Keir Starmer and Labour’s role as opposition during coronavirus crisis

By Jack Graham
April 2 2020, 13.00

Labour Leadership frontrunner Sir Keir Starmer has reminded the public of the importance of an opposition party during the current COVID19 pandemic.

Whilst he believes that the opposition party should play its role of scrutiniser, he is a firm believer that there is a time and a place for picking a fight.

Sir Keir said: “I think the role of opposition is not to score points for the sake of scoring points.

“It is to have the courage to say the government has got it right when it has, but also the courage to call them out when it hasn’t got it right.”

Some of the urgent problems that the government has yet to solve are the lack of testing for the COVID19 virus and adequate personal protective equipment (PPE) for NHS and care staff.

Whilst these are difficult times for any government, Sir Keir is not letting Boris Johnson off the hook completely.

He said: “The last two days are really evidence that the government isn’t putting forward satisfactory answers to questions about why testing is so far behind other countries.

“We need to ramp up that testing, we need to have a viable exit strategy from the situation that we’re currently in, and testing is an integral part of it.”

This would reflect the public viewpoint as well. A recent YouGov poll, showed that 66% of British people think the handling of COVID19 testing has been handled badly.

True to his word however, Sir Keir was able to applaud the government’s recent actions towards income support.

He found comfort in seeing the government providing aid for British businesses and workers that aims to lessen the financial impact to wages during the lockdown.

Likewise, he praised the MET police’s response to enforcing the lockdown, stating that he believes that they are doing a good job in such difficult circumstances.

However, it goes further than political point scoring as Sir Keir believes that this level of scrutiny is essential, less the government oversteps the mark and implements too harsh laws.

Hungary’s Parliament voted this week to give the Prime Minister, Viktor Orbán, the power to rule by decree, which some have stated is a threat to democracy in the country and the EU.

When comparing these events to the UK, Sir Keir expressed his concerns regarding the extensive legislation passed by the UK government, and hoped to see regular reviews of these powers.

He said: “We haven’t seen anything like that since the Second World War.

“It’s very important that they are held to account in the exercise of those powers.”

Sir Keir went on to mention that whilst there may be public approval for stricter measures that tackle the COVID19 crisis, there will need to be an effective opposition of these government powers for the remainder of the crisis and beyond.

And lastly, since the rest of the country has had to adapt to working online during the lockdown, Sir Keir was keen to see Parliament do the same.

Parliament is currently in recess now, from Wednesday 25 March to Tuesday 21 April, nearly 4 weeks when MPs will not be sitting.

Sir Keir said: “I think it’s wrong that Parliament’s in recess for the best part of a month. Parliament should be sitting at a time like this.

“If it can’t sit physically then we need to think about how we can work virtually.”

At time of writing, Sir Keir is currently the bookmakers’ favourite to win the Labour leadership race against Lisa Nandy and Rebecca Long-Bailey, ahead of the results announcement on Saturday 4 April.

Featured image credit: Syed Zaheer on Flicker

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