A master of all he surveys

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Keir Starmer’s relative success at his Labour conference this week is good news for Boris Johnson. Frank McKenna explains why.

Too slow to react to the Pandemic. A government advisor taking trips to castles during lockdown to undergo a ‘Do It Yourself’ eye test. Chaos in relation to children’s examinations. Failure to deliver a Christmas that he promised. His Health Secretary caught groping his aide when we were all being told to stay two meters apart from one another. Afghanistan. Kermit the Frog. The threat of blackouts due to an energy shortage. Huge gaps on our supermarket shelves. And this week, panic buying of fuel.

And yet, as he prepares for his party conference in Manchester next week, Boris Johnson has never been in a stronger position.

He has managed a cabinet reshuffle that has strengthened his grip, somewhat side lining the only serious contender to his crown at the moment, Chancellor Rishi Sunak, the Conservatives lead in the polls remains steady despite the trials and tribulations of the past eighteen months, and Keir Starmer has managed to drag his party, kicking and screaming, back towards the centre ground at Labour’s party gathering in Brighton this week.

Why is Starmer’s relative success good for Johnson?

Well, given how appalling the opposition’s performance was at the last General Election, and the inability for its leader to shift people’s perception of Labour in any real way until now, it is tempting for Conservative MPs to believe that they could stick a blue rosette on a pig, stick it in Number Ten, and still win an election.

A stronger Labour Party, albeit one that still has some way to go before reclaiming its halcyon days of the late 1990s, has Tories in marginal or newly won Red Wall seats looking anxiously over their shoulders and being reminded of why they voted for Boris to be their leader in the first place – because he is an election winner.

Backbench rebellions have started to emerge over a diverse range of issues in recent months, and with some controversial plans to get through during the remainder of the parliament, the PM and his colleagues have been worried about a growing resistance to a government programme that, in some parts of their party, looks far too interventionist and tax heavy.

A half-credible Labour Party will have Conservatives thinking twice about challenging the man who they believe may not be the best Prime Minister – but is certainly their best vote winner.

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