“The prime minister has had months to prepare for this, but instead of getting a grip, the government has lost control,” he said.
Even as he castigated Mr. Johnson and his Conservative Party government, Mr. Starmer acknowledged the opposition had much work to do to win back supporters, following its thumping defeat in elections last December.
“Let’s be brutally honest with ourselves: When you lose an election in a democracy, you deserve to,” he said. “You don’t look at the electorate and ask them, ‘What were you thinking?’ You look at yourself and ask, ‘What are we doing?’”
These have been awkward times for the Conservatives as well. Tensions within the party had risen before Mr. Johnson’s announcement, following leaks that suggested that he was considering more drastic measures, including a lockdown to coincide with a short school vacation in October. The idea would have been to act as a “circuit break” on the rise in infections, at a time when it would have been less disruptive.
To many lawmakers, that posed a threat both to the fragile economic recovery and to individual liberties. Several senior Conservatives also complained that Parliament was being sidelined over critical decisions. Ministers had “got into the habit of ruling by decree,” Graham Brady, chairman of the influential 1922 Committee, which represents backbench Conservative lawmakers, said to the BBC.
In the end, Mr. Johnson drew back from the toughest potential measures, arguing that the economy needed protection alongside the nation’s health. In Scotland, which lifted the lockdown restrictions more slowly than England, the Scottish government banned people from visiting each other’s homes.
Instead, Mr. Johnson emphasized enforcement of the new rules, with the heavier fines and what he said would be more zealous policing. He even said that the army might be deployed to support the police, though Downing Street later insisted that the military would only be used in support functions.