MATTHEW GOODWIN: If shroud waver in chief Sir Keir was in charge, we’d have spent the last two years in lockdown
Make no mistake: Prime Minister’s Questions was a huge open goal for Sir Keir Starmer and the Labour Party – a major opportunity to forensically and methodically take down the Prime Minister.
And while some people think the Leader of the Opposition did a good job, I think he fluffed it. Instead of pinning a humiliated Boris Johnson firmly to the floor, Starmer allowed the PM to wriggle free and do what he should have done weeks ago: apologise to the British people.
I suspect that if Johnson survives the next week or so, Partygate will become much like Dominic Cummings’ infamous visit to Barnard Castle – an infuriating irritation but, in the end, not a game-changer.
One reason for this is that while Johnson and the Conservatives have been seriously damaged in the polls – and are now trailing Labour – Sir Keir Starmer is not exactly an enticing prospect.
While some people think the Leader of the Opposition did a good job, I think he fluffed it. Instead of pinning a humiliated Boris Johnson firmly to the floor, Starmer allowed the PM to wriggle free
Let’s examine, for instance, what would have happened to Britain if Starmer, rather than Johnson, had been leading the country through the Covid crisis.
For a start, we would almost certainly have spent much of the past two years in perpetual lockdown, paying the devastating economic, mental and physical costs.
At every possible turn in this crisis, Sir Keir’s Labour has demanded more restrictions, more lockdowns, more state intervention and even stricter measures. Limits have always been put ahead of liberty.
Rather than rely on the British people taking personal responsibility for their own lives, an idea that is always unpopular on the Left, Labour’s instinct was always to lock us down.
This became clear early on when a large number of Labour MPs put their names to the ridiculous ‘Zero Covid’ strategy which they said was ‘successfully implemented in New Zealand’.
But even New Zealand has abandoned the policy – which involves locking down entire cities in response to only a very few cases – concluding it is simply not workable.
Then, last July, Starmer warned that the ‘Johnson variant is already out of control’ and the country was heading for 100,000 cases a day.
Sir Keir Starmer pictured leaving home on Wednesday morning on his way to Prime Minister’s Questions
Again and again, we were told to expect a summer of chaos, that the country and the NHS could not cope. But as usual, we never came close to the apocalyptic projections as a combination of vaccines, testing, boosters and Britons’ plain old common sense kicked in.
As we drifted towards the end of the year, we were told that Britain was heading into a winter of nightmarish proportions.
Yet now we have a higher level of booster protection than all of our European neighbours and the biggest testing programme in Europe, while Omicron infections are falling.
I’m no Johnson fan but the fact remains that his approach of pushing against lockdowns in favour of vaccines, boosters and testing with light-touch restrictions has been validated – even if he needed a few reminders from his backbench MPs.
Britain is showing the world that it is possible to live and work alongside the Omicron variant while not locking down.
This is why we are now heading down the home straight to January 26, when the current restrictions will expire. My prediction is that if Johnson is still in No 10 when we reach that date, he will benefit in the polls as the Prime Minister who put liberty first.
Prime Minister Boris Johnson sat beside Dominic Raab and Liz Truss at PMQs on Wednesday afternoon
It’s not just about Covid, of course. At every difficult moment over the past two years, the Labour Party has rushed to the worst possible outcome.
Remember the lorry-driver crisis? Starmer told us Johnson had ‘ruined Christmas’ and there would not be any food in the shops. I don’t know about you, but my Christmas was fine.
And then came the meltdown over furlough. Labour opposed ending it, with Starmer warning it would cause ‘a scale of unemployment not seen for generations’.
Yet last month, unemployment fell to 4.2 per cent while the number of workers added to payrolls jumped by 257,000, the biggest monthly rise since 2014.
No doubt in Sir Keir’s alternative universe, the furlough scheme, which cost an eye-watering £68 billion, would still be running, plunging the country and our children into an even bigger pile of debt.
Britain is sick and tired of the endless doomsday politics and predictions of catastrophe.
Opposition MPs react as Boris Johnson apologises in the House of Commons during Wednesday’s Prime Minister’s Questions
And throughout this crisis, Sir Keir Starmer has been shroud-waver in chief with his refusal to believe that people taking personal responsibility is far more effective than relying on the state.
As the political thinker Thomas Sowell once said: ‘There has never been a shortage of people eager to draw up blueprints for running other people’s lives’.
Britons are right to feel angry about Johnson’s double standards. He appears determined to sit on the wrong side of their strong sense of fair play. But if he does come out of this crisis as the politician who ripped up those blueprints and let people get on with their daily existence, I not only think they will give him another chance – but he will survive much longer than his critics think.
- Matthew Goodwin is a professor of politics and international relations at the University of Kent.