Socialist Worker

Keir Starmer’s ‘real opposition’ leaves the Tories unscathed over virus response

by Nick Clark
Issue No. 2702

Labour leader Keir Starmer in parliament last week

Labour leader Keir Starmer in parliament last week (Pic: UK Parliament/Flickr)


Media pundits and right wing Labour politicians are hugely impressed by Labour leader Keir Starmer’s response to the coronavirus. Few ordinary people will have noticed.

Starmer asked a few basic questions of Boris Johnson’s ­stand-in Dominic Raab in parliament last week.

These included why so few coronavirus antibody tests have been carried out, why there is a shortage of protective equipment in the NHS, and how many care home workers have died due to coronavirus.

They’re issues that expose the horrifying reality caused by the Tories’ complete lack of care for the lives of ordinary people.

Yet instead of raging anger, Starmer chose to be measured and understated.

Raab couldn’t put a figure on care home deaths, and MPs and media commentators swooned at how “forensic” Starmer had been. They all agreed that this was the proper opposition Labour had waited years to be.

Yet outside the parliamentary bubble the Tories came away completely unscathed, able to carry on exactly as before.

They should be facing a crisis over their failures. All they face from Labour is a few uncomfortable minutes in parliament.

That’s because Starmer decided from the very beginning of his leadership he would “engage constructively with the government, not opposition for opposition’s sake”.

So in an interview on Sunday, senior shadow cabinet minister Rachel Reeves chose to “urge” the government over vital questions of life and death.

She was careful not to challenge them or demand they do anything.

“I would urge the government to count the deaths in care homes in the same way they’re counted in hospitals,” she said.

Testing

“We’re going to need mass testing at a community level. We’re urging the government to work with local authorities, to open up town halls and libraries,” she later added.

Starmer, Reeves and most other Labour MPs’ biggest concern is appearing to be respectable and responsible politicians.

They’re more worried about convincing big business leaders that they can be trusted to manage the crisis than they are in voicing ordinary people’s anger.

That’s why Labour’s main focus is not anger over the bosses still forcing thousands of people to work unnecessarily, for instance.

It’s on ending the lockdown so that bosses can get more people back to work even faster.

Labour says this has to be done in a way that is “safe”. But its politicians won’t even say how.

In another interview shadow minister Rosena Allin-Khan said, “Labour isn’t looking to have any sort of argument about what the exit strategy should be.

“What we are asking for is some strategy going forward.”

Pushed on what Labour wants to see, she only asked for “greater understanding and clarity”.

Labour politicians might imagine they’re being “forensic” and clever. In reality they’re completely weak and toothless.


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