DISCLAIMER: THIS WAS WRITTEN BEFORE THE LAB CONFERENCE
On the face of it, Boris Johnson and Keir Starmer are completely different, leading opposite political parties and having vastly different ideologies about how the country should be run. Johnson is a pragmatic populist who has a certain aspect that makes it almost impossible for him to trail in the polls. Whether it be giving dodgy PPE contracts with some worth over £100 million in taxpayers money, or breaking a key manifesto promise on national insurance and still polling above labour in certain ballots when realistically, the incumbent should be falling short. This contrasts to Starmer, who is trying to appeal as a competent compromise, however, has faced backlash within his own party from the Corbynite side as well as the Blairite one, due to his lack of vision and failure to call out Johnson where previous opposition leaders would. This meant that at one point this year, Politico’s poll of polls (One of the most reliable pollsters) put labour at 32%, the same as when Jeremy Corbyn led labour to their worst defeat since the 1930s in 2019. So how are they similar?
Recently, A Times poll within his own party put Johnson at 3% approval, only worsened by ex-education secretary Gavin Williamson at -50%, and ex-housing secretary Robert Jenrick at -4%. This compares to the much more popular Chancellor Rishi Sunak, at 74% and his new Foreign Secretary Liz Truss at over 80%, as well as every other cabinet minister having higher approval ratings. This is the same for Starmer, as many see deputy leader Angela Rayner as a much better opposition leader. But for Johnson, you do have to ask why. Johnson has led the Tories to their first true election victory since 1987, with an over eighty seat majority, which means even the tory rebels can’t vote him down and has meant that he can rapidly introduce and pass new legislation with little issue. One of the reasons is his increasingly right-wing cabinet. When David Cameron gained leadership of the Tories in 2005, he modernised it and took on a more socially liberal perspective, as shown through the 2013 gay marriage legislation and commitments to help prevent Climate Change. However, since Johnson took over, he has passed increasingly far-right legislation in the form of the Police and Crime bill which I wrote about in a previous article: here, whilst being described by the tory-favouring Times as a tax-and-spend socialist after his NI increase. This has had many moderate Tories express their discontent and led to twenty of them voting against Johnson’s no-deal Brexit plan September 2019. Including ex-chancellors Phillip Hammond and Kenneth Clarke, with the former suggesting that “The Conservative party has been taken over by unelected advisors, entryists and usurpers who are trying to turn it from a broad church into an extreme right-wing faction.” Starmer is facing similar issues, with left-wing members like Zarah Sultana (a newly elected MP and social media sensation with over 200,000 Instagram followers) publicly criticise his new policy on electing new Labour leaders by giving 1/3 of the power back to MPs, as well as the promoting material that states that Starmer didn’t mention the word ‘socialism’ once in his newly released 35-page-essay about his vision for Labour.
So, what’s the difference? As to why Johnson is still not publicly facing backlash from his party whilst Starmer couldn’t have any more of it. The reason is this. Johnson is a winner. He is disliked by many in his party, but his pragmatism and excellent campaigning means the Tories are almost guaranteed to be in power for some time. However, once his charm runs out, and once he loses favour with the electorate, as has happened with every PM before him, he will be facing remarkably similar problems to Keir Starmer and his Labour party.