Lesley Riddoch: In a time of crisis Starmer has drunk the Tory Kool-Aid



Tory leadership debates should carry a political health warning for progressive, Remain and independence-supporting Scots. The creaking exchanges have normalised right-wingery so profoundly that Tom Tugendhat, aided by his Eggsy Kingsman spectacles, seems like quite a “nice chap” – who unaccountably backs deportations to Rwanda, condemns “socialist” (council) housing and opposes free holiday meals for English school pupils.

Weird, eh? You find yourself wondering if Penny Mordaunt’s uncanny resemblance to the marvellous Diana Rigg has subliminally boosted her campaign. Judging anyone in public life by appearance is bad form. Yet the content and policy vacuum surrounding the erstwhile bookies’ favourite leaves the mind craving any distraction.

On and on the candidates go, with reality-denying, low-tax promises delivered in familiar patrician voices which breathe entitlement and are only occasionally succinct. This is a political beauty competition in which contestants must satisfy the desires of folk in a class, culture and country quite different to our own. Just watching encourages the toe-curling charade and the crazy notion we are all in this contest together.

Watching the Tories strut their stuff is a guilty, mind-warping pleasure. Still, we do it. But let’s not confuse an irrepressible love of spectacle for any love of the Conservative party or candidates who would struggle to win their way onto community councils north of the border.

Unbelievably, Liz Truss is still in with a shout despite such a woeful performance in Friday’s debate that her difficulty leaving a press conference a few days earlier was knocked off top spot on social media. Mordaunt has told porkies about Turkey joining the EU and her original position on trans rights. More importantly she can’t answer questions succinctly and seems to have no grasp of economics.

But she’s still a front-runner. Yet no-one on TV can tell it like it is – except perhaps The Last Leg, whose mockery of Friday’s debate probably guaranteed Channel 4’s privatisation.

On the bright side, the cacophony will lose one voice after 8pm today {Monday} and another two on Thursday after which the final pair of wannabe PMs will be paraded around Tory branches before the result’s declared on September 5th and business finally returns to a pre-Boris normal.

But can it? Over the last week, Britain has taken another lurch to the right. Not just because Tory debates have given airtime and credibility to some thoroughly bad ideas. Nor because weak rivals make Rishi Sunak seem presidential and almost left wing. Not even because the summer’s seen The Spectator and Telegraph become in-house commentators for the BBC.

But also because Keir Starmer – the alternative Prime Minister – has so evidently drunk the Tory Kool Aid, embracing Brexit just as polls suggest most British voters regret leaving, failing to push the climate crisis and casually dumping a commitment to change Westminster’s archaic first past the post voting system, should he win office. Apparently, “it’s not a priority”.

So, the inbuilt pro-Tory tilt, the safe seats that haven’t changed hands since Queen Victoria, the whopping 80 seat majority with just 44% of the vote and the winner-takes-all, corruption-inducing nature of the British voting system will all continue in a Labour-run UK. Which means the next all-powerful, right-wing Tory government will be waiting in the wings.

Admittedly, PR may sound like an unimportant technocratic fix. But its effective abandonment shows that the Labour leader won’t take on the Murdoch and Rothermere empires or the voters who prefer hollow words about patriotism to truth-telling about Broken Britain.

Labour’s reluctance to prepare the ground for a long overdue modernisation of governance and power in the UK, guarantees no real change or improvement. Even Alistair Campbell criticised Starmer’s decision, saying this weekend; “I think we are watching the current system breaking. I get completely why Keir Starmer wants to focus on the economy. But I think the whole question about constitutional change is increasingly important… When you have a big majority, changing the system does feel like turkeys voting for Christmas. But clearly the current voting system is not delivering the sort of politics and parliament the country needs.”

That’s putting it mildly. But this situation won’t change. So be very afraid for the future of children and grandchildren in a country whose leaders will not defy vested interests, tackle the mythology of British imperial greatness, drop dogma or face difficult realities.

Long overdue change won’t happen in the “Mother of Parliaments” unless it’s packing the Lords with right-wingers to stymy that feeble challenge as well.

This is what lies ahead – predicted almost 40 years ago by another Labour leader before the 1983 General Election Neil Kinnock lost to Margaret Thatcher; “I warn you will have poverty – when pensions slip and benefits are whittled away by a government that won’t pay in an economy that can’t pay [and] when fuel charges are used as a tax system that the rich don’t notice and the poor can’t afford. I warn you not to be ordinary. I warn you not to be young. I warn you not to fall ill. I warn you not to get old.”

Folk worried about the alternative path of independence might ask themselves if that analysis still stands. If it does, what next? Westminster is taking a lurch to the right – not just because of the scary stuff spouted by Tory leadership candidates, but because Keir Starmer is disowning the policies he once supported and thus the big structural changes Britain needs.

The Tory leadership battle is hypnotically awful and utterly compelling. But that shouldn’t blind us to fact that seismic changes are being made at Westminster to a status quo that’s already unacceptably elitist, marketised and archaic in the eyes of most Scots.





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