Keir Starmer and Boris Johnson may like to think they have little in common but both spent this week struggling to give their parties the fresh starts they need.
For the Labour leader the EHRC report into antisemitism in the party was always going to be a challenge. Would anyone have predicted, however, that it would result in the previous leader, Jeremy Corbyn, being suspended from Labour then readmitted as a member but not reinstated as one of its MPs, so that he currently sits as an independent?
Divided Labour descending into civil war?
It’s a mess and now Labour is reportedly on the brink of civil war, with influential figures on the left, including former party chair Ian Lavery, claiming Starmer is pursuing a personal vendetta against Corbyn and warning that there could be a leadership challenge in the pipeline.
Will Starmer become the first leader of one of the two main parties since Iain Duncan Smith to leave his post before fighting a general election? It seems unlikely, and there’s no market on Starmer’s exit dates yet, but Corbyn remains popular among party members who think he’s been treated shabbily.
When the news broke in midweek about Labour’s refusal to restore the whip to Corbyn, YouGov conducted a snap poll which found 50% thought it was the right decision and only 21% judged it wrong.
At the same time, 63% said they thought Labour were a divided party.
Nevertheless Labour have made gains in the polls this year and, with most firms, are no more than four points behind the Conservatives less than a year on from the Tories’ emphatic election victory.
On the Exchange, no over all majority 2.245/4 is the favoured outcome at the next election, with a successive Tory majority only rated a 29% chance at 3.412/5.
Same old Tories?
The Conservatives’ reset also failed to get off to a sound start this week.
Only a week ago, following the departure of controversial adviser Dominic Cummings, Downing Street looked set to adopt a more conciliatory and inclusive approach to government. That didn’t last long when Boris Johnson refused to sack Priti Patel after an independent report said the Home Secretary broke the ministerial code by bullying staff.
Sir Alex Allan, who conducted the investigation, resigned as independent advisor on ministerial standards after Johnson backed Patel and effectively overruled Allan. Patel joins Matt Hancock, Robert Jenrick and Gavin Williamson on the list of Tory ministers who in any other government would have resigned but in this one keep their jobs as if nothing can touch them.
What does Johnson get from sticking by his failing ministers? Perhaps he believes that people who voted Conservative last year won’t be put off doing so next time by such incidents. He might be right. As with allegations of Tory cronyism around lucrative contracts during the pandemic, however, there could yet be a damaging cumulative effect for the government.
Is Johnson’s relaxed attitude also in part because he knows he won’t be leading the Tories into the next general election? Rishi Sunak, who is the 3.185/40 favourite to be the Tories’ next leader, will make his autumn statement this week. It could be an important moment for Sunak as he tries to maintain public support for his handling of the economy during the pandemic.
Scotland was another area where the PM was supposed to be building bridges as part of his reset. Last month a poll showed that loathing of Johnson in Scotland was fuelling support for independence.
This week, during a Zoom call with around 60 northern Conservative MPs, the PM described devolution as “Tony Blair’s biggest mistake” and “a disaster north of the border”. The remarks were inevitably seized on by the SNP:
Worth bookmarking these PM comments for the next time Tories say they’re not a threat to the powers of the Scottish Parliament – or, even more incredibly, that they support devolving more powers. The only way to protect & strengthen @ScotParl is with independence. https://t.co/Hk7DqoFeuY
? Nicola Sturgeon (@NicolaSturgeon) November 16, 2020
On the Exchange it’s 2.226/5 that there won’t be a referendum on Scottish independence before 2025. However, if the SNP win a majority at next year’s Scottish parliament elections, as they’re projected to do, that will strengthen calls for another referendum.
On Sportsbook, where you can bet on the outcome of any such vote, it’s even odds that Scots would choose independence and 8/11 that they would opt to remain part of the UK.