Keir Starmer accused of being ‘too soft’ on holding the government to account over coronavirus

Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer speaking during Prime Minister's Questions in the House of Commons. Photograph: House of...

Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer speaking during Prime Minister's Questions in the House of Commons. Photograph: House of Commons/PA Wire. - Credit: PA

Labour leader Keir Starmer has accused of being 'too soft' in attempts to hold the government to account over the coronavirus crisis.

Alastair Campbell, former director of communications for Tony Blair, said Labour should show 'no mercy' in highlighting the mistakes made by ministers over things like testing and personal protecitve equipment (PPE).

His comments reflect views of those across the party - including Jeremy Corbyn supporters - who feel that Starmer should be going further.

Starmer said he would work constructively with the government rather than providing 'opposition for opposition's sake', a stark difference to the approach by his predecessor.

Writing in the Guardian, Campbell said: 'From my years in opposition working with Blair I remember that, even at the time of the Dunblane school massacre, as sensitive a time as could be imagined, Labour had a different approach on the issue of firearms, and pressed it, sensitively.

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'And in government, when Blair and Brown faced crises – foot-and-mouth, fuel protests, times of war – the Tories were never backward in coming forward to attack, so Labour should not fall for the current line from the right that their role is to support the government.'

He continued: 'In his leadership acceptance speech, Starmer set a sensible tone – supportive of government objectives, but questioning and scrutinising in a reasonable manner.

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'Yet when so many are dying, so many targets are unmet, so many NHS and care workers are going to work unprotected, and so many mistakes have been made, Labour should frankly show no mercy on issues such as PPE and testing.'

He said that Labour are failing to set the agenda and that the media has been left to ask the difficult questions of ministers, argued that must change now parliament is back - albeit in virtual form.

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He wrote: 'It has been noticeable how rarely, at government briefings and interviews, questions have been framed by things Labour has said or done; that must change.

'Labour needs to be thinktank, policy expert, advocate for real people in difficulty, and campaign organiser all in one. Backbenchers too are vital in this. There are so many causes and campaigns arising from this crisis.

'Up till now, No 10 briefings, at which both government presentation and media questioning have generally been poor, have provided the main focus for questioning ministers. Now that parliament is back, albeit in a highly unusual form, Labour has the chance to show it can do a better job of holding the government to account than the media; and a better job than the government in showing what needs to be done, and how.'

Campbell added that 'seizing the opportunity will go a long way' towards showing the public that the party is now credible enough for government.

Keir Starmer will face foreign secretary Dominic Raab in Prime Minister's Questions (PMQs) later on Wednesday.

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