Sketchy Politics: Are all the pieces in place for Starmer?
UK political commentator Robert Shrimsley and deputy opinion editor Miranda Green sketch out Labour's possible paths to power and the potential road blocks on the route to UK's next general election
Produced & edited by Tom Hannen. Studio: Bianca Wakeman & Petros Gioumpasis
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You want to deface somebody? No.
I need a blue pen.
Are you trying to edge him on. Look, what is this? What is it?
It does look like a choc ice as well.
Oh my God, don't let's go there. You'll have to say that again because I fell off the end.
This is the crumbling state of our infrastructure.
Oh. We're calling it Sketchy Politics because of my terrible drawing. And today is Political Bingo. Eyes down for a full house. So we've got our bingo cards. And essentially, the question we're trying to answer is are the ingredients there, are the building blocks there for Starmer not just to deprive Rishi Sunak of his majority, but also to form a Labour government?
So I'm going to give you Rishi Sunak as a bingo card. Because what we're going to try and do is decide whether these elements are an advantage for Labour. So that's the game, right? At the moment, I would say, thinking back to 1997, when I was a very young parliamentary researcher, but enjoying the build-up to an election, we had a news story that was quite big about crumbling schools.
And much of the opposition's job was drawing attention to things at the constituency level that was showing a degradation in the public services. Would you agree with me that that's a huge issue again this time? And that the state of schools can go on there as an advantage for Labour?
I would go beyond the state of schools. And I would say it's the state of public services and the fabric of the country in general, I think, Labour doesn't win that many elections compared to how many elections there are. When it does win, it tends to be...
That's really worth bearing in mind, though, isn't it? It's actually very difficult for Labour.
It's tough for them.
Traditionally, the country, because of the electoral map, advantages the Conservatives. Plus there's been a loss of Labour support in Scotland since 2015. So the journey back to Downing Street is difficult enough for us to ask this question.
And the electoral map was changed by the Conservatives at the 2019 election because of the Brexit coalition that they built. But the general rule seems to be that when Labour wins it's because people feel the country is running down. Services are running down. Things aren't working. And we need a government that's going to come in and invest in it and up the quality of the fabric of society. That tends to be Labour's winning pitch. It's difficult, of course, because they also have to pretend they're not going to tax us more to do it.
That allows me to ask you whether you also want to add the NHS.
Because it's traditionally advantage for Labour. I saw some polling recently which actually showed that Labour is ahead on every single issue now except defence. And on the NHS and the state of our health services the Labour lead is way, way, way, way bigger than on any other issue. So that is always, in a sense, going to be on Labour's...
It is. And I think the length of waiting lists and all the problems that people routinely feel, that's bad stuff for any government because it's real to people. It's not abstract political ideas. It's your experience of the services you count on. Yeah, absolutely.
So do you know what? It's very interesting that you sort of sought to broaden it out from the very newsworthy crisis in school infrastructure, schools literally not being able to open on the first day of term because of the concrete that's been used in the buildings not being replaced. But I think that and the NHS, the state of the public services, also has a kind of secondary problem for the government behind it. Which is just this idea of, well, you're in charge, how could you let this happen?
Which is why I've got this delightful little briefcase here because it seems to me that both Sunak and Keir Starmer are actually trying, as personalities, as leaders, are trying to pitch for a similar sort of quality in the voters' minds. But my question to you is, which one actually manages it? And that is competence, which actually, sort of having a grip, being able to run the national whelk stall properly, we've got our own whelk stall here, is actually really important. So would you not say that as well as the actual state of the schools, the hospitals, some other things we'll come on to, there's all this kind of secondary meta issue, which is who's actually going to be better in charge if the project is repairing the public realm?
I agree. And I think it's interesting, they both have a managerial side. But they use it in different ways. And it works for them in different ways. Rishi Sunak's whole pitch now, I think, has been we had some madness before. But I wasn't part of it. Nothing to do with me. And the country is back in the hands of serious people who will run the country properly. I read the documents. I study. I think my way through. I work my way through a problem. And I'm competent.
And I'm a solutions guy. I've been educated in California. I look to the way through.
A little bit of Stanford wouldn't be a bad thing for some of the things we have in this country. I think that's all good. And I think that all helps him. And you can see in the five targets he set himself is an attempt to create some loss aversion with the voters around himself as prime minister. He was more popular than the party.
Yes, he is.
And to say, look, actually, we've been through hell. But we appear to have a good prime minister here. Let's not lose him. That's the strategy, clearly the Tories are going to have to run a things are getting better, don't let Labour ruin it campaign. So that works for him. Keir Starmer is in a different position in his managerialism, partly obviously, he has actually been a manager, which is a big thing. He actually ran something.
Run the Crown Prosecution Service, which is one thing. The job of an opposition leader, particularly opposition leader coming after someone like Jeremy Corbyn, is to reassure. Reassure the voters that they can trust you yet again. So a little bit dull, a little bit reassuring, that's good.
There comes a point, and I think we're now at it, where you also have to do the other part of being a political leader, which is being a good storyteller, and saying to the country, this is my vision. This is my narrative. And one of the things I feel is missing from Keir Starmer a little bit is anger. If you think back, you and I both remember the first years of Tony Blair as opposition leader, I remember one of his very early conference speeches, and there's a particular phrase.
And he described all the things that were going wrong in the country. And he then said it's time to take these Tories apart for what they've done to our country. And it's just a brilliant phrase. And what it said is I am angry at the way our country has been let down or betrayed. And Keir Starmer doesn't quite do that. And I think he needs a bit of it.
That's really interesting. I mean, I think Starmer is starting to discover that. I mean, at PMQs he has actually sort of turned this schools infrastructure crisis to his advantage by saying the cowboy builders that are running our country, sucking their teeth and saying you won't get a better job elsewhere. Well, you could get a better job elsewhere.
But do you think, therefore, that it's fine to put kind of competence on the map? Or do you think that there's enough of a competition between Sunak and Starmer over I'm a pragmatic solutions guy that that's ambiguous?
I do think there's still a competition. But I think Rishi Sunak is very badly hobbled by the fact that the Conservatives have been in power for 14 years. And what he has not managed to do...
You go, Sunak, you go.
What he has not managed to do is differentiate himself enough from the previous 14. What the Conservatives always been very good at doing is reinventing themselves as if they weren't in government immediately. Well, Boris Johnson, a brilliant act of reinvention. Nothing to do with me, anything that's happened before. Rishi Sunak is very new in politics. He was obviously a very important figure in the Johnson government.
Do you know what? I'm actually going to bring in another prop to explain why this is so important. This is the state of the polls. This bit here, I mean, we can see the reason we're playing landslide bingo is because this whopping Labour lead, which is quite consistent now. But this is the Kwarteng Truss budget.
This is the point of this flatters Sunak. Because things were so grim and so shocking under the briefly lived Liz Truss budget.
I keep calling it an era, of course, it was...
The moment, the moment, the moment that she went and Rishi Sunak came in, this happened. So the Conservatives got a bounce. Labour's lead reduced. So that was very flattering to him. And it looked good. But actually, although there have been highs and lows, the main point is that gap hasn't got a lot narrower, there have been moments where it has. And it's wider than at any point when Boris Johnson was prime minister.
So the fundamental fact is he is not managing to separate himself from the previous years of Tory rule. And he absolutely has to do it. Because if he can't then the fact is you're in charge when the music stopped He's got to separate himself from them. And he hasn't managed to do it.
So my next question is therefore is Sunak actually himself an advantage for Labour because, as we've mentioned, Rishi Sunak the prime minister is much more popular with the public than his party, the Conservatives.
But it's falling.
Yeah, and he has no mandate from his own party. And he has no mandate from the public either. So this would be his first electoral test as both Conservative leader and as prime minister.
Labour has been trying ways of going for him personally. They've tried the fact that he is extremely wealthy, that he's also married to somebody extremely wealthy, the idea that he's out of touch, educated at a top public school.
Did we mention he's wealthy?
Did we mention he's wealthy? Exactly. That, for Labour, has failed in the past. They tried the top hat Etonian thing against David Cameron. And it didn't go over with the public. But they say there are signs that actually going on Sunak personally might have mileage for them. What do you think?
I'm a bit sceptical. I think it's marginal. I think at the periphery there are odd moments where he's made a couple of minor, minor mistakes in presentation that you think, well, maybe you can have a bit of that. But actually, there's a bigger problem, which is just the Conservatives have looked entitled, like the rules don't apply to them. And he's one of them.
So you know what I would do to be fair? I would actually put both the main party leaders on there as an advantage for Labour.
I mean, I understand the argument you're making about Sunak. But you can only use the players you've got. And of the players that the Conservatives have, he is the best bet. He's the best bet by a long way. And as you say, he has been outpacing his party. He is different. He is interesting. Our colleague Janan Ganesh talks about the vibe that he gives off of being young, and modern, and more liberal than he actually is.
And Britain's first Asian prime minister, which is a big deal.
Big deal internationally.
If you want difference and change, that's it. So he's got all of those benefits. So I don't think he has an electoral disadvantage to the Conservatives in himself, despite the odd flaws that he has.
Let's take him off. Let's take him off. You can have him. You can have him. So what we'll do is we'll put Starmer and sort of general competence as part of the same advantage. Yes?
OK, great, because we've agreed he's sort of reassured people--
But he's not...
He's not Jeremy Corbyn.
But he's also not Tony Blair. He's not got that... he has thus far not shown any ability to enthuse. And this next year is about enthusing. People who were not Conservatives were genuinely excited about '97. They were looking forward to the Labour government. It felt like a huge moment. It felt like something different was happening in the country. But I don't feel any of that at the moment for Labour.
No, well, they won't have an expectations management problem, will they, like Tony Blair.
Expectations are quite low. So yes, so he's not... he's not Blair. Which, of course, to some people on the left is a good thing. But I agree with you, he doesn't sort elicit the same enthusiasm about a new era. Also the other thing about Tony Blair, I'm just going to put him on there for one second while we discuss it.
Tony Blair had this really spooky ability because his heart kind of beat in time with middle Britain to actually voice his own view which happened to be the same as a vast majority of the public's view. With Starmer, he has to think about what the public might feel about something before he speaks. And that is a really different proposition.
I think one the...
You want to deface somebody? No.
I need a blue pen. I think that what is interesting about Tony Blair and interesting about a lot of successful Labour figures is that they have significant Conservative influences in their background and upbringing. And so one of the things that I've always felt Labour has a problem with is that there are lots and lots of people in the Labour party who, in all other respects, seem good, decent, normal, hardworking, who literally think that anybody who votes Conservative is morally deficient. And they think of them as something wrong with them because you voted Conservative. Now, you can argue whether they're right or wrong.
Oh, the voters, they've let us down again, basically.
One of the things that Tony Blair had is that he had important figures in his life, I think his father, who were Conservatives and who he loved and respected, and therefore, looked at differently. And it makes you a more rounded political figure and more able to see the part of the nation that your party doesn't automatically speak to. And I think that's where Labour is not quite there yet.
So I noticed that you have assertively, Robert, put Tony Blair on our bingo...
Well actually, you put him there. I just, I just drew the flag.
But does that mean you think that Starmer embracing the Blair legacy in a way, and embracing the influence of Blair, Rachel Reeves has told the FT that current Labour party has still got a lot to learn from New Labour. Does that mean he's definitely an advantage? Or are there enough people on the left who still might be regretting the absence of Jeremy Corbyn from the Labour project? Looking to somebody like Angela Rayner, the deputy leader, to reassure them that it's a genuinely Labour project? Or is this a total red herring?
Two different audiences. We're talking about the country as opposed to the party. And the country clearly remains divided about Tony Blair. Iraq remains such a massive issue.
So I'm going to put Angela Rayner on here for now to see whether she is enough of a kind of reassuring the Labour left figure.
I think what I would say is that over the last five years, the Brexit era, the Boris Johnson, the Liz Truss era, the country has come to see some of the benefits of Tony Blair. That actually, it's come to think, well, as prime ministers...
You almost did his voice just then. We can all do it. I'm a reasonable guy.
And I think for the core people that Keir Starmer is going after, for the voters that Labour need to win back, there are some who will never have liked Blair. But there are some people he seemed the kind of prime minister that we were OK with.
I'm going to take you back to this territory of what's going wrong. Because you spoke about, look, we've rejected Sunak as an out and out advantage for Labour. But Sunak as you said, has chosen these five priorities, five things that he said he will achieve by the time of the election. I think they're actually turning into, some of them, advantages for Labour. OK great, we agree.
I want to come back to Sunak because...
You're trying to edge him on. What is this?
As an advantage, I think the country never disliked John Major. People didn't dislike him as a human being or as a leader. They thought he wasn't up to it by the end. But they always thought he was decent and reasonable. They probably liked him more than his party a lot of the time. And I think Sunak is in that place. I don't think he's an advantage for Labour. But I don't know how much he can cut through. That's the key point, I think.
OK, however, so he's got these five pledges. And one of them, for example, is stop the boats. Now, we've done it as a lectern because in a sense, this shows the problem with drawing attention to these things by which he wants to be measured. It's rhetoric, not reality because he can't stop the boats. And this is trying to keep hold of that anti-immigration set of voters that came on board for the Tory party in 2019 because of Boris Johnson's Brexit project. I think this now has to be on the board as an advantage for Labour because Sunak can't meet his own objective.
Yeah, interesting. Advantage?
I thought that was a slam dunk.
I think you're probably right.
That was a slam dunk.
What I think is that the traction of the immigration card for the Conservatives is that it's one of those issues where if you're exercised by the issue, you aren't going to think Labour are going to be better on it. So whatever you think of the Conservative, you think Labour are in a bit of a mess, they don't quite know how to talk about it because it plays up against their instincts. And so...
They have to self censor.
Exactly, so it's a problem for them. But I do think stop the boats has become a major problem for Rishi Sunak is for exactly the reason you said, for the rhetoric because the point is he can't stop the boats. And because the rhetoric is so alarmist and so hyped up, anything less than huge victory here looks problematic. Plus the fact you've got all the asylum seekers backing up because they're not being handled. They're hiring barges...
So it comes back to this, doesn't it? It comes back to competence and grip. Can you actually...
Well, it does. But I mean, you can't accuse Rishi Sunak of not putting the work in here. He's spending hours on this. He summons in home office officials. He knows far too many home office officials by their first name for a prime minister.
OK, I'm going to argue that should stay for the reasons you outlined, that he can't meet his own objective.
But what if... what if..
Shall we get into a row later about not enough...
But what if we get to... what if we get to the place in the election, which we clearly will, where the Conservatives announce another package of really aggressive things which Labour isn't prepared to do, and they want... I mean, every time we're talking about immigration now, it's bad for the Conservatives.
In the election, every day spent on immigration is probably good for the Conservatives. The other point, I think, is that... and it's almost a blank square in a way, is tha... one of the things...
Blank square, a blank square. Hear me out, hear me out. In 1997 and the Blair victory, John Major lost 4.5mn votes between 1992 and 1997. The Labour party only gained two million votes. Most of the votes that the Tories lost simply stayed away. They abstained. And I think that's one of the really, really big concerns for the Conservatives this time, which is that...
We could use our ghost. This is like ghost voters, the ghost...
And I think immigration is one of those issues.
These are Tories staying at home.
I like that, yes. Immigration issues are the kind of things which can persuade Tory minded voters who are angry with the Tories not to vote or to put their vote in the Reform UK basket or whatever. And that can do as much damage in the right places as switching to Labour. I think there'll be a large number of Tories who don't vote.
So on the softer Tory vote, I'm going to draw attention to a really unpleasant problem in the public realm. You might even say something that creates a stink at local level. And that is sewage. Yeah, so the privatised water companies have been essentially despoiling...
It does look like a choc ice as well.
Oh my God, don't let's not even go there. The privatised water companies have been released...
Releasing terrible, unmentionable things, not chocolate into the rivers, onto our beaches. People are really annoyed about this. They feel it's two things, which I would, again, argue are both bad for the Conservative party. One is why have you wrecked our countryside? And why can't we go for a swim in our holiday in Devon or wherever? And also what is this terrible kind of crony capitalism, where privatised companies can take huge dividends and not look after what we've given them to look after? And I think both those are terrible.
And actually, the Tories got play... when they privatised the water companies, they actually got played by private enterprise. Actually, the Tories thought they knew and understood business. They basically set up terms whereby they wiped out all the debt of existing water companies on the basis that the new water companies, the new owners would then put lots of money in.
Instead of which, they did put some money in. But they also took lots of money out. They loaded up on debt, paid themselves dividends. And so actually, it's a failure of economic management. There's your economic... not his because he wasn't there at the time. But he believes in it.
Predecessors as well, predecessor Conservative...
A failure of economic management. And it's a bad issue for the Conservatives, particularly in the kind of seats that the Conservatives normally think of winning.
Oh, does that allow me perhaps to put my little Lib Dem bird...
...where the sewage is because I would argue that a lot of the seats that the Lib Dems are poised to pick up from the Tories...
Yeah, basically, have rivers, also coastal, where the anger amongst that kind of soft Tory vote is really, really strong. And they might well go across to the Lib Dems in seats that Keir Starmer, no matter how reassuring he makes himself, can't really ever pick up.
Yeah, I think, I mean, I think Keir Starmer being reassuring is the key to a Lib Dem revival.
Because in fact, look...
They have to not be frightened.
When Corbyn was there, people didn't feel confident to vote Lib Dem. Now that Corbyn's off the scene...
The bird has taken flight.
I better put him on the extreme left, haven't I? Yes, the bird is sort of powered by sewage as it were in some of these seats.
And I think one of the criticisms we have of the Liberal Democrats is we have absolutely no idea what their big policy idea is, what their big issue is. They normally have at least one headline point. And the closest they've got is social care, which is an issue. But it's not, it's not flying as an issue. But actually, they probably don't need it for the election. They just need to be part of get the Tories out coalition, which they're being. And issues like sewage and, indeed Brexit still, play for them in some of those seats. And half of the seats. I know, they don't want... they can't talk about the thing they feel most strongly about.
So we have not made a Brexit bingo card. And that is because neither Keir Starmer nor the Liberal Democrats want to mention the B word.
But if we're playing...
At all, because soft Tory voters.
Here we go. If we're playing bingo from 1997, Europe was a huge issue, not so much for voters, but in the way it destroyed the Conservative party. Why did the Conservative party fall apart? It was Black Wednesday. And it was their fights over Europe.
It was the bastards, John Major's bastards.
And it's the ghost in the machine issue now.
Of course, Rishi Sunak does have his own sort of set of bastards, doesn't he?
Can I say that? I don't kn ow, I'm saying it.
Let's be... Rishi Sunak is a true believer. I mean...
In the Brexit project.
Boris Johnson, many will argue, was equivocal about Brexit, but understood its value to him and his leadership ambitions. Rishi Sunak is a full on, absolutely, drew up a spreadsheet on the economic benefits and disbenefits and concluded it was a win, believer in Brexit. So he can't get away from it.
Even though he's doing some interesting things now in terms of behaving better towards Europe and getting some benefits. The Horizon Project that the UK has gone back into, he is an absolute Brexiteer. And he can't get past that.
Yeah, but does that mean that you think I've made a bad decision not making us a Brexit tile for our bingo card? Because I...
No I don't because they're not talking about it.
Exactly, because it's not part of Labour's election plan at all. In fact, Labour's election plan and the Lib Dems is to not mention Brexit.
I don't think it's a mistake because you're completely right. On the other hand, on the other hand, everybody who was angry about Brexit plus the people who initially liked Brexit and are now angry about it, they're not going to vote conservative. Brexit was the Conservative headline marquee policy. And so it's relevant in that sense in pulling together all of the non-Tory vote.
OK, I now feel a bit bad about not having a Brexit card. I'm wondering if I should... you hold onto the Joker. Hang onto that because you may decide to play your Joker for either Brexit or some other possibly more important economic...
We still have Angela Rayner, by the way, on this card.
Yeah, do you think that's a mistake?
I don't think Angela Rayner is a big advantage for the Conservatives, for the Labour party at the next election. What is...
I wouldn't argue that she was personally. But I suppose she stands for unite the left. And don't let any of them leave and vote for the Greens. It's Numbers.
Maybe, I mean, I would argue I think I would argue that more effective is the absolute crushing of the Corbynites. That anybody who ever had dinner with one of them, they're all being purged. And that, I think, has been, in terms of winning an election, more important.
So choosing Blair over Corbyn, let's do it that way.
So my next question is whether Tory disunity might be useful for Starmer in terms of getting his winning card. And what we've got here is we've got a little bit of hot air.
I wondered what it was.
Yeah, I mean, I did, I did too. But you know so this sort of stands both for net zero policies, there's also a complicating factor, which is Labour's Ulez policy in London, which probably deprived them of a by-election win in outer London. This is a clean air policy. So I suppose this stands for all of the kind of green agenda, which the Sunak government shows signs of going a bit cold on because of the divisions on the right.
So Johnson Dorriwes, one of the notable points is, of course, they're not, they're not in parliament anymore. Actually, the real Johnson absolutists have mostly gone. There's not very many of them left. What there is still is a significant and vocal core of right wingers in the Conservative party. And there's two... Go on.
So can we just sort of say that they stand for the rebellious right?
The rebellious right.
The problem Rishi Sunak has is that the longer the lag in the polls goes on, the more Conservatives, who already basically think they've lost the next election, the more they become convinced about this, the more it becomes about, A, their own personal survival, and B, the leadership and the future direction of the Conservative party once they've lost.
So they're just resting.
So discipline just goes.
And actually, almost every government in its dying days has backbenchers going a bit crazy and saying what they feel like. And discipline breaks down within the parliamentary party.
This is where we come back to net zero. Because a lot of the Conservative party don't like the net zero agenda. And there's a number of reasons why they don't like it. One reason they don't like it is they think it's a back door to socialism. When you talk to Conservatives about the green agenda, they often use this phrase watermelons. People who are green on the outside and red on the inside. And they see it as...
That's borrowed from German politics, isn't it, actually?
If you say so. I didn't know that. But what's the German for watermelon then?
Oh, not sure I know that one.
Write in. Anyway, so they don't like that aspect of it. They think it's big state, and big government, and big spending, which, of course, it is. They also don't like the extra taxes and the extra costs and impositions that it brings. And what the Uxbridge by-election, which actually was a Labour near-miss in a seat they'd almost never won.
So what the Conservatives can sense, I think correctly, is that there may be a line that you can tread between all out embracing of the faith of net zero and saying, of course, we've got to do this. We've absolutely got to do it, but let's do it in a sensible way. That might have some traction. And they could be right about this.
I agree with you about that. And also the green transition plans that Labour has, promising jobs and prosperity, people don't feel that yet. It's not a guarantee that they can identify.
And they've heard the jobs line before.
Yeah, so are we keeping this off the table then because it's a sort of more ambiguous? So this conversation about net zero and about decarbonising brings me on to something else, which could be the Joker, actually. Which is...
You gave it to me.
Oh, unfair. am I going to... am I going to have to draw something now? Oh my God, I cannot try again.
Well, try. I might let you have the Joker.
I can't try and draw Scotland, OK, because we had so many complaints when I tried to draw Wales last time. So I'm going to have to just write SNP in a...
Draw a saltire or something.
Oh, well, that's a great idea. OK, let's do a saltire. You'll notice this is permanent. We're not having a debate about whether the saltire should be on the board. Because Labour winning back...
We're having a debate of whether saltire's on the board.
Labour winning back enough seats in Scotland is so important to the idea of a Labour majority, or even a Labour win, that I'm just asserting that it's on the bingo card for Labour. So there was actually a poll recently which showed Labour amazingly level pegging with the SNP, but even a previous poll which showed them still a way behind, showed them in good enough shape in Scotland to take between 15 and 20 seats back from the SNP, who have been essentially running a kind of one party state north of the border since the disastrous 2015 election when under Ed Miliband, Labour lost all those Scottish seats.
Absolutely. I think the scale of the parliamentary electoral challenge to the Labour party is really important. It's got to win something like 120 seats just to get a majority of one. And if it doesn't win many of them in Scotland, then it's got to win base... a handful in Wales. Then it's going to basically have to win 90 odd seats in England just to get that majority. Now obviously, since those seats are overwhelmingly held by the SNP, they're not Tory seats.
So what the Scottish seats bring into play is the difference between a hung parliament and a Labour majority. But if they can take back, if that poll was right and they were level pegging with the SNP and they were to take half of Scotland's seats, then they've got about 25 seats. And they have one now. So that's 24 more already.
It just makes all of the task easier. And it also sets back independence for a very long time which is one reason why I'm a bit sceptical about these polls. Is that even though the SNP are having the year from hell, even though they are suffering terribly in the polls and even though I think Labour will do well for a long time, the fact is if you want independence, they're the only party really to vote for.
We know that support for independence is still around 40 per cent, sometimes much higher. Are people who want independence are going to lend Labour their votes to get rid of the Tories? Or is independence more important?
And of course, Jeremy Corbyn, even though now not even a Labour MP, let alone leader, continues to flirt with the idea of allowing Scotland to vote for independence. Keir Starmer is not.
He's not going anywhere near it. And he's right not to in terms of the political strategy and tactics. But the fundamental fact is if you want independence, the only road down which you can drive is SNP majorities at Westminster, and more importantly, at Holyrood. Therefroe, if they get smashed, your fundamental cause is diminished.
The reason I went from this contentious issue...hot air for Scotland.
Is not because of...
On behalf of the Scottish people, I apologise.
We all apologise for that. No, it's simply because the decarbonising plan that Labour is proposing has a massive impact on Scotland's strongest industries, which are North Sea oil and gas, partly. One of its strongest industries. So I think...
The SNP is in the same place on those issues.
So the other question is whether we're allowed to start drawing on our bingo card things that symbolise the economy because I think this is the big question, isn't it? Are we allowed to start putting the state of the economy on the list of things that are a Labour advantage? Or is it still Rishi Sunak, good with the spreadsheets, good with the figures. Does he still get away with that?
I'm not sure he does. I think that, first of all, when we say the state of economy, what we mean to the voters is the cost of living and the household income. And there was a report by the...
Basically horrific increases.
Yeah, exactly. And the recent report by the Resolution Foundation think-tank, which says people are not going to feel the cost of living has improved, that household income has improved by the time of the next election. So people are feeling ground down. The political catastrophe of the Liz Truss moment was that it allows the opposition to blame the state of the economy on the Conservatives directly, mortgages and such like. Some of that's not fair.
But nonetheless, as a political line of attack, it works. So Conservatives are counting on is a significant uptick in the economy. They think that by next spring the economy is going to be in significantly better shape. They believe this. There is some evidence to suggest that they could be right. So the question is does that go through? Does that A, translate into people feeling better themselves and then B...
That's very tricky, isn't it?
Very. but also then...
Because the prices are still going up.
And of course, people, when you make a promise to halve inflation, that doesn't mean prices are going down. I think some Conservatives rather hope it does, people do think that. The second point is, even if people do start to feel a bit better off, do they then reward the Conservatives for that?
And again, there is some evidence in the past that says people are more likely to vote Labour if they're a little bit more confident about the state of the economy than if they think it's all terrible. And we need some hard nosed economic managers in place.
Also partly, don't you think the advantage for Labour is if your mind is on how do we repair the public realm, if the economy starts healthier, oh my goodness, there might actually be some funds to repair the public realm. And who do we trust to do that?
One of the arguments that is going to be central is, of course, about tax levels. And Labour is working flat out to reassure people it's not about to go on a tax binge, not raising significant new taxes. But of course, one of the reasons why it may not have to is because Rishi Sunak raised significant vast amounts of new taxes, fiscal drag on income tax thresholds, 25 per cent corporation tax rates.
If the economy improves a little bit, Labour can stick with the taxes that the Conservatives have imposed and that they're presumably promising to cut to fund some of the things they want to do. So I'm not sure how the economy plays out on this one yet. Again, in '97, if we're playing this bingo, the economy was in really quite decent shape by the time of the election.
But the country had, remembered Black Wednesday. It remembered all the things that had gone wrong. And was just thinking, enough, you guys. So I don't know how the... I don't the economy does play out to be the silver bullet for the Conservatives that they hope.
That is the main difference, though, isn't it? When we're trying to compare the 1997 landslide that Tony Blair achieved with today's task facing Keir Starmer, which is that the background to the '97 election was an economy with healthy growth. And there was money to spend. That is not the case now. So it's a whole different set of limits on the prospectus that Labour can offer the voters.
Can I play a Joker here?
Oh my goodness, you're going to play Joker.
It isn't on here. My Joker is hope. What I think is true at the moment about the election that we seem to be heading into is that it feels really hopeless. It feels like you have a government which is tired. And it's not really got any new ideas. It's not offering anything new apart from rhetoric.
And you've got an opposition which is not yet offering the same levels of hope that Tony Blair did. Not saying we're going to fix everything. They're saying things like it's going to be a long haul. We've got... we're damping down expectations. And I think a key factor over the next year or however long we have for the election is whether Keir Starmer, mainly Keir Starmer, can begin to inject a sense of hope into the public. And that to me is the key to the landslide question. It's the difference between a Labour minority government or a tiny majority and a landslide is hope.
So my problem. And I have a serious problem with you just slamming that Joker down on our bingo card is that I would seriously question whether we know he's going to be able to do that. Labour keep telling us we had a three-stage process. One, kill off the left. Two, reassure the voters that we're not frightening Labour party anymore, and particularly on tax and on the economy, you're safe with Keir. He may be a bit boring, look here's his briefcase again. But there's nothing to be scared of.
And then stage three is supposedly going to be Labour saying we bring you hope. We have a vision for the country. And I guess the reason you're saying it's a Joker is we still don't know how they're going to voice that pitch to the voters. And also what's it going to mean in substance?
Yes, and I think I'm not sure... I mean, there they are, they've got the famous Sue Gray joined Keir Starmer's office as the chief of staff. And they're beginning to think about what they would do...
Famous because she's the person who investigated Boris Johnson and Partygate. And then actually her appointment as Keir Starmer's chief of staff from the civil service was quite controversial.
An epic piece of trolling of the Conservative party. But they're beginning to turn their mind to what they would do at the start of a Labour government should they win. But they've also got to work out what their retail offer, what they're actually going to put to the voters. What are the four or five totemic things that we're saying we're definitely going to do and definitely going to do relatively quickly. Can they inject that hope in? That's the difference between a small win and a big win.
OK, so what I'm going to argue in conclusion is that there is still a couple of things missing.
Including possibly that one, yes.
Yeah, that's sort of like, yeah, can they deliver that one? But I would say there are at least two really significant things missing. And one of those is actually the concrete policies that deliver hope and prove competence, solve the crumbling infrastructure problem, and actually show you what a Labour Britain might look like.
But I think they have to be concrete. It's not just a kind of soft focus vision. And it's not just a narrative. In 1997, if we're doing that contrast, I would say the kind of totemic Labour policy was the minimum wage because it's a real thing. It would help people who needed help. But it also told you something about the values and intentions of a Labour government. They need a couple of things like that.
I think that's completely true.
I would say concrete policies, not concrete in terms of... concrete policies, where are they? And what might be the other missing ingredient? Is it actually something to do with the economy?
I think it's totemic policies on the concrete. I mean, I mean, I think we have to allow for the fact that if we had done this, if we were starting to draw this bingo card in 2020 most of these squares would be empty. And Keir Starmer has done a pretty effective job in dragging Labour to the point where we're even talking about a landslide. The final part, obviously, I think is that, impressive as Keir Starmer's job has been, it's nothing like as impressive as all the Conservatives have been in getting Labour into contention by presiding over chaos, and shambles, and all kinds of other problems. It's important that they continue to look, or continue to be able to be presented as shambolic.
Well, they say, don't they, governments lose elections, rather than oppositions winning them.
And it's really working on it.
But I would say that I think these ingredients really need to be in place because we've seen Labour come very, very close and then not quite make it.
We have. I have to say, I haven't seen as obviously ruthless a Labour leader as Keir Starmer for a while now. He just looks the, he looks to me like someone who is not going to allow any failure on his part, or any mistake, or any self-indulgence, or tolerance of missteps to get in the way of the victory. I think they've got a lot of the ingredients in place. I really do.
OK, fantastic, Robert. Thank you so much for playing political bingo with me this morning. I know it's not up to your usual intellectual level.
Cribbage board next time.
And if you want to send in any ridiculous visual metaphor ideas for us, we will consider them. We do read the comments. Thank you very much for watching. And if you want to follow us, I am @GreenMiranda on X, Twitter, whatever we now call it. Robert, you are?
Thank you so much.