3 July 2024

Starmer’s plans will need a robust Opposition


There has been lots of speculation about the likely size of a Labour majority in the next Parliament. But what of the configuration on the Opposition benches? Some opinion polling suggests a nightmare scenario in which the Lib Dems overtake the Conservatives in seats and Ed Davey becomes the Leader of the Opposition. But what a travesty it would be. Sir Ed would be a Leader of the Opposition in name only. In reality, he would be Little Sir Echo. There would be no substantive policy difference between him and Keir Starmer.

Both parties wish to see us ‘closer aligned’ to the European Union – by which they mean following more of the rules we have no say in formulating. Both would favour a more zealous approach to Net Zero. The Labour MP Darren Jones has said the £28 billion per year originally allocated to Labour’s green investment plan was a ‘tiny’ amount. He added that reaching Labour’s target for decarbonising the economy will cost ‘hundreds of billions’ of pounds. He is the Shadow Chief Secretary to the Treasury. Suppose on Friday he is given that portfolio in government. It will be his responsibility to keep a rigorous grip on the public finances.

Given that Jones is so phlegmatic about spraying hundreds of billions, just imagine what his socialist colleagues will be like. Ed Miliband will certainly be pushing this strongly. Our children will keep being told the world is coming to an end. We will be paying more on our energy bills and our taxes, probably both. Labour’s election rhetoric about supporting economic growth will be vaguely recalled with bitter irony. And whatever Labour does, the Lib Dems will merely demand they go further.

The Lib Dems and Labour also share the same instinct for corporatist state intervention. The current Lib Dems are exceptionally illiberal – always looking for more controls. During Covid, they joined with Labour in wanting the lockdowns to be stricter and last longer. As Harriet Harman clones are appointed to run Britain’s quangos, the Lib Dems will not protest. Don’t rely on them to defend free speech. On transgenderism, they are, if anything, more woke than Labour.

Imagine the delight at the BBC if they can discharge their obligation to ‘due impartiality’ by filling the airwaves with Labour and Lib Dem politicians with the same views.

It is for this very reason that tactical voting between Labour and the Lib Dems risks being highly effective. They are running candidates against each other but only nominally in many places. There has been an unofficial pact not to campaign in each other’s target seats. There may well be some public astonishment if the Lib Dems get only around ten per cent of the vote yet a huge increase in seats. There will be particular dismay at the sight of Davey grinning on some victory playground ride given his refusal, when Minister for Postal Affairs, to investigate the Horizon Post Office scandal that had led to the wrongful prosecution of hundreds of subpostmasters. Yet that could be how the numbers work out.

Reform UK would challenge all these policies, of course. Yet they are likely to get only a handful of seats – even if they get twice as many votes as the Lib Dems.

The good news is that the votes for Reform UK will surely leave a message for those Conservative MPs that survive: they cannot take their supporters for granted. They cannot abandon their principles – in support of free enterprise, individual liberty, home ownership, low taxation and a small state – and imagine there will be no consequences. Yes, Labour and the Lib Dems would be even worse and Reform UK would be a wasted vote. But it is not enough.

Under new leadership, if the Conservative Party takes this message from voters to heart, it will once again start to make a coherent Conservative case. There are plenty of articulate voices capable of doing so, from Kemi Badenoch and Jacob Rees-Mogg to some of the new candidates coming forward such as Alex Deane in Finchley and Golders Green.

I fear a new Labour government will give plenty of examples to illustrate the misguided nature of socialism. That will be the Conservatives’ chance to put forward a free market alternative – to make converts by winning the argument. Just as important, it will be an opportunity to restore people’s trust that Conservatives are confident and sincere in such beliefs – rather than being careerists motivated by cynicism and vanity.

It’s not just about numbers. We need higher calibre Conservative MPs who are clear about their beliefs. But if they don’t even form the official Opposition, it will much harder for them to make their voices heard.

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Harry Phibbs is a freelance journalist.

Columns are the author's own opinion and do not necessarily reflect the views of CapX.