SUNDAY 19  MAY 2024



I’m a lifelong Tory but I’ll not vote for the shambolic Conservatives next time

Rishi Sunak is a decent bloke. Decent but doomed. With the Tories trailing by 20 points in the polls, his middle name would have to be Lazarus to give him any chance at the next General Election.

His only hope is to crush the Great Lurpak Conspiracy, which is how I think of the greedy, insidious attempts by supermarkets, energy companies, banks and water companies to wring every last penny they can from us.

Not long ago, you could buy a 500g tub of Lurpak, a gloopy blend of butter and oil, for £3.65. Now it’s a fiver. The owners, the dairy cooperative Arla, blame war in Ukraine, rises in energy prices and cattle feed and their desire to spare farmers any further pain.

I don’t buy it. I mean, I literally don’t buy it. Lurpak will never again appear on my breakfast table. It’s the only recourse I have and, if we could, we should do the same with all the other profiteers.

The process can start today. MPs on the business committee are to question supermarket bosses on where they think food and fuel prices are headed. Food rose by 18.4 per cent in the year to May while inflation, measured as the consumer prices index, rose by 8.7 per cent. That’s almost 10 per cent difference. Why?

MPs are likely to question the grasping grocers about their gross profit margins and also their margins on fuel, which some suspect have been raised significantly. I hope they face a fiercer grilling than a barbecue banger.

Then on Wednesday, the Chancellor, Jeremy Hunt, has called in consumer watchdogs to tell them to use their powers to force down prices. He wants them to scrutinise the bills we receive for water, energy and telecoms to make sure no one is boosting them unfairly under cover of inflation.

But I thought that was their only function. What else do they do?

It is time to hold these vast corporations to account. Food, water, energy – these are things we all need, can’t live without. And the people who manage them have little competition and even less shame.

They can’t be persuaded; they have to be cajoled, bullied, even threatened into doing the right thing.

Meanwhile, after the Bank of England had raised the cost of borrowing again, to the highest in 15 years, Sunak told the BBC’s Laura Kuenssberg: “I want people to be reassured that we’ve got to hold our nerve, stick to the plan and we will get through this.”

Sunak hasn’t done too much wrong. He is the victim of what Harold Macmillan (nearly) called “events, dear boy, events.”

All the same, when the music stops, he will find all the seats occupied by Labour candidates.

Not his own perhaps – Sunak is the MP for Richmond, North Yorkshire, with a majority of 27,210, so there is a fair chance he will be able to stay on.

But will he want to? And will the Tories let him? General Election losers are seldom given a second chance. Like Boris, he will probably go away, do what he does spectacularly well, and make another fortune to add to the one his wife has.

Despite his protestations, I don’t think we will see the Foreign Secretary James Cleverly in Westminster after the election. And what future can there be for Kwasi Kwarteng after his shambolic performance as Liz Truss’s Chancellor and right-hand man?

I think the Conservatives need to spend some time in the wilderness, reflect on what they stand for and let Keir Starmer grapple with the seemingly insoluble problems we face.

When they come back, renewed, baggage-free and with fresh ideas, there will be new faces among them, a new leader, a new agenda. A new beginning.

That’s why I, a lifelong Conservative, won’t be voting for them this time.


Once in a while, you come across a story that is so disturbing, so sinister in its implications, that you are compelled to go back and read it all over again – just to be sure you’re not dreaming.

The Times last week reported that the European Union has agreed to allow spyware to be installed on journalists’ phones or computers to identify their sources.

The European Commission had proposed an exemption for journalists but after objections by France the immunity clause in the legislation was dropped. It means reporters can legally be spied on as part of criminal investigations not just into terrorism or threats to national security, but even something as comparatively trivial as bicycle theft.

It will apply to all journalists working in the European Union, including British reporters, for example those working at Nato headquarters in Brussels, or filing from Berlin or Rome.

Legislators have tried to disguise what they are up to by calling the bugs “intrusive surveillance software”. What they mean is Pegasus or Predator malware, already widely used by intelligence agencies.

They also tried to suggest they were actually doing journalists a favour by introducing “a novel set of rules to protect media pluralism and independence.”

When I mentioned the draft legislation to a friend he shrugged and said: “What, you think they don’t do it already? This is just to legitimise it.”

Perhaps, but this law is a boil that needs lancing. Does anyone seriously think that it won’t be abused? Soon enough, a bent or compliant cop will wake up to find a text message from a corrupt politician whose business affairs are being inconveniently probed by a nosey reporter.

The journalist’s phone and computer will be bugged on some dreamt-up pretext and his contacts and informants will be harassed, bullied, threatened and perhaps even arrested – until the politician feels safe again.

I once knew a news editor who was so paranoid that he refused to commit anything to computer. Instead, he had his schedules produced on an old-school Olivetti typewriter, handed them round at news conference and collected and shredded them afterwards.

Maybe he knew something we didn’t. Just because you’re paranoid, it doesn’t mean they’re not out to get you.

In any case, he was ahead of his time.