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Shifting Sands

Shifting Sands

The palace of westminster from westminster bridge

While it’s taken as read that Sir Keir Starmer’s headed for Downing Street, the only question being whether he’ll have a majority or a super-majority, the focus is switching to what happens next. Will Labour keep its promises? Will what’s left of the Tory cause implode? As our Political Correspondent Peter Spencer reports, there’s a huge potential for seismic shifts in the landscape.

Neither main party pulled any rabbits out of the hat when they produced their goodies for government last week. Indeed their joint mission seemed more to avoid looking like rabbits caught in headlights.

And in the various TV debates, each one billed by the companies producing them as the election-defining blockbuster, all sides tended to come across as so many talking heads just rabbiting on.

But there are a couple of standout points worthy of note.

One, that after the on-the-box boxing match between the Tory and Labour leaders on Wednesday two-thirds of those questioned by the pollster YouGov reckoned Starmer came out on top.

That’s significant because, face it, not many voters will have actually pored over the detail of the Conservatives’ seventy-two page manifesto. Or Labour’s, which is almost twice as long.

Upshot being that where people put their crosses in the polling booths on July the fourth will be in large measure a leap of faith. A question, purely and simply, of who they trust to make the better fist of things. Or at least the less worse.

The second factor that probably will matter was the look on Nigel Farage’s face when he had his say in Sky’s broader-based bullfight on Thursday.

Minutes earlier his Reform party had just overtaken the Tories in an authoritative opinion poll.

For him this wasn’t a range of delicacies, defined as a smorgasbord, more one gorger of a banquet. Inviting the invention of a new word to describe his smirk: smugasbord.

Of course all his talk of being the real opposition to Labour was, as he well knew even as he was mouthing the words, so much total twaddle.

Support across the country for his insurgent party is a bit like the Thames in the Middle Ages. Much wider than it is today, but also much shallower.

And our voting system is brutally exclusive. Whoever gets the most votes in each constituency gets to be the MP. No one else gets a look-in. You’re hero or zero, and there’s an end to it.

That said, there’s an odds-on chance that Farage will win the Clacton seat that he’s contesting, and, once in, he’ll be in a powerful position to mould the battered remains of the Tory party.

They’ll be engaged in the mother of all bunfights over how best to claw back the nation’s support in the election after this one, or maybe even the one after that.

There’s a school of thought that says most of those who do manage to hang on this time round will be folk who appealed to the centre ground, as the rest will have lost out to Reform, thus handing victory to Labour.

If so, the reasoning goes, the last thing they’ll want is to cosy up to a cove like Farage. They are, after all, the silent majority.

But the clue’s in the name here. Silent majorities have a tendency to keep schtum, even when their survival depends on screaming from the rooftops.

The other lot, that’s to say those more minded to side with Farage’s anti-immigrant, nationalist and populist agenda, were ever more shrill.

Witness that small minority of yesteryear written off as swivel-eyed loons finally getting their way – and getting Brexit done, for better or for worse.

These guys tend to share Suella Braverman’s bravado, and are latched on to the thinking of the former Home Secretary who was sacked for being too noisily strident on a range of sensitive topics.

Who’ll be in and who’ll be out when the votes are counted is anyone’s guess. But it’s safe to assume the hardline elements will be the most shouty.

And they’ll point to the, albeit ineffectual, widespread voter support for the Reform Party as proof that their way is the right way. In both senses of the word.

They’ll also take a long and thoughtful look at the manifesto that Farage will come up with early this week as they weigh up whether they should maybe hook up with him. Or persuade him to join forces with them. Maybe even as leader.

Much of this of course is of more interest to the minority among us of political pointy heads than to the vast majority, who’re naturally more concerned about making ends meet financially and being looked after if they get ill.

Cue a passing glance at the Labour and Tory manifestos.

The straplines beneath Sunak’s soi-disant ‘clear plan, bold action, secure future’ feature thirteen billion pounds worth of tax cuts, including the abolition of National Insurance payments for almost all self-employed people.

There are loads of other nice bits for loads of other people too, though rather less emphasis on the cuts to welfare spending that’d be needed to pay for them.

Then, from Labour comes the clearer slogan ‘change’, which is a powerful way of channelling voter disillusion after fourteen years of Tory rule.

Starmer’s wise enough to admit he doesn’t have a magic wand, as the way he’s hoping to put the pennies in people’s pockets is an altogether more drawn-out affair.

In a nutshell, he’s banking on the promise of a new period of stability in the way fiscal policy and government at large are run, to entice big business to invest in the country – and thus grow the economy.

Some might call this wishful thinking. But for Starmer, clearly, it’s a no-brainer. Five different Tory Prime Ministers? In just a few years? Enough to give the heebie-jeebies to any top boss who’s trying to plan for the long term.

He’s also been careful not to nullify his former Bank of England economist Shadow Chancellor’s charm offensive across the board of boardrooms, by promising no hikes in business taxes.

It’s interesting, and quite surprising, how even hot licks can get the spondulicks flowing our way.

Taylor Swift’s dress code may not do it for sartorial traditionalists, but her musical mastery has most certainly rocked the coffers. In a good way.

It’s estimated that, what with ticket sales, accomodation, travel and pre-show parties, the gigs she’s got lined up in her current junket will boost the UK economy by almost a billion pounds. Not bad for just one tour, by one artist.

But it’s not to be wondered at that the whole thing’s such a sell-out. Fans in Scotland danced so hard to the music that they set off earthquake monitors, as well as transmitting enough power to charge six thousand car batteries.

Compare and contrast with the leeching apathy during this election campaign. Polling for the Indie has suggested we’re on course for the lowest turnout in modern history.

Maybe our political classes should take a leaf out of the Swift playbook. Instead of boring on at one another they should get down to their swimmies and give us a number.

Just picture the scene. On second thoughts, maybe best not.

Peter’s new novel Trudi Madly Obliquely is out to buy now.

Watch the trailer 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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