Things are going badly wrong for the Tories. Little more than three months ago, Boris Johnson was celebrating an historic landslide victory in the 2019 general election, his mantra to ‘get Brexit done’ having won over the people of Britain.
Now, as the ‘worst public health crisis for a generation’ escalates, the government’s handling of the situation is resulting in an angry backlash. Even the Tory press has turned its back on the Conservatives, printing outraged headlines over the chaotic management of virus testing and lack of PPE for NHS workers.
To make matters worse for the fragile Prime Minister and his cabinet, Labour has a new leader.
After taking 56 per cent of the votes cast, on April 4, Keir Starmer was decisively crowned victor in the 2020 Labour leadership bid.
In contrast to Jeremy Corbyn’s voguish, hipster look when he became Labour leader in 2015, whose lack of suit and tie complemented his activist roots, pacifist leanings and unrivalled quest for socialism, Keir Starmer’s ‘suited and booted’ style is more in-line with his long-established legal career as a barrister and, later, a human rights lawyer.
Dare we say it, Starmer’s appearance could be deemed as in-keeping with a roomful of well-polished, tailored-suit Tories.
Fortunately, there’s little within Keir Starmer’s persona and principles, other than his strait-laced look, to suggest he’s a clandestine ‘Tory’.
Starmer might not possess the radicalism of his predecessor, which, love or loathe Corbyn, led to debilitating divisions within the party, but he maintains the progressive sympathies of the former leader. The new Labour leader’s democratic mandate to hike taxes on big business and the rich to fund public investment, to expand the welfare state and to defend migrants’ rights, gives hope to Corbynites that Corbyn’s unyielding commitment to make Britain fairer was not made in vain.
Unlike most of the 21 predecessors, Starmer has been crowned Labour leader in unprecedented, unenviable circumstances.
Does the 57-year-old from London have what it takes to topple Britain’s newly-elected prime minister at a time when the Tories’ relentless assault on our National Health Service and disorderly handling of a deadly pandemic, is making the public increasingly disgruntled?
In one of his first speeches as Labour leader, Starmer said ‘serious mistakes’ have been made by the government in response to the coronavirus pandemic.
Showing decisive leadership qualities, while admitting that the pandemic was not a time for ‘scoring political points or opposing for the sake of opposing’, Starmer has set out four defined targets for the government to tackle the current health crisis.
Saying it was his job to hold the government’s actions to account while engaging ‘constructively’ with Downing Street, Starmer insisted that the government must deliver on its promise to administer 100,000 COVID-19 tests a day by the end of April. In a further bid to thwart the spread of the disease, Starmer is calling for personal protective equipment (PPE) to be readily available to NHS frontline staff, for vaccination centres to be set up across the country for when a vaccine becomes available, and for an exit strategy from the lockdown to be published.
Writing for the Sunday Times, Starmer noted how the public is placing enormous trust in the government at present:
‘It is vital that that trust is met with openness and transparency about those mistakes and the decisions that have been made’.
Transparency, or thereby lack of it, has been a defining criticism of Johnson and his government’s handling of the COVID-19 crisis.
Calls have been made by the public, as well as former cabinet ministers and past Downing Street employees, for the Prime Minister to be more transparent about the epidemic.
Johnson is coming under increased pressure to publish the scientific data that has led him to make decisions related to the unfolding health crisis. Concerns have also been voiced that the government’s plans are not being announced to the public in a formal process.
Prior to winning the leadership contest, Keir Starmer called for a ‘daily press conference’ over the virus to be hosted by the prime minister or a minister.
The extraordinary social and economic problems that coronavirus has thrown up is painting the Tories and Boris Johnson in a different light to the one that many voted for just several months ago on December 12, 2019.
The government’s unrelenting monetary assault on the NHS, its lack of decisiveness, incompetent management and complacency in providing adequate testing and PPE for frontline workers, as well as an absence of transparency, is creating mistrust and doubt of those leading the country.
With a new opposition leader that promises the decisiveness and openness the country desperately needs, while maintaining Corbyn’s pursuit of creating a fairer society that pumps money from those who can afford it into the hands of those who cannot, Keir Starmer could see Labour returning to power much quicker than anyone expected.