The fuel and energy crises have brought to a head issues which have been simmering under the Boris government since its inception. They can be summed up by two questions. Does it know what it is doing? Can it be trusted? After a brief period when the combination of the Covid emergency financial support and the vaccine roll out won widespread support, the answer appears to be no to both.
So would Starmer’s Labour do better? This is important because when a government is failing the public begins to look more closely at the opposition as an alternative administration. If they like what they see, they tough it out until an election is called. Thus Thatcher’s gradual rise during Callaghan and Blair’s rise during Major. Even Churchill’s rehabilitation as a peacetime leader during Attlee. But if they have no confidence in the Opposition to rescue them, bad things happen. Strikes, panics, demos, shutdowns and shortages ooze their way into everyday life, like lava flowing from an active volcano.
Starmer’s Labour is hamstrung by two existential pressures. Corbyn’s Labour is still very much there and Scotland, as the bedrock 40 to 50 seats, is not. The strategy is to win over angry middle class voters in the south, the so called blue wall, through Starmer’s steady hands, and send the fiery Angela Rayner, with her impeccable connection to life as ordinary people have to live it, to bring the errant red wall back into the fold.
To outsiders Labour’s conference did little to inspire a surge to its colours, but maybe it can also be said, that it did not drive the undecided away. We have instead yet another part of the national well-being which is in a state of anxious wait and see. Among the problems for the Starmer leadership is the need to move left to recapture the red wall, but move right to seize the blue wall.
We will have to be patient while Labour decides how resolve this without some crafty political fudge. Voters are too angry to buy into PR. They want polices, clear and unambiguous, that speak not to the Westminster hot house, but to them. If Labour can deliver it will be worth the wait.
Not since the Winter of Discontent has there been so much disruption and disquiet, nor such a feeling of unease in society. From protesters closing motorways, to panic at the pumps, things appear to be going from bad to worse. Add the news of energy companies going under as the dysfunctional gas market implodes, threatening back breaking heating costs for the winter, airport log jams, supply chain gaps, cuts in universal credit, failures in diplomacy, flight from the Taliban; the list seems endless.
At the heart of it all is the Boris government, a weird collection of supremely inept politicians in thrall to the whims of one of the most frightening leaders in our history. Frightening not because he is an ogre, but because he his a fool. A clever fool to boot, the very worst kind. With the intention span of a goldfish and the ego of a one whose only care is for his own glory, he fumbles and delays, always ending behind the curve and below the need.
Thus we have our, our, country gripped by irrational anxieties and fears. But the biggest fear of all is the one that becomes ever more true with each passing day. The fear that the government has entirely lost control of events.
Events of which it and, it alone, is the architect.
In a wonderful farmhouse retreat in Cumbria, I have little inclination to keep up with the news. So today just some quick observations.
The Kermit the Frog moment was a speechwriter’s blunder and a PR disaster. Boris’s message to the UN, whatever it was, on the critical issues of climate change and global warming, was lost in a zillion replays of an idiotic line and a torrent of twitter derision.
On the growing fix now list are now mounting crises for which the government has no obvious answers, or if it has, they are too late or too little. A pattern under the regime of K the F to which we have become accustomed, since the oven ready Brexit election and the onset of the ‘mild illness’ pandemic.
There is the shortage of lorry drivers and key workers causing failures in supplies of almost everything, with food and petrol topping the potential panic agenda. There is the recurring crisis at airports with Border Force inadequacies snarling up terminals. We have an astonishing collapse of the the distribution arm of the byzantine electricity and gas markets. And there are signs of serious inflation coming down the line.
So the government has a lot to do. Almost everything is of the Tories’ own making during a decade of poor national leadership. Fix it all and Boris could emerge invincible in the face of a rather divided and piecemeal Labour reboot attempt.
But to do that he will have to offer a lot more than silly jokes about Kermit the Frog.
There all all sorts of snags, inequalities and lack of detail about the long awaited fix for social care and linked boost to NHS coffers, to cope with the aftermath of the pandemic. Having promised a plan Boris has come up with quite an eye catching one, which he promotes with enthusiasm. How much of the detail he himself understands is not clear. But it is likely to be not much. Boris is a broad brush person, not a details freak. Without becoming entangled in the political wrangling or the sums of the pundits cluttering the media, I just have this to say.
For decades the Tory party has been a low tax low spend party. If money is needed it is met by borrowing and cuts. Cuts described as efficiency savings. Over the last ten years cuts have meant starvation of resource to every public service , except perhaps the border force. Tories have a thing about borders.
Boris’s Tory party is however different. It spends big. Fighting the pandemic was, like a war, without regard to cost. So borrowing soared to mega levels unknown for a couple of generations, although the true net figure is far lower because nearly half the debt is owed by the government to itself via quantitative easing.
In the past a Tory Chancellor would have initiated cuts to ‘get the public finances in order’. But not now. This latest development signals a major shift. Stuff will be paid for by raising taxes. Cuts to public services are out. It will be interesting to see if the Party has the guts to stay the course. The political shift is clear. Labour is in danger of ending up to the right of the Tories. That will certainly please Boris’s new red wall friends. But it could drive the blue wall faithful into the arms of the Lib Dems, the Greens and Labour’s growing southern appeal.
Politics has at last become interesting again.
How is it possible, after all the investment in money and lives creating a modern democracy on broadly western Christian principles, supported by large and very well trained and equipped defence and police forces, for the entire structure of state to collapse in days, allowing control of the whole country to fall to the Taliban?
Why are tens of thousands of Afghans fleeing or trying to flee from their own country and countrymen, who they say will kill them?
Why were repeated warnings ignored by NATO politicians over the years from US and UK commanders on the ground that the structure that the west was building in its own image was out of step with local tradition, over focussed on the metropolitan elite of Kabul and making little to no difference to the mass of the rural Afghan population?
Why were warnings from the same commanders, to the same politicians, that the whole government organisation including the civil service, armed forces and police was utterly corrupt at every level, also ignored?
How many of these corrupt officials and politicians have been rescued and given sanctuary in the west?
Have we at last learned that the misplaced idea of nation re-modelling in our own image does not and cannot work?
These tragedies of Syria, Iraq, Libya and Afghanistan are not military defeats. They are political disasters of an historic magnitude brought about by our arrogance and conceit and a failure to empathise with any ideas not our own.