Britain’s two big political parties, the governing Conservatives and the main opposition Labour, are level pegging for the first time in over a year in a new opinion poll published Sunday.
The poll, by Opinium for the Observer newspaper, gives both Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s Conservatives and Labour 40 points each. It means a lead of 26 points at its peak for Johnson has been wiped out.
Political commentators in London believe the result will send shockwaves through Westminster as politicians prepare to return to the House of Commons Tuesday after their lengthy summer recess.
The big question will be why has such a wide margin been squandered in a matter of months, with the government’s handling of the COVID-19 pandemic and recent U-turns by government ministers in the firing line for criticism.
On the opposition benches, the result will be welcomed by Labour Members of Parliament (MPs), headed by Keir Starmer, who replaced former party leader Jeremy Corbyn earlier this year.
Opinium’s Adam Drummond said, “This is the first time Labour have drawn level since July 2019 when both main parties were in freefall and losing votes to the Brexit Party and the Liberal Democrats.”
Since Johnson became prime minister, the Conservatives “typically had a double digit lead, peaking in March/April this year when they were seen to be handling the pandemic and lockdown fairly well while Labour changed leader. In the five months since that peak, the lead has gradually declined from 26 percent to 0 percent now.”
The Observer reported that as MPs prepare to return to Westminster, politician Charles Walker, who is vice-chair of the committee of Conservative backbenchers, told the newspaper that the recent string of U-turns had left many colleagues in despair, with some struggling to support and defend their government to constituents.
Walker told the Observer that governing by U-turn is unsustainable.
Walker, whom the paper described as a normally counted firm Johnson loyalist, said, “Too often it looks like this government licks its finger and sticks it in the air to see which way the wind is blowing. This is not a sustainable way to approach the business of governing and government.”
As well as steering Britain through the pandemic, Johnson faces a tough potentially make-or-break month September on Brexit negotiations with the European Union (EU).
Both sides are scheduled to hold informal talks this week ahead of a formal negotiating round the following week.
The Sunday Times reported Sunday both sides regard no deal as much more likely than it was a month ago.
Johnson has insisted while being prime minister that there will be no extension of Britain’s transition period beyond Dec. 31. The deadline was set when Britain’s membership in the EU ended on Jan. 31. The aim of the transition period was to allow both sides to strike a permanent post-Brexit trade deal.
The Sunday Times commented, “EU officials no longer think an agreement is likely to be struck before the European Council meeting on Oct. 15-16. They are informally discussing whether there should be a separate Brexit leaders’ summit, or whether a ‘legal vehicle’ could be devised to extend talks past Dec. 31.”