The clock is ticking. Does Labour know what it’s up against?

There is an important and distinct political choice on offer in 2024. In Liz Truss’ favour, for whatever reason, she comes in as Prime Minister with rather low expectations of the Tories in general. Any achievement from Liz Truss can therefore end up looking incredible. But Liz Truss gave a strong performance in #pmqs today. The messages of ‘on the side of people who work hard’ and ‘in favour of aspiration’ are well road-tested. Whilst the Tories have established themselves in terms of economic competence, despite much alleged pandemic-related corruption, they have not established themselves as having much regard to social standards such as pumping sewage into the sea. Liz Truss has up to 50% of her own Party not in full support in that they voted ‘for the other candidate’, but Rishi Sunak has urged the Tory MPs to ‘unite as one big family’. On that, the problems in the Conservative Party are nothing compared to the mayhem in Labour, where some of the membership still remain loyal to Jeremy Corbyn personally and his socialist policies. But things are not clearly quite right yet. Today, the British pound has fallen to its lowest level against the US dollar since 1985, when Margaret Thatcher was running the country Spooking the markets is not something the Tories want to be known for. The markets may go for consistency and steely views.

Assuming that Sir Keir Starmer is still the Labour leader in 2024, it is likely that the next general election will be interesting. Starmer’s supporters believe very much that he is the man for them, so much so thay strongly believe him to be the next Prime Minister, but those non-believers cite reasons for their difficulty in supporting Labour. Labour is substantially ahead for the first time in ages in polls, but even Margaret Thatcher claims that she never looked at the polls. There is only one poll that counts. The last real poll was in 2019, and ‘influencers’ came out to tell people not to vote for Jeremy Corbyn. Corbyn was in the unusual position of being ‘unelectable’, and yet it was an achievement according to both Liz Truss and Boris Johnson that “Corbyn was crushed”. Voters apparently voted to ‘get Brexit done’, but Labour does not wish to discuss Brexit at all, denying a voice for millions of people who continue to be criticised as ‘remoaners’. This relentless personalisation and vilification of the attack, to which many are thick-skinned anyway, means there is no discussion of the breaches of the Northern Ireland protocol, where the Northern Irish border in effect, the decimation of industries, the queues at Dover, the effect on trade, and the security checks about to be implemented for the UK as a third country.

When Joe Lycett came to criticise so vocally on the inaugural episode of ‘The Laura Kuenssberg Show’, basically the flagship political discussion programme of the BBC on Sunday mornings, it came as a shock to some who were not expecting somebody there ‘taking the piss’ in broad daylight. It was completely cognitively dissonant, in that this was unexpected and confusing. But equally for many it was very funny. Emily Maitlis has her critics, so much so she was even accused of being a ‘plant’ for the Labour Party in the BBC, but she has an arguable point over false equivalence. For an organisation which prides itself on its public funding and ‘impartiality’, it was clearly going to be a problem for Kuenssberg to have a comedian as a member of a panel, odd in number, and so small in number. Satire itself has a long tradition in the BBC, for example ‘That was the week that was’, but the inclusion of satire in itself is not a culpable sin (take for example BBC Question Time which is regularly accused of substantial right-wing bias).

As Liam Halligan said today on GB News, ‘Can they afford to do an energy rescue package or can they afford not to?” Halligan is a highly respected economist and journalist, and he succinctly set out the potential danger of businesses going to the wall. It apparently is uncertain how the markets will take to as much as £100 billion (or more) of help, and Halligan set out the uncertainty of knowing how much it would cost due to the lack of knowledge about the international price. One is rather reminded of how David Cameron used to tour the TV studios religiously to tell people how Gordon Brown had ‘maxed out the credit card’, after a global financial crash over securitised mortgages attributed by Cameron to Gordon Brown. Some economists would argue now that this was used an excuse for the failed policy of austerity which did substantial economic and social damage. Proponents of the free markets claimed that that was no where near austerity. If there is any. whiff that the general public has been dumped with an extra cost for ten years, whilst something could have been to tax unconscionable profits from the energy providers, Keir Starmer could prove to be very popular indeed. The #enoughisenough movement is already very strong due to remarkable work by Mick Lynch and Eddie Dempsey. They have been protecting workers’ rights in a way many wish Keir Starmer and Labour had. But the idea that the Conservatives are a party which only looks after the interests of large corporates, especially after the way some smaller businesses were treated during the pandemic, could turn out to be extremely toxic like the Poll Tax. If the general public is to pay for it for ten years, the mood music might change.

If Brexit in 2016 was the solution, what was the problem? The dinghies have become symbolic of trafficking and immigration. The problem here is that immigration is still sky-high, immigration is needed to fill employment gaps in some critical sectors, and Brexit led to the abolition of the Treaty of Dublin which had safeguarded cooperation with France. We have pumped billions into this, with very little accountability from the media including the BBC or the opposition parties. It is conceded that growth and productivity are issues decades old unresolved successfully from the UK government, but an act of economic self harm through Brexit is hard to justify. Not trading in products which meet the specification of your target audience abroad could lead to the imposition of tariff barriers, further causing problems. It is possible that due to signing up to the European Convention of Human Rights flights cannot leave for Rwanda or extremist (normally illegal) action cannot be taken against dinghies. It seems that Raab’s Tory Bill of Rights is a bit of a mess. Now that the chief cheerleader for it, Dominic Raab, has been asked to leave, the legislation is considered to be a mess. But Suella Braverman has an immediate problem on her hands, in an area where Priti Patel is generally thought to have failed by supporters of Nigel Farage – the English Channel crossings. It could be the departure from the European human rights convention could be put on hold until a mandate is achieved in 2024. Truss may double down with her identity politics, ‘anti-woke’, hits to make the political transformation of the Tories complete. The productivity challenge had been thought to have been solved on paper by Liz Truss and colleagues through changing the work culture of Brits, and a low-tax economy. Being free marketeer and also being sympathetic to the ERG, where some members are coincidentally now planted in the Northern Ireland office, Liz Truss seems resistant to go back to joining the single market, the big market on her doorstep. Surely that would be rather important for productivity? Liz Truss at the weekend stated clearly that she did not see redistribution as a priority, but later said that levelling-up is a priority. In theory, she might be levelling up through pre-distribution, which possibly became peak in popularity about a decade ago, but that would be a rather left wing thing to do.

In addition to resolving the energy crisis in the short term, and the productivity puzzle, Liz Truss has made it clear she intends to address the NHS. Therese Coffey, who appears to have been extensively ‘shamed’ on Twitter including by those accused of being ‘liberal lefties’, allegedly, has set out an ABCD plan, ambulance waits, backlog, care and doctors and dentists. Ambulance waits cannot be resolved unless ambulances can enter A&E, and that is not possible unless patients can leave hospital which is made much harder by a decade of swingeing social care cuts. Social care’s raison d’être is not simply for the benefit of the NHS, but is intended to enable and protect individuals of all ages. Coffey will be in discussion with Amanda Pritchard, boss of the NHS England, today to talk about how to improve the backlogs for procedures which might include instructing the private sector, mitigating years of lack of workforce planning in both the NHS and social care. GPs have been attacked for only working 3 days a week, but a previous SoS had himself suggested alternative means of GP consultations at the time of the pandemic. There is a discussion to be had how to get patients to their doctors most easily, as there is a substantial GP workforce retention problem. Getting a GP appointment at 8 am should not be a ‘star prize’ like winning energy bills paid for from ‘This Morning’, in some poverty porn extravaganza.

Polly Toynbee may feel that Starmer’s Labour has nothing to fear from Liz Truss, having ‘no vision, no charisma, no real plan’. Truss has laid out a plan on energy, growth (and low taxes) and the NHS, which one may disagree with, but it is a vision. It may be ideological; it might not be. It may not be the vision I would want, for example in employment rights or breaking up failed privatised monopolies in the country’s infrastructure, but it is a vision. Starmer has not produced a vision or plan either (or if he has produced a vision, he might not have time to share it yet), and he has 2 years to produce one. Even Wes Streeting on Iain Dale’s discussion programme this week conceded that Labour could not win through opposition alone. It is perfectly possible that Sir Keir Starmer does have a coherent plan for government, does have a workable vision for running the country, and is the perfect candidate to be a national statesman with an innate passion for justice and fairness. As John Prescott argued, when you want to be a passenger on the plane, you don’t care if the pilot is not particularly charismatic. Labour is clearly still split as the recent NEC elections demonstrated, opening up old wounds. Labour still has a serious problem living with itself, and it is as if the days of Kinnock, Benn and Healey are not behind Labour yet. It is as if Nye Bevan’s call to not run after pure socialism, articulated in ‘In place of fear’ has gone unheeded. Here it is quoted by Foot:

The clock is ticking, and the next week or so will be a good clue as to whether the public want to buy into a change through Keir Starmer’s Labour. The politics and economics are complex, but they involve choices. We don’t know what the public make of these solutions to the choices yet. We will one day. Can Liz Truss ‘deliver’? Growth is potentially compromised by externalities such as the Ukraine conflict, and whisper it gently Brexit. The NHS ambulance waits themselves depend on funding social care and increasing capacity of A&E departments. And the energy crisis is anyone’s guess. Two years is a long time in politics.