As 2021 fades it’s largely good news/bad news.
Those with long memories expect mid-term governments to lose by-elections and be behind in the polls.
The LibDems are delighted to have won two by-elections but a seat lost to a big swing requires a much smaller swing back to retake it. They can flood an area with activists and when they’re in favour of whatever’s popular and against anything unpopular, success is understandable. Nationally they generally poll under 10% so have to remember what happened to Swinson and not believe their own rhetoric.
The bad news for the Conservatives is that they’re showing that oppositions don’t win elections, governments lose them. There is still the possibility of increasing their majority at the next election, gaining the Labour seats the Brexit Party prevented them winning in 2019, but they need to drastically reduce the number of **** ups, sorry, unforced errors.
Is the Captain steering onto the rocks or is the rudder jammed? Labour should really want the latter. A poll dip from unforced errors would be followed by a recovery to a lower level. A lead of 7-8% dips and recovers to 6-7% which becomes 5-6% after the next dip. It’s not surprising that there is now a Labour lead although they still have a way to go.
The buck stops with Johnson. If he’s getting advice it’s either poor or ignored. No government gets everything right but his gets too much wrong.
Bad news, or what could become bad news, needs to be dealt with promptly and there are some simple rules:
– nobody is indispensable, and if anyone is you’re really in trouble!
– If someone breaks the rules, whether they accept it or not, they should go – quickly.
– resignations should be accepted.
Johnson didn’t drive to Barnard Castle, get caught in flagrante dilecto on CCTV or engage in lobbying, but he and his administration took the flak – and that’s dumb! Loyalty has to work both ways, there’s nothing “loyal” in breaking the rules and the eleventh commandment.
Cummings was supposedly important but went before the end of the year – there are still jokes made about eye tests! Hancock admitted his guilt and should have been replaced immediately. He resigned a day later, probably realising his position was untenable. It’s possible this influenced the Batley and Spen by-election which Labour won by 323 votes – only 162 switchers were needed. Conservative MPs agreed that Paterson had broken the rules but on the bad advice of Rees-Mogg a massive can of worms was opened.
Johnson is probably, so far, the most successful British politician of the 21st century; twice London mayor, an important role in Brexit and kicking Labour back to 1935. This was achieved through first name recognition, being the antithesis of his contemporaries, certainly not slick and polished like Blair and Cameron, and anti-establishment. Consequently, he has enemies as the media, arts and academia are overwhelmingly left and Remain. The Grauniad and Mirror are consistent but there have been excoriating pieces across the media and Partygate shows they’ll dig up things from a year or eighteen months ago. It’s easy to whinge – but better if there wasn’t any dirt!
It’s not just curveballs that have hit the wicket. The number of U turns due to poorly thought through policies, when there was time to get them right, is almost too many to count – and no one seems to learn. Rashford and free school meals is an obvious example; fool me once, shame on you, fool me twice, shame on me!
None of this necessarily puts Starmer en route to No. 10. Long Corbyn will take a while to excise, being heckled at your party conference by members who hate you more than the Conservatives isn’t what you want voters to see.
There may be 50+ SNP MPs after the next election. If Starmer had 270+ seats Sturgeon could make him PM.
Although she’s relatively young (b. 1970) Sturgeon has been First Minister since November 2014 and isn’t immune from entropy. Without IndyRef2 she’ll be replaced – and forgotten. If the SNP do well in, say, a Spring election they’ll want an early Autumn (before the end of Summer Time) referendum. Starmer is against a referendum, making an accommodation with the SNP difficult.
Consider the Conservatives losing their majority at a Spring election, resulting in a hung parliament, but neither of the main parties talking to the SNP. The question becomes when, not if, there’s another election. There would be calls to “bring it on” but realistically everyone would want to recharge their batteries.
By Autumn, like 1974, an election would be fairly certain. This would either result in another stalemate, with the SNP again kingmakers, or someone forming a majority government, possibly with the support of a minor party.
The alternative is that Starmer agrees to IndyRef2, becomes PM, and then campaigns for Remain.
There are no easy scenarios and the Conservatives would depict him dancing to Sturgeon’s tune. It’s difficult to see her settling for anything less than a referendum if she wants to survive.
Between the Hartlepool and Batley and Spen by-elections, I wrote of Johnson:
“…he might have six years, six months or six weeks…”
Perhaps six months was correct?
There is talk of replacements and if the messenger becomes the message it may become self-fulfilling. Corbyn did quite well until Spring 2018 when he backed Russia over Salisbury and Syria, it was downhill from there. Johnson is Heineken and Marmite, what some find endearing others hate, and in addition to poor judgment has baggage.
A result like December 2019 means a fair number of marginal seats. A poll lead keeps the backbenchers happy but Labour ahead makes them twitchy.
Parties like Reform, Reclaim, etc appeal to lockdown and climate sceptics, plus those who want a smaller state, lower taxes, more immigration controls and a war on woke. The Conservatives are more likely to move towards the electorate than Labour but there isn’t, currently, an issue like Brexit which enabled Johnson to consolidate the Leave vote. Although they’ll get squeezed during an election campaign they could help Labour or the LDs win seats and facilitate what they’re against. Be careful what you wish for!
Corbyn dragged Labour left and much of the party is pro-immigration, woke and believes that the answer is always more government, taxation and spending.
Covid has blown a hole in the finances and in addition to servicing the debt there may be annual boosters, etc. The nature of crises is that some money is always wasted but pointing a finger at the Conservatives will only get Starmer so far, his problem is that the scope for a spending spree, whether debt or tax funded, is limited and much of Labour sees things like value for money as synonyms for cuts.
Starmer and Labour are currently in a reasonable position, but Johnson put them there. They’re not getting all the disgruntled 2019 Conservative voters and their support in North Shropshire reduced.
There has been progress on Decorbynisation with 70% of a survey of Jewish Labour Movement members considering the party a “safe space” although a few months earlier 65% of a larger sample of Jewish members “disagree[d] with the claim that other local members are all friendly and welcoming.” There is an exodus of Corbynistas but more to do.
Covid may move from pandemic to endemic, but the rest of the world needs vaccinating. Energy prices, cost of living and migration have to be addressed and many commentators have discussed these.
The advance of Critical Race Theory, particularly in schools, isn’t making many headlines yet, although the American School in London has been covered. It helped Republicans win the Virginia gubernatorial election in late 2021 and the more Americans learn about it the less they like it. Labour, like the Democrats, is full of “progressive” activists and, as with other issues, out of step with the direction Starmer needs to go. It wouldn’t be surprising if some, like their Democrat counterparts, supported hard-core porn in schools.
Ever since December 2019 there has been nothing implausible about the Conservatives losing their majority, it’s not difficult for the other parties to gain c. 40 seats. Starmer becoming PM with an overall majority is extremely unlikely as 120+ seats are needed, requiring a performance like 1997. Gaining SNP seats would be really useful, but Sturgeon is strong.
Johnson is currently more likely to be replaced than Starmer or Sturgeon and his fate is largely in his hands.
2022 looks like interesting times…..