Sunday shows: “Schools must stay open,” insists Starmer

The Andrew Marr Show

Labour leader Keir Starmer appeared on the show this morning. He slammed the Tories for the delay in introducing a national lockdown, highlighted the “price of the government’s incompetence” and insisted that “schools must stay open” despite the National Education Union demanding that schools be included in the lockdown.

On coronavirus…

  • On the lockdown: “Three weeks ago, we called for a circuit break. Now at that stage, the government rejected it out of hand, ridiculed it. Now, only to do precisely the same thing. But there is a cost to that delay.”
  • On the delay: “The lockdown now will be longer, it will be harder. We just missed half term. And there’s a very real human cost to this. On the day that SAGE recommended a circuit break, the daily death rate was 11, yesterday it was 326.”
  • Asked whether Labour will support the government when it brings the measures before parliament next week: “We will vote in favour of the restrictions.”
  • On exiting the lockdown at the end of the four-week shut down period: “If they don’t use this time to fix test, trace and isolate, then I think the 2nd December will be a review date – not an end date.”
  • On the test and trace system: “It’s been busted for months. Use the time to fix it because otherwise we’re going to be back in this cycle for months and months and months.”
  • Asked if he would work with Boris Johnson: “I would work with the Prime Minister in the national interest to try and get the infection rate down.”
  • Asked what we need to see for England to come out of lockdown: “We need to stay in the lockdown until the R rate is below one… I don’t know if it’s possible to get the R rate below one if your test, trace and isolate isn’t working.”
  • Asked whether it is possible to get R below one with schools remaining open under the current proposals for the lockdown beginning next week: “It is I think possible, but it will take longer.”
  • He added: “Lots of parents and teachers will be tearing their hair out – last week was half term. That’s why I said do the circuit break then.”
  • On schools and the government’s delay: “If we’d said to schools, will you close on the Friday before half term… you could have had a 12-day shut down of schools. Well, that is the price of the government’s incompetence.”
  • On schools: “Schools must stay open. It’s really important. The harm that children are caused by not being in school is huge, so they must stay open.”
  • On testing in schools: “The government should put in place effective testing at schools. Put children and staff at the front of the queue, in the same way as the NHS staff, to make sure that we control it.”
  • Asked whether Mark Drakeford has been “irresponsible” by maintaining that the Welsh ‘firebreak‘ will still end on November 9th: “No, Mark has followed the science and he’s put in place a break… He got in early with his decision.”
  • Asked whether we should have a UK-wide lockdown: “Ideally, yes… It should be a four-nation approach if possible. It is for the Prime Minister to lead on that and get people round the table to do the same thing at the same time.”
  • On the potential £40bn cost of the measures announced on Saturday: “It’s a price we’ve now got to pay because of the delay of the government. Had there been a shorter lockdown, it would have been less expensive.”

On Labour news this week…

  • On Jeremy Corbyn’s suspension for his response to the Equality and Human Rights Commission report on Labour antisemitism: “I was very disappointed with Jeremy’s response where he appeared to suggest it was exaggerated.”
  • On the ongoing disciplinary action: “There is now a process… It’s very important for me not to express a view on the merits of that or the outcome of that.”
  • On a resulting divide in the party: “There is no need for a civil war in the Labour Party. I stood on a platform to unite the party and I’m determined to do that, but I also made a solemn pledge that we would root out antisemitism.”
  • He added: “What happened on Thursday was not what I wanted to happen… I wanted the focus on Thursday to be on the Jewish community, Jewish people, those that had suffered such pain and anguish.”
  • On his time in Corbyn’s shadow cabinet: “Antisemitism came up in the shadow cabinet and I challenged what was going on, on a number of fronts… I thought it was important to have that challenge inside the shadow cabinet.”
  • On his position at the time: “There were a number of challenges that I was very aggressively attacking… I was calling for automatic expulsions, and for rule changes, and the change on the international definition.”
  • He refused to say whether he wanted Corbyn back in the party, saying only: “I would like to see Jeremy reflect on what he said… I think it’s pretty clear across the labour movement that most people think he’s in the wrong place on this.”

Cabinet Office minister Michael Gove appeared on the show this morning and denied leaking government plans on Covid to the press. He told viewers that he did not know who had been responsible for the leak.

Gove highlighted that Johnson has launched an inquiry, but refused to say whether the responsible party should be sacked if identified. He said: “It is for the Prime Minister and the cabinet secretary to decide what the appropriate steps are.”

The minister said the government is committed to keeping schools open “whatever happens” under the lockdown measures announced. He argued: “All the evidence suggests that schools are not a centre of infection and that schools are safe.”

Sophy Ridge on Sunday

Shadow Chief Secretary to the Treasury Bridget Phillipson said Labour would support in parliament the national lockdown announced on Saturday but argued the delay in introducing the measure has had “very real consequences for our country”.

  • On the lockdown: “We did call for that circuit breaker three weeks ago because it was clear the numbers were heading in the wrong direction.”
  • On whether Labour would vote to support the national lockdown: “We will support it, however it would have been better if we had been in a position where the government had brought forward that circuit breaker.”
  • On an end date for the measures beginning on Thursday: “We are in a position now where we’re facing a national lockdown – a lockdown where we don’t fully understand if it will have the end date that the government has set out.”
  • On the government’s failure to put in place a lockdown earlier: “The government has been too slow on this. They were too slow in the initial phase of the coronavirus crisis, they’ve been too slow now.”
  • On following the science: “The government should be driven by the evidence and by the advice that they receive, and that’s why it’s so disappointing that they’ve ridiculed the evidence and ridiculed the science.”
  • On the cost of the lockdown: “To be in this position now will not only come at a significant cost in terms of life, but actually it’s going to make the recovery far slower and will make the economic damage much longer than if the government had acted sooner.
  • She added: “Inaction has had very real consequences for our country.”
  • On schools: “They should stay open… I understand the concerns that unions are expressing but I’ve seen the impact that’s felt in places like Sunderland and the North East where they’ve been out of school for a significant period of time.”
  • On the impact of lost time in school for disadvantaged children: “They can’t afford to have that loss of education… They already start school behind their more affluent peers. They already face such challenges getting on in life.”
  • On testing for school staff: “It’s vital that schools remain open, but we do need to see the government putting place support to make sure all teaching staff and staff within schools have priority access to testing.”
  • On higher education: “There is a different position around universities. We do need to see the government setting out what their plan for the end of term looks like and whether they could encourage universities to move away from face-to-face teaching.”
  • On the extension to the furlough scheme: “It was a mistake back in July for the Chancellor to announce he was starting to withdraw that support when it was far from clear that we were through this crisis.”
  • On the impact for businesses: “It’s incredible that businesses were looking today for the introduction of the new job support scheme, only to be told with less than six hours notice that instead furlough was going to the extended.”
  • On Labour antisemitism and the suspension of Corbyn: “Jeremy Corbyn’s statement arising out of the EHRC report was deeply disappointing. We accept the findings of that report in full and we will be implementing its recommendations.”
  • On the disciplinary action against the former leader: “On that specific case obviously there is a process underway now – the party’s disciplinary process – and I can’t really say much more on that.”
  • On whether Starmer should have done more under Corbyn’s leadership: “Keir Starmer spoke out both publicly and privately, as did many of us… Some of us chose to stay on the backbenches. Others felt the way to change things was from within the shadow cabinet.”

Michael Gove defended the new lockdown announced by the Prime Minister on Saturday evening. He said the spread of the virus was “greater than any of us predicted” and the “nuclear option” was now necessary.

Asked why, two weeks earlier, he explicitly told Sky News that there would not be a national lockdown, Gove argued that at the time the government believed that the “regional approach could succeed” at reducing coronavirus infections.

He also revealed that the lockdown could be extended beyond its December 2nd end date if the R rate is still above one, and told viewers that the government will “always make a decision in the national interest based on evidence”.

Former Foreign Secretary and Labour MP David Miliband declared this morning that he “can’t think of anything more shameful” than the results of the EHRC report on antisemitism in the Labour Party that was released on Thursday.

Miliband argued that it was “definitely” correct to suspend Corbyn, claiming his response to the report “showed all of the blindness and all of the arrogance” of his time as Labour leader, and said that Corbyn “essentially suspended himself”.

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