After promising to work constructively with the government to tackle coronavirus, Keir Starmer has this morning gone on the offensive. The Labour leader has written to the de facto deputy Dominic Raab calling on him to publish the outline of the government’s exit strategy. Ministers have repeatedly refused to discuss any easing of the lockdown publicly on the grounds that it is counter-productive to do so until the death rate has begun to fall. Starmer disagrees – and says the public deserves to know the ‘principles and approach’ driving the work going on behind the scenes on the exit strategy while also citing the long term effect of school closures on inequality in the UK.
Starmer has so far succeeded in winning criticism from all sides for his intervention. With the papers filled with horror stories of care home deaths and repeated questions on whether NHS staff are getting the PPE they need, some figures on the left are questioning if the exit strategy is really the thing to be focussing on right now. Meanwhile, government sources have been quick to hit back that the immediate focus is on saving lives. Given the polling repeatedly shows that the public overwhelmingly support lockdown measures (to the surprise of many in government), the immediate political win from pushing for an exit strategy is not clear.
However, it does mean that should the government falter in its eventual plan to phase out lockdown, Starmer will be able to say that he had tried to be a part of that discussion from the beginning. From this point, Starmer will have a narrative from which to land his criticism – on testing, he will be able to say government failures mean that we can’t leave the lockdown as soon as we should have been able to. It