Toby Neal: Labour leader playing politics of ‘told you so’

Read the latest political column from Toby Neal.

Sir Keir Starmer
Sir Keir Starmer

Big news this week. The Prime Minister adopted a policy.

When I say the Prime Minister, I mean Sir Keir Starmer, who is Prime Minister in everything but fact and a few million votes. He looks the part. He dresses the part. He speaks the part.

And he acts the part, except for the small matter that until now he has had no discernible policies whatsoever.

His time has come. He says he’s following the science. That’s nostalgic. I thought the country had abandoned that approach weeks ago in favour of trying to get the economy moving again so the nation doesn’t become bankrupt and the stir-crazy populace can live a little bit more normally.

In calling for a nationwide lockdown of two or three weeks, Sir Keir has adopted a win-win position.

If Boris Johnson does go for the euphemistically named “circuit breaker” idea, as some people think he is bound to do anyway, Sir Keir will be able to say that it should have been done weeks ago, he’s been advocating it for ages, precious time has been lost, and so on.

If BJ doesn’t, and things continue to get worse as they almost certainly will over the winter, Sir Keir can say that he is bumbling, fumbling, incompetent, shambolic, and indecisive, and not doing what is needed to get a grip on the virus.

And if a short lockdown proves to be a futile act of self-harm, it won’t be Sir Keir wot gets the blame.

In the course of this pandemic tragedy, Sir Keir’s break from the increasingly fragile Westminster consensus is a significant moment.

It has now become an overtly a political pandemic, with the trust and competence of the Government under scrutiny, and the Opposition abandoning its previous support and instead putting forward an alternative plan.

There are some issues with a short national lockdown. In the West Midlands a number of local leaders have already been complaining that additional measures in the region would amount to, in their words, a sledgehammer to crack a nut.


Sir Keir’s sledgehammer masterplan takes its cue from the recommendation of the Sage scientists of a few weeks ago.

We should be wary of elevating scientists to deity. To be blunt, it isn’t their jobs that are on the line.

It would mean people and businesses in somewhere like Dudley being treated exactly the same as somewhere like Liverpool, which has a Covid rate which is more than three times higher. How is that fair?

What would be the value of a national lockdown to a place with a Covid rate of less than one-tenth of that of Liverpool (e.g. West Devon) other than in further devastating the local economy there for no identifiable or justifiable reason?

The complaints about the local, targeted measures, have largely been on the grounds that they feel they are in effect being punished without good reason.

A national lockdown is at least an even-handed approach, punishing everybody equally, although whether that makes it any more palatable is open to question.

Sir Keir’s “circuit breaker” idea is supposed to arrest the surge of the virus, help get test and trace sorted, and buy a bit of time by turning back the coronavirus clock by two weeks or so.

If it comes in, and it works, I was for it all along.

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