2 November 2023
The Trussista Rides Out
by J.R. Thomas
The Shaw Sheet is famous for its sense of balance; many and most opinions are permitted into the august columnage. But one thing that has been lacking is a counterweight to the always fascinating musings of our Corbynista. So today we introduce a view from the other side of the road: The Trussista. Initially this was to be the Sunakista, but somehow the passion was not quite there, that blend of dreamy romanticism and eccentric individualism that makes both Mr Corbyn and Ms Truss so endlessly fascinating.
But, conscious that our decision may well upset Mr Sunak, we must first attempt to cheer him up, by pointing out some good news. Actually, quite a lot of good news: his deft handling of Britain’s response to the Israel/Hamas conflict has been sensible and surefooted, indeed statesman-like; he is winning plaudits for leading the political response to what might be termed the threat of Artificial Intelligence with his AI summit at Bletchley Park (an appropriate location); he has seduced a defector to the Tory Party in the Commons with former SNP M.P. Dr Lisa Cameron; Britain’s economy is performing better than thought and it is the statistics that are wrong (“lies, damned lies, and statistics” now to be joined by “figures provided by the civil service”;) and finally the two by-election results of last week.
Yes, yes, we know, major and crushing losses for the Tory Party, said all the mainstream media; yada yada yada. But as this column so frequently points out, look at the actual votes. Turning first to Mid-Bedfordshire, at the last election, in 2019, it was safe Conservative held by Nadine Dorries with 38,692 votes; Labour was second with 14,028 votes. After Ms Dorries toys-out-of-pram episode at not being made Baroness Dorries (and now she never will be, one trusts) and the subsequent by-election, it became a Labour win with a vote of 13,872. The Conservatives persuaded 12,680 voters to come out for them, and 9,420 voters favoured the LibDem candidate, about 1,000 more than last time. Everybody else, lots of them, lost their deposits, including the Reform UK candidate, in spite of any impression you may have gained from reading the Daily Torygraph, that Reform swept to prominence. The Labour candidate, in other words, won with less votes that his predecessor candidate had scored to come a very poor second in 2019. Conservative voters just stayed at home and watched reruns of Celebrity Come Dancing, or whatever. The turnout was 40,720, against 64,717 in 2019. That is not a disaster for Rishi Sunak, but it is for Keir Starmer; a departing MP in such bad odour, a government in disarray, chaos and dissatisfaction all abounding and the best Labour can do is that? And as for the LibDems there are no words. Rishi need not worry; the seat should easily return to Tory hands at the next election.
The other by-election on the same day was at Tamworth, a Midlands seat once famous for being the home of Tory radical Prime Minister, Sir Robert Peel (oh, that he was with us at this hour). Another naughty Tory (where does Central Office find them?), Chris Pincher, got himself in hot water by rather living up to his name and resigned, thus precipitating the by-election. He had the support of 30,542 voters in 2019, with Labour coming in second with 10,908. Last week the seat went to Labour with 11,719 voters making that their choice, whilst 10,403 went for the Conservative. Reform did hang onto their deposit with 1,373 votes, but that is hardly world changing. Everybody else lost their deposit. We must not let the LibDem candidate pass unnoticed – he managed to get the support of 417 voters. 417 votes. That must be some sort of record. Turnout was 36% of eligible voters – 64% in 2019.
So again; Rishi should not be disheartened, but Keir might be more than a little alarmed. And the Lib Dems really ought to consider a relaunch and change of leader, or maybe giving it all up and taking up Crown Green Bowling. Tamworth and Mid-Beds are both seats they should easily have won in traditional mid term protest votes.
Across the newsroom, wearing the green eyeshade and Che Guevara cap, my Corbynista colleague is no doubt thinking that if Jeremy were still running the Labour Party there would be by now a surge of support for Labour resulting in much bigger majorities in former Tory seats. Serious Momentum, you might say. Well, we are not so sure about that over here, with our Lego red wall and porcelain three-piece suited model of Mr Rees-Mogg (made in Taiwan), but we do think it is a time for the Conservatives to create a surge of their own. Rishi has not lost in 2024 yet; and indeed the results of the two by-elections suggest that it is very much all to play for. Conservative voters are disillusioned but not to the extent that they want to vote for some other party; not Lib-Dem, not Reform UK, and not Labour.
All voters are, we would hazard a guess, very fed up with politics. There was a similar mood about in 1997, but Rishi Sunak is not John Major, and Keir Starmer is certainly not Tony Blair. What Major did not have and Blair did, was fresh and original ideas, a wedge of political energy, and a populist appeal. Starmer does not have this either, and whilst Sunak maybe ought to, he seems unable to articulate a dream, a concept, an energy, on which he could build a renewed, reborn Conservatism. It is just not his style we suspect. But we know who does have potentially the right approach.
We don’t suggest Sunak gives up the job, nor Starmer either, they are both the solid stable slightly dull chin forward dependable family types that the British electorate feels secure with. But we do suggest that Rishi fires his next door neighbour, who is not only solid and dependable, but also unimaginative, over-cautious, and lacking in any originality, ideas, or boldness. Away with you Jeremy – no, Hunt, not Corbyn, and welcome Liz to No 11. Last time Ms Truss moved into that cul-de-sac in Whitehall did not work out well, but that was No 10. She was at the wrong address, and she really had not thought out how to impress the neighbours, or indeed the House of Commons or the electorate. But it is increasingly apparent that her fundamental economic programme was indeed the correct one, old fashioned but no harm in that. Back to basics: cut income tax and simplify the tax system; motivate people with carrots and some judicious sticks to work harder. Cut regulation and unstifle entrepreneurship. Cut government spending and put the economic power back in the hands of the people. Cut the ludicrous size of the civil service and encourage private enterprise (remember that?). Cut the green agenda and cost it properly (less windfarms; more mini nuclear power stations). That man in Threadneedle Street will object but there must a university chancellorship coming up that he could grace at an early date.
All hail the Trussista; you know it makes sense! And it should, might, could, just win the next election.