Keir Starmer failed to make Boris Johnson pay for his lockdown U-turn at PMQs

Reversing the government’s policy is never as damaging as it seems if it ends up with the position that the opposition demanded, writes John Rentoul

Wednesday 04 November 2020 14:25
<p>Starmer in the Commons on Wednesday</p>

Starmer in the Commons on Wednesday

Keir Starmer arrived for prime minister’s questions like a prize fighter ready to bask in the applause of the crowd after his opponent had knocked himself out in the pre-match warm-up. But Boris Johnson was miraculously still there, and fended off the Labour leader’s attacks with ease.  

It just goes to prove the old political law that a U-turn is never as damaging as it seems if you end up with the position that the opposition demanded. Over the weekend, the prime minister made what appeared to be a humiliating retreat, adopting the very policy Starmer had advocated, and which Johnson had described as “disastrous” only 10 days earlier.  

Starmer tried to avoid gloating, which would not have been decorous on such a sombre occasion, but because he couldn’t disagree with the lockdown, all he could do was claim that it would have been shorter if it had been brought in when he first called for it on 13 October. He presented himself as someone who followed the science, which is what Johnson claims to do. “I looked at the evidence,” Starmer said. “I don’t buy the argument that the facts suddenly changed.”

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