Keir Starmer: Second lockdown would be sign of 'government failure'

22 September 2020, 09:51 | Updated: 22 September 2020, 16:59

Nick Hardinges

By Nick Hardinges

Sir Keir Starmer has said a second national lockdown would be a "sign of government failure, not an act of God" as he addressed Labour's virtual party conference.

The party leader told listeners that another coronavirus lockdown would take an "immense toll" on public health and the economy as he spoke from Doncaster.

Sir Keir said Labour would "act in the national interest" and will continue to be constructive while in opposition, but said the "incompetence" of Prime Minister Boris Johnson and his government is "holding Britain back".

The former director of public prosecutions also told Labour's virtual party conference he wants those who abandoned Labour at the last election to give them another chance.

"Never again will Labour take you or the things you care about for granted. And I ask you: Take another look at Labour. We’re under new leadership," he said.

He added that Mr Johnson would have "nobody to blame but himself" if he fails to get the UK a Brexit deal by the end of the transition period.

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Keir Starmer said the Labour Party is under new leadership
Keir Starmer said the Labour Party is under new leadership. Picture: PA

Speaking about Monday's press conference by Chief Medical Officer Professor Chris Whitty and Chief Scientific Adviser Sir Patrick Vallance, Sir Keir said: "The warnings yesterday from the government's advisers were stark. They can't be ignored.

"Labour will act in the national interest. We will be a constructive opposition. We will support whatever reasonable steps are necessary to save lives and protect our NHS.

"But I also want to say this: There should be nothing inevitable about a second lockdown.

"It would be a sign of government failure, not an act of God. It would take an immense toll on people's physical and mental health and on the economy. We need a national effort to prevent a national lockdown."

The Labour leader also said he believes Britain "has so much yet to achieve" but expressed his anger at the government's response to the pandemic.

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Keir Starmer has said a second national lockdown would be a sign of government failure
Keir Starmer has said a second national lockdown would be a sign of government failure. Picture: Labour Party

"I've tried to be constructive. I appreciate that these are unprecedented times and that governing is difficult. I've tried to be fair, to give the government the benefit of the doubt.

"But now, with one of the highest death rates in the world, and on the threshold of one of the deepest recessions anywhere, I'm afraid there is no doubt.

"This government's incompetence is holding Britain back."

Sir Keir blamed the "underfunding of the NHS" and the "abandonment of social care" by the Conservatives for failing to prepare the nation for the coronavirus crisis.

The Labour leader told the virtual party conference: "First, if you neglect your public services, you won't be ready when a crisis hits. Nobody blames the government for the existence of the virus.

"But the underfunding of the NHS, the abandonment of social care and the lack of investment in prevention, that's all on their watch. That's all down to them.

"And it always ends this way with Tory Governments: Public services are neglected, cut back, and left to decline. For a party called the Conservative Party, they don't seem to conserve very much."

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The MP for Holborn and St Pancras also said Mr Johnson "will be failing Britain" if he fails to get a Brexit deal.

He told the virtual party conference: "British business needs a deal. Working people need a deal. Our country needs a deal.

"And if the prime minister fails to get one, he will be failing Britain. If that happens, he'll have nobody to blame but himself. And he will have to own that failure. It will be on him.

"We want to get this deal done, and like everybody else, we're growing tired of the prime minister's bluster."

Sir Keir then told members "it is time to get serious about winning" as he called for a marked change within the Labour Party from under Jeremy Corbyn's leadership.

Sir Keir Starmer said Boris Johnson would be to blame if he fails to get a Brexit deal
Sir Keir Starmer said Boris Johnson would be to blame if he fails to get a Brexit deal. Picture: PA

The Labour leader told the virtual party conference: "The promise that brought us all into politics, to change the country for the better, is pointless if all we can do is object to endless Tory governments.

"So let's be blunt. Let's be brutally honest with ourselves. When you lose an election in a democracy, you deserve to.

"The Labour Party has lost four general elections in a row. We've granted the Tories a decade of power. The Tories have had as many election winners in five years as we've had in 75.

"It's a betrayal of what we believe in to let this go on. It's time to get serious about winning."

Sir Keir vowed that the party will "never again" go into an election not being trusted by the public.

The Labour leader told the virtual party conference: "Never again will Labour go into an election not being trusted on national security, with your job, with your community and with your money.

"That's what being under new leadership means."

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