Finally, Keir Starmer has a Covid plan of his own… and it’s a cunning trap for Boris Johnson

Imagine that, instead of Labour leader, Sir Keir Starmer were a builder. “Blimey, guv! What

Imagine that, instead of Labour leader, Sir Keir Starmer were a builder.

“Blimey, guv! What cowboy did this conservatory for you?”

“Oh dear. Is there something wrong with it?”

“Wrong with it? It’s a death trap, guv. Terrible. Hopeless. Worst conservatory I’ve ever seen. Blimmin’ cowboys. Make sure you don’t use ’em again.”

“Oh no. How awful. But what exactly’s wrong with it?”

“Everything, guv. Literally everything. They’ve got every single square inch of this conservatory completely and utterly wrong. You name it, they’ve cocked it up. Cowboys.”

“But what should they have done instead?”

“What should they have done instead, guv? I’ll tell you what they should have done instead.”


“They should have done a good job, guv. That’s what I would have done. But instead, they did a bad job. Schoolboy error.”

Such – until now, at least – has been the tenor of Sir Keir’s approach to the pandemic. Repeatedly he has disparaged the Government for its cowboy negligence and bodged strategy. Rarely, however, has he troubled to explain what, instead, the Government should be doing – other than “better”. Which is bound to make the prospective customer ask: how do we know this new builder isn’t a cowboy himself?

This evening (Tuesday), the Labour leader finally attempted to show us. He called a news conference – and, at last, announced a policy of his own.

The Government’s scientific advisers, he said sternly, had urged Boris Johnson to impose a “circuit-breaker”: a temporary national lockdown lasting two or three weeks. Mr Johnson had rejected the idea. Sir Keir, however, was backing it all the way.

This circuit-breaker, he declared, would “reverse the trend of infections and hospital admissions… and rectify some of the mistakes the Government has made. In particular, to get a grip on testing.” Schools, he said, should remain open – but offices, pubs and restaurants would be forced to close.

Naturally there was also lots of the usual stuff about what cowboys the Tories were. “The Government has lost control of the virus… There’s no longer time to give this Prime Minister the benefit of the doubt. The Government’s plan simply isn’t working…” 

Robert Peston of ITV asked Sir Keir whether he’d factored in the damage that his circuit-breaker would do to the economy. 

“If we don’t do this,” retorted Sir Keir, “the cost to the economy will be much greater in the long run. This will actually save money.”

Does he really believe Boris Johnson will agree? Then again, maybe the question misses the point. Because whatever Mr Johnson decides, Sir Keir can’t lose. If Mr Johnson agrees to the circuit-breaker, it looks as if he’s bowed to Sir Keir’s will. And if Mr Johnson doesn’t agree to the circuit-breaker, Sir Keir can blame him for whatever follows. 

“You see, Mr Speaker, if only the Government had agreed to my circuit-breaker, think of all the lives that could have been saved…”

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