Express & Star

Toby Neal: Liz's clanger leave Keir rubbing his hands

Toby Neal casts his eye on the world of politics.

'The UK economy has crashed – it’s a disaster!'

As they look forward to their bonuses and light up their Cuban cigars in the corporate boxes of The City FC (that is, financial centre), the well-heeled crowd in smart suits have taken up the chant: “You don’t know what you’re doing.”

Rarely can an incoming management have received such a rapid vote of no confidence.

Money talks, and the markets have their truth which is not swayed by political bull or spin.

The commentators said that with that bold Budget Liz Truss and Kwasi Kwarteng had hit the ground running. We now know that what actually hit the ground was a clanger of disastrous proportions.

I’m not an economist myself so can only get things completely wrong in a layperson’s sort of way, rather than a clever expert way, but I am taking it that, after the freespending years of free food fraud-friendly furlough scheme Sunak, another big cash splash funded by IOUs was the last thing the financial markets wanted.

They didn’t need to do it. But I suspect they were seduced by the attraction of delivering a “this is what we’re all about” message Budget to set the tone early for the Truss administration.

As Tony Blair seems to be an icon of how to play things politically, it’s worth mentioning that he did exactly the same within the first 100 hours of his premiership in 1997. More or less the first act of his Chancellor, Gordon Brown, was to hand over power to set interest rates to the Bank of England. It caused great surprise, but was not just an act of policy, but a signal of how the Blair-Brown New Labour axis intended to govern. It pleased and reassured The City.

In contrast Truss and Kwarteng have spooked The City. The market meltdown is a tidal wave of financial woe that has swamped and made irrelevant for ordinary people those little tax cut sweeteners on which the pair had laid such political store. She’s only been Prime Minister a matter of weeks and in retrospect needed to give herself more time to establish her credentials, especially when, unlike her predecessor, no ordinary people voted for her and she has been short-changed by the charisma factory.

On the subject of Blair, we come to Sir Keir Starmer. They’re saying he’s consciously aimed for the Tony Blair appeal, which if true says a lot for what a scent of potential power can do to re-energise a party where Blair has been for many in Labour, not a perfume, but a bad smell which has lingered too long.

Be passionate. Patriotic. Visionary. Sell yourself. Use your hands. Tick, tick, tick, tick, and tick.

A triumph for the toolmaker’s son from humble pebble dash semi beginnings. He’s a man for the people, for business, and for more or less everybody except those villainous millionaires, greedy bankers, and big oil corporations, who are going to pay for everything (note: not reckless borrowing).

This is Sir Keir’s moment. This is Labour’s moment. There hasn’t been a standing ovation like that at a Labour party conference since the days of Jeremy Corbyn.

His message – everything will be better for everybody (for exceptions, see above) under Labour. The NHS will get more of everything. Britain will be greener and fairer, and it won’t just be an empty slogan. The nation will become a land of hope again, as Sir Keir remembered it being even in the tough times of the 1970s. I lived through the 1970s too and don’t recall it being a land of hope, unless he means that people were hoping for an end to the Labour government.

This was a good speech and, almost as importantly, a good performance from Sir Keir, speaking to disaffected voters in a way Labour needs to do to reclaim power.

He’s ripped up almost all those Labour manifesto policies on which he and the 2019 crop of Labour MPs were actually elected, ditched his commitment to Remain (ditto), and come up with lots of new ideas, including Great British Energy, which sounds a gas.

All they have to do now for election victory is keep their discipline for the next two years.

A whole two years? Crumbs, they’re going to find that hard, but it will be fun watching them try.