“It’s The Sun Wot Won It” is the famous headline which appeared on the front page of The Sun on 11 April 1992. The headline referred to The Sun’s contribution to the rather unexpected Tory victory in the 1992 general election owned by Rupert Murdoch, The Sun had been relentless in its drive to turn voters against the Labour Party leader, Neil Kinnock, and has run successful campaigns pro Blair and anti Corbyn. These days of course, the Tories have contributed to an energy crisis so that forced emergency blackouts may happen of their own accord. The country is in a mess. Liz Truss is possibly the most unsuccessful leader in the Tories’ entire history, a modern day Lord Liverpool.
Something has to be done. As we kept on being reminded by the Labour PLP during the Jeremy Corbyn days, while some of them were actively undermining their leadership as evidenced in the Forde Report, Britain needs a strong democracy. The Tories don’t seem to represent the country, especially those people who need some help to survive. They perpetually refer to people on working tax credits as ‘scroungers’. The toxicity is awful. The Tories are a weird coalition of Red Wall voters and people in the South East, who has been united in the goal of ‘getting Brexit done’. The pity is that they have not much to show for this. And their saviour, Boris Johnson, couldn’t even avoid partying during the pandemic.
I don’t particularly want the Conservative Party to suffer now, now that it is clearly dying. Many do, because of all of the suffering that this political party has inflicted on people, especially the most sick and vulnerable members of society. The Conservatives have never had any enthusiasm about processing welfare benefits for people who cannot work. Now we know that senior members ‘dream’ of jumbo jets lifting off with people yet to have their asylum applications processed. The NHS is clearly malfunctioning, with a workforce crisis reflecting chronic underfunding and just a complete apathy in making it work. The social reforms have been delayed so much so that Sir Andrew Dilnot CBE will re-appear to give new evidence for the social care Commons committee this week, eleven years after his seminal proposals were first made. The Tory Party is dying a natural death anyway. Liz Truss couldn’t have killed off the Party better had she tried, so much so Tim Farron MP has been making the joke that she is a ‘secret agent’ who should cover her tracks more carefully.
I despise the Tory Party although I do not despise Tories.
I just want the Conservative Party to have a ‘good death’. Ironically, the Conservatives introduced the construct of ‘necessity’ with their doomed Northern Ireland protocol, where there was no good option when you’re between a rock and a hard place. The Conservatives have entirely got themselves to blame. The Conservative Party are now pretty damned if they keep Liz Truss at the helm, but also damned if they get rid of her. They had the option of choosing, albeit out of a pretty awful choice, between two plausible contenders for leader of the Conservative Party. It is possible that Liz Truss MP could yet be further ‘challenged’, so to speak, due to some weird ambiguity of the interpretation of the rules in Sir Graham Brady’s head. Letters could be going into the 1922 committee as we speak. The Conservatives had a choice between someone who warned against the potential economic crises and who had a track record of dealing with the UK economy during a period of unprecedented uncertainty. Or they could choose Liz Truss of ‘Britannia unchained’ fame, whose maverick anarchic economic slash and burn was bound to run into problems. Truss managed to avoid any scrutiny, symbolised by her deft avoidance of Andrew Neil’s glare. She delivered the same attack lines ad absurdum. Nobody ever asked her on where she would get the money for the tax cuts would come from. The sad thing is that the Conservative Party actually voted in Truss – albeit with a decisive but not all that convincing victory. They officially own this result. It’s not as if the tanking of the Pound is that much of a surprise. What is though is a bit unexpected is that she is at -47% in popularity, meaning that single speeches can put mortgages into a tailspin, and individuals in Great Britain can loose their livelihood at an instant. I recently had to wait three hours to a mortgage provider to double check that my mortgage was a fixed rate with a low rate of interest rates, rather than a standard variable rate mortgage. This was as I was waiting for my Royal Mail post to arrive – mid-afternoon – when it would normally turn up punctually in the morning at around 9 am.
I can’t literally think of any one thing which the Conservatives have done to make my life better in any sense. Of course, not everything which has gone wrong with this country is due to the Conservatives. But it’s obvious that the tired mantra such as ‘we want to put more money in your pocket’ are not working any more. More like, the Conservatives want to put more of your money into their friends’ pockets, as exhibited by the ‘Test and trace’ fiasco or the PPE scandal. It’s not just the tanking of the £ which makes one question the economic competence of the Tories. It’s the fact that the economy is fundamentally screwed as well. It has been left to Grace Blakeley and a very small number of people repeatedly to point out that if you privatise monopoly-like behaviour you will end up with a few companies making a lot of money for the few not the many. The tragedy about our utilities is that they are in fact nationalised – but owned and managed by private equity companies abroad. And there is no argument that you weren’t blamed about it. Ed Miliband while he was leader of the Labour Party did indeed complain in some form about croney capitalism, and nobody listened. The Tories were more concerned about getting rid of the Liberal Democrats, and spitting them out such that they could never rise again. David Cameron was forced to embrace his inner UKIP, and the rest is history. A pack of lies came out for the 2016 referendum on both sides, I hasten to add – a decision was made. Nobody talked about it ever again, using tired tropes like, ‘Let’s put it to rest like the 1966 World Cup win’. The problem is, and it is hard to avoid, is that it is estimated that Brexit is costing the economy +4% in GDP deterioration. The pandemic came along, but the impact of Brexit on various industries – such as fishing, farming, the arts, sciences, financial services – has not gone away. As George Osborne said on the Andrew Neil Show, it is possible that there could be a ‘wipeout’ at the next general election in 2024. But he also added that the Tories could turn around their problems, and that Labour has not ‘sealed the deal’. The Red Wall voters are certainly not ‘stupid’, and will be the first to rebel at any whiff that they have bene sold a pup with Brexit. After all, the Tories kept on re-assuring them that they knew they were being lent their votes.
What is striking, however, is that while the parliamentary Labour Party has not sealed the deal, there is much to be said for left wing politics in general. The ‘Enough is enough’ campaign has struck a chord with many who do not see why unconscionable profits are being made by some in companies with a public service rôle. Nurses can be easily stereotyped as tub-thumping Corbynistas, but the truth is very far from that. Nurses see cutbacks on their wards directly impacting on the quality of care. They literally don’t have time or other resources to care, as Andy Burnham had indeed warned about when he was the shadow Secretary of State for health I n2014. Nurses do to want to strike and their professional code imposes very strict sanctions if they pose any risk to patient care. Nurses like many in the public sector feel that they need to organise through their Unions. More’s the point, they feel that their concerns are falling on deaf ears with the Tories. The problem with Labour is also if they appear to be tone deaf to the concerns of the public sector. Symbolically the Labour Psrty leadership doesn’t want to be seen as ‘crossing picket lines’, but the discussion is far more nuanced than that. Nurses who have asked to address the cost of living crisis by putting on an extra wooly jumper are more than aware that millions are being siphoned off away from frontline patient care into paying off loan repayments from the private finance initiative agreements from the Tories and New Labour days. The neoliberal framing has clearly failed, and Labour won’t get power if it does not become popular. The general public is actually quite astute, and in these days of social media very well informed.
There’s a general consensus that Starmer is not at where Blair was at. Sure, there are similarities, such as the culture of sleaze engulfing the Tory Party much as in the dying days of the Major government. But Blair had a policy offering which made sense, as well as being a charismatic leader. Starmer seems to be going for a ‘safe option’, not daring to mention the Forde Report or other seismic internal problems. He seems ready to embrace a market economy and let go of the more extreme absurdities previously proposed. He might appeal to ex-Tory voters, but he has to weigh this up against potentially losing left-wing voters who are still curiously loyal to Jeremy Corbyn. A week is a long time in politics, so it’s possible that the national mood might lift. The general public are notoriously amnesic when it suits them. When it comes to 2022, it is possible that Liverpool delivers a Eurovision bounce; and 2023, it is possible that the Coronation makes the country patriotic again. Starmer can prove then that Labour is intensely patriotic, and already the pro-Merseyside lovefest has started. The fault lines might still remain, like Starmer being perceived as ‘North London’ or a ‘remainer’. Starmer is certainly the antidote to the very worst of the Tory administration so far – Cameron, May, Johnson, and Truss – and his ‘boringness’ may be just what the country needs during these turbulent times. Scotland may end up voting SNP, and uncertain voters who want to vote Labour but who for whatever reason can’t may vote Liberal Democrat. All of this makes it more likely that the arithmetic will favour a Lab-Lib hung parliament.
A Lab-Lib hung parliament in 2024 would be very interesting for the Brexit question. Assuming that the problems with the Northern Ireland protocol and the cross channel crossings are negotiated, Brexit does leave the country with an economic difficulty regarding productivity and growth. The UK may be OK when it comes to its geo-political soft power and influence, because of its historic legacy. But the UK cannot force members of the European Union to trade with us especially if we bonfire all of their laws and we diverge from their commonly agreed standards. The LibDems have already decided to sit on the fence regarding Brexit, and so have Labour. It is however becoming increasingly difficult to understand how the UK can sustain this degree of ‘hard Brexit’, and with a deterioration in the performance of the UK economy it may be quite unavoidable to re-join the single market. It is unclear how all the people newly enobled following their ‘success’ in Brexit supported such a ‘hard Brexit’, but we are where we are. Starmer did not oppose it. Starmer does not oppose it. Starmer will not oppose it.
Liz Truss has undoubtedly suffered from a number of setbacks, but the unusual aspect to these setbacks is that they are largely predictable. They are all unnecessary unforced errors, which have cost the reputation of the country and the Party dear. The problem here is that with such multi-organ failure the Conservatives might aim for a good death rather than the crises becoming more frequent and more severe in intensity. The economic model of the Tory Party is undoubtedly a busted flush, with it increasingly being seen as a Ponzi scheme run for the benefit of its corporate donors. It always has been socially divisive, but in a world of zero sum gain it is hard not to acknowledge that they have set out to pick winners. The problem is that Truss openly, having been backed allegedly in her leadership campaign by hedge funders and other equally savoury financiers, does not ‘believe’ in re-distribution and believes in trickle down economics. It is impossible to reconcile this with the need for huge amounts of borrowing with little or zero productivity. Whatever the motives of the New York Times or Bloomberg, it is not in the UK’s interest for the economy to be viewed as a ‘basketcase’ by the markets. As Thatcher said, ‘you can’t buck the markets’. The Tories might not especially benefit from a ‘period of opposition’, but they have definitely lost their way. The reason I feel that people are genuinely willing to look at other parties now is that they are not scared off by Jeremy Corbyn (and this is a controversial issue anyway), and the Labour Party cannot conceivably be any worse than the Tories. One of the biggest mistakes for Truss surely was not to unite her own party. There have been limited offerings to Sunak supporters, especially notably in the Cabinet. Truss’ really catastrophic mistake is that she appears to have no intention to unite the country. Her anti-growth coalition is laughable if only for the sheer volume of it.
I have said all along that I live in North London. I think Labour has lost its way in not having an appealing offer to its traditional voters. Whilst my initial dislike of Brexit has subsided, I think Brexit can be made to work only if we are open about what its successes and failings have been, and there needs to be an honest discussion with the voters who had so much faith in it. If public services were good, the economy was fantastic and the UK had a brilliant reputation abroad (apart from Johnson’s tub thumping about Ukraine), the room for manoeuvre with the Tories and Truss in particular would be greater. Tory/UKIP supporters have long been able to use the existence of Jeremy Corbyn, their myth over economic competence, and Brexit to maul the opposition, but these are losing their potency. Brexit has been a drug delivered by the Tories, such that some of the general public have become addicted. They have become tolerant to the lies, and needed an increasing dose of unicorns to get their fix. It is hard to see how Starmer or Truss can ‘make Brexit work’, but having spent billions on making it work so far with no immediate advantage, all the political parties need to come clean with the general public about its future. Truss is certainly a lightning conductor for all that is not right with this country, but I don’t think she is solely to blame. Thatcher always boasted that the foundations she laid were fundamentally wrong.
It is clear that the foundations that Thatcher laid were actually fundamentally wrong.
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