Government has been treating local leaders with “contempt”, says Starmer

Elliot Chappell

Keir Starmer has declared that the government has been “treating local communities, particularly in the Midlands, North West and North East, and their leaders with contempt” in the coronavirus pandemic.

In a ‘Call Keir’ session on LBC radio this morning, the Labour leader discussed the government’s response to Covid as well as his own party’s position on measures introduced to combat the spread of the virus.

Starmer told listeners that his party will not be voting against the 10pm hospitality curfew this week, and said he supports the ‘rule of six’ despite Labour abstaining on it in a House of Commons vote last week.

Calling on the government to listen to local leaders, the Labour leader said: “It is a major mistake from the government to have done everything from Whitehall and not worked with local leaders on this.”

Starmer argued that, so far in the pandemic, restrictions and other Covid measures have “been done to people, particularly in the North, not with them”, and shared his view that this is the “wrong approach”.

He added: “The government has been treating local communities, particularly in the Midlands, North West and North East, and their leaders with contempt – that Whitehall knows best and we’ll simply tell you what’s coming your way.

“And it’s just not good enough. You have to take people with you on this. Listen to what local leaders are saying.” He added that local government leaders could have told the government what would happen with the 10pm hospitality curfew.

The early closing time brought in last month for bars and restaurants has sparked widespread criticism amid reports that customers have been gathering in large numbers outside pubs and bars immediately after 10pm.

But Starmer told listeners: “We won’t vote against it, because in the end we’re voting against a restriction and then there is nothing in its place. What we need, I think, is a lot more involvement of local leaders in the decision making.”

Starmer announced last week that Labour would not be voting against the 10pm Covid hospitality curfew in any upcoming parliamentary vote on the measure, but said that there is a “smarter way” to implement the restriction.

The Labour leader suggested that Downing Street examine the implementation of a 10pm measure by the Labour government in Wales, which has put in place a “drinking-up time” rather than a deadline when guests are forced to leave.

Asked today why Labour abstained on a vote on the ‘rule of six’ despite having said it supports the measure, the Labour leader explained: “That vote last week only took place because the Prime Minister’s own MPs wanted to vote against it.

“Up until now these restrictions have gone through, if you like, on the nod. So, there was no need for vote. It was his own backbenchers that said, ‘let’s force a division in order that we can vote against the Prime Minister’.”

Put to the Labour leader that he had been ‘playing politics’ with the vote, he said: “No, I wasn’t… We will support the government where that is the right thing to do, challenge them when it’s not.”

He added: “The’ve got a massive majority, they’ve [the restrictions] all gone through. That would have gone through on the nod. But do I support the rule of six? Yes, I do.”

The Labour leader also pushed back on endorsing Democratic candidate Joe Biden for President in the upcoming US election when asked today. Earlier this year, Starmer told a Labour leadership hustings that he would back “anybody but Trump”.

This morning, however, Starmer said: “As leader of the opposition and as someone who wants to win the next election, I wouldn’t endorse candidates in any other country.”

Starmer also refused to criticise the police investigation into right-wing blogger Darren Grime when asked about the probe. He argued: “It does sometimes have to involve the police, unfortunately.

“When I was the director of public prosecutionsm there was a lot of focus on whether what people say on social media should policed or not. And I think there’s got to be a level of tolerance, of course.

“But there is a point, there is a line that can be crossed and it’s very important that when it is crossed there is involvement and in some cases prosecutions.”

The police decided to interview under caution the Conservative commentator for broadcasting an interview with Dr David Starkey in which the historian used the phrase “damn blacks”. Grimes has been accused of stirring up racial hatred.

On the decision to award MPs with a pay rise during the pandemic, the Labour leader said it was wrong. He argued: “We shouldn’t have it… This year of all years, people would say that is money that should be spent on key workers.”

But Starmer added that Labour cannot vote against it, as the decision is removed from the control of MPs by an independent body. A 4.1% increase in pay has been authorised, taking the Commons’ salaries to around £85,000.

The Labour leader’s comments in the ‘Call Keir’ session this morning came ahead of an expected announcement from the Prime Minister today that will see pubs and bars in areas with the highest coronavirus infection rate forced to close.

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