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If not the Tories then what's your poison?

Updated: Jul 1

Trying to keep up with this election is like an asthmatic snail trying to outrun a cheetah. Simply put, it is impossible. There are debates every day, and forget the TV show called One Born Every Minute – currently, we’ve got One Manifesto Every Minute.

What’s more, it’s more complicated this time around because it’s a multiparty contest – something so rare in the UK that it will probably feature on Sir David Attenborough’s next nature documentary.

After the Liberal Democrats and UKIP fell off a cliff in 2015 and 2017, it’s only been about the Conservatives versus Labour. This time, however, you’ve got the Conservatives, Labour, the Liberal Democrats and Reform UK all past the 15% mark in the latest polls. Instead of only needing to listen to two parties, you now need to listen to four. That’s a headache that no GP can cure.

So, where are we at? What is happening right now, just past the halfway point of the election?

Well, maybe you put yourself through trauma and watched the seven-strong ITV debate on Thursday night. If you didn’t, I’ll summarise it in a word: carnage. I don’t know which TV boffin thought it was a good idea to put seven angry people who are diametrically opposed to each other in one room – giving them just one hour to sort out their differences. Because, plainly, this was only going to confuse voters more. And it did.

But Nigel Farage made one very important announcement at the start of the debate. Reform are ahead of the Conservatives in the latest polls, making them the official opposition to Labour, he said.

Let’s clear this up from the beginning. Reform are not ahead of the Conservatives in the latest polls. Without getting bogged down in the sodden trenches of polling data, polls are an amalgamation of lots of smaller individual polls. So while there is a general trend line, there is also a margin of error. And so, the Conservatives’ margin is between 18 and 25%, while Reform are polling between 9 and 19%.

Reform are not ahead. The actual number could be anywhere in these broad ranges – meaning the Tories could be on 25% support and Reform on only 9%. Yes, in at least one smaller individual poll, Reform were ahead. But not in the overall poll.

This is classic Farage. The man could sell sand to the Sahara Desert. But if he is actually elected to be an MP, he’ll be blinded by the sheer challenge like a hedgehog coming out of hibernation. Because being an MP is not about making grandiose speeches and wining and dining with business friends on a private jet. It’s job that takes 24 hours a day, seven days a week, 366 days a year. Saturday surgeries with constituents come first; sitting in long parliamentary meetings comes second; making six-figure sums from speeches comes right at the bottom.

Can you imagine Farage in that life? No. Because he’s never been in it to serve his constituents. Otherwise he would’ve stood in Kent where he was born – not in Clacton, strategically chosen purely because of its high proportion of Leave voters.

Let’s turn to Labour now, who released their manifesto on the same Thursday as the seven-way debate.

There is a lot of chatter that Labour’s manifesto is unaffordable. To be precise, unaffordable by £2,094 per working household.

But I’m not going to bang on about that – because I think there’s a different problem. Labour’s manifesto is not ambitious enough.

I know. What a curveball. Jeremy Corbyn’s mad money-splashing manifesto in 2019 was too radical. But Keir Starmer’s 2024 Labour manifesto is not radical enough. If Labour are going to fix public services and save the NHS and fix our toothache and fill in potholes and decarbonise our electricity grid and nationalise railways – pauses for breath – you would think they would need some pretty big spending pledges to make all that happen. But they haven’t. And so, while Jeremy Corbyn failed to realise money doesn’t grow on trees, Keir Starmer is failing to realise growth doesn’t grow on a shoestring.

The problem is that Labour are so keen to prove they can be trusted with the economy that they don’t want to tax and spend like they usually do. So Labour’s spending pledges in 2024 amount to a minimal 0.2% of UK GDP – contrasting 0.6% for the Tories and Jeremy Corbyn’s ludicrous tax and spend pledges amounting to 3.2% of UK GDP in 2019. No wonder that Paul Johnson, the Director of the Institute of Fiscal Studies, said the funding for public services is “tiny, going on trivial”.

The Conservatives have gone so hard on tax cuts that Labour have no choice but to match it as far as they can. So, aside from slapping VAT on private schools and removing tax breaks for non-doms, everything else is staying the same. But income tax, National Insurance, VAT and corporation tax accounted for 74% of all tax revenues in 2023-24. By refusing to increase those, Labour have backed themselves into Austerity Avenue – despite the fact that Starmer has repeatedly stuck a ‘no entry’ sign at austerity’s door.

This is where that famous £2,094 comes in. Because Labour have been so conservative – how beautifully ironic – that in government they wouldn’t raise enough money to do anything at all. They won’t even break fiscal borrowing rules, so racking up national debt is out of the equation.

That means there would only be three possible choices for Keir Starmer. Either put up taxes, or cut spending, or both (austerity). And considering that Starmer has spoken out against tax rises for working people and historically opposed a return to Tory public spending cuts and austerity, it’s a case of pick your poison. And it seems as if the famous Labour rose is wilting before it’s even bloomed, as this same despairing conclusion is reached by the blood-red Guardian.

With Labour, then, we have a party starving themselves of meaningful ambition – which is a perfect summary of Keir Starmer’s unimaginative leadership. It’s there in black and white, in their ‘fully-funded, fully-costed manifesto’. If Starmer had a pound for every time he’s dropped that line in this election campaign so far, perhaps he’d have more money to play with to enact an actual vision.

And with Reform, we have a leader who has zero interest in actually being a parliamentary representative – only a megaphone for the ‘left behinds’ of the British Empire. The nation has already seen how Nigel Farage interacts with non-politicians during his stint on I’m A Celebrity. Farage gelled with his non-politician campmates like a porcupine in bubble wrap.

Notice I haven’t even bothered to speak about the Liberal Democrats. It’s very clear that Lib Dem Leader Ed Davey isn’t taking this election seriously – so why bother take his party seriously? Davey’s daily stunts have included accidentally-but-on-purpose falling off a paddleboard into Lake Windermere, going down a water slide and screaming on a rollercoaster. Whatever next? Riding a hippopotamus at London Zoo?

There’s a lot of talk about change at this election. But your options for change are an overly-cautious, uninspiring austerity waverer; a self-indulged egoistical loudmouth; or a blasé comedian, so ignorant that he doesn’t realise nobody is laughing at his jokes.

So, when you talk of change, change to what? When you look at the dire set of alternatives, maybe you’ll start to realise the Conservatives are pretty decent after all.

Image: Lauren Hurley / No10 Downing Street


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