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JEREMY CORBYN turned the spotlight on the workers driving the “huge collective effort” to push on through the coronavirus crisis for the greater good of society in his last Prime Minister’s Questions session as Labour leader today.
Mr Corbyn told the Commons that the Covid-19 pandemic had made it clear how deeply we depend on each other in our daily lives.
“At a time of crisis, no-one is an island, no-one is self-made,” he said.
“The wellbeing of the wealthiest corporate chief executive officer depends on the outsourced worker cleaning their office.
“At times like this, we have to recognise the value of each other and the strength of a society that cares for each other and cares for all.”
Mr Corbyn praised the “unsung heroes” in the NHS, emergency services, prison and probation, schools, postal service, transport, utilities, Civil Service, local authorities, and social care who “work day and night” to keep the country running.
He said: “I wish to give a special mention to one group who are usually ignored, forgotten and decried as ‘unskilled workers:’ cleaners.
“All around the country — and in this building — they are doing their best to keep our places hygienic and safe.”
Prime Minister Boris Johnson supported Mr Corbyn’s tribute to front-line workers and repeated that non-essential workers must stay at home.
He added that the sacrifice of freedoms in the lockdown that he imposed this week was “inevitable and necessary” to control rising infection and death rates.
Mr Corbyn pressed Mr Johnson on whether measures would be taken to make sure that front-line workers are protected during the pandemic, and if testing for the virus was being prioritised.
He pointed out that he had asked the PM many times over the past few weeks about plans for widespread testing and had been assured that “everything that could be done was being done.”
Mr Corbyn called for clarity on why the government had not sought to buy testing kits weeks or months ago, after a leaked email showed that Mr Johnson had only written to British laboratories on Sunday to seek help in buying testing equipment.
“He is quite right that testing is vital in our success at beating the coronavirus and, as the Health Secretary [Matt Hancock] has said many times, we are massively increasing our testing campaign, going up from 5,000 to 10,000 to 25,000 a day,” the Prime Minister obfuscated.
During his last face-off at the despatch box with Mr Corbyn, Mr Johnson praised the outgoing Labour leader’s “determination to build a better society.”
Mr Corbyn joked that the PM’s remarks sounded like “some kind of obituary” before stressing that he would still be campaigning as MP for Islington North, promising: “My voice will not be stilled.”
Shadow Commons leader Valerie Vaz later said: “I want to pay tribute to the Leader of the Opposition and thank him for all his work, and particularly his family and his staff.
“They’ve worked very hard — but he must have done something right, Mr Speaker, because he’s seen off two prime ministers.”
Commons leader Jacob Rees-Mogg said he “admired” Mr Corbyn for his “unquestionable” commitment to public service and “strong principles about how we think this country may be better governed.”
Mr Rees-Mogg said that Mr Corbyn is expected to be “moving to a different part of the front bench in a few weeks’ time.”
Rebecca Long-Bailey, Lisa Nandy and Sir Keir Starmer are the three remaining candidates seeking to succeed Mr Corbyn as leader.
In the House of Lords, where peers passed the coronavirus emergency legislation yesterday, Labour frontbencher Lord Falconer pressed the government to enable individual powers to be removed at the six-monthly reviews.
He said he was anxious that, as it stands, the measures could be extended over two years without proper parliamentary scrutiny and could only be brought to an end early “on an all-or-nothing basis.”
With Parliament set to close early for Easter, many MPs raised concerns over how the government would beheld accountable as it dealt with the pandemic over the coming weeks.
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