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The Scales of Defeat

The Scales of Defeat

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Of course the opinion polls will wobble around a bit. But they’d have to be ridiculously, hopelessly, absurdly wrong for the outcome of the general election to be anything other than a racing certainty. As our Political Correspondent Peter Spencer reports, this only really leaves the question of whether the Tories will be forced, when the votes are counted, to confront their own demons.

‘We fail? But screw your courage to the sticking place and we’ll not fail.’

That advice, from Lady Macbeth to her husband as he contemplated taking a stab at the top job, turned out to be ill-advised. Something for the Prime Minister to think about?

Indeed, the last time a general election took place in July was 1945 – the year of Labour’s first landslide victory.

And when Rishi Sunak knocked everyone sideways with his rain-drenched announcement last week, the only thing that was sticking was his soaking suit to his shoulders.

‘Things can only get wetter,’ chortled the Tory supporting Telegraph next morning. But that sneering riff on the old New Labour slogan can be taken two ways.

The Daily Star later impishly reported that a big boost in holiday bookings for the campaign period only went to show the punters wanted to swerve it.

At the same time there’ve been rather a lot of summer hols cancelled by furious Tory MPs, who’d been looking forward to their last spell in the sun before being out in the cold.

As to exactly why Sunak opted to go over the top when he could have stayed in his dugout for another six months or so, there are as many opinions as there are people.

Actually rather more than that, as many blindsided commentators volunteered quite a few different possible explanations.

One version that cropped up quite a lot was it’d give the Tories a chance to get a few asylum seekers off to Rwanda but save the embarrassment of finding it didn’t do its deterrent job.

In the event that fell by the wayside, as even the first flight won’t be taking off. And Labour’s dumping the policy anyway.

Then there’s the economy. Things have picked up a bit, but they could just as easily slide back in the coming months.

Besides which, another theory goes, Sunak’s promise of a big boost to defence spending means the Chancellor won’t have the money to prime voters with a nice little treat in the autumn.

Whatevs, the guns are blazing. And the Tory riposte to Labour’s demand for change is, essentially: ‘Your black hole is bigger than our black hole.’

All that will be hard to miss in the coming weeks as the election campaign spending cap has been nearly doubled since last time round. Meaning digital ads will be appearing everywhere.

And not only will there be far more of them than ever before, they’ll very likely get far nastier.

In point of fact, neither Sunak nor Starmer is temperamentally disposed towards fighting dirty, but they’re almost certainly both going to be caught up in the flood tide of bile.

It’ll be intriguing to see how that’ll pan out when the two of them go head-to-head in TV debates. Will Sunak give in to tetchiness? Will Starmer turn all pompous and lawyerly?

Given that neither man has the star quality of, say, Boris Johnson or Tony Blair or Nigel Farage (love ’em or hate ’em), they’ll be struggling to up their game.

It’s worth remembering that in spite of appearances they won’t really be talking to one another, but showcasing their personalities to the nation.

And, because by some weird trompe d’oeil Sunak’s somehow presenting himself as the underdog, the election is in that sense Starmer’s to lose.

That said, he’s got aces up his sleeve that didn’t at first receive the media attention they deserved.

One is Scotland. Since the nationalists’ star turn Nicola Sturgeon pulled out, and the party got into a bind over its finances and leadership, Labour’s fortunes there have picked up. A lot.

A YouGov survey last week suggested they’re on course to snatch back the forty seats that they lost when the SNP swept the board nine years ago.

There’s also the so-called Red Wall of traditional Labour seats oop north, where Boris Johnson seduced the punters into switching sides with the promise to ‘get Brexit done’.

Now that the man himself is a discredited figure, and polls show marked voter dissatisfaction with if nothing else the deal he negotiated, many of those seats could slide back into the fold.

Taken together, this represents a tranche of getting on for a hundred seats potentially falling into Starmer’s lap.

And that’s apart from all the evidence that voters across the nation are fed up with stagnant or falling living standards and crumbling public services, and want the Tories out.

At this point a famous line about Tony Blair in the run-up to the 1997 election heaves into view.

The suggestion that he was ‘like a man carrying a priceless Ming vase across a highly polished floor’ might just as easily apply to Starmer. Basically, best not slip up, eh?

But assuming he does wipe that polished floor with the current Conservative party, what will what’s left of it do next?

Poor Rishi’s perpetual refrain about unity has been so much whistling into the wind, and the sight of a party at war with itself will also be seen to have been a factor in its downfall.

Even on the night that he announced the election there were stirrings of a plot to chuck him out and call the whole thing off. Preposterous of course, but palpable nonetheless.

Also no great surprise, given that contenders for the leadership have been out on manoeuvres pretty much ever since Sunak got the job.

And this isn’t and never has been a mere matter of personalities. The ideological schisms between the party’s centrists and those on the other wing are cavernous.

The parallel between this divide and that which tore the Labour party apart when the left-wing socialist Michael Foot took over in the early eighties is hard to miss.

And though those brave (some would say foolhardy) people who broke away to form the SDP didn’t in the end achieve all that much, no one can dispute their political integrity.

An object lesson there, maybe, for the likes of the hardline right wing former Home Secretary Suella Braverman? For better or for worse.

The brute reality is that the Tory party, that’s always traded as a broad church, is now looking more like the temple cited in the bible after Samson had done his worst.

So there is an argument that says, when the dust of fallen masonry starts to settle after July the fourth, now’s the time to fess up and start again.

But maybe we’re getting a bit ahead of ourselves here. After all, Rishi Sunak reckons he’s in with a chance.

Besides, while seagulls are pretty nifty in the air, they are in fact the modern-day equivalent of dinosaurs.

And if those great scary monster of a hundred and fifty million years ago can learn to fly, then why not pigs?

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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