Allow me a brief vignette: my first article for this publication took pride of place (in my mind) next to a reprint of a speech given by Sir Keir Starmer in Doncaster in September 2020. There was much in the Labour leader’s speech to get excited about, not least talk of wanting “this to be the best country to grow up in and the best country to grow old in” and a “country in which we put family first. A country that embodies the values I hold dear. Decency, fairness, opportunity, compassion and security. Security for our nation, our families and for all of our communities”.

Nice catchy lines – not bad for a lawyer. The scene was set: oppositions thrive on governments that are in crisis and fail to protect the country from disaster. Rather presciently, Sir Keir also had this to say about the imposition of further draconian restrictions: “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”.

Well, quite. Whether you are in favour of draconian restrictions to help fight respiratory disease or not, it is hard to disagree with those words. The toll on people’s physical and mental health and on the economy has indeed been stupendous – a sign of government failure. Grateful as we all are for a booming – though probably inflationary – economy for now, I am reminded that the easiest way to make a small fortune is to start with a large one. And statistics do deceive: reduce an economy by 20 per cent and then a subsequent 20 per cent increase from the nadir still leaves you 4 per cent short of where you started.

But we are where we are.  And, superficially, it seems odd that Labour, under Sir Keir’s stewardship, has not benefited from Tory woes. On top of the collateral damage from lockdowns (which other countries managed to avoid) and a trashed economy, we have had the flat refurbishment scandal, the ‘chatty rat’ and of course good old-fashioned sleaze: huge questions remain regarding government procurement while Parliament has been neutered by the 2020 Coronavirus Act. 

One would have thought this would be fertile ground for the former Director of Public Prosecutions, a certain Sir Keir Rodney Starmer KCB QC. “Mr Forensic” should be able to run rings around the Prime Minister at PMQs, and he has indeed scored some notable victories without managing to eviscerate his opponent.

But… now Hartlepool. You can’t run, you can’t hide. The ruling Conservative Junta winning a by-election in the formerly Red Wall with over half the votes cast is an absolutely devastating result, whichever way you look at it. Yes, turnout was low, but this is baked into by-election calculus.

Where has Labour gone wrong? Is the party too centrist? Some are urging Starmer to tack left, but this approach was roundly rejected by the voting public in 2019. 

I think the answer to this question can be found in Starmer’s Doncaster speech. In it, he promised to be a “constructive opposition”, noting that Labour is “not going to win back those we’ve lost with a single speech or a clever policy offer. Trust takes time. It starts with being a credible opposition. With taking the job seriously. That’s what we will do”.

Which is nothing more than a bland restatement of his job title: Leader of Her Majesty’s Opposition. It is his job to oppose, which he has promised to do constructively and credibly. But he cannot deliver on this with the Coronavirus Act in force, leaving a small cabal of men able to impose unfettered restrictions, unchecked by Parliament and with the fourth estate forced by OFCOM to parrot the government’s narrative.

There is one person responsible for this: Sir Keir. Even the Liberal Democrats voted against the six-month extension to these tyrannical powers in March, and there is plentiful backbench opposition in Tory ranks to extinguish the Tory majority in the house. But with Labour waving the legislation through, power continues to be concentrated in the hands of Boris and his cronies. 

Perhaps the public has sensed this, and wants more than warm words from Starmer. They want a credible opposition, not one that wafts more power into the hands of the Tories.

This publication has repeatedly called for Parliament to be fully recalled (any MP that is at risk should now have been offered a vaccine). Let’s get the mother of democracies working again. There is no excuse for us to be ruled by diktat any more.  “Trust takes time” – yes, and probably the most important thing that the Labour leadership can do over the next few months to build trust is make it crystal clear that they will vote to suspend the Coronavirus Act 2020 when it comes up for renewal in September.

The time has come, Sir Keir, to arise and oppose. You’ve got work to do.

Dr Alex Starling is an advisor to and non-executive director of various early-stage technology companies. Follow him on Twitter: @alexstarling77