Keir Starmer took a significant risk this week by calling for critical workers to be vaccinated as a priority alongside those aged 50 to 65 and the clinically extremely vulnerable. Under the plan he put forward, school staff would be vaccinated during the February half-term. To sceptical journalists, Labour defended the proposal by highlighting that a round-the-clock vaccination programme delivering four million doses a week would mean there are plenty of jabs to go around. “The NHS rightly deserve congratulations for their impressive and speedy roll out of vaccinations. But now we need to go further and faster,” Jonathan Ashworth said.
Kate Green, the Shadow Education Secretary, has now set out a plan incorporating this vaccine prioritisation for school staff. While demanding a “delivery plan” from Gavin Williamson for the full reopening of schools, which Boris Johnson has said he hopes can take place in March, Labour’s education lead has set out the measures that the opposition would like to see taken up. As well as half-term being used for vaccines, the suggestions include support for the effective delivery of mass testing and the introduction of ‘Nightingale classrooms’, which would allow pupils to be taught in socially distanced and well-ventilated classrooms. Labour is also backing face coverings in school corridors and communal areas.
More policies still were advocated by the Labour leader at an event hosted by youth-led charity My Life My Say last night. Starmer expressed more clearly than ever that he rejects post-crisis austerity, saying “don’t make the mistake we made in 2010” as the coronavirus recovery must not repeat what happened after the financial crash. When asked about the national debt accrued due to Covid, instead of stressing the need to pay it off, he emphasised that cuts are not the answer and said his preference would be to “build and turbo-charge” the economy. “The old argument that you need to balance the books as quickly as possible just isn’t right anymore,” he said. This was Anneliese Dodds’ argument at the Mais lecture, but it was then expressed in a more academic way, as was appropriate to that setting.
A relaxed Starmer confirmed that abolishing tuition fees is still Labour policy, and he set out a clear argument for the policy that was straight-forward, personal and inclusive. He agreed that this move was a priority. The Labour leader also expressed more clearly Labour’s position on students who are paying rent for accommodation they cannot legally use: previously the party had described the situation as “clearly unjust” and called on “all housing providers” to find a “fair solution”, but Starmer directly called on private landlords to “do the decent thing and reimburse” students as some universities have done. You can find these details and his other comments on Black Lives Matter and Donald Trump in our full write-up. Sign up to LabourList’s morning email for everything Labour, every weekday morning.