Is Starmer ramping up criticism of the government over Covid-19?

Elliot Chappell
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“It’s a mountain to climb. But four years is time enough for us to do what we need to do,” Keir Starmer told The Mirror last night. He is a man with a plan to win power, which is lucky since that’s what he is there to do. The Labour leader has revealed that he is launching a virtual tour of the country, holding a series of ‘call Keir’ events on Zoom to have some “gritty” conversations and win back the trust of the electorate. The first of the ‘town hall’ style events will see the north London MP speak with voters in Red Wall seats in Bury and the Tees Valley – areas where Labour lost last year and will need to reclaim if it’s to win power.

The Labour leader has said that the online meetings, the first of which will take place this afternoon, will help the party hold the government to account over its handling of coronavirus. Starmer wants to “hear directly from people about their experiences” of the pandemic, and has announced plans that will see him talk to residents from every region and nation of the UK. Dozens of the ‘call Keir’ events will take place over the coming weeks, forming part of a number of meetings he has held with key workers, small businesses and representatives of BAME communities since becoming leader. The party has picked two of the most marginally held Tory seats in the country to kick-off the tour, with more locations to be revealed.

Could this see a ramping up of the criticism over the government’s handling of the crisis? ‘Constructive’ has so far been the watchword of Starmer’s leadership and it’s not proved uncontroversial within the party – his insistence on not pursuing “opposition for opposition’s sake” has mostly frustrated the left, but has also drawn criticism from the likes of Alistair Campbell. His first PMQs as leader saw him calmly dissect the government’s approach to the pandemic, while his second yesterday saw him attack Boris Johnson’s claims of “success”.

The announcement of the new events also follows his call to the PM to have an “adult conversation” with voters about how to lift the lockdown measures. He has criticised the government for being “slow into lockdown, slow on testing, slow on protective equipment” and drawn stark comparisons with our European neighbours. But he has also taken great care to repeatedly express his support for the government in maintaining the lockdown and increasing capacity in the NHS. The Labour leader is unlikely to abandon his carefully maintained position of constructive opposition. Sign up to LabourList’s morning email for everything Labour, every weekday morning.

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