Anthony Devlin/Getty Images
Since Boris Johnson moved into Number 10 Labour has been suspiciously quiet. The opposition appears to have been eclipsed by a new administration that’s made its direction of travel clear. Former Labour supporters ask despairingly on social media whether the party has any plans to respond to the rise of Boris. But could a fight back be on the cards?
New governing regimes often underestimate their opponents responding. New Prime Minister Gordon Brown in the summer of 2007 – when he developed a poll lead and flirted with an early election – was humiliated when the Tories under David Cameron fought back and forced Brown to scrap plans for an early contest.
Johnson ran for the Tory leadership on a promise that he wouldn’t call an election before delivering Brexit, fearing electoral wipeout at the hands of the Brexit Party. But with a working majority of one – that includes the DUP’s support and is set to be weakened by a growing number of likely Tory rebels – that election could be sooner than we think.
If there is a contest, what will happen? Right now the latest YouGov polling has the Conservatives at 32%, Labour at 22%, Lib Dems at 19% and The Brexit Party at 13%. But in these volatile times things can change quickly. Right up until the 2017 election the Conservatives were comfortably in the lead… until all of a sudden they weren’t.
This time, the Tory strategy relies on them winning the leave vote – taken from The Brexit Party and Leave-voting Labour heartlands. The theory is that whatever they lose to the Lib Dems will be won back there.
The calculation might work – but the Tories are struggling badly with the youth vote.
Knowing this, Labour the underdog is quietly preparing a manifesto with a serious offer to young voters – those below 40, who largely voted Remain, and who are turned off by the no-deal Conservatives – on housing, student debt, climate change and higher taxes for the wealthy.
With a new leader the Tories are feeling buoyant, for now. But while the Tories might try to eat into the Labour vote in the North, a traditional voting pattern is still a traditional voting pattern.
Labour is a formidable campaigning machine, despite the scandals of the Corbyn era. It is backed by serious Union money. And if Corbyn’s team can pitch a compelling vision to young voters who the Tories have decided to overlook, then the Tories could struggle to win anything like a working majority.
The usual health warning applies. The youth vote and the Remain vote overlap significantly. The anti-Tory vote is vulnerable to splitting across Labour, the Lib Dems, the SNP and the Greens. However, with the sheer weight of Labour’s electoral infrastructure, the party has a chance, with a decent campaign to position itself as the stop Boris option.
Amid all the chatter about the threat posed by the resurgent Liberal Democrats, and the Brexit Party snapping at the Conservatives’ heels, the next twist in the tale could be a serious Labour fight back.