Why we need to be careful about wishing for a pre-Christmas election - Jayne Dowle

If you’re joining the chorus calling for a General Election, all I’m saying is ‘be careful what you wish for’. The last time the country went to the polls in a hurry, in December 2019, we ended up with a triumphant Boris Johnson swaying into power on the promise of getting Brexit done.

And we all know how that turned out. Whilst that General Election also returned a number of new Tory MPs to represent the North of England in former ‘Red Wall’ seats, including in our region, Don Valley, where Caroline Flint, a Labour former Cabinet minister who had held the seat since 1997 was replaced, and Wakefield, where the popular Labour MP Mary Creagh had been a vocal Leave supporter.

That extraordinary General Election threw everything up in the air, and set the tone for a difficult Christmas that led to 2020, an annus horribilis that no-one could ever have anticipated; Covid decimated normal life, and to be honest, almost three years on, whatever ‘normal’ was shows no sign of returning.

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Which is why I am urging caution. It’s reported that more than 500,000 people have now signed a petition demanding an early General Election in the wake of Liz Truss’ first month in office, which has seen an extraordinary amount of controversy and U-turns, most noticeably on the proposed tax cut to the top 45 per cent rate of income tax.

Votes are emptied from ballot boxes onto the tables. PIC: Danny Lawson/PA WireVotes are emptied from ballot boxes onto the tables. PIC: Danny Lawson/PA Wire
Votes are emptied from ballot boxes onto the tables. PIC: Danny Lawson/PA Wire

She’s also under fire for so far refusing to re-address the rate of state benefits despite the cost of living crisis, and underpinning the disquiet, for alienating a number of senior and experienced Cabinet ministers, including Michael Gove, Priti Patel and Grant Shapps, who are making no pretence of hiding their disquiet at their new PM’s single-mindedness from the backbenches.

With the new Chancellor of the Exchequer, Kwasi Kwarteng, so overwhelmed by proceedings that he’s resorted to blaming his catastrophic mis-steps on the Queen’s funeral, we’re obviously in a bit of mess.

According to one of the latest samples of UK voters, support for Labour in ‘red wall’ seats has swung dramatically in favour, with support for the party now at 61 per cent in these crucial constituencies which turned blue in 2019. Liz Truss’s approval rating, meanwhile, is on average 23 per cent.

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Obviously, this is huge cause for concern for the Leeds-educated Prime Minister. Especially as many of her backbenchers from other parts of the UK are banging on her door daily to tell her that that Middle England is not happy, not happy at all, as voters watch prices of food and fuel climb ever higher, rising mortgage rates threaten to decimate nest eggs and pension funds teeter on the brink due to the devaluing of the pound.

On the face of it, it’s hard to see exactly who Liz Truss and her new government are aiming to speak to and please. And without an actual mandate, this is a very dangerous, indeed precarious position for any Prime Minister to be in.

And yet, I’d still urge caution. Decisions taken in haste are almost always regretted later. To be sure of a resounding success, I’d say that Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer still has some work to do. He can’t possibly re-create the can-do vigour of Tony Blair when he was preparing to smash 18 years of Tory rule in 1997, because these are different times and he is a different man. But he still needs to spell out exactly what his party stands for.

Not just on the ‘big’ policy areas which would steal a march on muddled Tory thinking - education, the health service, levelling up all forms of inequality, geographical and economic – but also in fiscal and global markets terms.

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Starmer, with his characteristic caution, is no doubt instinctively adopting a wait-and-see approach to observe what catastrophic lurch is coming next from the hapless Chancellor of the Exchequer.

And much as the clamour for change grows ever louder, I fear we really should follow his approach and do the same.

Meanwhile, Darrin Charlesworth, organiser of the General Election petition, which now must be debated in Parliament because it has reached the threshold of more than 100,000 signatures, says: “Over 40 ministers resigned leaving departments without leadership during cost of living, energy and climate crises.

“War rages in Ukraine; the Northern Ireland Protocol has further damaged our relationship with Europe; recession looms; the UK itself may cease to exist as Scotland seeks independence.

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“This is the greatest set of challenges we have seen in our lifetimes. Let the people decide who leads us through this turmoil.”

Put like that, you can appreciate the case in favour. But still I’d say, wait and see. Give Truss and her strange mish mash of a Tory Cabinet a little more time, see what happens next and dig in.