Sunday shows: Starmer gives first interview as Labour leader

Keir Starmer and Angela Rayner appeared on the Sunday shows this morning and shared their thoughts on the government’s handling of coronavirus. Their interviews offered an early indication that the newly elected Labour leader and deputy leader will take different approaches to criticising policies during the crisis.

Rayner said that she was disappointed that Matt Hancock had only self-isolated for seven days, in line with UK advice but contrary to World Heath Organisation guidelines. She also warned that social distancing measures need to be “proportionate”, raising the issue of many living in small properties without gardens, whereas Starmer told Andrew Marr that he would support a government ban on any exercise outside if the government made such a decision.

The Andrew Marr Show

Starmer gave his first interview as Labour leader to Marr. He talked about coronavirus, Brexit, the next shadow cabinet, party reforms and vowed not to pursue “opposition for opposition’s sake”.

  • On the government’s approach to Covid-19: “I think the whole approach to start with – the herd immunity approach – was probably wrong.”
  • He added: “We were then slow in testing. The equipment that is needed on the frontline isn’t there.”
  • Asked whether Labour would support a ban on all exercise outside as a further lockdown measure: “Yes we would. We do have to take whatever steps are necessary.”
  • Asked if he would enter into a national government: “I asked whether I could have privy council briefings on a one-to-one basis with experts and politicians. He said yes to that… So the Prime Minister and I have agreed arrangements for how we will work together in the coming weeks.”
  • When pressed: “Well I’ve agreed those arrangements with the Prime Minister, and I do think getting the balance right is important… Support the government where it’s right to do so but asking those difficult questions matters.”
  • On holding the government to account: “Not opposition for opposition’s sake. I’m not going to score party-political points, and I’m not going to demand the impossible.”
  • Asked whether the Brexit deadline is still realistic in light of coronavirus: “I think it’s unlikely.”
  • On whether the government should therefore extend the deadline: “They should extend it if it’s necessary to do so.”
  • On his shadow cabinet: “It will be balanced across the party, it will be balanced across the country and of course it will be balanced in terms of diversity.”
  • Asked if his cabinet will include Blairites: “I will have in my shadow cabinet those that want to serve towards the future aim of winning the next general election.”
  • Asked what he is going to change about the party: “Well, the first example would be our approach to the Jewish community.”
  • On whether he needed a new general secretary of the Labour Party: “I’m not going to discuss senior staff positions.”
  • Asked whether a change of direction is needed for Labour: “We just lost four elections in a row. And therefore of course we need to change.”
  • On the longer-term implications of coronavirus: “What we can’t do is go back to business as usual… We have to think about how we reimagine the economy.”
  • Asked whether recent government measures have proved Jeremy Corbyn right: “I don’t think that this is about vindicating Labour Party policies. The country wants to see politicians of political parties pulling together.”

Hancock also spoke with Marr today, telling people that the claim that the government initially pursued a strategy of herd immunity “has been rubbish from start to finish”.

Asked about the potential for further lockdown measures, the Health Secretary stated: “If you don’t want us to take the step to ban exercise in all forms outside of your home then you’ve got to follow the rules.”

Ridge on Sunday

Angela Rayner spoke about social distancing and lockdown measures, the government’s response to coronavirus, her election as deputy leader of the Labour Party and Starmer’s as leader.

  • On being elected as deputy leader: “It’s a bit surreal sitting on my sofa for the first time after six days of being in bed, being given the honour and the privilege of becoming the deputy leader of the Labour Party.”
  • Asked what having coronavirus has been like: “It was very debilitating and the government is right to give the advice that people should stay at home.”
  • On banning people exercising outside: “It’s all right for people who have got big houses and huge back gardens to say that… People should do social distancing and keep their distance but also be reasonable and proportionate about that.”
  • On self-isolation: “I’m disappointed that Matt Hancock, after seven days of having the virus, went out when the World Health Organisation has said that you should self-isolate for 14 days.”
  • On the government’s response to the virus: “We still don’t have the protective equipment for our frontline staff… And we’re not testing – nowhere near testing enough. The government has to start testing.”
  • On Labour working with the government: “We will work constructively with the government… But also we’ve got this absolute responsibility to push the government where we think they’re not doing this correctly.”
  • On a new shadow cabinet: “Keir hasn’t offered anyone any jobs to anyone yet… I’m sure Keir will make sure all talents are in our shadow cabinet.”
  • Asked whether she would like to remain as Shadow Education Secretary: “I feel immensely proud to have served under Jeremy Corbyn as the Shadow Education Secretary and to develop a national education service and I am committed, even as deputy leader, to make sure that happens.”

Former Labour Health Secretary Alan Johnson spoke about the government’s preparation for the ongoing health crisis, Starmer’s election to the leadership and told viewers that history will remember Corbyn as a “dreadful” leader.

  • Asked about the “way out” of the Covid-19 crisis: “Well, it’s not by herd immunity – that’s for sure. I think the government has taken the right path now, eventually.”
  • On herd immunity: “The kind of discussion and debate I’m seeing raising its head again about herd immunity is, in effect, that you put the economy before human lives and I don’t think that’s acceptable.”
  • On the last Labour government’s planning for a pandemic: “We were prepared – and I don’t say we were prepared because it’s something great about a Labour government but all governments have a risk register.”
  • He added: “I’m absolutely amazed at how badly prepared the government is for this… Number one on our risk register was this.”
  • On what the government should have done: “Whether they are respiratory or whether they are flu based pandemics like swine flu – the basic things you need at the start is protective equipment for NHS staff. That doesn’t change.”
  • On Labour and the election of Starmer as leader: “We need to get away from this cult that has taken us over… This is absolutely the right first step – we have got someone there who is capable of leading this party back to victory.””
  • On factional infighting and party unity: “Momentum is an organisation devoted to internecine warfare… There is no sign that they have buried the weapons and dedicated themselves to unity.”
  • Asked how history will judge Corbyn’s leadership: “Awful. Dreadful. He was incapable of leadership. Now we have got a leader who is capable of leadership.”

Hancock also appeared on the show. He said that “sunbathing is against the rules that have been set out for important public health reason”, that the Prime Minister is “okay” and that Boris Johnson is “working away inside Downing Street”.

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