By Elliot Chappell
Finally, they meet. This afternoon, Keir Starmer put questions directly to Boris Johnson for the first time since his election as Labour leader. And what a week to do so. The UK has now seen the most coronavirus deaths in Europe, though this seems to have been overshadowed by Professor Neil Ferguson’s resignation. Remember the Sky News report in March? They said of Italy: “They are fighting a war here, and they are losing”. Well, our death toll just overtook theirs, and there appears to be no similar assessment concluding that the UK is losing its own battle. In fact, the Prime Minister last week hailed the “apparent success” of the UK’s handling of coronavirus.
The Labour leader opened on the stark death rate. “How did it come to this?” The data isn’t there yet to draw international conclusions, Johnson replied. That just “doesn’t hold water”, Starmer replied, as he held up a graph used as a slide in the latest press conference. His use of props and dry humour during PMQs was effective, and allowed him to showcase an ability to think on his feet. When Johnson suggested that there was had been a “palpable improvement” in the care sector, Starmer pointed out that this claim was not borne out by the data, which shows that deaths in care homes are increasing between each update.
But the Labour leader is still maintaining a careful position of ‘constructive opposition’. He did not go for the jugular. He congratulated the level of testing, for example, despite there being plenty of evidence to suggest that the 100,000 a day April test target simply was not reached. 31,000 of the 100,000 of those tests ‘done’ were kits sent to private homes, and only 7% had been completed by May 4th.
Now there is a new target: Johnson used PMQs to reveal his “ambition” to reach 200,000 by the end of the month.
The Labour leader is working off the information put out by the government, which makes things like their press conference slides a very handy prop. He also quoted the number of overall deaths using the government’s figures, not those of the Office for National Statistics. Keir is letting the government fail on its own terms. Is this the upshot of the ‘no opposition for opposition’s sake’ approach? The concern for many will be that, in the wake of this newly announced target, we aren’t questioning whether these aims are actually met.