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Editorial: As Johnson freefalls, Labour’s poll lead is almost meaningless

KEIR STARMER must believe Christmas has come early this year.

Revelations about last year’s seasonal celebrations in Downing Street have gone down badly with the millions of people who spent last Christmas abiding by the Covid lockdown rules.

They missed out on seeing family members and friends, while some civil servants were making merry to the great amusement of themselves and Jacob Rees-Mogg.

Facing the prospect of stricter anti-Covid measures to resist the new omicron strain of the virus, people are understandably angry and resentful.

As a result, the Conservatives have slumped in the latest crop of opinion polls, some of which put Labour up to nine points ahead.

The Prime Minister’s dissembling as more information comes to light about events 12 months ago has steepened his party’s decline.

Divisions within his party will be on display in next Tuesday’s Commons vote on Plan B, when scores of Tory MPs have threatened to vote against tighter Covid restrictions.  

Naturally, opposition politicians have seized upon these events. Starmer has sprung to life, popping up on every news bulletin lambasting the Tories and their leader.

All of a sudden, Boris Johnson’s position in No 10 looks less secure. It no longer appears quite so certain that the Conservatives will win an overall majority in the next general election.

Next Thursday’s parliamentary by-election in North Shropshire may give some indication of how hard the political wind is blowing.

However, it is far too early for Labour to uncork the champagne.

Most of the recent polls show more of a shift from the Tories to the “don’t knows” than to the Labour Party, many of them electors who voted Conservative in 2019 and for Brexit in the 2016 referendum.

Some had previously voted Labour in 2017, when Jeremy Corbyn promised to honour the EU referendum result.

They have not forgotten Labour’s betrayal of that pledge in 2019 nor the name of the chief betrayer — Starmer. They don’t trust Starmer’s subsequent disavowal of any intention to take Britain back into the EU.

Who can blame them, when he has surrounded himself with shadow cabinet members and advisers whose commitment to the pro-big business, pro-market EU remains undimmed?

So the once solidly pro-Brexit Tory seat of North Shropshire is unlikely to swing to Labour, despite large-scale abstentions.

Labour’s candidate in the last three general elections, Graeme Currie, was barred by Labour’s national executive from selection this time around, although he had consolidated the party’s second place well above the Lib Dems and the Greens.

Almost certainly, Currie’s pro-Corbyn stance hobbled his candidature. His vacuous neo-Blairite replacement appears to be trailing behind the Lib Dem hopeful who is backed by the Guardian newspaper and tactical voters from the other main parties.

Which brings us to the principle reason why Starmer’s bubble is just so much hot air. For many people, there is more to life and politics than Tory lies and hypocrisy, past breaches of Covid rules and even EU membership.

What is Labour saying about rising gas and electricity bills? What about Britain’s multi-faceted housing crisis? How can we upgrade our local and public services? Where should the money come from? How can we combat domestic violence? What about fairness and rights at work? What more can be done to counteract global warming?

In truth, the Labour leadership has nothing to say that is much different from the Conservatives, nothing to inspire young people and no vision of a fundamentally fairer society.

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