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Wringing the Changes

Wringing the Changes

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Change is certainly in the air, and the handwringing is already well under way. Notably by Tories facing imminent redundancy or years of impotent opposition, and wondering which is worse. As our Political Correspondent Peter Spencer reports, those unhappy few who do hold on to their seats will be snarling – both at one another, and at the failed leaders who shattered their hopes.

Of course it might not be quite that bad. Reform leader Nigel Farage’s claim that the West provoked Putin into invading Ukraine could drive some waverers back to the Conservative fold.

And new revelations about the flagrantly racist and misogynistic attitudes of some of his chaps may also persuade supporters to think again.

Against that, the so-called ‘gamblegate’ scandal that pretty much blotted out policy discussion for over a week will likely have alienated many who’d been thinking of holding their noses and voting Tory.

The very suggestion that some in Sunak’s inner circle made money out of their inside knowledge of when he’d call the election will have appalled many.

The more so as it chimes with Boris Johnson’s shameless mendacity over Covid lockdown rule-breaking in Downing Street. And alleged sharp practices over the purchase of personal protective gear.

On top of that comes Sunak’s tin-eared response to the problem. Which, in its turn, chimes with his gaffe-strewn handling of the campaign. The standout being his no-show at the D-day big bash.

To give him his due, he has sharpened his act in recent days. Drawing the inflammatory but obvious comparison between Farage and the Hitler-appeasing Neville Chamberlain, for example.

But saying too little too late says it all. Elections are hardly ever won or lost in the closing weeks of a campaign, but in the years leading up to them.

And the Conservatives are being judged on their record of presiding over faltering or falling living standards and dire public services. And being found woefully wanting.

At the same time, all the polls and detailed questionnaires indicate a lack of faith in, or hope for, much improvement under Labour.

But, as the French philosopher Raymond Aron rather glumly put it: ‘Ours is never a struggle between good and evil, but between the preferable and the detestable.’

And with polling day fast approaching, a lighter line from the impossible but endearing character Gwendolen in Oscar Wilde’s The Importance of being Earnest springs to mind.

‘This suspense is terrible. I hope it will last.’

More likely, in truth, the consensus among the British electorate is that the suspense is indeed terrible, so for god’s sake get it over with.

Well, come Friday morning, or probably the exit poll at ten o’clock on Thursday night, the next phase will be under way.

In the blue corner the blues will be manifesting themselves in the form not only of the inevitable bitter recriminations but also of a hate-ridden struggle for the party’s soul.

Point of fact, that’s been under way for some time already, with anything but subtle hints from likely Conservative leadership contenders that their way is the only way.

The wild card is Farage and his far-ish right leanings. If he gets elected in the impoverished and Brexit/immigration obsessed Clacton-on-Sea, will he try and take over the Tories?

And would they countenance it if he did? Or would the silent centrist majority finally find its voice and tell him to do one? At this stage nothing can be ruled out or in.

Then there’s the red corner. As Sir Keir Starmer strides through the door of Number Ten, bringing his anxious children with him, will he share the youngsters’ forebodings?

He does at least have the advantage of having been Director of Public Prosecutions, meaning he has in his time run a pretty hefty department.

But, as every former Prime Minister freely testifies, anyone who thinks they were running flat out as opposition leader has a nasty shock coming their way. By contrast, they were barely crawling.

Tony Blair put it bluntly: ‘You are never ready’ for the top job. And David Cameron ruefully recalls President Obama calling him on day one and saying: ‘It’s all downhill from here.’

The nation can but hope for better times ahead, but Starmer can’t be under any illusions.

He’s got more in common with Sunak than either of them would care to let on, in that they’re both details men and technocrats first, political animals very much second.

Sunak came to office promising to fix things bit by bit, and hoping he could show results in the relatively short time he had in his gift.

And he did manage to wrestle inflation down to where he promised. The pound in the pocket thing, and unquestionably a win.

If he’d bigged up that success story a bit more, instead of blathering about immigration, legal or illegal, in which mission he demonstrably failed, he might have made more headway with the voters.

But there it is, he didn’t. Which only goes to show that he’s more than just not very into politics, but utterly rubbish at it.

Starmer, by contrast, is betting his shirt on the economy. With a long-term strategy of wooing Britain’s bosses and their international counterparts into investing in UK PLC.

If they take the bait, as they’re clearly indicating they’re minded to, then we as a nation will end up noticeably better off.

This will take a while, obviously. And Labour can but hope that the electorate will cut them some slack. If there aren’t enough signs in time of jam tomorrow, then they will be in a jam. Like the Tories.

Meantime, there’s the stuff that’ll be coming at them from day one.

Or, as one-time Tory Prime Minister Harold Macmillan is reported to have put it, in reply to a question about a statesman’s greatest challenge: ‘Events, dear boy, events.’

Case in point, ponderings across The Pond about the ageing Joe Biden’s fitness for office after what was widely seen as a car crash TV debate with Donald Trump.

The inference being the Republicans’ choice of a convicted criminal, rapist, potential insurrectionist and serial liar is now one step closer to the White House.

And his attitude to a range of issues, not least the barbaric Ukraine invasion, gives an unwelcome update to an old song from The Sound of Music: How do you solve a problem like The Donald?

Starmer’s answer, on BBC radio the following day, was the model of diplomacy as well as the archetypal holding position. He’ll work, he said, with: ‘Whoever is President.’

Come the Yankee election on November the fifth he’ll have to be a bit more specific. For the moment, he confessed, he has ‘enough on his plate’ with is own campaign.

The British economy being the number one priority.

On that front he’ll have gleaned a glimmer of hope from the official number-crunchers’ latest finding, that it performed better in this year’s first quarter than was originally supposed.

The Telegraph, aka Torygraph, called it good news for Sunak. Forgetting, perhaps that it’s Starmer who’ll reap the reward.

No question though, our incoming Prime Minister is as grimly aware as anyone of the pulverised state of the nation’s finances.

He can but dream, then, of the day when he or anyone else can reprise Macmillan’s other hugely quoted quote: ‘You’ve never had it so good.’

It does though call to mind the title of a smash hit Beach Boys song: ‘Wouldn’t it be nice.’

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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