Chasing after crazy and a tale of two ships

The Tories are in meltdown this week as two by elections loom in what were nominally safe Conservative seats in the English Tory heartlands, although given the current state of the party there is no longer such a thing as a safe seat for the Tories. Febrile back bench MPs are wailing that the party is locked into a death spiral and that defeat in the two seats is now priced in even though under normal circumstances both seats should have been safe holds for the party.

Should the Conservatives lose the two parliamentary seats, one in Kingswood in South Gloucestershire and the other in Wellingborough in Northamptonshire, the party will exceed its record of by-election defeats in a single parliament and will pile further pressure on a beleaguered Prime Minister who has little personal popularity amongst his MPs. Sunak was anointed leader after the disaster of Liz Truss because he was viewed as a safe pair of hands who could turn the party’s electoral fortunes around, but instead the Tories continue to face the likelihood of near annihilation at the next general election and their woes continue to mount.

The by election in Wellingborough is taking place because the former Conservative MP Peter Bone was removed from his role after more than 10% registered constituents signed a recall petition when the far right MP was suspended from Parliament for six weeks after the Parliament’s behaviour watchdog, the Independent Expert Panel, found he had broken sexual misconduct rules by indecently exposing himself to a staff member during an overseas trip and had committed numerous bullying acts including verbally belittling, physically striking and throwing things at the same staff member. Bone continues to deny the accusations.

The Kingswood by election is being held because sitting MP Chris Skidmore, resigned in protest at the Sunak’s decision to issue more oil and gas licences. Skidmore announced his resignation on 5 January and stood down three days later. Skidmore was Interim Minister of State for Energy and Clean Growth from May to July 2019, during which time he signed the UK’s Net Zero pledge into law.

Skidmore had been covering the post for Claire Perry O’Neill, who was ill. She herself resigned from the Conservatives in January 2023, claiming that the party had become dominated by ideology and self-obsession. She praised Keir Starmer and backed him to provide “sober, fact-driven, competent political leadership”. Another sign that Starmer’s Labour party provides a comfortable home for disaffected Conservatives who see their party’s chances of holding on to power evaporating. Former Conservative leadership contender Rory Stewart is a big fan of Starmer’s and with the entitled arrogance of an old Etonian has said he be happy to serve in a Starmer government. Now former Boris Johnson fanboy Rod Stewart has said he too now backs Starmer as the next Prime Minister.

Some Tories are growing so desperate that there are even reports that some MPs on the right of the party want to bring Boris Johnson back in some capacity. Liz Truss’s Chancellor Kwasi Kwarteng has called on Sunak to “swallow some pride” and bring back Johnson, describing the disgraced liar as an “electoral force.”

Despite Johnson’s many and repeated lies, his corruption, indolence and the chaos of his administration, he retains a significant following amongst Tory MPs who are now so unhinged and detached from reality that they believe Johnson can win the next election for them.

Yet this crazy, reality challenged party is the one that Keir Starmer chases after, ditching any Labour policy that might attract the ire of the spittle flecked Tory right. Labour leaders always do this, making vaguely left wing promises when seeking the leadership or when in the wilderness of hopeless opposition, but ditching them as soon as a snifter of power hoves into view. This has been the trick Labour has played for decades and which it keeps on playing. It’s the trick Labour is playing right now as Starmer tours the UK, promising ‘change’. The only change he really offers is changing him for Rishi Sunak, everything else will remain the same. Westminster will remain incapable of holding the increasingly presidential powers of the Prime Minister to account.

The House of Lords will continue to be an affront to democracy and Starmer will fully avail himself of the powers of patronage that appointing life peers affords him. Labour has long complained about the inbuilt Tory majority in the Lords, expect Starmer to tackle that by doling out swathes of peerages of his own, some of whom may very well be those former Tories who have switched their support to him. The affront to democracy will only get worse.

While Starmer leaves the dysfunction of Westminster untouched because he benefits personally and politically by keeping things as they are, the rich will continue to enrich themselves, the poor will continue to struggle, migrants will continue to be demonised, the UK will continue to involve itself in wars in the Middle East.

Labour’s pursuit of Conservative insanity is if anything worse than the Tory insanity that Starmer seeks to ape. The Tories are genuine believers, cruel, callous and inhumane. Starmer is merely a cynical opportunist, bereft of all principle except an unshakeable belief in his right to power. He’s Tony Blair 2.0 and any government he leads will very quickly become very unpopular indeed as the ‘change’ he keeps harping on about fails to materialise.

In other news, which is bound to receive wall to wall coverage in a Scottish media which is clearly obsessed with ship building failures, the Royal Navy’s flagship vessel, the aircraft carrier HMS Prince of Wales has left Portsmouth a day late after postponing its scheduled departure for a NATO exercise at the last minute. The ship, which was due to replace its sister ship HMS Queen Elizabeth after it broke down a week ago. Retired Rear Admiral Chris Parry told the BBC the fleet’s carriers were getting a “reputation for not being reliable”.

In 2022, HMS Prince of Wales broke down off the Isle of Wight, when it also suffered a malfunction with a coupling on its starboard propeller. The two ships were built at a cost of £6.2 billion, nearly double the original £3.9 billion estimate. The ships, built in Scottish yards, were forecast to come into service in 2012, but the first did not come into service until 2017 while the second came into service two years later. Since then both have been dogged by a litany of mechanical failures and breakdowns. No doubt we can look forward to intense scrutiny by the Scottish media telling us how this proves that the government responsible is not fit for purpose. But the ferries, ammarite?


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