STARMER: SHERPA OR PM?

A CHANGED WORLD.

When the Labour leadership contest began in January, it seemed a pretty irrelevant exercise in the great scheme of British politics.

No party has come back to power in one go after the sort of hammering Labour took in December. It would be in 2029, if then when we might have a real contest again.

That could still be the case. Boris Johnson may be able to lead the country out of the virus disaster with less deaths, less social stress and less damage to the economy than currently looks on the cards.

However if the failure to test early and widely, the failure to protect our brave doctors and nurses and the failure to have enough ventilators ready become the subject of a harsh inquest, then the political scene could look rather different for the incoming Labour leader.

The country will be in a very different place in the years up to the next election. Corvid-19 means that the funding of our health and other public services will be looked at differently. The obligations of employers to employees, of banks to business, and society to each other will all be different. Rail has been nationalised and the role of the state in other sectors is more widely understood. What are reckless spending promises after what the new Chancellor has had to spend? People will understand if taxes go up to pay for all this. Finally, will the Northern Powerhouse infrastructure spending still be there.

Many of these changes would appear to play into Labour’s hands. A big state, big spending, a more caring society. However, Boris Johnson had already shown himself to be a pragmatist before the virus crisis broke. His “there is such a thing as society” remark is a highly significant signpost as to how he will play the game, post crisis. He is not wedded to any Tory doctrine. He will lead a return to sound money saying the vast expenditure was an emergency measure whereas Labour remain addicted to high spending all the time.

STARMER’S LEADERSHIP.

If the virus crisis goes disastrously wrong, all bets are off. It is most likely however that the new Labour leader’s task will be like Neil Kinnock’s in 1983 and his fate will be that of Neil Kinnock in 1992. In other words, Keir Starmer will have done well if he can make the party look credible for office, but never achieve it himself. He will take the party to base camp but not reach the summit.

He needs a Shadow Cabinet that brings back the exiles, competent people who couldn’t bring themselves to serve Corbyn. People like Rachel Reeves, Yvette Cooper, Alison McGovern and Hilary Benn. John Ashworth and John Heeley should be retained.

There must be a role for Lisa Nandy who had an excellent campaign and is a contender for next labour Prime Minister.

The big question hanging over Starmer is, has he the strength and will to purge the party of the Trots and anti-Semites who were allowed to infiltrate the ranks under Corbyn.

Starmer has won this contest because he seemed the most stable choice after years of turmoil. I fear that stability may lead to undue caution in terms of moving the party to the centre and could lead to a dullness that doesn’t catch the imagination of the public when the flamboyant Johnson is the alternative.

REPEAT PERFORMANCE BY BANKS?

DON’T BANK ON THEM.

The virus crisis should be an opportunity for the banks to redeem themselves after the last global emergency in 2008. Then we had to bail them out with billions of pounds after their reckless practices caused a world recession.

Now, despite the government making colossal amounts of money available, there are disturbing reports of sky high interest rates being demanded, credit mark downs being suffered by viable firms, with all that being found out after anxious bosses have spent hours waiting to get through.

From Downtown in Business raising concerns about a lack of support for the crucial hospitality industry in Liverpool, to the Chancellor and Governor of the Bank of England telling the banks to raise their game; the message could not be clearer.

I just find it strange that the banking community lacks awareness of the image problem it has. For all the adverts telling us “we are on your side”, the reality is different. They are not on the side of isolated customers seeing bank branches closing. They are not on the side of older people who won’t bend to their demand to do on-line banking. And they now appear not to be on the side of businesses who’ve had their entire customer base wiped out in a couple of days.

TESTS, KIT, AND RESPIRATORS.

Now is not the time to start a political bun fight. Boris Johnson’s temperament is not ideally suited to this situation. He is an optimistic libertarian who finds it difficult to concentrate on detail, just what you don’t want in a crisis like this. Nevertheless, after some stumbles, he got 28 million people listening to his lock down message on Monday night.

The government are woefully behind the curve with test kits, protective clothing and respirators but they are trying to catch up on a virus whose potency has caught most experts by surprise.

If we have criticism of Mr Johnson, we should count ourselves lucky we haven’t got Trump. He seems more concerned about the economy tanking than fighting the virus. If America is in recession in the fall, the only reason for re-electing the worst President ever, will have disappeared.

GOODBYE MR CORBYN.

In the dying days of Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership of Labour, the party has played the virus crisis correctly. Generally finding common cause but making criticism when necessary.

In any case what’s not to like from Corbyn and Shadow Chancellor McDonnell’s point of view? Rail is nationalised, public spending is massively increased and most significant for the longer term, people have seen that the Big State has a part to play.

Corbyn’s four years as leader have followed a predictable path. The voters were never going to make a Prime Minister out of a man right out of 1970s student politics who never changed his mind on anything.

Let’s repeat for one last time, what utter folly it was that MPs like Margaret Beckett and Frank Field nominated him, setting off a chain of events that led to last December’s rout.

18 MONTHS OF VIRUS SUPPRESSION?

LONG HAUL.

I am reluctant to add to the gloom, but it is the football authorities that really get me. They are living in a fantasy world if they think football, business or almost anything else can get back to normal in April.

The government expect Covid-19 to peak in June. Peak, not go away. It will be early September before we may be sufficiently on the downward trajectory for the government to consider ending the suppression stage. Then to complete the misery please note that some scientists say the virus will return next winter in even more virulent form. So, we could have a year or more of this.

The enormity of that prospect is staggering. The events of the last fortnight have taken our collective breath away. We need to get our heads around the possibility that business and people are going to be under these draconian restraints for twelve months. I hope I am wrong, but we know so little about this virus. An effective vaccine could be months away with global distribution 18 months after that.

So, we have to get into the mentality that relief is not just around the corner. We need a whole new system to support business for a sustained period. Thank heavens we are coming into summer when we can go for walks in the countryside, but the long summer days will be the backdrop to more infection and sadly, deaths.

WHO WANTS A LOAN?

A great debate is raging about the merits of loans to businesses who have had the rug pulled from under them in a matter of days, and direct cash payment to workers.

We are right on the cusp of the creation of a major unemployment problem. What is a pub boss to do when the government may be on the point of getting the police to stop customers coming in? A repayable loan or firing people?

Gordon Brown knows a thing or two about a crisis. The former Prime Minister was surely right to say that people must be kept employed in their current job. “Whatever that takes” has become the new mantra of the Chancellor. Well print the money, give people security and money in their pocket and we might prevent a spiral into recession.

TEST TEST TEST.

We all want to pull together at this dreadful time, but there still must be space for criticism of the government.

It is clear now that 5,000 tests a day for the virus were woefully inadequate. It meant that desperately needed doctors and nurses were sitting at home untested. They may have had the virus, but most likely it was a seasonal cold.

With the current level of testing we have no idea how many people are infected and therefore what the mortality rate is.

Things are picking up now, but people are entitled to express their anger that not enough was done in the earlier stages of the pandemic in this country.

Stay safe.

THERE IS A MAGIC MONEY TREE!

MUTTERINGS FROM TORY OLD GUARD

After Tory backbenchers gave a rousing reception to their new star Rishi Sunak, it was left to former Prime Minister Theresa May to remind the Tories what they used to stand for. When she was in office, she observed that there was no magic money tree. She was reflecting the Conservative tradition established by Margaret Thatcher in the 1980s and carried on by David Cameron in the last decade, when he claimed that austerity was necessary following the 2008 crash and Labour’s mismanagement of the economy. She may reflect unease that won’t express itself for now, that the sharp turn from austerity to bonanza may not end well.

It was truly extraordinary to hear the Chancellor saying he would spend “whatever it takes” to deal with the virus crisis. Of course, the seriousness of Covid-19 means that the government will do just that, but it was said in the context of a two-pronged budget which also promised billions of pounds of spending to level up the economy.

The Tories winning card up to now has always been that they manage the economy better than Labour. They may continue to do so but we have seen a very significant change in British politics since Boris Johnson took over as Prime Minister. The Conservative Party has ditched ideology to match the pragmatism of those voters in the North who were prepared to reject Labour for a gamble on the Tories. They will point to a strong economy, the Brexit dividend and the fact that cheap borrowing rates look to be permanent.

Jeremy Corbyn was heard in silence in the Commons when he replied to the Chancellor. This may have been because the new parliament is on its best behaviour. The truth is more likely to have been that Tories regard the Opposition as so irrelevant that it not worth booing them. On the Labour benches morale is low.20 points behind the Tories in the opinion polls and with the discredited Corbyn still in place, there was little to cheer. The party’s claim that the years of austerity did great harm and have left the NHS ill prepared for the virus crisis have merit, but their ex supporters in the North aren’t listening. They just hope Johnsonomics will work.

BUDGET OF TWO HALVES.

The government are handling the virus crisis well. In policy terms, they are calm, vigilant and determined not to go over the top by closing schools and banning football until it is necessary. In the first part of the Budget, we got the economic measures to support this approach. Rishi Sunak announced £12bn of spending to protect business from the short term shocks the economy is facing. Providing the banks adopt a policy of forbearance, we must hope that good businesses don’t go under just because of cashflow problems.

The second half of the Budget had significant measures affecting the North. At last West Yorkshire is to get a devolution deal with a mayor. There is a £4.2bn transport fund for the elected mayors, although how devolved the powers to spend it will be is doubted by Labour leadership candidate Lisa Nandy. There is hope that Teesside, Humberside and Merseyside will benefit from spending on carbon capture centres.

We’ll need those because the government is schizophrenic on climate change. There were green measures but there was also the freeze in fuel duty and lots of new roads planned.

There were also gaping holes in the Budget. Hardly a mention of Brexit and the possible consequences of No Deal. A long-term solution to social care as far away as ever and the infrastructure plan deferred.

This may be Mr Sunak’s finest hour.