Nature abhors a vacuum. Rolling news channels abhor one even more. Yet, during the last week of the pandemic one has been allowed to exist.
Midweek, the government abandoned its daily press conference. This was an odd piece of timing, coinciding as it did with the easing of lockdown, a mini-heatwave and the continuing Robert Jenrick scandal.
With this in mind, the Labour Party could do worse than take on this slot themselves. Like him or not, Keir Starmer is topping polls as a potential Prime Minister and this could be a chance to cement that position. Throw in health, home office, education and business/treasury shadows and you have a five-day schedule that will raise awareness of policy, present a leadership model and expose shadow ministers to the nation.
Now, there is no obligation upon broadcasters to take such a conference (and indeed they probably won’t take every one). But it allows a daily voice as well as the chance to react to government policy and current events.
The slot would offer a daily rebuttal of any government-announced or -leaked stories, as well as a chance to present the daily Covid-19 figures, from infections to deaths. It presents the official opposition as in control and would allow them to present policy and at last answer the question of what they would do better. This was a real problem under the press office of Seumas Milne, with the leader then (one J Corbyn) hardly being allowed out of his allotment shed.
Starmer et al could, for a time at least, present the most harsh and even outrageous critique of the government, with the PM’s only option to be reactive or to slowly reintroduce the daily press sessions, complete with journalists in the room. It’s a win-win.
Starmer is famously ‘forensic’ (although this is not always apparent from his responses at PMQs beyond some performative shows of lawyering) and this would give him the chance to dig into figures, stats, policy and personality.
It would certainly beat a push-up contest with the PM (who I doubt can get past five).