‘Political interference’ in lockdown decisions queried as Tory areas spared

Labour has questioned whether "political interference" is at play when ministers are deciding which areas face local lockdowns after accusations that wealthy and Tory-voting areas are being spared.

Shadow health secretary Jonathan Ashworth, whose Leicester South constituents have faced various extra lockdown measures since June, called for ministers to publish their criteria for deciding when an area has reached the threshold for a lockdown, or risk claims of bias.

Mr Ashworth told BBC One's Andrew Marr Show that at the moment it is "not clear why" some areas have had additional restrictions applied when some Tory-voting areas with higher case rates have not.

Some constituencies in the so-called "blue wall" strip across northern Wales and England that switched from Labour to the Tories at the last election have not faced tightened restrictions despite having similar or even worse coronavirus rates compared with Labour-voting areas in the region.

The red-to-blue swing seats of Wakefield in West Yorkshire, with 73 cases of coronavirus per 100,000 population, and Barrow-in-Furness in Cumbria, with a rate of 112, are both free of additional measures.

But Greater Manchester, home to a swathe of Labour seats, had an average rate of almost 24 per 100,000 when lockdown was introduced in July.

Meanwhile, seats represented by Chancellor Rishi Sunak and Housing Secretary Robert Jenrick have rates of infection that also exceed criteria used to justify lockdowns in the summer.

Mr Sunak's constituency of Richmond in North Yorkshire has a rate of 73, while Mr Jenrick's Newark seat in Nottinghamshire has 84, compared with the national rate in England of 28.

Professor Dominic Harrison, the director of public health for Blackburn with Darwen Council, tweeted: "Are you more likely to have social lockdowns earlier and for longer and at a lower confirmed case rate if you are a northern, less wealthy, non-Conservative voting local government area? Check the data..."

Mr Ashworth said: "Because there is no clear guidelines as to why an area goes into restrictions and how an area comes out of restrictions then there is a suspicion that there is political interference – I hope there isn't.

"But until the Government publish clear guidelines, that suspicion will always linger."

Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer, who has accused the Government of having "lost control of the virus", included publishing local lockdown criteria as part of his own five-point strategy for navigating the country through the winter.

It comes after the Prime Minister faced questions about why his own Uxbridge constituency in the south of England had not had additional social restrictions imposed when the infection rate is double that of Greater Manchester's when it entered into lockdown conditions.

Manchester restrictions
Manchester restrictions

Boris Johnson, speaking to ITV on Friday, said: "I appreciate there are differences and people want to see an iron consistency applied across the whole country.

"But you have to do your best to tackle the incidents of the virus where it is greatest and that's what we're trying to do."

Andy Burnham, Mayor of Greater Manchester, said the Government is "in danger of losing the public in the North of England" over its approach.

Speaking to the Sophy Ridge On Sunday show on Sky News, the former Labour minister said: "I certainly feel this week that we've reached a bit of a turning point with all of this.

"The Government are really in danger of losing the public in the North of England.

"And actually, if they carry on imposing restrictions on the North without proper support for the businesses and the employees affected in the North, we will see a winter of levelling down and the North-South divide getting bigger."