deadly ravaging of the care homes.

Having read and heard the views of various commentators that in his earliest performances at Prime Minister's Questions Labour's new leader has wiped the floor with bumbling Boris, I'd thought I'd check out how this week's encounter went.

The Brexit bearpit has gone, and with a virtually empty chamber there is no gallery to play to. It has become a serious forum, not a shouting match. About time too, you might say.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson speaks during Prime Minister's Questions in the House of Commons this week

Sir Keir looks the part. Serious, and smart in all senses, he is Labour's great white hope – white, male, middle class, and from London – to lead the party to a better future after the Jeremy Corbyn years.

You have to say that Jezza in his final days came across as being demob happy. The allotment was calling, and here he was having to deal with bonzo Boris, a person he couldn't even bring himself to look at during the opening of Parliament.

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The result was one or two perfunctory performances.

Yet JC was also a conviction politician. You knew where he was coming from, sticking to his beliefs even if they were unpopular, or, as it turned out, unelectable.

Compared with Mr Corbyn Sir Keir is very much a different kettle of fish and the dynamics of PMQs are now very different as a result. He's new in the role of Leader of the Opposition, yet experienced, a lawyer with a razor sharp brain, an eye for detail, and a forensic and brilliant questioning technique.

Everybody who knows about stuff says so.

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He's also got the charisma of a broad bean, which is perhaps what a nation already missing Theresa May's leaden touch needs right now.

Anyway, brilliant Sir Keir, after being called on by the Prime Minister to "abandon his slightly negative tone," rose to his feet, his face a vision of gravitas.

The House fell silent.

Labour leader Keir Starmer speaking during PMQs

"34,000 deaths isn't negative," he said.

He obviously heard himself as the words from that razor sharp brain left his lips. "It is negative," he quickly corrected himself.

Boris, whose hair is now an extraordinary sight as it appears to be growing horizontally, also accused Sir Keir of "feigning ignorance." That, at least, is a charge which cannot be directed at Boris. When Boris appears not to have a clue, you know that he isn't faking.

The underlying accusation could hardly be more serious – that the government's response to coronavirus has been so slow, shambolic, and incompetent that it has led to thousands of unnecessary deaths, and that those in care homes have effectively been left to their fate.

The history is yet to be written, but the struggle among the politicians to get their guiding paws on the pens is well under way.

The resumption of top class football is edging a little closer, and the enforced break gives a chance to introduce some reforms.

High on the list must be the outlawing of gobbing. These highly paid stars don't spit in the street. So why do they spit on the pitch?

Doing so defiles our television screens. I'm yet to hear a commentator say: "Yuk! How disgusting!" Or a sports reporter write that they are role models and that it sets a bad example for children.

I've never really understood why not, unless they take the view that gobbing is all part of football.

It should now be considered a potential health risk. It may prove academic if they are forced to wear face masks while playing, unless of course they are such incorrigible gobbers that they gob into the face masks as well, which doesn't bear thinking about.

Talking of face masks, mine featuring VW camper vans have arrived.

I think people who are going around wearing the masks think they are protecting themselves, but all the experts I've heard say that wearing them gives minimal protection to oneself. What they say it does is protect others – it stops you infecting them if you already have the disease.

Back to footer, and another thing to be outlawed is those wild, close-contact celebrations when somebody scores a goal, hugging, kissing, that sort of thing.

All future celebrations should be in accordance with social distancing protocols. Perhaps they could blow their kisses, so long as they don't blow too hard.

Toby Neal

By Toby Neal
Feature Writer

A journalist in Shropshire for 40 years, mainly writes features and columns, especially about aspects of Shropshire history. Lives in Telford and is based at the Ketley headquarters.

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