HOW does an opposition oppose without appearing to oppose for opposition’s sake? That is the tricky situation in which Labour now finds itself as the death toll from coronavirus reaches a horrific new high.

The party’s new leader, Sir Keir Starmer, and the newly appointed Shadow Foreign Secretary, Lisa Nandy, gave a flavour of Labour’s refashioned approach when they appeared on the Sunday politics shows.

Sir Keir was on Sky News’s Ridge on Sunday a week after he had been on Marr. Normally, this would have looked like playing catch up on Ridge’s part, but arguably this was a more fitting time to have the MP for Holborn and St Pancras on. As Ridge said in her introduction: “The UK government is dealing with an unprecedented challenge, but as deaths here rise at a faster rate than in other countries, serious questions are now being asked about the speed of the UK response and what still needs to be done.”

READ MORE: What is driving surge in deaths?

Ridge initially put some of those questions to Alok Sharma, the Business Secretary. In interviewing style, the Sky News presenter prefers a quietly persistent approach to anything more showy. She gets results, or at least tries to, because she listens to the answers and adapts her questioning accordingly.

It is an approach you might think was standard, but anyone watching the daily press conference from Downing Street will know that is far from the case. In too many instances, the same questions are asked in similar ways, often to little effect.

Whatever Ridge asked, Mr Sharma, in common with every other Minister since the crisis began, held to the line that the government had been following, and would continue to be guided by, scientific advice.

So on to Sir Keir, standing outside his home in north London. He had been in the Sunday papers calling for parliament to be recalled after Easter so “serious questions” –those again – could be asked of the government.

As for Ridge’s questions, he was not keen on saying anything that would look like an attack on the government.

“Of course there will be questions in due course about what happened when, but the most important thing is we have that unity of purpose which is to try to get those figures down,” he said, referring to the recent death tolls.

“We will support the government in that, we will ask challenging questions, difficult questions about where we go next, about what’s happened in the past, but I think the whole nation desperately wants those figures to go down.”

READ MORE: Boris Johnson discharged from hospital

Ridge tried again. Was the government too slow to act? Same answer: now is not the time.

He did want to know, however, about the government’s strategy in the months to come. He also had some ideas about how the Commons could operate at a time of social distancing. Having hundreds of MPs together in one place was clearly not an option.

“In New Zealand, they have set up a special select committee to look at coronavirus. It is chaired by the leader of the opposition and it operates on a daily basis using technology so people can see parliament at work.”

One of the matters such a committee would look at was the “mismatch” between the government saying there was enough personal protection equipment to go around, and staff reporting shortages. This, he went on, was the kind of “constructive opposition” he had in mind.

“I want the government to get this right, I want to support the government to get this right, but we need to point out the difference between what they are saying and the position on the front line so that it can be fixed.”

On Marr, Lisa Nandy, who had challenged Sir Keir for the Labour leadership, largely walked in step with her new boss. She went further, however, in saying there had been areas where action had not been taken quickly enough, and that was due, in part, to the country being in a “weakened state”.

“We should never again be in a position where our public services don’t have the resilience they need to respond, where families are only one step away from financial collapse, where workers are struggling to get the rights and protection they need,” she said.

READ MORE: Iain Macwhirter on the crisis

All of which sounded highly political. But then she added: “All of these things are questions for later … At the moment we are focused on supporting the government to get through this.”

Viewers’ eyes might have been drawn to a couple of books on a nearby shelf: Fractured Times, by the Marxist historian Eric Hobsbawm, and a certain Joseph Heller novel by the name of Catch-22. A coincidence or a fitting summation of politics in these strange days? You decide.

There was no disputing what the most chilling moment of the morning had been.

Appearing on Marr, Sir Jeremy Farrar, Wellcome Trust director and a senior scientific adviser to the government, said: “The UK is likely to be one of the worst, if not the worst affected country in Europe.” As he spoke, the death toll in Italy, currently the hardest hit nation in the EU, was 19,468.