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Politics Explained

Why the battle between Johnson and Starmer is about to ‘level up’

Backing a short, sharp ‘circuit breaker’ lockdown is a shrewd move by the Labour leader, writes Sean O'Grady – and will undoubtedly increase the hostility between the pair

Wednesday 14 October 2020 19:54 BST
Starmer’s elegant trap puts the PM in an impossible position
Starmer’s elegant trap puts the PM in an impossible position (PA)

With the invaluable assistance of the government’s own scientific advisers, Keir Starmer has set his first political trap for Boris Johnson, and the prime minister lumbered straight into it. Despite some spirited attempts at Prime Minister’s Questions to scramble out of the trap set for him by the Labour leader, Johnson remains truly, madly, deeply in an embarrassing hole.  

The trap is a thing of rare beauty. The prime minister has ignored the scientific advice he said he would always be entirely governed by, and refused to organise a short “circuit-breaker” national lockdown, among other measures. Starmer said he would back such a move, based on the unimpeachable expert advice. Handily it happens to be backed by the public too, and particularly among older voters, a weak spot for Labour in the recent past. Starmer knows he cannot lose politically.

If, as seems likely, Johnson does have to go for such a short sharp lockdown in the coming weeks, Starmer will be vindicated, and the prime minister shown to be both wrong and irresolute, executing another U-turn quite against the wishes of his restive backbenchers.  

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