One of the consequences of the virtual parliament is fewer opportunities for MPs to lobby No. 10. However, this afternoon MPs were given a rare audience with the Prime Minister as Boris Johnson appeared via video link for a meeting of the 1922 committee of Tory backbenchers. With a growing number of MPs anxious over what they view to be the slow pace of lockdown easing, the meeting was intended as an opportunity to raise concerns.
Instead, it was dominated by technology difficulties – with around 140 Tory MPs battling background noise – ranging from young children to noisy pets – as they tried to hold a conversation with the Prime Minister. The committee chair Sir Graham Brady spent much of the call asking MPs to put themselves on mute when they weren’t speaking.
As for what Johnson had to say, he told MPs that the government would take only ‘grandmother footsteps’ back to normality – and spoke of the huge effort it was making in tackling the disease. This appears to be a reference to the game of Grandmother’s Footsteps in which players must move quietly and slowly in order to win. With Johnson’s PMQs performance against Sir Keir Starmer widely criticised, he told his MPs that they faced a ‘slippery’ opponent in Labour – suggesting that the party needed to adapt and unite in the face of a new agile opposition.
With Johnson calling for unity, there were few overtly hostile questions. While Peter Bone was critical of the government’s response so far, most MPs had targeted questions aimed at seeking clarity over constituents’ concerns. Questions were asked over when schools and churches will reopen. Some of the new intake of 2019 MPs raised concerns that the financial reality of lockdown (with a Treasury document this week suggesting cuts or tax rises could be needed in the coming year) could mean the ‘level up’ agenda is abandoned. However, Johnson said he was more determined than ever to press on. The hope in government is that Johnson’s plan for a gradual lockdown easing will allow them to do just this.
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