UK Politics: A week of government gaffes

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Johnson is under fire in Westminster but is he losing support in the country?
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Boris Johnson's government is making repeated mistakes, and bettors are moving against his leadership, but Labour still has an electoral mountain to climb, reports Max Liu...

"Labour still has an electoral mountain to climb so, if you want to get against the Tories at the next election, no over-all majority [2.6] is the bet."

Whether it was Marcus Rashford forcing them into a u-turn on free school meals, Dominic Raab saying that taking a knee had its roots in Game of Thrones, or another delay for the coronavirus track and trace app ("the app's on its way," protested a frazzled-looking health secretary Matt Hancock this morning), this was a bad week for the government.

Market moves indicate dwindling confidence in Boris Johnson's leadership and he is out to [2.04] on the Exchange to still be in charge in 2024 when the next general election is [1.56] to take place.

For several weeks, polling has shown Labour eating into the Tories' lead and, just six months after they won an 80-seat majority, the Conservatives are rattled by the strong start made by new leader of the opposition Keir Starmer.

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Even some of his allies in the Conservative Party think Johnson has lost his vim. Some factors are not his fault - it's only two months since he came out of intensive care after contracting the coronavirus - but concerns about his laziness are resurfacing. This week, it was revealed he has not hosted a Cobra emergency committee for over a month.

He was also criticised by three former-PMs, including David Cameron, who think plans to merge the Foreign Office with the Department of International Development will damage Britain's international standing.

Public still favour Johnson on Brexit

The good news for the PM is that Brexit is back because, as of next week, it will be only six months until the transition period is up.

In May, polling by Opinium showed 35% thought Brexit was a priority for the government but that figure has risen to 43% this month alongside a sense that Britain is through the worst of the Covid-19 crisis and things are beginning to return to normal.

Johnson won the election by promising to "get Brexit done" and so far he has shown no willingness to extend the transition period beyond 31 December despite concerns that it will compound the economic damage caused by the pandemic.

Of course, he's demonstrated recently that he's not shy of a u-turn but will Johnson be prepared to go into reverse on his flagship policy? Unlikely because, according to Opinium, Brexit is the area where Johnson retains a decisive lead over Starmer. When asked who's best able to negotiate with the EU, voters give Johnson a lead over Starmer of eight points: 39% to 31.

Jenrick could be forced to resign

Until recently you could bet on the first cabinet minister to leave. I thought Hancock looked like value at 14/1 and, if that price were available now, I'd still fancy it.

Then again, events move so quickly and, last week, I'd have said the 12/1 on education secretary Gavin Williamson was an appealing price. That'd still be true, if the market were available, because parents' anger about the botched return of England's schools is increasing by the day and could damage the government severely.

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But in weighing up which cabinet minister will leave first you also have to factor-in Robert Jenrick, the housing secretary, who's at the centre of a controversy over a building development in London.

In normal times this would probably be a resigning issue and, although this government likes to dig in and refuse to bow to pressure from the opposition and media, the story is gaining momentum and Jenrick may still have to go.

It's another reminder that, in a cabinet built on cronyism by a leader who is determined to centralise power, a controversy is never far away.

Labour's post-mortem shows there's still a mountain to climb

The publication of Labour's post-mortem into what went wrong for the party at the last general election makes sobering reading for anybody who's been feeling optimistic about Keir Starmer's chances of leading the party to power.

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Its publication has reopened divisions in the party with figures on the left insisting the party's belated second referendum on Brexit pledge was a mistake. Those disagreements will rumble on but the report makes clear that "a different leader is not enough" to help Labour win back public trust.

In short, the party still faces the electoral mountain identified by the Fabian Society in the immediate aftermath of the 2019 vote which is why, if you want to get against the Tories at the next election, no over-all majority [2.6] is the bet.

Moran odds-on for next Lib Dem leader

Things didn't go as badly for Labour in 2019 as they did for the Liberal Democrats whose leader Jo Swinson lost her seat to the SNP. The contest to replace her has already been postponed then brought forward again and the party should have a new leader in place by the end of August.

This week nominations open for the leadership election and Layla Moran, tipped by this column back at the start of 2020 when she was odds-against, is [1.54] to get the job ahead of Ed Davey [2.48], the man who's currently the caretaker leader.

Whoever does eventually become the leader of Britain's fourth party faces an enormous challenge as there is strong evidence to suggest that Labour under Starmer is eating into their vote share.

UK - Party Leaders: UK - Party Leaders (Exit Dates - Boris Johnson)

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Tuesday 31 December, 11.59pm

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