It’s not been a good week for the leaders of the main political parties in England.
First up we had the local elections, and there was further frustration for Labour as they lost another eight councils – the Conservatives, buoyed by a sense of post-lockdown euphoria amongst voters, gained thirteen.
But before Boris Johnson gets too chipper, it was revealed on Wednesday that the government will face an inquiry into their handling of the coronavirus pandemic. Despite their foresight to buy a lorryload of Covid vaccines to keep the country ahead of much of the Western world, there are those – including leading scientists and even members of his own political party – that suggest that Boris might not escape unscathed in the report.
While the next General Election isn’t scheduled until 2024, the Prime Minister has made a play to bring that date forward – he knows that his party will comfortably win a vote held any time soon – by plotting a legal bid to regain powers to call an election whenever he sees fit.
Boris knows that time is the enemy, because in a post-Covid world – assumedly – in 2024, public sentiment might be rather different.
That, you suspect, will particularly be the case if Keir Starmer has been removed as opposition leader. He has been anonymous throughout the pandemic – he should have been holding ministers to account for their dodgy contracts and repeated failings, and a lack of charisma and the fact that he has the prefix ‘sir’ will surely prevent Labour from rebuilding their so-called ‘red wall’ under his guidance.
But if a more forthright leader takes the helm – somebody like Andy Burnham, who just secured a second term as the mayor of Manchester with a 67% vote share, the challenge that the Tories face could be much tougher.
More Polling Station Blues for the Reds
Labour have become the political equivalent of Liverpool FC this past year, however there was no late-in-the-day renaissance from the red party as they were taken to the cleaners once more at the polls.
Some 327 Labour councillors lost their seats at the local elections earlier in May, which can be contrasted to the 235 gained by Conservatives or even the 88 gains made by the Green Party.
Starmer’s army fared a bit better in the mayoral elections, making gains in Cambridgeshire & Peterborough and the West of England, but all things considered it was another bleak day at the polls for Labour.
Their leader responded with a reshuffle of his serving ministers, but it would be rather short-sighted to suggest that the shadow cabinet are responsible for Labour’s election woes – that falls at the hands of Starmer himself, and you suspect he is on borrowed time already with the party having time to reinvent itself before a General Election if they act now.
Long Dark Night of the Soul
Given that it has been announced that the government’s actions throughout the pandemic are to be investigated by an independent inquiry, expect that General Election date to be brought forward.
In Boris’ own words the investigation will place ‘the state’s actions under the microscope’, and while the PM is likely to survive any findings it’s still possible that heads will roll – the Teflon-like Matt Hancock and Gavin Williamson two of the highest profile candidates for the metaphorical bullet.
Whatever the outcome of the public inquiry, there will be elements that do not reflect well on the Conservatives’ occasional dithering as hospitals became overran, and that could weaken their position with the electorate considerably.
For the Greater Good?
If anyone can reunite the North, you suspect it would be Andy Burnham.
He already has two-thirds of Greater Manchester behind him, which helps, and his self-defined ‘place-first, not party-first’ approach could curry favour with disenfranchised voters.
But will there be disenfranchisement? The Tories have worked very hard on revamping their image, and worked tirelessly to win votes in the north of England at the last General Election – something that Jeremy Corbyn’s team, it seems, took for granted.
Why is this rumour milling of any relevance? Well, it’s interesting to note that you can still back Burnham at 50/1 to take up residence at 10 Downing Street.
It would take some chain of events – Starmer quitting/being sacked, Burnham being sworn in as Labour leader plus a damning public inquiry report, but it certainly isn’t impossible. That could look a very handy 50/1 play in the next year or two.