Keir Starmer refuses to say Labour on course for May election ‘gains’, blaming pandemic

‘They’re going to be tough, these elections. We are in a pandemic and we are constrained’

Rob Merrick
Deputy Political Editor
Thursday 11 March 2021 16:13 GMT
Keir Starmer refuses to say Labour will make gains at local elections

Keir Starmer has refused to say that Labour will make gains in May’s elections, suggesting Covid-19 and campaign restrictions will cost the party votes.

The party in power traditionally takes a buffeting in mid-term elections, especially when – as in the case of the Conservatives – it has been in government for more than a decade.

But, launching Labour’s campaign, Sir Keir twice refused to say that he must demonstrate progress across Great Britain in order for the elections to be a “success”.

“They’re going to be tough, these elections,” the Labour leader said, “we are in a pandemic and we are constrained in the way we can campaign”.

Sir Keir added: “There’s no doubting it’s a tough environment for us with the pandemic and the way in which we’re working.”

He also backed away from a confrontation with Buckingham Palace over whether any enquiry into Meghan Markle’s allegations should be made public, saying that was a matter for the royal family.

And, amid the horror over the suspected killing of Sarah Everard, Sir Keir urged men to “challenge behaviours”, saying it is “very important for men to speak out”.

The 6 May elections – including those postponed from 12 months ago – will be the biggest in years, with crucial mayoral races in London, the midlands, Bristol, Tees Valley and elsewhere.

The Scottish and Welsh parliaments will go to the polls and seats will be up for election in more than 140 county councils, district councils and unitary authorities.

However, turnout is expected to be extremely low, partly because of the pandemic and with England, Scotland and Wales only slowly emerging from lockdowns.

Sir Keir was asked: “What does success actually look like? Surely the baseline for Labour success has to be gains in England, Wales and Scotland?”

But, in a clear attempt to manage expectations, he said: “We’re fighting hard in England, Wales and Scotland in those council elections, in the mayoral elections. In Scotland, we’ve got a new leader, a lot of work to do there.”

The Labour leader risked disappointing party supporters by declining to back the 12.5 per cent pay rise for nurses demanded by the Royal College of Nursing.

“The rise for the NHS front line should be above inflation, a real rise. I think the starting point should be the 2.1 per cent that was promised and was, of course, budgeted for,” he said.

He attacked Boris Johnson’s stance on LGBT+ issues, after three government advisers quit with one warning of a “hostile environment”.

“The government has clearly got a blindspot here,” Sir Keir said. “It’s got a problem and the prime minister needs to address it, not least because it’s a pattern of behaviour.”

Labour would “absolutely” ban conversion therapy, with the government accused of refusing to act. “It’s abhorrent and we’re 100 per cent against it,” he protested.

On the furore that has engulfed the royal family, Sir Keir said: “The palace has now responded and I do think it is a matter now for the family and I do hope it is resolved as soon as possible.”

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