Politics

Labour MP shamed over party stance during pandemic: ‘Are you just bet hedgers?’

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Labour Party Lucy Powell was questioned over the party’s intermittent support of the Government through the coronavirus pandemic. Times Radio host Stig Abell suggested the Opposition had counterbalanced its position through the pandemic by intermittently supporting and criticising Boris Johnson’s decisions. Mr Abell said: “I’m interested in the politics of opposition during a crisis like this.

“Your party said it’s in favour of an earlier lockdown in hindsight but it was supportive of the Government’s reluctance to impose a lockdown in the first place.

“It demanded a pathway out of lockdown and, when that was published, its said, ‘well, you’re going too fast.’

“If you are in Opposition during a crisis, are you just bet hedgers?

“Do you have to hedge on both sides because your job is to pick up whatever the Government does?”

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Ms Powell dismissed the line of questioning as she insisted the Labour Party had sought to support the Government through the outbreak while still offering “constructive” criticism to help improve on the response.

She said: “I’m not sure that’s a very fair summary of our position.

“I think on lockdown everyone would accept, Government and others, we were further along the so-called curve and the peak than was understood at the time and therefore we should have taken action sooner.

“That’s in part because we were further behind on things like testing than we should’ve been so we didn’t have a full sense of the picture earlier on.”

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She continued: “That continued through the first few weeks of the peak as well.

“On the easing of lockdown, we were supportive of those measures too because there is a balance here to be struck to ensuring that businesses can begin to reopen and we find this balance of the new normal while, at the same time, maintaining social distancing as far as possible.

“We understand these are difficult decisions for any government to take and we tried to be constructive and supportive where we can be but we’re clear we’ve been too slow on some of the fundamental issues like testing and track and trace.

“Now we are worried the Government is being too quick in pulling the rug on a lot of the economic support they put in place.”

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Ms Powell has shown support for proposals from shadow Chancellor Anneliese Dodds calling on the Government to extend the furlough scheme past October.

The scheme was put in place in March to help businesses pay the wages of their employers after the lockdown was imposed but the programme is due to come to an end in the autumn.

Ms Dodds suggested some sectors would benefit from an extended furlough scheme and said those with the “broadest shoulders” could help repay the Government of the funds invested in preventing mass unemployment during the pandemic.

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