Labour has staked a bold claim to be the true party of patriotism and the best of British values, as four days of nationwide celebrations to mark the Queen’s platinum jubilee draw to a close on Sunday.
Senior Labour party figures said Boris Johnson – who was booed outside St Paul’s Cathedral on Friday – was no longer seen by the public as a leader who upholds the British standards of integrity, decency and honesty that the country has long been admired for across the world.
Writing in today’s Observer, Lucy Powell, the shadow secretary of state for digital, culture, media and sport, says Labour is the party which now stands up for much-loved British institutions – including the BBC and Channel 4 – which the Tories want to undermine in pursuit of a series of ideological “culture wars”.
“Being patriotic isn’t something that Labour has always looked comfortable with,” Powell admits. “But progressive politics has been at its most successful and transformational when it captures the best of British values, nurtures our world-famous institutions and instils a belief that our best days lie ahead of us, not just in the past.
“A quick survey across British politics today tells us that it’s not the Conservative party which enshrines these patriotic principles but Labour.”
Powell adds that the way Johnson was booed on Friday shows that people no longer see him as having the standards necessary to lead the country. His refusal to resign over Partygate, despite having been fined for attending a short birthday party in Downing Street, showed he lacked the honour and integrity that the British people hold dear. “In contrast, Keir Starmer’s public pledge to resign were he to receive a fine was a typically British thing to do. The prime minister has repeatedly shown he is unable to uphold those values, and the reaction of the public at St Paul’s showed they know it too.”
Labour is determined to show itself as patriotic and pro-British following Jeremy Corbyn’s time as leader, when many of its traditional voters switched to the Tories. Many frontbench Labour figures are now filmed making speeches in front of large union jacks.
Corbyn had pushed for the monarchy to be abolished early on in his time in parliament, and failed to sing the national anthem at a commemoration of the Battle of Britain in 2015.
As Johnson faces a possible vote of no confidence in parliament this week at the hands of his own MPs, Labour grandees also drew contrasts between the dignity of the Queen and the behaviour of the prime minister.
The long-serving Labour MP Dame Margaret Hodge said: “His contempt for the truth and lack of integrity is not what Britain represents. The contrast with the Queen – above all the lasting image of her sitting alone at her husband’s funeral, with that of Johnson raising a glass at an unnecessary Downing Street party – could not be more striking.”
Former foreign secretary Dame Margaret Beckett said she found it “astonishing” to see and hear a British prime minister being booed at an event to celebrate the Queen’s 70 years on the throne. “It was especially so because for once he was looking extremely tidy – not like the usual unmade bed.”
Beckett added that Labour had always been at heart a patriotic party although recently this had been “obscured”, during the Corbyn years. For the Tories it would, she said, be “dangerous” if their supporters began to see through their leader’s apparent charm and instead see someone who in their eyes fell below British standards of decency.
Chris Bryant, the Labour MP and chair of the Commons committee on standards, said: “With his lies, his contempt for the truth and his evident belief that there is one set of rules for him and another for everyone else, Johnson is trailing our national honour through the mud.
“The patriotic thing would now be for him to resign before he does more damage.”
When MPs return to Westminster on Monday, all eyes will be on Sir Graham Brady, chair of the 1922 Committee of Tory MPs. If Brady has received 54 or more letters demanding a vote of confidence in Johnson, a secret ballot will be held early this week. Before MPs departed for the four-day jubilee holiday, about 30 Tories had made clear they wanted Johnson to go and more than a dozen had been highly critical.
Last night, a leading critic said: “I’m not sure it will happen this week but it will happen soon. We are certainly not a million miles away.” Another leading figure said a confidence vote might not happen this week but was a “dead cert” before MPs go away for the long summer break in July.
If Johnson, who is under increasing internal criticism from all sections of his party over lockdown-breaking parties in Downing Street, fails to secure the support of a majority of Conservative MPs in a confidence vote, he will have to resign as Tory leader and prime minster.
Asked about Johnson being booed on Friday, Starmer told PA Media on Saturday: “In many respects, I wasn’t surprised at that. I think so many people across the country are fed up with the government, particularly its inaction on the cost of living.”
He added: “A crowd will decide for itself how it wants to acknowledge, and they were there to acknowledge and thank the Queen – that was absolutely in everybody who was there.
“They booed the prime minister, they are fed up with the government, but the vast majority were there to say thank you to the Queen, and in a sense reflect on what she has given to our country, which is absolutely phenomenal.”