‘Next PM should be a non-Conservative’

It isn’t often that the people of East Devon make a real difference to national politics. 

Martin Shaw, Chair, East Devon Alliance www.midweekherald.co.uk

But I think we can safely say that when voters in Honiton, Seaton and Axminster helped return our first non-Conservative MP last month, we played a major role in forcing Boris Johnson’s grudging commitment to leave Downing Street later this summer.

While everyone knew that Johnson was badly discredited – for his Seaton photo opportunity he lurked at the yacht club end of the beach to avoid bumping into residents – it was only after 22,500 of us voted in the Liberal Democrat, Richard Foord, that enough Tory MPs got the message that sticking with Johnson could cost them their seats.

So our great Devon victory was a vital first step towards getting the country out of its mess.

But the problem is much bigger than Johnson. Most other Conservatives (including virtually all the new contenders to lead the party) excused his behaviour even after we called time on it. And that behaviour itself was just the tip of the iceberg.

When the East Devon Alliance was formed nine years ago to tackle corruption in our district council – after a Conservative councillor was exposed offering planning permission for £25,000 – people did not often use the word ‘corruption’ to describe British politics. We thought East Devon was an exceptionally bad case, the result of a long period of one-party rule.

But now it is routine to describe the national government in this way. During the pandemic, millions of pounds were handed without proper scrutiny to firms linked to ministers’ cronies and Tory donors – while many of the latter, including the oligarch son of the former KGB agent that Johnson met in a Tuscan villa, were awarded peerages. (I wonder if Johnson’s strong support for Ukraine is partly an attempt to compensate for the Tories’ Russian links?)

This self-interested clique at the centre of the Conservative party has scant concern for the real problems of the country and the difficulties facing ordinary people. Their claim that they have ‘got the big calls right’ doesn’t stand up to examination.

The early response to Covid was a shambles and the policy towards care homes was ruled unlawful after EDA’s Cathy Gardner took them to the high court. Indeed the government washed their hands of the pandemic after the third vaccine was rolled out.

Until last week, Sajid Javid presided over an NHS which has never been in a worse state, with six millions waiting for treatment, the ambulance service in crisis, and staff shortages worse than ever.

Similarly, Rishi Sunak delayed and delayed supporting people with their energy prices, and then the help was too little, especially for the people whose benefits he slashed only last year. He has continued the decade of austerity which has made it impossible for local councils to maintain, let alone really improve, public services – even Devon County Council could be at risk of bankruptcy.

Instead of solid work to improve our economy and society, for 12 wasted years the Conservative Party has given us an endless soap opera of rivalries between wealthy, overentitled men (and a few women). 

They serenade us with pretend policies like ‘levelling up’, which no one really knows the meaning of, and which have brought precious little benefit even to the north, let alone to Devon, which has again been taken for granted.

Half of these years have been taken up with the fantasy of Brexit, which has had virtually no practical benefits but has wrecked much of our trade, damaged the fishing industry it was meant to help and divided Europe just when it faces the threat of Putin.

As the soap opera resumes, Tories are telling each other that the next prime minister has to be a Brexiteer. In my view, the next prime minister, like our new MP, should be a non-Conservative.