Johnson tax plans challenge Labour

Keir Starmer (photo: Jessica Taylor/UK Parliament (CC BY-NC 2.0)

The high-risk Johnson tax rises combined with the Cabinet reshuffle make an early election more possible. Labour needs to prepare by setting in motion the selection of parliamentary candidates, says Trevor Fisher

Ladbrokes are offering 13-1 on a general election in 2022, a welcome sign that the penny has dropped in some areas that the Fixed Term Parliament Act is being repealed. I have put money on at these very reasonable odds and suggest others do so before the odds fall. While the date of the election is no longer fixed at 2024, the consensus is still largely 2023 or 2024. The progressive alliance lobby seems to accept this. More worryingly, Labour has done so and is failing to allow candidate selections to go ahead.

This is stupid. Tory strategy is to go when Boris Johnson can get an easy victory. Sending a signal to Number 10 that Labour is not prepared invites trouble. While no one can tell when an election will be called, the repeal of the FTPA is going through parliament to be replaced by the Dissolution and Calling of Parliament (DaCOP) Act. Even when passed, Johnson will not have a fixed date in mind. So smart people will go onto a war footing. Even if there is no immediate election, nothing is lost by being ready.

The future is uncertain, and with both the economy post-Brexit and the pandemic likely to pose lasting problems, if Boris Johnson is to get the ten years in office he craves, his best bet is to go early. The Tories have a convincing lead in the polls. The longer he is in Downing Street, the more likely it is that the polls turn against him. And he knows that the Tories will sack a PM who is not delivering victory – memories of 1990 and the ousting of Thatcher are alive. If he wants to survive, then going earlier than 2023, by when storm clouds might have gathered, is a very attractive option.

Whatever happens once DaCOP is on the statute book, Labour should be sending out messages of warning and – without becoming alarmist – investigating the future, which will be both Brexit and Covid-affected. It is very strange that Labour does not have a research department – all trade unions do – and a major step to long-term development would be to invest in research.

The lack of adequate research is a long-term issue; the immediate issue is having parliamentary candidates in place. Failing to prepare is preparing to fail, and there is no case for waiting for boundary reviews to be concluded. In 1981-82 selections were undertaken and when constituencies were merged – for example, with Birmingham Ladywood (Albert Bore) and Handsworth (Claire Short) – there was a run-off. No problem at all.

Tories have always had the nous to go with Labour weakness. Current numbers of MPs are the lowest since the 1935 election. This is partly because at the 1935 Conference Labour sacked its leader – George Lansbury – and Clement Attlee was largely unknown. With a year to go, Stanley Baldwin promptly called an election and won a landslide. It can happen again. Labour is not prepared on any front – notably policy, where the overstuffed manifesto of 2019 led to a policy review. So where is it?

Setting a deadline for having parliamentary candidates in place might sharpen minds and produce a swinging policy review. The new Labour Communications Group claims that under Starmer 200 (non-Covid-related) policies have been announced. We are drowning in verbiage.

What we need are parliamentary candidates, and to make sure they are supported an early election working party has to be set up. Neil Kinnock, in backing the Labour Comms Group, called on Labour to “face outwards and attack the real enemy”. He is right. The real enemy is the Tory Party and it’s time to attack them and all their supporters.

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