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Normal politics is coming back – and Boris Johnson should be worried!

PUBLISHED: 08:56 20 May 2020 | UPDATED: 08:56 20 May 2020

Boris Johnson's poll ratings have been good during the crisis  but as more normal politics returns. he could have a real challenge when he comes up agains Labour's Sir Keir Starmer.  Picture: PIPPA FOWLES/10 DOWNING STREET/PA

Boris Johnson's poll ratings have been good during the crisis but as more normal politics returns. he could have a real challenge when he comes up agains Labour's Sir Keir Starmer. Picture: PIPPA FOWLES/10 DOWNING STREET/PA

Over the last week or so, something has definitely shifted in the national approach to coronavirus, life, and the determination to look beyond the current crisis towards whatever we are going to eventually come to accept as the “new normal.”

Under Sir Keir Starmer's leadership, Labour has looked much more effective than it did. Picture: JESSICA TAYLOR/HOUSE OF COMMONS/PAUnder Sir Keir Starmer's leadership, Labour has looked much more effective than it did. Picture: JESSICA TAYLOR/HOUSE OF COMMONS/PA

We are still very much in the crisis. But as the Prime Minister said in his address to the nation, there is a hint of light at the end of the tunnel and we are beginning to contemplate what life will be like as we emerge from the toughest elements of the lockdown.

And one element of that emergence is the fact that politics appears to be getting back to something like normality again after eight weeks of being caught in a medical maelstrom.

That really should be worrying Boris Johnson, his ministers and Tory MPs – because I’m really not sure they realise what is about to engulf them.

We really have been going through a really strange political period over the last few weeks with Labour getting a new leader and the government apparently riding high in the small number of opinion polls that have been published.

I’m not really surprised by the government’s popularity. At times of national crisis people like to be able to feel that the people in charge know what they are doing and tend to give ministers the benefit of the doubt.

And let’s be honest. Whoever was in charge. Whatever decisions were made on testing, PPE, Nightingale Hospitals, or dealing with care home residents tens of thousands of people would have died with Covid-19 in their system.

Now, though, as we start to emerge through the other end of the crisis political arguments are starting to rear their heads and government ministers are really going to have to start earning their corn again.

Because the opposition they are facing on this side of the epidemic is very different to what they faced as the country went into crisis.

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And the first signs that the public seem to realise this came in some polls last weekend which showed Labour on the rise.

The Tories will say, with some justification, that Labour really couldn’t get any lower – but the Labour leadership in late May is very different to the Labour leadership in late March. It is more organised and more professional. It looks as if the adults have taken over from the student union activists who have been playing Fantasy Politics for the last four and a half years!

Sir Keir Starmer and his team are starting to ask probing questions – and are looking like a credible opposition.

And I suspect some members of the public, who have not been too sympathetic to Labour for a decade, are beginning to listen to them.

It was a strange decision for the government to bring its Immigration Bill back to Parliament this week – seeking to close the door on low-wage immigrants that the country has been relying on so heavily for the last few weeks.

The care workers, the hospital porters and cleaners, the nursing assistants – many from the EU, many of whom would not earn enough to pass the government’s “skills” threshold – are the people that millions of us stand outside our doors every Thursday night to clap.

People of all political persuasions are joining in with the Clap for Carers – but if Labour manage to get their message through that this immigration bill could turn off the supply of carers from Poland or healthcare assistants from Portugal, that might prompt some people to think again before casting their vote at the next election.

And I was particularly disappointed to see the comment in the House of Commons this week that uncontrolled mass migration from the EU was putting pressure on some communities’ hospitals.

I accept some people believe that is the case but where is the evidence for this? Not the gut feeling of people who have read ill-informed rants in national tabloids. The actual hard evidence?

Everyone I have ever spoken to who has worked in a hospital has told me that without those born outside the UK the health service would collapse. And they make it clear they don’t just mean surgeons or ward sisters, they also mean the cleaners, the porters, and other ancillary staff.

The Immigration Bill comes back later this year. I hope that by then the government has found ways to support those people whose work is vital in the health and care sectors.


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