After the abysmal election result for Labour last December, the party has been given the chance to evolve its standing and acclimatise to the current political climate. A new, more centrist leader and an unprecedented situation; Covid-19, could be what Labour needs to bounce back from their worst loss since 1935.
Starmer has tried to pose himself as a constructive but supportive opposition to Boris Johnson’s government. However, as their duels at Prime Minister’s Questions have shown, the Leader of the Opposition frequently seeks to undermine the government in the war against Covid-19, criticising Tory MPs, advisers and the government’s approach to the virus.
His words, however, fall flat because of the blatant contradictions made by himself and his parliamentary colleagues. This prompts questions about his transparency of opinion and leadership.
On the 27th of March, Dominic Cummings made the controversial decision to drive his 4 year old autistic son to Durham for childcare as he and his wife had developed Coronavirus symptoms. Starmer later said in an interview ‘I would have sacked Dominic Cummings if I were Prime minister’. However, Starmer allowed a number of Labour MPs to breach government guidance lockdown for reasons that are arguably less important than childcare.
In March, Shadow Minister for Asia and the Pacific. Stephen Kinnock drove to London from South Wales to visit his father, former Labour leader Neil Kinnock, for his birthday. This broke the rules imposed in March, however, Starmer failed to comment on the issue.
In April, Tahir Ali, the MP for Birmingham Hall Green, attended a funeral with a large number of people present, breaking funeral guidance and yet Starmer failed to comment on the issue.
Kevan Jones, MP for North Durham, also broke lockdown to attend a widely attended birthday party and yet Starmer failed to comment on the issue.
Even in the one situation where a Labour lockdown flouter was removed from their position they retained their position in the Commons. Rosie Duffield, who spent a month in the party’s Whip Office, was forced to resign for breaking lockdown to meet her married lover,
however, she continues to represent the people of Canterbury. Furthermore, she may easily be reinstated into the upper echelons of the Labour Party, as happened to Peter Mandelson who was disgraced on multiple occasions during the Blair years.
Secondly, during Prime Minister’s questions on the 10th of June, Starmer and Boris clashed over the decision to send children back to school. Starmer criticised Johnson for his lack of planning and child safety, yet he himself had already started sending his children back to school. Schools are either safe, or not. In denying students the opportunity to return to school the gap between the richest and poorest students has grown exponentially.
Even in City Hall, Labour’s hypocrisy is clear to see. The Mayor of London, Sadiq Khan, made a contradictory statement in an interview with Joe. He criticised government officials, including the Prime Minister. for not wearing a mask, whilst he himself, was not wearing a mask. He added: ‘I find it astounding that from Donald Trump to Boris Johnson, not wearing a mask is seen as a sign of strength, I think it’s the opposite.’
To make matters worse Khan’s interview followed the Prime Minister’s well-photographed visit to businesses in his constituency of Uxbridge and South Ruislip. Not only is the Johnson’s constituency within Khan’s mayoral jurisdiction but the PM was photographed wearing a Tory-blue face mask before any of the Labour frontbench.
But Captain Hindsight, who as the Prime Minister claimed, ‘has more briefs than Calvin Klein’, has also flip-flopped on every issue from a wealth tax to Brexit.
On the wealth tax, maybe Starmer is trying to operate as a wolf in sheep’s clothing. He, and his Shadow Chancellor, Anneliese Dodds, initially supported the introduction of a wealth tax, a tax to raid the pockets of people’s savings and assets.
Labour quickly back tracked in the aftermath of the Chancellor’s summer statement. The press office added that ‘Labour is not calling for tax rises’. But the flip-flop still had one more flip to come.
Dan Carden, Shadow Treasury Minister and the MP with the largest majority in the country, released a statement that claimed that Labour has not pivoted on the wealth tax. Carden added: ‘Labour is clear that the cost of the crisis should be borne by those with the broadest shoulders.’
But Brexit is the final policy area in which the party has invoked the philosophy of Vicky Pollard to formulate a position. Labour went from promising to end freedom of movement, to voting to continue it. Called for a two year extension to the transition period, to no extension, and finally for a shorter extension. No wonder Labour, under the captaincy of Starmer, pushed for a Brexit policy that was rejected so emphatically by the British people last December.
It’s fair to say that Starmer’s Labour Party has had more flip-flops than the most dedicated Benidorm beach-goer. But how long can Labour’s ‘agree, criticise, U-turn approach’ go on for?
By Emily Preston and Jack Walters