May 28, 2024

UK Election

British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak called a national election [last] Wednesday for July 4, saying Britons would be able to choose their future in a vote his Conservatives are widely expected to lose to the opposition Labour Party after 14 years in power. Ending months of speculation as to when he would call a new vote, Sunak, 44, stood outside his Downing Street office in pouring rain and called the election several months earlier than expected - a risky strategy with his party far behind Labour in the opinion polls…

“‘Now is the moment for Britain to choose its future and decide whether it wants to build on the progress we have made or risk going back to square one and no certainty,’ he said… He accused Labour leader Keir Starmer, conversely, of always taking the ‘easy way out’ and of having no plan. ‘As a result, the future can only be uncertain with them,’ he said. Starmer, who has pulled Labour to the political centre ground after it had veered leftwards, responded with a statement that focused on one word: ‘change’.” Reuters

Both sides are critical of the current government and expect Labour to win:

Household income declined markedly over the course of this Parliament, with overall living standards rising at the slowest pace on record, according to analysis by Bloomberg Economics. One recent study found a rise in ‘material deprivation’ across every age group, work status and region. The average UK household in 2007 was 8% poorer than its European peers; that gap had widened to 20% by 2022. Remove the rich outlier of London, and Britain would be as poor as Mississippi…

“Despite the Conservatives’ oft-stated goal of ‘leveling up,’ inequality has actually widened between the southeast of the country (including London) and the poorer north. Nor has the party had a convincing answer to the UK’s profound housing crisis, largely the result of regulatory constraints and local planning controls that have suppressed building. Instead of addressing the root causes, the Tories resorted to ‘help to buy’ and other schemes that have predictably inflated property prices.”

Editorial Board, Bloomberg

“Mr. Sunak’s problem is that the Conservatives have little to show for their 14 years in power. They won the last election on a promise to finish Brexit, but that is now completed and the Tories have done little to take advantage of their new economic-policy freedom. They’ve kept Britain a heavily regulated welfare state and increased the tax burden to a level not seen since before Margaret Thatcher… They pandered to the green left on climate policy in a way that punished Britons with higher energy costs…

“Meanwhile, Mr. Starmer has purged the radical left, antisemitic wing of Labour that held sway under his predecessor Jeremy Corbyn. Voters now appear to trust Labour again as a credible alternative, especially as Mr. Starmer has dialed back many early pledges such as big green spending plans… Mr. Sunak will try to offer a tax contrast with Labour, which always raises taxes. But voters may not believe the Conservatives after their recent record.”

Editorial Board, Wall Street Journal

“[The Tories’] 14 years in government constitute an appalling track record: the Tories have left Britain a poorer country blighted by rising inequality and falling social mobility; a less confident nation with declining influence on the global stage; and a much tougher place in which to lose your job or to fall sick. Their political choices have worsened the impact of the tough global headwinds of a pandemic and rising energy prices…

Sunak inherited an unenviable mess from Liz Truss, the shortest-serving prime minister in history, who managed to tank the economy and triggered chaos in the markets in just 45 days. But his obsession with his Rwanda plan – an expensive and amoral gimmick that will not work in deterring desperate people from crossing the Channel – is symptomatic of just how little meaningful stewardship he had to offer the UK.”

Observer Editorial, The Guardian

“Time and again, the Tories have pledged to reduce immigration. David Cameron and Theresa May both promised to take net migration back to the tens of thousands, only to see it rise through the hundreds of thousands. Brexit, to a large extent, was a vote on immigration. Boris Johnson’s government inexplicably responded with a vast hike in non-EU arrivals, taking numbers to historically unprecedented heights…

State failure is evident across British society. The National Health Service is ranked lower than ever in patient surveys and academic studies. Prisoners are being released for lack of space in prisons. Army recruitment goals have not been met since 2010. Energy planning is a terrifying farce that could plunge Britain into blackouts in the near future… No one is going to look back with admiration on the length of the Conservatives’ time in power.”

Ben Sixsmith, American Conservative

Other opinions below.

See past issues

From the Left

“The recent local and mayoral elections were bloody for the Tories. They lost nearly 500 local councilors, the mayoral elections in London and Birmingham, and a special election… So why call an election now? Presumably because Sunak thinks, in an inversion of the song that soundtracked Tony Blair’s election victory in 1997, things can only get worse…

“Conservatives usually win elections by presenting themselves as sober, tough guardians of the public finances. Instead, as the former Tory policy adviser Sam Freedman wrote in March, Sunak and his chancellor of the exchequer ‘set the loosest (and most absurd) fiscal rules on record and then only met them by setting fantasy spending numbers for after the election.’ Then… rather than investing in public services, they used ‘this fiscal jiggery-pokery… to fund £35 billion of tax cuts.’”

Helen Lewis, The Atlantic

From the Right

“When Boris Johnson was ousted in 2022, the Conservatives were 7 points behind in the polls, not a bad position for a governing party two years into a parliament. Now that deficit has grown to 20. It turns out that voters really don’t like having new prime ministers handed down to them by parliamentary cliques. Sadly, by the time Sunak took over, it had happened twice in three months, all without a general election…

“At the same time, voters have repressed the memory of the lockdowns that they themselves demanded throughout 2020 and 2021. Instead of seeing the subsequent tax rises and price rises as the consequence of paying people to stay home, they imagine they are somehow the product of Tory incompetence. They don’t expect things to be any better under Starmer, but they still want a scapegoat.”

Dan Hannan, Washington Examiner

On the bright side...

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