It's been a bruising week for the government as ministers have come under fire over their involvement in David Cameron’s Greensill lobbying scandal. Labour have gone on the attack on the issue – with Keir Starmer putting in one of his more assured performances at PMQs on the topic this week. With numerous inquiries now due and new revelations emerging each day, the affair is not about to go away.
But although Labour have been making hay with the lobbying row, Starmer still has his own problems. A reminder of the challenge facing the Labour leader in next month's local elections can be found in the latest YouGov/Times poll. It found that the Conservatives have a 14-point lead over Labour – with the Tories on 43 points to Labour's 29. While it is only one poll, it does fit into a pattern – with recent polls showing the Tories enjoying a vaccine boost as Labour fall back.
In Labour circles, there has been an effort for months now to downplay expectations over the local elections. Party aides insist this is genuine – rather than pitch rolling so an average result is viewed as better than expected. Meanwhile, Boris Johnson has been doing similar – telling ministers that the local elections could be tricky for the Tories as the last time they occurred Labour were in a very bad place.
In theory, Labour ought to make some gains – the last time a lot of these councils were contested is when Jeremy Corbyn’s popularity was at its lowest and Theresa May was 18 points ahead. But if this poll – which suggests the largest Tory lead yet – proves correct, talk of expectation management may prove false and the party really could falter badly in Starmer's first electoral test since becoming Labour leader. Should that happen, criticism of Starmer will build not just in the press but his own party. There is already pressure on the Labour leader to reshuffle his top team. A bad result in May will only increase internal jitters over Starmer's cautious approach.