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Dialogue of the Deaf

Dialogue of the Deaf

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The plan is working. That’s Downing Street’s new mantra, as it clasps at the straw of slightly better news on the economy, at long last. Problem being, as our Political Correspondent Peter Spencer reports, voters have already indicated they’re not much interested in anything the government says, about anything.

Yay! Chortles Chancellor Jeremy Hunt. The recession’s over. The outlook’s rosy. Everybody happy. Told you so.

Against that, such pronouncements might come across as someone who’s just wrapped their car round a tree gleefully pointing out that the windscreen wipers still work.

That, it goes almost without saying, is how his Labour shadow Rachel Reeves chooses to present it.

So which is right?

Neither, according to Simon French, who’s the chief economist at the investment bank Panmure Gordon and widely regarded as one of the sharper pencils in the box.

‘The reality is that both of them are talking b***ocks,’ he cheerfully opines.

‘Are we bottom of the pile, as Rachel likes to pretend? No. Are we world-beating, as Jeremy’s Twitter account likes to pretend? No. In international terms … we’re in the middle of the pack.’

Of course any uptick money-wise is potential good news for all of us. But one day’s statistics don’t hold much water against years of stagnant living standards and crumbling public services.

Certainly that’s the key takeaway from statistics provided by the voting public over the Tories’ last calamitous week.

Their local election losses were pretty nearly as bad as they get, likewise the loss of a parliamentary seat in the Blackpool by-election.

And, having read the runes, former Chancellor Nadhim Zahawi threw in the towel. He might have hung onto his Stratford-upon-Avon in a few months, but clearly couldn’t face what’d come next.

The saying goes that a minister wakes each morning working out what he or she might do today, while a shadow minister has to settle for what he or she might say today.

That’s if anyone’s even listening. Which they probably aren’t.

Zahawi referenced Romeo and Juliet in his resignation letter with the words ‘parting such sweet sorrow’.

But his real parting shot came in the form of a poll from the company that he himself co-founded. YouGov.

It gave his party its worst result yet, putting Labour a full thirty points ahead. Bang goes the fragment of hope seized upon earlier, then, that Keir Starmer’s lot might not manage an overall majority.

Instead, it takes us back to a Survation survey a couple of weeks ago, which also predicted the gloomiest outlook in the Tories’ history. Suggesting they’ll end up with fewer than a hundred MPs.

This’d leave the seating plan in the Commons a bit messed up, as the same poll predicted Labour would have getting on for five times as many.

In the meantime, the gap between the two sides did narrow by one last week, with the truly gobsmacking announcement from Tory right-winger Natalie Elphicke that she’s switching sides.

The fact that she was the second Conservative to do that in less than a fortnight nicely tees up a modified version of a famous line from Oscar Wilde’s character Lady Bracknell:

‘To lose one MP may be regarded as a misfortune; to lose two looks like carelessness.’ Indeed, there’s no telling how many others may yet follow her example.

That said, Starmer’s decision to let her in has sent ripples through his ranks, given that, as the Dover MP, she’s been in the forefront of Sunak’s small boats battle.

‘How in god’s name can you let that hardline headbanger in with us?’ A paraphrase of what they’ve been saying, some of which has been a lot fruitier than that.

And, given that only days earlier she accused Labour of not having an illegal migrant plan, her own motivation seemed just as perplexing.

Except that, come Friday, up she popped alongside Starmer to cheerlead his announcement that he has after all got a plan. Which will work. At least that’s the theory.

Has to be said, mind, that his idea of binning Sunak’s scheme and spending some of the savings on a new high-powered smash-the-smugglers outfit does have some weighty backing.

Neil Basu, the former Number Two at Scotland Yard, reckons it’ll make a ‘huge difference’. Unlike Rwanda, that he dubs a ‘grossly expensive’ gamble, not backed by evidence that it’d work.

His point being that a combined unit of MI5 agents, border officers, police and specialist prosecutors to hit the gangs with new counter-terror powers would stop them in their tracks.

And this, it’s worth noting, could contrast sharply with Rishi’s ruse, the true cost of which emerged from leaked Home Office documents earlier this month.

With a potential price tag over five years of nearly five billion pounds, it sure is some punt. Working out at a hundred-and-fifty grand per deported asylum seeker.

As to whether the very threat of jetting them off on a one-way ticket to Africa will do the trick, such evidence as can be found is both scant and anecdotal.

The damage to the Tory brand, however, is there for all to see, as it’s been up to its neck in squabbles on the subject for what feels like forever.

And not only on that subject. One reason why the Commons chamber has been underutilised of late is that any legislation the government tries to get through is hamstrung by internal disputes.

In happier times, dissidents mumble their objections then pipe down. These days it feels almost as though there are as many opinions on the nation’s needs as there are people.

A point highlighted last week by none other than Ben Houchen, whose re-election as the Tees Valley mayor was one of the few high spots of an otherwise grisly night for the Tories.

Distinctly unhelpfully for Number Ten, he’s insisted the Prime Minister must take the blame for the party’s ‘chaos’.

But, arguably much more relevantly, he added that Tory MPs need to stop fighting like: ‘Rats in a sack. Ultimately the public do not vote for parties who are not united.’

Actually, Rishi Sunak’s been trying to hammer home that point ever since he took office. To no avail. Half makes you wonder if his backbenchers realise who or what he’s supposed to be.

Not that he’d be the first case of mistaken identity of late.

A reported crocodile cavorting around in floodwater near Cholesbury in Buckinghamshire certainly got the Old Bill on the case.

They took a photo of its scary jaws poking out of the water, and another of an officer apparently grappling with the creature.

Could be that by that point they’d spotted that it wasn’t actually a man-eating monster but a rather fetching head – of a plastic toy.

One relieved officer joked on Facebook: ‘Did you know that it is not that difficult to tell alligators and crocodiles apart? One will see you later whereas the other will see you in a while.’

Daresay some disenchanted voters might say that’s also how to tell politicians apart. You might very well think that, yours truly couldn’t possibly comment.

Watch Peter’s report at

Peter Spencer has 40 years experience as a Political Correspondent in Westminster, working with London Broadcasting and Sky News. For more of his fascinating musings on the turbulent political landscape, follow him on Facebook & Twitter.

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