Peter Hitchens made one fundamental mistake in his Daily Mail article about Hitler. That mistake was not to argue that Hitler was ‘left wing’. The article served its function, in being a click magnet, and also in trolling individuals of a certain political persuasion.
The fundamental mistake was to define politics in terms of ‘left wing’ and ‘right wing’. Nowadays it is hard to tell the difference between extreme left wing and extreme right wing. But it is also true that politics is not a summation of a million referenda. One of the few people who believed in referenda apart from David Cameron was of course Mussolini.
It is easy to be hyperbolic about the impact of Gary Lineker’s tweeting. Simple solutions would have included a quiet email from Tim Davie or Robbie Gibb to ask him to delete it. But the problem with the tweet is that it is entirely factually correct.
The language used by Braverman, ‘invasion’, is problematic. If Braverman cared about the optics of such a sensitive policy, she has failed.
She has become her own worst enemy, for different reasons to how Boris Johnson became his own worst enemy. There was an important discussion to be had about planning for migrants, for example through the known problems in social housing and local authority services. She has strangled at birth any discussion of this.
This can also be held to be a success. By offering the ultimate ‘dead cat’ of a problem which became opened up through inadequate foreign policy after Brexit, and by ramping up the rhetoric over immigration, Braverman has blown out of the water any sensible debate about this.
This has obliged the Tory Party to resort to a ‘culture war’. But the Gary Lineker tweet neutralises two culture war weapons.
Firstly, freedom of expression. You cannot ‘half believe’ in freedom of expression. This is like being half pregnant.
You may immediately riposte by saying ‘but the law says..’ Too often the law has been used as an argument to shut down any debate.
You may disagree with what he has to say, but his right to say it should be defended. It’s no different to Andrew Neil, Michael Portillo or Lord Sugar ‘having a voice’.
Secondly. it’s Gary Lineker just being ‘nice’ isn’t it? This causes a problem for the Tories. Boris Johnson was not given superstar status because of his immaculate attention to detail. It wasn’t even that he was ‘particularly nice’, as certain people might testify.
In a race between members of the Tory Party and personalities like Carol Vorderman, Marina Purkiss, Jemma Forte or Gary Lineker, the Tory Party cannot expect to win however well articulated their policies.
Gary Lineker has become a ‘lightning conductor’ partly due to massive unpopularity of the Tory Party. Aside from the fact that the Tory Party is an incoherent mess, and their policy solutions become even more desperate to bail themselves out of their self-inflicted ‘forced errors’, their only hope of scraping through is a divided Labour Party.
Those on the left wing are exasperated on the lack of fresh thinking of the monopoly effects of utility companies, or on Brexit, for example. They get exasperated about the lack of support from Labour for Gary Lineker or anyone on strike. Labour despite saying they’re not complacent are behaving as if they are very complacent.
The allegations against members of the Tory front bench on bullying, some already proven, are well known. Gary Lineker provides a further test case as to whether bullies win.
It seems that the BBC leadership and the Tory Party, despite public mutterings from Sunak otherwise, have formed some sort of dubious suicide pact such that they have already decided to go down in flames together.
If that were to happen, Gary Lineker would simply have to find an alternative outlet to present ‘Match Of The Day’.
The famous tweet goes, ‘Anyone who’d be a half decent leader of the Opposition would be twenty points ahead?’ – or something like that.
Things can only get better.
For a few months now, Labour has been way ahead in the opinion polls. Rishi Sunak, as the latest Prime Minister, never really benefitted from a ‘bounce’ in popularity. First impressions of him might be that he’s a bit ‘out of touch’. He comes from a background not unheard of in a Conservative Prime Minister – top public school than Oxbridge than City. He is unlikely to be lying awake at night thinking about his smart meter counting upwards while he heats his (large) house. He is possibly not thinking about the idea of people breaking into his house with a warrant to install a prepaid meter. To all intents and purposes, he is another Prime Minister. His relative popularity in the Red Wall might be more to do with his BAME background, or the financial affairs of his family, than what they really thinking of his policies. Boris Johnson, chief bloviator, has been touring the world – it seems at someone’s expense – and is about to foot a big legal bill defending himself against all sorts of allegations, presumably at the taxpayers’ expense.
This administration confuses me somewhat. When I first heard that Boris Johnson had become leader of the Conservative Party, in my naïvety felt that Jeremy Corbyn would have a very easy time. That was all before he got completely monstered by the media. Fanboys of Keir Starmer on a good day boast how Labour is no longer a ‘protest party’. When empowered by extreme chutzpah and confidence, they say blazingly, ‘There are no longer any Palestinian flags’. It is always hard to work out what is true and what isn’t regarding the Corbyn era. What is definitely true is that there has been an almighty cover up in the media regarding the Forde Report – which some brave journalists have spoken out about. What is also true is that organisations such as Amnesty International have also expressed concern about ‘apartheid’ Israel regardless of awkward words being voiced and apologised for in parliament. What is allegedly true is that members of the Labour Party have been threatened with expulsion, despite being Jewish, for ‘siding’ with the wrong grouping. It is easy to ignore it if you hate Jeremy Corbyn, but socialists generally are unimpressed that they feel that they have been saddled with Keir Starmer under somewhat false pretences.
Whichever way you wish to spin it, Starmer has reneged on all of his promises. The vision of Thatcher, extended and elaborated on by Blair and Cameron, has left us with an awkward legacy of unsafe cladding, huge PFI bills in the NHS and utility companies in England, at odds with the rest of the world, for being privately owned by investors abroad paying tax anywhere other than Britain. The public sector, in as much the legislation has prevented a ‘general strike’, has finally had enough with its lack of remuneration. Not only is the public on their side, but the public sector is populated by the public. Not only has renumeration of workers been poor, but fat cats have become extremely fat, with poor standards in outcomes.
It should be obvious that, given also Kwarteng’s disastrous budget and a string of unforced errors from Johnson, that Starmer would be ahead. But what is so creepy is that he is so unwilling to make a link between economic productivity and the fact we are no longer part of a trade bloc. For all his faults, and we’ve heard them ad nauseam, Jeremy Corbyn proposed in 2019 for the UK to be part of a close trading relationship even despite exiting. Alan Johnson and Sir Stuart Rose were supposedly leading the Remain campaign, but have both disappeared off the face of the planet regarding Brexit. So it’s left to people on the front bench of Labour to ask for a closer relationship with the EU without saying what that is. That is like ripping a wheel off your car, and promising to drive fast with the three remaining wheels. It is not a serious offering. Reeves and Miliband, for all their good points, have been on the subs bench since the early 2010s. Like Starmer, they are not the ‘change’ candidates. They are the stench of no change, epitomised by Reeves promising not to increase your bills – in the same way that Cooper promised not to reverse the outsourcing of the benefits outsourcing.
To say that Labour is a pale imitation of the Tories might be intended as an insult, but it is very much a compliment for those who know that this is the desired strategy. John Rentoul at about 3 am this morning went on the radio with LBC presenter Clive Bull to explain that Starmer is not like Blair, but Starmer still wishes the Labour Party to become closer to the Conservative Party. Rentoul adds that there is no guarantee that things will be ‘better’ under Reeves or Starmer. And there’s the rub. Not only is the offering to the left of Labour that ‘things won’t be worse’ – but there are active differences, such as not nationalising the utility companies, or not supporting the strikers. The calculation is that more Tories will join Labour than Labour lefties leaving Labour. For those who supported and campaigned for Jeremy Corbyn, who judging from his interview with Lewis Goodall is even angrier than ever at injustice, being expected to support Labour is not a ‘given’ any more. Solidarity, a key value within the Labour left, has to all intents and purposes been suspended in a dramatic fashion. Furthermore, Labour lefties who feel very betrayed by prominent people on the Left pleading for people not to vote Labour are ‘expected’ to vote for Starmer now who himself has U-turned on everything so fast he has literally spun himself into the ground like a power drill. They are labelled ‘Tory enablers’.
The next phase of the attack has begun. We are being told that Starmer does not need Scotland to form a majority government. This is close to absolute bollocks in fact, as Scotland, even with the furore over gender recognition and prisoners, is likely to vote nearly 100% SNP. Starmer will require basically all of Labour voters to turn out in England and Wales to get the sort of arithmetic he dreams of, and we know that the ‘swing’ required is now enormous. And factor into that, what does Streeting propose to salvage the NHS? A big recruitment drive, and abolition of non-com status. The tax change raising revenue has been disputed, and the big recruitment drive doesn’t address attrition at every training stage of a doctors’ education. He also wants to oversee a transition from partners to salaried GPs – exactly what multinational corporations want in the integrated care systems as per Health and Social Care Act 2022 – but this will bring the NHS to its knees unless substantially more senior GPs are found from nowhere (or abroad). It all doesn’t add up – and even worse he wants to be sparring in a fight with the BMA, which is a pretty frightful look for Labour which seems to be obsessed with dividing and ruling. Starmer’s self referral for ‘internal bleeding’ is of course the final straw.
It’s clear Labour lacks policies, and lacks vision. They are lumbered with an Islington lawyer who seems to hate Jeremy Corbyn, and, even worse, seems to despise socialism.
Labour for the last few years has been too busy facing inwards. It has become obsessed in fighting deeply unpleasant ideological battles, but the people doing so claim that they had no choice. Labour is at danger of continuing to carry on with this protracted fracture rather than embracing the pragmatic issues of government. Labour does however emphasise the need to make practical pledges. The latest onslaught by Starmer and Streeting, however, could prove to be deeply damaging for their reputation as ‘guardians of the NHS’. It seems to want to turn the NHS into another ‘culture war’. If it does, I think it will fail.
I remember when I went to a seminar at the Academy of Ideas earlier this year in Church House. As ever, it was brilliant. We spoke our minds and listened respectfully to the views of others. The discussion was supposed to be on the decline on the NHS. Nobody mentioned the crisis in social care or austerity as factors, which surprised me. I pointed this out to the panel, and I remember being aghast when the director of a right-wing think tank told me that austerity had “nothing to do with it”. This is simply not backed up by the evidence. Even this week, a published report, commissioned by the Conservative Party, drew attention to it.
The British Medical Association (BMA have apparently criticised Mr Streeting for what it called “disappointing” comments after he used an interview with the Sunday Telegraph to accuse the union of being hostile towards vitally needed NHS reform efforts. Wes Streeting is proud for not being on the side of the doctors but being firmly on the side of the patient, and this position certainly is more convenient also for attracting the ‘anti woke’ or Red Wall vote. Although it is time and time again said that such voters are not racist, there is a rarely a phone-in on LBC without the caller who blames an increased demand on NHS services by ‘immigrants’. Both Streeting and Starmer do not want to appear ‘close to the Unions’, which is a pathetic thing to pander to as neither the RMT or RCN are affiliated to Labour for example.
A symbol of the decline in the NHS has been the “mad scramble” for the GP appointment at 8 am. Most of us have had experience of ringing up punctually at 8 am to make an appointment only to be “number 42 in the queue” if delayed by a few minutes. GPs have been accused of offering fewer face to face appointments. The BMA have repeatedly pointed out that the promised recruitment drive in general practice never materialised, they have a retention problem with the GP workforce, and there has been a vast increase in the number of appointments overall. In July 2020, the then Secretary of State for health and social care, Matt Hancock, now more associated with ‘jungle washing’, had argued that GP apppintments “should be virtual by default“. GPs have a right to argue, therefore, that they have been delivering a system mandated to them, whilst overstretched and doctored. Streeting made no reference to the crisis in general practise in any of the interviews, presumably because he is trying to present himself as the ‘patient advocate’.
In a new policy paper from earlier this year, the Royal College of Physicians repeated the case for long-term workforce planning and sets out a range of short- to medium-term solutions the government must implement now to keep the NHS running. Wes Streeting has repeated many times his aspiration to grow the workforce of the NHS. To avoid the accusation of ‘overpromising and underdelivering’, Streeting made clear in all his recent interviews that the pledge would be paid for from the money accrued rom the ‘non dom status‘. Discussing the “back and forth”, Wes Streeting told presenter Shelagh Fogarty: “We announced the biggest expansion of NHS staff in history — so we would double the number of medical school places, increase nursing and midwifery clinical training places by 10,000, 5000 more health visitors, doubling the number of district nurses.”
But this in itself is a hopeless solution to the NHS workforce crisis in itself. It took a caller to Shelagh Fogarty’s show, “Felicity from Greenwich”, a doctor, to point out that there is a bottleneck for places at every stage of training. With doctors being unable to find jobs, therefore, it is not surprising they are leaving the profession. There is no structured return to work scheme including extended induction or reasonable adjustments (phased return) for disabled doctors for people who have taken unanticipated leave for years off the register; such a scheme is necessary for re-skilling and building up the confidence of such doctors. There is a pensions crisis in the NHS which means that long-established doctors are having to leave the profession rather than to be clobbered by huge tax bills. Wes Streeting acknowledges the campaign on pensions by the BMA. Ask any trainee how they feel about the increase in medical school places, and you’ll soon have your answers.
“Family doctors wanted extra funding to cover the rising national insurance costs and inflation. But the final contract, given to the BMA just hours before being made public, made no mention of the additional cash it had demanded.“
I don’t deny the attraction the Daily Mail must have for Streeting or Starmer, being avid consumers of the Sun and Telegraph. Streeting at no point in his LBC interviews made any mention of why the BMA had been critical of recent proposals, rather leaving the average voter with the impression that the BMA was just a militant union opposed to change. All registered doctors have a regulatory obligation under ‘domain 2’ to commit to improvement of the quality of the service with the General Medical Council, and this inevitably has involved change initiatives.
The Conservatives chose not to implement the Policy Exchange proposal, but were too busy with their own leadership election and the coronation of Liz Truss – who blew a sum vastly larger than this on crashing the UK economy as a sign of ‘taking back control’ (a Brexit dividend) from a ‘Singapore on Thames‘ economy forewarned by her Britannia Unchained movement.
Implementation of technology here might have really helped, however.
I have for nearly a decade commented on how the increasing use of technology is a ‘Trojan horse’ for further marketisation of the NHS. For example, in an article for Open Democracy back in 2015, I commented on a recent speech by Jeremy Hunt, the then Secretary of State for Health. Whatever happened to him?
“This month Jeremy Hunt MP gave what he told us was his “most important speech as health secretary”. The speech – delivered at the Kings Fund, and entitled “”Making healthcare more human-centred not system-centred” – fulfilled its function of generating blockbuster headlines, mostly focused on the ‘7 day NHS’ and consultant pay. But there’s been relatively little comment on his new ‘big idea’ – a patient-centric transformation in a post-bureaucratic age, which he calls “intelligent transparency”.“
Embracing technology within a nationalised service is sensible. Using technology to privatise a service and to demolish the workforce is a different motive, and one which is bound to cause a problem with core Labour voters. It has been a consistent tactic of the right wing opposition and Wes Streeting to frame anyone who won’t embrace technology as being opponents of change. To give just one example, in August 2022, the RMT reported that a funding deal struck by Transport for London and ministers would attack tube workers’ pay and pensions and would lead to further strike action, RMT have warned. The proposals seemed conditional on attacks on workers’ pensions, potential job losses and a push for pay restraint in the future despite the astronomical rise in inflation and an escalating cost of living crisis. Driverless trains are also part of the reforms insisted on by a previous Secretary of State for transport, despite the huge costs involved and safety concerns. Driverless trains are a massive safety concern for disabled passengers, and are not a trivial matter. To frame protection of the workforce as ‘looking after vested interest’ is a political choice which Starmer and Streeting have decided to take. Technology can be used alongside the workforce to improve their working conditions, and not just as a replacement for the workforce to maximise profit margins. Technology besides is not a universal panacea. The report of the AI chat bot which ‘turned racist’ is notorious. Tay was an chatbot that was originally released in March 2016 which caused subsequent controversy when the bot began to post inflammatory and offensive tweets through its Twitter account, causing Microsoft to shut down the service only 16 hours after its launch.
All people, including clinicians, are the lifeblood of the NHS, and Labour talking over them is poor mood music.
Here, for example, is Labour taking credit for ‘training doctors’. It is the existing workforce who is expected to train others.
At this very second, the likelihood is that Labour might become the largest party in the 2024 general election, but unlikely to win an overall majority. Streeting says that he and Starmer have been working on a plan for the NHS and social care. Many of us remember how traumatic the last NHS reform was in 2012, a ‘top down reorganisation’ which David Cameron had said would never happen (see for example an open letter some of us sent in 2016). The mood music from Streeting was bad, and has opened up much mistrust amongst hardworking professionals within the NHS. Lifelong Labour voters are telling me now that they might never vote for Labour again, given how bad the coverage was. But there are many patients in the voting public, just as there are many NHS staff who want to vote Labour ideally.
Podcast audiences don’t win elections. Petitions don’t win elections. Political parties win elections in first part the post in the UK elections.
For the first time in my lifetime, I think the era of mass civil disobedience is coming faster than a Labour government. I wonder if you remember the saying that ‘millions of people are relying on the election of a Labour government’. This was also true for the 2019 general election, dubbed the “Brexit election”. It was pretty easy to identify that Boris Johnson was a repellent liar at the time, even pre pandemic. It was obvious that the arrangements in Northern Ireland were a fudge, and that the trade barriers would be pretty ruinous to the macroeconomy of the UK. Labour had the ‘worst performance for many years’, but it is impossible to untangle from that how monstered Jeremy Corbyn was by the media, from James O’Brien to the Guardian, from Alasdair Campbell to other prominent has beens. On offer were ‘far left’ policies, such as a national care service, national education service, ‘free’ broadband – and what you got was Dido Harding, Matt “Jungle Fever” Hancock and Michelle Mone.
I don’t want even to contemplate what degrees of shit will be voted in next time around. One looming disaster is withdrawal from the European Convention of Human Rights – the perfect ‘get out’ clause to allow flights full of legal asylum seekers to fly to Rwanda, or to do other odious activities with cross-channel dinghies as there are no legal routes to enter the United Kingdom. While the Labour Party appears to have big corporate sponsors now, its Union support is dwindling. Labour cannot offer unequivocal support to the workers, some of whom are affiliated through the trades unions. Labour won’t offer to repeal the mercenary anti-Union legislation heavily signposted for the new year, and seems to wish to do its own form of austerity. Yvette Cooper and Rachel Reeves of course are past masters in their activities with welfare benefits, as most of us from that vintage will remember.
I think Mick Lynch is putting it a bit mildly when he calls ‘Keir Starmer’. At least vanilla ice cream can be soothing or tasty. Starmer’s rhetoric does not give me any confidence that he is the man to get Britain to a state where it is proud of itself. Far before the pandemic crisis or the Ukraine war, it was very obvious that England was in decline. Nowadays the right wing loons are forced to pillar Meghan Markle and her curtsying to detract from the disgusting state of the country. The UK Labour Party doesn’t seem to care that being in England is positively risky to you and your health. Because of a sustained campaign of underfunding, to fork out billions for pointless projects such as Brexit, there is ‘no money left’ for any of the emergency services. If there’s a fire in your flat or house, run and escape for the hills. You’ll be lucky to get a fire engine. If you have a stroke, take a cab to your local hospital as you might be waiting some time for an ambulance. If you have a burglary, kiss goodbye to your property, and buy lots of cheap tat to replace them with off Amazon. The water and gas are nationalised, owned by private equity from abroad. We’re in the process of getting rid of all the EU safeguards, so we can relentlessly pump sewage into the sea. And so it goes on.
The facts are that Labour doesn’t have a hope in hell of getting many seats in Scotland in the 2024 general election, and that some voters still wouldn’t want to touch Starmer’s Labour due to various factors including lack of policy. Depending on tactical voting, and on various outcomes such as whether Sunak can ‘smash the strike’, we’re looking at Labour possibly being the largest party in a hung parliament. If you want Labour to offer something different on austerity, supporting strikers, net zero, HS2, and so on, forget it. Listen to all the podcasts and sign the petitions all you want, but still prepare yourself for eternal opposition. And don’t even rule out an unprecedented re-election of a spanking new Tory government.
“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.
This was meant to be, as Martin McCutcheon, would say – a “perfect moment”. Keir Starmer had a bounce in his step. He had a new found confidence, and was thrashing out all the hits like ‘workers’ – no mention of socialism though, There was no heckling. No dissent. Everything was fine, apart from the ‘superficially black’ slip up. This is Labour’s election to lose. OK, Starmer may not be into ‘bungee jumping’, but he’s a ‘safe pair of hands’.
It actually costs me money to vote, unless I walk this time to the polling station in Primrose Hill. It will not affect the outcome as the vast majority of Camden is a ‘safe seat’. On a matter of principle, I can’t blame anyone if I get an unappealing government which I didn’t vote for. The reality is that, since 2010, I have put up with a government which I didn’t vote for. I have only voted Labour since 1992, including the last election in 2019.
I am not a member of the Labour Party any more. There were three years in a row when I did go to the party conferences more than a decade ago in Manchester and Liverpool. I actually went to London Olympia today to attend the exhibition on non-alcoholic beverages and hospitality. I ended up chatting with a Scouser, and swopping notes on Huyton being the constituency of the late Harold Wilson.
Harold Wilson came up in conversation with a cab driver of a London black cab today. The cabbie, whom I assume to be a Tory Brexiteer as they tend to be, despised TFL, London Mayors, low traffic zones, and loved Brexit. Like all the other cabbies I have ever spoken to, he supported Brexit but thinks that the implementation of Brexit has been a total disaster. He is also not at all happy about the state of the NHS, giving as examples long ambulance waits and the ‘8 am’ ritual for making an appointment with a GP. He is also intensely disgusted at the running go the economy, explaining that he will not benefit from the tax cuts for highest earners, but that the fall in the value of the £ will probably affect the cost of borrowing on his mortgage.
Inevitably, I ask people if they intend to vote Tory. They don’t like Starmer, saying he’s a Remainer, and not ‘one of them’. There are some doubts about the meme that Starmer’s father was a toolmaker. There is some talk of his father actually owning a tool factory allegedly. He didn’t know about the ‘green’ policy to launch a GB Green Energy firm. In my experience, London cabbies are not a particularly useful microcosm in which to test the political temperature.
Twitter is not the place either to test the political temperature. Labour ‘supporters’ seem divided into those who want to give Starmer full support, and his team, and those who feel Jeremy Corbyn was the target of a hate campaign as evidenced in the Forde report. I think what they have in common is a dislike of the current Government, thinking that Truss and Kwarteng have little to offer them. Some people in Labour still blame Corbyn as a vote loser, and yet Corbyn supporters are still adamant that he was popular and that his policies were popular. On the antisemitism and islamophobia issues, there are deep divides. Labour supporters also seem to have different views on ‘flag shagging’, the importance of being ‘woke’, and, of course, the big one – immigration. Wokism seems to cluster with views on lockdown and coronavirus vaccination, which is also an interesting one.
I am always amazed how Brexit will not be openly discussed ever apart from some thought leaders. It seems to me that if Truss and Starmer wish to improve the ‘productivity’ of the United Kingdom (with Starmer feeling that it might be attainable through means other than tax cuts and other figments of the ‘Britannia unchained’ delusion), they will need to embrace at least superficially the significance of the ‘single market’. This requires a very different relationship with the European Union. Anoth
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.
Keir Starmer, 60 today, will need a larger majority than Tony Blair to sweep to victory in the next general election. Currently, the approach of the Tory leadership is unpopular, and even the current finalists of ‘Britain’s not got any talent’ are not cutting the mustard with all of the Conservative membership. The traditional adage is that parties don’t win elections, but parties lose elections. Like all things Boris Johnson, that might be one final trend to be bucked.
Boris Johnson is still popular amongst his cult and the Tory Party, like the Labour Party, is a coalition. The future looks pitch black, not because the lights have gone out yet with or without rationing of energy supplies, but Liz Truss is a known unknown. Keir Starmer, although maintaining influence on the NEC and some degree of stability on and off the picket line, has U-turned on all his pledges, so the pitch on “telling the truth” lands uncomfortably with some, despite Johnson defending himself on the reputation of being an inveterate lawyer. Starmer is still unpopular with some within Labour (mainly socialists), but popular with others who genuinely feel he has a good chance of winning the next election.The ‘Enough is enough’ movement is gaining momentum with celebrity appearances such as Bernie Sanders. Liz Truss and Rishi Sunak still are chucking out the bangers like aged rockstars. Truss boasts confidently, ‘I am a woman’, while Sunak says ‘We will get rid of the European definition of asylum’ – at least one of those must be true?
For all the bluster of putting country ahead of party, you have to worry about an opposition unable to win with the NHS struggling and the economy falling apart. Just as it is unclear that Labour was solely responsible for a global economic crash in 2008/9, it is equally unclear that the Ukraine war is responsible for the high inflation in the UK. The arguments for why this is not the case perhaps have been exhausted elsewhere. Certainly inflation is movable feast, with the US dollar being strong against the sterling pound and Euro. As we know food prices started going up due our supply chain problems were not due to Brexit, so they say. All alcoholics in recovery to have the courage to face the things they can, so both Labour and the Conservatives acknowledge their lack of influence on externalities presumably. But one internal dispute within the Conservative Party became very public within the whole country, and is as yet unresolved due to issues such as the Northern Ireland protocol or regulatory alignment. A culture war may be beginning to make an appearance causing a fracture within Labour too. One only has to look at Owen Jones and Eddie Dempster, and their groups, to know that there is a meeting of minds over neglecting the concerns over the ‘working class’. But the argument is clearly nuanced – so for example not all of the working class are White, and not all racists live in the North (apparently they mainly live in the South East, where coincidentally much of the Conservatives membership lives.)
It feels as if Labour has somewhat been thrown off track from its founding ideas. Mick Lynch is clearly concerned that founding values are not audible in statements made by Labour’s leadership. I think this is true. It doesn’t seem to say much on employment rights. It doesn’t say much on why it has accepted the economic model of Thatcherism in the privatisation of elements of the State, even though the unconscionable profits of directors are clearly at odds with the 1975 privatisation think tank within the Conservative Party which said that privatisation was partly charged with redistribution of profits to workers fairly. Starmer possibly wants to have his ‘red meat’ clause 4 moment. The Beecroft report from 10 years ago is still fresh in the mind of the Free Market group members, Kwasi Kwarteng, Liz Truss, Priti Patel and Chris Skidmore. This ‘liberisation of the workforce’ is together with tax cuts designed to promote productivity in a Singapore-on-Thames is an appealing idea, except without any state intervention it is possible that many SMEs will go to the wall – and then there will be not much growth, and much unnemployment. The pitch on low taxes is clearly Wild West politics, and it would be more ‘grown up’ to think about maximising markets, not just pork markets, to improve productivity. But this might necessitate discussion of the topic which cannot be mentioned – that of course is Brexit. The Tories have had various crises to contend with apart from Brexit such as the coronavirus pandemic. So it’s quite possible that we never saw ‘peak Johnson’ as he was negotiating one crisis and the next.
We know what happened to what was called a ‘far left’ approach. Somebody told me that he considered Labour to be ‘far left’ because of their Green policies, wanting to increase spending in the NHS and social care, abolition of tuition fees, and so on. Each to their own. But it could be that the ‘radical right’ goes unchallenged – and certainly not subject to quite the same degree of toxification from the media. Energy issues, such as the lack of market, wind farms, insulation – have all been known issues when Ed Miliband pitched for a Labour government in 2015, but it was considered more important to get Brexit done in 2016. That Brexit is yet to achieve its full potential is illustrated in the damp squib of the Festival of Brexit.
Nobody can define what ‘Britannia unchained’ will end up looking like. It’s an experiment in economic liberalism to continue the legacy of Margaret Thatcher which is effectively an obsession – which only a Truss/Kwarteng government can deal with as a compulsion. With ambulances delayed, social care on its knees, people not able to pay their utility bills, it could be that Cameron’s volunteers in the ‘Big Society’ are stretched to their limit. But apart from food banks and warm houses, what more is there to be done? The failure of Tory policies is glaring, and there are few else to blame. For Liz Truss to succeed, she is going to have to tear apart her own record, including legal aid cuts (criminal barristers are on strike), not having gas storage (gas import is costing us dear), and not having environmental safeguards (it is difficult not to go for a swim in certain beaches without contracting a life-threatening illness.)
Given that I very infrequently go out of the house or meet people, due to a profound depression due to a recent bereavement, I listen to phone-ins on local radio. A popular topic has been, ‘are you proud of your country?’
I must admit that I am totally bored to death of this discussion. In the blue corner, there is a lot of attacking of the ‘Leftwaffe’ (yes, remember that when you have to resort to insults you have lost the argument?) that the Left is ‘unpatriotic’ and ‘always doing the country down’. In the red corner, people are well and truly fed up; sick of stressful utility bills, sewage being pumped into local beaches, criminal barristers and posties on strike, railway workers sick of the way they have been treated, and so on.
Nostalgia meant that people enjoyed referring to the 1970s when the UK was ‘the sick man of Europe’. I remember looking up the inflation rate yesterday, having been aghast that a serious political commentator asked how we could “stop” inflation (revealing a complete misunderstanding of how inflation works). Apart from Lithuania and one or two countries in the European Union, we are well ahead. It is hard to escape from the conclusion that this is something to do with the Ukrainian war, but it clearly is something to do with the delays in processing due to Brexit. How awful is it must be to go back to the 1970s when shareholders were not fleecing the system, local libraries existed, it didn’t take hours to call an ambulance, social care wasn’t totally on its knees?
My late mother warned me that when you tell a lie you are forced to tell another lie and another and another. Listening to Nigel Farage argue that the Conservative Party has failed to use Brexit to stop the dinghy influx was totally laughable. It’s been explained to him that this problem has been caused by Brexit, in that we don’t have good relations with France – there is no obligation on France, for example, for them to return dinghies. One person in the audience in the Liz Truss GB News “people’s debate” even suggested quite randomly sending the refugees, contrary to international law, to Kenya. People talk about asking the Royal Navy to send the dinghies back to France, but this has been definitely rules out as an option.
The lie over Brexit is getting larger and larger. So confused I was about the arguments for why people might support the exit of the European Union, a position Mick Lynch holds, is that I followed Mick Lynch’s advise – to go back to the original arguments of the 1970s, such as Peter Shore. Tony Benn and Peter Shore both refer to the weakening of democracy. I, like Roy Jenkins, find this a rather dubious argument for a number of reasons. For example, people in France and Germany do not spend all of their time being ‘resentful’ that they are being ‘governed from Brussels’. Also, following 2016, the UK has taken back control, so that catastrophic decisions made by Liz Truss and others, regarding the Environmental Agency and other aspects, have led to raw sewage making the UK being surrounded by a moat of hot sewage. The legal aid cuts which Truss also delivered tells us what sort of ‘small state’ the Tories have in mind, meaning that the criminal law is now on its knees. Criminal barristers, some of whom are being paid less than the national minimum wage, are simply sick of it. The public are sick of water companies with litres of water spewing out of burst pipes, hose pipe bans, and millions of bonuses and spent on dividends. There is clearly no ‘market’ in that I cannot ‘shop around’ for water. Nobody ever says, ‘I had great electricity this morning’.
I completely understand why Grace Blakeley are exhausted at explaining the failure of Thatcherite economics. These were near monopoly oligopolies, with no real competition. When they were privatised, they were still acting as monopolies. And the worst thing is – with no ownership or stake, we cannot intervene. As Thatcher liked to triumphantly used, ‘You can’t buck the market’. Who knew Corbyn was right too – you can’t buck a rigged market? The regulators have failed to intervene on behalf of the public too. The media for decades have defended this failed ideology, and this had held the country to ransom with the Tory government. Labour is going through a tough time, with the usual split between socialism and social democracy, with much personal hostility thrown in, but this has always been the case. Bevan was himself expelled from the Labour Party, and treated pretty appallingly like other contemporaneous leaders. The Bevan / Gaitskell rift was followed by the Benn / Foot / Healey rift, and so on. The problem is, as it’s always been, is that Labour will put so much energy into procedure, process, and fighting each other, that it will not devote itself to fighting Truss and Sunak who are clearly atrocious. Labour has previously been accused of being more concerned with party than country, but if it is seen to be clearly on the side of the country – given that the Tories are clearly not – it seriously has a fighting chance of forming a government. A stuck clock is right occasionally, or every dog has its day, or whatever your worst case scenario is.
Kemi Badenoch MP, one of the candidates currently for the Leader of the Conservatives and Unionist Party, has said that the division between “remainers” and “Brexiteers” no longer holds. I’ve never liked the term ‘Brexiteer’ as I think of it as a wilful projection that the people who voted Brexit were like Musketeers, courageous and brave. I think they’re brave in that they voted for a drastic geo-political change not knowing what sort of Brexit they would have. The Conservatives never asked us, and then imposed their own brand of Brexit. Nonetheless, in 2019, some people were so terrified of a Jeremy Corbyn government, this did not matter. The policies Labour offered, ranging from nationalising rail or improving utilities, better funding for the NHS, a national social care service, and so, on, were deemed irrelevant – and with Johnson, one could ‘get Brexit done’.
It is now palpably clear that Brexit has not been ‘done’ in any sense. For example, the Northern Ireland protocol, hailed by Liz Truss MP as one of the biggest achievements of her and Boris Johnson, is a mess and now subject to litigation from the European Union. A second time bomb waiting to detonate is the commitment of the equivalent of ‘net zero’ by 2050 as part of the Brexit agreement. Not all of the Tory candidates are behind this, which is somewhat irrelevant considering the 2019 manifesto details. None of the candidates for the Tory leadership have really offered the meat on the bones of the ‘post Brexit’ world. If there is indeed going to be greater regulatory divergence, to satisfy the need of some of the Tory Party to turn Britain into the “Singapore-on-Thames”, one should reasonably expect there to be some trade barriers from the European Union. If indeed “we hold all the cards“, of course, there should be nothing to worry about.
Also not done is the reconfiguration of social care. The Conservatives have literally had at least a decade to consult and legislate on this – and we have nothing. For some reason, Penny Mordaunt MP made some reference to the insurance industry as ‘preliminary work’ in social care reconfiguration – and of course that is a fear of many requiring open, transparent discussion. ‘Will of the people’ cannot only be a slogan, after all. So long as nobody ‘gets social care done’, care packages at discharge destinations such as at home or in residential care settings (care homes, nursing homes) cannot be successfully activated, meaning that patients are languishing in hospital beyond their will and desirability. While Rome burns, Johnson is partying at Chequers as if it is 1999.
This all leads me onto the veneer of the debates – that the membership of the Tory Party are voting for the person with the best policies. There are some red herrings, like Liz Truss MP channeling her inner Margaret Thatcher by wearing a floral blouse which they both presumably would have been proud of. Of course, the candidates want to lay ideological lines in the sand, like Mordaunt wishing to say she is learning from the financial industry primarily in learning about social care (not people like me who are academics and service users of the profession). Or it might have been Suella Braverman MP (and Dominic Raab) who don’t want to be fettered by the European Court of Human Rights, so being ‘unshackled; from the article relating to the right to be free from degrading treatment and torture might allow flights to go to Rwanda. Or Truss to be free from the international legal restraints of the Good Friday Agreement.
But …. if it takes ten minutes to get through to 999 Ambulance, and then takes 19 hours to get from the call to a hospital ward, the system is not working and people can blame the Government. If you have to wake up and ring on the dot of 8 am, and still fail to get an appointment with the GP, a brass necked Tabloid will want you to blame your GP, but you should really blame the Government. If you fail to get a NHS dentist, it must be the fault of the Government, like Kemi Badenoch MP (despite her family’s total income and access to private dentistry) being able to get an appointment for a chipped tooth. Or somebody being unable to get a passport, say for avoiding England in the peak of a heatwave. At the end of the day, the Conservatives are a successful fund raising machine, as evidenced by the successful events run by Johnson and Sunak despite the politics of their ‘falling out’. The Conservatives need to reflect the views of their individual and corporate investors, who will wish to see a return on investment (for example, through Johnson’s alleged personal favours, or official awards in the honours list). This could lead to policy decisions which are not easily directly evidenced as ‘will of the people’ – such as aboltion of the BBC or privatisation of Channel 4. The financial case for Brexit is debatable according to who you talk to, and of course can be ‘rubber stamped’ by a referendum if need be, despite the loss of some trade and some geopolitical soft influence. Opposition voters and members are right to be concerned about a ‘one party state’, where there is progressive privatisation of the NHS, however-so defined (such as increasing proportions of NHS delivery by private and public limited companies).
This is where the ‘quality‘ of the opposition does matter. It is striking that Labour have distanced themselves from the highly popular movement of the RMT in defending workers’ rights. Mick Lynch and Eddie Dempsey have become internet sensations in their own rights. For a long time, RMT has had no financial link to Labour. Likewise, Wes Streeting MP publicly declared this week on LBC that he would distance himself from striking union health workers over pay (despite the freeze in pay compared to the cost of living). This is because Labour wants to be seen to be distant from the Unions. This is problematic for voters also because it looks as if Labour has no influence on the Unions, and the Unions have no influence on Labour. The question then becomes – who does Labour work for? You can see by the U-turn on all of Keir Starmer’s pledges since he became leader of the Opposition, as elicited by Andrew Marr (see here for example on instagram), that this becomes a valid question. So ultimately – what on earth is the point of voting Labour anyway? The Tories then become in the unenviable position where people in England will vote for them even if strategically and operationally void of competence. Boris Johnson MP was not sacked as leader of the Conservative Party for incompetence, although arguably he should have been. He was in effect not even sacked for partygate and the allegation of lying to parliament. He was sacked by his party presumably for making them lie on his behalf in morning media rounds, and effectively for one of his team allegedly looking at pictures of dominatrix while sitting in parliament and one team member allegedly groping young men in the Carlton Club in a way that Ancient Greeks might only have been proud of.
Voting in of the Tory Party, and the invididual positioning of the Tory candidates, may therefore have little indeed to do with the ‘war on woke’. I don’t feel that the culture wars are as in the front of the mind of the Tory PLP as everyone would like to argue. For example, the online safety bill being taken through parliament, albeit now very slowly, arguably drives a ‘coach and horses’ through freedom of expression. It is also possible to triangulate on trans-sexual identity politics – it is possible to respect someone’s identity, whilst also not allowing ‘mixed’ hospital bays or prison cells, or sporting events. It could simply be ‘red meat’ for the ‘red wall’. Some localities have seen evidence of financial levelling up, ungraciously called ‘bungs’ by some. But this is another area where nobody cares about how slick an answer is in a leadership debate, but how good the Conservatives are for delivering adding benefit and value to certain voters.
So it may be plus ça change after all. I suspect the Tory Party will choose the least worst option – and a ‘safe pair of hands’, sort of, in Rishi Sunak MP who seems to have more of a clue on the big problem facing the nation – the risk of hyperinflation and stagflation – than the others. But there is a strong case for someone with the ability of Tom Tugendhat MP being in a senior foreign office rôle too. Kemi Badenoch MP’s right wing politics do not especially appear to suggest that the NHS is ‘safe in her hands’. Liz Truss MP has been accused of not being able to find the door, when ironically the Tories have been trying to show Boris Johnson the door for ages. Perhaps what we take from the leadership events is how nobody has a strategy plan for certain topics, such as ‘saving the NHS’, for example, or clearing up the mess in the administration of criminal law and justice. Penny Mordaunt MP appears to be broadly clueless on most policy briefs, confirming the ‘grave reservations’ view of Lord Frost who is hardly covered in glory himself over the details of the Brexit negotiation outcomes. We know that Rishi Sunak MP is the only man with made to measure suits, where the suits have been made to fit someone else other than Sunak.
The known unknowns are how much Scotland wants to vote SNP despite the record of the SNP in office to give a mandate for a second referendum for ‘independence’, or how successful LibDems will be in securing Tory seats, or how ‘popular’ Starmer is. A major problem for Starmer’s Labour is the animosity from the large section of the membership who feel that Jeremy Corbyn has been unfairly demonised, and how he has no clear policies despite being apparently ready for an election tomorrow. A way to end this endless deadlock in policy and politics would be for someone to bite the bullet, and to catalyse constitutional reform. Britain does face ‘crises’ such as inflation or the cost of living, and voters want immediate solutions. But I think voters also want a clear vision from leaders with competence in transformational leadership, and that’s where somebody with an interest in systems thinking and systems engineering, such as Badenoch, would be very helpful indeed.
Ultimately, it’s the same script, but with a different newsreader. The problem was that the newsreader lost credibility for some, whilst retaining his celebrity status for others. Whether the script is fit for purpose needs to be communicated to all, and this is where bad dancers cannot blame the floor any more.
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