Events have conspired to give work another chance. Will Keir Starmer seize it?

There comes a point during a government when the party in power begins to look more than slightly disturbed. The appointment of Nadine Dorries as Culture Secretary was a clue, and reports that BBC licensing fees will come to an abrupt end in 2027 was confirmation. The complex arguments in the broadcasting market will over time be interpreted in the popular mind as an unnecessary government campaign to abolish David Attenborough, and that is disreputable to say the least.

The moment of obvious inconvenience is, at the same time, the moment of maximum opportunity for ambitious opposition. In a recent Opinium poll, not only were the Tories 10 percentage points behind Labour, but Boris Johnson’s personal approval fell below Theresa May’s worst ever figures. In the latest Redfield & Wilton poll, Labor had taken a 13-point lead, its biggest since 2013. Labor now polls 43% and the Conservatives languish at 30%. The change in the polls is significant and looks like a lasting change, not a fleeting verdict.

We may really be witnessing the great dismantling of the Boris Johnson cult. The Prime Minister won an 80-seat majority in 2019 by being a Brexit man who was not at all, unlike all those stuffy characters in Parliament, really a politician. The disastrous consequence of his behavior during the lockdown is that he suddenly conforms to the public’s low opinion of all politicians. By the time more recent Conservative voters are beginning to think Johnson is no different from the rest of the political class, he’s in trouble.

In fact, someone who disappointed voters can be punished even harder than someone in whom no trust was ever placed. The political charge of Brexit has also disappeared, helping to explain the War Secretary’s ridiculous attack on the BBC’s funding model.

[see also: Dominic Cummings won’t be the last disenchanted No 10 official to cause trouble for Boris Johnson]

You would then think that Labor could sit back and let the Tories implode. In fact, that might be enough. We may be approaching the time when the public decides that a decade and a half of conservatives is long enough. No party has ever won, or partially won, five consecutive general election victories since the resumption of British two-party politics after World War II. The Tories have exhausted their talent and are left with a policyless C team. They have already, in their wisdom, provided three prime ministers, two of whom their members put in Downing Street before the electorate was consulted. It’s like we’re nearing the end of their time. When that happens, when enough of the audience is just fed up, it’s over. It might be true, in a way, that this would be more a case of Johnson doing badly than Keir Starmer doing brilliantly, but so what?

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The argument for appeasement and silence goes no further than that, however. Perhaps a victory on security can be won by Labour, but the approach is, paradoxically, fraught with risk. There is a slim chance that if Labor does not step into the political space vacated by Johnson, the PM could claw back. Maybe his obituaries were written too soon. Time can heal; memories can fade. If Labor doesn’t present a compelling alternative, then perhaps the new Tory vote could offer Johnson one last chance at redemption. A bigger risk for Labor is that the Tories will re-send their leader and that Rishi Sunak will be able to restore a sense of calm and resolve to a more traditional Tory administration. Although Sunak may not be exactly at the box office, he might just get a solid win, like John Major did in 1992.

Even if the Tories cannot reinvent themselves once again, a cautious approach by Labor could produce only a half-hearted victory or put the party in government with the consent of the other parties. It both hinders what can be done in power and makes the prospect of a second victory less likely. Harold Wilson has spent too much time in Downing Street with an eye on the upcoming election, forced to use his weak political cunning to battle his internal rivals. A small victory is better than no victory – especially for a party as unsuccessful as Labor – but that is not the road to the next New Jerusalem.

So there are good reasons for Labor to be bolder. Tory criticism has landed and the public is beginning to take a second look at Starmer’s party. That in itself is a political achievement, but Labor must now reclaim a lost reputation for economic competence, as well as develop a program of public service reform. There are signs, in the early speeches of Shadow Chancellor Rachel Reeves, that Labor is moving towards tougher positions based on value for money. Unfortunately, few people spend their weekends reading political speeches, so this shift in attitude must be painted in primary colors.

As of this writing, Reeves is due to deliver a speech in Bury, Greater Manchester on January 20. There’s a statue in town of Robert Peel, the great Red Wall Tory. Peel was prepared to split the Tories for the cause of lowering the price of bread for the people. In 1846, the interests of the merchants and the interests of the public led to a fatal political collision. Today, events have conspired to give Labor another chance. When we come to verify the next election, it is likely that the next few months will be numbered.

[see also: Why Boris Johnson’s No 10 is so dysfunctional]

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