The World That Will Shape Up


Economic forecasts are a mug’s game but while there are no signs of the green shoots of recovery if people do not feel that their pockets are lighter compared to five years ago they may not want to make Rishi wish he had kept his American green card … writes Mihir Bose @mihirbose

I doubt if anyone could have predicted how 2022 would turn up. I did begin my 2022 piece for Asian Lite by saying a lot will depend on how the Russia-China relations shape up but I didn’t think President Vladimir Putin would invade Ukraine claiming it always belonged to Russia, all part of his longed for desire to see the return of the Russian empire, if not that ruled by Stalin certainly that by the Tsars.

Nor I must confess did I see Boris Johnson’s fall, let alone Britain suddenly transformed in a few months of the summer into more like a banana republic where three Prime Ministers waltzed in and out of No 10 Downing Street. Or should we say a case of that old Hindi saying Aya Ram, Gaya Ram. Ram Comes and Ram Goes.

The dance the Conservatives performed over who should lead them was not so much a waltz but more like the frenzied dance we used to do on Saturday nights at university gyrating to a little-known pop group hoping to emulate the Beatles or the Rolling Stones, in the hope by the end of the evening we would find a partner. That a party, which has always claimed to be the most successful political party in the world, so adept at crafting election successes, should have so suddenly lost its ability to hold on to power was astonishing.

So, can Dishy Rishi do the trick and lead them to victory when the election comes in 2024? I believe he can. My reason for saying so is that there are signs that the economy may provide us not with gloom and doom but with pleasant surprises. Already it seems the recession may not prove to be as deep, and inflation is coming down. Economic forecasts are a mug’s game but while there are no signs of the green shoots of recovery if people do not feel that their pockets are lighter compared to five years ago they may not want to make Rishi wish he had kept his American green card.

It is a common belief that elections are won or lost on how well the economy is doing. Reagan’s election-winning slogan against Carter in 1980 was, “Are you better off?”. Clinton’s election campaign had a notice up saying, “It’s the economy, stupid”. However, 1997 shows that even when the economy is doing well people may not vote for the government responsible for it. Then the Conservatives under John Major had turned the economy around but could not get away from the huge shadow cast by Black Wednesday.

The Sunny Monday that followed did not do the trick. The Conservatives had lost their own big winning card which never fails to trump their opponents. That they are better managers of the economy than Labour.  

But in 1997 Labour had Tony Blair. This, the shrewdest British politician of the last two decades, had so remodelled Labour that it was unrecognisable from Labour governments that had proved so incompetent. Blair had also crafted slogans that resonated. Tough on crime, tough on the causes of crime. Education, education, education. Keir Starmer is no Blair. He comes across as a competent apparatchik who can deliver a case on which he has been well briefed which, given he was head of the CPS, is no surprise. But Blair, also a lawyer, could write a brief. Starmer is yet to show he can do that. So far he is enjoying the fall-out from the mess the Conservatives have made. But under an election spotlight he may find it not that easy to answer the question both the Conservatives and the media will relentlessly ask him, “So, Sir Keir what will your government do?”. Just going on repeating that he is opposed to Tory policies will not work.

I appreciate it will not be easy to paint Labour as tax and spend as the Conservatives have traditionally done. After all, Tories have been Labour dressed in blue. The problem for Labour is on this issue they have little room for manoeuvre and cannot be further to the right of the Tories. And while Labour is 20 points ahead in the polls they also show that Sunak is more popular than Starmer and considered better able to manage the economy.

But where Sunak may come unstuck are two issues which few in this country are prepared to discuss. One is race and the other is wealth. There is no question the Conservatives have completely remodelled themselves on race with many of the leading Cabinet positions held by people of Asian and black origin. The Conservatives, having historically been anti-Hindu and pro-Muslim, have become very fond of Hindus and to have Diwali celebrated in No 10 tells us a lot of how the party has changed. But Labour cannot use the race card, at least not openly, more so when as a party it is still very a white party at least with those occupying senior positions.  

Even more than race what may cause Sunak greater problems is that he is rich, and his wife is even richer, the daughter of one of India’s richest men. Unlike America, where politicians can boast of their wealth and win votes as Trump did, however dubious his claim to wealth may have been, the British do not like their politicians to brag that they are wealthy. In fact, almost nobody in No 10 could do that.

Johnson was always moaning that being in Downing Street had impoverished him and he had to rely on the generosity of donors to get his Downing Street flat refurbished. Sunak has already had problems as a result of his wife’s non-dom status. He cannot go around saying that because of his wealth he will make everyone else wealthy. That would immediately make him a parvenu and a man who is not one of us. This combined with his Hindu status may mean defeat.

Of course, all this could change if Putin falls, Ukraine emerges victorious, and the energy crisis is over. Suddenly everyone is well-off and Sunak without saying he is rich could make people feel he will make them richer.

But this brings us to the great unknown. What will Putin do? The war in Ukraine, which Putin thought would last a few weeks and we hoped would be over in a few months looks like, if not quite Europe’s modern-day version of the hundred years’ war, going on long enough to cause a great deal of disruption. Sunak has limited ability to keep on saying it is not the Tories fault but the fault of Putin. Carter tried to use the energy crisis of the early 80s against Reagan but that failed. The only problem is Starmer is no Reagan. Unless he has virtues that he has kept hidden I can still see Sunak leading the Tories to another election triumph.

Mihir Bose’s latest book is Dreaming The Impossible: The Battle to Create A Non-Racial Sports World. His twitter sign is @mihirbose

[mc4wp_form id=""]