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General Election Week 2 – Where are we at?

If Week 1 of this General Election campaign was really all about the big surprise announcement itself followed by Labour scrambling to get back on track after being wrong footed by the Tories, then in Week 2 we started to see each political party’s campaign strategy emerging but ended up by being swamped by the Farage moment followed by the first big TV debate. Before we discuss the last two points, let’s just cover where the parties are all at.

Labour, still apparently comfortably ahead in the polls, are sticking to their resolutely ‘things can only get better’ theme: the NHS will work beautifully, fantastical numbers of houses will be built, the economy will be amazing, immigration will fall, and this all promised with no sign of any detailed plan, no taxes going up and no cuts to public spending. Magical thinking indeed. If anyone believes that, then the REC team has a very nice selection of road bridges we can sell you at very competitive rates. Hell, we’ll even throw in a footbridge as a sweetener.

The Tories, not to be outdone by this shameless nonsense, also laid out their version of reality defying promises. They have effectively adopted a ‘core vote’ strategy, making rather pathetically small scale retail offers aimed directly at their target voters: national service, pension double triple quadruple locks (probably with free Stanner stairlifts for all), ending ‘rip off’ degrees, punishing fly tippers, bribes for 30 red wall towns, reaffirming equality laws to reflect sex not gender, yet more forlorn announcements to make them look tough on immigration etc. No big thinking, let’s just pretend the recent past hasn’t happened. How they will now pivot their campaign after Farage’s announcement remains to be seen.

Neither party even wants to whisper the word ‘Brexit’, the most consequential decision the country has made in decades. Not even in the first head to head PM debate did it come up, amazingly! And let’s not trouble ourselves with thinking about global affairs, those naughty despots, wars raging, Xi threatening Taiwan, Putin sabre rattling his ageing nukes to try to scare off western governments from supporting Ukraine. Everything’s going to be fine because the Tories are going to fine fly-tippers and Labour are going to punish private school kids. Putin must be quaking in his size 4s.

And all that’s before we get to the real comedy acts. The Lib Dems were in government just a few years ago, punching above their weight. Now Ed Davey appears to think he’s competing in ‘It’s an Election Knockout’; falling off paddleboards, waterparking here, demonically cycling there. The Lib Dems actively supported Sunak’s recent attempt to ban smoking whilst simultaneously wanting to legalise cannabis. Go figure!

And then there’s the ‘bad boy ratpack’: Nigel Farage banging out his greatest immigration hits from any beach that has a pub nearby, the SNP continuingly chippy about the English whilst one by one being arrested or banned from the Scottish Parliament, and last but not least, George Galloway, the walking Fedora that tries to stir up community hated wherever he goes. At least the Greens are invisible.

But Nigel’s big announcement has changed things and not just for McDonalds’ milkshake machines. He is the Righty the establishment media absolutely love to hate. They are kind of fixated by him. They will gorge on his every attention seeking daily campaign moment. Every Nigel photo op will be pruriently covered. Pubs all over Brexit-voting constituencies will have daily visits from the cameras as our Nige is endlessly photographed with a pint of bitter in hand. Farage will suck much of the oxygen out of the campaign. And all this despite the inconvenient fact that Reform will struggle to just win his target seat of Clacton and is very unlikely to win anything else.

As for the first debate, Starmer continued with his usual PMQs schtick of wearing a pained expression whilst saying how awful the Tories are but not being able to think on his feet quickly enough to punch Sunak back. Sunak was surprisingly pugnacious, however. In his position, he needs to be scrappy. Labour will now have to work hard to get the ‘Labour tax rises’ moniker not to stick so, as the majority of the commentariat had it afterwards, Sunak probably squeaked a narrow win on points.

Can we really take another four weeks of this?

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