Lisa Nandy grilled on sleaze allegations within Labour party
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Tom Harris – a Labour transport minister under Gordon Brown – warned that the Conservative Party has “plenty of time to regroup before an election”. His intervention comes as recent opinion polls have put Labour marginally ahead of the Tories.
A Savanta ComRes survey on November 12 had the largest split, with Labour on 40 percent and the Tories on 34 percent.
The change in polling is widely seen as a reaction to the “Tory sleaze” row, in which several MPs have been accused of lobbying on behalf of special interests, having second jobs and using parliamentary offices to conduct private business.
Public outcry was sparked after Tory MPs supported an amendment to delay a suspension decision against Owen Paterson, who had been found to have breached the MPs’ code of conduct in four different ways.
The North Shropshire MP was found to have been paid by Randox – a clinical diagnostics company that does COVID-19 testing and has won Government contracts running into the hundreds of millions of pounds.
The amendment had initially been backed by Downing Street, but the Prime Minister reversed his decision after public backlash. Mr Paterson later resigned, and publicly denies wrongdoing.
Following this, it was revealed that former Attorney General Sir Geoffrey Cox earned nearly £900,000 as a lawyer advising on a corruption inquiry in the British Virgin Islands.
Writing in today’s (Monday) Telegraph, Mr Harris said: “Labour cannot win an election on the back of ‘Tory sleaze’, however helpful to their cause such headlines are.
“They will win if they have an inspiring and popular leader and if their shadow ministers say and do the right things.
“Just as the Tories will not lose because of Owen Paterson or Sir Geoffrey Cox.
“There is plenty of time to regroup before an election. Panicking over polls is an indulgence the Conservative Party cannot afford.
“Though it would certainly help the Government if they could just stop making stupid mistakes.”
He added: “In times of Covid, Brexit, culture wars and tax rises, parliamentary sleaze – especially since it’s on a measurably smaller scale than 1996 or the expenses scandal of 2009 – will not turn out to be the salient factor in the next general election.
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“In other words, Labour MPs need to get two things: a grip, and some perspective.
“Instead of focusing on a few recent snapshot polls, they would do well to consider that when ministers came under fire and were second guessed for virtually every decision they took to deal with Covid, as they presided over an unprecedented and unexpected economic slump, as hundreds of thousands of people died in hospital and at home, the Conservatives maintained their lead as voters’ preferred party of government.”
Mr Harris, who publicly admitted to voting Tory at the last two elections, drew historical parallels with other elections that followed the Tories being behind Labour in the polls, only to win a majority.
He asked: “Has Boris Johnson’s unforced error over parliamentary standards and the subsequent drip-feed of individual Tory MPs behaving badly produced a sea change in voter perceptions akin to the final years of John Major’s administration, when the ‘cash for questions’ scandal removed all doubt about the need for a change of government?
“Or does this feel more like the Westland crisis ten years earlier, when Thatcher was brought to the brink of disaster, only to recover and lead her party to its second consecutive three-figure landslide majority?”
He noted that after that crisis, Labour leader Neil Kinnock found himself “briefly” in the lead in the polls – with one predicting a 65-seat Labour majority if the election had been held there and then.
“But an election was not held immediately. It was held more than a year later and we know what the result of that was. In 1986 Thatcher and her ministers got their act together. Kinnock and his shadow team did not,” Mr Harris said.
The director of Vote Leave in Scotland said that Labour supporter friends were talking “excitedly” about the polls, which had inclined him to “counsel caution”.
He added: “The fact that having a poll lead at all is such a new and exciting experience tells its own story about how the party is performing.”
While in power, “parties are expected to be playing catch-up with the opposition, right up until the point where an election hoves into view and voters finally focus on their priorities for the next four years. Polling deficits are not the end of the world or even for the governing party. Not yet, anyway.”
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