Leaders In Their Own Words: Johnson, Blackford, Starmer, Brown, Hurst and Nind

Published by Rhys Taylor-Brown on November 18th 2020, 3:03pm

In our latest series of leadership quotations, we hear from prime minister Boris Johnson on devolution and the importance of the union, SNP leader in Westminster Ian Blackford on Scottish independence, Sir Keir Starmer addresses the decision to reinstate Jeremy Corbyn as a member of the Labour Party, Marie Brown MBE discusses the impact of Covid-19 on domestic abuse services, and Stephen Hurst and Mark Nind challenge the logic of the ongoing autumn lockdown.

Boris Johnson and Ian Blackford

Reports have emerged this week that while addressing northern Conservative MPs via video link, prime minister Boris Johnson claimed that devolution had been a “disaster north of the border” and “Tony Blair’s biggest mistake”, comments which related to the SNP’s current level of influence in Scotland according to Downing Street sources, as opposed to the establishing of the Scottish Parliament in 1999.

The comments were gleefully seized upon by Scotland’s first minister and SNP leader Nicola Sturgeon, and the party’s leader in Westminster, Ian Blackford, to further push the case for Scottish independence, particularly after Johnson reportedly added that he did not “see a case” for handing more powers to the devolved governments.

Indeed, speaking during Wednesday’s Prime Minister’s Questions in the House of Commons, Blackford told MPs that “the chasm between Westminster and the Scottish people has never been bigger”.

Yet the prime minister, speaking to the chamber via video link during a spell of self-isolation, defended his remarks by declaring that the SNP’s “campaign for the break-up of our country” had been the disaster to come from devolution north of the border and praised the role of the union during the pandemic, saying that the UK “has shown its value and will continue to do so”.

Sir Keir Starmer

Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer has said that his predecessor Jeremy Corbyn will not sit as a Labour MP in Parliament, despite being reinstated as a member of the party on Tuesday by the National Executive Committee.

Corbyn had been suspended over his response to a report on anti-Semitism carried out by a human rights regulator while he was Labour leader.

Sir Keir said that Corbyn’s remarks “undermined our work in restoring trust” with the Jewish community and warned that any within party ranks who claim that the issue of anti-Semitism was “exaggerated” should be “nowhere near the Labour Party”.

Marie van der Zyl, the president of the Board of Deputies of British Jews, praised Sir Keir for having “taken the appropriate leadership decision” and criticised Corbyn for being “shameless and remorseless” over “what he has put the Jewish community through”.

Marie Brown MBE

Marie Brown MBE, director at Foyle Women’s Aid, a charity based in Londonderry, Northern Ireland which seeks to eliminate domestic abuse and sexual violence, spoke on the Leaders Council podcast about the effects of the Covid-19 pandemic on charitable concerns such as hers and how demand for such services has increased as a consequence of lockdown.

In a candid interview, Brown said: “Covid-19 has affected us immensely. We have had to quickly change how we deliver our services. Our services are busy, and we have a high rate of domestic and sexual violence, one of the highest in Northern Ireland in the region we are in. We could not simply close down during lockdown like some.

“With people stuck at home during lockdown, there has been a surge in demand for our services that we have seen. We have never had the proper resources to deal with the problems we have, on top of that we have the extra burden of Covid and the impact on children and young people who were stuck at home and couldn’t get to school and safe spaces. That was very challenging and worrying for us.”

“With people stuck at home during lockdown, there has been a surge in demand for our services that we have seen. We have never had the proper resources to deal with the problems we have, on top of that we have the extra burden of Covid and the impact on children and young people who were stuck at home and couldn’t get to school and safe spaces. That was very challenging and worrying for us.”

Yet, despite the many challenges the pandemic has thrust before Foyle Women’s Aid, Brown has been eager to look at the positives.

“Domestic violence quite often is something people look away from. We aren’t a charity that gets a lot of attention and it can be difficult to make people really hear how great an issue domestic abuse is. During Covid though, people have had no choice but to pay attention to it, so there have been opportunities to focus in on the issue and raise awareness. On a regional level, we’ve also had time to improve our IT provision to create new ways to keep people working and have conversations with people affected by these issues and stay in contact. We have already had to be very innovative in keeping in touch with people while face-to-face meetings have not been possible.”

Stephen Hurst

Offering his take on the ongoing autumn lockdown, Stephen Hurst, the managing director of Mercanta The Coffee Hunters, questioned the government’s decision to close the commercial sector while the education sector remains open and whether such a strategy would be beneficial for the economy in the long-term.

Hurst said: “Our business is directly involved in the supply chain for the restaurant, pub, hotel, café, and out of home sectors, and as such, we are directly and indirectly severely hampered by these lockdown measures. I also feel sorry for the permanent damage wrought on long established entrepreneurial businesses that we have been working with and supporting for years.

“I don’t have any easy solution, nobody does. But while schools and universities stay open, which are arguably some of the places of greatest spread of Covid, and the commercial sector is closed, one has to wonder who will eventually be paying the bill as the United Kingdom tries - along with other countries - to borrow its way out of this problem.”

Mark Nind

While Hurst asked questions of the autumn lockdown, Mark Nind of RJB Finance took up a much more hostile position toward the decision to implement another national shutdown and expressed his view that Covid-19 is another illness that society must adapt to living alongside.

Nind explained: “I am against lockdown. I find myself agreeing with Iain Duncan Smith, Theresa May and Steve Baker on the subject. I believe that Covid is another coronavirus that we must learn to live with, and I agree with the comments that the cure is worse than the disease.”

Furthermore, Nind questioned the effectiveness of lockdown in actually helping drive the right of Covid-19 cases down, after emerging from the initial lockdown first called back in March has been met with a swift rise in cases heading into the autumn.

“I have seen comments by many eminent doctors and professors some of whom added their names to the Barrington Declaration. I find myself agreeing with many of the anti-lockdown arguments put forward. I would also like to add my opinion to the many that believe lockdown is bad for society and doesn’t do that much to actually ‘kill’ the virus as we have already seen.”


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