Yorkshire Times
Weekend Edition
Roger Winterbottom
Features Writer
1:00 AM 20th January 2024

Small Votes Crisis

The countdown to the general election has begun in earnest, with the prime minister giving some clear indications of what the Conservatives are pinning their hopes on: getting someone - anyone – on a flight to Rwanda some time this year.

Until that happens, Rishi Sunak is delaying calling the election for as long as he can, saying that it is his “working assumption” that it will be in the second half of the year. This makes him sound like he is some sort of helpless victim of circumstance, rather than the actual person who makes the decision. Then again, perhaps Sunak really, really wants to hold an election, but just can’t quite seem to manage it. He may be suffering from electile dysfunction.

A poll published earlier in the week predicting the Tories losing more than half their seats can’t have helped his mood either. Honestly, at the moment Sunak would probably have more fun being kicked in the head by Ed Balls live on Good Morning Britain.

The poll was commissioned by a group of Tory donors calling themselves the “Conservative Britain Alliance”, and reflects the feelings of most people in the country: we just CBA with the Conservatives anymore.

Some commentators are suggesting that things may be even worse than the dire poll prediction, recalling the fate of the Progressive Conservatives in the 1993 Canadian election, who were reduced from a majority of 156 seats to just two. Fingers crossed, eh? Then again, if Grant Shapps managed to hold onto his seat, he has so many names and personalities that he could form a majority government on his own.

Reacting to the poll, Lord Frost argued that the only way the Conservatives could rescue their prospects was to lurch even further to the right, so that they were covering the same ground as the Reform party (currently polling around 10%). It’s that level of logical thinking that explains a lot about their current position. “If we don’t act,” said Frost, “there will soon only be smoking rubble left”. Nice slogan – can they put that on the side of a bus to remind the voters?

Sunak’s attempt at another relaunch has been going about as well as the attempt at a moon landing by the Peregrine spacecraft, which even as I write is plunging back down to earth and an inevitable fiery demise. Sunak’s big idea is that voters need to “stick with the plan” which is “starting to deliver the long-term change our country needs”. Not noticeably, but let’s not let facts get in the way.

Meanwhile Sunak complains that Keir Starmer “will put up people’s taxes” and has no plan. Unlike Sunak, of course, who has put up people’s taxes and… oh. That doesn’t really work, does it? The only plan Sunak appears to have is to try to charter a flight to Rwanda. Instead, the only flight likely to happen before the election is the flight of Tory MPs abandoning their seats before they’re voted out. Let’s face it, staying to fight the election campaign just to get voted out would look very much like a lifestyle choice.

It's worth remembering that the whole “batshit” idea of sending asylum seekers to Rwanda was one of at least three similarly bonkers plans that the former home secretary, Priti Patel, came up with. She also suggested using large wave machines in the channel (I’m pretty sure the channel is capable of making its own waves, thank you). And then there was her idea for using armoured jet skis to turn boats around, which she thought up shortly after she’d finished watching The Spy Who Loved Me.

As the ludicrous Rwanda plan went before the commons again this week, it was heartening to see two of the Conservative Party deputy chairs, Lee Anderson and Brendan Clarke-Smith, resign as a matter of principle over the bill. Sadly, it wasn’t because they thought the plan was unlawful and bonkers; it was because they thought it wasn’t unlawful and bonkers enough.

Even then, they failed to follow through with their dirty protest, voting with the government, Anderson commenting that he did so because some Labour MPs were “giggling and laughing and taking the mick” out of him. Aww, bless.

Meanwhile, the Labour party barely needs to lift a finger to appear more in control and more sensible than the government. Many commentators have suggested that they are following Napoleon’s doctrine: “Never interrupt your enemy while he’s making a mistake”. Hm. I wonder how things turned out for him?

Sunak in turn keeps complaining that all Keir Starmer does is “snipe from the sidelines”, apparently misunderstanding what the role of the leader of the opposition is. Never mind – my working assumption is that, in a few months’ time, he’ll get the chance to find out.