The virus is here to stay – that’s why Labour has a plan to live well with Covid

Wes Streeting

This was a big weekend for Labour and our mission to win the next general election. Having set out his vision for the future of our country – based on security, prosperity and respect for all – Keir Starmer’s speech to the Fabian Society focused on the future of health. This speech was significant, not just for what it said about the future of the NHS and social care, but what it said about the Labour Party: that we know it’s not enough for the Tories to lose the next election, we’re determined to win it.

Boris Johnson is facing the biggest crisis of his political career. He has been caught bang to rights breaking Covid rules and lying about it, regularly and repeatedly. He lied to parliament and had to apologise to the Queen. It doesn’t get much more serious than that. Tory MPs and cabinet ministers must know that he is now radioactive – and the longer they defend the indefensible, the more their party is contaminated.

While Boris Johnson is in hiding, presumably in the Downing Street wine fridge, Keir Starmer is leading. There couldn’t be a stronger contrast between a Tory Party focused on itself and a Labour Party that is addressing the biggest issues facing our country.

Keir’s contract with Britain set out big, bold commitments: to bring down NHS waiting lists, currently standing at a record six million; to provide parity of esteem between mental health and physical health, with guaranteed mental health treatment within a month; and to shift the focus of the NHS to prevention as well as treatment, so that the NHS is truly a National Health Service, not just a national sickness service.

The Tories will want to use the Covid-19 pandemic as a cover for their miserable mismanagement of the NHS for more than a decade. We won’t let them. At every opportunity, we are reminding the voters that we went into the pandemic with NHS waiting lists already at a record 4.5 million, 100,000 NHS staff shortages, and 112,000 social care vacancies, all of which left the NHS struggling to cope with the annual pressures of winter, let alone the unprecedented challenges of a pandemic. It’s not just that they didn’t fix the roof while the sun was shining – they dismantled the roof and removed the floorboards.

We’re not out of the woods on Covid-19 yet. The virus is here to stay. That’s why this weekend I set out Labour’s plan to live well with Covid. It includes proposals to maintain a strong testing infrastructure, with more tests made here in Britain; a volunteer ‘jabs army’ to ease pressure on the NHS; ventilation systems for schools to keep children learning; proper sick pay for workers forced to isolate; playing our part in vaccinating the world because none of us are safe until all of us are safe; an immediate lessons learned review to improve our current pandemic response, alongside ‘germ games’ to help us prepare for future waves and a framework for making decisions so that we can be sure that public health, rather than Tory Party politics, is driving decisions. Crucially, we need to improve the capacity and resilience of our NHS and social care so that we never again enter into a pandemic so under-prepared.

With the Tories mired in chaos of their own making, people are looking to Labour again to judge whether we’re ready to replace them. We’re showing that we have the right people, the right policies and the right principles to govern – and to govern well.

This is the year we have to convince the public that the Labour Party isn’t just providing opposition to the Tories, but a real alternative based on security, prosperity and respect. We entered the new year with a spring in our step. Our self-confidence as a party has returned. There’s no room for complacency, so let’s put in the work so that 2022 is the year that the history books conclude that Labour won the next general election.

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