The prime minster’s attempt to shift the blame for thousands of deaths onto care homes has provoked outrage and disbelief across the care sector.
A care home owner said they’ve been left “speechless and aghast” after Boris Johnson said that “too many care homes didn’t really follow the procedures” as figures show almost 20,000 confirmed coronaviurus deaths in English and Welsh care homes since March.
Yet the government is standing by the prime minster. Ministers have been issued the line that the PM wasn’t actually “criticising” care homes, he was “just setting out the problems the pandemic presented in its early stages”, and they are sticking with it.
Despite the PM clearly saying something else that’s been seen as a preemptive – ie. pre-public inquiry – attempt to shift the blame for nearly 30,000 ‘excess’ deaths in English and Welsh care homes during the crisis. Because, the PM said, they “didn’t follow the procedures”.
“That isn’t good enough,” reacted the exasperated owner of a care home, Ricki Bibi. “I’m just speechless and aghast for him to even dare say what he said.”
The PM had began talking about how the crisis had shown that “we need to think about how we organise our social care package better and how we make sure we look after people better who are in social care,” when he added:
“We discovered too many care homes didn’t really follow the procedures in the way that they could have, but we’re learning lessons the whole time.”
Bibi told BBC radio news (8pm) that Johnson needed to “put a public apology out for all those workers that kept everything going. We were not given any clear leads.”
‘We’re almost entering a Kafkaesque alternative reality’
Mark Adams, the boss of Community Integrated Care called Johnson’s words “clumsy and cowardly” and a “travesty of leadership”, adding: “If this is genuinely his view, I think we’re almost entering a Kafkaesque alternative reality where the government sets the rules, we follow them, they don’t like the results, they then deny setting the rules and blame the people that were trying to do their best.”
It’s an opinion echoed by the Telegraph’s parliamentary sketchwriter Michael Deacon who, without mentioning Orwell or “double-speak”, still suggests some form of such a policy is being practiced by Number 10.
For evidence he cites the exact same responses given by Johnson’s official spokesman and his secretary of state for health, Matt Hancock when faced with demands for an apology for the PM’s comments – described as “insulting”, “despicable” and “offensive” by Labour MPs in the commons earlier today.
“Mr Hancock, however, did not apologise for Mr Johnson’s comments,” writes Deacon. “But nor did he defend them. Instead, he did something remarkable.
“He acted as if Mr Johnson had made completely different comments altogether.”
Hancock’s response repeated that of the PM’s spokesman, because, the Times’ ‘Analysis’ piece suggests, No10 has decided the populace should perceive the PM as “clumsy not callous”. The question for the paper was whether Johnson’s comments about care homes were “a misspeak or an accurate reflection of his own view?”
‘We know it was not known’
However, the “backlash” to the comments saw business secretary Alok Sharma dispatched to the morning’s political-media-interview-merry-go-round to deliver the official line that the PM “certainly wasn’t blaming care homes”, no matter that the PM’s actual words very much shows he was and he did.
Because, you see, said Sharma, “what the prime minister was pointing out is nobody knew what the correct procedures were, because we know that the extent of the asymptomatic cases was not known at the time.”
Except the PM didn’t say that. He said something different. He said “too many care homes didn’t really follow the procedures in the way that they could have”.
He didn’t say “we knew it wasn’t known” about asymptomatic cases, or any combination of words to that effect. Yet that is what secretaries of state and government spokesmen are telling us he said, spinning the PM’s actual words into something altogether different. Once again.
‘Clumsy not callous’
Because Johnson has form for this. Just ask the DUP, the EU or recall his “oven-ready” Brexit deal and consider the frequent reports that negotiations are stalling and that Britain is on course for a no-deal exit on costly and bureaucratic WTO terms.
Or the countless other instances where his deeds have caused outrage. It’s as if – and yes, it has been been said many times in many places after too many off-the-cuff clangers, insults and offensive remarks – that the prime minister feels that he doesn’t have to apologise. For anything, ever. No matter who he insults or how.
Having achieved his lifetime’s ambition to become the PM, and to find, just seven months into it that Johnson’s aim now is to be seen as “clumsy” rather than “callous”, as suggested by the Times – instead of, say “visionary” or “unifying” as other leaders aspire to be – Britain’s troubles may be far deeper than even the most pessimistic may fear.