Johnson is trying to make the best of a string of poor poll results

The results of Boris Johnson’s local election on Friday were “at the low end of the barely acceptable range,” said a despondent former Conservative cabinet minister, overlooking a scene of heavy Tory losses. After the events of the last few months, the prime minister will take over.

At first glance, Johnson should have slipped into gloom a day of conservative defeatswhich started early when the Tories lost their London flagships Wandsworth and Westminster.

Conservative council leaders blamed Johnson for the setbacks, which saw hundreds of seats lost, and one Tory MP said: “Good councils are being lost because a significant number of our traditional supporters no longer trust the Prime Minister. He has to go.”

Many Conservative MPs saw the local elections on May 5 as a key test for Johnson: can he still win after that? The Partygate scandal? Last month he became the first British Prime Minister to commit an offense after police fined him for attending a birthday party in June 2020 at Downing Street during England’s first Covid-19 lockdown.

But Johnson was in optimistic form on Friday, with his allies scoffing at Labor’s patchy results outside London, which they say has been demonstrated Party leader Sir Keir Starmer was unable to win the next general election. Labor notably failed to make much headway in its former ‘Red Wall’ areas of northern England, even losing Kingston upon Hull to the Liberal Democrats.

“The fact that Labor Hull lost but Mayfair won tells you everything you need to know about them,” said a Tory official after an upbeat speech from Johnson’s team. “We have been reminded that we are now on an election war basis.”

There was a sense that things could have been worse at Downing Street even before an enthusiastic Johnson received news at lunchtime that police were again checking whether Starmer was having a curry and beer with fellow Labor figures during the April election campaign had broken lockdown rules in 2021.

A Cabinet minister said: “The results in London are bad but Boris will be relieved with the outcome in the rest of the country. And given the Starmer-Beergate Inquiry, it’s been a good week for the Prime Minister.”

In the run-up to local elections, Starmer had been wrestling with questions about the curry and beer gathering at Durham Miners Hall last year, when indoor socializing was banned in England.

Labor has highlighted rules providing an exception to restricting indoor gatherings if they were “reasonably necessary” for work purposes. Emily Thornberry, shadow attorney general, said Friday: “We are confident no rules have been broken.”

But the Durham Police investigation into Starmer could potentially help Johnson put an end to the Partygate scandal before it does more harm to it.

Starmer, a former chief prosecutor, has taken a tough stance on the matter, and both he and his deputy Angela Rayner urged Johnson to quit long before the prime minister was fined by the Metropolitan Police.

In January, Starmer tweeted that “honesty and decency” is important in politics, and said Johnson should resign immediately because he is “under criminal investigation for violating his own lockdown laws.”

Johnson, who is still under police investigation for attending other Whitehall parties during Covid restrictions and is also awaiting senior official Sue Gray’s full report on the affair, eagerly took up Starmer’s predicament.

“He believes Starmer was hoisted by his own petard for his constant moralizing on the subject,” said a Tory close to Johnson. “Starmer is a hypocrite,” added a Number 10 insider.

Keir Starmer speaks to supporters outside the StoneX stadium in Barnet, a north London council-turned-Labour council. ©Jonathan Brady/PA

There was a growing feeling in Westminster that Partygate might not be the issue bringing down the Prime Minister. Conservative MPs showed little or no appetite after the results of the local elections to press for a vote of no confidence in Johnson’s leadership, writing letters to Sir Graham Brady, the chairman of the 1922 Tory backbench committee.

For Johnson, the poor economy has become his greatest political threat the Bank of England is warning this week inflation in excess of 10 percent, rising unemployment and a possible recession.

Tory MPs and Cabinet ministers are urging Johnson to both cut taxes and increase public spending to help her constituents. Chancellor Rishi Sunak has warned that higher public borrowing and spending could simply push up inflation.

Sir Ed Davey, leader of the Liberal Democrats, said his party’s successes in local elections across the country reflected public concerns about the cost of living crisis and the NHS and not the parties in Number 10. Labor is now turning its attention to the economy.

for Starmer, Election successes in London were quick to anger at the realization that the party was doing less well outside the capital.

Starmer hailed Labor taking control of Cumberland and Southampton councilors and a trio of London boroughs: Wandsworth, Westminster and Barnet. “We sent a message to the Prime Minister, Britain deserves better,” he said. Scotland was another major bright spot for Labour.

But Labor’s results on Friday gave the impression of a government on hold and were flattered by a particularly strong showing in liberal, urban former Remain areas like London.

“I would describe the result as solid,” said a member of the shadow cabinet. Other senior Labor figures use the same adjective to describe the senior but not particularly charismatic Starmer.

“He’s less of a showman than Johnson, but what’s more important is that he’s crafting our response to the economic car crash, we’re on the brink of a war economy,” a union leader said.

Chris Hopkins, deputy director of pollster Savanta ComRes, said Labor’s lead in national opinion polls has declined since the Russian invasion of Ukraine and agreed the economy will determine what happens next in Westminster.

“It doesn’t appear right now that Labor is doing enough to win voters back over the cost of living crisis,” he added. Johnson is trying to make the best of a string of poor poll results

Adam Bradshaw

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