There’s only one choice this year

This year is an election year. We now know this for certain, as Rishi Sunak confirmed as much in an interview the BBC on Thursday 4 January. Exactly when the election will take place is still yet to be seen, despite Sunak’s unconvincing line that his working assumption is that it will be in the second half of the year. With an election on the horizon, we are presented with an opportunity to choose. And for my money, there’s only one clear choice.

Can you believe it’s been almost five years since the last UK General Election? A pandemic, war in Europe, war in the Middle East, near-financial collapse, corruption, scandal and sleaze, three prime ministers. It’s been quite the half-decade, wouldn’t you say? And that’s not considering the 14 years since the Conservative Party have been in government, either in coalition or on their own. Looking back to 2010, there’s more we could add to our list of things we’ve had to endure as a country and indeed a world.

Perhaps I’m being a little unfair. After all, some of the things I mentioned in my opening couple of sentences aren’t the fault of any shade of government. However, our current government’s handling of these non-attributable crises has been less than desirable, save for the situation in Ukraine. Credit where credit is due, our response to the unfolding chaos in Eastern Europe was, in common agreement, exemplary. With the added caveat that it’s hard to imagine any other British Prime Minister responding in any other way; although how a Corbyn-led government would have responded begs many questions.

This year is an election year. We now know this for certain, as Rishi Sunak confirmed as much in an interview to the BBC on Thursday 4 January. Exactly when the election will take place is still yet to be seen, despite Sunak’s unconvincing line that his working assumption is that it will be in the second half of the year. With an election on the horizon, we are presented with an opportunity to choose. And for my money, there’s only one clear choice.

Keir Starmer and the Labour Party.

Quite how I’ve gone from card-carrying member of and prospective parliamentary candidate for the Liberal Democrats in the space of five years is perhaps a topic for another blog (I resigned my party membership after the utterly disastrous 2019 election campaign and result, having joined at the tender age of 18 in 2010). But to me, Keir Starmer offers something that the country has been crying for and is in desperate need of. 

Starmer is not an inspiring politician. He’s not the greatest orator nor is his rather slim repertoire of policies anything particularly new or exciting. His jokes aren’t bad, although if I have to hear another quip about Arsenal football club, I think I might lose my mind. He is, by all accounts, pretty boring. Unexciting. A bit of a John Major-esque character – not that I’m remotely old enough to remember the Major years; I was only five years old when he left office (apologies to any of my older readers). But that is exactly what Iwant. And I believe it’s exactly what the country needs. 

After all, in a (very) long line of political leaders since 2010, we’ve had our fair of what you could describe as ‘inspirational’ figures and look how they’ve turned out. Let’s start with the first that springs to mind: Sir Nick Clegg.

2010 was the first election I was eligible to vote in and, as it happens, it was an election that changed the way elections are conducted in the UK forever. The first televised leaders’ debates; the first widespread mention of hung parliaments, coalitions, confidence-and-supply agreements, and the first real indication that the UK was no longer just a two-party system. I remember the first of those TV debates and Nick Clegg, a then youthful and bright-eyed politician, making his opening remarks: “I believe that the way things aren’t the way things have to be”. I was hooked immediately, and so too was the rest of the country, as the all the polling conducted after that first debate showed that Nick Clegg won a resounding victory. In the days and weeks that followed, there was even talk that, for the first time since the early 20th Century, a party other than the Conservatives or Labour were on course to win a majority.

Pah! How foolish that seems now. As it turned out, despite leading the Liberal Democrats to their highest ever vote share, the party actually lost seats and what lay in store for them a mere five years later can only be described as an annihilation. But let’s stay in 2010 for a moment. All my friends at sixth form were transfixed on Nick Clegg and the Liberal Democrats. A whole swathe of 18-year-old first-time voters were being offered something different. Something relatable. A real sense of change and optimism. The promise of no rise in tuition fees, forever etched into the soul of the party, appealed directly to those who were in the immediate aftermath of the casting their vote, would be heading to university. 

Even though the Lib Dems didn’t win a majority, their entry into government in coalition with the Conservatives still marked a significant change in the British political establishment. We’d not had a proper functional coalition government before, certainly never between a centre-right party and, what was always seen to be a centre-left leaning one. But we all know what happened.

Broken promises. Supporting unjustifiable legislation. Allowing for years of austerity. The coalition years did for the Liberal Democrats and sent them to a political wilderness that, only after almost 10 years, are they now beginning to emerge from comfortably. One inspirational leader who totally failed to live up to the promise and hopes of so many millions of people.

With the catastrophic defeat of the Liberal Democrats in 2015 and the surprising Conservative majority win, Labour too were about to flirt with an ‘inspirational’ figurehead. Enter, Jeremy Corbyn.

Much has been said and written about the former Labour leader now Independent Member of Parliament for Islington North. But there’s one thing that is undeniable. He embodied everything that one thinks of when asked to picture an inspirational politician. For the first time since Tony Blair (and perhaps John Smith before him), Labour had a socialist leader. Labour was back to its roots, firmly on the left of the political spectrum. Corbyn’s candidacy for the Labour Leadership following Ed Miliband’s resignation saw the party’s membership swell in number, made up of those who for so long had felt alienated by the establishment parties. A true lefty. Someone who offered something completely different from anything that had come before. Students were completely sucked in; you remember the chants, the appearance at Glastonbury, the celebrity endorsements. Corbyn was unlike any political leader the UK had seen since, well, Tony Blair.

And just as with his liberal contemporary on this list, it all came crashing down when the truth came out about who and what Corbyn was: an idealist, a dreamer, a protestor, a weak invertebrate with no sense of political realism or willingness to acknowledge he was ever in the wrong. He presided over a repugnant surge of antisemitism, totally failing to call it out and deal with those who were antisemitic. Instead, opting for the line “I’m against all forms of racism”. It smacked of “All Lives Matter”. 

His lukewarm-at-best attitude towards NATO, questionable associations with even more questionable organisations, a policy platform so devoid of logic or fiscal expedience exposed Corbyn for what he really was. And, to the detriment of the entire nation, allowed the next entrant on our list to completely rip every convention, standard and expectation of our political system.

Enter, Boris Johnson.

To use the words ‘inspiration’ and ‘Boris Johnson’ in the same sentence feels like anathema. In the short break I took to get showered while writing this article, I told myself that I can’t possibly make the argument that Boris Johnson was an inspirational leader. But, in my attempts at political impartiality, I have to acknowledge and accept that he was. But as the thrust of what has been written above shows, inspiration does not always mean something positive.

I don’t think any politician in the modern era has had as big an effect on the British political system as Alexander Boris de Pfeffel Johnson (yes that is his real name, and if you don’t believe me, look it up). From convincing the country to inflict the biggest act of self-harm on itself in living memory and the collective blindness to objective reality that has afflicted swathes of the population since the UK’s disastrous withdrawal from the European Union, to the bare-faced lying and contemptuous behaviour displayed over so-called Partygate and the bamboozlement of those loyal to him who, regardless of what the facts said, dodged, turned, weaved and spun his web of lies to a population that eventually woke up to the industrial-scale gaslighting, Boris Johnson’s political legacy is one that is a blot on the pages of British political history.

But none of Johnson’s ‘achievements’ would have been possible had he not been able to inspire a huge proportion of unsuspecting people to buy his bilge. For all his flaws, of which there are countless, one of Johnson’s defining characteristics is his ability to tell people what they want to hear. A classic facet of populism, offering simple answers to very complex issues was the hallmark of his time at the forefront of the British political establishment. Sadly, the vast majority of those swept up by his empty rhetoric and spectacular lack of grasp of basic facts did not have the level of interest in or knowledge of politics to be able to see through his drivel and lies. 

That’s not to be disparaging of those that voted for and supported him. To quote James O’Brien: “contempt for the conman, compassion for the conned”. Johnson managed to build his public image as the bumbling buffoon that would often appear on Have I Got New For You, playing the court jester, what with his signature dishevelled look and his caricature way of speaking in over-embellished metaphors. Everyone found him a breath of fresh air from the usual stuffiness of British politics. He was funny. He was alluring. He offered something totally different and unique to what had ever come before.

And that’s still true. After all, no British politician has ever denigrated the establishment as much as he did. The stench of his time in parliament still lingers in the corridors of Westminster, and all who enabled him to lie, cheat and scam his way to the very top are also tainted. Our current prime minister included.

So, why have I spent the last few hundred words reflecting on politicians that are longer relevant? Why have I provided my views on so-called inspirational politicians in an article that started out about Keir Starmer? Because, as I said at the very beginning, Keir Starmer is not inspirational. He is not someone offering falsehoods and political get-rich-quick schemes (unlike Grant Shapps in a former life). He grasps reality. He respects the institutions that have earned us the right to refer to ourselves as a mature liberal democracy. He understands that with great power, comes great responsibility, and that responsibility is to the whole country, not just those that pay their way into the House of Lords…or at least attempt to.

Keir Starmer is boring. And that’s what the country needs as it enters another period of geopolitical uncertainty. It needs a steady pair of hands. We’ve had our inspirational leaders and look how they turned out. We’ve had our charismatic orator, and we’ve had our promises of significant change. None of the leaders we’ve been subjected to since (now Lord) David Cameron’s resignation in 2016 has been what this country needs. Theresa May tried but fell short. And then there was that Liz what’s-her-name. Even leaders of opposition parties have fallen short, except for perhaps Tim Farron, whose genuine passion and desire to make Britain a more tolerant and united place earns him a special place in my heart. But even he fell short of what’s expected of a modern political leader (no matter how much I may disagree with the way he was treated over his religious beliefs).

So, what are we left with? We’re left with a choice. We can either choose another five years of a Conservative government that is totally bereft of anything new. A Conservative Party that reeks of keeping a man in office who was so obviously and demonstrably unfit for the responsibility commensurate with the position he held. A prime minister who was complicit in the pandemic era’s rule-breaking, cronyism, and who cares more for his public image than implementing anything of real benefit to the people he claims to serve. A leader who thinks a new start means defrosting one of the architects of Brexit and austerity, making him a lord and appointing him Foreign Secretary.

Or we can choose a real fresh start. A steady pair of hands. Someone who understands the detail. Someone who is decent and honest, and genuinely wants to improve people’s lives. Someone who doesn’t offer simple answers to complex questions. Someone whose party provides a sense of optimism and belief in a renewed Britain.

Do I agree with everything Labour say and stand for? No. Do I think Keir Starmer will be the best prime minister we’ve ever had? Probably not. But unfortunately, the bar has been dragged down so low, I’d settle for almost anything other than another five years of Conservative government. Yes, Starmer is light on policy. But British politics has been dominated by personality- and value-based politics since Johnson’s time in Number 10. And the values of Starmer and the Labour Party are ones we shouldn’t simply turn our noses up at. 

The only question to ask yourself when deciding who to vote for later this year is this: “do I care about honesty, integrity, respect, the rule-of-law?” If you do, then don’t put your cross next to your Conservative Party candidate’s name. Please, for the love of God, vote for your Labour or Liberal Democrat candidate (depending on which seat you live in) and make sure Keir Starmer forms the next government. Your country needs you.

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