Sir John Curtice: Tories in trouble but Keir Starmer still missing crucial spark

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 (Getty Images)
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Boris Johnson’s party is “in trouble” but Sir Keir Starmer has yet to spark the “crucial ingredient” of enthusiasm for Labour which led to Tony Blair’s 1997 victory, according to one of Britain’s leading elections experts

Sir John Curtice, Professor of Politics at Strathclyde University, stressed that Mr Johnson’s by-election record is the worst since John Major’s goverrment.

He emphasised that this was partly down to Labour and Liberal Democrat voters now “ganging up” to vote tactically to beat Tory candidates.

Many disaffected Conservative voters, he added, were not necessarily though turning to Labour to voice their “protest”.

While governments tend to lose by-elections mid-term, Sir John told the Standard: “The Tories are in trouble.

“We have now had five by-elections in a row the Tories have tried to defend, only succeeded in one of them.

“Average drop in support in those five by-elections, 20 per cent.

“We have to go back to John Major’s government to find an electoral record that matches that, in fact Major’s record was even worse.”

He highlighted how many Labour voters switched to the Liberal Democrats in the Tiverton and Honiton by-election, to topple a Tory majority of 24,000.

“Labour and Liberal Democrat voters are ganging up against the Tories, voting tactically,” he said.

“In Tiverton and Honiton that could well have been crucial because the decline in the Labour vote, at 16 points, is slightly bigger than the Liberal Democrat majority over the Conservatives, of 14 points.

“The Tory (vote) in Tiverton and Honiton is only down five points more than it was in Wakefield.

“It’s down by 17 points in Wakefield, it’s down by 22 in Tiverton and Honiton.”

But he also emphasied that many 2019 Tory voters in the “Red Wall” seat of Wakefield had not backed Labour in the by-election.

“There still isn’t that much enthusiam for Labour,” he said.

“The Labour vote in Wakefield is still not as high as what Jeremy Corbyn achieved in 2017 in the constituency.

“The eight point increase is less than half of the fall in the Conservative vote.

“It seems pretty clear that quite a lot of disaffected Tories voted for an independent candidate who was a recently resigned Tory councillor who partly resigned over partygate.”

In Wakefield, Simon Lightwood was elected with a majority of 4,925 on a swing of 12.7 per cent from the Tories to Labour, and an eight point rise on the 2019 result.

“It’s Labour’s best performance in this Parliament so give credit where credit is due,” added Sir John.

“But Ed Miliband managed to get eight points or more increase ten times between 2010 and 2015 and it did not get him into 10 Downing Street.

“A significant section of the public are disaffected with the Tories, and some of them are now sufficiently disaffected that they will vote for anybody who will manage to beat them.

“But it’s not clear that this yet converts into enthusiam for Labour and I guess that is the crucial ingredient of the 92 to 97 Parliament that is missing.

“Tony Blair did in the end manage to generate a degree of enthusiam for his party, albeit he inherited a party that was already way ahead in the polls unlike Sir Keir Starmer.

“Otherwise, the Tories do look up what happened in that Parliament, and it’s more than an uncomfortable reminder of what the consequences could be.”

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