Election… fever?

The polls show the massive lead for the Labour Party is based not on any corresponding increase in Labour numbers but on a catastrophic fall in Tory support.

With the British general election just a few days away, I hope it will be appropriate to offer my two cents’ worth of thoughts on what might happen.


Of course, if you believe the pollsters, the media, and the chattering classes, it is already a foregone conclusion: the Labour Party, in Opposition for the past 14 years, is so far ahead in the polls that victory is “absolutely guaranteed”. Indeed, some commentators have predicted that Labour will emerge with the sort of megamajority in the House of Commons that hasn’t been seen in British politics for over 100 years. They suggest that the Conservative Government will not even survive as the official Opposition, being overtaken by a surging Liberal Democrat Party.


It is difficult to question such an assumption. The Labour lead in the polls has remained steadily at more than 20% for months now, while the Tory Party seems to be in total disarray. Rishi Sunak, the present Prime Minister, is the fifth Conservative PM in the past ten years and, in the run up to the election announcement, a record number of their sitting MPs declared they would not be standing this time round – hardly a ringing endorsement of confidence!

So Mr Sunak’s decision to call the general election on 4th July (US Independence Day, no less) at such short notice took everybody by surprise – all the other parties, the media, national institutions, the electorate and, not least, his own Conservative Party. Was it an act of desperation or one of inspiration, what sporting circles call a Hail Mary Pass? We’ll know on 5th July!

Image: iNews UK

What it means for Labour

Before looking at the travails of the current Government which led to this surprise announcement I want to look at what it might mean for the UK’s Labour Party.


Naturally enough, the Left will be rejoicing at the prospect of a decisive (shall we say) victory and becoming the government with at the very least a good working majority in Parliament. But will it be plain sailing? Far from it. A change of government will not in any way change the problems facing Britain today. Sir Keir Starmer, when (if?) he takes over Number 10, will be facing a desk full of critical issues.


There is the soaring cost of living, the ugly levels of personal taxation, rising crime rates coupled with police forces that seem to have lost the capacity (or maybe the will) to keep the law. Then there’s the crumbling National Health Service, a neglected infrastructure like failing roads and transport systems, the thorny question of the whole LGBTIQA+ gender identity problems and, possibly above all, the intractable difficulty of coping with illegal – and legal – immigration. Then there’s fixing relationships with an EU, which has its own political problems to deal with, a looming “headache” in the United States, and the continuing conflicts in the Ukraine and the Middle East. Did I say a desk full of problems?

Photo: Hollie Adams/Bloomberg


To his credit, Sir Keir has so far been admirably calm and level headed, refraining from wild promises or extravagant gesture politics. Of course, this sensible approach has inevitably provided ammunition for his opponents. “Why can’t he tell us exactly what he plans to do?” they criticise. That’s a tactic which may ring bells with the uninformed who do not know how government actually works – in other words, a substantial lump of the electorate, but it is totally unfair and unrealistic.


The Labour Party has been in Opposition for the past 14 years, which means that for all that time they have had no access to the processes of government. To put it bluntly, when Sir Keir (or whoever) enters Number 10 they will have no idea what’s left in the kitty. So, caution is a good idea – a very good idea!

One commitment that Sir Keir Starmer has already made has been to improve the UK’s relationship with the European Union. And, let’s face it, after the shenanigans and hyperbole of Boris Johnson and his mob, there’s a lot of room for improvement. A strengthening of British ties with the EU would certainly be to Malta’s advantage. Apart from the fact that having a UK government whose approach and policies are likely to be much more in line with Malta’s current administration, it must be of help to a small island state to see Europe’s biggest island state become more friendly towards the Union.


But it would be folly to expect too much, too soon. Above all, after 14 years in Opposition, any new PM has got to learn from scratch how to handle the reins of power. Such a gap means inevitably there will be a raft of new MPs and Ministers who have got no experience of the methods, measures, and mechanisms of government. And it can be that, the bigger the majority the greater the risk of internal factionism and divergence.

The Tories’ failures

I cut my political teeth back in the mid 1960s when Harold Wilson’s Labour government had a majority in single figures, at one point dropping to only one or two. Reflecting later, Mr Wilson surprised everyone when he said that period was actually an easy time for him as party leader. The reason? All of his MPs had to be totally focused on getting things right and under control. In his own words, “nobody had the time or the energy to do anything stupid.” That is an invaluable lesson.


Unfortunately for the current Conservative government, it is one they failed to learn. The rot set in with the Brexit vote back in 2016. In the first place, it was bad judgement to allow a bunch of right wing rednecks on the back benches to bounce the nation into the vote. Then it was sheer bad management to contrive to lose. Even worse management was to follow when the Brexit bunch went on to demonstrate total incompetence in handling the exit negotiations, displaying to the entire world as many of us had feared all along, that the Brexiteers had no idea of the structure they had planned (?) and were in every bit as much of a brain fog about how to negotiate to achieve it. To bad judgement, bad management, and even worse management, they added the hubris of trying to pretend that things were progressing just as they had wanted all along.

Photo: Krisztian Elek/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Images


The Tory leadership also made one of the most basic political mistakes. They confused their Opposition with their enemies. It is a principle lesson for all politicians: your political opponents sit on the benches opposite; your political enemies sit beside you and behind you. That failure has led to a Conservative Party riven by dissent, political jealousy, and pure malice. It is no surprise that the polls show the massive lead for the Labour Party is based not on any corresponding increase in Labour numbers but on a catastrophic fall in Tory support.


Perhaps the nastiest side effect of Conservative failings has been that it has encouraged a rise for the Reform Party, formerly Ukip then the Brexit Party, to a point where it is now wandering the country posturing as a serious political force and boasting about how many voters they will leech from the Tories.


I trust that I have already shown the complete contempt I have for this gang of hooligans, so I won’t labour the point much. I can’t, however, resist pointing out that in the past few days Reform has revealed its true colours, betrayed by its own words and actions. First, one of its apparently leading activists has been caught on camera voicing a disgusting racial slur against Prime Minister Rishi Sunak. His level of intelligence can be judged by the fact he couldn’t even get the races right.

Nigel Farage. Photo: Hollie Adams/Bloomberg


Then, Reform’s leader, Nigel Farage, that great defender of the United Kingdom and all its traditions, apparently declined to do any campaigning in Scotland because, in the words of one Richard Tice, the Party Chairman, our Nigel was afraid of the kind of reception he might get. I’ve always said my countrymen have excellent taste.

Scotland

Mention of Scotland brings me to the somewhat awkward question of what the general election might bring there. It seems that the Scottish National Party has shot itself in its own foot of late, which is likely to damage its electoral prospects. That raises the prospect of Labour resuming its traditional role as the dominant force in most Scottish constituencies, which raises some interesting issues because, of course, the SNP remains the governing body in the Scottish Parliament.


One Conservative government tactic in this election campaign has been to plead with voters not to regard it as a referendum on their past performance over their years in office. It is liable to be just that.

Main illustration: FE Week

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