Keir Starmer has said that the Labour Party is facing what he described as a “very significant” boost in support for the Conservatives as a result of the vaccine roll-out programme ahead of the local and mayoral elections in May.
In a Sky News interview that aired today, the Labour leader criticised the “undoubted incompetence and slowness” in the handling of the pandemic over the past 12 months, but said the vaccine had bolstered public opinion for the Tories.
“That was real incompetence, real slowness and, tragically, we had a second wave where there were more deaths than the first wave,” Starmer said.
“Now we’re in the vaccine roll-out. It’s going well and that’s a good thing and we’re completely supportive of that. And I think that there’s undoubtedly a vaccine bounce for the government.
“I want the vaccine programme to succeed and I’m not going to say anything against it. Therefore, you know, if it rolls out quicker and more efficiently than anywhere else, that is a good thing and I’m hugely supportive.
“But does it lead to a vaccine bounce in the polls? I think it does. It may not be the only reason, but it is very significant.”
Asked whether Scotland is his “biggest problem” as Labour leader, Starmer emphasised that winning in the Holyrood elections in May is important both for the devolved nation itself and the UK party as a whole.
“That’s why we have to improve the Labour vote in Scotland, rebuild trust and get back to winning ways in Scotland. We’ve got a mountain to climb – you know, I accept that – but Scotland is very important to me and to the Labour Party,” he said.
Starmer was also asked whether Boris Johnson has the “moral authority” to oversee the social and cultural change that the Prime Minister has said is necessary to combat violence against women given the remarks he has made in the past.
“I’m glad that yesterday there was a constructive tone in parliament with all parties recognising that we must treat the last week as a turning point. That is a good thing,” Starmer said.
The Labour leader devoted all of his questions at the most recent Prime Minister’s Questions session to the issue of tackling male violence against women and girls, arguing that politicians must “work together” to tackle the problem.
The pair met in parliament in the wake of the public outcry over the murder of Sarah Everard earlier this month, for which a Metropolitan Police officer has been charged, and the subsequent violent mishandling of mourners attending a vigil.
“As for the Prime Minister – as many of my female colleagues point out to me in parliament – you know this is the Prime Minister who, when they were going public with some of the things that had been said to them, the misogyny they face, he dismissed it as humbug. And so I think he’s got some way to go on this.”
Starmer told those watching today that if the country is going to tackle male violence, “we need everybody to pull together”. Pressed on whether he thinks Johnson is sexist, the Labour leader said: “He was far too dismissive of misogyny.
“You know, I remember the afternoon in parliament when women were standing up and saying ‘this is what has been said to me and about me’ – and to dismiss that as humbug, I think, was obviously the wrong thing to do.”