The Tories are about to try to reinvent themselves again. Labour needs a plan to stop them succeeding

by David Talbot

Another summer, another Conservative Party leadership contest. Its eventual successor will be crowned the fourth Conservative Prime Minister in six years, no less, which must come close to the party’s 2015 definition of “chaos”. For the Labour Party, after years of tearing itself apart, and four inglorious general election defeats, it must feel that things can indeed only get better. It does, though, have serious lessons to learn from when it allowed the now felled Prime Minister, Boris Johnson, to ascend to Downing Street without so much as a whimper of dissent only three years ago.

Boris Johnson was the heir apparent as soon as he comfortably topped the first ballot amongst Conservative MPs in mid-June 2019. Indeed, fellow candidates for the leadership uniformly declared that there ‘must not be a coronation’. It came as no surprise, therefore, when Johnson did indeed become Prime Minister the following month.

Rather than being greeted by a barrage of hostility, the Labour Party barely seemed to register the change of Prime Minister. Unbelievably, it took over 24 hours for Labour to acknowledge Boris Johnson’s new government at all. A tired and rather hackneyed press release was eventually sent at 5pm the following evening tying Boris Johnson to Donald Trump, and macabrely calling for an early general election.

It was stunningly complacent. The Labour Party appeared utterly becalmed at the prospect of Prime Minister Boris Johnson; so much so that Jeremy Corbyn did not hold a single strategy meeting on how his party would tackle the Prime Minister until after the summer recess.

This was, though, systematic of Corbyn’s Labour at the time. The Conservative Party had spent the previous two and a half years learning the harsh lessons from the 2017 election. Labour had, however, convinced itself of its righteousness and believed all it had to do was repeat the same tactics it had employed last time. It was obvious that whilst Labour thought nothing had changed, everything had. Johnson was an incoming Prime Minister hellbent on an early general election, with a clear strategy, a united team, and a heaving war chest.

Labour made a similar, though not identical, mistake when David Cameron became the fresh-faced Conservative leader in 2005. In the ancient days of the last Labour government, the party agonised over whether its new foe was “a chameleon”, a Thatcherite, an empty PR suit or a toff.

The early throes of Sir Keir Starmer’s response to Johnson’s demise has, at last, been encouraging. Labour rightly allowed the Conservatives to just get on with destroying their own and it has deftly closed long-telegraphed Conservatives’ attacks. In the past week, Labour has ruled out a coalition with the SNP, pledged to ‘make Brexit work’ and – crucially – not to take the country back into the EU.

With the Conservatives embarking on a second summer leadership contest in three years, Labour must now use its time wisely. Starmer began to sketch the outlines of Labour’s approach in Johnson’s immediate demise; 12 years of Conservative failure, and a clear grasp of the ‘time for change’ mantle. The former an understanding that Johnson successfully portrayed his government as ‘new’, and the latter a hint that Labour will begin to flesh out its vision for its ‘two-terms’ strategy.

Nobody but the most Conservative of clairvoyants can predict the outcome of this latest leadership election. There will seemingly be a cast of thousands running, for one. But the Conservative Party will surely use it as firebreak with the chaotic Johnson administration. Labour must have a coherent plan and strategy in place to meet any and all eventualities.

David Talbot is a political consultant

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2 Responses to “The Tories are about to try to reinvent themselves again. Labour needs a plan to stop them succeeding”

  1. Anne says:

    Agree. Those who do not want Labour in power look for reasons to discredit them. Beergate has now passed, but the saying ‘Labour has no policies’ or ‘what would Labour do’ keep occurring.These will persist. It is true that Labour is high in the polls because of Tory poor perforation and Johnson disarray- his only plan was ‘get Brexit done.’ A lot does depend on who becomes leader of the Tories and if they are able to develop some order. This is going to be an uphill task for them – mainly because of the poor quality of Ministers. There are some very big issues at stake- Northern Ireland, Scottish Independence, cost of living crisis to mention the biggest, but there are many more. Labour has done well to get to the position it has, but in order to take the next step – credible solutions must be found for the great problems out there. These must be communicated to the public, but Labour does have good communicators – Rachel Reeves very good on the economy, Lisa Nandy on levelling up. Glenda Jackson say that Starmer requires voice coaching! Not too sure about that. His position on ‘make Brexit work’ is the correct position. He needs to build on this. Best of luck.

  2. John P Reid says:

    Boris was averaging 6% behind in the polls due to tory votes either going Reform or Libdem

    Attlee in 49 Wilson in 65 were 10% behind can’t beck and win
    The personal attacks do nothing
    If mourdant or Badenoch win
    Labour will never win again

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