“The real hero of Jaws is the mayor, a wonderful politician. A gigantic fish is eating all your constituents and he decides to keep the beach open.” This quote from Boris Johnson has resurfaced as he faces criticism for not taking more stringent action in response to coronavirus. Following the COBRA meeting held yesterday, with the true number of cases in the country estimated to be up to 10,000, the government has moved from the ‘contain’ to ‘delay’ phase. But the PM is holding off on taking further decisive measures. Johnson advised that those with mild symptoms should self-isolate but declined to ban large public meetings, as Scotland has, or close schools like the Irish Republic announced yesterday. He’s coming under increasing pressure to do more and Labour’s health spokesperson Jon Ashworth has urged the UK government to explain why it is taking such a different approach to others. Deputy leadership candidate and doctor Rosena Allin-Khan told LabourList recently that the government has been “slow to act”, and even Tory ex-Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt broke ranks yesterday to tell Channel 4 News that he’s “surprised and concerned” with the UK’s approach.
The Labour Party has cancelled its special conference scheduled for April 4th, in which it had planned to announce the result of the leadership elections. The results will now be revealed at a “scaled back event”, and the party is currently deciding what that will look like in practice. Leadership and deputy hustings have also been cancelled, including the BAME hustings event due to take place in London tomorrow. General secretary Jennie Formby emailed Labour MPs with the news yesterday afternoon, along with the decision that Welsh Labour conference and Scottish Labour women’s conference would be cancelled and rearranged for a later date. The party said it is currently taking advice on whether to cancel all meetings held by local constituency parties as well, while some have reportedly taken the decision to cancel some meetings themselves. Given that the membership tends to be older than the general population, this could be a wise move.
Meanwhile, the Electoral Commission has recommended that local elections due to take place in May should be postponed due to “growing risks to the delivery of the polls” in light of the spreading virus. The body tweeted yesterday afternoon that it had written to the government, and the chief executive told ministers that the impact of the health crisis would mean that “significant numbers” of people would not be able to vote. The electoral authority advised pushing the elections into the Autumn instead. The move would see polls set to take place in less than eight weeks for mayors, councils and police and crime commissioners all across the country cancelled. Labour’s local government spokesperson Andrew Gwynne said that he agreed with the advice, and reminded people that the resources of local councils – who administer the elections – should be focused on the coronavirus. A stark reminder that local authorities will see an increasing and unprecedented burden to their frontline care services as more cases emerge in the coming weeks. Sign up to LabourList’s morning email for everything Labour, every weekday morning.