Why public inquiry into virus mishandling is even more urgent – Rachel Reeves

AS some lockdown restrictions eased this week, I was able to meet some of the bereaved families who have lost loved ones to this terrible pandemic.

A volunteer paints hearts on the National Covid Memorial Wall on the Embankment, central London, which is being painted in memory of all those who have died from Covid.

It was incredibly moving to see them starting work on a remarkable mural of almost 150,000 hearts to remember all the Covid-19 victims.

Behind each tiny heart lies a tragic story of someone whose life was cut short.

Sign up to our daily newsletter

The i newsletter cut through the noise

The mural on the south bank of the Thames, opposite the House of Commons, is being co-ordinated by the campaign group Covid-19 Bereaved Families for Justice.

Labour party leader Sir Keir Starmer and Shadow Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster, Rachel Reeves chat with nurse Lisa Newell during a visit to Chelsea and Westminster Hospital, London, to thank the NHS staff for their work as the country marks the one year anniversary of the first national lockdown to prevent the spread of coronavirus.

As I listened, along with Keir Starmer, to their stories, it made it clearer than ever to me how important it is we get behind families across our country and their calls for a public inquiry into what happened during the pandemic.

Keir and I have made it clear the independent investigation promised by Boris Johnson must start when the roadmap of lifting restrictions is complete.

Restrictions are being lifted, allowing many families and friends to be happily reunited for the first time in many months.

The roll-out of the vaccine programme is giving us all real hope for the future.

Chief Medical Officer Professor Chris Whitty, Prime Minister Boris Johnson and Chief scientific adviser Sir Patrick Vallance during a media briefing on coronavirus (Covid-19) from Downing Street's new White-House style media briefing room. Is this a waste of public money?

I saw some of the fantastic work under way in my Leeds West constituency when I visited the Priory Medical Practice, in New Wortley, on Tuesday. In Armley, more than 10,000 vaccinations have been delivered by our wonderful NHS staff.

However, we owe it to all the victims and their families to learn lessons through a full public inquiry – and learn them swiftly.

With case number rising across Europe, the risk of a potential third wave of the virus and none of us wanting to see another winter like the one we have just experienced, there is no time to waste.

If the Prime Minister wants our NHS and public services not only to recover but to be more resilient against future pandemics and crises, he must back the calls for this vital investigation 
so lessons can be learnt to save lives.

The success of the vaccine rollout should not mask the need for a pubic inquiry into Covid, argues Rachel Reeves MP.

The Prime Minister is dragging his feet. He prefers to speak from the security of his new £2.6m Downing Street briefing room rather than get out and meet the grieving relatives of Covid victims who want and deserve answers from him.

If Mr Johnson listened to the harrowing stories of terrible loss that I have heard over the past few weeks, I believe he would find it impossible to delay an inquiry.

We need a public inquiry to avoid a repeat of the Government’s catastrophic blunders over the supply of personal protective equipment for our frontline workers, the failure of the PM to learn from mistakes in the first wave which led to the biggest spike in deaths and infection this January, and the terrible death toll in our care homes.

The rampant waste of taxpayer money and cronyism that has seen contracts going to Tory friends and donors – rather than British firms with a track record in producing what we needed to fight this health crisis – also needs urgent investigation.

Most of all, we need a public inquiry for the victims and for their families who cannot get closure until they get answers. They are being denied that closure and denied justice by the Prime Minister. The trouble is this is a Government and a Prime Minister that has always hated scrutiny and transparency. Boris Johnson is petrified of anyone shining a light on his activities.

But when you have as much to hide as this administration it is not hard to see why.

This past month, I have been asking questions at Westminster in my job as Shadow Cabinet Office Minster about the business dealings of Mr Johnson’s predecessor David Cameron.

According to media reports, the former PM has boasted to friends that he would pocket $60m from a deal involving a company called Greensill Capital.

In yet another example of Tory cronyism, Mr Cameron apparently texted Chancellor Rishi Sunak, attempting to lobby him to dish out multi-million taxpayer-funded loans to the company.

This doesn’t just matter because of the severe lack of transparency, but also because Greensill collapsed in March, leaving around 5,000 jobs in the steel industry in the balance because the firm was a major provider of finance to Liberty Steel – the UK’s third largest steel company.

I have written to the Cabinet Secretary, with our Shadow Chancellor Anneliese Dodds, and called for urgent answers from David Cameron and the Conservatives about his work with Greensill.

This sorry tale is yet another example of Conservative cronyism as ministers and ex-ministers putting personal gain ahead of the needs of the country.

It is any wonder they have not even advertised the job for the vacant role of Independent Adviser on Ministerial Standards?

The last person in the role, Sir Alex Allan, walked out after Johnson overruled his finding that Home Secretary Priti Patel had bullied 
staff was a breach of the Ministerial Code.

The refusal of the Government to tackle lobbying scandals and cronyism along with its refusal to hold an immediate inquiry into the pandemic might seem very different issues.

However, both go to the heart of what is wrong with this Government. This is a Prime Minister and a Government that detests scrutiny and transparency, even when they know that learning lessons could save lives in future.

This has to change. The public and all those grieving families have a right to know the truth.

* Rachel Reeves is the Shadow Cabinet Office Minister and Labour MP for Leeds West.

Support The Yorkshire Post and become a subscriber today. Your subscription will help us to continue to bring quality news to the people of Yorkshire. In return, you’ll see fewer ads on site, get free access to our app and receive exclusive members-only offers. Click here to subscribe.