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The Tories broke Britain. But the right wing press still blame Labour

The right wing media has finally woken up to the fact that nothing in Britain works. Now they can’t wait to pin it all on Starmer

Image: The New European

Have you noticed that Britain is in decline, that it has slipped badly off course, that everything needs fixing, yet none of it seems fixable?

Well, of course you have, since you read the New European. But now you can read this sort of stuff in the right wing press, too.

“Almost everything is getting worse, and almost nothing is getting better,” moped an article in the Daily Telegraph on Valentine’s Day. “Our public and private institutions are broken, presided over by an incompetent, selfish and narcissistic ruling class. Living standards, when adjusted properly for living and property costs, are declining. “Even the simplest things don’t work any longer. Queuing, scarcity and congestion are rife, our infrastructure is embarrassingly poor… millions now realise Britain is on the wrong track.”

The author of this astute stuff was not some random leftie the Telegraph had drafted in to scare its elderly readership, but the Brexit-supporting Sunday Telegraph editor, Allister Heath, a leading figure among right wing thinkers. The piece was headlined “For the first time in my life, I’m now beginning to think Britain is finished”.

This was a calamitous verdict, though possibly not a surprise to Heath’s regular readers, who have seen him return time and again in recent months to the idea that we are “in ruins” and “fast descending into chaos” with a “zombie economy”. In short, the UK is “fed up, bitter, and practically broke – and it’s all going to get worse”. Last week he was still in a deep funk, telling readers that he had “glimpsed the terrifying future of lazy, defenceless, near-bankrupt Britain”.

Perhaps Heath needs a good talking-to from his colleague Jeremy Warner, who declared last year that it was “time we stopped talking down the UK economy”. Or his colleague Iain Dale, who in late 2022 wrote that “in Britain, there’s nothing people like to do more than run down their own country… it’s easy to be a moaning Minnie.” But the uncomfortable truth is that more and more of the moaning Minnies running Britain down seem to come from the right.

“Britain feels like an absolute shambles, a basket case,” wrote Sarah Vine, the Brexiteer columnist and former wife of Michael Gove, in the Daily Mail last year. “Almost nothing works any more, and it hasn’t done so for a while now. All around us, the social and physical infrastructure that once held this country together is crumbling. You name it: our roads are rubbish, our rivers are polluted, our streets are overrun by lunatics wielding machetes. It’s impossible to get anywhere or do anything without it turning into a three-act drama.”

In the Sun, where Remainers often get a going-over for “wanting” Brexit Britain to fail, Piers Morgan had already advised his readers that “after many decades of inexorable decline in our power and influence, pretty much all we’ve got left to boast about is being No 1 for being monitored by CCTV cameras, sarcasm, drinking tea, queuing, and laziness”. The right wing Spectator magazine, once Heath’s home, produced an edition with the front-page headline “Broken Britain”.

While Heath might be the Telegraph’s Nabob of Sob, the paper’s young assistant comment editor, Sherelle Jacobs, is its Doyenne of Declinism, with pieces over the past 12 months suggesting that Britain is “almost bankrupt”, “a lawless country where good people have to live in fear”, “about to fall off a cliff”, “heading for systems collapse” and “no longer behaving like a serious country”.

The public seems to agree with all this gloom. A poll in January suggested that 75% of people thought the country was worse or much worse than when the Conservatives took power in 2010. That chimed with a survey last summer, which found that 76% thought Britain was getting worse as a place to live – an all-time high, surpassing the 71% who felt that way during the global financial crisis of 2008. Another poll from last year, by Brexiteer Lord Ashcroft, found 58% of 2019 Tory voters agreeing that “Britain is broken, people are getting poorer, nothing seems to work properly”.

Apart from some outliers – “We’re on the way up!” beamed the Daily Express front page on February 15, the very day it was announced that Britain had slipped into recession – there is a consensus even on the right that the country is not working as it should. However, that doesn’t mean they are ready to blame the party that has been in government for nearly 14 years. If the general election were called tomorrow, the Telegraph, Mail, Sun and Express (of course) would all tell their readers to vote Conservative.
These newspapers promote a view of Britain in which all our problems stem from a pervasive culture where nobody wants to work for a living or take any responsibility, a culture where strikers, the eco mob and the wokerati are holding the country hostage.

Or they are a hangover from the poor government of the past; think Tony Blair and Gordon Brown, but also – for the Mail – David Cameron and George Osborne. Or the fault of the current crop of dangerous lefties, whether they be trade unionists, civil servants or activist lawyers. Or, of course, bitter Remainers who are blind to all the opportunities Brexit will bring. One day.

In his piece predicting a British Armageddon, Heath railed against “the woke war on free speech” and a “woke takeover” of the armed services. Other dark forces doing Britain dirty include “the surveillance society and the Covid lockdowns”, “the rush to net zero” and “our tax system, an absurd conspiracy against hard work and merit”. Then there was “the socialist NHS, one of the main reasons not to live in the UK”.

That last bit was no surprise, as the right wing papers have been telling their readers that the blame for record waiting lists lies squarely with striking doctors and not with the government it supports. It is part of a pattern:
The Post Office scandal? That’s on Ed Davey and Keir Starmer. Water companies pouring raw sewage into rivers and seas? Don’t blame the Tory MPs who passed legislation to let them do it. Years of inaction over crumbling schools? Not Rishi’s fault. Nor Michael Gove’s, despite his decision to halt a rebuilding programme. Welfare budgets spiralling out of control? Blame the workshy. Britain on the economic ropes? Don’t blame Brexit or the Tories – not even Kwasi Kwarteng, whose disastrous mini-budget Heath hailed at the time as “the best I have ever heard a British chancellor deliver – and by a massive margin”.

Rather than seeing the current government as culpable for anything that might be less than ideal, these papers tell their readers that they should trust in Rishi Sunak. And that they should beware of Keir Starmer, who will wreck everything if he gets to No 10. “The Tories have been abysmal, but Labour will be even worse… infinitely worse,” Heath wrote.

He has previously concluded that a general election would make no difference, since Labour is “already in power”, as the Tories follow “diabolical” net zero, welfare, immigration and housing policies and “laugh” at the idea of a small-state, low-tax economy. Far from pursuing different ideologies, the two parties have, Heath believes, joined forces. Thus, “we might as well be living under a government of national failure, a grand coalition committed to accelerating our decline, and allergic to any kind of inspiring vision”.

The Conservatives have been in power for 32 of the past 50 years, yet it seems that for the right wing press it is Labour and its ideas that have brought us to the state we’re in.

Of course, the Telegraph, Mail and Sun are concerned about what might happen if Labour comes back. More climate change legislation. VAT on private schools. An end to non-dom tax status. The sort of “vindictive” measures that will upset the people who own and produce those publications – perhaps rather more than those who read them.

They are clinging to the hope of a repeat of John Major’s surprise victory against a complacent Neil Kinnock in 1992. But they know that even after Keir Starmer’s blunders over green funding and the Rochdale selection, they are probably on a hiding to nothing. By almost everyone’s reckoning, Starmer will inherit a mess if and when he moves into No 10. He can expect neither encouragement nor support from his media foes. When times get tough – as they will – they won’t for a moment contemplate blaming the administrations that bequeathed him such a baleful legacy. Everything will be his fault. And Heath et al will say: “We told you so.”

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