Labour says the government should have gone further yesterday with its coronavirus restrictions. Jonathan Ashworth, the shadow health secretary, made the comment this morning in an interview on the Today programme which marks a further step in the process by which the opposition is decoupling from the government over Covid strategy.
At one stage Sir Keir Starmer was 90% supportive. He has become increasingly critical in recent weeks, but generally he has either been querying the detail of restrictions (eg, by calling for a review of the 10pm compulsory closing time) or focusing on the need for better supporting measures (eg more financial support, more localised test and trace). Calling for restrictions to be tougher, as Ashworth is doing, is different. A gulf has emerged between ministers and the scientists, and Labour is picking a side.
Here are the main points from Ashworth’s interview.
Ashworth said the government should have “gone further” in terms of imposing local restrictions. He said:
If we need to impose further restrictions to get on top of this virus, then I’m afraid we have to do that. It is why I support the decision that was taken yesterday to close pubs and bars in Merseyside.
I think actually the government should have gone further yesterday because we’ve got to reduce social mixing given where we are with the prevalence of the virus in parts of the country.
He said he would consider further pub closures – although he also stressed that he would want to improve test and trace alongside that. He said:
I would have looked at closing pubs and bars in other parts of the country and I wouldn’t say to the areas going into the now so-called tier 3 that you only get the test and trace capacity if you’re in tier 3.
I would devolve the test and trace functions now to local authorities across the country so that the public health experts on the ground can now do this contact tracing rather than the national call centres.
He said he was “alarmed” that the government was ignoring Sage advice. He said:
I’m alarmed that these recommendations to government appear to have been rejected. Ministers, the prime minister often come on the television and radio programmes to say they are always following the science … to justify the decisions they have made. They seem to have rejected this scientific advice.
He said Labour would “always follow the scientific advice”. He said:
I think if I was the secretary of state then we would always follow the scientific advice. What we need to understand from ministers and I will press Matt Hancock [the health secretary] in the House of Commons later as to why the scientific advice was rejected – we need to understand the minister’s explanation.