Parliament is back and so is Labour – the country will be better for it

By Dan Julian, Account Executive

Parliament returned this week after an extended Easter recess to scrutinise the Government’s COVID-19 response. However, many things have changed since MPs last met. The number of deaths in the UK is now perilously close to the 20,000 mark that had been forecasted by leading Government modeler Neil Ferguson and may yet exceed that; political pressure on the Government around testing has increased as the number of tests conducted daily remains far below the 100,000 a day promised by Health Secretary Matt Hancock, let alone the 250,000 promised by the Prime Minister; and the Labour Party has finally a new Leader in Keir Starmer. Not only this but his first official outing might just suggest we have an Official Opposition worthy of its name.

Starmer’s first weeks in charge have been marked by a pragmatic and understanding tone, recognising the severity of the situation. When asked during a TV interview if the Government was too slow to act in the face of the outbreak, Starmer simply said that it wasn’t the right time for these questions. Yet the pressure had been mounting on the new Labour Leader to point out the alleged deficiencies in the Government’s actions so far, especially after the Sunday Times’s expose of its initial response.

Wednesday’s PMQs gave the sense of an Opposition revitalised, despite the ensuing pandemic. Facing stand-in Prime Minister Dominic Raab across the despatch box, Starmer skillfully used this first opportunity to point out some of the Government’s failings – on testing and Personal Protective Equipment – while avoiding the trap of being accused of scoring political points by exploiting a crisis. His forensic line of questioning won him plaudits from commentators on both sides of the political divide with Times columnist Iain Martin going as far as saying that the “re-emergence of an opposition party capable of punishing the Government means an end to the era when the Tories periodically making a mess of things could rely on the ineptitude of the far left to rescue them.”

The job of an Opposition is difficult at the best of times, yet Starmer faces the test of having to be both critical and constructive in a time of national emergency. But it is clear the Government needs effective scrutiny and tough questions if it is to operate at its best while it navigates the ongoing crisis.  If Wednesday’s first outing at PMQs is anything to go by, then the country will be better off now that it has a functioning opposition.

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Dan Julian

Account Executive