I am not as pessimistic as many Tories are about a wipeout at the next general election. Admittedly, I no longer bang on doors or go to fund raisers. But I kid myself that I am still in touch. Are the Tories going to lose? Perhaps. Maybe even probably. Have the years under the Johnson abomination and the Truss reckless incompetence wrecked the party’s reputation for honesty, decency & economic competence? Of course.
It’s easy to delude ourselves that now that the grown ups are in charge and the economy is stabilising, borrowing is going down and the markets no longer regard us a rainy Greece that there will be a chance for redemption and that the party will be forgiven. Neither will happen for a very, very long time. Comparisons to 1997 are a dangerous game. The electorate never forgave us for interest rates nudging 15%, negative equity, businesses going to the wall, despite the fact that freeing us from the ERM revolutionised the economy, leaving it as a perfect spring board for Tony Blair to splash out on health and education. But there is a marked difference in mood music today. Tony Blair was young, vibrant, exciting and charismatic. He lead a team with a spring in its step. There was a buzz in the slogan, It’s Time For Change. And a truth. Things Can Only Get Better became an anthem for a new optimism which caught the imagination of voters.
And what of Starmer and his party? There is no excitement, no charisma, no buzz, no feeling of optimism. Just a grey nothingness. To his credit he was quite successful in his early forensic cross examinations of Johnson, but just gave up when confronted with a weekly barrage of lies bluster and bombast. Truss was easier because of her robotic inadequacy and inability not just to think on her feet but to think at all. Sunak is more of a problem. He is honest, decent and competent. His weakness is that his warring factions are eager to fight. Starmer also is honest, decent and competent with warring factions eager to fight. Sunak hasn’t purged the party of Brexit/Remainer dissent and Starmer hasn’t purged his party of the toxic horror of Corbyn. However, Blair had purged his party of any meaningful dissent with Prescott acting as his ersatz working class conscience to reassure the party in times of need.
So what Starmer needs for a Tory wipe out is to engender a sense of excitement, purpose, renewal. Where is the stardust in having an elected House of Lords which probably won’t happen without a distracting fight? Where is the magic in having a crack at private education? When I saw these great policy announcements, I just slumped back and thought, ‘is that it’? Is that what is going to give the nation a spring in its step?
If the Tories will not be forgiven for crashing the economy, Labour will not be forgiven for their nudge nudge wink wink support for strikes that will make Christmas miserable for the most vulnerable and destroy vast swathes of what is left of the hospitality industry. I have an inkling that the rail strike will be over by the weekend simply because this is their moment of maximum power. If they wreck Christmas the RMT will be cast into the furnace of public fury. And Mick Lynch is no fool.
Starmer’s Achille’s heel is Labour’s umbilical chord with the unions.
And what of the Lib Dem’s? Apart from winning by elections what are they for? Utterly, utterly hopeless. Attracting middle of the road Tories is now a pipe dream.
Which brings us on to the far right parties who are in the doldrums. Tice’s Renewal and Hamilton’s UKIP are desperate to get some traction on….. anything. They are desperate to scare us all with some bogus secret plot to betray us on Brexit. But not even the ERG think that will happen under Sunak, who is a realist. Truss destroyed any form of comeback for mad right wing growth policies. So what is left? The bogey man of immigration. If a carpet biting, frothing at the mouth Priti Patel couldn’t control our borders and the clinically deranged Braverman with all her bluster and bravado is finding it almost impossible, not even the desperately looking for a new political vehicle Farage, will cut any ice with the public.
I remember we used to optimistically say in the 1980s, ‘let’s have a grown up debate on immigration’. We still haven’t managed and I doubt if we ever will. The conundrum is pretty simple. We have about a million vacancies and about 5 million people who are economically inactive. So let’s get them ready for work. Good idea. But the time lag is enormous. And employers can’t wait. So in the short term let’s bring in some people to do the work. Hospitality is desperately short of workers and hardly anyone is applying to catering college. Bringing people over at the moment is hardly taking our jobs. The Poles and Romanians were heading home even before Brexit.
And look at the health service with thousands of vacancies for doctors and nurses. What is really troubling about this is that government tells us we will train our own. This, of course, is utter bollocks. We have cut nursing bursaries to the bone. We have set up med schools to train a new generation of doctors which only admit foreign students. Last year 85% of British students applying for med school were turned away. It’s Treasury policy…..foreign students bring in more money. Insane.
And we have a housing crisis. An affordable house housing crisis. There is only one way to solve this and that is to build more council houses. Most young people rely on the private renting sector, which is expensive and collapsing. A perfect storm. Gove is the right man to sort this.
Finally there is mock shock horror that so many Tory MPs are not standing again. There is nothing new in this. Some don’t like the grind, the intrusion, the abuse, the thankless hard work. Well, they shouldn’t have signed up in the first place. Others with small majorities know that they will be creamed so don’t want to face the indignity of it. What a bunch of wimps. They fought to get in now fight to stay in. There are others, like the Saj who have served their time and appreciate its time to go and make some money while they still have the chance. In my day being an MP was hard work but fun. I enjoyed the casework and how a reasonable education and a bit of common sense can really make a difference to people’s lives. There were a few mobile phones and none with cameras, there was no social media, there were hardly any available emails and 24 hour rolling news was in its infancy. It was a different age. I didn’t even have a fax. It’s a bit of a shit job nowadays. I was so lucky. But go back, even in the unlikely even of me being invited? You must be joking.
Yet all is not lost for the Tories. There is everything to play for.