UK Politics Latest Odds: Best and worst of 2020

  • Max Liu
  • 4:00 min read
Boris Johnson's former adviser Dominic Cummings
Has Cummings surrendered his famous lanyard or will he be back?

This has been a year like no other in UK politics so Max Liu discusses the main events and chief protagonists as well as the latest odds in his end of 2020 round up...

"Barnard Castle may prove to be as much a turning point for this government as Black Wednesday and the MPs’ expenses scandal were for some of its predecessors. On the other hand, Cummings could return to help the Tories win a successive majority 3.412/5 at the next election."

Moment of 2020

There were a few candidates: from Boris Johnson belatedly putting Britain into lockdown on 23 March, through a summer of u-turns, right up to Christmas Eve when the PM announced that he'd agreed a Brexit trade deal. The big story for UK politics bettors, however, has been the government's declining popularity.

In spring, the Conservatives were around 16 points ahead of Labour in most polls and Johnson's approval rating was in the mid-60s. Today the two main parties are more or less level and the PM is 2.767/4 to leave office in the next year. The turning point came in May when it was revealed that Johnson's special adviser Dominic Cummings had broken lockdown rules to drive his family from London to Durham, as well as making his now infamous trip to Barnard Castle.

Winner of 2020

Rishi Sunak, who was a little known MP 12 months ago and is now the 3.45 favourite to be the next Conservative leader, would have a shot in this category. But Nicola Sturgeon pips him, for her handling of the pandemic, which has been significantly better than Johnson's, and the series of polls that show that, if there were a referendum tomorrow, Scots would vote for independence.

Boris Johnson and Nicola Sturgeon.jpg

In next May's Scottish elections, the SNP will bid to win a majority at Holyrood. If they do that - and most polls indicate they will succeed - then Sturgeon will take that as the mandate to ask Johnson for a referendum on independence. What happens after that will be fascinating and could change Britain forever.

Loser of 2020

Less than a year on from leading Labour into a general election, in which they suffered catastrophic defeat, Jeremy Corbyn was suspended from the party. He was subsequently readmitted as a Labour member but not as a Labour MP and continues to sit as an independent.

New leader Keir Starmer is so busy distancing himself from Labour's left that he's yet to come up with any policies. His calculation is that this is a long game - and with the next election 1.42/5 to be in 2024 he's probably right - but his calculation that the left has nowhere else to go could prove misguided. After all, it backfired on New Labour in the 2000s and arguably sewed some of the problems we have today.

Labour have made inroads in the polls so far under Starmer but they still have a mountain to climb at the next general election where they're 3.613/5 to win a majority.

Hero of 2020

If we're looking for somebody who took a stand in 2020, when it was absolutely necessary, then we could do worse than salute Andy Burnham. The Mayor of Manchester was right to point out the Johnson administration's failure to work constructively with local government in the pandemic and there were times when it sounded like Burnham was the real leader of the opposition for the whole of England.

Andy Burnham 956.jpg

A common complaint today is that politicians, and people generally, adopt fixed positions and refuse to change their minds about important issues. Burnham has changed his mind about lots of things in the last decade, learning from his experiences and evolving his political vision beyond the centrist blandishments that previously made him an uninspiring candidate for Labour leader. He's 8.615/2 to be Labour's next leader and, still only 50, a return to the Westminster frontline should not be ruled out.

Villain of 2020

Johnson's shortcomings were exposed by events in 2020 - as anyone who'd paid attention to UK politics in the past decade-and-a-half knew they would be - but so were those of his chief adviser. Cummings' flouting of lockdown rules undermined the government's public health messaging at the height of the pandemic's first wave. Around the same time, he received a significant pay rise.

There are events from which governments never recover and Barnard Castle may prove to be as much a turning point in the decline of this government as Black Wednesday and the MPs' expenses scandal were for some of its predecessors. On the other hand, when Cummings left his job as Johnson's adviser in November, he was still wearing his Number 10 lanyard, so perhaps his departure is only temporary and he will return to help the Tories win a successive majority 3.412/5 at the next election.

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