The Prime Minister has faced significant backlash for the the chaos of recent days Getty Images

On the 13th of October Keir Starmer implored Boris to implement a short ‘circuit breaker’ lockdown to get the virus back under control. He highlighted that local restrictions were proving ineffective: in 19 of the 20 areas that have faced local restrictions for over two months cases have gone up, not down. Starmer’s suggestion was a two to three-week lockdown coinciding with half-term, thus limiting the increased infection risk of school holidays. At PMQs Johnson scoffed at this suggestion. A second lockdown, he claimed, would be a "disaster". The Prime Minister defended his tiered approach, even though it clearly wasn’t working. He exhorted Starmer to "co-operate" with the current strategy, accusing the opposition leader of acting out of cynical opportunism rather than principle or patriotism.

It’s no wonder Johnson thinks Starmer is merely playing politics: it’s a way of living that Johnson is very familiar with, having played that role all his life. The Prime Minister rose to power on the back of opportunism and can’t imagine why Sir Keir would act out of anything but self-interest. It made no difference to the Prime Minister that SAGE had published guidance on the 21st September calling for an immediate lockdown in attempt to avoid "a very large epidemic with catastrophic consequences". He dismissed the idea because it came from Starmer; he could conceive of Starmer’s suggestion only as a cynical attempt to undermine the government.

“It’s no wonder Johnson thinks Starmer is merely playing politics: it’s a way of living that Johnson is very familiar with, having played that role all his life.”

Yet, on Halloween, Johnson stood up and addressed the nation, declaring that he had no choice but to implement a second lockdown. Just as Sir Keir suggested, restaurants, bars, and gyms would remain closed; just like Sir Keir’s lockdown, schools would remain open. The twist? This lockdown would be at least four weeks, not two. Recent speculation has suggested we may be locked down for much longer with limited improvement to the R number. Hospitals are now on the brink of exceeding capacity. Once again the government has ignored crucial advice, reacting instead of acting. Johnson has played politics and refused to make unpopular decisions; as a result, the nation is suffering.

The amateur presentation insisted that it was only now that the data warranted a second lockdown, allowing Johnson to claim that this is not a ‘U-Turn’ and that Starmer was still wrong to call for a ‘circuit-breaker’ when he did. At this time of national crisis, Johnson’s immediate priority was once again saving face. The tone of the Prime Minister’s speech on Saturday was that of a parent who desperately wants to be your friend. He spent three weeks dithering and delaying, refusing to implement tough and unpopular lockdown measures. As a consequence, hospitals are now overwhelmed and the economy faces a long lockdown. This bleak tragedy is made all the worse when one considers the hundreds of excess deaths over the next few weeks, both from Covid and from untreated medical complaints that hospitals have lost the capacity to diagnose.

“At this time of national crisis, Johnson’s immediate priority was once again saving face.”

Despite his brags that we are testing more than any other country in Europe this lockdown has been rendered inevitable by the failure of the test and trace system. Again, Sir Keir was right to push Johnson to move the system into the hands of local authorities who understand the landscape of their area and have a better capacity to contact people. Test and trace is where our Covid response lives and dies. An Imperial College study has found that were a proper test and trace solution to be deployed, we might be able to reduce the R number by 26%. Johnson’s system was over-centralised from the start. The government’s over-reliance on private firms has led to only 37% of the necessary people being identified. Finally, the government have conceded to Starmer’s Labour, admitting that "local cities and regions should be given help to do more". Maybe if this decision had been taken earlier, and more concrete support had been given to local authorities, we wouldn’t be on the precipice of spiralling case rates and a second national lockdown.


Mountain View

Life in Cambridge under lockdown

Back in April people had a strong sense of their patriotic duty to lock down. We were told that if we put our lives on hold the government would repay us with a strong Covid response. Instead, we’ve had nothing but confusion since that first lockdown. The government initiated schemes like ‘eat out to help out’ which we now know were likely responsible for a sixth of the Covid clusters over the summer. The rules seem to be constantly changing. There’s been a total lack of clarity about the application of requirements such as ‘the rule of six’. It’s near impossible to decipher which social gatherings are permitted and many people had stopped trying. This lockdown is going to be far less successful because there’s a total lack of faith in the government to bring it to a close and to ‘control the virus’.

Covid will most likely not be over by Christmas. The wealth of scientific data does not suggest there will be a vaccine soon. Johnson needs to cross the party divide and accept advice from Labour. His focus shouldn’t be ridiculing Sir Keir at every opportunity. Instead, he needs to put politics aside and listen to the experts.