Keir Starmer’s leadership of the Labour Party has already been mired in controversy. Now, his and its response to the Tories’ latest coronavirus (Covid-19) plan has been chaotic at best. But the actions of MPs and a notorious peer, plus the party’s official line, raise yet more cause for concern.
Send them back!
Boris Johnson announced on Sunday 10 May that he wanted schools to reopen. As BBC News reported:
He hoped the next step ‘at the earliest by 1 June’ would be for some primary pupils to return to school in England.
The detail involved sending reception, year one and year six pupils back from 1 June at the earliest. This is based on the government meeting certain “tests” that they believed would mean it would be safe. But trade unions were not happy, with the National Education Union saying Johnson’s plan was “nothing short of reckless”. Now, the Labour Party has issued its response, and senior figures have made their positions clear. And the responses are worrying, to say the least.
Long-Bailey steps in… and then out…
Labour’s shadow education secretary Rebecca Long-Bailey issued a statement. On Monday 11 May, she said:
In the absence of clear scientific advice and a safety plan, the Government has not demonstrated it is in a position to start planning for the wider safe opening of schools, or given any reassurance to parents, teachers and pupils that they will be safe.
She criticised the government’s lack of information and evidence on how reopening schools would work. And she concluded:
The Government must urgently convene education unions and the profession more widely and address their concerns, to allay the anxiety and confusion caused by Boris Johnson’s announcement and this guidance.
By working with the sector the Government can create a workable plan for the reopening of schools when the science indicates it is safe to do so, and which has the confidence of all those affected.
But by using the government’s own line around ‘scientific advice’, Long-Bailey has merely played into its hands.
The latest scientific advice indicates it will be safe for more children to return to school from 1 June, but we will continue to limit the overall numbers in school and introduce protective measures to prevent transmission.
So an own goal from Labour – despite shadow chancellor Anneliese Dodds saying “we don’t have that evidence, I feel, currently” (i.e. that reopening schools would be safe). The party’s opposition to this was always going to be difficult, given that Starmer himself said in April that “in principle” schools should be among the first to reopen. But then, at Prime Minister’s Questions (PMQs), he scored another own goal. As Labour MP Tulip Siddiq tweeted:
— Tulip Siddiq (@TulipSiddiq) May 13, 2020
The Tories’ answer would, of course, be ‘send the children back to school’. Confused? It seems the Labour Party is. And this chaotic, scattergun approach to the subject of schools was just entrenched by other senior party figures’ comments on Twitter.
Another brick in the wall
Lord Andrew Adonis tweeted that teaching unions were being “totally irresponsible” for not backing the Tories:
It is totally irresponsible for teacher unions to advise their members not to engage in planning for a safe reopening of schools on 1 June
— Andrew Adonis (@Andrew_Adonis) May 12, 2020
And Labour MP Barry Sheerman said similar:
I am very unhappy about the teaching unions reluctance to cooperate on the reopening of schools great damage is being caused particularly to children from lower income families by this extended closure & there are safe ways to reopen!
— Barry Sheerman MP (@BarrySheerman) May 13, 2020
So despite trade unions’ concerns and opposition from parents, Labour has fudged the issue completely. It could have consulted with, and then supported, the teaching unions. But instead, its position has been mixed at best – and a shambles at worst. Labour’s inconsistency under Starmer on this issue is in no way how an opposition party should be acting.
Featured image via BBC – YouTube
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