All posts by shibleyrah2022

The Tories are finished. This time, the lights will turn out themselves due to power shortages, don’t worry.

“It’s The Sun Wot Won It” is the famous headline which appeared on the front page of The Sun on 11 April 1992. The headline referred to The Sun’s contribution to the rather unexpected Tory victory in the 1992 general election owned by Rupert Murdoch, The Sun had been relentless in its drive to turn voters against the Labour Party leader, Neil Kinnock, and has run successful campaigns pro Blair and anti Corbyn. These days of course, the Tories have contributed to an energy crisis so that forced emergency blackouts may happen of their own accord. The country is in a mess. Liz Truss is possibly the most unsuccessful leader in the Tories’ entire history, a modern day Lord Liverpool.

Something has to be done. As we kept on being reminded by the Labour PLP during the Jeremy Corbyn days, while some of them were actively undermining their leadership as evidenced in the Forde Report, Britain needs a strong democracy. The Tories don’t seem to represent the country, especially those people who need some help to survive. They perpetually refer to people on working tax credits as ‘scroungers’. The toxicity is awful. The Tories are a weird coalition of Red Wall voters and people in the South East, who has been united in the goal of ‘getting Brexit done’. The pity is that they have not much to show for this. And their saviour, Boris Johnson, couldn’t even avoid partying during the pandemic.

I don’t particularly want the Conservative Party to suffer now, now that it is clearly dying. Many do, because of all of the suffering that this political party has inflicted on people, especially the most sick and vulnerable members of society.  The Conservatives have never had any enthusiasm about processing welfare benefits for people who cannot work. Now we know that senior members ‘dream’ of jumbo jets lifting off with people yet to have their asylum applications processed. The NHS is clearly malfunctioning, with a workforce crisis reflecting chronic underfunding and just a complete apathy in making it work. The social reforms have been delayed so much so that Sir Andrew Dilnot CBE will re-appear to give new evidence for the social care Commons committee this week, eleven years after his seminal proposals were first made. The Tory Party is dying a natural death anyway. Liz Truss couldn’t have killed off the Party better had she tried, so much so  Tim Farron MP has been making the joke that she is a ‘secret agent’ who should cover her tracks more carefully.

I despise the Tory Party although I do not despise Tories.

I just want the Conservative Party to have a ‘good death’. Ironically, the Conservatives introduced the construct of ‘necessity’ with their doomed Northern Ireland protocol, where there was no good option when you’re between a rock and a hard place. The Conservatives have entirely got themselves to blame. The Conservative Party  are now pretty damned if they keep Liz Truss at the helm, but also damned if they get rid of her.  They had the option of choosing, albeit out of a pretty awful choice, between two plausible contenders for leader of the Conservative Party. It is possible that Liz Truss MP could yet be further ‘challenged’, so to speak, due to some weird ambiguity of the interpretation of the rules in Sir Graham Brady’s head. Letters could be going into the 1922 committee as we speak. The Conservatives had a choice between someone who warned against the potential economic crises and who had a track record of dealing with the UK economy during a period of unprecedented uncertainty. Or they could choose Liz Truss of ‘Britannia unchained’ fame, whose maverick anarchic economic slash and burn was bound to run into problems. Truss managed to avoid any scrutiny, symbolised by her deft avoidance of Andrew Neil’s glare. She delivered the same attack lines ad absurdum. Nobody ever asked her on where she would get the money for the tax cuts would come from. The sad thing is that the Conservative Party actually voted in Truss – albeit with a decisive but not all that convincing victory. They officially own this result. It’s not as if the tanking of the Pound is that much of a surprise. What is though is a bit unexpected is that she is at -47% in popularity, meaning that single speeches can put mortgages into a tailspin, and individuals in Great Britain can loose their livelihood at an instant. I recently had to wait three hours to a mortgage provider to double check that my mortgage was a fixed rate with a low rate of interest rates, rather than a standard variable rate mortgage. This was as I was waiting for my Royal Mail post to arrive – mid-afternoon – when it would normally turn up punctually in the morning at around 9 am.

I can’t literally think of any one thing which the Conservatives have done to make my life better in any sense. Of course, not everything which has gone wrong with this country is due to the Conservatives. But it’s obvious that the tired mantra such as ‘we want to put more money in your pocket’ are not working any more. More like, the Conservatives want to put more of your money into their friends’ pockets, as exhibited by the ‘Test and trace’ fiasco or the PPE scandal. It’s not just the tanking of the £ which makes one question the economic competence of the Tories. It’s the fact that the economy is fundamentally screwed as well. It has been left to Grace Blakeley and a very small number of people repeatedly to point out that if you privatise monopoly-like behaviour you will end up with a few companies making a lot of money for the few not the many. The tragedy about our utilities is that they are in fact nationalised – but owned and managed by private equity companies abroad. And there is no argument that you weren’t blamed about it. Ed Miliband while he was leader of the Labour Party did indeed complain in some form about croney capitalism, and nobody listened. The Tories were more concerned about getting rid of the Liberal Democrats, and spitting them out such that they could never rise again. David Cameron was forced to embrace his inner UKIP, and the rest is history. A pack of lies came out for the 2016 referendum on both sides, I hasten to add – a decision was made. Nobody talked about it ever again, using tired tropes like, ‘Let’s put it to rest like the 1966 World Cup win’. The problem is, and it is hard to avoid, is that it is estimated that Brexit is costing the economy +4% in GDP deterioration. The pandemic came along, but the impact of Brexit on various industries – such as fishing, farming, the arts, sciences, financial services – has not gone away. As George Osborne said on the Andrew Neil Show, it is possible that there could be a ‘wipeout’ at the next general election in 2024. But he also added that the Tories could turn around their problems, and that Labour has not ‘sealed the deal’. The Red Wall voters are certainly not ‘stupid’, and will be the first to rebel at any whiff that they have bene sold a pup with Brexit. After all, the Tories kept on re-assuring them that they knew they were being lent their votes.

What is striking, however, is that while the parliamentary Labour Party has not sealed the deal, there is much to be said for left wing politics in general. The ‘Enough is enough’ campaign has struck a chord with many who do not see why unconscionable profits are being made by some in companies with a public service rôle. Nurses can be easily stereotyped as tub-thumping Corbynistas, but the truth is very far from that. Nurses see cutbacks on their wards directly impacting on the quality of care. They literally don’t have time or other resources to care, as Andy Burnham had indeed warned about when he was the shadow Secretary of State for health I n2014.  Nurses do to want to strike and their professional code imposes very strict sanctions if they pose any risk to patient care. Nurses like many in the public sector feel that they need to organise through their Unions. More’s the point, they feel that their concerns are falling on deaf ears with the Tories. The problem with Labour is also if they appear to be tone deaf to the concerns of the public sector. Symbolically the Labour Psrty leadership doesn’t want to be seen as ‘crossing picket lines’, but the discussion is far more nuanced than that. Nurses who have asked to address the cost of living crisis by putting on an extra wooly jumper are more than aware that millions are being siphoned off away from frontline patient care into paying off loan repayments from the private finance initiative agreements from the Tories and New Labour days. The neoliberal framing has clearly failed, and Labour won’t get power if it does not become popular. The general public is actually quite astute, and in these days of social media very well informed.

There’s a general consensus that Starmer is not at where Blair was at. Sure, there are similarities, such as the culture of sleaze engulfing the Tory Party much as in the dying days of the Major government. But Blair had a policy offering which made sense, as well as being a charismatic leader. Starmer seems to be going for a ‘safe option’, not daring to mention the Forde Report or other seismic internal problems. He seems ready to embrace a market economy and let go of the more extreme absurdities previously proposed. He might appeal to ex-Tory voters, but he has to weigh this up against potentially losing left-wing voters who are still curiously loyal to Jeremy Corbyn. A week is a long time in politics, so it’s possible that the national mood might lift. The general public are notoriously amnesic when it suits them. When it comes to 2022, it is possible that Liverpool delivers a Eurovision bounce; and 2023, it is possible that the Coronation makes the country patriotic again. Starmer can prove then that Labour is intensely patriotic, and already the pro-Merseyside lovefest has started. The fault lines might still remain, like Starmer being perceived as ‘North London’ or a ‘remainer’. Starmer is certainly the antidote to the very worst of the Tory administration so far – Cameron, May, Johnson, and Truss – and his ‘boringness’ may be just what the country needs during these turbulent times. Scotland may end up voting SNP, and uncertain voters who want to vote Labour but who for whatever reason can’t may vote Liberal Democrat. All of this makes it more likely that the arithmetic will favour a Lab-Lib hung parliament.

A Lab-Lib hung parliament in 2024 would be very interesting for the Brexit question. Assuming that the problems with the Northern Ireland protocol and the cross channel crossings are negotiated, Brexit does leave the country with an economic difficulty regarding productivity and growth. The UK may be OK when it comes to its geo-political soft power and influence, because of its historic legacy. But the UK cannot force members of the European Union to trade with us especially if we bonfire all of their laws and we diverge from their commonly agreed standards. The LibDems have already decided to sit on the fence regarding Brexit, and so have Labour. It is however becoming increasingly difficult to understand how the UK can sustain this degree of ‘hard Brexit’, and with a deterioration in the performance of the UK economy it may be quite unavoidable to re-join the single market. It is unclear how all the people newly enobled following their ‘success’ in Brexit supported such a ‘hard Brexit’, but we are where we are. Starmer did not oppose it. Starmer does not oppose it. Starmer will not oppose it.

Liz Truss has undoubtedly suffered from a number of  setbacks, but the unusual aspect to these setbacks is that they are largely predictable. They are all unnecessary unforced errors, which have cost the reputation of the country and the Party dear.  The problem here is that with such multi-organ failure the Conservatives might aim for a good death rather than the crises becoming more frequent and more severe in intensity.  The economic model of the Tory Party is undoubtedly a busted flush, with it increasingly being seen as a Ponzi scheme run for the benefit of its corporate donors. It always has been socially divisive, but in a world of zero sum gain it is hard not to acknowledge that they have set out to pick winners. The problem is that Truss openly, having been backed allegedly in her leadership campaign by hedge funders and other equally savoury financiers, does not ‘believe’ in re-distribution and believes in trickle down economics. It is impossible to reconcile this with the need for huge amounts of borrowing with little or zero productivity. Whatever the motives of the New York Times or Bloomberg, it is not in the UK’s interest for the economy to be viewed as a ‘basketcase’ by the markets. As Thatcher said, ‘you can’t buck the markets’. The Tories might not especially benefit from a ‘period of opposition’, but they have definitely lost their way. The reason I feel that people are genuinely willing to look at other parties now is that they are not scared off by Jeremy Corbyn (and this is a controversial issue anyway), and the Labour Party cannot conceivably be any worse than the Tories. One of the biggest mistakes for Truss surely was not to unite her own party. There have been limited offerings to Sunak supporters, especially notably in the Cabinet. Truss’ really catastrophic mistake is that she appears to have no intention to unite the country. Her anti-growth coalition is laughable if only for the sheer volume of it.

I have said all along that I live in North London. I think Labour has lost its way in not having an appealing offer to its traditional voters. Whilst my initial dislike of Brexit has subsided, I think Brexit can be made to work only if we are open about what its successes and failings have been, and there needs to be an honest discussion with the voters who had so much faith in it. If public services were good, the economy was fantastic and the UK had a brilliant reputation abroad (apart from Johnson’s tub thumping about Ukraine), the room for manoeuvre with the Tories and Truss in particular would be greater.  Tory/UKIP supporters have long been able to use the existence of Jeremy Corbyn, their myth over economic competence,  and Brexit to maul the opposition, but these are losing their potency. Brexit has been a drug delivered by the Tories, such that some of the general public have become addicted. They  have become tolerant to the lies, and needed an increasing dose of unicorns to get their fix. It is hard to see how Starmer or Truss can ‘make Brexit work’, but having spent billions on making it work so far with no immediate advantage, all the political parties need to come clean with the general public about its future. Truss is certainly a lightning conductor for all that is not right with this country, but I don’t think she is solely to blame. Thatcher always boasted that the foundations she laid were fundamentally wrong.

It is clear that the foundations that Thatcher laid were actually fundamentally wrong.


Is this a ‘Labour moment’, or is it in fact a false dawn?

This was meant to be, as Martin McCutcheon, would say – a “perfect moment”. Keir Starmer had a bounce in his step. He had a new found confidence, and was thrashing out all the hits like ‘workers’ – no mention of socialism though, There was no heckling. No dissent. Everything was fine, apart from the ‘superficially black’ slip up. This is Labour’s election to lose. OK, Starmer may not be into ‘bungee jumping’, but he’s a ‘safe pair of hands’.

It actually costs me money to vote, unless I walk this time to the polling station in Primrose Hill. It will not affect the outcome as the vast majority of Camden is a ‘safe seat’. On a matter of principle, I can’t blame anyone if I get an unappealing government which I didn’t vote for. The reality is that, since 2010, I have put up with a government which I didn’t vote for. I have only voted Labour since 1992, including the last election in 2019.

I am not a member of the Labour Party any more. There were three years in a row when I did go to the party conferences more than a decade ago in Manchester and Liverpool. I actually went to London Olympia today to attend the exhibition on non-alcoholic beverages and hospitality. I ended up chatting with a Scouser, and swopping notes on Huyton being the constituency of the late Harold Wilson.

Harold Wilson came up in conversation with a cab driver of a London black cab today. The cabbie, whom I assume to be a Tory Brexiteer as they tend to be, despised TFL, London Mayors, low traffic zones, and loved Brexit. Like all the other cabbies I have ever spoken to, he supported Brexit but thinks that the implementation of Brexit has been a total disaster. He is also not at all happy about the state of the NHS, giving as examples long ambulance waits and the ‘8 am’ ritual for making an appointment with a GP. He is also intensely disgusted at the running go the economy, explaining that he will not benefit from the tax cuts for highest earners, but that the fall in the value of the £ will probably affect the cost of borrowing on his mortgage.

Inevitably, I ask people if they intend to vote Tory. They don’t like Starmer, saying he’s a Remainer, and not ‘one of them’. There are some doubts about the meme that Starmer’s father was a toolmaker. There is some talk of his father actually owning a tool factory allegedly. He didn’t know about the ‘green’ policy to launch a GB Green Energy firm. In my experience, London cabbies are not a particularly useful microcosm in which to test the political temperature.

Twitter is not the place either to test the political temperature. Labour ‘supporters’ seem divided into those who want to give Starmer full support, and his team, and those who feel Jeremy Corbyn was the target of a hate campaign as evidenced in the Forde report. I think what they have in common is a dislike of the current Government, thinking that Truss and Kwarteng have little to offer them. Some people in Labour still blame Corbyn as a vote loser, and yet Corbyn supporters are still adamant that he was popular and that his policies were popular. On the antisemitism and islamophobia issues, there are deep divides. Labour supporters also seem to have different views on ‘flag shagging’, the importance of being ‘woke’, and, of course, the big one – immigration. Wokism seems to cluster with views on lockdown and coronavirus vaccination, which is also an interesting one.

I am always amazed how Brexit will not be openly discussed ever apart from some thought leaders. It seems to me that if Truss and Starmer wish to improve the ‘productivity’ of the United Kingdom (with Starmer feeling that it might be attainable through means other than tax cuts and other figments of the ‘Britannia unchained’ delusion), they will need to embrace at least superficially the significance of the ‘single market’. This requires a very different relationship with the European Union. Anoth

The clock is ticking. Does Labour know what it’s up against?

There is an important and distinct political choice on offer in 2024. In Liz Truss’ favour, for whatever reason, she comes in as Prime Minister with rather low expectations of the Tories in general. Any achievement from Liz Truss can therefore end up looking incredible. But Liz Truss gave a strong performance in #pmqs today. The messages of ‘on the side of people who work hard’ and ‘in favour of aspiration’ are well road-tested. Whilst the Tories have established themselves in terms of economic competence, despite much alleged pandemic-related corruption, they have not established themselves as having much regard to social standards such as pumping sewage into the sea. Liz Truss has up to 50% of her own Party not in full support in that they voted ‘for the other candidate’, but Rishi Sunak has urged the Tory MPs to ‘unite as one big family’. On that, the problems in the Conservative Party are nothing compared to the mayhem in Labour, where some of the membership still remain loyal to Jeremy Corbyn personally and his socialist policies. But things are not clearly quite right yet. Today, the British pound has fallen to its lowest level against the US dollar since 1985, when Margaret Thatcher was running the country Spooking the markets is not something the Tories want to be known for. The markets may go for consistency and steely views.

Assuming that Sir Keir Starmer is still the Labour leader in 2024, it is likely that the next general election will be interesting. Starmer’s supporters believe very much that he is the man for them, so much so thay strongly believe him to be the next Prime Minister, but those non-believers cite reasons for their difficulty in supporting Labour. Labour is substantially ahead for the first time in ages in polls, but even Margaret Thatcher claims that she never looked at the polls. There is only one poll that counts. The last real poll was in 2019, and ‘influencers’ came out to tell people not to vote for Jeremy Corbyn. Corbyn was in the unusual position of being ‘unelectable’, and yet it was an achievement according to both Liz Truss and Boris Johnson that “Corbyn was crushed”. Voters apparently voted to ‘get Brexit done’, but Labour does not wish to discuss Brexit at all, denying a voice for millions of people who continue to be criticised as ‘remoaners’. This relentless personalisation and vilification of the attack, to which many are thick-skinned anyway, means there is no discussion of the breaches of the Northern Ireland protocol, where the Northern Irish border in effect, the decimation of industries, the queues at Dover, the effect on trade, and the security checks about to be implemented for the UK as a third country.

When Joe Lycett came to criticise so vocally on the inaugural episode of ‘The Laura Kuenssberg Show’, basically the flagship political discussion programme of the BBC on Sunday mornings, it came as a shock to some who were not expecting somebody there ‘taking the piss’ in broad daylight. It was completely cognitively dissonant, in that this was unexpected and confusing. But equally for many it was very funny. Emily Maitlis has her critics, so much so she was even accused of being a ‘plant’ for the Labour Party in the BBC, but she has an arguable point over false equivalence. For an organisation which prides itself on its public funding and ‘impartiality’, it was clearly going to be a problem for Kuenssberg to have a comedian as a member of a panel, odd in number, and so small in number. Satire itself has a long tradition in the BBC, for example ‘That was the week that was’, but the inclusion of satire in itself is not a culpable sin (take for example BBC Question Time which is regularly accused of substantial right-wing bias).

As Liam Halligan said today on GB News, ‘Can they afford to do an energy rescue package or can they afford not to?” Halligan is a highly respected economist and journalist, and he succinctly set out the potential danger of businesses going to the wall. It apparently is uncertain how the markets will take to as much as £100 billion (or more) of help, and Halligan set out the uncertainty of knowing how much it would cost due to the lack of knowledge about the international price. One is rather reminded of how David Cameron used to tour the TV studios religiously to tell people how Gordon Brown had ‘maxed out the credit card’, after a global financial crash over securitised mortgages attributed by Cameron to Gordon Brown. Some economists would argue now that this was used an excuse for the failed policy of austerity which did substantial economic and social damage. Proponents of the free markets claimed that that was no where near austerity. If there is any. whiff that the general public has been dumped with an extra cost for ten years, whilst something could have been to tax unconscionable profits from the energy providers, Keir Starmer could prove to be very popular indeed. The #enoughisenough movement is already very strong due to remarkable work by Mick Lynch and Eddie Dempsey. They have been protecting workers’ rights in a way many wish Keir Starmer and Labour had. But the idea that the Conservatives are a party which only looks after the interests of large corporates, especially after the way some smaller businesses were treated during the pandemic, could turn out to be extremely toxic like the Poll Tax. If the general public is to pay for it for ten years, the mood music might change.

If Brexit in 2016 was the solution, what was the problem? The dinghies have become symbolic of trafficking and immigration. The problem here is that immigration is still sky-high, immigration is needed to fill employment gaps in some critical sectors, and Brexit led to the abolition of the Treaty of Dublin which had safeguarded cooperation with France. We have pumped billions into this, with very little accountability from the media including the BBC or the opposition parties. It is conceded that growth and productivity are issues decades old unresolved successfully from the UK government, but an act of economic self harm through Brexit is hard to justify. Not trading in products which meet the specification of your target audience abroad could lead to the imposition of tariff barriers, further causing problems. It is possible that due to signing up to the European Convention of Human Rights flights cannot leave for Rwanda or extremist (normally illegal) action cannot be taken against dinghies. It seems that Raab’s Tory Bill of Rights is a bit of a mess. Now that the chief cheerleader for it, Dominic Raab, has been asked to leave, the legislation is considered to be a mess. But Suella Braverman has an immediate problem on her hands, in an area where Priti Patel is generally thought to have failed by supporters of Nigel Farage – the English Channel crossings. It could be the departure from the European human rights convention could be put on hold until a mandate is achieved in 2024. Truss may double down with her identity politics, ‘anti-woke’, hits to make the political transformation of the Tories complete. The productivity challenge had been thought to have been solved on paper by Liz Truss and colleagues through changing the work culture of Brits, and a low-tax economy. Being free marketeer and also being sympathetic to the ERG, where some members are coincidentally now planted in the Northern Ireland office, Liz Truss seems resistant to go back to joining the single market, the big market on her doorstep. Surely that would be rather important for productivity? Liz Truss at the weekend stated clearly that she did not see redistribution as a priority, but later said that levelling-up is a priority. In theory, she might be levelling up through pre-distribution, which possibly became peak in popularity about a decade ago, but that would be a rather left wing thing to do.

In addition to resolving the energy crisis in the short term, and the productivity puzzle, Liz Truss has made it clear she intends to address the NHS. Therese Coffey, who appears to have been extensively ‘shamed’ on Twitter including by those accused of being ‘liberal lefties’, allegedly, has set out an ABCD plan, ambulance waits, backlog, care and doctors and dentists. Ambulance waits cannot be resolved unless ambulances can enter A&E, and that is not possible unless patients can leave hospital which is made much harder by a decade of swingeing social care cuts. Social care’s raison d’être is not simply for the benefit of the NHS, but is intended to enable and protect individuals of all ages. Coffey will be in discussion with Amanda Pritchard, boss of the NHS England, today to talk about how to improve the backlogs for procedures which might include instructing the private sector, mitigating years of lack of workforce planning in both the NHS and social care. GPs have been attacked for only working 3 days a week, but a previous SoS had himself suggested alternative means of GP consultations at the time of the pandemic. There is a discussion to be had how to get patients to their doctors most easily, as there is a substantial GP workforce retention problem. Getting a GP appointment at 8 am should not be a ‘star prize’ like winning energy bills paid for from ‘This Morning’, in some poverty porn extravaganza.

Polly Toynbee may feel that Starmer’s Labour has nothing to fear from Liz Truss, having ‘no vision, no charisma, no real plan’. Truss has laid out a plan on energy, growth (and low taxes) and the NHS, which one may disagree with, but it is a vision. It may be ideological; it might not be. It may not be the vision I would want, for example in employment rights or breaking up failed privatised monopolies in the country’s infrastructure, but it is a vision. Starmer has not produced a vision or plan either (or if he has produced a vision, he might not have time to share it yet), and he has 2 years to produce one. Even Wes Streeting on Iain Dale’s discussion programme this week conceded that Labour could not win through opposition alone. It is perfectly possible that Sir Keir Starmer does have a coherent plan for government, does have a workable vision for running the country, and is the perfect candidate to be a national statesman with an innate passion for justice and fairness. As John Prescott argued, when you want to be a passenger on the plane, you don’t care if the pilot is not particularly charismatic. Labour is clearly still split as the recent NEC elections demonstrated, opening up old wounds. Labour still has a serious problem living with itself, and it is as if the days of Kinnock, Benn and Healey are not behind Labour yet. It is as if Nye Bevan’s call to not run after pure socialism, articulated in ‘In place of fear’ has gone unheeded. Here it is quoted by Foot:

The clock is ticking, and the next week or so will be a good clue as to whether the public want to buy into a change through Keir Starmer’s Labour. The politics and economics are complex, but they involve choices. We don’t know what the public make of these solutions to the choices yet. We will one day. Can Liz Truss ‘deliver’? Growth is potentially compromised by externalities such as the Ukraine conflict, and whisper it gently Brexit. The NHS ambulance waits themselves depend on funding social care and increasing capacity of A&E departments. And the energy crisis is anyone’s guess. Two years is a long time in politics.

After a decade of Cameron, May and Johnson, has ‘Britannia Unchained’ got what it takes?

Keir Starmer, 60 today, will need a larger majority than Tony Blair to sweep to victory in the next general election. Currently, the approach of the Tory leadership is unpopular, and even the current finalists of ‘Britain’s not got any talent’ are not cutting the mustard with all of the Conservative membership. The traditional adage is that parties don’t win elections, but parties lose elections. Like all things Boris Johnson, that might be one final trend to be bucked.

Boris Johnson is still popular amongst his cult and the Tory Party, like the Labour Party, is a coalition. The future looks pitch black, not because the lights have gone out yet with or without rationing of energy supplies, but Liz Truss is a known unknown. Keir Starmer, although maintaining influence on the NEC and some degree of stability on and off the picket line, has U-turned on all his pledges, so the pitch on “telling the truth” lands uncomfortably with some, despite Johnson defending himself on the reputation of being an inveterate lawyer. Starmer is still unpopular with some within Labour (mainly socialists), but popular with others who genuinely feel he has a good chance of winning the next election.The ‘Enough is enough’ movement is gaining momentum with celebrity appearances such as Bernie Sanders. Liz Truss and Rishi Sunak still are chucking out the bangers like aged rockstars. Truss boasts confidently, ‘I am a woman’, while Sunak says ‘We will get rid of the European definition of asylum’ – at least one of those must be true?

For all the bluster of putting country ahead of party, you have to worry about an opposition unable to win with the NHS struggling and the economy falling apart. Just as it is unclear that Labour was solely responsible for a global economic crash in 2008/9, it is equally unclear that the Ukraine war is responsible for the high inflation in the UK. The arguments for why this is not the case perhaps have been exhausted elsewhere. Certainly inflation is movable feast, with the US dollar being strong against the sterling pound and Euro. As we know food prices started going up due our supply chain problems were not due to Brexit, so they say. All alcoholics in recovery to have the courage to face the things they can, so both Labour and the Conservatives acknowledge their lack of influence on externalities presumably. But one internal dispute within the Conservative Party became very public within the whole country, and is as yet unresolved due to issues such as the Northern Ireland protocol or regulatory alignment. A culture war may be beginning to make an appearance causing a fracture within Labour too. One only has to look at Owen Jones and Eddie Dempster, and their groups, to know that there is a meeting of minds over neglecting the concerns over the ‘working class’. But the argument is clearly nuanced – so for example not all of the working class are White, and not all racists live in the North (apparently they mainly live in the South East, where coincidentally much of the Conservatives membership lives.)

It feels as if Labour has somewhat been thrown off track from its founding ideas. Mick Lynch is clearly concerned that founding values are not audible in statements made by Labour’s leadership. I think this is true. It doesn’t seem to say much on employment rights. It doesn’t say much on why it has accepted the economic model of Thatcherism in the privatisation of elements of the State, even though the unconscionable profits of directors are clearly at odds with the 1975 privatisation think tank within the Conservative Party which said that privatisation was partly charged with redistribution of profits to workers fairly. Starmer possibly wants to have his ‘red meat’ clause 4 moment. The Beecroft report from 10 years ago is still fresh in the mind of the Free Market group members, Kwasi Kwarteng, Liz Truss, Priti Patel and Chris Skidmore. This ‘liberisation of the workforce’ is together with tax cuts designed to promote productivity in a Singapore-on-Thames is an appealing idea, except without any state intervention it is possible that many SMEs will go to the wall – and then there will be not much growth, and much unnemployment. The pitch on low taxes is clearly Wild West politics, and it would be more ‘grown up’ to think about maximising markets, not just pork markets, to improve productivity. But this might necessitate discussion of the topic which cannot be mentioned – that of course is Brexit. The Tories have had various crises to contend with apart from Brexit such as the coronavirus pandemic. So it’s quite possible that we never saw ‘peak Johnson’ as he was negotiating one crisis and the next.

We know what happened to what was called a ‘far left’ approach. Somebody told me that he considered Labour to be ‘far left’ because of their Green policies, wanting to increase spending in the NHS and social care, abolition of tuition fees, and so on. Each to their own. But it could be that the ‘radical right’ goes unchallenged – and certainly not subject to quite the same degree of toxification from the media. Energy issues, such as the lack of market, wind farms, insulation – have all been known issues when Ed Miliband pitched for a Labour government in 2015, but it was considered more important to get Brexit done in 2016. That Brexit is yet to achieve its full potential is illustrated in the damp squib of the Festival of Brexit.

Nobody can define what ‘Britannia unchained’ will end up looking like. It’s an experiment in economic liberalism to continue the legacy of Margaret Thatcher which is effectively an obsession – which only a Truss/Kwarteng government can deal with as a compulsion. With ambulances delayed, social care on its knees, people not able to pay their utility bills, it could be that Cameron’s volunteers in the ‘Big Society’ are stretched to their limit. But apart from food banks and warm houses, what more is there to be done? The failure of Tory policies is glaring, and there are few else to blame. For Liz Truss to succeed, she is going to have to tear apart her own record, including legal aid cuts (criminal barristers are on strike), not having gas storage (gas import is costing us dear), and not having environmental safeguards (it is difficult not to go for a swim in certain beaches without contracting a life-threatening illness.)

Are you proud of your country? If not, why not?

Given that I very infrequently go out of the house or meet people, due to a profound depression due to a recent bereavement, I listen to phone-ins on local radio. A popular topic has been, ‘are you proud of your country?’

I must admit that I am totally bored to death of this discussion. In the blue corner, there is a lot of attacking of the ‘Leftwaffe’ (yes, remember that when you have to resort to insults you have lost the argument?) that the Left is ‘unpatriotic’ and ‘always doing the country down’. In the red corner, people are well and truly fed up; sick of stressful utility bills, sewage being pumped into local beaches, criminal barristers and posties on strike, railway workers sick of the way they have been treated, and so on.

Nostalgia meant that people enjoyed referring to the 1970s when the UK was ‘the sick man of Europe’. I remember looking up the inflation rate yesterday, having been aghast that a serious political commentator asked how we could “stop” inflation (revealing a complete misunderstanding of how inflation works). Apart from Lithuania and one or two countries in the European Union, we are well ahead. It is hard to escape from the conclusion that this is something to do with the Ukrainian war, but it clearly is something to do with the delays in processing due to Brexit. How awful is it must be to go back to the 1970s when shareholders were not fleecing the system, local libraries existed, it didn’t take hours to call an ambulance, social care wasn’t totally on its knees?

My late mother warned me that when you tell a lie you are forced to tell another lie and another and another. Listening to Nigel Farage argue that the Conservative Party has failed to use Brexit to stop the dinghy influx was totally laughable. It’s been explained to him that this problem has been caused by Brexit, in that we don’t have good relations with France – there is no obligation on France, for example, for them to return dinghies. One person in the audience in the Liz Truss GB News “people’s debate” even suggested quite randomly sending the refugees, contrary to international law, to Kenya. People talk about asking the Royal Navy to send the dinghies back to France, but this has been definitely rules out as an option.

The lie over Brexit is getting larger and larger. So confused I was about the arguments for why people might support the exit of the European Union, a position Mick Lynch holds, is that I followed Mick Lynch’s advise – to go back to the original arguments of the 1970s, such as Peter Shore. Tony Benn and Peter Shore both refer to the weakening of democracy. I, like Roy Jenkins, find this a rather dubious argument for a number of reasons. For example, people in France and Germany do not spend all of their time being ‘resentful’ that they are being ‘governed from Brussels’. Also, following 2016, the UK has taken back control, so that catastrophic decisions made by Liz Truss and others, regarding the Environmental Agency and other aspects, have led to raw sewage making the UK being surrounded by a moat of hot sewage. The legal aid cuts which Truss also delivered tells us what sort of ‘small state’ the Tories have in mind, meaning that the criminal law is now on its knees. Criminal barristers, some of whom are being paid less than the national minimum wage, are simply sick of it. The public are sick of water companies with litres of water spewing out of burst pipes, hose pipe bans, and millions of bonuses and spent on dividends. There is clearly no ‘market’ in that I cannot ‘shop around’ for water. Nobody ever says, ‘I had great electricity this morning’.

I completely understand why Grace Blakeley are exhausted at explaining the failure of Thatcherite economics. These were near monopoly oligopolies, with no real competition. When they were privatised, they were still acting as monopolies. And the worst thing is – with no ownership or stake, we cannot intervene. As Thatcher liked to triumphantly used, ‘You can’t buck the market’. Who knew Corbyn was right too – you can’t buck a rigged market? The regulators have failed to intervene on behalf of the public too. The media for decades have defended this failed ideology, and this had held the country to ransom with the Tory government. Labour is going through a tough time, with the usual split between socialism and social democracy, with much personal hostility thrown in, but this has always been the case. Bevan was himself expelled from the Labour Party, and treated pretty appallingly like other contemporaneous leaders. The Bevan / Gaitskell rift was followed by the Benn / Foot / Healey rift, and so on. The problem is, as it’s always been, is that Labour will put so much energy into procedure, process, and fighting each other, that it will not devote itself to fighting Truss and Sunak who are clearly atrocious. Labour has previously been accused of being more concerned with party than country, but if it is seen to be clearly on the side of the country – given that the Tories are clearly not – it seriously has a fighting chance of forming a government. A stuck clock is right occasionally, or every dog has its day, or whatever your worst case scenario is.

‘Returning to practise’ for some medical doctors is not easy, but the issues are both predictable and solvable

After a period of unmanaged mental illness about twenty years ago, I was removed from the GMC medical register. After this life event, I entered a coma and indeed became physically disabled. I have for various reasons found it difficult to return to full time clinical practise. You may ask why I have decided to write an article on ‘return to practise’ when I literally haven’t been a full time junior doctor since 2003. Actually, I’ve been procrastinating about writing the piece.

My situation concerns doctors who take unanticipated leave, due to personal health issues, or problems with colleagues, not people who plan to leave the NHS for a bit in an intended way. One thing which really annoys me is how politicians do not seem to understand the NHS workforce crisis, nor indeed have any practical plans to deal with it. I don’t deny that there is a retention crisis due to the NHS pensions arrangements. I am not focused on that, in that my contributions will be insufficient to secure my pension anyway. I think the apathy in solving the workforce crisis is illustrated by the sheer numbers of people who’ve been charged with the problem, often at very senior level, generously remunerated, but have not been successful one jot. It is a career limiting process potentially, but it could be a career defining or enhancing one. Like many things in medicine, like dementia or stroke, you probably don’t imagine that unemployment from the NHS will happen to you, but when it does you’ll finally understand why the matter matters.

Post pandemic, facilitating more registered medical doctors to work matters. This is obvious, because, not only do we need people to do the acute work and the elective procedures, we need to do other things such as risk reduction for illnesses and helping people lead as full a life as possible given mental or physical complications. But there is another issue which has always shocked me. That is, by not having a fair number of boots on the ground, life becomes much tougher for those who are there. There’s a clear difference between doing a job comfortably, and being too stressed to go even to the toilet without feeling guilty – or even taking any time off without incurring yet another rota gap. But it’s not just post pandemic due to COVID. Due to years of decline, social care is in a desperate situation, we have cut ourselves off from freedom of movement with the European Union, and we have the known known of an ageing population with ever increasing number and complexity of health needs.

No. The reasons why I have found it so hard to return to clinical practise should not be taken as ‘criticism’ of anyone or any statutory bodies, but should be used as inspiration as how to fix a broken system. The NHS is not fully privatised yet, and so the idea of a national plan is easier for the NHS than if healthcare were entirely privately owned and fragmented. It is theoretically possible for a central government to make the NHS workforce crisis as they can coordinate their response with the NHS social care crisis, or the housing crisis, or the economic and hyperinflation crisis, and so on. Whilst at a population level we need to know the ‘scale’ of the problem, at a personal level, unemployed doctors who want to work would benefit from careers advise. Of course not every unemployed doctor wants to return to the workforce, because of the unaddressed problem of low morale exacerbated by the hostile media coverage, burnout and so on.

It is impossible to plan numbers of boots on the ground without knowing the overall shape of how the NHS interacts with social care in providing an entire healthcare system. In other words, you can’t plan for the numbers of doctors in hospitals without planning for the numbers of district nurses in the community, and so on. The insidious and somewhat secretive yet acknowledged death of NHS dentistry should be a warning, like the ignorance of ‘Brexit’ and other “non-woke” issues, that ignoring an issue doesn’t in itself make it go away. When planning any strategy, there are known unknowns, known as ‘bounded rationality’ – take for example Brexit, or retiring BAME doctors, or doctors taking early retirement due to over punitive pension arrangements. But the problems in long term forecasting might be mitigated by shorter real-time forecasting.

There is clearly a financial disadvantage to NHS trusts hiring people to hire doctors at short notice through locum agencies. These doctors are able to charge a much higher rate, and do not especially like the lack of security at the expense of flexibility. Whilst doctors cannot plan, NHS Trusts cannot plan adequately. Speciality specialists, including physicians or GPs, could be asked how many doctors they currently need, even at a granular level. How they are funded cannot be kicked down the road indefinitely. Public services have become relied upon for doing more and more for less and less resources, and the various worms have turned. If a locum agency can warn me to keep my immunisations up to date, or my mandatory training (e.g. child abuse, ‘county lines’, safeguarding), or keep my registration up to date with an active license to practise, why cannot anyone else then? The GMC holds a central database of people on their medical register with a license to practise. They have revalidation and continuing medical education commitments. I had to sit a revalidation assessment for the GMC in 2019 in Manchester. Somebody should be mentoring all people on the register to tell them to keep their knowledge and skills up to date, even if they cannot absorb behaviours and skills because they are not in a paid regular job. This is a waste of talent otherwise, and the assets of the NHS are not just furniture or tangible.

For as long as I can remember it the informal advise from the GMC is that ‘it is not an employment agency’. I of course get that, but it does have a powerful say who is on their register or what motivates them. The GMC still has some way to earn the trust of BAME doctors on the register following high profile decisions such as Dr Hadiza Bawa-Garba. The recent furore over a teabag as a gift from the NHS has further identified about how the NHS approaches wellbeing. Years on, people do not generally see mindfulness and resilience training as the answer, but good care from colleagues. I for example became burnt out, living on my own in London, with no social life, with no regular educational supervision or pastoral care at all. As Liz Truss might say, ‘this is a disgrace’. I still have the wounds of my 2 months in a coma due to meningitis in 2007, but in fairness to me I have a license to practise on the GMC register, with full MRCP(UK) or membership of the Royal College of Physicians, a medical education training in progress, a PhD, plenty of post doc work including peer-reviewed papers and books, and years of being an unpaid carer with loads of experience about integrated care.

I was stuck off in 2007, but restored in 2014. Time lost for both me and my late parents. I can’t turn back the clock, but the best thing which would improve my wellbeing would be to have a paid job, a feeling of contributing to society, and a tangible effect of knowledge and skills to help the care and research for others. I have never wanted simply to join a locum agency after years away from the frontline, despite full registration, knowing that if I made a mistake I would be thrown to the wolves through under support – and I would go under with the legal and regulatory stress. This is why I think the GMC has a duty to solve the workforce crisis together with Health Education England – because the GMC is not only responsible for standards in ‘trainees’ but in all doctors, including education and training, and there is no more important a statutory goal than section 1 (1) of the Medical Act 1983 than to promote patient safety. To return to work, I need to be as confident as I can be about patient safety, working in teams, keeping my skills up to date. I should not be thrown to the wolves. As I have always been disabled since 2007, I am deserving of a statutory return to work as a reasonable adjustment under the Equality Act (2010). I have never had an opportunity to talk about this ‘need’ of mine, anticipating how to contribute to the workforce. I need to be valued before I return, not at the moment the NHS are forced to have me. I need to be supported and valued before I return. I need to know what mentoring and support services, including occupational health, before I return – even if they are patchy. And they need to be funded fairly.

The present situation is the result of years of neglect, and people who should have known better not asking people like me about their lived experiences of being thrown on the scrapheap rather prematurely. Hopefully things will finally change now. I am not holding my breath. You will of course notice that I have not offered much in the way of solutions. I don’t deny this is a very difficult problem, and one which deserves funding and a workstream of people solving the problem not as a part-time 3rd job. I think an extended induction or return to work scheme would really help. I think also that ‘returners’ really are yearning for a sense of ‘belonging’. This is what Prof Michael West and others have identified as part of their compassionate leadership approach. I entirely agree. Autonomy is another issue – all returners want to be confident, autonomous, independent practitioners but who can seek help and work effectively as part of a team. Returners like me are a not a ‘quick fix’. We are a neglected and scarce resource. If the NHS disappears, this debate will disappear too.

The 2022 Conservative Leadership Election – what have we learnt?

For many of us, it sometimes feels like this – as articulated by Andy Burnham on Twitter,

Kemi Badenoch MP, one of the candidates currently for the Leader of the Conservatives and Unionist Party, has said that the division between “remainers” and “Brexiteers” no longer holds. I’ve never liked the term ‘Brexiteer’ as I think of it as a wilful projection that the people who voted Brexit were like Musketeers, courageous and brave. I think they’re brave in that they voted for a drastic geo-political change not knowing what sort of Brexit they would have. The Conservatives never asked us, and then imposed their own brand of Brexit. Nonetheless, in 2019, some people were so terrified of a Jeremy Corbyn government, this did not matter. The policies Labour offered, ranging from nationalising rail or improving utilities, better funding for the NHS, a national social care service, and so, on, were deemed irrelevant – and with Johnson, one could ‘get Brexit done’.

It is now palpably clear that Brexit has not been ‘done’ in any sense. For example, the Northern Ireland protocol, hailed by Liz Truss MP as one of the biggest achievements of her and Boris Johnson, is a mess and now subject to litigation from the European Union. A second time bomb waiting to detonate is the commitment of the equivalent of ‘net zero’ by 2050 as part of the Brexit agreement. Not all of the Tory candidates are behind this, which is somewhat irrelevant considering the 2019 manifesto details. None of the candidates for the Tory leadership have really offered the meat on the bones of the ‘post Brexit’ world. If there is indeed going to be greater regulatory divergence, to satisfy the need of some of the Tory Party to turn Britain into the “Singapore-on-Thames”, one should reasonably expect there to be some trade barriers from the European Union. If indeed “we hold all the cards“, of course, there should be nothing to worry about.

Also not done is the reconfiguration of social care. The Conservatives have literally had at least a decade to consult and legislate on this – and we have nothing. For some reason, Penny Mordaunt MP made some reference to the insurance industry as ‘preliminary work’ in social care reconfiguration – and of course that is a fear of many requiring open, transparent discussion. ‘Will of the people’ cannot only be a slogan, after all. So long as nobody ‘gets social care done’, care packages at discharge destinations such as at home or in residential care settings (care homes, nursing homes) cannot be successfully activated, meaning that patients are languishing in hospital beyond their will and desirability. While Rome burns, Johnson is partying at Chequers as if it is 1999.

This all leads me onto the veneer of the debates – that the membership of the Tory Party are voting for the person with the best policies. There are some red herrings, like Liz Truss MP channeling her inner Margaret Thatcher by wearing a floral blouse which they both presumably would have been proud of. Of course, the candidates want to lay ideological lines in the sand, like Mordaunt wishing to say she is learning from the financial industry primarily in learning about social care (not people like me who are academics and service users of the profession). Or it might have been Suella Braverman MP (and Dominic Raab) who don’t want to be fettered by the European Court of Human Rights, so being ‘unshackled; from the article relating to the right to be free from degrading treatment and torture might allow flights to go to Rwanda. Or Truss to be free from the international legal restraints of the Good Friday Agreement.

But …. if it takes ten minutes to get through to 999 Ambulance, and then takes 19 hours to get from the call to a hospital ward, the system is not working and people can blame the Government. If you have to wake up and ring on the dot of 8 am, and still fail to get an appointment with the GP, a brass necked Tabloid will want you to blame your GP, but you should really blame the Government. If you fail to get a NHS dentist, it must be the fault of the Government, like Kemi Badenoch MP (despite her family’s total income and access to private dentistry) being able to get an appointment for a chipped tooth. Or somebody being unable to get a passport, say for avoiding England in the peak of a heatwave. At the end of the day, the Conservatives are a successful fund raising machine, as evidenced by the successful events run by Johnson and Sunak despite the politics of their ‘falling out’. The Conservatives need to reflect the views of their individual and corporate investors, who will wish to see a return on investment (for example, through Johnson’s alleged personal favours, or official awards in the honours list). This could lead to policy decisions which are not easily directly evidenced as ‘will of the people’ – such as aboltion of the BBC or privatisation of Channel 4. The financial case for Brexit is debatable according to who you talk to, and of course can be ‘rubber stamped’ by a referendum if need be, despite the loss of some trade and some geopolitical soft influence. Opposition voters and members are right to be concerned about a ‘one party state’, where there is progressive privatisation of the NHS, however-so defined (such as increasing proportions of NHS delivery by private and public limited companies).

This is where the ‘quality‘ of the opposition does matter. It is striking that Labour have distanced themselves from the highly popular movement of the RMT in defending workers’ rights. Mick Lynch and Eddie Dempsey have become internet sensations in their own rights. For a long time, RMT has had no financial link to Labour. Likewise, Wes Streeting MP publicly declared this week on LBC that he would distance himself from striking union health workers over pay (despite the freeze in pay compared to the cost of living). This is because Labour wants to be seen to be distant from the Unions. This is problematic for voters also because it looks as if Labour has no influence on the Unions, and the Unions have no influence on Labour. The question then becomes – who does Labour work for? You can see by the U-turn on all of Keir Starmer’s pledges since he became leader of the Opposition, as elicited by Andrew Marr (see here for example on instagram), that this becomes a valid question. So ultimately – what on earth is the point of voting Labour anyway? The Tories then become in the unenviable position where people in England will vote for them even if strategically and operationally void of competence. Boris Johnson MP was not sacked as leader of the Conservative Party for incompetence, although arguably he should have been. He was in effect not even sacked for partygate and the allegation of lying to parliament. He was sacked by his party presumably for making them lie on his behalf in morning media rounds, and effectively for one of his team allegedly looking at pictures of dominatrix while sitting in parliament and one team member allegedly groping young men in the Carlton Club in a way that Ancient Greeks might only have been proud of.

Voting in of the Tory Party, and the invididual positioning of the Tory candidates, may therefore have little indeed to do with the ‘war on woke’. I don’t feel that the culture wars are as in the front of the mind of the Tory PLP as everyone would like to argue. For example, the online safety bill being taken through parliament, albeit now very slowly, arguably drives a ‘coach and horses’ through freedom of expression. It is also possible to triangulate on trans-sexual identity politics – it is possible to respect someone’s identity, whilst also not allowing ‘mixed’ hospital bays or prison cells, or sporting events. It could simply be ‘red meat’ for the ‘red wall’. Some localities have seen evidence of financial levelling up, ungraciously called ‘bungs’ by some. But this is another area where nobody cares about how slick an answer is in a leadership debate, but how good the Conservatives are for delivering adding benefit and value to certain voters.

So it may be plus ça change after all. I suspect the Tory Party will choose the least worst option – and a ‘safe pair of hands’, sort of, in Rishi Sunak MP who seems to have more of a clue on the big problem facing the nation – the risk of hyperinflation and stagflation – than the others. But there is a strong case for someone with the ability of Tom Tugendhat MP being in a senior foreign office rôle too. Kemi Badenoch MP’s right wing politics do not especially appear to suggest that the NHS is ‘safe in her hands’. Liz Truss MP has been accused of not being able to find the door, when ironically the Tories have been trying to show Boris Johnson the door for ages. Perhaps what we take from the leadership events is how nobody has a strategy plan for certain topics, such as ‘saving the NHS’, for example, or clearing up the mess in the administration of criminal law and justice. Penny Mordaunt MP appears to be broadly clueless on most policy briefs, confirming the ‘grave reservations’ view of Lord Frost who is hardly covered in glory himself over the details of the Brexit negotiation outcomes. We know that Rishi Sunak MP is the only man with made to measure suits, where the suits have been made to fit someone else other than Sunak.

The known unknowns are how much Scotland wants to vote SNP despite the record of the SNP in office to give a mandate for a second referendum for ‘independence’, or how successful LibDems will be in securing Tory seats, or how ‘popular’ Starmer is. A major problem for Starmer’s Labour is the animosity from the large section of the membership who feel that Jeremy Corbyn has been unfairly demonised, and how he has no clear policies despite being apparently ready for an election tomorrow. A way to end this endless deadlock in policy and politics would be for someone to bite the bullet, and to catalyse constitutional reform. Britain does face ‘crises’ such as inflation or the cost of living, and voters want immediate solutions. But I think voters also want a clear vision from leaders with competence in transformational leadership, and that’s where somebody with an interest in systems thinking and systems engineering, such as Badenoch, would be very helpful indeed.

Ultimately, it’s the same script, but with a different newsreader. The problem was that the newsreader lost credibility for some, whilst retaining his celebrity status for others. Whether the script is fit for purpose needs to be communicated to all, and this is where bad dancers cannot blame the floor any more.

Is Kemi Badenoch about to make politics great again?

Kemi Badenoch has not been on any reality TV show. Nor was she President of the Oxford Union.

The impression was that the next Conservative leader would come from nowhere, and might not possibly the most obvious suspect. Rishi Sunak, it seems, always has somewhat fancied himself as ‘man of the people’. Few can remember the viral video where he discusses his favourite soft drink. But he is associated in some people’s minds as being associated with fundamentally un-conservative, some might say socialist, principles. He also, as an output of Winchester College, Oxford and Goldmann Sachs, a somewhat dubious product of social mobility.

The knives are out. And worse than that, he is not Boris Johnson’s preferred candidate – even if he has the backing of sun lounger Dominic Raab. It is possibly Liz Truss’ time where every week was ‘rollover’ week – a new (but old) international trade deal. Truss is considered the safe pair of ‘establishment’ hands – a former ‘Remainer’ who has made good her Brexiteer credentials. In other words, nobody quite knows how she is going to tackle Brexit as part of Britain’s new global outward-facing rôle in the world. Truss is incredibly astute at avoiding difficult questions. For example, when confronted with ‘If Ukraine, why not Taiwan?’, Truss recoils into a state of clever word-play and keeping all options open.

Some were clearly bound to fall by the way-side. For example, Grant Shapps was not able to manage simultaneously a high-level industrial dispute and being a Prime Ministerial candidate. Some might say that he could not even manage the high-level industrial debate. It only took Mick Lynch a few days to make Shapps look utterly ineffective. Suella Braverman is still going strong, with the ERG seal of approval; but her stance on universal credit, as well as the threatened departure from the European Convention of Human Rights, promises to put off even the most mild-mannered and risk-averse Tory.

Kemi Badenoch MP doesn’t need to be an expert in every single subject. Her quest for the truth may seem somewhat evangelical, but it seems sincere. Despite Michael Gove finding her ‘phenomenal’, she seems to have captured the attention of many so early on in this hapless leadership contest. It is easy to find fault with her positions on gender recognition or critical race theory but you can’t fault her for articulating a clear reaction. Nor can she be faulted with her concerns about the online safety bill and the threats of censorship.

I find some of Badenoch’s intellectual positions a bit problematic – but so would anyone. The US difficulties with ‘culture wars’ range from gun control to abortion, or even freedom of speech. Whilst it is an easy knee jerk reaction to avoid discussion of all of these matters, known issues since the 1920s, citing that one should resist the Americanisation of politics, this gives the impression that these issues do not matter. Whilst unisex toilets for some may not ‘matter’ as such, the issue of identity politics reflects differences in beliefs held extremely important to some. They might have relevance to safety in a hospital or prison, or other spaces. Avoiding a debate altogether, and not even clearly stating various alternative positions, did not work for Brexit. They are strictly speaking not “minority debates”. So for Kemi Badenoch to be one of the eight candidates to confront these issues, whether or not you think these are ‘common sense issues’, is to her credit.

It is easy to find fault with her thesis on ‘culture wars’, but one assumes that a Badenoch administration would apply systems-thinking to the NHS, social care reconfiguration, or the ‘cost of living’ crisis. Badenoch seems to understand that you cannot have a race to the bottom for ‘low taxation’ without a discussion of the fundamentals of the economy. But in firing up the base, and in seeking the ‘truth’, she already has conceded that the solution does not just include efficiency savings. This, of course, was THE popular dogma in the NHS a decade ago. But she has already alluded to redefining what the public sector does. This is nothing very fundamentally new, but a welcome admission all the same.

Badenoch is obviously not arguing that ‘diversity’ or ‘equality’ are unimportant. We broadly agree that they are very important. What she is arguing, however, they have lost their way; this is already acknowledged in business management, where more effort is put into diversity marketing than the actual outcomes (such as recruitment or retention of non-White doctors in the NHS).

Badenoch is refreshing intellectually as she is also willing to turn to ‘off limits’ topics. Firstly, she is not opposed to University education, but does not want, for example, for a system which overproduces too many graduates in law to become ultimately unemployable. Presumably she would find the excessive salaries of some vice-chancellors in Universities unconscionable too. Secondly, she does not have a blanket contempt for environmental issues, but likewise wants a sensible debate on ‘net zero’. Whisper it quietly, but so would many of Keir Starmer’s potential voters too.

Furthermore, diversity is more about action rather than words. It is deeply racist to suggest that Badenoch or Sunak would not be welcome as leaders of the Conservative Party. And indeed that Party should be given credit that they have legitimately made the cut on their own merits, so far. If ever there was a time not to be ‘pale, male or stale’, this might be it. OK, Diane Abbott may not be the pin-up for diversity any more and not all of her critics were racist (but many were, some argue). But nobody can deny that a Labour opposition led by Starmer, who professes no positions and all positions simultaneously, would have immense difficulty with Badenoch. Also, given that Starmer voted 48 times to oppose Brexit, as we keep on being reminded, Starmer does not have a legitimate voice in the Brexit debate for many.

I have never voted Conservative. I don’t want to wait any longer for Starmer to reveal himself. And there’s a part of me which thinks that: if somebody tells you who he is, believe him.

Many traditionally on the ‘left’ will have a good feeling about Kemi Badenoch, and if it is not her right time now – it soon will be.

A browner shade of pale: the lack of diversity of thought should concern us all

When they tell you who they are, believe them.

For the vast majority who are not Tories, this is not an impressive line-up of candidates.

The transformation of the artist previously known as the Conservative Party to something resembling UKIP is ‘near complete’. Issues such as “women with penises” or “withdrawal from the European Union”, which were never in the 2019 Conservative manifesto, and therefore never agreed with the Electorate, are suddenly being campaigned on.

Even the promotional videos give a flavour of what this motley crew is like. For example, in his socially mobile video, Rishi Sunak doesn’t mention the foot up given by Winchester College, Oxford or Goldman Sachs. And Penny Mordaunt’s video was so problematic that it had to be edited and re-distributed due to several significant complaints.

It’s said that this Tory leadership contest ultimately has two major functions: firstly, to select somebody with the ‘beliefs and values’ of a Conservative, and, secondly, somebody who can lead a Party as the majority party in government. The mission creep of beliefs and values into something quite Trumpian is striking, and significant as it could with time emerge into a cabinet of a Tory government in due course. Take, for example, the approach taken to ‘critical race theory’. The word ‘critical’ is supposed to reflect a balanced critique of issues in race relations, deliberately avoiding blame. The incorrect criticism of ‘critical race theory’ has to impute sinister agendas of those who wish to hold a transparent debate on race, ethnicity, power and society. It has become co-opted by the far right so as to say that it deliberately frames non-Caucasian individuals as ‘victims of oppression’, and the mood music of random herrings such as Jolyom Maugham’s tweet certainly doesn’t help. Diversity is best done when you’re not talking about it – there have been 3 non-White-skin-colour Chancellors of the Exchequer, implying that it is not just the left who care about equality, diversity and justice. Maybe.

Critical race theory started out life as an cogent debate, drawing on a number of intellectual strands, on – well, race. It does not deserve to be ‘cancelled’ by the far right, “banned”, or evade “freedom of speech”. The word ‘freedom’ has been bastardised in a completely unorthodox Orwellian way, and it is clear in certain cases ‘freedom is not setting us free’.

Diversity, whisper it gently, is not measured by the PANTONE chart of ‘brown’ of Tory leadership candidates. The lack of diversity in policy, and lack of stakeholder involvement, is fundamentally more of a concern.

One of the candidates is advocating withdrawal from the European Convention of Human Rights, a panel to which we still send a Judge to, an instrument which protects us from the Tory government, and which we helped to found through arch wokist Winston Churchill. This has not been voted upon as it never appeared in the 2019 Tory manifesto. The mantra we know ‘will of the people’ is utter bollocks we know that because of the constitutional set up of the UK, including the legislature, executive and judiciary. But there is no ‘will of the people’ involved in withdrawal from the European Convention of Human Rights. There should be a general election to endorse this, though it is far from obvious whether Keir Starmer is fit enough to win given that his USP is ‘being not Boris Johnson’ – and BJ has now gone.

They really don’t want to talk about Brexit. Even Liz Truss cites Brexit as one of Johnson’s achievements. But Brexit is not “done” – the oven ready Northern Ireland protocol is even the subject of litigation between the UK and EU. The trade deficit is a mess. It’s not ‘done’. That was, shock horror, yet another Boris Johnson’s mega whoppers.

The lack of diversity means all topics endorse flights to Rwanda, at a cost of hundreds of thousands of pounds per asylum seeker (as well as a considerable moral outrage). There is also widespread agreement on various forms of cutting taxes – including corporation tax, including from day one. None of these are costed. There is even a hint that this will be paid for out of printing money, in other words, quantitative easing, which ABBA dance supremo Theresa May once referred to as ‘there is no magic money tree’. A measure of inflation is already predicted to be 15% later this month, so printing money would be a bit of a disaster. We know that that low taxes are not being funded out of the success of the Tory economy, as we are now predicted to be the worst performing economy in the G20 (predicted by OECD). There is no specification of where the spending cuts are going to fall, but this merits some answer as we already know that the performance of public services is already dangerously band to chronic underfunding. We know that the UK has a productivity problem, we know that tax burden is still one of the lowest in Europe, BUT that cutting corporation taxes does not clearly lead to better productivity or increased investment. More’s the point, public spending is necessary to maintain national income. More’s the point, killing off a large market on our doorstep, the single market, is a big contributor to the death of the UK economy.

There is no diversity of thought. We have not heard a peep about environmental issues, although some people have broken ranks on the Trumpian/UKIP proposal of scrapping ‘net zero’. It is as if COP 26 never happened. There is maintained attack on equality, diversity, inclusion, no acknowledgement of environmental issues – and no regard to record waiting lists in the NHS, or a social care system on its knees. All the leadership candidates are complicit in the disastrous government of Boris Johnson, and, although the court jester has been sacked, the brown-noising suitors are still dangerously lurking.

In an ideal world, the Conservative Party should be finished. But it has a remarkable habit of re-inventing itself to secure its no 1 aim: to be in office. And the poor performance of the Labour Party must concern anyone who believes in democratic challenge.


Every saint has a past and every sinner has a future

So in the end Boris Johnson, like Donald Trump, refused to go easily. So where now?

Episode 9, the interview between Andrew Neil and Stephen Kinnock, made me think.

Through the prism of ‘cancel culture’, most politicians probably would not fare well, whether due to a dodgy tweet from 2008, or a cached web history of sex toys, or the such like. A person who was previously opposed to Brexit might find it hard to convince a voter that he or she wants to make Brexit work.

I’ve always found the ‘it’s factored in that Boris is like that’ argument quite interesting from that point of view. He has a record of making gaffes, and being critical of. the European Union. But likewise ask the stereotyped Red Wall voter what he or she thinks of Starmer, the answer might be, ‘A bit boring. And he tried to overthrow Brexit.’

Johnson used to enjoy talking about Starmer’s ‘remoaner’ credentials in #pmqs. He is of course thrilled about ‘getting Brexit done’, which in a sense is true in that we are out of the European Union despite numerous obstacles. As far as single issue politics are concerned, this was considered to be a huge achievement, breaking the deadlock. It is possibly the fault of someone that this has overshadowed lack of policy progress in other areas, such as macroeconomic management or social care reform. But it is clear that Brexit is not ‘done’ ‘done’, in that the NI protocol is still up in the air. Starmer’s speech on Brexit to many was a bit boring. It didn’t really say anything one could strongly disagree with, but likewise it didn’t really say anything particularly noteworthy. It deliberately avoided specifics of particular sectors, and possibly was striking by its lack of action on the single market or free movement of people, despite the impact on the economy and society.

It is a genuine question what Starmer ‘believes in’, so increasingly one is slightly more disinterested in what he opposes. For example, I think he opposes nationalisation of utilities, or crossing picket lines. I suppose he is quite keen on the BBC, and would like to keep his counsel on what a woman is. So, given a choice between Suella Braverman MP and him, an anti-wokist probably would go for Braverman. With even Braverman as the new Conservative leader, it is possible that this could deprive Labour of an overall majority. The question then becomes whether Starmer has shown enough Remoaner leg for that to be a carrot for a Labour voter.

When Stephen Kinnock said something along the lines that Boris Johnson had ‘debased’ politics, my danger antenna went up. Integrity and probity are of course brand identities of Starmer, despite the Durham investigation. But this mission creeps into sanctimonious moralising, which became part of Nick Clegg’s downfall (coupled with his U-turn on tuition fees). So it is a genuine question whether a voter feels that he or she can ‘connect’ with Starmer. We know that people who supported Corbyn tend not to, because of the breaking of Starmer’s leadership pledges, and the ‘getting our house in order’ argument to disposing of Corbynism. Corbynism has been made to be perpetually toxic, ironically given today that today France’s PM has decided to nationalise electricity. Whatever your views on socialism, one can perhaps admire France’s attempt at mitigating the cost of living crisis. And yet the British electorate appears to have rejected Corbynism for a bit of groping and Brexit.

I am intrigued who the next Tory leader will be in August or September. I quite like Andrew Bridgen’s non commitment to it, in letting due process run its course. I quite like Steve Baker’s unemotional assessment that there are ‘two great parties’ and it will be either Tory or Labour/SNP. I am no Einstein, but it doesn’t take much to work out that if there is an early election, the Conservatives will go mega pro Union and do the ‘vote Labour get SNP line’. And for all I know that might be as effective as ‘Get Brexit done’ – and Starmer might be equally toxic to Brexiteers as Corbyn was for some voters in general.

I don’t feel Starmer can ‘reinvent’ himself especially if evidence against Brexit points increasingly in one direction. It’s mind blowing that the Conservatives still have a reputation for economic prudence, which might make Rachel Reeves’ plan for cut through on solving the hyperinflation crisis.

But at the end of the day I am amused by Andrew Neil’s approach of ‘given how dire Boris Johnson is, why isn’t Starmer much more ahead?’ We are told by constitutional experts that we don’t live in a presidential system, so people vote for parties not people. But whoever succeeds Johnson will be up against Starmer, and presumably he or she will have a future. It may be that the actual policies or facts don’t matter. Starmer might be fulfilling a Neil Kinnock rôle in recalibrating Labour away from the ‘far left’, and one last heave might turn Starmer into the new Tony Blair. Tony Blair however had policies, was ahead in the polls, and was popular. It is quite possible that Starmer turns out to be nothing like Blair or Neil Kinnock, but that might be irrelevant given a ‘time for a change’ Tory leader. I suspect actually that Starmer will be more like Michael Howard or Iain Duncan-Smith in longevity.