Starmer just called the Labour movement ‘very patriotic’ then betrayed the teachers’ unions

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Labour leader Keir Starmer has rejected pressure from unions to call for a phased return of schools, arguing that “ideally” all children should be back in England’s classrooms on 8 March.

It comes as Starmer described the Labour movement as “very patriotic” on Sky News’ Sophy Ridge on Sunday.

Trust Boris, not the unions

Starmer said he hoped Boris Johnson would set out a “cautious, careful” exit from lockdown when the prime minister publishes his road map on 22 February but the full return of schools should be the aim.

Read on...

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His stance comes after a coalition of unions and professional bodies warned that reopening schools to all pupils in England at the same time would be “reckless” and could risk another spike in coronavirus (Covid-19) infections.

The joint statement was from the Association of School and College Leaders (ASCL), the NAHT school leaders’ union, the National Education Union (NEU), the NASUWT teachers’ union, the National Governance Association (NGA), the Sixth Form Colleges Association (SFCA) and Labour-affiliated unions Unison, Unite and GMB.

Starmer told Sky News’ Sophy Ridge on Sunday:

Ideally, I’d like to see all schools back open on 8th March and all children back in school on March 8. I’ve been worried through the pandemic, a number of people have, about the impact that being out of school has on particularly vulnerable children and the attainment gap is getting bigger, so ideally March 8.

We’ll have to see obviously where the data is, see where the science is, but that’s what we should be working towards. If that means more testing, if that means Nightingale classrooms, if it means other measures, let’s do that because I want to get our kids back into school.

“Very patriotic”

In the same interview in which he took the opposite position to the unions, Starmer praised the labour movement in general. Asked what he stands for, Starmer said:

Yes, I’m patriotic – that was one of the issues that was in this report that was leaked – of course I’m patriotic. I want to be prime minister of this country because I want this country to be even better than it is now.

Actually, the whole Labour movement is very patriotic, we are in politics to change our country for the better, you can’t be more patriotic than that, and I’m very, very comfortable with it.

Starmer’s latest position is one several Tories were already calling for. It also comes as one union figure criticised him for not calling on the health secretary to resign despite him having broken the law:

Listen to unions

Former shadow chancellor John McDonnell, meanwhile, said the unions should be listened to on the issue of schools reopening. He told Sky News:

The teaching unions are saying, very similar to Keir, that of course we want the schools to open but it’s got to be safe and I can’t think of anyone better to listen to than those on the frontline, and that is the teachers’ unions.

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