Katy Balls

Has Keir Starmer managed to unite the Tory party?

Has Keir Starmer managed to unite the Tory party?
Keir Starmer (photo: Parliament UK / Jessica Taylor)
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This week's Prime Minister's Questions stood out from previous sessions. Boris Johnson appeared the most comfortable he has in recent weeks – boosted by the loud support of the Tory MPs allowed in the socially distanced Commons chamber. In a way this was strange – Conservative MPs have become grumpier with each week when it comes to the government's coronavirus strategy.

So, what's changed? Keir Starmer's intervention on Tuesday calling for a circuit break has had a unifying effect on the party. One of the common complaints against Johnson from lockdown sceptic MPs is that his coronavirus strategy is too restrictive. The three tier system announced on Monday was seen as a further ratcheting up of measures.

However, the Labour leader calling for Johnson to go even further and put in a circuit break – a temporary lockdown – has had two important effects. First, it's reminded Tory MPs that however much they don't like the current restrictions, it could be worse. Second, the Tory party has a dividing line with Labour on coronavirus – one on which many are comfortable to attack the opposition. For now, this means that rather than just complain about their own party leadership, senior Conservatives can turn their ire on Labour. It also means it's Starmer who is expected to answer questions on when a circuit break would end and on what basis this ought to be decided.

But with No. 10 refusing to rule out a circuit break entirely, things could change quickly. If Johnson ends up taking up Starmer's offer of Labour voters to put in place a mini-lockdown, the Prime Minister will go back to being viewed as the problem. 

Written byKaty Balls

Katy Balls is The Spectator's deputy political editor.

Topics in this articlePolitics