The Left,  UK Politics

A fortune cookie for 2023 – end game?

As a turbulent year ends it may be that Conservative government is drawing to a close.

Many woes are self-inflicted, and the architect was Johnson. His history suggested a scandal-ridden demise, but Covid hastened it.

As PM he was a little fish in a big pond, the opposite when Mayor of London. His Mayor shtick came unstuck under the continual scrutiny accorded the PM and most problems came from what could be called Covid consequentials.

Imposing draconian restrictions was never going to be 100% successful, so what do you do when your own transgress? Johnson was “ambushed with a cake”, considered innocuous at the time and even briefed to the media, but Cummings’ trip to Barnard Castle showed what was to come. Political capital was repeatedly spaffed protecting those who, by breaking the rules, had shown him no loyalty. A Mayor may get away with it, it doesn’t work for the PM. Politicians don’t want to be driven by the media but negative stories need closing down quickly.

There was far too much poor decision making, again dealing with Covid consequentials. “Mutant algorithm” is witty but no comfort to concerned parents, and there were many more.

Little was unique to Johnson but he seemed incapable of learning and the overall attitude was casual arrogance. Farage considered him a cheerleader but was unsure if he was a leader, although few would criticise his stance on Ukraine.

He rode his luck well in the second half of 2019 but the problems with the Northern Ireland Protocol show the downside of a quick fix with, now, three years worth of the devil in the detail.

Selection of his replacement was too leisurely, suggesting the Conservatives were more interested in navel gazing than dealing with the country’s problems. Truss was selected by the membership, like Corbyn…

Truss thought the argument was over, like the Blairites in 2015.

There’s nothing wrong with competitive tax rates to attract business, investment and high net worth individuals.

If you’re in deficit, lowering tax rates without reducing spending adds debt until the benefits of widening the tax base are realised. Truss was a couple of years from an election, behind in the polls and with an opposition pledged to reverse tax cuts, so was only likely to get extra debt. It’s not surprising the reaction was overwhelmingly negative.

The tragedy of Truss is that, fundamentally, she was right, economic growth solves many problems; money to increase wages, pay for public services and reduce the debt to GDP ratio. Her policies in a non-Covid Spring 2020 could have been extremely successful.

Sunak inherited a poisoned chalice and is up against a Starmer who’s improved and grown in confidence. Labour has been at least partly decorbynised, possibly sufficient if detailed scrutiny can be avoided.

Labour’s policies in many areas are vague. Being ahead in the polls and with time, although reducing, to an election means there’s a certain amount of sense in this but successful government comes from policies with the bugs ironed out.

Their policy on the “small boats crisis” seems to be more safe, legal routes and working with the French. It’s important to realise the divide between white collar, Guardian reading, Hampstead and blue collar, Sun/Mail/Express reading Hartlepool. The former see migrants as au pairs and gardeners, the latter see them lowering their wages or taking their jobs.

Too many lefties cannot, or will not, accept that many migrants aren’t refugees and without completely open borders there will always be business for the people smugglers.

Sunak’s task is simple. At present anyone getting to Kent is almost guaranteed to stay, make that almost guaranteed not to stay and the business collapses.

Just before Christmas the high court ruled the Rwanda plan legal. If he’s prepared to revise the Modern Slavery Act and take on the European Convention on Human Rights, etc there may be a chance.

The NHS is problematic, a certain amount of the A&E problems are because patients who still need support, social care, when discharged can’t get it so remain in hospital. Social care is mainly the responsibility of local government, upper tier and unitaries, and their boundaries rarely coincide with hospital catchment areas. Then it’s means tested.

The NHS isn’t “the envy of the world”. Healthcare “free at the point of delivery” is widespread, but our model isn’t copied, and no one is looking to copy it.

Streeting and Starmer have said some interesting, even radical, things but Labour was dragged left under Corbyn and much would be anathema to the membership. Anything is likely to be greeted by the usual suspects screaming “cuts” or “privatisation” but a centre-left government might have a chance.

Blair missed an opportunity, New Labour essentially threw money at the NHS – increasing its budget faster than the economy grew. It’s not surprising that waiting times reduced, because of more resources not productivity.

Strikes might make those with long memories think they’re back in the 1970s/80s. Whilst there are similarities there are also important differences, but a certain amount is actually down to market forces, something Conservatives should welcome!

The politics of the union “barons” are often Corbynite but they operate within Conservative legislation. If a strike is called it’s because the members have endorsed it, they’ve given the barons a loaded gun and permission to fire. The ball is then with the employers who have two options: improve their offer or try and starve the employees back.

Market forces says more money should be offered to NHS staff, the government is looking to recruit more and needs to retain those it has.

Luddism lurks, but fighting technology is always futile. A postal strike in 1988 resulted in fax machines proliferating. Fast forward and bank branches are closing as they’re full of tumbleweed.

The Border Force strike shows what technology can do. Millions, not just Brits, have biometric passports and can use e-gates, reducing those needed to check passports, etc. Ministers are probably authorising more.

Mick Lynch is best understood as Fred Kite from I’m All Right Jack, a nobody who became somebody, and whose position within the TUC, Labour Party, etc depends upon the size of his membership.

Covid showed millions they didn’t need to commute to an office, and some haven’t returned. There have already been job losses, my local line has fewer peak services and one less off-peak train per hour compared to before Covid. Driver Only Operation (DOO) is established and many now buy tickets online or from machines.

Change will happen, the only question is how. New drivers can be employed on condition they operate DOO trains, a recruitment freeze for ticket office staff, possibly coupled with early retirement and voluntary redundancy schemes, will reduce the numbers and staff can then be transferred away from unviable locations.

The alternative is that Fred, sorry, Mick, no, Fred eventually accepts reality and negotiates redundancy packages, possibly including retraining, for those affected. He, however, is primarily interested in membership numbers.

Labour have been relatively vague, probably realising that in government they’d have the Treasury looking over their shoulders and that Truss showed there’s a limit to borrowing.

Fundamentally, they’re a tax and spend party, but taxation is at a historic high. Their money raising plans, so far, seem to be windfall taxes, non-doms and private schools.

Windfall taxes are, by definition, one-off so can’t fund ongoing costs like pay rises.

Abolition of non-dom status has some support on the right and has been long considered, usually concluding that the cost would outweigh the benefits. Labour claim it would realise £3bn, but this is likely to reduce.

Removal of charitable status for private schools is claimed to raise £1.7bn. About 7% of children are affected, suggesting that the 93% in the state sector currently get 100% of taxpayer funding. 7% means that it goes down the social scale and a tenth of those receive bursaries. The known unknown is how many parents then find it unaffordable and what the consequences are. It’s unlikely £1.7bn would be raised.

£1000 extra pa for a million healthcare workers (less than £2.75 a day) is £1bn – and there are many more public sector workers after a pay rise.

Labour are playing class war and the politics of envy as these are little more than loose change or rounding errors.

Whilst Labour has a lead of c. 20% they need 10-12% to wipe out the 2019 Conservative majority, but this would still give them a decent majority.

If Sunak can start delivering and get bad news off the front page he might reduce the lead, cutting it by 1% per month would put the polls into hung parliament territory by the end of 2023, shifting the spotlight onto Labour, their potential relationship with the SNP, etc.

It’s also possible that the electorate might switch off the Conservatives, as happened after 1992’s Black Wednesday and to Labour for the 2019 election. By 2024 they’ll have been in power for fourteen years, older voters are continually replaced by younger, memories fade, perhaps the “other lot” weren’t that bad, and “time for a change” can be potent. In 1997 Major had a good story to tell on the economy, few were listening.

As both my crystal ball and police box are broken I’ll be watching the polls.