In a week dominated by the ongoing fallout from George Floyd’s death in the USA, it was hardly surprising that Boris Johnson was going to face several pointed questions from MPs on various themes arsing from the Black Lives Matter movement.
At Prime Minister’s Questions the most pointed was asked by the acting leader of the Liberal Democrats, Sir Ed Davey. Occasionally a question is asked of such import that it appears to crystallise more than the direct issue at hand. And so it was with Davey’s between the eyes exocet.
Sir Ed told MPs that black people were 47 times more likely to be stopped and searched by the police in England.
Read that last statistic again, digest it and pause to think and reflect.
47 times more likely to be stopped and searched.
Assuming Sir Ed has double checked the veracity of his claim, it is truly shocking and far higher by some distance on the figure I would have given if asked to have a guess.
The disgrace, of course, is that just about everyone knows that black people are more likely to be stopped and searched and yet the continuing outrage changes nothing.
More importantly, Sir Ed wanted to know if Johnson would abolish stop and search on the ground of mere police suspicion.
At the dispatch box the Prime Minister choreographed that pirouette of discomfort he manages when groping for the right language and more importantly an answer. In among the animation came the reply. The Prime Minister did not favour the removal of such powers.
It came after the Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer demanded that the UK Government “turbo charge” their responses and implement without delay the Lammy and Fenton reports. These are the reports that look at how the BAME community are affected by the criminal justice system and what factors are driving a disproportionate number of deaths from Covid-19.
Boris Johnson protested that the government was “getting on with implementing” the recommendations in the reports. Sir Keir icily begged to differ as he eyed the Prime Minister in a stare of casual disdain.
The Labour leader then aridly read the statistics that define the heartbreak and human cost of the current pandemic.
First, the number of deaths directly attributed to the virus which now exceed 40,000, then the ONS figure which is north of 50,000 and then the ‘excess’ deaths for the time of year which stands at over 63,000.
Sir Keir reminded the chamber that last week the Prime Minster said he was proud of the government’s response before remarking that there was no pride in these figures, was there?
Boris Johnson said every lost life was mourned but that focusing on numbers and making international comparisons was too early. The time for that was when the pandemic was over. Sir Keir remarked that the reply “wouldn’t wash” and would provide little solace to families currently confronting the loss of a loved one.
The day started with the Prime Minster acknowledging the third anniversary of the inferno at Grenfell tower. Like the Black Lives Matter movement, many touched by that tragedy continue to deplore a political system that appears mute to their concerns.
The anger that emerged from the pain of that appalling night seems to have raged long after the flames were extinguished. Like Windrush, which also merited a mention at today’s PMQs, the picture is of a nation where many feel not only marginalised but persecuted by their own government.
On some issues, this indeed is a country far from ease with itself.