SUNDAY 19  MAY 2024


Be boring Sir Keir and follow my to-do
list to save Britain

My esteemed fellow columnist Dick Dismore summarises the state of the nation in his current Dispatches from the Front (of West London) and it would be hard to disagree with him on any point. Except for his choice of PM, and I shall return to this later.


In the meantime, only the wildest of gamblers would bet against Labour winning the general election later this year, not so much because they deserve to but because the Tories, once the reliable, natural party of government, deserve nothing less than a resounding kick into oblivion.


It all started so promisingly with a fresh-faced Cameron carrying little baggage other than membership of the Bullingdon hoorays while up at Oxford. But it went downhill from there with Brexit always at the centre of that decline. Theresa May was next, a thoroughly decent woman but too shy and introverted to succeed when surrounded by the bastards (as John Major memorably called his Cabinet colleagues). Then came the rapid slalom to the lowest of low slopes with the lies of Johnson and the knuckle-headed stupidity of Truss, still unable to find her self-awareness button.


So Keir Starmer it will be, and hopefully he and his administration will be boring because that is exactly what we need so badly; a decade of boring but vital recovery. This should be his to-do list:


The NHS: Root and branch reform and that means taking out the layers of bureaucracy, those battalions of middle managers who contribute nothing to either the health of the patient or to the health of what was once the  service the rest of the world envied.


Water and rail: Re-nationalise, as Dismore suggests, these essentials which Thatcher sold off thus proving (along with poll tax) that she could get some things very badly wrong.


Immigration: Ireland’s governing Fine Gael party desperately misjudged the public mood when nearly 200,000 immigrants, however worthy, were allowed in without first working out where they would live. That number may not sound a lot until you remember that the population of the Republic is a little more than five million. The result: a huge backlash which will probably see Sinn Fein ruling both North and South within the next 12 months.


The UK must allow in those we need but tackle once and for all the wretched small boats problem at its starting point by co-operating on a European-wide basis to beat the vile gangs who are the basis of such misery and death.


Housing: Reform the whole planning process and build, build, build affordable homes for people, many in their late 30s still living with mum and dad.    


Defence: Commit a minimum of three per cent of the national budget and pay for it by halting overseas aid to the richest countries like China and India. Keep aid for those who really deserve it.


Which brings me to what the papers will say come the general election. We can take it as read that the Express titles will continue to act as the sorry mouthpiece of Tory Central Office or Conservative Campaign Headquarters, as it is now called, and urge their dwindling number of readers to stick with Rishi or whoever it might be in a few months time. Ditto the two Telegraphs. Similarly the Mirror titles, and the Guardian and Observer will go for Labour.


But what of the Mail and MoS? I have noticed a much more critical tone recently towards the shenanigans in and around No10 and I suspect the advice in that final pre-polling front page leader will begin: ‘It is with a heavy heart’ before telling their readers to ‘regrettably stick with the Conservatives.’ But remember, Rothermere and David English took quite a shine to Tony Blair as a ‘man they could do business with’ after the Labour landslide of 1997.


The Times and Sunday Times, the great heavyweights, have been super critical of all things Tory for several years and unless there are seismic events over the horizon they will back Starmer and Reeves as the safer pair to bring the country round. Ditto the FT. And quite possibly The Sun.


So on which point do I take issue with Dismore? He nominates JK Rowling as his choice for Prime Minister. My ideal would be the principled, indefatigable campaigner of this and any decade, the brilliant Alan Bates of Post Office scandal fame.  A truly great man.


 I have been learning more about the former DUP leader Jeffrey Donaldson, currently facing one charge of rape, one of gross indecency and nine charges of sexual assault. He and his wife Eleanor will be before magistrates in Newry on April 24.


If he is considering a getaway car at any point of proceedings he is in poll position, so to speak, because he is (or perhaps that should be was) chairman of the all-party parliamentary group on Formula One. Freebie Central with trips across the globe to watch Max Verstappen win every grand prix. Last July, for instance, his trip to the British GP, courtesy of the owners of Silverstone, was valued at £2,750. He also went to Bahrain race at the invitation of the country’s London embassy. All declared, I should add on the members’ register of interests. And it was Donaldson who led the charge in 2020 for a knighthood for Lewis Hamilton.


On the downside, he also visited Gibraltar as vice-chair of an all-party group on that depressing British overseas territory. But preferable to the dock of Newry Magistrates Court.



10 April 2024