UK Politics: Tory election odds drift amid criticism of government

UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson
Around 66% think Johnson's government are doing a good job
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The Johnson government is under fire but will it damage the PM's popularity with voters? And is Macron on course to win re-election in France? Max Liu reports.

"In the early betting for the next French election in 2022, Macron is [1.61] with nearest rival Marine Le Pen trading at [3.4]."

The odds on the Conservatives winning a majority at the next general election have drifted to [2.74] on the Exchange after the government received strong criticism this weekend for its handling of the coronavirus pandemic.

The Sunday Times today published a long article that accuses Boris Johnson of failing to take the virus seriously or act quickly enough. According the article, Johnson was slow to recognise the severity of the problem at the start of the year because he was lazy, obsessed with Brexit and distracted with his personal life.

It said Johnson missed five Cobra meetings - a claim that was confirmed by Michael Gove on today's Andrew Marr Show. The Observer, meanwhile, cites the fact that Johnson and health secretary Matt Hancock contracted the virus as evidence of their careless attitude.

Brexit meant the government's attention was elsewhere while a decade of austerity under the Conservatives left the NHS ill-prepared for a pandemic. Both papers claim that, if the government had been quicker to act, then thousands of lives could have been saved.

Press and public turn on Johnson? Not so fast

Some commentators have cited the Sunday Times story as evidence that its owner Rupert Murdoch is turning on Johnson and will support another politician - possibly Gove, who rubbished the story this morning, but retains strong links to Murdoch and harbours leadership ambitions of his own - to replace him.

But that overestimates Murdoch's involvement in his paper's reporting and underestimates Johnson's personal popularity in a country where he won an 80-seat majority less than six months ago, albeit in very different circumstances.

Public support for the government could go into reverse when the pandemic is over. That's what happened to Gordon Brown's government in the aftermath of the financial crisis of 2008. There is an acceptance in the government that an inquiry into its response to the pandemic is inevitable. Johnson's senior adviser Dominic Cummings is probably already preparing for it.

Earlier this week, shortly after Johnson's stand-in Dominic Raab said the UK would remain under lockdown for at least another three weeks, a poll showed emphatic support for the decision:

Meanwhile, this weekend Opinium gave the Tories a 19 point lead over Labour when it comes to voting intention (a figure that indicates you should snap up those next election majority odds). There are increasing calls for Keir Starmer to provide sharper scrutiny and louder criticism of the government.

The key poll, though, could be the latest from YouGov on the government's handling of the pandemic. This week, 66% say the government are "doing a good job" although that is down from the 72% we saw a few weeks ago.

It will be interesting to see if those numbers fall further based on the kind of reporting we've seen this weekend. I wouldn't bet on it.

Macron leads by example in France

A few weeks ago French president Emmanuel Macron acted decisively in implementing the lockdown and vowed that no business in his country would go bust as a result of the pandemic.

This week, as he extended France's lockdown, Macron admitted France had been under-prepared for the crisis. He struck a tone of sincerity and solidarity with his people which sounded perfect for the circumstances.

Johnson and Macron 956.jpg

No French president has won two terms since Jacques Chirac who left office in 2007. Indeed, Chirac is one of only two French presidents - the other is Francois Mitterand - to serve a full two terms since France's Fifth Republic was established in 1958.

Last year, amid the gilet jaunes protests, it looked highly unlikely that Macron would join their illustrious company. His response to the pandemic makes it more plausible that he could win the next French election in two years. In the early betting, Macron is [1.61] with nearest rival Marine Le Pen trading at [3.4].

There's a long way to go, and scant liquidity in the market, but the early signs are that, across the Channel at least, honesty and humility can be a good thing for a leader.

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