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’Ere We Go ’Ere We Go ’Ere We Go

’Ere We Go ’Ere We Go ’Ere We Go

HS2 Train line advertised on a billboard

Moving swiftly on, from the Costcutter Conservatives to Labour’s Poundland policies, Keir Starmer’s mob are hopping and skipping like so many happy bunnies. But, as our Political Correspondent Peter Spencer reports, nothing is quite as it seems.

Yes, the red rosette brigade flooded into Liverpool marvelling at the gift-wrapped platinum-plated gold star handed to them north of the border.

Yes, it was widely predicted they would snatch the seat in the by-election triggered by the naughty ScotNat MP breaking Covid rules.

But what’s left Labour dumbfounded is the sheer scale of the swing their way.

Worth remembering that Scotland was Labour heartland until the nationalists took forty of their forty-one seats back in 2015.

If this result indicates they’re on course to retrieve anything like that number then the general election really will be a shoo-in.

That’s certainly how most pollsters are reading this result.

And of course there’s a couple more by-elections coming up in a week or so, both of which could also go Labour’s way.

One is to replace Nadine Dorries, ‘Dosser Dories’ to many of her constituents, and the other’s to succeed Chris Pincher after his drunken spree of, er, pinching.

Both had hefty majorities, but both contests could well now be Labour’s for the taking.

However, any party leader on a winning streak will tell you there’s an Enemy Number One. And it’s called Complacency.

This is compounded by the fact that Keir Starmer can read the runes as well as anybody.

And he knows full well that, being he is more earnest than, well, sexy, he’s yet to reach the hearts as well as the minds of the British electorate.

He’s also seized of two more unpalatable facts.

One, when/if he makes it to Number Ten he’ll have no more cash to splash than Sunak’s lot.

Hence announcements like his plan for supervised teeth brushing in schools. Laudable, if arguably a little laughable. Certainly inexpensive.

But the second problem is the prognosis that the Tories are very likely to fight very dirty.

Case in point, Sunak’s axing of the northern leg of the high speed train project, which is in itself is a breach of the party conference norm.

Though the commentariat always hyperventilates while these things are going on, they generally submerge into oblivion the moment they’re over.

This announcement, by contrast, has long-term ramifications. Not just about how we’ll be getting around in future, but about England’s very identity.

Do folk oop north really want to whiz down south and back ever so quickly?

Or would they prefer, as Sunak suggests, to stick with their own fiefdom and whiz across it and back with a new-found ease?

Those questions divide opinion right across the Conservative party, as well as the country.

No question the cost of the original grand project had spiralled way beyond expectations, and something was probably going to have to give.

But there’s a very big question hanging over whether any of Sunak’s alternative to Plan A will actually come to pass.

The juddering swerve has posed loads of awkward problems, and ministers are trying their damnedest to avoid specifically committing to anything.

All of which seems to add up to an elephant trap laid in Starmer’s path.

He can huff and puff as much as he likes about how the useless Tories couldn’t run a strip show in a brothel. But what exactly would he have done about HS2?

In tactical terms it was looking like tricky one. Strategically, however, it may not be that way.

Opposition leader Keir’s settling for saying: ‘Well, that’s it then.’ But maybe future Prime Minister Starmer is thinking: ‘Phew, not my problem then.’

After all, in Number Ten he’d have been in the same cleft stick as Sunak, with whoever’s in Number Eleven breathing down his neck just as hard.

Meantime, he’s got expectations to keep in check this week. And even more importantly, a mood to manage.

His tribe still bears the scars of then leader Neil Kinnock’s hubristic ‘we’re all right’ cry at its Sheffield rally back in 1992.

The Sun might have smugly declared after the Tories got back in days later after that: ‘It’s the Sun wot won it.’ But the consensus is it was Neil wot lost it.

It’s not in Starmer’s DNA to do rousing, at least not at that pitch. But he’s deeply mindful of what a turn-off for voters any signs of triumphalism could be.

Be hard to avoid, however, given the contrast between this week’s Liverpool gathering, and the Tories’ Manchester mish-mash last week.

It was as though the Conservatives held two separate conferences. Happy-clappy smiley on the platform, and poisonous noises off everywhere else.

A delicious display of chutzpah, Sunak’s take on thirteen years of Tory rule/misrule (delete where appropriate). ‘Nothing to do with me, guv.’

He clearly does believe there’s still a chance of Tory victory, albeit a slender one, if he can convince voters he’s the new kid on the block.

But on the fringe and drinks party circuit, at this ill-attended and downbeat beano, that was widely seen as the stuff of dreams.

By contrast the prevailing energy was directed at choosing a new leader once the election’s lost.

The question is, who? And, more significantly, what strand of thinking should this even newer kid on the block stand for.

There’s no disputing that the hard-right Home Secretary Suella Braverman, Suella De Vil to her detractors, is already on manoeuvres.

Neat little aside here. While the Disney character Cruella was not noted for her kindness to dogs, Suella actually managed to tread on one at Manchester.

Unintentionally, obvs. Well, presumably at least. But allegorical inferences were inevitably drawn.

It was also noted that Nigel Farage, once an existential threat to the Tories, again from the right, was wafting around the conference like Banquo’s ghost.

The difference being that, far from being the host’s worst nightmare, he was invited to the feast. Not by Sunak, mind, but by loads of others.

Remember, it was Farage who pretty much single-handedly spooked David Cameron into holding the Brexit referendum that destroyed his career.

So Farage’s rock-star reception says lots about how far the Tory membership seems to have veered from the traditionally winning centre ground of politics.

But could Sunak still wrench the party, and the nation, round to his way of thinking? Stranger things have happened.

Take wildlife lover Joie Henney from Florida, who’d been suffering from depression when a friend gave him an animal he’d captured, as a joke.

‘The joke’s on him now,’ says Mr Henney, as the creature became what he describes as his ‘emotional support’ pet.

‘He’s got a lot of people’s attention,’ Mr Henney adds. ‘He’s famous for hugs and kisses.’

Which is pretty odd, when you consider that the cuddly four-legged therapist is, in point of fact, an alligator.

Just goes to show that appearances can be deceptive. Same as with politicians. One way or another.

Watch Peter’s report HERE

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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