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A Nice Change ?

(Read on, or view here: )

At last, after the cacophony of catcalls of the last month we’ve finally got one party telling us what it plans for us lot, instead of loads of them directing practically everything they’ve got at one another. However, as our Political Correspondent Peter Spencer reports, our new Prime Minister’s first job is warning the electorate not to expect too much too soon.

The way the numbers finally divvied out confirms that this was more a collective thumbs down for the Tories than ringing endorsement for Labour. Meaning voter support is a loan not a gift.

Nonetheless, with a majority almost as big as Tony Blair’s, Sir Keir Starmer has the authority to get on with the job.

And with a party as unified as he has ruthlessly fashioned it into, he’ll be able to set the agenda and hold to it, without dissidents on his own side constantly stealing the show.

All of which stands in total contrast to the Tories’ performance over the last fourteen years.

But loads of loyal Labour backbenchers don’t translate into loads of lolly to splash around on everything that needs fixing.

Rishi Sunak did manage to steady the stuttering economy after Loony Liz Truss practically tanked it. But everyone knows we’re still hopelessly strapped for cash.

Little wonder then that in his victory speech about what he termed ‘the sunlight of hope’, Starmer added the rider that it would be ‘pale at first’.

Yes, he says, the country will be run differently. Better. And the nation will feel the benefit. But not just yet.

A straw in the wind came last week when he conceded that with our jails crammed to bursting the current and controversial early prisoner release scheme is not about to be ditched.

As he put it, candidly, he can’t just go to bed and magically conjure up overnight a spangly new jail or two. Vital as they are, these things do take time.

Ditto hospital waiting lists. Urgent repairs to school buildings. The backlog in the courts. Potholes the roads. Uncle Tom Cobley and all.

Crucially, perhaps, the pound in our pockets.

Starmer’s stable governance promise will be buttressed by his appointment of Rachel Reeves, a former Bank of England economist, as Chancellor.

It’ll help put on its head the old saying that safe is boring. For potential big business investors in UK Plc, the crucial point is that boring is safe. But, yet again, don’t expect a sprint.

That said, there will be instantaneous changes, which’ll likely come as a shock to Downing Street staff as much as to Sir Keir’s family.

He’s done his best to buy off his two teenagers’ reservations about the move, with the promise of a dog. A German Shepherd being the preferred option.

Fingers crossed the Number Ten lackeys get luckier than the security blokes in the White House, where Joe Biden’s pooch of the same breed regularly decided his snarly bite topped their pistols’ bark.

And of course the Starmers already have a cat, named JoJo. Once again, let’s hope the incumbent tabby, Larry, will be cool with this.

But our new PM has so many circles to square, both at home and abroad, that his thoughts may stray to the classic definition of history volunteered by a kid in a much-loved play by Alan Bennett.

‘It’s just one f***ing thing after another.’

And, for sure, everything has been coming at Sir Keir from all directions from the moment he stepped through the famous black door.

His new ministerial team will have been frantically trying to get their heads round their briefs, wishing the time spent with their Sir Humphreys hadn’t been so, well, brief.

Though they have had face-to-face time, it’s always tricky for senior civil servants balancing the need to give potential newbies a break, with a natural loyalty to those they’ve been serving for years.

Against that, besides his new Chancellor, Starmer has one other secret weapon. Sue Gray.

The former, and formidable, civil servant has, as his chief of staff, oiled some of the wheels between wet-behind-the-ears incoming ministers and the professionals running the machinery of government.

Every little helps, as the slogan goes.

Then there’s Sir Keir’s international affairs in tray. Even by the standards of today’s discordantly interconnected world it’s brimming to bursting.

He’ll be shooting off to Washington this week to represent us at NATO’s seventy-fifth anniversary summit. Ukraine will top the agenda, naturally.

Then, just a week later he’ll be hosting a gathering at Blenheim Palace of something called the European Political Community.

Cobbled together after Brexit to improve relations between European nations, it’ll almost certainly be a useful springboard for a key Starmer objective, which is a reset of our interface with the EU.

Throughout the campaign this topic called to mind Oscar Wilde’s boyfriend’s definition of male homosexuality: ‘The love that dare not speak its name.’

But now, with the election behind us, taking with it threats to Labour from Reform-minded voters, Sir Keir can be a bit bolder about how he hopes to tighten ties with the continent.

Music to the ears of import/export businesses big and small, as well as a potential magnet for that inward investment that Starmer’s banking on to lift all our fortunes.

He’ll take it steady of course. Partly because he said he would, but mainly because we’re looking at years of hard bargaining before he achieves anything more than peripheral changes.

And the job will naturally be made that much trickier by the relatively sudden rise of the hard right across key swathes of Europe. Hardly ideal bedfellows for our progressive PM.

Not like he doesn’t have a home-grown scary monster to contend with, now that Reform’s Nigel Farage has finally made it to Westminster.

No question, the man’s a performer, and will be listened to, at very least on the sorely depleted Tory side of the chamber.

As what’s left of the Parliamentary Conservative Party licks its gaping wounds, it’s screaming out its agony at those it blames for its desperate state.

The upshot being an every-which-way war in the blue corner.

Key figures on the right are already firing up their temporarily held back websites with the aim of garnering as much support as they can for their personal leadership ambitions.

Feels like an echo of those rebel armies of bygone centuries, starting small but aiming to swell numbers on the march to the centre of power.

Some contemporary combatants might be wise, however, to take note of the attempt by the Earl of Essex to snatch control from Queen Elizabeth The First.

As householders lining his route to Whitehall shuttered their windows and shattered his hopes, he could think of nothing better to do than go home and have a spot of lunch.

More redolent of a last supper as it turned out, with the writing already on the wall and his head soon to be on the block.

Not that such cautionary tales will stop the current crop, any more than the chorus of disapproval from centrists who say it was internecine warfare that did for them in the first place.

The question remains, however, if one of the insurgents does come out on top will he or she be minded to link arms with the Farage faction?

After all, small though Reform may be in numbers of MPs, the party did get millions of votes. A handy chunk to clunk at Starmer in five years’ time.

Besides which, as Farage amply demonstrated during the election campaign, he packs more crowd-pulling punch than most of the other party leaders put together.

And, much as the pretenders to the ex-Sunak throne love the sound of their own voices, they’re not silly enough to rule out alliance with a real rhetorician with a solid slice of the electorate behind him.

Has to be said, mind, that Farage has unequivocally dissed any suggestion of arm linking or twisting with the Tory tribe.

Then again, he swore blind he wasn’t even going to stand in the election. Calls to mind an old truism beloved by hacks and sundry scribblers since time immemorial:

‘In politics nothing is ever true – until it is officially denied.’

(PS: View my take on the box here: )


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