Why Rishi Sunak, Keir Starmer and John Swinney all deserve to lose this general election - Brian Monteith

All three leaders of the UK’s biggest political parties – the Conservatives, Labour and the SNP – have made a spluttering start to their election campaigns, writes Brian Monteith

We have only had a few days of general election campaigning and already it has encapsulated everything wrong with our current political debate.

If it carries on like it started, then we will all be wishing it was over well before having the opportunity to actually cast our vote.

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Every political party seems hell bent on discouraging us to vote for them through utter incompetence, a lack of candour or rank foolishness – and they want to run the country?

Rishi Sunak calling the next general election. Photo: BBCRishi Sunak calling the next general election. Photo: BBC
Rishi Sunak calling the next general election. Photo: BBC

It all started with the wettest Conservative Prime Minister since Edward Heath standing out in a downpour getting appropriately drenched. In choosing to go to the public early, he sought to demonstrate leadership.

One day we shall know what made him decide to go early – without any flights to Rwanda, without the interest rate cuts expected after the election falls, without a further drop in inflation, more tax revenues from rising earnings – all leading to the possibility of an Autumn Statement that could bring a further reduction in taxes faced by working people. Logistically inept, Rishi Sunak’s party hasn’t approved enough candidates to stand even in winnable seats.

Maybe Sunak was aware some of the economic prospects were not going to deliver as anticipated, maybe he knows there will be no Rwanda flights even by November, or last week’s 10 per cent fall in annual net immigration would quickly be forgotten as a predicted hot summer encourages an armada of people trafficking. Or maybe the rumours of yet another self-harming leadership challenge and defections to Labour or Reform forced his hand.

Well, be it the economy, our national security or party political immolation, in every respect Sunak is only reaping what he sowed.

And yet the enthusiasm for Labour is grudging at best, and why not, when it is so hard to get an answer to what Labour might do as, one-by-one, any promises Keir Starmer has made during his party leadership are quietly withdrawn. Even shadow ministers can’t remember their six anodyne pledges.

Beyond the loyal support of long-suffering stalwarts of Labour, for whom Tony Blair and Gordon Brown seem an age ago – and are not necessarily an encouraging memory as so many of their actions can now be seen as setting-up today’s problems, the best thing Starmer offers is he’s not from the Conservatives (which is the prime reason he has not had the opportunity to prove he will be worse than them).

Nevertheless, Starmer’s chance is fast coming down the already nationalised tracks and he is not going to flunk it. What we already know about his record is many of the bad policy choices the Conservatives have made – such as the failed lockdowns, the resulting highly damaging tax increases and the push to punish our energy industries – Starmer has been cheering on if not demanding they be made sooner, be harder and maintained longer.

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What we can expect is after Starmer has delivered on the few policies he’s not recanted – death to our own oil and gas industry, further nationalisation of the railways, VAT on independent schooling, a state energy company – we shall begin to see his true colours.

Despite his denials, taxes will go up (by broadening their scope), our borders will become more porous and recent culture wars will seem like mere skirmishes compared to what is to come. If you are self-employed, a pensioner, or a motorist, you especially have reason to worry.

The real danger, however, lies in a Labour super majority built on a vague manifesto that makes accountability near impossible. Starmer will not fear breaking his promises to the public if he has studiously avoided giving them.

And if you are expecting magnanimity in victory from Labour to pull the country together, then you are fooling only yourself. After 14 years out of power, the elation of Labour’s self-styled progressives will be uncontrolled and the attraction of rubbing the noses of their defeated opponents in the proverbial will be hard to resist.

Will it be a time of healing the country’s divisions after a hard won and honestly fought campaign? More likely their triumph will have arrived by default and stealth after keeping shtum about their real intentions.

Without the restraint of a narrow majority – and with the opposition parties turning on themselves for the first year at least – Labour will be able to unleash all the worst of its policies without fear.

Not to be outdone, we then have the SNP’s leader John Swinney deciding to ruin what little is left of his party’s reputation by defending the now disgraced SNP MSP and former health secretary Michael Matheson by announcing he cannot support his suspension from Parliament for 27 days and docking of pay for 54 days.

Swinney’s defence is to claim Holyrood’s investigatory and standards process was biased and anyway, and that Matheson has paid back the £10,941.74 bill he ran up while holidaying in Morocco. What he fails to acknowledge is the standards committee, with two SNP members, was unanimous in accepting the report of the Parliament’s officials that Matheson improperly claimed £3,000 on his expenses allowance to contribute towards the bill and had repeatedly said the use of his iPad was on Parliamentary business even when he knew it had not been.

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The committee was unanimous in docking Matheson's pay for 54 days and only disagreed about the length of his suspension – 27 days being a compromise the sole Labour and two Conservative members provided a majority for, after the Labour member had rejected a Conservative proposal that the suspension also be 54 days.

Not to be outdone by Swinney’s unjustified self-righteousness, Sunak is now peddling a commitment to introduce mandatory national service or compulsory volunteering for 18-year-olds – both without jail time if refused. None of it adds up.

I fear this is going to be a very long general election.

- Brian Monteith is a former member of the Scottish and European parliaments and editor of ThinkScotland.org



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