Keir Starmer Says Coronavirus Crisis Exposes How Boris Johnson 'Can't Govern'

Labour leader strongly criticises prime minister in speech to council leaders.
Labour leader Keir Starmer
Labour leader Keir Starmer

Coronavirus has changed everything. Make sense of it all with the Waugh Zone, our evening politics briefing. Sign up now.

The coronavirus pandemic has exposed how Boris Johnson “can’t govern”, Keir Starmer has said in some of his strongest criticisms of the prime minister yet.

The Labour leader used a speech to council leaders on Wednesday to slam Johnson’s “failure to plan”, which he says “held Britain back” and left it emerging from lockdown “without a strategy” and vulnerable to a second spike.

It comes amid fresh criticism of ministers’ handling of the outbreak this week after Leicester was forced into a local lockdown when cases began to rise.

Speaking to the cross-party Local Government Association, Starmer said: “The prime minister can do rhetoric – he started this pandemic saying Britain was ’ready to take off its Clark Kent spectacles and leap into the phone booth and emerge with its cloak flowing as the supercharged champion′ – but he can’t govern.

“And his failure to plan, to act quickly and decisively, to take the right decisions at the right time, has held Britain back, whether on protective equipment, care homes or testing.”

Starmer also urged Johnson to “get round a table” with local authority leaders to thrash out a new funding settlement, after the LGA estimated council face a £10bn blackhole in their budgets in the wake of the pandemic.

Labour has said the £5bn “new deal” announced on Tuesday, in which the PM pledged to “build back better” with cash for new infrastructure after Covid, will fall far short of what is needed by town halls.

Cuts to social care, police officers and leisure facilities beckon if more cash is not found, Starmer said.

Keir Starmer and Boris Johnson in the House of Commons
Keir Starmer and Boris Johnson in the House of Commons

“After a decade of cuts, the coronavirus crisis and the government’s inaction have created a perfect storm,” he said.

He added councils need stronger powers to enforce local lockdowns, adding: “In fact, I’m not sure the prime minister has understood the scale of the problem local councils are facing, or the immediacy

“I’m also not sure he understands how central local authorities will be in the next phase of this crisis and in preventing a second spike.”

A report last week showed that eight in ten councils face having to cut services or issuing effective bankruptcy - known as section 144 notices.

“This isn’t party political – Conservative councils and Labour councils face the same problems,” he said.

His speech followed a testy prime minister’s questions session in the Commons, where Johnson and Starmer clashed over whether central government had shared data with local leaders in Leicester.

Starmer accused the PM of presiding over a “lost week” when action could have been taken in the first real test of Johnson’s “whack-a-mole” strategy for tackling coronavirus clusters.

Johnson, meanwhile, insisted that action had been taken swiftly and defended the sharing of testing figures with local leaders.

The PM added that action in Leicester had actually been taken from June 8 as “we could see that there was an issue there” and mobile testing units were deployed.

Public Health England has now published a regional map for testing across England, which shows the towns and cities suffering high numbers of cases.

The map shows that the worst affected regions (with at least 45 cases per 100,000 people in the week to June 21) are Leicester – which went into further lockdown on Tuesday – Barnsley, Bradford and Rochdale.

There are six areas in the next worst affected category (30-44.9 cases per 100,000), which are Bedford, Blackburn with Darwen, Tameside, Oldham, Kirklees and Rotherham.

The top 10 are: Leicester (with 140.2 cases per 100,000 population), Bradford (69.4), Barnsley (54.7), Rochdale (53.6), Bedford (42), Oldham (38.6), Rotherham (33.6), Tameside (33.3), Blackburn with Darwen (32.9) and Kirklees (30.3).


What's Hot