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How The Post Office Scandal Could Shake-Up The UK Election

Updated: May 23

If you’re from the United Kingdom, you will undoubtedly have been hearing about the Post Office scandal all week unless you live in a cave. The scandal occurred between 1999 and 2015, but we’re only closing the case in 2024, reflecting the lengthy delays of the Royal Mail’s deliveries.

For anyone in Britain who still lives in the Stone Age, between 1999 and 2015, the Post Office prosecuted 736 sub-postmasters and sub-postmistresses. This was because money went missing from the accounts of many Post Office branches, so sub-postmasters were accused of stealing. We now know, however, that the missing money was actually due to errors in the Fujitsu-built digital accounting software Horizon that the Post Office was using at the time. Fujitsu has continued to cash in on £6.8 billion in UK public contracts since 2012. Oops.

All jokes aside, this is an extremely serious issue. People were jailed for years, sent on hundreds of hours of community service, experienced marital issues and even died by suicide for something which was not their fault. It is one of the most extraordinary cases of public injustice the UK has ever seen.

Sub-postmasters have been protesting for years. Yet, the reason they may finally be nearing victory is because of a recently released ITV drama series called Mr Bates vs The Post Office. How depressing that something as serious as this only catches the nation’s attention when it is framed in a television drama.

This might not seem like a political topic, but it could turn out to be with a 2024 General Election just around the corner.

First off, the government – which, let’s not forget, is Conservative – has announced that every wrongly convicted sub-postmaster would be offered £600,000 in compensation. Prime Minister Rishi Sunak was adamant in Prime Minister’s Questions on Wednesday that those wrongly prosecuted would be “swiftly exonerated and compensated”.

This is a political win for the Tories, who are currently being forced to park the bus – Jose Mourinho style – to defend themselves from political attacks left, right and centre. The first episode of the ITV Mr Bates drama series clocked up 9.2 million views, making it the best-performing ITV drama for three years. If the British public sees Rishi Sunak to have been a decisive figure in issuing compensation with no ifs or buts, this will earn him some respect. Given the scale of this injustice, it might be a small win, but when you’re scrapping for votes, everything counts.

However, the benefits for the Conservatives don’t stop there. Leader of the Liberal Democrats Ed Davey was Post Office Minister between 2010 and 2012, meaning this happened, in part, on his watch.

But it gets worse for the Liberal Undemocrats because it has emerged that Davey initially refused to meet Alan Bates, the sub-postmaster campaigner whose name is now known to millions in the UK when he was a Minister. To top it all off, the Lib Dems have been so stupid as to send out a standard letter to all their MPs to send to constituents asking about Davey’s role in the scandal. The letter was leaked. But of course, it would be, even if you can count the total number of Lib Dem Members of Parliament on one hand and two feet.

The Lib Dems are notorious vote-nickers from both two major parties in the UK, but historically more so from the Conservatives. If the Lib Dem Leader’s ignorance turns people off during a frankly heart-breaking scandal, this could be another victory for Sunak’s Tories.

What about Labour, then? Well, current polling data puts Keir Starmer’s barmy army a massive 24 points ahead of the Conservatives, predicting 46% of votes for Labour and just 22% for the Conservatives. As it stands, even closing an infamous Post Office scandal isn’t going to be enough to close that gap.

Nevertheless, 2024 is not a foregone conclusion just yet because all Keir Starmer seems to go on about is the government’s Rwanda plan. On Wednesday during PMQs, Starmer was only interested in grilling Sunak on Rwanda, ignorantly disrespecting the victims of the scandal that was occupying everyone else’s minds.

Whilst this is a turn-off for anyone with a stake in the Post Office scandal, it could also be a disastrous own goal for Starmer. This is because Labour don’t have an alternative to the Rwanda plan – at least, not one worth talking about. As I argued two weeks ago, Labour’s proposal to assess asylum seekers before they even cross the Channel should be thrown out on the Christmas napkin it was written on.

Consequently, Keir Starmer is playing a very dangerous game by pulling Rishi Sunak up on an immigration plan when Labour don’t seem to have an immigration plan in any way, shape or form. Choosing to ignore the victims of the Post Office scandal and instead focus on something which I would say Labour’s policy strategists have been equally ignorant about seems rather silly.

So, the Post Office has finally signed for the compensation cheques for wrongly prosecuting its sub-postmasters – delivered by ITV’s drama department. The scandal could be hook, line and sinker for Ed Davey’s Liberal Democrats whilst delivering a late Christmas present of an easy win to Prime Minister Rishi Sunak.

Keir Starmer, meanwhile, had better be careful ignoring such a sensitive scandal in favour of criticising the government’s position on Rwanda, for which Labour present no alternative. Come 2024, Starmer could find a nasty electoral surprise poking through his letterbox.

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