Good morning (from Paris: bad trains mean I am still out of the UK this morning). Quite a momentous weekend, huh? Boris Johnson has quit parliament. Nicola Sturgeon has been arrested and subsequently released without charge pending further investigation by Police Scotland.

The big picture of all this is simple, I think: Keir Starmer is going to become prime minister. But it isn’t all bad news for Rishi Sunak, either. Some thoughts on that below.

Starmer in luck

The departure of Boris Johnson and two of his closest allies from parliament as well as the crisis facing the Scottish National party are, obviously, good news for Keir Starmer. The former leads to more stories about the crises engulfing both Rishi Sunak and the Conservatives, and creates two eminently winnable by-elections for his party.

The latter causes difficulties for the SNP — much more on that here — which makes it easier for Labour to win a parliamentary majority, both arithmetically (SNP losses mostly mean Labour gains) but equally importantly, politically. The last thing Labour needs in England are lots of stories about a Labour deal with the SNP, as this research from the pollster Opinium shows. More than half of survey respondents said that a SNP-Labour coalition would result in a mostly “unstable” parliament and only 19 per cent responded that it would be “stable”.

Many in Westminster essentially take it as read that Humza Yousaf is hapless, the SNP is scandal-ridden and heading for serious losses at the next election. This means that, rightly or wrongly, there is not going to be the same focus on Labour and the SNP that there was in 2015. Just as in 2017, the fact that many in Westminster took it as read that Jeremy Corbyn was certain to go down to epochal defeat meant that Theresa May faced far greater scrutiny than her opponent.

All of this helps Keir Starmer and the Labour party.

But it is also good news for Rishi Sunak. Boris Johnson, his bitterest and most high-profile internal rival, is out of parliament and has taken two of his closest allies with him: Nadine Dorries and Nigel Adams. Despite speculation about whether Johnson is hoping to pull off yet another regeneration — excellent analysis by George Parker on that here — if Sunak wants to keep Johnson out of parliament, he can. Whatever happens in those three by-elections, Sunak will still have a comfortable parliamentary majority. Frankly he has less to fear from three more opposition MPs than he did from three members of his own party who are so keen to damage him that they have caused three by-elections.

And while the SNP’s woes help Labour electorally, more importantly, they damage the cause of Scottish independence, which the Conservative party is implacably opposed to, and which would represent a cataclysmic failure for any Tory leader if it took place.

Yes, it’s true to say that Starmer’s chances of reaching Downing Street look better today than they did last week (and they were already pretty good in my view). But it is also true that Sunak’s ability to actually do something with his time in office, whether it is short or long, has improved.

One reason why the coverage across the papers does not reflect that is, to an extent, you get the coverage you seek. Sunak is not, for the most part, acting like a man who is desperately trying to get stuff done. Talk to civil servants and many complain about the lack of drive and urgency. The government’s legislative and political agenda is thin. When government seizes events, ministers are more likely to see them as a question of how they can secure advantage over Starmer, rather than how they can leave a lasting legacy, as per this excellent Times column from the Spectator’s well-connected political editor Katy Balls.

While Sunak is highly unlikely in my view to be able to secure a famous win in the manner of John Major in 1992, he does still have time to deliver lasting policy changes, as Major had by 1997, and even James Callaghan managed in 1979. His chances of doing so have gone up as a result of the past few days.

Now try this

I had a lovely and restorative holiday in Paris and Milan (even the late arrival at Gare de Lyon during what felt like a remake of Noah’s flood, and the unexpected extra night in Paris, from where I write today’s note, was rather fun in its own way), and a wonderful time at the wedding of a friend. Many thanks to George, Lukanyo Mnyanda, Miranda Green and Jude Webber for covering for me with such smart newsletters across the week.

One upside to our delayed train was getting to savour this weekend’s FT. I really enjoyed Isabel Berwick’s piece on buying her first bespoke suit and how it got her through a time of personal crisis, James Shotter’s report on student elections in the West Bank and why they are an important political bellwether, and Adam Samson’s fascinating mini-profile of Turkey’s new central bank governor. And while “enjoyed” isn’t quite the right word, I’m really glad I read Madison Marriage, Antonia Cundy and Paul Caruana Galizia on how Crispin Odey evaded allegations of sexual assault for decades.

Top stories today

  • Covid inquiry begins | The UK Covid-19 Inquiry holds its first public hearing on Tuesday, starting an investigation scheduled to last at least until 2026 and expected to cost well over £100mn. 

  • ‘Good riddance’ | This week will see the most damning criticism in living memory by parliament of a former prime minister with Boris Johnson set to be admonished by the cross-party privileges committee, which he dubbed a “kangaroo court”. “He is the one who’s removed himself from the current political scene,” Grant Shapps said yesterday, defending the work of the committee.

  • Junior doctors walk out | A senior NHS leader has warned that patients will face “significant disruption” and thousands of cancelled appointments as junior doctors in England prepare to walk out for 72 hours in their long-running battle over pay. 

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