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With Keir Starmer’s call for a “circuit-breaker” national lockdown in England to stem the spread of Covid-19, the battle lines have been clearly drawn.
The intervention firmly places the Labour leader in the tribe of so-called “doves”, pressing for more stringent restrictions, facing off with the “hawks” who oppose them in an effort to safeguard the economy.
But just who occupies each camp, and what about those floating in between? Here’s a rundown of the key players:
Sir Graham Brady
A thorn in the government’s side in recent weeks, the chair of the influential 1992 Committee of Tory backbenchers has led Conservative rebels in pushing for more parliamentary scrutiny of restrictions. The Tory MP’s amendment to the Coronavirus Act, intended to secure a vote in parliament ahead of future measures to clamp down on social freedoms, was signed by more than 50 MPs last month but ultimately was not selected by the Speaker. However, the political pressure led the government to cave and agree to give MPs a vote in parliament on any country-wide restrictions. Highlighting concern for his constituents in Greater Manchester who have lived with extra restrictions since July, Brady told parliament on Tuesday: “This half-alive state that we have come to inhabit cannot be allowed to become permanent.”
Battle-hardened from Brexit, the former chair of the European Research Group has been a key critic of the government’s lockdown strategy and a central figure behind the scenes helping to rally support for Brady’s amendment. Alongside Brady, Baker was among 42 Tories who fired a warning shot at the government on Tuesday night by voting against stricter Covid-19 curbs. A total of 82 MPs, including 23 from Labour and 10 Lib Dems, voted against the motion containing the mandatory 10pm hospitality closing time, as well as other restrictions on public spaces and fines. With Labour formally abstaining, the motion passed 299-82.
Debates are said to have been raging in No 10 over the extent of coronavirus restrictions, with Boris Johnson unveiling the government’s three-tier lockdown system this week. The chancellor, Rishi Sunak, is understood to have been leading the “hawk” charge in cabinet, with the health secretary, Matt Hancock, considered the chief lockdown “dove” in Downing Street. Sunak gave an insight into discussions around the cabinet table, telling BBC Radio 4’s Today programme last week: “A cabinet is not a collection of robots, a cabinet is a collection of people who are gonna come, debate the issues, these are really difficult judgments, there’s no precise way to come to a kind of mathematically correct answer, we’re making judgments, the prime minister is in the best place to do that, I fully support the approach that he’s taken …”
The Labour leader, whose party until now has broadly backed the government’s lockdown measures, stuck a fork in the road on Tuesday by calling for a “circuit-breaker” lockdown of at least two weeks. Speaking at the first of his new televised press conferences, Starmer warned of the stark consequences if his position was not adopted by No 10. “If we don’t, we could sleepwalk into a long and bleak winter. That choice is now for the prime minister to make. I urge him to do so,” he said.
Starmer’s call for a national circuit-break lockdown has been backed by northern leaders, including the Greater Manchester mayor, Andy Burnham, and Liverpool city region mayor, Steve Rotheram. A statement signed by Burnham, as well as the 10 council leaders in Greater Manchester, said on Wednesday: “If the government pursues its current strategy, we believe it will leave large parts of the north of England trapped in tier 3 for much of the winter with all the damage that will do. If cases continue to rise as predicted, and the government continues to refuse to provide the substantial economic support that tier-3 areas will need, then a number of leaders in Greater Manchester believe a national circuit break, with the required financial support, would be a preferable option.”
The Scientific Advisory Group for emergencies (Sage) collectively recommended a short circuit-breaker lockdown of up to three weeks at a meeting on 21 September, documents released this week show. Separately, England’s chief medical officer, Prof Chris Whitty, who is also a Sage member, said on Monday at the Downing Street press conference that he was not confident the “base case” in the highest tier of the government’s three-tier measures “would be enough to get on top of” the virus.
Source: The Guardian
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