Boris Johnson’s election win and Keir Starmer’s successful leadership bid certainly came at an unusual time.
Both politicians landed enormous leadership roles at a time of international crisis, but their effectiveness at handling this and the day-to-day running of British politics stack up rather differently.
Where Starmer has been praised for his excellent PMQs appearances and sensible approach to leading the opposition, Johnson has been plagued by embarrassing gaffs and mistakes.
Here’s everything that Keir Starmer has gotten right (and Boris Johnson has gotten wrong) so far this year.
1. Taken politics seriously
Because, you know, it affects people’s lives…
It’s no secret that Boris Johnson enjoys the pageantry of Prime Minister’s Questions, particularly when he can hear a cacophony of ‘hear, hears’ behind him.
Keir Starmer, who has won praise for his PMQs performances by his fans and critics alike, called out Johnson’s penchant for poor jokes, describing one of them as a “pre-prepared gag”.
Keir Starmer's brilliant response to Boris Johnson telling him he has 'more flip flops than Bournemouth beach'.
— Marie-Ann Hates Tories and Brexit (@Marie-Ann Hates Tories and Brexit)
2. Got his figures right
Johnson’s use of figures isn’t always straightforward.
In May, he claimed that 125,000 care home staff and 118,000 residents had been tested for coronavirus. These figures later turned out to be untrue.
In June, he claimed that 4,000 fewer families are living in poverty in the UK than in 2010. This isn’t true either.
And yet, Johnson has accused Starmer of being the one to use misleading statistics after Starmer said that only 10,000 of the 33,000 people with coronavirus had been successfully reached for contact tracing.
3. Said what everyone was thinking about Dominic Cummings
When that whole sorry saga happened, this is what Boris Johnson said:
I think he followed the instincts of every father and every parent and I do not mark him down for that. He has acted responsibly, legally and with integrity.
This is what Keir Starmer said:
If I were prime minister, I'd have sacked Cummings. And there must now be an investigation into what has happened.
That’s what being decisive looks like.
4. Spoken openly to the press
Johnson is infamous for dodging the press, randomly disappearing from scheduled debates and press conferences and, of course, literally retreating into a fridge to escape.
It now appears he wants to put even more distance between himself and journalists, with a £100k a year spokesperson to answer the tough questions for him.
Starmer, who frequently holds ‘Call Keir’ conferences to answer questions, had some strong words for Johnson after he failed to answer questions about his government’s handling of the coronavirus pandemic on Good Morning Britain.
They should be using every opportunity to get their message across to the British people who have done amazing things in this crisis.
They should be on the programme, they should be getting their message across and they're not doing it.
5. Made televised addresses that make sense
In his first televised address to the nation, Starmer made it clear that we cannot go "back to business as usual" and outlined the answers the public needed from the prime minister.
We needed to hear that no-one would be asked to go to work or send their children to school without it being safe to do so. We needed to know that the huge problems we’ve seen with protective equipment are over. That the crisis in our care homes has finally been gripped.
In his equivalent address, meanwhile, Boris Johnson came off more like a beleaguered Physics teacher trying to explain the science behind his coronavirus plan than a prime minister. The slogan he unveiled, “stay alert”, was so confusing it instantly became a meme.
6. Set out clear testing and tracing targets for the government
The government’s handling of testing and tracing has been one of the most criticised elements of their response to the coronavirus pandemic.
They were slow to hit their 100,000 tests per day target and when they did it turned out that the numbers had been inflated by counting tests that had been posted out but not yet taken.
Starmer, meanwhile, called on the government to improve their failing testing programme by increasing the daily target from 100,000 to 250,000.
7. Been consistent and cautious on coronavirus messaging
Starmer frequently urged the government to keep lockdown in place for other peoples’ safety. Boris Johnson, meanwhile, urged us to isolate at home but also to ‘get back to work’.
Contradictory messaging is something of a theme for this government.
8. Called on the government to protect vulnerable people in care homes
Government advice from mid-March stated that the risk of an outbreak of coronavirus in care homes was "very unlikely". We now know that that isn't true.
When Starmer raised the issue that the government was "too slow to protect care homes" and pointed out the failure in their advice, Johnson shot back that it "wasn't true the advice said that", although it did. Twice.
9. Taken a realistic approach to Britain's failures
When Boris Johnson called the UK's approach to handling the coronavirus pandemic as "success" despite having the highest death toll in Europe, Starmer stepped in to explain that that's not what success looks like.
The fact that there had been 27,000 deaths at the time was "truly dreadful" Starmer pointed out. The figure now exceeds 45,000.
Johnson even accused Starmer of being "negative" about the death toll, which was a fairly insensitive comment to say the least.
Watching Keir Starmer quietly and politely demolish the Prime Minister's coronavirus bluster of "success" was the r… https://t.co/yUY2iJ9twl
— Fr Thomas TSSF SCP 🇪🇺🇬🇧🏳️🌈🔶 (@Fr Thomas TSSF SCP 🇪🇺🇬🇧🏳️🌈🔶)
10. Addressed rocketing unemployment levels
Starmer has drawn attention to the devastating economic impact coronavirus will have on the British people, not just British businesses (although obviously this is concerning too).
While the government have attempted to address the looming unemployment crisis in some ways, they have also warned of future wage cuts to make up for their financial aid. This is not exactly welcome news at a time when thousands of people feat for their livelihoods.
The leader of a country has to be capable of more than winning elections and delivering catchy soundbites. The coronavirus pandemic has been a sobering reminder of that.
The strain it has put on the government has revealed many of Boris Johnson’s weaknesses — and Keir Starmer’s strengths.
As we transition into the ‘new normal’, it remains to be seen whether the two leaders will continue along these same trajectories.
Based on their current records in government, we have to suspect that they might.