Coronavirus UK: Sir Keir Starmer accuses Boris Johnson of ‘serial incompetence’

Sir Keir Starmer today blasted Boris Johnson‘s ‘serial incompetence’ as he accused the Government of ‘bobbing all over the place’ over its handling of the coronavirus crisis. 

The Labour leader claimed the Prime Minister had bungled the country’s response to the Covid-19 pandemic and accused him of committing ’13 or 14 U-turns’ so far.

Speaking at a Co-operative Party virtual conference, Sir Keir said: ‘At the moment, amongst my concerns is that the Government hasn’t really got any anchors. It’s bobbing all over the place.’

With swingeing new coronavirus restrictions expected to be imposed in parts of England next week, Sir Keir also blasted Chancellor Rishi Sunak‘s furlough-style bailout programme as full of ‘gaps’ — despite the new scheme being expected to cost taxpayers hundreds of millions a month.

‘The scheme that was unveiled yesterday goes a bit further, but there are still gaps in it,’ he said.

‘I think, though, that the Government has lost sight of the guiding principle, and the guiding principle should be that restrictions are always accompanied by appropriate economic support. If that had been the principle throughout, we wouldn’t be in the mess that we are in at the moment.’

Sir Keir Starmer today excoriated Boris Johnson’s ‘serial incompetence’ as he accused the Government of ‘bobbing all over the place’ over its handling of the coronavirus crisis

The Labour leader claimed the Prime Minister had bungled the country's response to the Covid-19 pandemic and accused him of committing '13 or 14 U-turns' so far

The Labour leader claimed the Prime Minister had bungled the country’s response to the Covid-19 pandemic and accused him of committing ’13 or 14 U-turns’ so far

Sir Keir criticised Mr Johnson for spouting rhetoric about the NHS Test and Trace system, rather than ensuring it worked properly. ‘Test, trace and isolate is critical,’ he told the conference.

Labour shadow chancellor says Rishi Sunak’s new bailout programme shows ‘sink or swim’ mentality 

After Sir Keir’s speech, shadow chancellor Anneliese Dodds told the conference that the Government’s job support scheme shows a ‘sink or swim’ mentality and needs to be changed.

She said: ‘Government has got to junk its insinuation right now that businesses that are struggling right now are necessarily unviable.

‘From the arts to manufacturing, those businesses need a temporary helping hand but they’re being left to sink or swim.

‘Yesterday we saw a partial acknowledgement of this… but we really need broader changes to the job support scheme.’

She said other countries with wage support schemes had incentivised businesses to ‘keep staff on part-time rather than just keeping some on and making the rest redundant’.

The Labour and Co-op MP for Oxford East said the scheme needs to include a training element so workers can ‘develop their skills and prepare for the future’, and it should be ‘targeted so that those sectors hardest hit by the virus, and which will be critical to our economic recovery, are supported, not just those which have been closed. This virus is having a much broader impact’.

‘Failing to reform that job support scheme indicates a sink or swim mentality.’

‘The Prime Minister said we would have a world-beating system — we didn’t need that, we just need an effective one that works. ‘World-beating’ is just Johnson rhetoric.

‘Getting a test quickly, getting the result quickly and then reaching the contacts so that self-isolation works — that’s not working properly, which means that thousands and thousands of people are walking around today who should be in self-isolation. So, that bit needs to be fixed.’

The Labour leader added: ‘I think it is 13 or 14 U-turns now. If it was one or two, I think many people across the country, if the Government made a mistake and then U-turned, would say ‘well, fair enough, we are dealing with a pandemic’.

‘But when you have 12, 13, or 14 U-turns the only thing that can be read into that is serial incompetence.’

A senior Government source told MailOnline: ‘Keir Starmer should be supporting measures to protect the NHS and save lives instead of playing politics in the middle of a global pandemic.’ 

MailOnline has the Treasury for comment. 

Sir Keir also used his speech at the Cop-op Party conference to warn that Labour needs to regain trust in the Party that has gone from Scotland if it wants to win power at the next election. 

‘We have to win in 2024. There’s no way though without going through Scotland,’ he said. ‘Scotland really matters.

‘And, of course, that is going to be tested very significantly in May of next year when we have the Scottish elections.

‘I think that involves rebuilding trust which we have lost in parts of Scotland.

‘I don’t think the values of people in Scotland have changed, I think it’s trust in the Labour Party that has gone. And we need to rebuild and rebuild quickly.’

Sir Keir said that Scotland needed more power over its own affairs within the UK.

He said: ‘We do need to have an answer… on the constitutional question. And we need to be brave enough to confront the fact that people do want more power.

‘Wealth and power should be shared in a different way, and that applies as much to Scotland as anywhere else.

‘I don’t think that you give people more power and influence and share wealth by tearing up the United Kingdom.

‘And, I think we need to make a very persuasive case for the United Kingdom, and the co-operation of all the parts of the United Kingdom, but we also have to acknowledge that more power needs to go to Scotland.’

Labour held just one Scottish seat in the December 2019 general election.

In the 2010 election the party dominated the Westminster political landscape in Scotland with 41 MPs. 

A poll conducted by Lord Ashcroft asked voters to choose between Conservatives and Labour under their current leaders - 53% opted for Labour, with 47% choosing the Conservatives

A poll conducted by Lord Ashcroft asked voters to choose between Conservatives and Labour under their current leaders – 53% opted for Labour, with 47% choosing the Conservatives 

A total of 37 per cent of voters think that Sir Keir would make the best Prime Minister, overtaking Mr Johnson in the poll on 30 per cent

A total of 37 per cent of voters think that Sir Keir would make the best Prime Minister, overtaking Mr Johnson in the poll on 30 per cent

It comes as an exclusive poll conducted for the Mail on Sunday last week revealed that voters believe Sir Keir would be a better Prime Minister than Mr Johnson. 

Mr Johnson is grappling with the rise in Covid-19 infections, the economic damage caused by lockdown measures, and rebellious Tory backbenchers angered by the restrictions imposed by No10. 

The analysis, conducted by former Conservative deputy chairman Lord Ashcroft, shows a total of 37 per cent of voters think that Sir Keir would make the best Prime Minister, ahead of Mr Johnson on 30 per cent. 

And when asked to choose between the parties under their current leaders, 53 per cent opt for Labour, with 47 per cent for the Conservatives.

The research also suggests that support for the Tories in ‘Red Wall’ seats where Labour voters switched to the Conservatives in their thousands to hand an 80-seat majority to Mr Johnson last year is also reasonably soft, with 31 per cent saying they would switch back to Labour, while 69 per cent would stick with the Tories.

No10 will be unsettled by Lord Ashcroft’s finding that only 27 per cent believe Mr Johnson is doing a good job, while 21 per cent think he would be a good PM ‘under different circumstances’ and 39 per cent think he would not be a good Premier whatever the situation.

Voters are split equally between those who think his Government is doing a ‘reasonable job’ and those who think it has ‘handled things badly’, both of which rank at 45 per cent. 

Lord Ashcroft's analysis found that only 27 per cent believe Mr Johnson is doing a good job, while 21 per cent think he would be a good PM 'under different circumstances'

Lord Ashcroft’s analysis found that only 27 per cent believe Mr Johnson is doing a good job, while 21 per cent think he would be a good PM ‘under different circumstances’

But 34 per cent think that a Labour Government would have handled the crisis better, with 22 per cent saying worse.

These findings are reflected in the leading politicians’ personal ratings, with Chancellor Rishi Sunak alone among the London politicians in recording a positive figure – plus 2. Sir Keir is on zero and the Prime Minister is on minus 11.

Lord Ashcroft’s focus groups were complimentary about Mr Sunak, with one participant saying: ‘Rishi has stood out for me. How he addressed the public was quite reassuring. He’s the most confident and competent of all of them.’

Another said: ‘I felt like I was being looked after. I think he’s a star.’

Opinion on Mr Johnson was divided, with some using terms such as ‘indecisive’, ‘overwhelmed’ and ‘flaky’. Others said that he was ‘doing as good a job as he can in these times’ and ‘he’s in a difficult position challenge so we should cut him some slack’.

Lord Ashcroft also detected growing irritation with the 10pm curfew on pubs and restaurants and other measures.

One respondent called it ludicrous, while another said: ‘It’s getting silly now. It’s starting to look like a dictatorship. Stopping people seeing their families, shutting the economy down, it’s getting out of hand. Not even one per cent of the population have got it and most have recovered. It’s blown out of proportion.’

S8,051 adults were interviewed online from September 17 to 20. Data weighted to be representative of all UK adults.

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