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Opinion

The most uninspiring general election campaign in living memory

29 Jun 2024 8 minute read
Sir Keir Starmer speaks at the launch of Labour’s six steps for change in Wales at the Priory Centre in Abergavenny. Photo Stefan Rousseau/PA Wire

Martin Shipton

Who deserves the blame for what is arguably the most uninspiring general election campaign in living memory?

Is it the political parties, the state of the UK or ourselves? There has certainly been a collective unwillingness to face up to the serious challenges that face us.

Five years ago the last election was fought on the Boris Johnson-inspired slogan “Get Brexit Done”. It was a ridiculous, self-harming prospectus, but at least it provided a focus for the campaign. Both the main parties were led by polarising figures – Johnson and Corbyn – and there was a distinct choice to be made between different versions of the future.

Can that really be said this time? Labour under Starmer has done everything in its power to marginalise and exclude the left, who traditionally have represented the party’s conscience.

Pragmatism is all very well, but if it isn’t underpinned by principle it simply becomes an end in itself. The relentless pursuit of power can be a good thing, but only if there is a plan to change things significantly for the better.

Minor scandals

The enormity of the damage done by Brexit, by Partygate, by Covid contract corruption and by Liz Truss’s catastrophic interlude as Prime Minister has largely been ignored during this election campaign, even though all these negative factors have occurred since we last had the opportunity to vote for a UK government.

Instead, the news has been dominated by prolonged coverage of what in more normal times would be seen as a minor scandal involving lower order politicians placing dubious bets for relatively small stakes.

The Tories persist in describing themselves as a party of low taxation, when there is empirical data that demonstrates how, thanks to them, tax is higher now than it has been for decades. Meanwhile Labour’s two election buzz words – “change” and “stability” – represent a contradiction in terms.

The UK needs radical change to take us out of the debilitating era of austerity, but Keir Starmer and Rachel Reeves aren’t offering that. Despite their denials, newly published analysis from Cardiff University’s Wales Governance Centre has demonstrated that the Welsh Government will have to impose further cuts in future years if more money is to be provided for health and education.

While there will doubtless be much excitement on election night as Tory MP after Tory MP is toppled, anyone who believes the kind of significant change we need will be delivered is destined to be disappointed.

Torrid

In Wales we’ve had an especially torrid time. The leadership of our devolved government was, in effect, bought with the money of a criminal, and the party which on a UK level is portraying itself as the antithesis of Tory sleaze has been saying that’s OK.

Meanwhile two of our 32 seats in the Westminster Parliament have been gifted to would-be politicians who have been parachuted in from London by Labour’s National Executive Committee.

A further insult is contained in the “message from Keir Starmer” delivered to households across Wales. He states: “My six steps to change Wales are fully-funded, ready-to-go actions we’ll take on the path to long-term change.

Labour will:

* Deliver economic stability

* Cut NHS waiting times

* Launch a new Border Security Command

* Set up Great British Energy

* Crack down on antisocial behaviour

* Recruit new teachers.”

Two of the pledges relate to devolved responsibilities that are not the responsibility of the UK Government.

It’s a matter of great regret that waiting times in Wales for NHS treatment are significantly worse than in England.

The spending plans announced by Shadow Chancellor Rachel Reeves are, according to economic analysts, nowhere near enough to provide Wales with the funds necessary to make a significant difference. The same applies to the pledge to recruit more teachers.

Brexit

Rishi Sunak has few cards to play. His predecessor but one may have got Brexit done, but even Mr Sunak doesn’t see it as something to boast about. In fact, he barely mentions it. Starmer doesn’t mention it because, despite poll findings that suggest the contrary, his advisers tell him that he may upset Leave voters if he does so. Such is the quality of these two men’s leadership.

For Sunak, it is a triumph to have reduced inflation. For those affected by the cost of living crisis, additional costs, however small, are piling on more of a burden. Hyping up the mathematics doesn’t work.

The nearest Keir Starmer has to a big idea is setting up a state-owned energy generating company called Great British Energy. But when one examines the details, it’s not such a big idea at all. Nils Pratley, the Guardian’s financial editor, has written a compelling critique of it.

Here’s an extract: “Keir Starmer’s claim that the operation will be ‘taking control of our energy supply to bring down bills’ requires several gigawatts-worth of context. Energy is a very large and long-term business and you do not work miracles with £8.3bn, the sum earmarked for GB Energy over the course of the next parliament.

“Look at what the existing players will be investing in the same period. National Grid intends to spend £30bn in the UK over the next five years, SSE is on course for £20.5bn in the five years to 2027 and Scottish Power’s plan is £12bn between now and 2028. GB Energy may be able to use debt to leverage its £8.3bn into a bigger sum (it’s not currently clear), but it’s a stretch and a half to say it will have a controlling role in energy supply.

“On bills, Labour should equally be careful. As National Grid et al crank up spending, it’s nailed-on that the ‘network costs’ element of our energy bills will increase – that is how energy infrastructure is paid for. Eventually, we trust, there will come a cross-over point when more electricity from wind, solar and nuclear sources reduces costs for consumers, but it probably won’t be reached during the life of the next parliament. In any case, the outcome will be dictated for a while yet by the price of natural gas.

“None of which is to suggest that GB Energy is pointless. The part of the mission that deserves a full-throated cheer is the focus on local projects, where £3.3bn of the £8.3bn will be allocated to back small solar and onshore wind projects by lending to local authorities, and so on. That ought to be uncontentious: there are numerous examples, from Germany and Norway, of successful municipal networks and the big players aren’t interested in the fiddly stuff.

“Similarly, there’s a fair argument that a state-owned operator can hurry up the development of new technologies, such as floating offshore wind, by reducing the cost of capital in high-risk projects. But, in terms of bills, do not expect quick wins. It took a couple of decades of support from the contracts-for-difference mechanism to take chunks out of the costs of conventional offshore windfarms.

“GB Energy, then, on its current iteration, looks a nice-to-have supplement. It should be able to fill gaps in the market and be a co-investor in riskier projects. But £8.3bn – or £1.7bn a year – is not game changing money when a single high-voltage subsea and underground cable to bring electricity from Aberdeenshire to North Yorkshire can cost £3.4bn.”

Damp squib

Labour’s nice-to-have big idea is, in other words, a damp squib that won’t deliver savings in the short term, which is what people are looking for.

Mercifully, because of the failure of the nonsensical Rwanda project to get off the ground, the preoccupation with migrants arriving on small boats hasn’t gained as much traction during the campaign as it might have done. Not that that has entirely eliminated the kind of dog-whistle, racist politics engaged in, to their shame, as much by Labour politicians as the Tories.

It will be entertaining, on election night, to follow the results and see which well-known politicians have survived and which have been booted out. The overall result, however, is not in doubt, beyond speculation about whether the Tory defeat will be of apocalyptic or merely landslide proportions.

What comes next is, shockingly, just as predictable. Disillusionment with Labour and the rise of the far right.

As Nigel Farage has said, the really interesting election isn’t this one, but the one that follows in 2029. Let’s hope that tomorrow doesn’t belong to him.


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Mawkernewek
15 days ago

To be honest 2001 wasn’t all that exciting from memory.

Adrian
Adrian
15 days ago

Also ignored during this election run-up is the catastrophic damage done to the UK by repeated lockdowns. These were imposed by Johnson’s government but supported whole heartedly by Labour, who actually wanted more, longer, and deeper restrictions placed on people’s freedoms. Oh, and we haven’t heard much about Labour’s struggle to grasp basic mammalian biology: they’re still not sure what a woman is.

Uhh
Uhh
14 days ago
Reply to  Adrian

A woman is someone who covers their drink when someone like you walks in the room

Her Ring Tone
Her Ring Tone
13 days ago
Reply to  Adrian

Labour Party members and voters who are women have known all their lives what it is to be female in the UK. JK Rowling’s latest attempt to define a woman as a person with a cervix doesn’t really hit the spot for women like me who’ve had a hysterectomy. Imagine if I’d had that operation as part of treatment for an aggressive cancer – how insulting and wounding would that definition be?

Adrian
Adrian
13 days ago
Reply to  Her Ring Tone

Take JK Rowling’z words up with up with JK Rowling,
The definition of a woman is adult human female, cervix or not. The definition does not include any form of adult human male. Anyone who claims otherwise is either breathtakingly stupid, delusional, or a manipulative, gaslighting narcissist.

j91968
j91968
13 days ago
Reply to  Adrian

Are we talking primary or secondary sexual characteristics here, and what age is “adult”? I think the words in your definition need some definition as well. And what constitutes proof of being “female” and which door do those humans who are born intrasex or genitally ambiguous walk through in your cut-and-dried little world?

When it comes to the likes of you, Adrian, it would be the term “human” I’d find hardest to apply with any degree of confidence.

Uhh
Uhh
14 days ago

Disillusionment with the status quo caused the rise of the BNP in the 2000s, UKIP in the 2010s and now Reform UK in 2024. And, of course, major apathy.

Uhh
Uhh
14 days ago
Reply to  Uhh

For clarity, I wouldn’t vote for any of those parties if you paid me

Her Ring Tone
Her Ring Tone
13 days ago
Reply to  Uhh

See also, the National Front in the 1970s, and the British Union of Fascists in the 1930s. The pattern is if there is visible and marked increase in immigration from one particular geographical area or of people of a particular religion there will be a small scale but very strong reaction against them from some political quarters. Looking at the history of somewhere like Whitechapel and Spitalfields from the Huguenots of C17th and C18th to the present day is also the history of (extreme) right wing movements in the UK in microcosm.

Last edited 13 days ago by Her Ring Tone
Simmo
Simmo
13 days ago
Reply to  Uhh

That’s a good point: I didn’t have a handle on the rise of the BNP in the 2000s (I was alot less politically aware at the time). Historically, has there always been a party in UK politics that will appeal to dissent / disillusionment in the electorate, so these far right parties recognise a gap in the market ? Maybe these phenomena just come and go. Am recalling reading about Enoch Powell having significant political traction 50 odd yrs ago. And, like alluded to, a case to be made for the BNP / UKIP / Reform just being various incarnations… Read more »

Simmo
Simmo
13 days ago

Uninspiring is indeed the word…and for me, the sad things is, my hunch is that this is the feeling within LAbour, that there is no other way to play this to win power. UK politics has been so volatile over the past 10 yrs or so, I think that the approach from Labour in this general election is to tread on eggshells and not upset anyone. It remains to be seen whether Labour will start to drip feed through a more traditionally Labour approach , when /’if’ they get into in government – ground that they have been afraid to… Read more »

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