I would have sacked Dominic Cummings by now – Sir Keir Starmer

WHEN I became Labour Party leader last month, I promised a new and responsible type of opposition – an opposition that puts the national interest first.

Sir Keir Starmer has asked probing questions at Prime Minister's Questions despite the lockdown.

That is particularly important at a time of national crisis. At times like these we all share a common purpose: to save lives and protect our country. Labour must play its role in supporting this national purpose.

That means supporting the Government when they are getting it right and challenging them when they make mistakes. And mistakes have been made.

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The Government was too slow to enter lockdown, too slow to increase testing and too slow to protect care homes from the virus.

Sir Keir Starmer at Prime Minister's Questions in the House of Commons.

And this week the Prime Minister failed to take any action against his closest adviser.

Dominic Cummings broke the lockdown rules. It is as simple as that. His actions were an insult to the millions of people across Yorkshire and the United Kingdom who have sacrificed so much during this pandemic.

People have stayed away from their loved ones, their friends and their family. Many people have been forced to isolate alone.

And in the most tragic circumstances, people have not been able to say goodbye or hold a funeral in the way they would have liked. It is because of those sacrifices that people have felt so angry – and I share that anger.

Sir Keir Starmer replaced Jeremy Corbyn as Labour leader just last month.

If I was Prime Minister, I would have sacked Dominic Cummings. Boris Johnson was too weak to do so and instead we wasted a week talking about the actions of one adviser rather than how we protect the health of the nation and lift the lockdown restrictions safely.

When I was elected leader, I also promised to listen. Labour did not just lose the last election. We have lost four in a row. We have lost the trust of the British people as a force for good and a force for change.

I know we can only restore that trust if we start listening again and understanding why people in Yorkshire and elsewhere have turned their back on Labour.

That’s why this week I visited Doncaster, not in person, but virtually, to listen to the views and concerns of over 100 residents.

Unusually for a political leader, I don’t want these meetings to be easy. I made it clear I wanted to be challenged, for them to be frank and blunt with me – about politics and about the Labour Party.

We talked about coronavirus. I heard from a woman desperately worried about the strain on our National Health Service and care homes – not just from the pandemic but from years of underfunding.

I heard about the pressures facing the self employed in Doncaster, some of whom have fallen through the gaps in the Government’s support packages.

I heard about the frustration people felt over the Prime Minister’s actions this week which have undermined the Government’s own public-health advice.

And I heard about the anger of many of those in Doncaster about the Government’s failure to offer a quick and comprehensive response to the flooding last November. We also discussed Brexit. I know there are strong feelings about this across Yorkshire on both sides of the argument but as I said in Doncaster on Thursday: We have left the European Union. The Leave-Remain divide is over.

The challenge now is how we shape our country’s future for ourselves and our children. Like all those on the call, I want to see Doncaster prosper. I want to see new jobs created, businesses supported and promises of investment delivered.

The Conservative Party talk a good game on this issue but their record after a decade in power is one of consistent failure to properly invest in our regions.

The North-South divide is continuing to grow. Without Government action, there is a real risk coronavirus deepens the existing injustices and inequalities.

Finally, people spoke candidly to me about the Labour Party and the state of politics. I am under no illusion that Labour has a mountain to climb to win the next election but I am determined to restore people’s faith and trust in our party and in politics.

That means supporting the country through the coronavirus pandemic. It also means offering people hope for a better society after this crisis is over.

The past few months have shown us so clearly who the key workers really are.

Our NHS staff, care workers, ambulance drivers, porters, shopkeepers, police and emergency services. It is because of their dedication and sense of public service that Yorkshire has kept moving. We owe them a huge debt of gratitude.

It is not enough for us to clap them on a Thursday night and then return to business as usual when this crisis ends. It is our duty – Labour’s duty and my duty – to offer that vision for a better, fairer, more equal society.

I know Labour has a big job to do. Not just to respond to the coronavirus but to reconnect with our communities.

This week’s event in Yorkshire is not unique. It will be the first of many. I hope to be back in Yorkshire soon and I hope to be back in Doncaster.

And when I am, I hope we can meet in person. To talk about the challenges we face as a nation and how, together, we can deliver a better future.

Sir Keir Starmer MP is leader of the Labour Party.

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James Mitchinson