It’s striking how, in the spring, even hearing about others getting their vaccination felt like an almost religious experience, and the mood of euphoria carried through into politics, too. Boris Johnson’s approval rating soared and the Conservatives enjoyed a fantastic set of results in the local elections.
Now, a series of polls show the Prime Minister’s approval rating in decline, as the pandemic recedes as an issue of concern among British voters and the feel-good factor around the vaccine rollout dissipates.
A big part of the Conservative Party’s political success over the past year (and indeed, a big part of the success of Labour in Wales and the SNP in Scotland) is that most voters saw ending the lockdown as the biggest challenge facing the United Kingdom, and the vaccine roll-out as the way to do so. How the next year and new parliamentary term plays out will largely depend on what replaces it.
You can see from Labour’s summer campaigning what Keir Starmer wants the next year to be about: quality jobs (or the lack thereof), fighting crime (or the impact austerity has had on the state’s ability to do so), and the climate crisis (in part as a way of wooing people who dislike robust messages about crime).
And you can see what Rishi Sunak wants the next year to be about: spending money (or rather, not spending money), the risks of inflation (and therefore, the need not to spend money): essentially the same argument that worked for the Conservatives in 2015. In many ways, the big question in the new parliamentary term is going to be which one of them is right – and whether or not Boris Johnson’s own instincts prove to be a variable that his Chancellor can’t control.