Revealed: How Labour Plans To Capitalise On The Tory Civil War

A relentless focus on the cost of living crisis, tying Rishi Sunak to Boris Johnson, and promoting Labour women are part of Keir Starmer's plan for election victory.
Keir Starmer and David Lammy with Yvette Cooper and Rachel Reeves - two of the Labour women set to enjoy a higher profile
Keir Starmer and David Lammy with Yvette Cooper and Rachel Reeves - two of the Labour women set to enjoy a higher profile
Stefan Rousseau via PA Wire/PA Images

Shortly before 10 past 12 on Wednesday afternoon, a spontaneous cheer went up in Keir Starmer’s office.

At Prime Minister’s Questions, Boris Johnson had just declared that Labour would “clobber the oil and gas companies”, a reference to the party’s call for a windfall tax on the likes of BP and Shell, currently enjoying multi-billion pound profits thanks to the spike in global energy prices.

Starmer’s team could barely believe their luck. They believe the policy Johnson had derided on national TV is hugely popular and, crucially, easy to understand for families who are already feeling the squeeze.

A Labour source told HuffPost UK: “It’s political suicide to be spending your time explaining how companies making tens of billions of unexpected profits should be left alone when you’re putting up taxes for every working person in the country. It’s total madness. It’s a result of how distracted and disengaged he is. It’s the only explanation.”

As Tory MPs head back to their constituencies - or the ski slopes - for the February recess, HuffPost UK has been speaking to Labour insiders about how the party plans to capitalise on the Conservatives’ woes, whether Boris Johnson survives or not.

It’s the cost of living crisis, stupid

Under investigation by the police and facing calls to resign by many of his own MPs, the PM will spend the half-term break hunkering down in the Number 10 bunker, trying to figure out how to the Metropolitan Police’s investigation into partygate, and the publication of Sue Gray’s full report into the affair.

Keir Starmer, by contrast, is this weekend spending time with his family and watching some football, before going on a tour of the country. He’ll be in the north east, north west and the Midlands, speaking to voters and geeing up party activists ahead of the local elections in May. It’s safe to say the cost of living, and how a Labour government would tackle it, will be the main topic of conversation.

One Labour insider said: “People always ask ‘what are you going to be focusing on next week and we almost apologetically say ‘cost of living and crime’. We’re not quite at the point where people roll their eyes, but it’s the first time in ages Labour has been this disciplined.”

Project Get Rishi

Chancellor of the Exchequer Rishi Sunak.
Chancellor of the Exchequer Rishi Sunak.
JUSTIN TALLIS via Getty Images

While a windfall tax is an easy sell on the doorsteps, Labour believe Rishi Sunak’s own plan to cut people’s bills is unnecessarily complicated and politically disastrous.

As part of a £9bn package announced last week, the Chancellor set out plans to cut energy bills by £200. But the kicker is that families will be forced to repay the cash over the next five years.

One Starmer aide told HuffPost UK: “We think Johnson hasn’t got a clue what the detail of what they are doing is. Sunak has basically railroaded him into a techy fix and it’s only now dawning on him what that entails. It’s not going to survive contact with billpayers.”

While Sunak has been doing his best to distance himself from Johnson, Labour have the Chancellor firmly in their sights. They believe that the longer the prime minister survives, the more damaged his ambitious next door neighbour becomes.

They want to paint Johnson as being too weak and distracted to know what Sunak is up to, and Sunak as a bean counter with no political antennae.

“It was obvious that Sunak literally putting his signature on shiny memes when he was spraying money around was an act of Ozymandias-like hubris,” observed a Starmer ally. “It hasn’t gone unnoticed that now times are tough, he’s stopped doing it.”

Privately, Labour insiders are more impressed by Liz Truss, widely seen as Sunak’s main rival for the top job whenever Johnson departs. In focus groups, the PM and Chancellor come in for criticism while the Foreign Secretary is praised for her tendency to speak her mind. This explains why Labour have done more attacks on her in recent weeks. If Johnson were to fall, it’s clear that Labour want him to be replaced by Sunak, not Truss.

Fixing Labour’s women problem

Were Truss to succeed Johnson in No. 10, she would be the Tories’ third female leader. Labour’s failure to even have one is well-documented, and a criticism which is justifiably levelled at them regularly by the Conservatives.

That is not to say that Labour does not possess plenty of female talent, and party insiders say they will be given higher profiles as the next general election draws closer.

Allies of Starmer describe shadow chancellor Rachel Reeves as “just brilliant” while the leader’s team is now working closely with his former leadership rival Lisa Nandy, the shadow levelling up, housing and communities secretary. “She is one of the best communicators around,” says one admirer.

As one of the few Labour MPs with cabinet-level experience, shadow home secretary Yvette Cooper’s presence on the front bench is seen as vital, while shadow education secretary Bridget Phillipson will also be given more air time in the months ahead. One source said: “She’s tough, no nonsense, working class, north east. But she’s also got a brain the size of a planet.”

Another insider told HuffPost UK: “The talent in the shadow cabinet is the highest it’s been since the Blair years. It’s really, really good, focused and hungry. They are coming to us demanding to do more broadcast. That hasn’t happened in a long time.”

The half-term recess has come at a good time for the embattled prime minister. Labour hope that from now on, things will only get worse for the government - whoever is leading it - between now and the next election.


What's Hot