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27 March 2018updated 28 Jun 2021 4:39am

The expulsion of Russian diplomats is giving Theresa May a boost

There's a growing mood at Westminster that the PM might have got her groove back.

By Stephen Bush

The United Kingdom’s allies are to expel 100 Russian diplomats in response to the nerve agent attack on the Skripals. It’s unquestionably a diplomatic coup for Theresa May. While the unity among Britain’s allies may not last, and the Russian response may test domestic support for a prolonged stand-off here, it is impressive even to have got this far, given the diplomatic constraints the UK operates under. 

It adds to the growing mood at Westminster that the PM might have got her groove back. The theory runs like this: she’s had a good crisis, and if she can get a good Brexit deal, there will be no real pretext to get rid of her. Another defensive reshuffle in which no plausible better candidate emerges and you can just see how she might end up fighting the next election after all. 

Added to that, Labour seem to be falling back into their pre-election pattern with members of the parliamentary Labour party from across the its traditions, and not merely the irreconcilables, attending yesterday’s protest against anti-Semitism in the party. The Corbynsceptic crisis – they don’t want to split, but have no real strategy to convince Labour’s 600,000 odd members to back them either – didn’t go away after the election but it did at least die down a bit. Now it is back and it is not clear what will make it recede again.

With the PM’s stature strengthened by recent events, SW1 seems to have settled back into its pre-election groove: Theresa May on the up-and-up again, Labour split and heading for a re-run of a defeat from times past: except this time the defeat that everyone in Westminster is predicting is 1992, not 1983. 

But there’s an important difference, not only between 1992 and 2022 but between Labour before the election and Labour now, and that difference is Jeremy Corbyn. While you can – and people are – querying whether the Labour leader’s third statement on anti-Semitism and his tougher line on Russia in the House yesterday are the result of expediency, they showcase the Labour leadership’s new unwillingness to suffer prolonged damage on battles not of its choosing. (Also noteworthy: ultra-loyalist Rebecca Long-Bailey acknowledging that the party has not done enough on anti-Semitism.) 

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Whether the new model Corbyn has arrived in time to repair the mistakes of the old will decide whether Westminster’s new consensus does any better than those that came before.