May 23, 2022

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Tories backed to survive sleaze claims and win majority

The problem with open goals – as Ronnie Rosenthal could tell you – is that you have to score them or they will haunt you forever. This is the situation Keir Starmer finds himself in as he tries to exploit the Greensill scandal but sees the Conservatives opening up an even bigger lead in the polls and shortening on the Betfair Exchange to win the next general election.

So far bettors have shown no faith at all in the Labour leader’s ability to use the scandal to his advantage. Today a Conservative majority 2.245/4 at the next election is at its shortest odds this year – in from 2.6413/8 a week ago.

All the weekend politics headlines are about the return of Tory sleaze and its potential to cost them votes. The betting, however, is more aligned with this week’s YouGov poll on Westminster voting intention:

If the Conservative lead gets any bigger Boris Johnson and his advisers may be tempted to call a general election. It could be appealing to Johnson to fight an election before the Brexit fallout really starts to hit home and ahead of a potentially damning inquiry into his government’s handling of the pandemic.

Will Johnson be tempted by an early election?

You can get 22.021/1 on an election this year.

Before that there will be the Hartlepool by-election where the Tories are 1.674/6 to win a seat which Labour 2.56/4 has held since 1964.

Today a senior Tory, Bernard Jenkin, warns Johnson that his government will lose the trust of the former Labour voters who put him in Downing Street unless he tackles the burgeoning sleaze crisis. Jenkin worries that the so called Red Wall, that went Blue in 2019, could abandon the Tories over Greensill.

I’m not convinced the Tories will win Hartlepool on 6 May and like the price on Labour. As Paul Krishnamurty mentioned when the by-election was announced, Labour’s demise at by-elections has been predicted prematurely in the past. The party should also have a formidable get out the vote campaign in the constituency which may be going under the pollsters’ radar.

But if they Tories were to win in Hartlepool and generally perform ok in local elections across England the same day, as well as in elections for the Scottish and Welsh parliaments, that would add further fuel to theory that Johnson is weighing up an autumn general election.

Then again, team Johnson will be mindful of falling into the ‘Theresa May trap’.

In 2017, with her party around 18 points ahead of Labour in the polls, May called a general election and six weeks later returned to parliament with no majority – an example of a Tory leader failing to score from an open goal.

The next general election is 1.351/3 to happen in 2024, when it’s scheduled, or later, although 2023 is appealing at 4.84/1, especially if the government are still ahead in the polls.

Will Starmer lead Labour into the next general election?

We’ve spent plenty of time speculating about Boris Johnson’s exit dates – he is 1.845/6 to step down no sooner than 2024 – but it’s fair to wonder about Starmer’s longevity.

If the government serves its full-term, will Starmer still be Labour leader the next time Britons go to the polls? Or is he destined to become Labour’s Iain Duncan Smith and lose the leadership before he gets to fight an election?

There is reportedly disquiet among Labour MPs about their leader’s failure to build on the momentum he started to generate in the second-half of 2020, before the Tories’ vaccine bounce. This is nothing like the civil war in Labour during the Corbyn era – in part because Starmer has more friends in the press than his predecessor did – but there is little sign that he knows how to stop the rot.

Starmer’s plan was to deny the Tories a majority at the next election and put his party in a position to win in 2029. He could yet succeed. But he needs to be more ambitious otherwise the likes of Angela Rayner 7.87/1, Andy Burnham 8.415/2 and Lisa Nandy 12.011/1 will start thinking about their leadership prospects, if indeed they’re not already.