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Constructive opposition is vital, says Grantham councillor

Column, Labour councillor Lee Steptoe, Earlesfield ward

As we come towards the end of the fifth week of lockdown it will quite understandably have escaped many people’s attention that Labour has a new leader, and therefore the country has a new leader of the opposition.

Sir Keir Starmer replaced Jeremy Corbyn on April 4. I voted for him and hugely welcome his election as I believe it will extend our appeal, as we look to become a credible alternative to the Tories after the disastrous 2019 election defeat.

Councillor Lee Steptoe, Labour (24894592)
Councillor Lee Steptoe, Labour (24894592)

Sir Keir was a top barrister and the former director of public prosecutions and has promised to bring these forensic skills to the fore as we look to effectively hold the government to account in these unprecedented times and beyond.

Labour will support the government when it gets things right but will ask probing questions when we think it’s getting things wrong.

Like everybody else of decent intentions, I wished the Prime Minister a full and speedy recovery, and it thankfully looks like he will be back at the helm soon, but that doesn’t mean relevant questions can’t be asked, especially after last weekend’s press revelations that the government was told by its scientific experts that a pandemic was coming in early new year and did very little for at least five weeks.

As Sir Keir has said, it is now perfectly legitimate to ask what the government’s exit strategy is: not to give dates, but to give general principles on what the strategy is for a phased lifting of the lock down. We will also continue to ask searching questions about the lack of protective personal equipment.

Locally, I will follow Keir’s constructive opposition towards Tory SKDC. The leader, Kelham Cooke, deserves credit for leading from the front during the crisis, in terms of proactively issuing government grants to businesses and launching the highly successful Community Hub for the vulnerable. However, without temporary business rate relief local businesses are still going to really struggle and sadly some will go to the wall. They are the lifeblood of the local economy and need more help, now.

As for our public services, when this pandemic is over, we simply cannot go back to business as usual with people underpaid and undervalued. When the recovery comes Labour will press for the burden to be borne by those with the broadest shoulders. Key workers deserve more than claps.

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