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The Heat Is On

Updated: Mar 7




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With scary synchronicity, the planet and the election campaign are starting to sizzle simultaneously. Labour leader Starmer’s spectacular climbdown on his plan to save the world from climate catastrophe has got the Tories licking their lips with delight. As our Political Correspondent Peter Spencer reports, the bare knuckle fight for votes looks to be nasty, brutish and long.


Ever since Liz Truss trashed the British economy poor Sir Keir’s known that nailing his colours to the party’s twenty-eight billion pound package of green measures was a hiding to nothing.


Yet he clung on to it like an aeronaut watching the balloon above his head steadily deflating. Maybe he really believed in it – or maybe he knew how much stick he’d get if he backed off from it.


Indeed, as night follows day, he stands accused by many on his own side of abandoning his principles, and by snarling Conservatives of not having any anyway.


And pollsters are agreed it’s bad for the brand for any leader to seem to be dithering. Even though it’s perfectly valid to say if the circumstances change then so must the policy.


The brute reality is that while the eye-catchingly ambitious plan looked just about affordable, somehow, when it was first devised, as time went on it was looking increasingly implausible.


That was the case made by Labour’s Shadow Chancellor Rachel Reeves in what have clearly been bitter behind-the-scenes rows between her and her boss for many weeks and months.


Her point was that if Labour seemed irresponsible with the nation’s money then all her hard work wooing business and the city will have been so much wasted effort.


As everyone knows, the female of the species is more deadly than the male .


And she, it’s now plain for all to see, won the argument. And looks set to repeat the performance on a range of other spending ideas over the coming months.


There are always tensions between Prime Ministers, who want to keep the punters happy by coughing up, and Chancellors, who say the coffers are empty.


But it must be really galling for Starmer to find himself in this bind before he’s even got the job.


What’s also rather depressing is that all this is happening just as scientists are issuing dire warnings about human-induced climate change.


Last year, they point out, was the hottest on record. Likewise last month. And so extreme weather events, like heatwaves, droughts and flooding, are starting to become the new normal.


Though the Conservatives are as fully aware of this as anyone else, they’ve already made it plain that winning the election matters more to them than keeping us all alive.


Of course that is a gross, perhaps grotesque, oversimplification.


But, after voter rage about new car pollution charges saved their bacon in the Uxbridge by-election last summer, they backed a long way off from their own green agenda.


And they’re under renewed pressure from the latest right wing grouping to spring up in their midst about how people should not be penalised just because the planet’s in a spot of bother.


Step forward the so-called Popular Conservatives, headed, interestingly, by the least popular Tory leader in recent times.


Could be Liz Truss has in mind this year’s early easter, with her very own second coming. A likely let-down there, as her gang is getting no traction among her more centrist MP colleagues.


Nonetheless, the battle for the party’s soul, assuming its days in government are numbered, is well and truly on.


Not that we need wait that long, as two by-elections this week might tell us much about which horse the voters have their money on.


The contest in Kingswood near Bristol was triggered by the resignation of the former Energy Minister Chris Skidmore.


Dead on cue, that, as he quit in protest at Rishi Sunak’s most obvious backing off from prioritising the environment, by giving the thumbs up to loads of new oil and gas exploration.


Mr Skidmore, who’s very much the Blues’ Mr Green, called the move ‘a tragedy’. Because, he protested furiously, it is: ‘Wrong and will cause future harm.’


While his seat’s widely expected to fall to Labour, what the number-crunchers will be very keen to know is – exactly why.


Their conclusions will fit into their anxious calculations concerning the other by-election taking place on Thursday, in Wellingborough.


This one’s being held to replace the Tory MP Peter Bone, who got chucked out by his own constituents after he’d bullied a member of his staff and, er, exposed his naughty bits.


Safe to assume that hasn’t exactly got his party banner fluttering triumphantly in that neck of the woods.


But the question there is will Labour overturn his stonking eighteen-and-a-half-thousand majority? Or will the seat get snatched by the right wing Reform party, whose deputy leader is in the race?


Once again, the Conservative wonks will be desperately scratching their heads. And trying to figure out whether local choices translate into the national mood.


In which case, they’ll be asking themselves, should Sunak adjust his course to limit damage, or is the Truss tendency the Tory future?


Safe to say their deliberations won’t be exactly sparkling with joy, given that the latest national YouGov poll has just hoiked Labour’s already commanding lead up by another four points.


No way of knowing at this stage, but you can’t help but wonder whether that has to do with the searing images a few days back of folk trying to register for NHS dental treatment.


The line of clearly desperate people outside the practice in Bristol got so long that police had to step in and send hundreds of them home.


No great surprise, given that a Times survey showed that if you want your teeth fixed for free you’d be better off trying in Ukraine, or Rwanda.


Now the government’s stepped in, with a two-hundred-million-pound package of help. But that’ll hardly fill the gap, excuse pun, as it’ll only be available to one per cent of the workforce.


The other problem for harassed ministers is that pictures can be so much more resonant in voters’ minds than graphs or statistics.


Ed Miliband knows all about that, after his photographed failed attempt at eating a bacon sarnie. So does Neil Kinnock, who’d have been so much better off not falling into the sea.


And the danger facing the government is that last week’s pics might get seen as an enduring metaphor for failing public services, after fourteen years of Tory rule.


If Labour starts using them in its campaign literature it could bring them out in a right hissy fit.


Then again, the moggy way of trying to scare us isn’t necessarily what it seems, according to species specialist Lucy Hoile.


In her seminal work ‘The Book Your Cat Wishes You Would Read’, she points out that they do actually prefer flight over fight.


So the scary noise they make is their way of saying ‘I will attack you if you come any closer, but I don’t actually want to.’


Meaning, Ms Hoile adds, doubtless with a pert little purr in her heart: ‘It’s not the cat being horrible, it’s the cat being nice.’


Does the same apply to politicians? Discuss.

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