Ben Nunn was Director of Communications to Labor Party Leader Keir Starmer from 2017 to 2021. It is now Senior lawyer at Lexington.
The Queen’s Jubilee weekend taught us something about politics: Prince Charles has little sway over Tory MPs.
He told a street party in Kennington on Sunday that he hoped after the long weekend we wouldn’t be back “to all the bickering”.
However, on Monday morning, the chairman of the 1922 committee, Graham Brady, announced a vote of confidence in Prime Minister Boris Johnson. And by Monday night Tory MPs had seriously undermined Johnson’s authority.
Such moments of crisis for the government, however, present opportunities for the opposition – and the Labor Party should seize them.
I have always been skeptical of Boris Johnson being a universally popular politician. It is often forgotten that his personal ratings in the last general election were lower than those of his predecessor Theresa May in 2017. However, although he has always been a political pot, the collapse of his authority over the past year has was really amazing.
Few could have foreseen in December 2019 that the Conservative Party would face a leadership crisis two years later. Johnson survived last night’s vote, but his command is badly damaged. Many privately admit that the rebel vote was higher than loyalists had hoped.
Johnson is now a seriously injured prime minister. He has done worse than previous Tory leaders in the face of confidence votes – Thatcher in 1990, Major in 1995 and May in 2018. Questions remain about whether he can survive, whether ministers will resign and, if he does not remain not, who will succeed him. .
At the same time, days like this are always strange for the official opposition party. Westminster will be bustling this morning: Tory MPs will be crammed into small groups trying to figure out what’s going on; reporters will walk around trying to get the next scoop on who’s in and who’s out; and television cameras set up on College Green, opposite the House of Commons, will broadcast assessments of rebels, loyalists and analysts.
However, Labor Party staff will show up to work feeling – frankly – out of place. Political advisers will find their phones deadly silent this morning. It’s a strange feeling – and one I’ve felt on more than one occasion, particularly during Theresa May’s premiership, amid endless speculation about her leadership.
The simplest thing Labor can do right now is to profit from the pointless – step back and watch the Conservative Party tear itself apart on national television. However, that would be the wrong thing to do.
Politics is fundamentally about choice: tax cuts versus tax increases, furloughs versus stays, austerity versus investment. Now is the chance for Labor – and in particular party leader Keir Starmer – to set out the choices he favours.
In the coming days, an intervention should frame the government crisis in Labour’s terms, in a way that speaks directly to the country – that the choice is between a divided government that can no longer govern and a united opposition that is ready to govern.
This is also an opportunity to tackle the conservative brand. Despite yesterday’s result, which saw 41% of the Conservative parliamentary party vote against Johnson, Starmer still doesn’t know which prime minister he will face in the 2024 election – but he does know which party he will face.
Starmer should steer his criticism away from Johnson and focus on the government as a whole, whether it’s accusations of incompetence, weak economic growth or a lack of cohesive vision.
And finally, now is the time to skip Westminster and talk to the country.
Most people who wake up this morning worry about the same things they did yesterday: the economy, the skyrocketing cost of living, their jobs, and the state of their local community. These are the issues that matter now, and these are the issues that will determine the next election. While the government is arguing with itself, Labor can make the most important points about the country and, crucially, about how to grow the economy.
One thing, however, is clear. Whatever the Conservative Party chooses to do – whether Johnson stays or goes in the next few months – I’m sorry to say, Prince Charles, the feuds aren’t going to end anytime soon.