In Depth

UK coronavirus response: would Labour do things differently?

Keir Starmer calls on government to be ‘transparent’ on lockdown exit strategy

Keir Starmer has called on the government to reveal its coronavirus lockdown exit strategy this week.

In a letter to Boris Johnson’s deputy Dominic Raab, shared on Twitter, the Labour leader said British people needed to know “what comes next” as they continue to abide by lockdown rules.

What did Starmer write in his letter?

Starmer supports the existing lockdown and says that there is no question it should be extended. But, he says, questions on “how and when it can be eased in due course and on what criteria that decision will be taken” need to be answered.

“Ministers have argued that now is not the time to talk about this. I profoundly disagree. Overcoming this crisis requires taking the British public with you.”

He called for the government to share an exit plan and be “open and transparent”, arguing such an approach would “maintain morale and hope” among the public.

In the letter, Starmer notes that the lockdown has “exacerbated existing inequalities”, warning that some people are struggling with their mental health, some with job insecurity, and loneliness.

Black and minority ethnic Britons are being hit twice as hard financially by the coronavirus outbreak, while the first ten doctors to die from the new coronavirus were all from these backgrounds, reports the Daily Mirror.

A government source told Sky News: “Talk of an exit strategy before we have reached the peak risks confusing the critical message that people need to stay at home in order to protect our NHS and save lives.”

What else would Labour do?

The Labour leadership election was unfortunately timed for the party, with the conference announcing Starmer as the new leader being cancelled because of the coronavirus outbreak.

A recently leaked internal Labour report showed intense factional infighting within the party, with party headquarters staffers accused of deliberately undermining the election chances of former Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn, says the BBC.

But, with a new leader installed, many groups that had abandoned Labour are finding a way home. Jewish community leaders have said Starmer “achieved more in four days” than Jeremy Corbyn did “in four years” on tackling anti-Semitism.

He apologised to the community and took actions to set up a complaints mechanism in his first week.

In tackling the coronavirus outbreak, the party says it “has a serious and important role in this crisis in working with the Government and holding it to account”.

Its Wages, Welfare and Wellbeing plan for people affected by coronavirus proposes that the government “underwrites the bulk of wages for those at risk of losing their jobs, or temporarily out of work…gives financial support to people who are sick or self-isolating…[and] provides security for those people who are now out of a job”.

The plan suggests lower-earning workers should receive 90% of their wages rather than the 80% the government is offering.

It says that the current level of Statutory Sick Pay is not high enough at £94.25 a week, and “would immediately increase” it as well as guaranteeing it to people who don’t have a formal contract of employment, including part-time workers and zero-hour contract workers.

And Starmer has said he is worried that the government is so far behind on testing for the coronavirus compared to other countries, and its own plans.

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Health Secretary Matt Hancock promised a testing plan earlier in April with plans to conduct 100,000 tests a day by the end of the month.

However, the government's latest figures show that just 14,892 tests took place on 13 April.

“I think Matt Hancock said there would be 25,000 by mid-April but we are currently at under 15,000 so we are missing that target,” Starmer told BBC Breakfast, adding that reaching the 100,000 target would be a “massive ramp-up”.

“We’ll support him if he can achieve that but I’m a bit worried we are so far behind. If we are going to go for mass community testing we are talking about testing way in excess of that.”

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