It doesn’t feel that long ago when Labour under the leadership of Keir Starmer lost a by-election to the Conservatives in the north-east town of Hartlepool, a Labour stronghold and a piece of the Red Wall that became blue so to speak for the first time.
I clearly remember saying that Starmer could not recover from it and should resign with my preferred choice for the leadership, Labour’s deputy Angela Rayner taking over, to at least give Labour some kind of a chance at the next election.
Then some weeks later, I watched Starmer appear on Piers Morgan’s Life Stories, expecting the defence of the indefensible. But to my surprise, during the interview, I found myself warming to the guy, particularly for two things. One, his ability to be openly honest about the grief over losing his mother to a slowly-deteriorating illness and his tearful response of “I love you” when asked what he would say to her if she were alive. And two, berating the reality that people looked down on his working-class father for his status and that even today, the value of those with skills on the shop floor were not given the respect deserved.
These were words that then-PM Boris Johnson could never be heard convincingly, let alone said. And at that moment, I realised that Starmer, though it took a while, was indeed the right choice because the conviction was there and this was before we learnt of the policies in place Labour would offer. And notably, this was before the direction the Tories would undergo under Johnson and more recently our current PM.
Back in 2010, when I was a first-year university student who felt the real world was just a so-called mythical term, I voted Conservative, exasperated by Labour under Gordon Brown and the sense that a change of scenery was vital, especially given the energetic and charismatic way David Cameron bought out, at least in contrast to the dour and tired Labour leader.
And for all their flaws with austerity, I did the same in 2015 mainly because of a concern of Ed Miliband not being convincing enough, an offer to put membership of the EU to the people to shut the argument up once and for all and because one term wasn’t enough.
But under Theresa May, the worst PM in my lifetime so far, there was zero chance I would vote again for them in 2017, especially with Jeremy Corbyn coming across as imperfect but at least in-touch and with more appealing policies, crucially at a time when Brexit seemed destined to happen on time as promised without a glitch. It didn’t end with Corbyn as PM but it led to the demise of May’s tenure in charge, as a little over two years later, she was out, sparing us a full term at least.
But by late 2019, Johnson was PM and Corbyn had gotten worse instead of better with a concerning view on defence, a sense of inactivity over anti-Semitism that led to defections (even though I don’t see him as anti-Semitic) and a ridiculous offer to hold a second EU referendum instead of delivering on what had been won in 2016.
Whereas voting Conservative provided me with guilt, Labour under Corbyn made me nervous, and preferring to feel the former, as well as ruling out not voting at all, I reversed and with great reluctance, voted Conservative, something I said I would not do again.
In fact, I would not be surprised if while walking back home in my village in North Wales, so guilty I was that whatever I breathed out may have developed into a molecular substance which made its way into a laboratory in Wuhan and made a delicate scenario a worldwide calamity.
So my concern with Starmer in the first year in the job was that he would not be appealing to enough voters, resigning us to five more years of Tory rule. But as time has progressed, the Labour leader has gradually improved and though he’s been accused of not taking full advantage of bad publicity for the Tories, he comes across as a submarine politician, unseen largely but rising to the surface with an eye-opening statement that shows his potential as a good PM, such as his recent pledge to continue with windfall taxes on the soaring profits of energy companies.
There may be some concern from Brexit-supporters who fear that he may find some way to get Britain back in the EU given the apparent support for a People’s Vote under Corbyn, but frankly that is paranoid nonsense, given a madman would risk resurrecting the divisive political nature and here-we-go-again feel it would bring.
Essentially seeing off Johnson over Partygate and dodging a bullet with his own Beergate controversy which he promised to resign as leader if fined showed the contrast between the two men in terms of morality, integrity and principles, aspects crucial of a PM more than ever in the post-lockdown world we live in.
And now with Truss as PM, if the last two weeks have shown anything, it’s that we find ourselves in a position akin to the months leading up to the 2010 election. We have a political party in charge whose welcome has been outstayed, whose status and delivery has become tired and whose policy fails to read the room, coincidentally led by someone who didn’t get elected via a general election.
The YouGov poll last week that projected a 33-point lead for Labour, which the Electoral Calculus suggested would result in the Tories being left with just three seats, may have made for good reading but seemed like a pipe dream given the unlikelihood of such a scenario. But what it does show is that there is a healthy appetite for change given the public mood towards the Tories and a Labour government under Starmer has perhaps already been accepted, even if some still have a sense of trepidation.
A tax cut of 20p to 19p may be sound and the scrapping of the rise in National Insurance mark positives of Kwarteng’s mini-budget but the cut in 45p tax for the biggest earners doesn’t do favours in dispelling the belief amongst some that the Tories have a softer spot for the rich.
Now we should not put down those who are very rich who do pay the right amount in tax here and provide well-pad jobs and have earned their keep, but a cut from 45p to 40p does feel like an act of lunacy, given it feels a fair way of meeting in the middle to avoid even a slightly too-high 50p tax.
Seeing millionaires and billionaires get a reduction in tax each month, some of whom likely are happy to pay 45p tax, that dwarfs whatever is saved by middle-income earners shows that Truss’s use of unpopular plays as an understatement. That Labour have already said, highlighted by Shadow Education Secretary Bridget Phillipson on Question Time this week, they will reinstate the tax back to 45p to fund free school meals for primary school children screams volumes for one instance why Labour should be elected at the next election, regardless of whether we should have low taxes all round.
There’s probably not been a time in this country’s history where the desire for a new party in power has been as strong and broad, perhaps more than 1997 in advance of New Labour.
Looking at the current frontbench of the Labour party, it does feel like the strongest and most convincing set of ministers for many years, even if there is some concern about the direction some ministers may take.
An Yvette Cooper Home Office is likely to be more sympathetic to migrants crossing the Channel and open to more asylum seekers, ignorant of those who, for whatever reason, would have concern about such arrivals in their communities, adding more pressure on services. And there is of course how Labour will go