In this week’s edition of Who’s Top, Who’s Not,
we discuss the chances of the Lib Dems progressing at the next general election, Boris Johnson’s redemption arc (or not) and the blunders of his cabinet colleagues, and Keir Starmer’s lacklustre PMQs performance
Leader of the Liberal Democrats Ed Davey
With a wounded Prime Minister, a cost-of-living crisis, and bleak economic forecasts could the stars be aligning for a Liberal Democrat resurgence? The leader Ed Davey isn’t pulling any punches, calling the Prime Minister’s top team the ‘weakest in modern history’ and the cabinet ‘spineless’ for failing to remove Boris Johnson. He also added that the pressure won’t let up with the two looming by-elections on June 23 in Wakefield and Tiverton & Honiton.
Much ink has been spilled about the red wall battleground seats, but it is the so-called blue wall that is really keeping Tory strategists up at night. These are traditional blue seats in the south that have voted Tory for generations but are offended by partygate and often concerned about local housing proposals.
But there is also a long-term demographic shift that is hurting the Tories and potentially helping the Lib Dems. More and more Londoners in their thirties are taking their progressive values and moving to the suburbs. Whist this migration has been going on for generations, this time the politics of these Londoners are moving with them rather than converting to property-owning Tories. So, seats like Carshalton & Wallingham and Reading West will be top target seats for the Lib Dems and Labour respectively at the next general election.
The 23 June by-elections suggest that the two parties have entered an unofficial electoral pact to encourage tactical voting – it remains to be seen whether such an agreement will last in the longer-term, and whether it will work.
No doubt Monday’s vote saw the Labour Party popping bottles of champagne, toasting another damaging moment for the Prime Minister’s reputation. The PM is weakened and still in place, so win-win for Labour. But the battle is far from won. Starmer and the Labour Party undoubtedly benefit from events like the confidence vote and Partygate, but it is up to them to capitalise.
At this week’s Prime Minister Questions, Keir fell short. With an open goal, Starmer avoided the vote of confidence in Boris Johnson and instead focused on the NHS. These are obvious opportunities to take, nearly 48 hours after two in five of Johnson’s MPs voted against him, yet Starmer largely acted as if nothing had happened. The tactical decision was to demonstrate Starmer’s seriousness and focus on key policy issues, but there was an obvious bruise that he could have pressed on.
Labour is leading on trust on almost all policy measures, including the economy. But there is concern that Labour’s success is dependent on Johnson’s failings rather than Labour being the preferred option. He still needs to convince the electorate that he has a clear vision for the country’s future.
The Prime Minister holds on for dear life after winning the vote of no confidence on Monday; 211 voted for and 148 against. Johnson and his allies claim victory, but many Conservative MPs, including several supporters, believe this marks the beginning of the end.
But Boris is unlikely to resign without being forced to do so. With the 1922 committee chairman Sir Graham Brady confirming no plans to change the party’s rulebook, Boris may have bought himself more time, but he is far from out of the woods yet.
The next 12 months will be crucial for Johnson to win back the favour of his own backbench MPs, who can grind the PM’s squandered majority to a parliamentary standstill. Boris will find it increasingly difficult to pass legislation and likely have to make multiple concessions. This is not only a party management problem but also a political one because if voters on the ground don’t see a tangible change in their lives, Johnson’s toxic brand will see him become the Conservative Corbyn, and they may fall at the next General Election.
Nadine Dorries was so fixated on propping up her dream idol Johnson that she didn’t realise her blunders this week. During a Twitter spat with Jeremy Hunt, she admitted Tory preparations for the pandemic were “inadequate” as she tried to attack Hunt, a key critic of Johnson.
Although, on the surface, she is a government minister defending Boris, the personal attacks on Hunt indicate that tensions within the Conservative Party are running high. The electorate rarely votes for divided parties, and spats over Twitter with colleagues do little to convince the public that the confidence vote draws a line in the sand.
To top it off, when talking to Sky News, the Culture Secretary appeared to have unilaterally added Defence to her ministerial portfolio, gravely warning a nervous nation that the UK is now “at war with Ukraine” – oops!
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