HENRY DEEDES: Gowns from Myanmar? Sounds like an Arthur Daley wheeze

HENRY DEEDES: Genial Rishi Sunak’s gowns from Myanmar? It sounded more like an Arthur Daley wheeze

Yesterday was Rishi Sunak’s turn to host the Downing Street press briefing. Ugh. 

What a way to start the week.

Forgive the mope, but just seeing the Chancellor nowadays is enough to make you groan in despair, like running into a traffic warden or those men on the beach who pop up out of nowhere to charge you for a sun lounger.

Nothing unpleasant about Rishi of course, quite the reverse. He’s the most genial Chancellor we’ve had since Ken Clarke. 

Yesterday was Rishi Sunak’s turn to host the Downing Street press briefing. Ugh. What a way to start the week

It’s just that his economic news during the crisis usually makes you want to crawl back into bed and pull the duvet over your head.

Rishi was here to discuss the Government’s furloughing scheme, which he hopes will save over a million jobs.

Some 140,000 firms had already applied for the emergency cash since the Treasury’s phone lines opened at 8am that morning. 

That’s around £40billion pouring from the Treasury coffers every three months. Terrifying.

He also announced he would be signing off another £500million in funds to help struggling start-up companies.

Media questions dragged on too long, but the punchiest query came from the BBC’s Hugh Pym who asked if the Government was ashamed about sending medical workers on to the front line without proper protective gear. Rishi deftly palmed the question on to Professor Doyle

With his scheme now up and running, Rishi might have afforded himself a little strut at the lectern – but for the embarrassing issue of NHS protection equipment shortages.

The Chancellor admitted this had been an ‘international challenge’ but he insisted the Government was now getting on top of it.

Apparently 140,000 protective gowns had just arrived from Myanmar and were making their way to the front line. Protective gowns procured from Myanmar? It sounded like one of Arthur Daley’s business wheezes.

Guest medicos for the day were the Ministry of Defence’s Chief Scientific Adviser Angela McLean and Yvonne Doyle. 

Dame Angela offered us a slide showing that the number of people being admitted to hospital in London had fallen for the seventh day in a row.

Encouraging news, though deadpan McLean didn’t sound very excited by it. It’s possible she doesn’t ‘do’ excited.

With his scheme now up and running, Rishi might have afforded himself a little strut at the lectern – but for the embarrassing issue of NHS protection equipment shortages. A London Ambulance worker is pictured putting on PPE outside a hospital in the capital

Media questions dragged on too long, but the punchiest query came from the BBC’s Hugh Pym who asked if the Government was ashamed about sending medical workers on to the front line without proper protective gear. 

Rishi deftly palmed the question on to Professor Doyle. She admitted ‘concern’ that some health workers felt they weren’t getting the gear they needed.

It’s possible any NHS staff tuning in between frantic shifts won’t have found the prof’s answer particularly reassuring.

Elsewhere, it had been at least a week since Tony Blair last spoke out, so naturally when his modestly-titled think-tank – the ‘Tony Blair Institute for Global Change’ – published its five-point plan to tackle coronavirus, Britain’s media outlets cleared their morning schedules to allow him to have his say.

Mr Blair appeared via videolink perched in front of an exposed brick wall and a swirly modern artwork, presumably from somewhere inside his luxury Buckinghamshire schloss.

As ever with Blair, nothing about this scene looked entirely natural. You wonder whether the backdrop had been decided on the night before by an advisory committee.

He’s looking haggard now, the old boy. His thinning locks are silver, the face so lined you could take a brass rubbing from it. He wore a white shirt with a collar so generous it would not have looked amiss at a 1970s roller-skate disco.

Mr Blair appeared via videolink perched in front of an exposed brick wall and a swirly modern artwork, presumably from somewhere inside his luxury Buckinghamshire schloss

Blair was sympathetic to the Government. The virus was the ‘most difficult challenge’ he had ever seen in politics.

From an ex-PM who endured ten years of being undermined by his own Chancellor, this was no small statement.

Still, Blair felt Boris has been ‘behind the curve’ at the beginning of the crisis.

It was at this point that the words ‘If I were back in government’ passed ruefully from his lips. Then he launched into an explanation of how he would have done things differently.

But by that point, I’m afraid I was too busy scrabbling around for the remote control to have heard what it was.

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