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Colliding Worlds

With inflation still stubbornly high and interest rates rocketing, the PM’s wondering how he can possibly make election headway. In the real world, punters are wondering how they can possibly make ends meet. And, as our Political Correspondent Peter Spencer reports, Keir Starmer’s scratching his head too.

Thirteen years ago the outgoing Labour number two at the treasury Liam Byrne left a little note for his successor.

It read: ‘Dear Chief Secretary, I’m afraid to tell you there’s no money left.’

An echo of these words from an outgoing Tory Chancellor to his Labour replacement back in the 1960s: ‘Good luck, old cock … Sorry to leave it in such a mess.’

Both were meant to be private jokes. Both misfired horribly. But both are bang up to date.

Forget all his high-minded words about improving the NHS, or his sops to the Tory right about stopping small boats, Rishi Sunak’s rising prices pledge is key.

Sort that, and so many other things fall into place. Voters won’t feel the pinch so much when they go shopping or shell out for their mortgages.

And the promise to halve inflation looked gloriously easy-peasy, as most economists said it was on course to take a tumble anyway.

Not so, as it turns out. Our rate’s ratcheted up higher than any other comparable nation.

But the Bank of England’s mechanism to try and force the figure down was ever a two-edged sword.

The knock-on effect on mortgages, as they set interest rates at their highest level since the 2008 global financial crisis, comes as surely as night follows day.

A daunting prospect for huge numbers of homeowners, and a likely roadblock for folk struggling to get on the property ladder.

Given that men have a knack of spotting everything except the obvious, it could well be on the strident advice of ’er indoors that Bozza’s belted up a bit lately.

But his serial mendacity in parliament is a nail in the coffin of the Tories’ prospects at the next general election.

And the mortgage misery facing millions is another. A much bigger one. Because it’s not a soap opera. And it’s not going away.

Worse still – from where Sunak’s sitting – so many of the victims won’t be traditional Labour supporters, but bedrock Tories.

The aspirant middle class. So-called ‘blue wall’ constituents. If home repossessions tick up those voters will turn away. And tell their friends.

Though the rules were tweaked on Friday, to give people in trouble a little more time to sort themselves out, that’s hardly a catch-all solution.

At this point Rishi’s riches do him no favours. As one of UK’s best-heeled ever Prime Ministers, he can talk about people’s pain, but can hardly claim to be feeling it.

‘I am totally, 100 per cent on it,’ he insisted. ‘It is going to be OK, and we are going to get through it.’

Yerright. The Times sketchwriter Quentin Letts had fun at his expense, describing his efforts as a ‘half-time pep-talkish presentation.’ Adding:

‘There came a blizzard of interjected rights? and goods and yeahs? as he sought a matey manner, whirling his arms like a panic-stricken semaphore operator.’

Let’s take Letts a stage further. How about the payoff line from that totally fab film The Italian Job? As the bus teeters over the mountain, Michael Caine says it all:

‘Hang on a minute lads… I’ve got a great idea.’

Er, not.

But this is where Keir Starmer’s headaches heave into view. And those little jokes about empty coffers collide with his course to Number Ten.

He’s as well aware as anyone of what a renowned German economist of yesteryear had to say about inflation:

‘It is a little toothpaste. Very easy to squeeze out of the tube. Very hard to put back into the tube.’

And on that front both main party leaders are on much the same page. Playing the Dickens character Wilkins Micawber. Hoping something will turn up.

Because if it hasn’t, and Starmer does, as expected, make it to Number Ten in little over a year’s time, he’ll be in exactly the same bind as Sunak.

For now all he’s got to do is talk about people losing their homes, and spit soundbites like ‘Tory mortgage penalty’. Doing something about it is another matter altogether.

He’s floated a similar idea to the government’s. Trying to force banks to be more flexible with repayments. But that’s not the same as actually shelling out to help the vulnerable.

That’s what the Lib Dems are proposing. The only problem there being the price tag. Yup, it’s the no money in the kitty caper. Again.

And it’s of a piece with the shelving earlier this month of Labour’s promise to spend nearly thirty billion pounds a year on green energy.

As one top party bod conceded at the time: ‘We announced it before the Tories f****d the economy. So of course it needs reviewing, and a delayed start sounds reasonable.’

So, instead, they’re offering a mere half of one billion a year to help with the manufacture of wind turbines and solar panels and the like.

Realistic? Or a bit weedy?

Truth is the more real the prospect of power becomes, the more scrutiny Labour’s bound to come under.

And if Starmer’s numbers are judged to not stack up, the numbers of voters not backing him may also pose a problem.

Also, Liz Truss may be an all but forgotten footnote on the pages of history, but her failure to do her homework got the twangy braces brigade sticking the knife in.

Same probably would have happened if Jeremy Corbyn had got the chance to do his magic money tree trick. And that’s somewhere Starmer simply daren’t risk going.

Meantime, there’s another minor adjustment Labour’s made to its post-victory plans.

Talk of abolishing the House of Lords has been supplanted by talk of, er, making it much bigger.

One reason why hardly anything’s happening in the commons these days is that up the passage they’re always tearing chunks out of government legislation.

How much worse that might be under a Starmer leadership doesn’t take a lot of working out, given that fewer than a quarter of peers are Labour appointees.

So, same as the green revolution, the ‘other place’ putsch will take time. Quite a lot of it, in the event.

There’s no denying that being in opposition is a more leisurely activity than trying to actually run the country. Sometimes leaving room even for a bit of daytime kip.

And maybe that’s what all this brilliant brainstorming is all about.

We’ve always known that a spot of snooze can leave us refreshed and recharged. But new research by University College London points to something more.

Lead author Valentina Paz says it set out to: ‘Untangle the causal relationship between habitual daytime napping and cognitive and structural brain outcomes.’

And the study: ‘Points to a causal link between habitual napping and larger total brain volume.’

Hey, everyone, you want bigger brains? Have I got snooze for you …!


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