Labour leadership denies giving up on North Shropshire by-election

Sienna Rodgers

Keir Starmer’s spokesperson has denied that the Labour leadership gave up hope of winning the North Shropshire by-election taking place on Thursday.

Asked whether the chance to win the Tory-held seat was thrown away, as some in the party believe, Starmer’s spokesperson said: “I would disagree with that.

“You had Angela Rayner there yesterday, you’ve got two members of the shadow cabinet there at least today that I’ve already seen on social media, they’re campaigning.

“We’ve got a brilliant local candidate in Ben Wood, and we’ve run a focused campaign there. I think what’s clear is that Boris Johnson’s incompetence and broken promises is what’s coming up repeatedly on the doorstep.”

Asked whether he was able to deny suggestions that there was a “gentleman’s agreement” with the Lib Dems, giving Labour a free run in Old Bexley and Sidcup and the Lib Dems a free run in North Shropshire, the spokesperson replied: “Yes, I am.”

Pressed on why Starmer is not encouraging people in the seat to vote Lib Dem, when the other opposition party appears confident of being able to win, the Labour leader’s aide said: “Because the leader of the Labour Party will always encourage people to vote Labour.”

On Covid, Starmer’s spokesperson was asked by journalists after PMQs, in light of the parliamentary votes on Tuesday evening, whether Labour is committed to supporting any Covid restrictions proposed by the government.

He replied: “We’ll support measures that are advocated for by the chief medical officer and the chief scientific adviser. Throughout this, our approach has been to follow the science, and that’s what we will continue to do in the national interest.”

On whether Labour would like to see the introduction of guidance advising people to reduce social interaction indoors, as in Scotland, he said: “We support the measures that have been announced. We’re not at this stage calling for those measures to go further.

The spokesperson later added that there are “definitely gaps in the architecture when it comes to vaccinations and ventilations for school-aged children” and Labour has “concerns about schools”.

Asked for Starmer’s reaction to the Metropolitan Police refusing to investigate the Downing Street Christmas parties held last year, the spokesperson replied: “Obviously, the police has operational independence. These are decisions for the police.”

He reiterated Labour’s position that the government should hand over any information on the parties to the police and all of this evidence should also be part of the ongoing review by cabinet secretary Simon Case.

Shadow Health Secretary Wes Streeting said last week that the police should “pursue this investigation without fear or favour and treat the Prime Minister and his staff as they would treat anyone else”.

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