Starmer has ignored the plight of his working class base throughout the pandemic
Keir Starmer’s recent ‘pinging’ to begin his fourth stint in Covid self isolation on Wednesday could hardly have come at a worse time. With both Johnson and Sunak already self-isolating after their own Covid contacts, one might’ve hoped the Labour leader could make a bit of headway against some of the Tories more illiberal Covid policies.
Alas, he instead spent much of Wednesday afternoon vacillating on ID cards — first opposing them, then settling into a far more familiar holding pattern of benign neutrality. “Let’s see what the government comes forward with” a source close to Starmer remarked, as he retreated to his isolation, with certainly no opposition to the principle to be seen.
The truth is that, throughout this pandemic, the Left — and Labour in particular — have been found wanting. Under Starmer’s rule Labour has found itself occupying a strange position, that of a harder, more strident version of the Tories, always ready to call for earlier lockdowns and stricter border controls. As a result of this bizarre positioning, Starmer has missed the opportunity to fix fundamental inequalities fuelling this pandemic, and prove himself to be a real opposition leader.
The motivation for this has been hard to decipher — at times parts of the Labour party have flirted with “zero covid” a niche idea that involves eliminating or eradicating Covid which has been widely criticised, including by Chief Medical Officer Chris Whitty, for being unachievable. Rather than reflecting the concerns of the working class, many of whom have been hit hardest by the pandemic, Labour have instead taken many of their cues from academics, who have often been detached from the impact of the pandemic on workers.
At times, this has even extended to expressing a desire to emulate China’s Covid response, despite them being renowned as one of the most authoritarian regimes in the world. Meanwhile much of Labours rhetoric on borders would not have been out of place coming from far more Right wing parties.
For the most part, Labour has been silent of the plight of its working class base. This is despite a wealth of evidence showing the harms of the pandemic, including studies suggesting at times, only 18% of people with symptoms were self-isolating (mainly as a result of lack of sick pay and childcare), that mortality rates from Covid are twice as high in insecure jobs, and that deaths from Covid are strongly associated with deprivation.
Labour calling for harder lockdowns when lockdowns have primarily protected the rich, and its obsession with populist policies such as border closures, show just how out of touch the party has become to the needs of their base. The country is now stuck in a race to the bottom, with Starmer and Johnson egging themselves on to more and more harmful restrictions.
It seems Labour’s ploy to out-Tory-the-Tories is proving disastrous for poll ratings too, with the party continuing their downwards slide. Perhaps Starmer could benefit from reflecting on this during his time in self-isolation?