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MPs fail to provide leadership at a time of national crisis

PUBLISHED: 11:30 18 March 2020 | UPDATED: 14:00 18 March 2020

Chancellor Rishi Sunak with Prime Minister Boris Johnson at the press conference before the Commons statement. Picture: MATT DUNHAM/PA WIRE

Chancellor Rishi Sunak with Prime Minister Boris Johnson at the press conference before the Commons statement. Picture: MATT DUNHAM/PA WIRE

At times of national crisis you should really get to know the calibre of the MPs who have been elected to represent us for a five year term.

Where's the two-metre gap? The House of Commons on Tuesday night for Rishi Sunak's statement - two hours after the contents had been released in a press conference. Picture: HOUSE OF COMMONSWhere's the two-metre gap? The House of Commons on Tuesday night for Rishi Sunak's statement - two hours after the contents had been released in a press conference. Picture: HOUSE OF COMMONS

In which case all I can say after the performances we have seen in the House of Commons this week is: God Help Us!

Collectively they must be the most narcissistic, arrogant group of individuals anywhere in this country – and if their judgement has any effect on the events of the next few weeks then we’re probably all doomed.

That isn’t easy for me to say because as a general rule I have a high regard for MPs. Despite what many think, I believe the vast majority are decent people with the best interests of their constituents and country at heart – even if many of their constituents may disagree with their political philosophy.

But their performance this week, especially on Tuesday evening when Chancellor of the Exchequer Rishi Sunak repeated his statement about the changes the government was bringing in to deal with the coronavirus crisis, was disgraceful – and left me wondering if any who were in the Chamber that evening are actually fit for high office.

To be fair, after that display there was clearly some soul-searching among party bosses who clearly realised how out-of-touch they were with the public mood and told only those with their name on the Order Paper to turn up to Prime Minister’s Questions – but really they should not have had to be told by their bosses to act like grown-ups!

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Firstly we had the speaker Sir Lindsay Hoyle, who is supposed to be loved by everyone because he isn’t as pompous as John Bercow, castigating Mr Sunak for revealing the details of his rescue plan at a Downing Street news conference two hours before his speech to the House of Commons.

In doing this, he showed that in the pompous oaf stakes he’s quite capable of giving Mr Bercow a run for his money. Sir Lindsay might think it’s more important that he and a few hundred elected politicians are told about the government’s plans before anyone else – but in the 21st century with the whole nation worried about the crisis that is slowly engulfing them it is quite reasonable to tell the largest audience possible what is happening.

More people watch the national television news bulletins at 6pm than any other. It is perfectly reasonable for the government to seek to get its message out to the largest possible audience.

After all the 650 MPs should be as capable of tuning into the BBC News Channel as the rest of the population (and if they’re really that out of touch here’s a clue. It’s Channel 231 on Freeview!).

When Mr Sunak did make his statement at 7pm, why the hell was the Chamber full? Where was the two-metre gap between parliamentarians? Has the government’s chief scientist given MPs a “Get out of coronavirus free card?”

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This is a classic example of people in authority taking the attitude of “Do as I say, don’t do as I do!” Why on earth should anyone have any respect for the views of a bunch of numpties who are prepared to put their own health – and the resources of the NHS – at risk by ignoring government advice?

Mr Sunak’s statement was broadcast live on BBC Parliament (Channel 232 on Freeview if the honourable members are still struggling with their remotes) and I suspect it was also on the news channels as well. That would have been the safe way to watch it. But no, you couldn’t have bayed and cooed like a bunch of 13-year-olds at a time of national crisis if you’d have been doing the sensible thing!

Parliament sits in the middle of the capital city which government scientists accept is ahead of the rest of the country when it comes to the virus. Two MPs have already tested positive for coronavirus. Several more (including Clacton MP Giles Watling) are self-isolating at home because they have shown symptoms.

It is time MPs left the place, returned to their constituencies and found an alternative way of passing and scrutinising legislation for the next few weeks or months.

One MP who really does invite scorn in all of this is Jeremy Corbyn who is demonstrating a total lack of judgement to the very end of his tenure as leader of the opposition.

He’s a lame duck leader, leaving office in a less than a month. He’s also 70 years old – the age at which doctors and scientists (not some political advisor in Downing Street) have recommended that you stay at home.

He could be setting an example to the country in his last few weeks in the political spotlight. Instead he prefers to continue to politically showboat until the bitter end – putting his personal health (and, I repeat, the resources of the NHS) at risk by ignoring expert advice.

I know not all MPs have been in the Chamber this week. Those who have taken the sensible decision to stay away for whatever reason deserve the admiration of the public, and especially their constituents. Let’s hope the rest of their colleagues start showing rather more leadership very soon!

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