Labour urges reopening of schools first when Covid restrictions are eased

Sienna Rodgers
© lonndubh/
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Boris Johnson has continued to use Theresa May’s old tactic of ignoring opposition day votes. The government adopted this approach last week for the free school meals and Universal Credit motions, arguing that Labour was trying to make people worry unnecessarily (while refusing to offer clarity on whether the UC uplift will be kept and briefing impractical alternative ideas). On Monday, they recycled many of the same lines, suggesting that Labour activists are meanies and the party is fabricating concerns (although Kwasi Kwarteng has confirmed that a post-Brexit review of employment rights is indeed taking place). The motions on council tax hikes and workers’ rights therefore both passed with no votes against.

Schools are Labour’s primary focus today. Ahead of an urgent question from Kate Green, the party has urged the government to commit to reopening schools and colleges first when lockdown restrictions are eased. This sparked a range of initial reactions, from those concerned that Labour is in favour of reopening too quickly to those criticising Labour for stating the obvious and what is already government policy. To the former, it is worth noting that Wes Streeting is not asking for a reopening date but for a plan as the government could be “acting now to make schools as safe as possible as soon as possible”. To the latter charge, Labour would say its demand was a response to the confusion created by Johnson’s pool clip yesterday, and they are seeking clarity.

Labour’s education team is not willing a speedy and unsafe full reopening right now, but instead criticising the lack of preparations. Will the key be testing, prioritising staff for the vaccine, or some other measure? Forward-thinking is clearly needed: there was none when the government ordered the return of schools after Christmas, then ordered their closure the very next day. But Labour may be considered more constructive in its criticisms if it emphasised its favoured solutions to allow ventilation, social distancing, small classes and bigger classrooms. While that requires a slightly more risk-taking approach from the opposition party, the rewards of stressing the more imaginative answers required to meet the challenges presented by the pandemic would be worth a little risk.

Meanwhile, in the Scottish Labour leadership race, both candidates are racking up affiliate nominations. Anas Sarwar has won support from GMB, Community, the Jewish Labour Movement and the Scottish Co-operative Party, while Monica Lennon has Unite, UNISON, CWU and Socialist Health Association Scotland on her side. Guide us in our coverage of the contest: what interests you about it, and what would you like to know about the candidates? Feel free to email us. Sign up to LabourList’s morning email for everything Labour, every weekday morning.

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