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Good morning. Our run-through of the main events from last week’s elections continues with two rare good news stories for the Conservatives. Plus, I consider the implications of Sir Keir Starmer’s big political gamble. All feedback and comments appreciated via the email address below.
Our latest stories
Cutting back | The number of UK households skipping a food shop or missing meals has risen by 57 per cent in three months, affecting one in seven homes, according to research by YouGov.
Locking protesters | The Queen’s Speech today will include new laws that will allow prison sentences of up to 12 months for those who “interfere with key national infrastructure” and create new criminal offences of “locking on” to prevent people chaining themselves to railways and buildings.
Home bargains | UK retail sales fell in April as shoppers tightened their belts in response to the cost of living crisis, according to new industry data. Big-ticket items such as furniture, electricals and other homeware were hit hardest.
The Canzini effect | Some business reforms have been dropped from the Queen’s Speech. Whitehall said the purge was down to political priorities and practical issues, but also highlighted the influence of David Canzini, a deputy chief of staff to the prime minister.
A hard Rayner’s gonna fall
The story appeared in newspapers more than a year ago that Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer had a beer while sharing a takeaway with colleagues at the end of a campaign visit in April 2021, when the UK was under ‘Tier 2’ restrictions. Now Starmer and his deputy, Angela Rayner, have announced that they will resign if they are issued with fixed penalty notices by Durham police, which reopened its investigation after new evidence emerged.
How big of a gamble is it?
In practice, not that big. If Durham Constabulary either find that the Labour leader has no case to answer or retain their pre-existing policy of not issuing fines retrospectively, Starmer can continue in post. If they don’t, then he can’t. That is no more true today than it was yesterday. As Robert Shrimsley writes:
Having called so unequivocally for the prime minister’s resignation after he was fined, Starmer’s position would have been untenable were he to be similarly punished over a legitimate campaign event in Durham which was rounded off with curry and beer. He would be the former director of public prosecutions, the self-proclaimed hard man on law and order, who himself broke the law. The risks are therefore not as great as they might appear.
Of course, one reason why the Labour leader has done this is that he doesn’t think he’s going to be fined. As Jess Elgot reports in the Guardian, the party thinks it can prove that Starmer worked after his dinner, which is essential to their account of events. My former colleagues Henry Zeffman and Patrick Maguire have the inside scoop on his thinking for the Times.
I’m not convinced there is all that much upside here for Starmer. Most voters think politicians as a class are hypocrites who try to go back on their word, and I think the only way for the Labour leader to convince most people he would actually resign is, well, to resign, at which point his principled bona fides are not much use to him.
But the gamble does mean a renewed focus on who might replace him. This would either highlight how his leadership has proved to be a significant departure from Labour’s recent past or the extent to which his rule changes make a return to that past much more difficult. For Conservatives, that means plenty of finger-pointing and recrimination. Many Tory MPs worry that their gung-ho colleagues might have helped to bring about the thing they fear: a Labour party led by Lisa Nandy.
What’s in a Bame?
The local elections were, by any stretch of the imagination, a disaster for the Conservative party. They lost seats everywhere and did particularly badly in London, with two exceptions.
We’re going to talk about those exceptions today: Harrow and Croydon.
Although no party won an overall majority on Croydon council, the Conservatives’ Jason Perry won the Croydon mayoralty election. Coupled with Tory gains, this means that he will be able to appoint cabinet members and set council budgets, safe in the knowledge that the other parties will not be able to muster the required two-thirds majority to block him.
In many ways, the south London local authority is the most interesting result politically — read William Wallis’s account of the departed Labour administration’s difficulties here — but the least revealing.
Croydon’s poor record in office was so bad that even in a favourable atmosphere for its party — Labour led the Conservatives by five points nationwide and gained seats across much of the capital — it lost ground. It’s exactly the type of ‘against the tide’ gain that embattled governments usually talk up when they have nothing else good to say about local elections.
But that type of gain is usually fool’s gold: Labour should be able to regain control of Croydon council next time round if they get their act together.
Conservative gains in Harrow, where the party won control for the first time in 12 years, are much more significant. In Harrow, on London’s north-western fringes, successful Tory efforts to woo British Hindus are a big part of the story. In 2017, while Labour was seeing double digit swings towards them in the capital, the Labour-to-Tory swing in Harrow was a much more meagre 3.8 per cent. This was partly because of strong Conservative performances among British Hindus.
There is a lot going on here: the large number of British Indians in prominent roles in the Conservative government, the political closeness of the Johnson government to that of Narendra Modi in India. (One Tory MP joked to me before the result that Johnson’s trip to India was “his only effective local election pit-stop” — a gag that proved prophetic.) Another part is just the long-term success of the Tories in cultivating communal media.
This is also a good indicator of the uselessness of that catch-all term Bame: black and minority ethnic. The Conservative party does well among British Indians, particularly Hindus, and British Jews. It does particularly badly among British Bangladeshis, and even more so among Muslims. Even the term ‘Black’ is not all that helpfully specific because it obscures quite different political choices among Black British voters with ties to the Caribbean and those without.
The big lesson of Tory gains in Harrow is that as the UK becomes more diverse, opinion polling that doesn’t have a good grasp on the nation’s diverse population is going to miss important differences in electoral behaviour. That will become increasingly significant in elections both in London and throughout the UK.
Now try this
Five years ago (my god, I’ve wasted my youth and my looks), I cooked my way through Delia Smith’s seminal work, How To Cook, for the Guardian. Now my former colleague at the New Statesman, Kate Mossman, has gone one better and interviewed Smith about her new book, which exchanges recipes for philosophy.