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Boris Johnson is becoming unpopular again, which is Keir Starmer’s chance to shine | John Rentoul

Boris Johnson is becoming unpopular again, which is Keir Starmer’s chance to shine | John Rentoul
Opinion polls suggest the Labour leader is catching up with the prime minister when voters are asked who they would prefer in No 10

There is nothing that Labour people enjoy quite as much as wringing their hands at the unfairness of life, the universe and everything. Thus at the time of the local elections in May some of Keir Starmer’s strongest supporters were telling me “he hasn’t got it”. They didn’t think anybody else in the party had “it” either, but they thought that Boris Johnson did have “it” and that Labour was doomed for ever and a day.

Nós vamos, for three months, pelo menos. The balance of power now seems to be shifting again. Something is happening beneath the surface of the opinion polls. The Conservatives remain ahead, but the prime minister’s rating is down and Starmer’s is up. A YouGov poll taken this week put Starmer almost level with Johnson when people were asked who would make the best prime minister: Starmer was on 28 por cento, Johnson on 30 por cento.

Those are not good figures for those of us who prefer positive politics and an engaged citizenry: a candidate called “Not Sure” came top of the poll on 39 por cento. But leaders’ ratings are an important piece of information when assessing voting intention polls. At the moment, the Conservatives are on average seven points ahead of Labour when people are asked how they would vote, so the “best prime minister” figures suggest that Johnson is becoming a liability to his party, while Starmer is an asset to his.

This is not just a matter of who is up and who is down. “Why up and why down” are more interesting questions. Opinion seemed to turn against Johnson when he tried to get out of isolating after Sajid Javid, the health secretary, tested positive for the virus. The prime minister’s U-turn did not save him from the “one rule for them” charge, which keeps cutting through to the public – first with Dominic Cummings’s day trip to Barnard Castle, then with Matt Hancock’s social un-distancing.

That Johnson briefly considered avoiding the rules that apply to everyone else (until Monday, when double-vaccinated people will no longer be required to isolate after coming into contact with someone who tests positive) allowed people to stop giving him credit for the success of the vaccine programme.

No doubt the prime minister will continue to boast about the fastest vaccine rollout in Europe when the House of Commons returns next month, but it will be empty sloganising now that the public has moved on. European countries have caught up and overtaken us, and Johnson is likely to relearn the iron law of the eternal ingratitude of electorates. Instead of being praised for having acted so quickly early on, he will now be criticised for failing to vaccinate children, thus allowing whole-population vaccination rates to fall behind those in Spain, Portugal, Denmark and Ireland.

What is more, everything else is starting to go wrong at once. Those in No 10 are particularly worried about the NHS and HGVs. If, após 18 months of sacrifices, partly in the name of preventing the NHS being overwhelmed, it turns out that the NHS is pretty much overwhelmed anyway because it doesn’t have the capacity to deal with the after-shocks of the pandemic, the voters might turn to the party that is more trusted on health.

The shortage of lorry drivers is more of a short-term problem, but it has the potential to add to the “this country is rubbish” factor that could do serious damage to an incumbent government.

Enquanto isso, the leader of the opposition has got away with supporting the death sentence on Geronimo, the photogenic alpaca that tested positive for tuberculosis. Any politician who can survive an animal-based silly season story deserves to be taken seriously – especially when he is up against a one-person silly-season gaffe machine such as Johnson, with his jokes about closing the pits.

Starmer is no fun, with his boring adherence to rules. “I don’t think we can make an exception in this case," ele disse. But there could be a market for low-fun competence after another couple of years of Johnson’s inattention to detail. Afinal, Starmer had better poll ratings than Johnson for most of his first year as leader – until the vaccine effect kicked in.

In the next few months, both leaders face the daunting challenge of the return to in-person politics. The Labour conference in Brighton next month has a high civil-war risk attached to it: the anti-Starmerites gained control of the Conference Arrangements Committee this week, but Starmer has a majority on the party’s national executive and I think he has the votes he needs on the conference floor.

Johnson, por outro lado, has the big UN climate jamboree in Glasgow in November, with China and India unlikely to sign up to advanced European rhetoric and the whole thing in danger of being written off as a failure.

There may be several more ups and downs of this seesaw before the next election, but for the moment, I think the balance of power is tilting against Johnson and in Starmer’s favour.