Archive for the 'Keir Starmer' Category

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Can Johnson raise the Tories’ game above Easy mode? Can Labour force him to?

Saturday, July 11th, 2020

Governments with no effective opposition become arrogant and complacent

Why did the Lib Dems choose the Tories over Labour after the inconclusive 2010 general election? Although only a decade ago, it could as well have been a lifetime given how much has changed since – and in the last five years in particular. But that change makes the question all the more pertinent.

The numbers were a big part of it, of course. The Tories could promise a stable government with a majority of around 80: enough to last five years and deliver a joint programme, even with rebellions and awkward MPs. Labour, by contrast, could not offer a majority at all and would have been reliant on the whims and demands of smaller parties – and of any of their own MPs who fancied playing hard – every vote.

But what really made the difference can be summed up as collegiality: a desire to make a coalition work. Part of that was simply that the personalities chimed – Cameron and Osborne got on well with and worked easily with Clegg, Alexander and Laws, for example – but that was far from the whole story. The Tories had put real effort into working up their own plan for government, thinking about what the Lib Dems would want and how best to attract them, and also how the mechanics of a coalition would work. And Labour, after 13 years in government with comfortable (initially, landslide) majorities, hadn’t.

It was, in many ways, a classic example of what happens to long-serving governments. Office might not be seen as a right, it might not even be seen as an expectation but it becomes, at a subconscious level at least, the state of normality – a normality it is difficult to psychologically adjust from.

By contrast, major parties that have suffered a long period of opposition eventually find a hunger that leads them to ask the searching questions that their rivals in government have stopped asking of themselves. What do we need to change in order to be relevant? Policies? Practices? Personnel? PR? And by asking those questions with the humility that repeated defeats has drummed into them, they become both an effective opposition and a government-in-waiting.

Meanwhile, repeated victories breed complacency, infighting and internal jockeying, a failure to modernise methods that worked in the past, and a degree of contempt for other parties. Each case is of course different but the broad pattern is the same. (Nor is it just Westminster: the same dynamics will tend to apply in all countries with similar political systems, or in lower-level administrations within the UK. But they can be for future articles).

Those days are long past. The Tories are two leaders and three election wins down the line from the Coalition. Brexit has changed the whole nature of the Conservative Party. Its handling of the Covid-19 pandemic has been at best patchy. If the issues facing the country weren’t so serious, it would be simple to accuse the government of still playing politics on easy mode. So why aren’t the normal rules applying?

To which the answer is: luck and bad judgement. You don’t entirely make your own luck but you can influence it – and the Tories did. Rather ironically, given the Johnson government’s fiscal policies even before the pandemic, the crucial turning point was winning the public argument on austerity, as ultimately demonstrated in the 2015 election. Doing so discredited Labour’s centrists in the eyes of their members, who came to the conclusion that the party had accepted too much of the Tories’ analysis, and elected Jeremy Corbyn.

Consequently, while the Tories are displaying many of the symptoms of being a late-term government (as, after four election wins, they are), Labour hasn’t got anywhere near so far down the track as Cameron was in 2006 or Smith and then Blair were in the 1990s. Having spent the last five years indulging in feel-good politics, Starmer has a major task on sorting out the mess the previous regime left, never mind creating a battle-ready political machine staffed with officials who understand campaigning in the 2020s and a front bench able to lead the fight.

One small example gives a good illustration of the problem. This week, the Chancellor gave a mini-Budget to try to address gaps in his previous support packages and to develop further that policy as the country opens up again. This was Labour’s main social media message in response:

”It’s important to support business, but meal deal vouchers don’t substitute for effective public health messaging and measures”.

That reads like it’s been put together by a team on work experience. It would be possible to write a whole article on what’s wrong with it but here are five points to be going on with: (1) it mixes subjects confusingly; (2) at eighteen words, it’s much too long; (3) more than half the words are multisyllabic, which again is far too high a proportion; (4) the least confusing part of the statement is actually giving support to the government; (5) ‘effective public health messaging and measures’ might well be the most boring aspiration ever committed to pixels. And that’s without even looking at the artwork (single colour block capitals). The net result is that few will have read it, fewer still will have understood it, and hardly anyone will remember it.

A good opposition would have worked out their attack line in advance, teed it up in the morning and then hit it home in the afternoon – and that line would have tied into to one or more of at most three long-term narratives to bash the government with. However, as yet, Labour has neither the professional staff to deliver the materials for such an attack, nor the personnel to use them effectively.

In truth, the problems start at the top. Starmer is a much more natural Prime Minister than Leader of the Opposition (whereas Johnson is naturally a LotO) but Anneliese Dodds has barely made a mark as Shadow Chancellor, either in the House or on the media. Sunak is a tougher opponent than Johnson but even so, Marcus Rashford and an actors’ campaign have both forced more out of the government than the Opposition has. They’ve also demonstrated that the government is relatively easy to push about if you can apply the right pressure.

Once a government develops a habit of entitlement and complacency, they make mistakes. More, once they get into those habits, it is very hard to get out of them because the governments with that mindset cannot be objectively self-critical. Whether the Opposition is sufficiently adept to use the government’s mistakes to hold it to account – and to establish in the public mind that they’re both ready and needed to form a different government – is another matter. Current polling says Labour as a whole is a long way from that, and while it is, that enables the government to continue to operate on Easy mode.

David Herdson



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How in just three months Starmer has changed the political weather

Monday, June 29th, 2020

I am a great fan of the Opinium weekly poll for the Observer. The firm gets its full datasets out at the same time as when the poll is published on a Saturday evening and it has a series of questions in every survey that are always asked with the result that we can compare changes over time.

Opinium also has a range of cross-heads that can really add to our understanding. One group is on CON and LAB leavers and Remainers and another has a seat split with one of those included being seats gained by CON at GE2019. Like all subsets the samples are small but you can get quite a quite reliable picture looking over three to four weeks of polling for a particular cross-tab.

Another feature that I really like is that there are leader approval ratings in every survey which makes it unique in British polling. There is also the weekly “best PM” question the results of which form the basis of the chart above. Historically the problem with the latter question is that incumbents have got a very clear advantage. It is difficult for those sampled to compare the person in Number 10 with the person who only aspires to the the job.

So although Starmer has been hammering Johnson on leadership approval five or six weeks it was only this last weekend that the LAB leader topped the best PM ratings. For an opposition leader to do that is very rare – to have moved to that position in such a short time suggests that he’s really made an impact. The chart above speaks for itself and Johnson’s only comfort is tha the next election is a long tin off.

Opinium was the most accurate pollster at GE2019 getting each of the main party shares spot on.

Mike Smithson



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John Rentoul: The sacking of Rebecca Long-Bailey was a “Blairite moment”

Saturday, June 27th, 2020

Interesting angle from the Indy’s John Rentoul on the sacking of Shadow Education Secretary and former unsuccessful leadership challenger, Rebecca Long-Bailey.

Rentoul is a long-standing Blairite and has never apologised for that. The tone of this evening’s column is set out in its opening:

It would be wrong to gloat. Mustn’t do it. And generally I don’t. But just for a moment, let’s celebrate the end of the paranoid, reactionary, self-righteous politics of the people who ran the Labour Party for the past five years. It was all over the moment Jeremy Corbyn announced he was standing down, but this was the week they knew it. I don’t want to rub salt into the wound, because that would sterilise it and help it heal, but the sacking of Rebecca Long-Bailey was one of those rare moments of shocking leadership. For those of us who think a broad-based egalitarian government would be a good idea, it has been a long time since a Labour leader has surprised us with such moral clarity.

I just wonder whether associating Starmer with Blair, probably the most hated man in large parts of the Labour movement is doing the new leader any favours but there is no doubt that this is a major political event which could be looked back on in the same way Blair’s decision to axe Clause 4 was,

What those Labour figures who still revile Blair ignore is that in its entire history the party has only ever won five sustainable working majorities – three of them – GE1997, GE2001 and GE2005 – when the party was led by Blair. Somehow to many winning elections is not a good thing but a bad one.

The huge gap in the polling between the record breaking leadership ratings that Starmer has been enjoying and Labour’s failure to break through on voting intention shows the huge challenge the new man has – far greater than when Blair became leader in 1994.

I just wonder whether this was in fact all planned. Starmer kept Long-Bailey in his Shadow Cabinet for the purpose of a huge public sacking when she stepped over a line.

The harsh fact for Corbynistas is that their man was the reason why the party dropped to its worse General Election result since 1935. All the post election polling found Corbyn as a the main reason why former LAB voters had switched.

Mike Smithson



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The big message from the Long-Bailey sacking is that Labour is Starmer’s party now

Friday, June 26th, 2020
Today’s Metro front page

The contrast with Johnson on Cummings/Jenrick should worry ministers

The big political news on most of the front pages is Starmer’s sacking from his shadow cabinet of the former leadership rival Long-Bailey for circulating what could be regarded as an antisemitic article.

In many ways the firmness of Stamer’s approach should not surprise us because ridding the party of antisemitism has been one of his stated early key objectives. Already he has come under fire for the Long Bailey action from those parts of the movement still loyal to double general election loser Corbyn. In a sense the more there is squealing from the left of the party the more it highlight Starmer’s new regime.

There is simply no chance at this stage two months into Stamer’s leadership that his position is in doubt. He is at his most powerful and he knows it.

The LAB leader is also helped by the juxtaposition of the Jerwick story over one of Johnson’s cabinet and the contrast between the two leaders is very clear. Starmer sacks members of his team who get into trouble -lockdown bandit Dominic Cummings as well as Jerwick get the PM’s backing and hold onto their jobs.

Mike Smithson



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If Starmer is ever to become PM he’s likely going to need some sort of relationship with the next LD leader

Thursday, June 25th, 2020

He needs an “understanding” like the GE1997 Blair-Ashdown link

The Lib Dem leadership election is now down to just two with with the Oxford West and Abingdon MP, Layla Moran taking on the current acting leader, the Kingston MP Ed Davey who, of course, stood a year ago go against Jo Swinson and lost. Moran is the odds-on favourite.

Where the contest could be important is if, as is highly likely at the next election, Starmer’s LAB is unable to jump from the 202 seats of GE2019 to the 325 required for an overall majority.

Unless there is a recovery for the party in Scotland, which seems highly unlikely, the challenge before the former DPP is daunting. Quite simply his best hope is for other parties as well as LAB, notably the SNP and LDs, to be taking CON seats and so what is currently Johnson’s party falls below the majority threshold. In that situation Starmer would be well placed to form some sort of arrangement with the other non-CON parties.

There is a sizeable batch of constituencies where LAB is much less able to compete against the Tories than the Lib Dems. These are the 90 plus seats where the LDs came out of GE2019 in a competitive second place. Almost all of them are CON held with nearly half a dozen having majorities of less than a thousand.

There is a good model from the 1997 Tony Blair Landslide. LAB won a landslide victory over the Conservatives which was far greater than uniform national swing suggested by the voting totals because the Lib Dems under Paddy Ashdown were able to jump from 18 to 46 seats on a reduced vote share compared with GE1992, Ashdown’s party was helped by a broad understanding that LAB wouldn’t actively compete in those seats where it was clear that the Lib Dems were best able to beat Major’s Tories.

I’m not sure that either Layla Moran or Ed Davey is a Paddy Ashdown but achieving some sort of loose relationship with Starmer could play a big part in their party’s recovery and ending the Tory government.

Mike Smithson



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The lockdown is being eased from July 4th but the virus has not gone away

Tuesday, June 23rd, 2020

Is this going to change the political trends?

As expected the man who desperately needs a haircut, PM Johnson, has announced a range of measures that will ease the lockdown from a week on Saturday which will be exactly three months to the day since Keir Starmer became opposition leader.

In that time the Tories lead has been slashed from 26% in two polls in April to the blue team being just four or five points ahead. Johnson’s personal ratings have slumped from net positives of 40%+ to minus four or five.

Surely this news is going to make people feel a bit happier and the question for political watchers is what this is going to do to Johnson’s ratings and the voting intention polls. Can we expect a boost?

There is a tendency for the public to get behind their leaders at a time or crisis which might explain some of the exceptionally good blue numbers in April. My guess is that there might be a small uplift but not by very much and it might not last.

We should get the first indication in the next few days.

Mike Smithson



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Keiran Pedley’s Ipsos-MORI Podcast: How does Starmer make it to Number 10?

Thursday, June 18th, 2020

On the inaugural Ipsos MORI Politics & Society podcast, Keiran Pedley is joined by Ayesha Hazarika, Alastair Campbell and the Ipsos-MORI Chief Executive Ben Page to discuss historic poll ratings for the new Labour leader and where the Labour Party go from here after a historic defeat in December. You can listen to the podcast below:

Keiran Pedley

Keiran, who used to run the Politicalbetting/Polling Matters Podcasts is no stranger to PB. He is now Research Director, Public Affairs, at Ipsos MORI



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Johnson’s Tories still ahead with Opinium but he’s a net 30% behind in the approval ratings

Saturday, June 13th, 2020