Boris Johnson Government U-turns: Keir Starmer slams ‘incompetence’

BORIS Johnson’s Tory Government has U-turned no fewer than 15 times since the beginning of the pandemic, a number which “smacks of incompetence” according to Labour leader Keir Starmer.

Speaking on LBC radio earlier, Starmer said yesterday’s U-turn, which saw the UK Government announce a £400 million fund to help fight poverty, meant it was “[Marcus] Rashford 2, Government 0”.

The newly announced £400m includes a £170m ring-fenced fund for help with food and bills, a £16m cash boost for the nation’s food banks, and £220m of investment in an expanded holiday food and activities programme.

READ MORE: Universal Credit: Next Tory U-turn must be protecting £20 uplift, SNP say

Rashford, the Manchester United footballer, has won praise from all political sides for his passionate advocacy of steps to combat child food poverty.

He had previously forced a Government U-turn on free school meals on June 16.

The Tories had been planning to end the meals scheme over the summer holidays, a plan which was quickly reversed after the nation rallied behind Rashford.

With the two school meals U-turns accounted for, The National was aiming to list the other 13. However, we think Starmer has come up a little short.

Here are the (at least) 16 other U-turns the UK Government has made since May:

1: Quarantine and “air bridges” – May/June

When the coronavirus was first sweeping across the planet, forcing nation after nation into lockdown, the UK had no quarantine measures in place for those arriving from other countries.

Despite many calls for some kind of safety measures to be brought in on UK borders, the Tories did nothing until June.

A blanket 14-day quarantine for all travellers to Britain was announced by Priti Patel, with “air bridges” to safer nations.

2: NHS bereavement scheme – May 20

As the pandemic’s first wave raged, the Tories offered a new NHS bereavement scheme. This would allow the families of medical staff who died fighting coronavirus to remain in the UK indefinitely.

The backlash came when it emerged that this would not cover other “heroes within the NHS, not just doctors and nurses”.

In May, Priti Patel announced a U-turn on the policy, saying it would now cover other critical staff such as porters and cleaners, as “every death in this crisis is a tragedy”.

3: NHS surcharge – May 21

On May 20, 2020 Boris Johnson insisted that imposing an annual fee on non-EU migrants who wished to use the NHS, even if they worked for it, was “the right way forward”.

One day later, as the surcharge was branded “immoral and monstrous” even by prominent Tory figures, Johnson was forced to announce a humiliating U-turn.

4: Remote voting in the Commons – June 3

In order to reduce the necessity of travel during the first lockdown, MPs were allowed to participate in debates and vote remotely. Led by Jacob Rees-Mogg, the Tories ended these concessions in June.

The rage which erupted afterwards led to accusations of democracy being reserved for the London elite. Johnson’s Government soon U-turned, allowing for the use of proxy votes, and for video participation in the Commons to continue.

5: Re-opening of all English primary schools – June 9

For weeks ahead of June 9, headteachers, unions and staff had “warned that the plans to open primary schools before the summer were simply impractical while implementing social distancing safely”, according to Labour.

Regardless, the Tories aimed to have “primary school children return to schools before the summer”. On June 9 they abandoned this goal, with Education Secretary Gavin Williamson saying “schools need time to put in place strict protective measures”.

6: UK Government’s Covid app – June 18

For months the UK Government tried and failed to produce a working Covid app. Their effort was finding just 4% of contacts on Apple phones and 75% of contacts on Android handsets.

The “NHS” app was shelved after incurring costs of around £12m. Instead the Government turned to technology it had initially rejected. Made by Google and Apple and offered for free, this technology worked 99% of the time.

7: Huawei banned from UK 5G – July 14

In January this year Britain made headlines worldwide for refusing to ban technology from the Chinese company Huawei from being used in its new high-speed 5G wireless network.

The refusal was seen as a rebuttal to the Trump regime. The US said Huawei has ties with China’s Communist Party and poses an international security threat.

External and domestic pressure, including from within the Tory party, mounted on Johnson until July, when the reversal was announced and Huawei was banned from the UK 5G network.

8: Exams results – August 11

In a move which was said to “beggar belief” by teaching unions, the Tories announced a U-turn around exam results south of the Border just 36 hours before those results were due to be announced.

In what was deemed an effort to avoid a repeat of the SQA results scandal in Scotland, the Tories announced that pupils would be able to choose their best grade from the one given to them by an algorithm, their mock exams, or a future resit.

The changes, labelled “robust” and “dependable” by Johnson, were thrown into chaos when the exams regulator admitted they did not know how they would work and that not all students had taken mock exams.

9: Exams results again – August 17

The whole of the UK had the same problems with exams this year. Should the final results given to pupils be based on their teachers’ predictions (which would mean record-high exam results across the country) or on an algorithm?

The Tories initially went for the algorithm, as did the SNP north of the Border and Labour in Wales. However, as protests grew against the “classist” algorithm, which was found to have penalised pupils in poorer areas disproportionately more than those in richer ones, the governments began to U-turn.

After the SNP and Labour ditched the algorithm in favour of teachers’ predictions, the Tories followed suit.

10: Eviction ban – August 21

Two days before a ban on evictions was due to expire, and three days before repossession cases were scheduled to begin, the Tory Government announced it would be reversing its previous decision.

The ban on evictions from privately rented accommodation was introduced in England in March. It had been extended in June but was due to expire on August 23. The Tories’ reversal extended this till September 20.

At the time, Starmer said the “11th-hour U-turn” had only given renters “a few more weeks to pack their bags”.

11: Face masks in schools – August 25

Ahead of secondary schools reopening across England, Boris Johnson’s Tories had actively advised against the use of face masks in school grounds, insisting schools would be safe regardless.

After tremendous pressure from Labour, trade unions, and teachers, the Westminster Government was forced to change its stance. Masks were made compulsory in schools in lockdown areas, with head-teachers otherwise having control of the decision.

12: Working from home – September 22

After spending the summer urging people to get out of their homes to help out the economy, Johnson and his Tories had to change tack.

The rising tide of coronavirus cases meant the Government’s call for people to return to the workplace, a measure seen as critical for the survival of cafes and other businesses which rely on commuters and office workers, had to be dropped.

Instead Johnson and his Tories would urge people to “work from home if [they] can”.

It later emerged that Johnson’s scientists had been calling for a circuit-breaker lockdown around this time, so the Government’s U-turn was much smaller than would have been appropriate.

13: English lockdown 2.0 – October 31

On October 13, Keir Starmer called for England to enter a circuit-breaker lockdown. He said the Government should “follow the science” to avoid further deaths.

Johnson ridiculed the idea publicly, saying it was “the height of absurdity”. He said his Government would ensure the “misery of another national lockdown” was avoided, and accused the opposition leader of “opportunism” and playing politics during a pandemic.

By the end of the month, Johnson had called a national lockdown for England.

14: The furlough – October 31

On October 31, the day the furlough scheme was projected to end, the Tories announced that it would in fact be extended until December 2.

This U-turn was brought in to cover England during its second lockdown, meaning English furloughed workers would continue to receive 80% of their wages paid by the Government.

However, the timing of the reversal, being brought in only when the south of England needed it despite months of calls for an extension from the country’s north and the devolved nations, caused outrage.

15: Universal Credit and the Minimum Income Floor – November 3

In a move which the SNP said was just “the tip of the iceberg” of what needed doing, the Tories reversed their decision to end the Minimum Income Floor (MIF) Universal Credit policy on November 12. Instead the MIF suspension will now last until April next year.

A complicated policy which means people cannot claim Universal Credit for their actual earnings if those are less than they would earn working a 35-hour week on the hourly minimum wage for their age group, the MIF’s continued suspension was hailed as a “lifeline”.

16: The furlough again – November 5

The outrage from the devolved nations and English north grew and grew, with Ian Blackford saying the Tories U-turn had shown the idea of a Union of Equals was truly “nonsense”.

Just six days after the first U-turn on furlough, Chancellor Rishi Sunak made a second. He announced that the scheme would remain in place until the end of March 2021.

The extension of the scheme was welcomed, but condemned as too late, as many people across the country had already been made redundant ahead of the schemes projected end in October. 

17: Indyref2 – ???
It’s only a matter of time before the Tories are forced to U-turn on their flat “No” to a second Scottish independence referendum. A pro-independence majority at Holyrood in 2021 will surely make it a case of if and not when.

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