The PM has a “perennial problem”, according to government sources. He just cannot stop handing out his phone number and he “replies to everyone”. Following news that Boris Johnson “fixed” a tax problem for James Dyson, reports emerged last night that the PM had been advised by the Cabinet Secretary to change his number. He rejected the advice and also signed up to Signal last year, which allows users to erase messages automatically after a set period of time.
Labour has doubled down on its attack on Tory cronyism. Focusing on the Dyson-Johnson texts in PMQs, Keir Starmer argued that there has been a pattern of “sleaze, sleaze, sleaze” in government and accused the PM of “fixing tax breaks for his friends”. It is the logical extension of the oft-repeated line that, while we are all in this Covid-shaped storm together, we are very much not in the same boat. Operating above the heads of ordinary people is a class handing out favours to their friends and making bank. The rhetoric is solid, but will voters care? The tricky task will be turning this sleaze into electoral returns.
Anas Sarwar’s approval rating has doubled in the eight weeks since he took charge of Scottish Labour and his party is gaining ground on the Tories, according to YouGov. Respondents gave Sarwar an overall rating of +18 – ahead of Tory Douglas Ross on -33 while Nicola Sturgeon remains the most popular party leader on +25. Labour’s vote share has increased to 21% in the constituency vote and 17% for the regional list ballot, compared to 17% and 15% last month. The research comes as the Scottish Labour leader prepares to launch his party’s manifesto today with a promise to “dramatically” increase affordable childcare alongside “the biggest job recovery scheme in the history of devolution”.
There is much less positive news for Labour in the West Midlands, however. According to polling from Redfield & Wilton, Liam Byrne is nine points behind Tory candidate Andy Street on first preference. It follows Byrne telling Sky News last week that he should win “easily”. But, with just two weeks to go, Labour is polling at 37% with the Conservatives on 46%. This is a key test for Starmer’s leadership; it is the first ballot in several seats lost in 2019: Birmingham Northfield, West Bromwich East, West Bromwich West, Dudley North, Wolverhampton North East, and Wolverhampton South West. As Byrne told LabourList in November: “This is the signature election in England next year, whether we win this or lose this will tell us whether we are on the way to rebuilding the ‘Red Wall’.”
Today is Stephen Lawrence day, remembering the Black teenager killed in a racist attack in 1993. It comes in the wake of the row over the race disparities report published last month, which concluded that the UK is no longer a country where the “system is deliberately rigged against ethnic minorities”. Labour’s Marsha de Cordova told MPs this week that the report was a missed opportunity and labelled it “incoherent, divisive and offensive”. It also follows news that the government will issue an apology in parliament today after a report found that African, Caribbean and Asian service personnel were not formally commemorated in World War One memorials as their white counterparts were. David Lammy welcomed the decision to apologise and described it this morning as a “watershed moment”.
LabourList columnist Jake Richards is hosting a Society of Labour Lawyers event this evening with the Shadow Justice Secretary and former Barack Obama adviser Ben Rhodes on “defending and promoting human rights in an age of populism and nationalism”. Register here to tune in at 6.30pm.Sign up to LabourList’s morning email for everything Labour, every weekday morning.