Matthew Gordon-Banks

Time for a Change?

It all started following the 1997 general election as indeed the next chapter will start following the next election later this autumn.

2024 makes 1997 look like a competent government coming to the point of ‘it’s time for a change’. This year we are all sitting around to see the end of an administration not only somewhat incompetent but with little real legislative capability left.

Think back to just summer 2022. Rishi Sunak and Liz Truss were fighting it out with the system William Hague created of putting two candidates to its membership to elect a Leader. Of course for many years the make-up of that membership has changed; many would be better suited in other parties. A swath of members these days simply vote for the most right-wing candidate they can; without contemplating that they are usually the least likely to attract the floating voter to help them gain or stay in power. Unlike MP’s, party members are much less likely to know the candidates very well.

Liz Truss beat Penny Mordaunt in the death-match ritual to spend the summer seducing Tory members. She was appointed Foreign Secretary in a ludicrous move by Boris Johnson; completely beyond her ability. She helped make a mess of Northern Ireland re Brexit, ramped up UK’s work in helping create the war in Ukraine and wanted to simply make the most number of sanctions on Russia than any other country no matter their effectiveness. Her personal PR was a sort of ‘glamour puss’, going to Moscow in warm weather wearing fur clothes and a hat trying to imitate Margaret Thatcher. She was so hopeless that Sergei Lavrov, the highly experienced Russian Foreign Minister, stated it was “like talking to a deaf person”.

Truss is intellectually sub par, dismal in presentation skills, has no real idea of how she could or would improve the country apart from some glib notion of cutting taxes. She came bottom after a Channel 4 debate of candidates and there she was being selected as one of the two final candidates for the membership to consider not just for Leadership of the party but as Prime Minister.

Then, after the calamitous budget Truss and Kwarteng, who at least has the wisdom to leave Parliament later this year and try his hand at something else, we end up with Rishi Sunak.

I nailed my colours to the mast about Sunak. I said he was “good news”. In many ways I still believe he is when compared to Boris and Truss! He does at least have touch with reality. Goldman Sachs only employ the best! However, thanks to Dave Cameron’s A-Lister candidate lark – which brought into the Tories some clever people whose political skills had never been tested and when they were, were frequently found wanting – we end up with a Prime Minister who has no political experience in say local government or fighting elections being ‘parachuted’ into William Hague’s old seat. I do not have time here to explain how that happened but it is certainly ‘instructive’. It is alright to have a Prime Minister who is not a huge intellectual, but they do have to possess political skills. James Callaghan was a good example.

We now have Rishi as PM. He looks like an intellectual power-house, not necessarily due to his own qualities but largely because of a sustained deterioration in his party around him. The Conservative party quite simply has lost its mind. Hague was not popular with the electorate – and I admit I left the Tories largely as a result of him, though he grew in maturity in later years – Iain Duncan Smith was neither popular, an intellectual or if truth me known politically experienced enough to win through. He did set up the Centre for Social Justice initially on a shoe-string trying to help those on Benefits make work pay. Sadly when given the opportunity to implement it he came up against neo-Con Chancellor George Osborne who was cutting public spending and did not care for IDS that much either; failing to properly fund his policy initiative when he was DWP Secretary. When he lost the Tory leadership I invited him to fish on the River Spey near my home in Scotland.

Michael Howard came along as a temporary leader; a man whose public profile is different from the charming man that I know. An intellectual power-house he certainly is and of course he set things up for ‘Dave’.

So what in particular makes things tough for the Tories at the next election? Where does one begin? I will stick to the last few PM’s. It really started with the long run-up to Brexit. Cameron, ever the PR man, thought it would be a great wheeze to have a referendum on Brexit to ‘put in to bed’ so to speak. A little renegotiating here, a tweak there, and of course the punters will back it in a referendum and we can then forget about it for years. What a huge error. When Boris thought backing Brexit could help his career into No 10, he jumped from the left, centrist part of the Tory party and worked up his ‘conversion’. 2019 was little more than “let’s get Brexit done’ and it worked with an 80 seat majority with some candidates who would normally have never got into Parliament doing so. Now they know they have no chance of re-election, unable to serve and go with dignity, they ‘create’ and some even threaten to unseat yet another sitting PM.

Truss became the Tories Jeremy Corbyn; with apologies to Jeremy who actually believes in the same things he has advocated in Parliament for decades. Truss is just vacuous. The assaults on Europe, the constitutional vandalism of the Northern Ireland protocol, needless isolationism, the demonisation of the European Convention on Human Rights all help the moral mutilation of UK.

To think that an accountant and Oxford PPE graduate can come up with unfunded tax cutting, stoking inflation, and handing tax cuts to those earning over £100,000, but not those on £20,000, it  borders on political insanity. As an economic dry myself I considered her call for the Bank of England to look again at its remit with regard to inflation had some merit, even if it meant keeping interest rates up by implication, but cutting taxes without demonstrating where the public spending cuts would come to pay for it had devastating consequences for ordinary people and not least our pension funds and insurance industry.

Boris was not a suitable person to become PM. Frankly he only became Foreign Secretary because of Theresa May being boxed in on whom she could have and whom she ‘needed to have’ in her Cabinet. He had no head for detail. He had the attention span of a mouse. Many, like me, found him amusing and on the basis of “let’s get Brexit done” he achieved that 80 seat majority. Yet that did not make him a good PM. Since he ‘had to go’ we have been stuck with mediocrity. Covid aside and the cost of living crisis, Boris might very well – if he could behave – have had the Tories in a better position than they are now by avoiding the Truss/Sunak period. If there was a point when the floating voter departed the Tories it surely must have been during the ‘Truss days’.

We are all now sitting around waiting for the end; and largely without enthusiasm for a Labour government led by a man who may prove to be competent but is actually not very exciting. Maybe that is precisely what UK needs right now?

 

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