Keir Starmer got his first chance to take on Boris Johnson at PMQs today. There was no moment that will lead the evening news, but the new Labour leader did make Boris Johnson uncomfortable at times. When Starmer asked why the UK had moved away from contract tracing and testing in mid-March, Boris Johnson gave a long, rather rambling answer. But it is increasingly clear that this happened because the UK simply did not have the capacity to do this at the required level. Given that this is the case, the government would do well to be explicit about it
In a further sign of how lacking the UK’s testing capacity was before this crisis hit, Boris Johnson announced a new target of 200,000 tests a day by the end of the month. He also said that the UK’s contract tracing system can deal with ‘hundreds of thousands of people’. This is important, as Chris Smyth of the Times points out, because it suggests that the system could deal with the present number of new coronavirus infections. Previously, the view was that the number of new infections would need to fall significantly for the new, South Korean-style strategy to work.
One other striking feature of PMQs was Boris Johnson again making clear that he wasn’t going to go for austerity once this crisis is over; he even called it the ‘A word’ in his answer. This implies that any fiscal consolidation is going to have to be made up of tax rises. If this is the case, as one Tory MP said to me yesterday, even the fiscal hawks on the government benches would prefer to live with a higher national debt.