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Steady as She Goes

Steady as She Goes

Sunset over Westminster

With each passing day the prospect of Labour taking office next month becomes less of a maybe than a certainty. Rishi Sunak’s endless barrage of new policies is doing nothing to shift the dial. Nonetheless, as our Political Correspondent Peter Spencer reports, Keir Starmer’s walking a tightrope. And he knows it.

Nearly all the polls are telling the same story. Put crudely, the punters think the Tories suck. After fourteen years in power all they’ve delivered is sagging living standards and crumbling public services.

At the same time there’s scant evidence of a love affair with the Labour leader.

Starmer’s done his best, appealing to voters’ better nature with revelations about his chronically sick mum and emotionally constipated dad, by way of explanation for his lack of sex appeal.

And maybe he’ll be able to reinforce that message when he goes head-to-head with Sunak on the box this week. But best not hold your breath.

Meantime, Labour’s one-syllable slogan ‘change’ is clearly cutting through. Be as good as a rest after years of fluctuations, heavily underscored by buccaneering Boris and loony Liz.

Plus, the word carries the implication that the party too has changed. Moved an immeasurable distance from the red in tooth and claw socialism that Jeremy Corbyn espoused and the electorate rejected.

Starmer’s ruthless stamping out of any vestige of left-wing leaning within his party is playing well with the voters, judging by surveys carried out last week.

But could that change?

The rumpus over Diane Abbott’s candidacy, or lack of it, on July the fourth rumbled on for days, and dragged the focus away from the party’s efforts at presenting its prospectus for government.

It also drew parallels, both with the bad old days of Labour infighting and of the Tories seemingly perpetual inability to stop tearing chunks out of one another.

Besides, Ms Abbott’s status as Britain’s first black female MP, as well as a veteran of getting on for forty years in the job, has gifted her the status of little short of political National Treasure.

A lovely pressie then for the Conservatives, as well as a consolation prize after they failed to get Labour’s deputy leader Angela Rayner in the dock over her living arrangements a decade ago.

After a top Tory asked the Old Bill to look into the matter, they decided there was nothing to see here. And the local council, and the tax man, came to the same conclusion.

End of story then. Except that Rayner then proceeded to celebrate her victory by weighing into the Abbott shenanigans, saying the woman should be allowed to stand.

Oh how Team Starmer didn’t laugh. There they were, trying to warm the voters to environmentally transformative green energy, getting roasted instead by doubts about who’s really in charge.

And even though eventually, perhaps wisely, Sir Keir backed off, the episode didn’t augur especially well for party unity in the coming parliament.

However, behind all the tittle-tattle and flood tide of initiatives and pledges, the story both sides are desperate to hammer home is that they alone can be trusted with the nation’s purse-strings.

The Tory claim that the economy is at long last turning a corner finds its equal and opposite in Starmer’s insistence that the key to prosperity is stability.

He points to clear evidence of the trust shown by big business in his former Bank of England economist shadow chancellor. Which he says heralds the investment that’ll generate growth.

Here again he’s treading a tightrope, mind, as keeping onside his core support within the union movement requires delicate handling.

As to whether either side can deliver the promised jam tomorrow, however, the respected and strictly non-partisan Institute for Fiscal Studies has the gravest doubts.

Its Deputy Director Carl Emmerson notes that both Sunak and Starmer say they’re going to reduce the nation’s debt in the next five years.

Splendid idea, he agrees, but: ‘For better or worse, that is going to require some combination of tax rises or spending cuts.’

To that extent, he adds, neither main party is being honest with the electorate.

Oh, and one other thing, the frozen tax thresholds the two sides are proposing will end up meaning millions of workers will have to shell out more.

Still, if we wonder if our politics are a bit wonky, best not even think about what’s happening Stateside.

Come November the fifth our Yankee cousins may well plump explosively for a now convicted criminal, also earlier described by a judge as a rapist, to be their new President.

Alarmingly, from the perspective of the Free World, this man has in the past uttered words of praise for Vladimir Putin and more recently pretty much single-handedly stymied Ukraine’s war effort.

Remember, it was very much at his bidding that the House of Representatives Speaker blocked for ages a vital sixty-one-billion dollar military aid package for the besieged nation.

Now that the materiel is being delivered, and President Biden has give the go-ahead for the defenders to hit targets within Russia, the tide might yet turn.

If not, we can only guess at who’d be in Mad Vlad’s sights next. In this context, Donald Trump’s lukewarm backing for NATO is enough to send shivers down all our spines.

The future’s bright, the future’s orange? Discuss.

Bizarrely, it might strike anyone outside America, his backers have already told pollsters that the guilty verdicts on all counts in the so-called ‘hush money’ case won’t cost him their vote.

And even though his support might fall a few percentage points, that doesn’t mean Joe Biden’s will pick up.

Fact remains there are nothing like as many swing voters in the US as in UK. And the race for the White House remains too close to call, in spite of The Donald’s dissing last week.

The current volatility of the electorate here in Blighty, meanwhile, might help explain both the occasional blip in poll findings, and why some companies consistently favour one side or the other.

Given that Labour’s lead is anything from twelve points to twenty-seven, it’s worth a glance at the methodology the various outfits go for.

They use different ways of collecting responses to their questions, for example, and varying systems of adjusting findings to be representative of the country as a whole.

But the key factor is how, exactly, they allocate the don’t knows. And, given that that adds up to one in eight of us, including nearly a fifth of those who backed Boris Johnson, that’s a lot of wiggle room.

In the end, though, it’s only really the difference between viable Labour victory and total Tory wipeout.

So where does that leave Rishi Sunak? Seems unlikely that he’ll survive much longer after the election as party leader, but he has promised to stick around as an MP. Assuming he gets in again, of course.

Exasperatingly, perhaps, from his point of view, his majority in Southampton is pretty rock-solid. And if, as many suspect, what’s left of his party swerves to the right they won’t want him on the top table.

So, far from making even more millions in Silicon Valley, it looks like he’ll be stuck on the back benches, grumbling, probably, about what his lot’s getting up to.

One-time Tory leader Ted Heath settled for that for years and years, driving everybody bonkers with what became, by common consent, his curmudgeonly manner.

That hardly sounds like Sunak’s style. Still, he’ll probably manage a bit of tetchiness.

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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