As Liz Truss faltered within weeks of taking charge, the mood in the country has swung towards the Labour party. It’s open season for British politics.
As Britain reels under political and economic chaos under new Prime Minister Liz Truss, Keir Starmer has transformed the Labour party and positioned himself as a viable alternative to lead the country. The Tories must surely fear for their power in 2024.
With the departure of Boris Johnson as Prime Minister, the Conservative Party and the country were eager to find stability seemingly lacking over these past years. The Covid pandemic and various scandals surrounding Johnson were unconducive for a government that, particularly in a post-Brexit world, was supposed to lead, find solutions and provide a vision for the future.
Moreover, the political chaos in the country occurred at an entirely inopportune time.
Rising prices have plunged Britain into a crisis. Inflation is at 10 percent and expected to be even higher in the coming months. Food and energy costs have risen at their fastest rates in 40 years, while wage increases cannot keep up. Even with everyday things, many people have to make tough decisions, like heating or, in the worst case, eating. There are shocking developments in a prosperous country and one of the world's most important economies.
As Johnson's successor, Truss was supposed to tackle the crisis, but her first five weeks in the office can only be described as complicated at the very best.
Truss recently announced extensive aid to cushion the consequences of skyrocketing energy prices. In addition, Finance Minister Kwarteng announced a tax cut package intended to relieve the burden on the wealthy in particular.
The Prime Minister was following Margaret Thatcher and former US President Ronald Reagan. In the 1980s, both had managed to boost the economies of Great Britain and the US with a mixture of trickle-down economics and deregulation. Their programme was temporarily successful. However, the problems Britain was grappling with at the time were mainly structural, and various economists have noted that Truss's plans would not work in the present circumstances when the malaise runs deep.
The result of Truss's announcement was panic in the markets, which sent the pound plummeting and forced her to backtrack parts of her agenda.
All of these have implications for party politics in Britain. After all, not only has our currency plummeted, but with it, the Tory's popularity. In fact, a recent poll found the Tories trailing Labour by 17 percentage points – numbers not seen since 2001. In London, the Conservative Party is a staggering 37 points behind Labour, with all 21 Tory seats being lost, according to the latest surveys.
Circumstances for Labour are hence rather favourable, and elections will occur no later than 2024. Twenty-five years after a historic election victory under Tony Blair, Labour has rediscovered itself after years of internal trench warfare and is presenting itself as harmonious and ready to lead.
The key to this has been Keir Starmer. With him, the party has a leader who, unlike his predecessor Jeremy Corbyn, shines less through ideology and more via political pragmatism.
Since his election as Labour leader in the spring of 2020, Starmer said goodbye to what many considered rather extreme viewpoints the party had been championing under Corbyn, making him unelectable as Prime Minister. Starmer, meanwhile, tries to provide the Tories with as few targets as possible on topics such as culture wars, foreign policy, or migration. Even on the subject of Brexit, which had divided Labour's electoral base, Starmer merely calls for minor changes to the free trade agreement without fundamentally questioning Brexit per se.
At the same time, Starmer has managed to rally the party with its different currents behind him and purged Labour of the most extreme Corbyn supporters – a determination that has not pleased everyone, with tens of thousands of members resigning since he took over as chairman in January 2020. However, all of this appears to be addition through subtraction by now.
But more than just internal transformation speaks for Starmer.
Under Johnson, Labour found it increasingly difficult to assert its own social democratic policies into the public discourse. Johnson, also not an ideologue but much more of a political opportunist, was very talented in obtaining votes from very different interest groups, from the climate movement to the working class.
Under Truss, however, the ideological dividing lines are now being emphasised. Instead of promising voters government investment in infrastructure in the post-industrial north of England government, like Johnson did, her primary economic plan appeals to higher earners. And with Tories moving to the right, Starmer will happily fill the void in the middle -- like Tony Blair's New Labour movement before him.
Amid the political chaos in Britain, all opposition parties are now calling for snap elections, but Truss would be foolish to agree, given the poll numbers.
And while it cannot be ruled out that the situation in the country and thus also for Liz Truss will improve again when the winter is over, and energy spending falls, the far more likely scenario right now is that Labour, thanks to an ailing economy and a government that, thus far, has failed to provide the right answers, might come out even stronger in 2023.
After all, the economy will remain the central issue in British politics for the foreseeable future. All Starmer and Labour have to do is let the Tories self-combust while continuing to establish their own new profile as a party that can provide answers in very challenging times.
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