THERE has been what might, at a casual glance, look like fairly disobliging polling for Boris Johnson and the Conservatives over the past few days.

The superficially more newsworthy one was a YouGov survey of “Blue Wall” seats in the south and east of England, focusing on 53 constituencies – which, in almost all circumstances, would certainly be enough to swing a general election – that are currently held by the Tories, but voted “Remain” in 2016, and have a higher-than-average (more than 25 per cent) number of graduates. It found that in those seats the government’s popularity had dropped by eight points since the last election.

The other, which may be of interest primarily to Conservatives or close students of the party’s internal politics, was the “net satisfaction” rating of various ministers given by grassroots Tories to the website Conservative Home, in which the Prime Minister dropped 36 points, barely remaining in positive territory, with +3.4.

The headline assumption on both these results is, naturally enough, that they have some significant implication for the electoral prospects of Mr Johnson and his party. But it’s quite likely that they don’t. What they do have, unfortunately, are substantial implications for the electoral prospects of the opposition parties at Westminster and, as a result, for politics here, too.

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That’s because, thanks to the SNP’s dominance at Holyrood and the Tories’ at Westminster, it’s easy for nationalists to present a dichotomy between the priority of Scottish voters and those elsewhere in the UK.

Of course, there’s a modicum of substance in that, but it’s got precious little to do with imagined notions of Scottish exceptionalism – we are no more “centre-left” than large chunks of England, and by some measures considerably more socially conservative. Even Conservatives with a capital letter are not, despite what quite a lot of Scottish political discourse would like to pretend, unknown here. In the past few years, at least a quarter and sometimes nearly a third of the electorate voted Tory.

But it would almost certainly bolster the unionist cause if the Westminster government were a centre-left, social democrat one – although perhaps I should say, since current policies and spending are, in fact, the furthest to the left of any government in almost half a century, one which was identified as that.

The most serious blow to nationalism that I can imagine would be a UK Labour government run along the lines of John Smith’s leadership, simply because it was, historically, the instinctive position of very large number, and probably even a majority, of Scottish voters – though it would be interesting to know the extent to which the growth in SNP support over the past couple of decades has affected that.

So the most telling aspect of those two polls is not to do with the Tories, but what they say about the prospects for the Labour party, which are, frankly, about as bad as they could get. (Before the country’s three or four remaining Liberal Democrats complain that I’m leaving them out of it, I’ll admit that I am. The YouGov poll may have shown that they could pick up some of those English “Blue Wall” seats, but it also showed that their support had dropped from 24 per cent to 18 per cent since the election.)

Labour, however, has climbed from 20 per cent all the way up to that previous Lib Dem pinnacle of 24 per cent. We’re effectively at the mid-term point (like everything else, it feels a lot longer) of a government that, according to its opponents, is uniquely shambolic, inept, unprincipled, heartless and far-right.


Thanks to the measures it adopted to deal with the pandemic, it’s also managed to enrage and alienate a large proportion of its own natural supporters (as evidenced by the ConHome poll, though it should be conceded that Mr Johnson’s personal standing yo-yos violently with the Tory rank and file at the best of times). And, even after that eight-point drop, in the “Blue Wall” seats it’s 20 points clear of what ought to be its principal UK-wide opposition. Overall, it’s usually at least eight points ahead.

Labour’s great achievement so far has been holding on, by the skin of its teeth, to Batley and Spen in last month’s by-election with a majority of 323 (a tenth of the lead in the 2019 general election). The party got a grand total of 622 votes in “Blue Wall” Chesham and Amersham the previous month, coming fourth. Of those 53 target seats it might, on its current showing, pick up just nine – and four of them are in London, rather than the Tory shires, and with the possible exception of Kensington would in any normal scheme of things be in Labour’s pocket already.

The party has other problems, too. It’s broke, and to stave off bankruptcy is busy sacking and rehiring its own staff, despite having launched a major policy initiative calling for the practice to be outlawed a matter of weeks ago.

It’s having to expel hordes of Marxists, cranks and anti-semites, but to date has only got rid of about 1000, when it probably needs to disavow about 50 times that number (which is to say, at a minimum a tenth of the party’s membership) to regain any electoral credibility.

Even expelling the Cobynites won’t be enough: you’d need to take a leaf out of their own book and instigate some sort of Stalinist-style historical eradication if you’re going to persuade voters that you realise the past few years were all a terrible mistake. (They, of course, already know that, which is why the party had its worst ever result at the last election.)

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Sir Keir Starmer, who you would have thought looked, on paper, not a bad choice to appeal to middle Britain, turns out to be a hole in the air in a blue suit. I’m not sure there’s anybody waiting in the wings who would be an obvious improvement, though if I had Labour’s best interests at heart, I’d probably be inclined to give Yvette Cooper the job.

The trouble is that even if Labour does the most obvious things to make it look even minimally electable, it almost certainly won’t be enough. So the net result is that, even if the government is becoming more and more unpopular, it’s still going to be miles ahead in the polls.

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