ECONOMIC gloom, riots in the streets and accusations of mismanagement over the coronavirus pandemic – recent months have taken their toll on the Conservatives.
And this decline in popularity is made all the starker by Labour’s revival under new leader Sir Keir Starmer.
Until his recent election the Tories had it easy, confronted by an opposition led by Marxist radical Jeremy Corbyn, whose incompetence was matched by his extremism.
But Sir Keir is a far more formidable opponent. He is sharp where Corbyn was dim, pragmatic where Corbyn was dogmatic.
Corbyn constantly pandered to the left-wing fringe because he was part of it.
But Sir Keir has just proven his toughness by sacking leadership contender Rebecca Long Bailey from the shadow cabinet, after she expressed her support for actor Maxine Peake who used a newspaper interview to peddle conspiracy theories about the Israeli secret service.
Corbynista zealots were appalled, moderates celebrated.
Furthermore, the dismissal of Long Bailey was just part of a systematic removal of hard Left influence in the party.
'Starmer's popularity is growing, but the bar is set low'
Much to the fury of left-wing agitators, Starmer yesterday dismissed calls for the police to be “defunded” in the wake of anti-racism protests.
Emphasising his past work with the police as Director of Public Prosecutions, he labelled such demands as “nonsense”.
Out are Corbyn allies like Jennie Formby, the former General Secretary. And in comes the new chief David Evans, described by admirers as “a stanch opponent” of the hardliners.
According to the latest polls, the British public is warming to the new Labour leader.
In one survey last week, 37 per cent expressed a preference for him as Prime Minister, two points ahead of Boris Johnson.
Interviewed by the BBC on Sunday, former leader Ed Miliband joined in the cheer-leading, saying: “I never had his approval ratings. I think he has made a great start.”
Yet it would be wrong for Labour supporters to be carried away. Sir Keir might be a better leader than Corbyn and Miliband, but those two set the bar very low.
'A major mountain to climb'
The truth is that Labour still has a mountain to climb if Starmer is to become Prime Minister.
His party is still a deluded rabble, dominated by the worst kind of toxic identity politics, contempt for Britain and student union dogma. Labour is ready for neither victory at the ballot box, nor for the governance of our country.
Parallels are sometimes drawn with the situation now and that of 1992, when John Major’s Government was engulfed by the financial crisis of Black Wednesday five months after winning the General Election against Neil Kinnock’s Labour.
But the huge difference is that Labour was on the advance, having won a further 42 seats at the election. Power was almost within the party’s grasp, given that Major only had a tiny majority.
His party is still a deluded rabble, dominated by the worst kind of toxic identity politics, contempt for Britain and student union dogma
But today, Labour is still reeling from the humiliation it suffered last December, when it lost 59 seats, the biggest loss for any opposition in a century.
Moreover, the party is in the wilderness in Scotland. Once Labour’s Caledonian fortress, the party has just one MP there.
In total, the Conservatives have no fewer than 163 more MPs than Labour.
That means the job that now faces Starmer is daunting. To be the biggest party, Labour would have to make 82 net gains from the Tories on a swing of 8 per cent. Even in the phenomenal landslide of 1997, the swing to Tony Blair was only 8.8 per cent.
And there is not the slightest sign of that happening at the moment, in spite of all the Government’s recent problems.
It is a remarkable fact that the latest two opinion polls both show that the Conservatives, after ten years in office with a very mixed record, are still seven points ahead of Labour.
Indeed, there is even a danger that Labour could slip back further. A recent internal review by the party into the disastrous 2019 defeat warned that a further 58 seats in Labour’s heartlands could be vulnerable on a very small swing to the Tories.
'Traditional voters are turning away from Labour'
The central problem for Starmer is that his party, fixated by fashionable theories of social justice, has alienated its traditional voters.
It will take more than the sacking of Rebecca Long Bailey or reassuring words about the police to bring them back.
As the sensible former MP Natascha Engel wrote this month, Labour must recognise how far it “has shifted from it core. If it wants to shift back again, the party will have to find the right road and prepare itself for a very long walk.”
But the journey has barely begun. A party that is willing twice to elect Jeremy Corbyn as its leader is not going to change overnight.
In reality, Labour remains gripped by far Left ideology, as shown by its eager embrace of the cultural revolution.
Decent, patriotic working-class voters, once the bedrock of the Labour movement, are bound to be repelled by the endless posturing against Britain or the police or family life or even common sense.
'The atmosphere of a cult still hangs over the party'
Despite the change of leadership, the insanity remains.
At the weekend, Labour front-bencher Lloyd Russell-Moyle was forced to apologise after disgracefully attacking JK Rowling for using her own experience of domestic sexual assault as “a justification for discriminating” against transgender campaigners.
In the same vein, senior Labour MP Dawn Butler recently declared on Good Morning Britain that “a child is born without sex”, a piece of biological nonsense that is about as sane as saying the Earth is flat.
The atmosphere of a cult still hangs over the party.
The lunatic Left has certainly not gone away, as reflected in MP Richard Burgon’s celebration that teaching unions thwarted “Tory attempts to force schools to re-open".
When the row about statues was at its most hysterical, Lisa Nandy (her again) called for imperialist murals to be removed from the magnificent interior of the Foreign Office.
Similarly, the Nottingham MP Nadia Whitthome, sounding as if she lived in an occupied country, expressed her thrill at the movement to topple monuments of the past: “I celebrate these acts of resistance.”
'Sir Keir is now the personification of the North London liberal elite'
Sir Keir is not the figure likely to win back the traditional working-class, particularly not in the Red Wall seats of the Midlands and the North.
This is, after all, a figure who used to edit a radical magazine called Socialist Futures, who built his reputation as a metropolitan-based human rights lawyer, who presided over the Crown Prosecution Service when it gained notoriety for its failure to take a tough stance on crime, and who battled ferociously for a second referendum on Brexit.
For all the ordinariness of his upbringing as the son of a toolmaker and a nurse, he is now the personification of the North London liberal elite. Moreover, he lacks both authority and charisma.
With his strangulated vowels and permanently anxious expression, he frequently sounds like a teacher who is surprised at this promotion to be head of department.
The political landscape could have changed dramatically by 2024, when the next election is due.
Britain may have enjoyed a strong economic recovery. The culture war may have petered out. Public services may have been reformed. Mrs Thatcher was in desperate trouble in 1981, battered by riots and rising unemployment.
Two years later she won a landslide. It is perfectly possible that Boris Johnson could enjoy the same fate – especially if Labour fails to change.
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