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Editorial: ‘Sunakism without Sunak’ will only pave the way for the right

BRITAIN is drifting towards a general election that is increasingly resembling a slow bicycle race.

Polling released today shows satisfaction with both Rishi Sunak and Keir Starmer falling — both have far more voters dissatisfied with them than happy.

This is scarcely surprising. Britain’s social problems are piling up and the country is drifting into escalating international conflict, yet neither offers any solutions.

Nor do they even disagree with each other. Commons exchanges about Liz Truss’s book and Angela Rayner’s tax affairs cannot mask the fact that the two front benches are singing, from the same sheet, a hymn without words or a discernible tune.

For sure, that leaves the present advantage with the Labour Party. The Tories have been in government for the last 14 years.

They bear the direct responsibility for the present crises, for the underfunding of the NHS, the pollution in our rivers, collapsing local authorities and endorsement of Israel’s Gaza genocide, supported by British arms.

The Tories also have to answer for both Boris Johnson’s corruption and mendacity in office, not to mention his fatal blundering during the pandemic, as well as for Truss’s madcap economic mismanagement.

And, as when the last prolonged period of Conservative government drew towards a close in the 1990s, the party is engulfed in one scandal after another, as today’s allegations against Mark Menzies underline.

Even most Conservative backbenchers appear to realise that they are politically doomed. Those not planning to abandon politics for more lucrative pastimes are already manoeuvring for the post-election reckoning.

For example, Suella Braverman has declared that she does not want Sunak to commit in the Tory election manifesto to withdrawing from the European Convention on Human Rights.

That is not because she does not support such a withdrawal. It is that she knows the Tories are going down to defeat and does not want her pet project compromised by being included within that rejection.

It is clear that it is the Bravermans and Trusses who will be making the running if the Tories are in opposition. They will point to the surging support for Nigel Farage’s Reform party as a reason to shift the party decisively to the right, embracing both authoritarianism on social questions and market liberalism on the economy.

That is why Starmer’s leadership of Labour is such a danger. He has abandoned every policy that might make a difference to people’s lives, that could shift Britain in a new direction.

Instead, he offers Sunakism without Sunak: the same tax rates, same spending limits, same foreign policy.

With this non-programme, whatever relief the electorate feels at the eviction of the Tories will surely soon evaporate. It will become clear that Labour offers no alternative.

But by this time the two parties will no longer be as closely aligned as they are at present. The choice will be between floundering centrist liberalism and aggressive right-wing free-market populism.

In this scenario, Starmer and Rachel Reeves are merely rolling the pitch for a Tory regime far to the right of anything we have endured since 2010.

It would not be the first time that social democracy, if today’s Labour Party merits the term, has opened the door to the right.

The labour movement can avert this prospect by finding its voice now. Demanding that Labour hold firm on its commitments to workers’ rights is of course essential.

But it needs to be matched by similar pledges on economic intervention and social justice if the damage of the years since the 2008 crash is to be repaired and right-wing resurgence headed off. There is no time to lose.

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