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Good morning. “I’m not afraid of death,” Woody Allen once wrote, “I just don’t want to be there when it happens.” Some Conservative MPs feel the same way about the next general election. That’s one factor driving the spate of Tory MPs deciding to stand down at the next election in mid-career.
Yes, of course, there are other reasons: ranging from recent illness to complicated personal lives to the demands of a young family. Much can and will be written about what’s going on. But the big picture story is that Conservative MPs do not feel optimistic about the future.
Meanwhile for Labour, the overarching story behind the 11 announcements of retirement is that older MPs on the party’s right see that Keir Starmer has won the party’s civil war and that now is their best chance to step down without handing their seats to someone from another faction.
More on the Tory side of the story below, while we’ll have more on the Labour side in the coming days and weeks.
Passport to Pimco
If every retirement from the Conservative party resembled that of Sajid Javid, Rishi Sunak’s political position would be a lot better.
Javid has had a stunningly successful political career by any standard, having served as chancellor, health secretary, home secretary, culture secretary and business secretary. The only role left in the Tory party that wouldn’t be a sideways move for the 53-year-old is the one currently occupied by Sunak.
He will have any number of job options available to him as he looks to the next stage of his career. As our reporters reveal, one of those potential employers is the investment house Pimco. If Javid’s standing down at the next election were typical of this cycle, it would be a sign that Conservative grandees think that tomorrow belongs to Sunak.
But of course, most of the Conservative retirements do not look like Javid’s, so instead his exit adds an unwelcome note of gravitas to what is becoming the settled wisdom at Westminster: that this is a fag end government, limping its way to certain defeat at the hands of Keir Starmer, sometime in winter of 2024.
Is that wisdom right? Well, if you are looking for signs of Tory revival, you are not going to find them in the City of Chester by-election. The most important thing about this by-election is that, both in terms of the headline result (a Labour hold) and the exact percentages, Labour did basically exactly as well as you’d expect them to do if the opinion polls were about right.
A lot of you have asked me if the polls are right, which is a good question that we should all keep asking ourselves. We should always be looking at whether the pattern in actual elections, be they by-elections or council elections, is about what we’d expect given the polls. As Labour found to their cost in 2015, and as the Republicans discovered this November, if you are polling better than elections suggest you should, it’s usually a sign the polls are wrong.
But at the moment all the evidence suggests the opinion polls are about right and the Conservatives will be trounced.
In some ways, the consensus at Westminster that Sunak is heading for defeat and Starmer is heading to Downing Street is an asset for the prime minister over the next two years. The default assumption of a lot of coverage, particularly the broadcasters, will increasingly be that Sunak is a likeable but basically irrelevant loser, while Starmer is the presumptive prime minister who needs to be scrutinised accordingly. It may prove that Labour wilts under that level of attention.
But the problem for Sunak is that while it is terrific news for him if Labour receives a greater level of scrutiny than the Conservatives, it is terrible news if Conservative MPs think they are bound for defeat and that they need to put their own local interests ahead of passing anything big or controversial that might change the party’s overall trajectory.
Now try this
I saw the film White Noise this weekend. In his review, Danny Leigh warns us that, as Don DeLillo’s novel is one of his favourite books, he is “both the film’s natural audience and the most snippy, over-possessive one possible”.
I’ve always admired, as opposed to liked, what DeLillo I have read but I think Danny’s review — looks pretty, nice one-liners, some fun commentary on modern life, but eh, not really the best time you’ll have in cinemas* — is about right. This being a Netflix production it has a very limited run in cinemas. If you can watch it on a big screen with the cinema experience, I would give it a whirl. If you end up wondering whether to watch it at home, try Parallel Mothers, All Quiet On The Western Front or Ali & Ava, all of which are also on Netflix and are far superior bits of cinema.
That said, Adam Driver is mesmerising as always, Don Cheadle is tremendous fun and Greta Gerwig does a marvellous job making Babette a person rather than the mere cipher she is in the book.
*In the interests of full disclosure, “looks pretty, has some nice one-liners, some fun commentary on modern life, but eh, not really the best time you’ll have with a book” is also how I would describe DeLillo. But perhaps it’s time for me to have a re-read.
Top stories today
‘A New Britain’ | Keir Starmer says he’s hoping to outline “the biggest transfer of power from Westminster to the British people” in Labour’s report, entitled A New Britain, which he will launch in Leeds at 10am this morning. The report, led by former Labour prime minister Gordon Brown, into Britain’s constitution makes 40 recommendations, including overhauling the House of Lords.
Crackdown on asylum seekers | Suella Braverman has welcomed a report that says “if necessary” Britain should change human rights laws and withdraw from the European Convention on Human Rights in order to reduce cross-Channel migration in small boats. The Centre for Policy Studies report published today calls for new laws making it impossible to claim asylum in Britain after travelling from a safe country, such as France.
UK growth into reverse, CBI predicts | The country will fall into a year-long recession in 2023 as the “stagflation” combination of rising inflation, negative growth and plummeting business investment weighs on the economy, according to Britain’s largest business group.
Brexit ‘smoke and mirrors’ | A £1.4bn Brexit opportunities fund launched last year by Rishi Sunak is using money provided by existing government schemes, the FT has found.
Flexible working rights for UK workers | UK employees will have the right to ask for part-time hours or homeworking arrangements from the first day of a new job under measures to promote flexible working set out by the government today.