Weekly Column

Political Shenanigans or Great Matters of State?

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Rumours, gossip, plots and conspiracies have always been the very lifeblood of politics. Who is on the way up: who blotted their copybook? When’s the election going to be, and who will win it? What is current thinking about policy, and who is its main influencer? It’s been that kind of a week in Westminster.

The PM secured a healthy majority for his (admittedly controversial) plans to stem the flow of illegal immigrants in rubber boats by making it plain that they will be wasting their money as well as tragically risking their lives by buying the illusory golden pavements promised by the wicked mafia-like people traffickers. It’s the right strategy; but that risked being obscured by huddles of people in corridors and lobbies plotting, planning, counting numbers. It’s alleged that the whips were hyper-active, cajoling, perhaps even bullying or bribing (surely not) to ensure that the Government got its business through. In the end the plotters and abstainers are left looking a little foolish. They achieved nothing but allowed malign observers to comment on perceived divisions within the Conservative Party rather than focussing on the merits or demerits of the policy itself.

The Westminster rumour mill was aflame with gossip about leadership challenges (no one could be so stupid; and I have not met anyone seriously contemplating it); and the possibility of an early General Election. My own view is that 2 May seems very likely. That is the date of local elections across England; it would benefit from the improvements we are already seeing in the economy and action on immigration; and it avoids there being a coincidence of British, American and Australian elections next Autumn which might well have security implications. Do we really want the whole world in electoral uncertainty at a time like this? The American and Australian elections cannot constitutionally be moved, so perhaps the UK one will have to come first?

A straw in the wind may be the intel that the House of Lords yesterday cancelled their February half-term Recess, implying that the Government are keen to keep their lordships hard at work to get its legislative programme (especially the Rwanda Bill) through. If their Lordships wreck it (which seems perfectly possible), there will be the threat of an imminent General Election over their heads. Some predict March, but timing practicalities are virtually impossible; others remain of the view that a late Autumn date is most likely to give the Tories time to dent the Labour lead in the polls.

Whenever it comes it will be a great battle between the Labour Party and the Tories to form a government. Other parties (Lib Dems, Reform, Greens) will play no role in that battle. I congratulate our campaign team in the Lechlade and Fairford by-election on Thursday. The Tories gave the Lib Dems a good run for their money, albeit being pipped at the post in the final result. Just a shame that the victorious Lib Dem District Councillor did not turn up at his own count, being engaged, so it was reported, at a concert in the Royal Albert Hall. So much for his commitment to local matters!

Within twelve months the people of the new South Cotswolds seat will decide whether they want me to carry on my hard work as their local MP; they will decide whether they want a continuing Conservative Government or a Labour one. These are the great choices, the great matters of state offered in a democracy. The election will reflect the consensus of views about domestic matters and the volatile international situation we are all facing. These are the great matters of State; and gossip, rumours, plots and conspiracies, minority parties and political shenanigans of all kinds are as nothing by comparison.

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James Gray
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Published Date
December 15, 2023