“The iron laws of geometrical progression are shouting at us from the graphs,” the Prime Minister announced in his address to the nation last night. In English, big Covid trouble has arrived. There is much debate over how strict the new rules should be at this point, with Professor John Edmunds of the government’s scientific advisory group warning today that there should be tough national restrictions now – or “it will be too late again”. If we don’t act immediately, “we’ll have the worst of both worlds” further down the line, he told BBC Radio 4. “We haven’t learnt from our mistakes.” But Boris Johnson wants to emphasise that this is a “great and freedom-loving country” and the fresh set of rules he has settled on are far from a national lockdown: 10pm closing time for hospitality, table service only, use of face coverings for workers, plus the rule of six.
Keir Starmer had a busy schedule yesterday. He first had the tough job of delivering his first conference(ish) speech to an empty room, which saw him put across distinctly different messaging from that seen in his leadership campaign (more ‘progressive patriotism’ than the ten pledges – did RLB win the argument?). It was broadly well-received, though Momentum did criticise the lack of policy detail and the party’s online left spent the rest of the day debating whether there is such a thing as left-wing patriotism. They can never get enough George Orwell chat. Ultimately, the speech showed an absolute focus on appealing to voters lost in recent years and on winning the next general election, and that’s why members elected Starmer earlier this year.
The Labour leader then responded to the new coronavirus restrictions, which he described as “necessary” but “not inevitable”. He argued that there is still time to prevent a second national lockdown being imposed, and that Labour would support the “national effort” required in the coming weeks and months. Starmer also highlighted the desperate need for more financial support. Applying additional pressure, Gordon Brown told Chancellor Rishi Sunak to deliver a new economic recovery plan “within days”. The former Prime Minister later remarked to John McDonnell: “I actually think this government has had so many U-turns that we can force U-turns on these issues.”
Indeed it looks impossible, particularly now that more rules have come in, for the government to resist calls for extra support. This was all incredibly predictable, but they always need to be dragged kicking and screaming. The Financial Times has reported that Sunak is drawing up post-furlough plans to subsidise wages. Hopefully we’ll hear more in the coming days, rather than at the very last minute, but let nobody hold their breath. In the meantime, we can watch Keir Starmer’s own ‘right of reply’ address to the nation tonight on the BBC, responding to Johnson’s Tuesday evening statement. With his Connected speech being mostly eclipsed by the Covid-dominated news agenda, this will help to introduce the new Labour leader to the country – and it won’t be difficult to deliver a clearer message than that of the Prime Minister. Sign up to LabourList’s morning email for everything Labour, every weekday morning.