Ashworth’s summer flip-flops

Ashworth's summer flip-flops
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Jon Ashworth is one of the great survivors of the Labour front bench, having held the shadow health brief for some four and a half years under successive leaders. But given this morning's media round, how much longer will he be remaining in post?

Responding to the government's announcement yesterday of the end of social distancing restrictions, Ashworth gave a tetchy interview on Radio 4's Today programme in which he levelled the charge of 'recklessness' at the government. He told presenter Mishal Husain 'I don't think any avoidable deaths are acceptable, that's why I would always want to put in place mitigating precautions to try to save people's lives.' 

As expected, this attitude of seemingly infinite restriction did not go down well on social media, with pundits asking how smoking, alcohol, driving and risky outdoor activities could be squared with a refusal to countenance 'avoidable deaths.' Moreover, what would such 'mitigating precautions' look like in a country where 85 per cent of the adult population have had a first jab? 

Mr S has been following Labour's response to the announcements of the last two days – the end of social distancing, no 'pinging' for those double vaccinated, no school bubbles and everyone back to work. Of these the party only appears to oppose the removal of compulsory masks... and nothing else. Are those thin strips of face coverings really the difference between total 'recklessness' and complete security?

Ashworth's interview round comes after criticism in some quarters for his apparent unwillingness last month to criticise his (now former) opposite number Matt Hancock over the Gina Coladangelo affair. Since then his interventions have managed to irritate a number of Labour colleagues, with his call for Sajid Javid to abandon a planned top-down reorganisation of the NHS running counter to the NHS Confederation chair who urged Javid to press on. 

The move is all the more striking, given that Ashworth has spent the last five years urging a repeal of Andrew Lansley's reforms but now seems keen to retain the existing system, against the wishes of NHS leaders. One source complained to Steerpike that Ashworth's team appeared to have only limited knowledge of how the NHS operates with the man himself 'out of his depth' having had 'zero cut through with the public on Covid' and with 'lots of Labour people unhappy he hasn't been sacked/demoted.'

Amid confusion about Labour's current stance on NHS reforms and Covid restrictions, how many more summer flip-flops will Starmer tolerate?

Written bySteerpike

Steerpike is The Spectator's gossip columnist, serving up the latest tittle tattle from Westminster and beyond. Email tips to or message @MrSteerpike

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