Wednesday, 5th June, 2024

[Day 1542]

This has been quite an interesting day so far. Meg and I slept in a little later than we normally both have liked but the carers came and got Meg up, washed, dressed and into her ‘going out’ wheelchair. After we had breakfasted, we made an excursion to the park, made easier by the fact that I had made a lightning visit just after breakfast to collect my newspaper. It was a pleasant day and we exchanged pleasantries with the normal cohort of dog walkers whilst we were sitting on our bench overlooking the pond. A few days ago, I found some sunglasses which had evidently dropped off a pram or a buggy and had been placed on a wall near Waitrose. So I gave these a clean up and asked Meg if she would like to try them did, which she did imitating the Sophia Loren look (who, I believe, use to wear large sun glasses before it became fashionable to do so) Last night, after Meg was in bed, I watched the first of the televised debates between Sunak and Starmer hosted by ITV. In this debate, Sunak was adjudged to be the narrow winner and it was not hard to see why. From somewhere, Sunak produced a figure that an incoming Labour government would tax each family £2,000 and when Starmer did not immediately deny this, the point was pressed over and over again. Naturally, all of the Conservative leaning newspapers (which is most of them) repeated this claim over and over again and it is probably the case that most people, hearing the claim repeated over and over again and not immediately denied, would tend to believe it. But in the cold light of day, analysts have started to examine this claim and have found it as near to a lie as it is possible to be. It looks as though some policy advisers to the Conservative party had some, but not all of the Labour spending plans ‘verified’ by some Treasury officials and then did some totting up and dividing by the total number of households to arrive at the £2,000 figure over a Parliament. But this morning the Labour Party have been quick to denounce this figure as an absolute lie whilst the Treasury itself produced a letter which had indicated to the Tory policy advisers that this computed figure had not been produced by civil servants and the data they produce should not be quoted in any party political broadcasts. So having produced a ‘dodgy dossier’ the Labour party has produced its own dodgy dossier and the Tories have responded with their own dodgy dossier Mark 2 arguing that the initial estimates of £2,000 per family were too conservative an estimate. So what we are left with is the two large political parties, both arguing about dodgy numbers and statistics and with nobody any the wiser until much after the original claim has been made and the damage done. One is reminded of the EU referendum bus campaign in which the amount that the UK sent to the EU each year was painted on the side of a campaign bus. Like other examples of this type, there is always some sleight of hand involved in these types of debates. If I remember rightly, the sum painted on the side of the bus indicating what the UK paid too the EU each year took no account of the subsequent rebate which arrived later so the impression was given, deliberately, that the ‘sent to EU’ figures was the same as ‘contribution to the UK’ which it was not. To bring this row up to date, we now know that Office for Statistics Regulation is ‘looking into Rishi Sunak’s claim over Labour tax costs. It comes after the prime minister alleged repeatedly that Labour have a £38bn black hole in their financial plans, which will cost households £2,000 each. Labour frontbencher Jonathan Ashworth told Sky News today that Mr Sunak had resorted to ‘desperate lies’ with the allegation. In response, the Conservatives insisted their claim was based on ‘clear Labour policies, their own costings or official HMT [His Majesty’s Treasury] costings using the lowest assumptions’. However, doubt was also cast on Sunak’s claim by a senior Treasury civil servant, who wrote to Labour to warn them that the Tory assessment of their tax plans ‘should not be presented as having been produced by the civil service’. The OSR watchdog said it was looking into the claim but stopped short of saying it was launching a full-on investigation. One is tempted to quote the saying attributed to Churchill that ‘a lie is halfway round the world before the truth has got its boots on’ but the spirit of this observation may indeed go back to the Roman author, Vergil centuries beforehand. When all is said and done, I am rather saddened by all of this. Politics is always a bit of a dirty game but when standards of integrity starts to slip so that one party feels that it is obliged to lie as much as the other side then an enormous cynicism comes over the electorate who tend to opine ‘that they are all the same’ If this view prevails, then the political process as a whole gets so demeaned that any kind of more progressive politics becomes more and more difficult to attain. I do get the feeling these days that we need a reset of our political process and although in the past I have not been enamoured of proportional representation, I am beginning to feel that the case for this is becoming stronger by the day. But of course, one has to ensure that in any new voting systems, one does not give power to extremely small parties for whom hardly anyone has voted but who can hold the balance of power in tight elections.

Meanwhile, the news from the other side of the Atlantic continues to dismay. There are new reports that Jo Biden’s cognitive decline is rapidly accelerating which does not bode well for the presidential elections in November. But there are equally prominent reports that Donald Trumps bizarre behaviour and frequent rants are a sign of his mental instability. So we have the bizarre situation in which the two front runners for president of the United States leaves one to doubt whether either one of them has the cognitive and emotional capabilities that one might expect in a leader of the ‘free world’ It is probably too late in the day but one wonders whether even at this incredibly late stage two candidates might emerge either of whom would ultimately be a ‘safer’ choice as president.