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Boris Johnson capped off a successful 2019 after sealing a crushing defeat of Jeremy Corbyn and the Labour Party in December’s general election, handing him an 80-seat majority in the House of Commons that enabled him to get his Brexit deal voted through the UK parliament. But while the next general election isn’t scheduled to take place until May 2024, the coronavirus crisis sweeping through the UK and the election of Sir Keir Starmer to replace Mr Corbyn as Labour leader has significantly ramped up the pressure. Mr Johnson’s Conservative Party Government has been heavily criticised for not providing enough personal protective equipment (PPE) to frontline NHS staff, while Sir Keir has been quick to pick holes in apparent discrepancies on the true impact of the pandemic in care homes.
He has also come under attack for not enforcing a nationwide lockdown soon enough, as well as for confusing messaging, particularly dropping the “stay at home” slogan in place for the “stay alert” when providing an update on how the UK plans to ease measures that have been in force since March 23.
The lockdown has seen businesses close their doors and some even go under, with Government pledging hundreds of billions of pounds to support workers through the crisis and desperately plug gaping holes in the economy.
But earlier this month, the Bank of England warned the UK economy could shrink by a massive 25 percent during the April to June quarter, sending the country collapsing to its deepest recession in more than 300 years, while the Office for Budget Responsibility warned the Government’s response to the coronavirus crisis will cost taxpayers a massive £123.2 billion.
Mr Johnson was also dealt a further blow earlier this week when when a YouGov poll revealed he has been overtaken by Sir Keir in the approval ratings – despite the Labour leader only being in his top job for six weeks.
Ben Harris-Quinney, chairman of the Bow Group think tank, warned the Government’s economic approach means UK was already going into the coronavirus crisis with very little to spend from its own coffers, resulting in a disastrous scenario the economy “may never recover from”.
He told Express.co.uk: “Boris’ economic approach, even before coronavirus struck, could have been presented by Gordon Brown. It focused heavily on borrowing and spending, and there was very little to mark it as conservative.
“The major problem with two decades of this approach is it has left borrowing, debt, and deficit levels at record highs. Whilst many think the Conservatives in 2010 implemented austerity, they have actually doubled the national debt in a decade.
“It means going into the coronavirus crisis, the cupboards are bare, and we face the very real prospect of an economic collapse we may never recover from.”
The Bow Group chairman added: “It is very unusual for a Government to remain in power under these circumstances, and so winning the next election will be far more challenging than it appeared just a few months ago.
“Five years is however a political eternity, in that time we are likely to see new parties rise and existing parties change.
“It gives Boris the time and space to adjust to this new reality, but coping with it and maintaining the Conservative’s current position in Parliament will be a herculean task.”
Alistair Jones, associate professor for the Department of Politics, People and Place at De Montfort University in Leicester, warned Mr Johnson and the Tories should be “very worried” by the threat of Sir Keir and his Labour Party.
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He told this website: “The levels of ineptitude demonstrated by senior Cabinet members in dealing with the pandemic are only matched by the US.
“The fact that none of the politicians are willing to apologise – it is always “I’m sorry you think that” – is leaving the public more and more disgruntled.
“When investigations are carried out as to the numbers of deaths which could have been prevented comes to light, Starmer will use his legal background to expose how poorly senior UK politicians acted.
“The Conservative Party has created a rod for its own back in choosing their current party leader. They should be very worried.”
Tim Bale, deputy director of the UK in a Changing Europe think tank and professor of politics at the Queen Mary University of London, warned many of the seats taken by the Conservatives from Labour in December’s election were only won by slim margins.
He added if the opposition could repeat successful turnarounds from elections in 1945 and 1997 to swing towards a majority, “it would be all to play for”.
Professor Bale said: “The Conservatives have had it too easy for too long – it will take them time to remember what it means to face a credible opposition party and to work out how best to play Starmer.
“Many of the seats they flipped from Labour in 2019 were won on fairly small margins.
“Labour needs a 1945 or 1997 style swing to win an overall majority but a four per cent swing would see the Tories lose their majority – at which point there would be all to play for.”
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