UK Politics: Tory election odds drift amid lockdown confusion

UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson
Is the public turning against Boris Johnson?

The odds on the Tories winning an election majority are drifting as polling shows public disapproval for the government's pandemic response, reports Max Liu...

"Only 44% who took part in the poll thought the new “stay alert” message was clear while 56% said they were not certain who they could meet outside their household."

The latest polling by Opinium shows that the majority of people disapprove of the government's handling of the coronavirus pandemic.

At the end of March, polling by Opinium put public approval for the government's response at +42%. It has now fallen to -3%, plummeting by nine points since Boris Johnson announced the partial easing of lockdown last Sunday. This is the first time that more people disapprove than approve of the government's response.

Only 44% who took part in the poll thought the new "stay alert" message was clear while 56% said they were not certain who they could meet outside their household.

The same firm gives the Tories a 15 point lead over Labour but its personal approval polling shows growing support for opposition leader Keir Starmer.

The price on a Tory majority has drifted to 2.9215/8 with No Overall Majority the favourite outcome at 2.6613/8. The next general election is 1.574/7 to be in 2024 so, if those odds are correct, the government has a few years to repair its reputation.

Is austerity the answer?

It's been Johnson's worst week since he came out of hospital. His lockdown statement on Sunday night was derided, he was outsmarted by Keir Starmer at PMQs and now the government is embroiled in a fight with teaching unions about when schools will reopen.

In the longer term, there is already plenty of discussion about the economic impact of the pandemic and how Johnson handles that could truly determine the outcome of the next general election.

Will austerity be the answer to what Andrew Marr today called "the worst recession for 300 years"? The Tories promised after their election victory in December that they would increase spending, especially in areas of northern England that unexpectedly voted for them.

Johnson and his chancellor Rishi Sunak are said to be reluctant to bring in cuts. They could argue things have changed dramatically since they made spending promises but that would be a political gamble. The PM will be mindful that austerity eventually made David Cameron's Tory government deeply unpopular.

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Yes, Cameron won a majority in 2015 but the way that voters rejected Britain's political establishment a year later in the in-out referendum on European Union membership arguably told us more about what people thought of austerity.

Regional divisions are already starting to appear over the coronavirus. Mayor of Manchester Andy Burnham today criticises Johnson for a "London-centric" approach, while councils in Liverpool and elsewhere in the north have said they won't follow the government's plan to reopen schools on 1 June.

London Mayoral election set for 2021

Speaking of mayors, we have a date for the London Mayoral election which was rescheduled from last week. It will take place in May 2021 and a new Exchange market is open, albeit without one of the previous market's prominent names.

Rory Stewart, the ex-Tory MP who was standing as an independent, has dropped out of the race. He was expected to be current mayor Sadiq Khan's closest challenger. The delay, as well as Stewart's withdrawal, should in theory be a boost for the Conservative candidate Shaun Bailey who this week accused Kahn of failing Londoners during the pandemic.

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Bailey's criticism is an early sign that Khan's handling of the pandemic will be under scrutiny in the build-up to next May's election. It should make for a very different election to the one we were anticipating this year. The good sign for Khan is that, since the directly elected mayor was reintroduced to London in 2000, all holders of the post have served more than one term. But neither Boris Johnson nor Ken Livingstone had a pandemic to contend with.

How will the change of date affect the long term election cycle? It won't. The subsequent election will be held in 2024, as scheduled originally, with the term following election 2021 reduced to three years.

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