Good morning. One of the many reasons I was so excited to join the Financial Times is its astonishing team of journalists whose work I have pored over and enjoyed since I was an undergraduate. One of those journalists, David Gardner, former international affairs editor, died suddenly this week. His obituary is in the paper today and you can read it online here.
Our latest stories
Irish border | The UK government is preparing legislation that will give ministers sweeping powers to tear up the post-Brexit deal governing trade in Northern Ireland, risking a fresh confrontation with Brussels.
Rishi floats | Boris Johnson has insisted he will not scrap the “green levy” on electricity bills, despite calls from Conservatives to drop the surcharge as the cost of living crisis intensifies. He guaranteed that Rishi Sunak, the under-fire chancellor, would still be in post to deliver the Budget in autumn. No word on home secretary Priti Patel, though.
Purses sealed | British consumer confidence has fallen to its lowest point since 2008, fuelling fears of a renewed economic downturn in the second quarter.
Nanny state | The children’s commissioner, Rachel de Souza, has announced she would support England introducing a ban on smacking children — a law already in place in Scotland and Wales. Nadhim Zahawi, the education secretary, and Wes Streeting, the shadow health secretary, say parents should retain their right to smack, according to the Times.
Not waving but . . .
In yesterday’s newsletter, I said the government’s decision to delay rather than seek to block Labour’s attempt to refer Boris Johnson to the standards watchdog was a sign of the prime minister’s precarious political position in the parliamentary party. A few hours later, the government decided to pull the amendment and wave the probe through.
What should we make of the government’s sudden U-turn? One theory, of course, is that Johnson, a noted admirer of the FT, read my newsletter yesterday morning and thought my rationale for why he should face the music now rather than later was essentially sound.
But unfortunately, the more plausible explanation (and the one favoured by Conservative MPs) is that Downing Street realised that their position in the parliamentary party was weaker than they thought the evening before. Johnson’s loose foothold suffered further damage when Steve Baker, the formidable organiser of the Tory party’s Brexit ultras, joined Mark Harper, who had served as chief government whip under David Cameron, in calling for the prime minister to quit.
Johnson now has three “partygate” probes under his belt: by Sue Gray, the police and now, the Commons privileges committee, which will decide if his denials of rule-breaking amount to contempt of parliament.
However, it remains true that while the Conservatives are unhappy with their leader, they aren’t particularly enthused about any of the available alternatives. This is one reason private discontent hasn’t yet turned into public insurrection.
But just because a majority of Conservative MPs aren’t willing to move against the prime minister doesn’t mean they would happily suffer direct political damage to defend him. The lesson from the past 48 hours is that the Tory leader’s political position is much more fragile than it looked.
Also, while Conservative MPs are largely keeping quiet at the moment, any more contentious decision-making (such as events in Northern Ireland or the UK’s economic difficulties) or political flashpoint that requires Johnson to ask anything difficult of his MPs could swiftly prove fatal.
Sondages you win, sondages you lose
One of our readers, James, emailed Inside Politics with a question that had been keeping me up at night:
“Any chance the current polls are misleading in France, with voters in one of the most liberal-minded countries saying they’re voting for Macron, or abstaining, but privately they will opt for Le Pen and we get a big surprise?”
I am not an expert in French politics, so I defer to the various journalists at the FT who are, but I do talk to a lot of pollsters. One reason I am nervous about the French opinion polling is that we know pollsters, across the democratic world, have struggled to accurately gauge the electoral behaviour of men without post-16 qualifications — specifically in the case of France, young men without higher education qualifications.
It may be that this is one reason Hungarian polls underestimated the scale of Viktor Orban’s landslide re-election, and this may be why Donald Trump outperformed the polls in both his defeat in 2020 and his victory in 2016. A surprise is therefore all too plausible. (However, it’s worth noting that Emmanuel Macron outperformed his polling in the first round this year and pollsters accurately predicted the French election in 2017.)
Here in the UK, although there is plenty of political attention lavished on older voters without university degrees, there is not much given to younger men (under 35) without them. As the data analyst Christabel Cooper explains, this isn’t because young British men are less fertile territory for authoritarian-populist things including Brexit: it’s because the 21 per cent of young Britons (overwhelmingly male) who have authoritarian views vote at a much lower rate than either older authoritarians or liberal young British voters.
I think it’s unlikely that the Conservative party is going to try to appeal to young authoritarians while it remains in office, but if in the future either party consciously goes after this group, we shouldn’t be surprised if British opinion polling experiences a similar struggle to what we’ve seen in the US and in Hungary.
Now try this
I spent a lot of yesterday playing the FT’s new climate game, a free choose-your-own-adventure challenge. With the help of a handpicked adviser, your goal is to reach net zero and keep global warming below 1.5C by 2050.
I picked David Deals, a stylish and sexy black man, because like most bad bosses, I hire in my own idealised self-image. I finished just a touch above the 1.5C target — I blame David. (Again, I’m a bad boss.)
Let me know how you got on and who you picked by voting in our poll. Have a lovely weekend.