Keir Starmer has branded Boris Johnson as “not up to the job” of prime minister as he blamed government incompetence for holding Britain back and botching its response to the coronavirus crisis.
In a brutal attack on Johnson’s record as PM, Starmer denounced his handling of care homes in the pandemic as a “national scandal” and said that a second lockdown would be a “government failure”
In his keynote speech to a Labour conference designed to draw a line under the Jeremy Corbyn years by promising a “new leadership”, Starmer contrasted his own background as a barrister prosecuting terrorists with Johnson’s record as a “flippant” newspaper columnist.
He appealed to voters to “take another look at Labour”, telling them that under its new leadership it would be a party that “takes the job seriously” and delivers answers to the problems of the future.
Speaking just hours before Mr Johnson was due to unveil new national restrictions to rein in an upsurge in Covid-19 cases across the country, Starmer said that the government had “lost control” of the crisis.
“There should be nothing inevitable about a second lockdown,” he said.
“It would be a sign of government failure, not an act of God. It would take an immense toll on people’s physical and mental health and on the economy. We need a national effort to prevent a national lockdown.
“But instead of getting a grip, the government has lost control.”
While insisting he was ready to be “constructive” about measures needed to tackle Covid-19, Starmer said he was “angry” at the government’s failure to deliver a working test and trace system, provide frontline workers with PPE or produce fair exam results, while “wasting millions of your money in the process”.
“I’ve tried to be fair, to give the government the benefit of the doubt,” said Starmer.
“But now, with one of the highest death rates in the world, and on the threshold of one of the deepest recessions anywhere, I’m afraid there is no doubt.
“This government’s incompetence is holding Britain back.”
Pointing the finger of blame squarely at Johnson, Sir Keir said: “Crisis reveals character like nothing else.
“And I think we’ve learnt a lot about this prime minister. Tory backbenchers know it. His cabinet knows it. We all know it.
“He’s just not serious. He’s just not up to the job.”
He added: “Whenever he encounters a problem, Johnson responds either by wishing it away or by lashing out.
“He kept wishing away the problems with testing, pretending they didn’t exist. He wished away the problems with the Irish border. Then, when he finally realised what he’d signed up to, he lashed out and decided to break international law.
“We’re all doing our bit to combat the virus by obeying the rule of six. Meanwhile the government won’t even obey the rule of law.
“And this is the big difference between the Prime Minister and me:
“While Boris Johnson was writing flippant columns about bendy bananas, I was defending victims and prosecuting terrorists.
“While he was being sacked by a newspaper for making up quotes, I was fighting for justice and the rule of law.”