Andrew Gimson’s PMQs sketch: Johnson with a laugh wriggles free of Starmer’s logic

18 May

Week by week, like two ill-assorted gladiators, Sir Keir Starmer and Boris Johnson try to kill each other.

Sir Keir attempts to pin Johnson down by applying, to some specific question, a remorseless and inescapable logic. Today he said Johnson must either be for a windfall tax on the oil and gas companies, or against it, or “sitting on the fence like his Chancellor”.

Johnson’s chosen weapons are ridicule and diversion. He remarked at once that Sir Keir had “struggled to define what a woman was”.

In this way he sought at once to ridicule his opponent’s claim to be a logician, and to change the subject. It was noticeable that Sir Desmond Swayne (Con, New Forest West) laughed uproariously at the Prime Minister’s joke. The history of our times should be written as an account of who finds what funny, or indeed unfunny.

Johnson went on to say that unemployment has fallen to its lowest level since 1974, “when I was ten years old”.

Another shameless diversion! Some of us found our minds drifting to the ten-year-old Johnson, a pupil at the European School in Brussels, noting already, in his subversive way, that the great project of European unification did not seem to stop the Germans socialising mainly with the Germans, the French with the French, while the British gave dinner parties at which most of the guests were British.

Sir Keir tried to get us back to the subject of the windfall tax. He complained that the Prime Minister’s answer had been “clear as mud”.

Johnson took that as a compliment and retorted that Labour’s instinct was “always and everywhere to raise taxes on business”.

Sir Keir listed a few of the people who are in favour of a windfall tax, and said “the member for North East Somerset”, Jacob Ree-Mogg, was dead-set against it, “when he’s not sticking notes on people’s desks like some overgrown prefect”.

A roar of laughter from Sir Ed Davey, the Liberal Democrat leader, and from others who think that Johnson and Rees-Mogg are ludicrous figures, with whose arguments there is no need to engage.

“So he is on the side of excess profits for oil and gas companies,” Sir Keir summed up for the prosecution. Johnson said that on the contrary, he was on the side of record low unemployment. He referred to the opening of the Elizabeth Line, which crosses London from west to east, and asked “who was the Mayor of London when Crossrail first started to be built?”

Another of those delightful flashes of autobiography with which the Prime Minister is so liberal.

Hannah Bardell (SNP Livingston) asked how on a scale of one to ten Johnson was doing in observing the principles of public life as set down in the ministerial code.

It took him no more than a split second to award himself “ten out of ten”. Widespread amusement, even on the Opposition benches, where many stern judges would give him nought out of ten.

The Prime Minister had yet again wriggled free, and all the usual people felt confirmed in their view that he is an utterly disreputable figure.

Darren Caplan: Now is the right time to speed up railway projects

16 Jul

Darren Caplan is Chief Executive of the Railway Industry Association (RIA). This is a sponsored post by the RIA.

While both Boris Johnson and Rishi Sunak have recently made speeches showing a clear appetite for Government action to spur economic recovery, many in the rail industry would like to have seen a greater mention of new rail schemes.

With the Government promoting “build, build, build” and the need for an “infrastructure revolution” to reboot the economy as we come out of Coronavirus lockdown, accelerating rail projects can go a long way to help it deliver. What’s more, many of these schemes have been budgeted for, so the ask is not necessarily for more money.

The Prime Minister highlighted in his end-of-June speech that “a prosperous and United Kingdom must be a connected Kingdom” [through]… accelerating projects from South West to the North East from Wales, to Scotland, to Northern Ireland”. Yet only one rail scheme – addressing the bottleneck at Manchester Castlefield Corridor – was mentioned, welcome though that scheme is.

With UK rail supporting some 600,000 jobs and more than £36bn GVA in the economy, this really should be a key industry for the Government to target. What is more, despite the currently reduced reduction in train ridership levels, the long-term future for rail over the next 30 years is positive. And it is a sector which contributes to the Government’s three “Gs”: growth, geography and green.

On growth, rail projects generate significant investment, with every £1 spent on the rail network, £2.20 is generated in the wider economy. On geography, rail projects support investment in all regions and nations of the UK, including areas of social deprivation where investment and regeneration is urgently needed – supporting the Government’s “levelling up” agenda. And rail investment is green, with rail travel an acknowledged low carbon form of transport.

So that is why the Railway Industry Association (RIA), the trade body for more than 300 rail suppliers, and our members, calls for the Government to be SURE (“Speed Up Rail Enhancements”). We are not seeking money; rather, we are simply urging the Government to work with the sector to fast-track schemes on its existing projects list.

This list, known as the Rail Network Enhancements Pipeline, contains 58 projects including schemes like the Transpennine Route Upgrade, East West Rail, and Western Rail Access to Heathrow. All of the projects are directly in the power of Government to accelerate. The railway industry, for our part, is ready and willing to work with the Government to deliver these projects cost-effectively and efficiently, and to speed up delivery times.

As well as supporting jobs and GVA in the economy, these schemes deliver a real boost to the UK’s connectivity, affording other sectors the ability to function – witness how the railways remained opened during the darkest days of lockdown to enable key workers to get to their workplaces.

While rail passenger numbers may have dropped over the Coronavirus outbreak, past trends following crises show that transport passenger number are likely to return to and build on pre-crisis levels in the coming years. The question now is whether or not we prepare our transport modes for that time and deliver capacity improvements, at a time when the Government is looking for job and GVA creating sectors to help reboot the economy.

From a rail perspective, we urge the Government to work with us to Speed Up Rail Enhancements, help deliver that transport infrastructure revolution, and ultimately enable the UK’s railways to play their part in delivering a green economic recovery for all of the UK.

You can find out more about the SURE campaign here.