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Sunak vs Starmer: There are only bad choices for Britain now

Rishi Sunak is not someone we can trust to champion the values of fairness, equality or compassion. And neither, sadly, is Keir Starmer

Harriet Williamson
Monday 24 October 2022 15:34 BST
Rishi Sunak to be the next prime minister, 1922 Committee announces

I don’t want to sound like too much of a doom-monger, but things really don’t look good. Rishi Sunak will now become prime minister in a coronation that the electorate got absolutely zero say in – not even the Tory membership who saddled us with the disastrous Liz Truss.

It is unlikely that the Tories will hold a general election sooner than they have to (although I definitely encourage you to sign The Independent’s petition calling for an election now) – and even if they do, the Labour government we could have under Keir Starmer’s leadership looks as if it might be almost as right-wing as a Conservative one.

Thanks – in part – to Truss and her former chancellor Kwasi Kwarteng’s attempt to introduce Thatcherism on steroids and fling more cash at the people in society who are already wallowing in more than enough of the stuff, we’re looking at a fiscally difficult few years to come.

Both Sunak and Starmer as PM are tipped to soothe the markets, as my esteemed colleague Hamish McRae explains here, because they essentially represent the same thing. We are likely to see a return of austerity with Jeremy Hunt as chancellor, and a continuation of the programme of Tory cuts to public services that has blighted the lives and chances of millions of people in Britain.

The most pernicious part of the Cameron-Osbourne legacy of austerity is how normalised it has become. That is their triumph – making balancing the books on the backs of struggling services and the most vulnerable people in society seem like a reasonable, sensible, grown-up way of running the economy. It will – mark my words – be touted as the “only choice” in the months ahead.

Yes, Sunak as PM might “steady the ship”. He might assuage the fears of the markets, and he might even save the Conservative Party’s fortunes; but let’s not forget, this is the man who held a US green card during his time as chancellor – something that doesn’t exactly scream commitment to this country. His wife, Akshata Murthy, claimed non-domicile status in order to save millions on her tax bill while her husband was chancellor, a story The Independent broke in April of this year.

Sunak is the richest MP in parliament, with a net worth valued at £730m – and was busy securing planning permission for a new gym, swimming pool and tennis court at his North Yorkshire mansion in August 2021, while taking the £20 a week universal credit uplift back off the poorest people in Britain.

During the leadership contest against Truss, Sunak was also filmed bragging about diverting funding away from “deprived urban areas” towards prosperous parts of the country.

This is not someone we can trust to champion the values of fairness, equality or compassion. And neither, sadly, is Labour leader Keir Starmer.

Starmer, the former human rights lawyer, supports longer prison sentences for “disruptive” protesters. His shadow chancellor, Rachel Reeves, wants to see more deportations of asylum seekers. Starmer refuses to openly back the strike action of workers trying to make ends meet in a spiralling cost of living crisis, and banned his front bench from attending picket lines. Sam Tarry, the former shadow transport minister, was sacked by Starmer for standing in solidarity with rail workers.

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Starmer does not seem to be remotely on the side of working people, too cowed by Tory attacks on “militant unions” and attempts to falsely differentiate between “strivers” and “strikers” (as though people striking aren’t doing so precisely because they are striving – for decent and fair pay, and a dignified standard of living). Given a chance, he seems determined to out-Tory the Tories.

Starmer and Sunak are cut from the same cloth, and their approach is worlds away from the transformative, common sense and fully costed vision of Jeremy Corbyn’s Labour, which provided hope for millions of people up and down the country.

Sadly, the Corbyn project was systematically destroyed by Labour’s right wing and by established voices across much of the media. The green shoots were torn up and the earth salted.

In 2017, I could imagine a future where Britain worked in the interests of the many, where the Labour Party stood up for the rights of workers and refugees, for the sick and disabled and vulnerable – and for the beautiful planet we live on.

Now, between the Tory soap opera – and Labour’s void where its values should be – I see no hope at all.

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