Boris Johnson in danger of making Jeremy Corbyn look positively prudent as spending spirals: Bernard Ingham

Did honouring the memory of the murdered Labour MP Jo Cox narrowly clinch the Batley and Spen by-election for her sister, Kim Leadbeater?

Do Boris Johnson's spending plans have echoes of Jeremy Corbyn? Picture: PA
Do Boris Johnson's spending plans have echoes of Jeremy Corbyn? Picture: PA

Was it – and I hope not – Labour’s leaflet in a religiously troubled constituency suggesting that the Tories are Islamophobic?

What would have happened had Batley never seen hide nor fedora of George Galloway or ex-Health Secretary Matt Hancock had never been caught in a romantic clinch?

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We shall never really know. But this week we know beyond peradventure that British politics is fractured – and fracturing. And we did not need a Batley ballot paper of 16 candidates to tell us that.

Before a relieved Labour leader, Sir Keir Starmer, can claim Labour is on its way back it will have to decide what it stands for.

Similarly, the Tories need to resolve their contradictions.

What exactly does being a Conservative mean in these spendthrift days?

I sometimes think Boris Johnson makes Jeremy Corbyn look positively prudent.

He can, of course, excuse his largesse on the Covid crisis but he has produced a budget deficit twice the £153bn left by Gordon Brown in 2010 and the national debt is going through the roof.

This rising indebtedness is going to affect the governance of Britain for generations to come.

And if all parties do not recognise this, we are in real trouble because public services and defence are in a mess.

If ever a situation called for responsibility and courageous political leadership, this is it.

And there’s the rub. As things stand, neither Tory nor Labour look to have the equipment either in political strength or inclination.

Let’s look at Labour first. It starts with a long record of financial crises to its name.

This arises from its very nature – a coalition of interests that basically believe if you tax the rich you help the poor you aspire to represent.

In fact, without running a tidy financial ship, you help nobody in the end. You are in no position to weather crises.

And who gets hurt most in a crisis? Why the lumpen proletariat Labour is supposed to represent.

Harold Wilson aspired to make Labour the natural party of government. But he was dogged all the way by the left and his paymasters, the trade unions, who went on strike at the drop of a shop steward’s spanner.

His greatest achievement was to hold the Labour Party together but in doing so landed Starmer with the labours of Hercules. Starmer’s problem can be easily stated: how to build a responsible, winning platform out of a hard-left dominated party with almost as many factions as grains of sand on Filey’s beach.

He starts, in spite of the Batley win, anything but secure.

Boris Johnson probably looks safer than he is. His party may be potentially more cohesive and he has to his credit Brexit, a general election win and one of the world’s best Covid vaccination programmes, plus a certain charisma that Starmer lacks.

But the strains of endless, hopelessly contradictory Covid restrictions are beginning to erode his welcome.

His managerial control and indulgence of Covid rule breakers, from Dominic Cummings to Matt Hancock, is unimpressive.

The truth is that we have in Boris an intelligent, if not wise, PM who is a bit of a lad with little interest in detail and a propensity for busking it.

He has something of the effortless ease about him. But he is not tailor-made for the challenges ahead. And people are beginning to talk about it.

It might be argued that such is the dearth of candidates for the top job in both the Labour and Tory parties that both Keir and Boris are secure.

But that is not strictly true in Boris’s case, especially now that Sajid Javid has joined Rishi Sunak in the Cabinet.

Both hail from the financial world and Chancellor Sunak so far seems to be relatively untainted by the Government’s largesse with which he is now wrestling.

If there is one thing, apart from sleaze, that could bring Boris down it is his propensity to throw money at anything and everything. His support for the HS2 rail project while failing to get to grips with the care of the elderly is going down badly.

But that means that Sunak, supported by Javid, needs to get a tighter grip on the public purse. Wouldn’t it be ironic if Sunak buys time for Boris to hand over No 10 to him in reasonably good order?

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