Now is the time for change – that’s why The Independent is backing Labour in the 2024 election

It is a sense of betrayal that is driving the national mood for change (The Independent)
It is a sense of betrayal that is driving the national mood for change (The Independent)

How would you feel if you woke up on 5 July and you had to have another five years of Tory rule? It is a highly potent question. We conclude it would not be good for Britain.

It is not quite an iron rule, but political parties that have been in power for a prolonged period eventually run out of ideas, talent and energy – and can collapse into a spiral of corruption. The latest election betting scandal is embarrassing and damaging to the Conservative campaign because, although novel, it is entirely consistent behaviour from a government that brought us Partygate, among many other severe lapses in the standards we expect in public life.

It is this sense of betrayal that is driving the national mood for change.

At the outset of the general election campaign, Labour chose this single word to be its slogan. It could not be more succinct, nor better capture the mood of the nation as we face the future.

The least a country can expect from those in power is a degree of integrity. And when he became prime minister in October 2022, Rishi Sunak promised exactly that, declaring that the government he was to lead would demonstrate “integrity, professionalism and accountability at every level”. He added: “Trust is earned. And I will earn yours.”

Sadly, there have been too many failures on the part of the prime minister and his colleagues to say that he did indeed earn sufficient trust to justify another term in office.

It is only fair to add that Mr Sunak inherited an unenviable legacy. His party’s reputation for economic competence was destroyed in famously spectacular fashion during the brief premiership of Liz Truss. The mini-Budget she and chancellor Kwasi Kwarteng inflicted on the nation still haunts this campaign.

As with Ms Truss, the reputation of Boris Johnson leaves an indelible stain on the government. The Partygate affair was a long, dismal tale, and ended with a serving prime minister becoming the first ever to be punished for breaking the law. He was also censured and suspended by the House of Commons for lying to parliament.

Mr Johnson may claim that the bright promises he made in 2019 became undeliverable because of the Covid pandemic – but nothing can excuse his cynical, politically dishonest behaviour. Poor, so-called “left behind” communities that lent him their votes, and hoped against hope that he would rescue them and “level up” their towns, found themselves cruelly deceived.

The supposed realignment of politics that occurred in the Tory triumph of 2019 has turned out to be a fantasy. The “red wall” that Mr Johnson persuaded to trust him will return to Labour en masse on 4 July.

Indeed, the whole nation seems determined to “get the Tories out”, with the backlash extending to areas of the comfortable South where Labour has rarely made inroads. The Liberal Democrats, still haunted by the coalition, have been partly reinvigorated as a vital progressive voice, while Nigel Farage plays the demagogue and takes his own bite out of the beleaguered Tory rump. The Tories are losing votes left, right and centre – and to abstention. No wonder they don’t know where to turn.

Even in devolved Scotland, the mood is such that Labour is winning back seats it lost a decade ago. The SNP has let itself down with its own brand of sleaze, but the mood there is also for a more extensive and effective change than just sending another cohort of SNP MPs to Westminster to protest against, rather than influence, the actions of a UK government. Tactical voting will also restore the Liberal Democrats’ fortunes, and give voice to millions who believe in a very different kind of country to that of Mr Farage.

So it seems entirely understandable, even obvious, that the British people look set to shift their allegiances on a historic scale, with all of the trends acting against Mr Sunak and his party. Labour, inevitably, will be the principal beneficiary – and will soon win its first general election since 2005. That the party should do so now is not simply a product of revulsion at 14 years of Conservative rule. It is also a testament to the remarkable act of statesmanship performed by Sir Keir Starmer in creating an alternative party of government.

This was by no means preordained, especially as he surveyed the wreckage left behind by the Corbyn experiment. Jeremy Corbyn did manage to steal Theresa May’s majority in 2017, but was up against what was, until now, the worst election campaign in history. He didn’t win, and Labour’s 2019 defeat was seismic. Things, to borrow a phrase, had to change – and Labour was fortunate to find a leader who knew what to do and got on with that job.

Labour promises change and offers hope. In Rachel Reeves, Sir Keir will have a chancellor seen as sound on the economy, who promises to keep a steady hand on the wheel of the nation’s finances, after the wild lane-changing of the brief – but immensely damaging – tenure of Ms Truss and Mr Kwarteng. We hope their mantra will be to be compensatory and not too confiscatory.

Sir Keir has been wise to steal the Tories’ old clothes and present Labour as the party of economic growth and wealth creation. But he has been wise, too, to manage expectations down. The Institute for Fiscal Studies complains that Labour’s plans still don’t add up. It has warned that whoever is in charge after 4 July faces a “stark choice” between tax rises beyond their manifesto pledges, spending cuts, and increasing borrowing. Ms Reeves has said she is unafraid to make “difficult decisions” and is committed to growth.

It was with authority – and awareness of the obstacles that await his ambition – that Sir Keir unveiled his six pledges: to deliver economic stability; to slash NHS waiting times; to launch a new Border Security Command to tackle illegal immigration; to inaugurate Great British Energy; to crack down on antisocial behaviour; and to recruit 6,500 new teachers (funded by ending tax breaks for private schools). These are big promises, and many may question their efficacy.

There is no doubt that Sir Keir is going to inherit a broken country in many ways, but – as he has told The Independent – the first step to solving its problems is pragmatic solutions.

He is going in tough on junior doctors – he has already refused to meet their demand for a 35 per cent pay rise – but has promised “talks” if he is elected on 4 July. The incoming health secretary, Wes Streeting, has not ruled out “major surgery” or reform of the health service, including greater use of the private sector, once his party is in power.

Rather than pursuing chimeras such as the ill-fated Rwanda campaign or abolishing national insurance, Sir Keir’s government promises to be tough but realistic, for example in setting up a “fast-track returns and enforcement unit” to cut the backlog of asylum claims.

The country is well aware that things are going to be difficult. Voters also know a Starmer administration will make mistakes. Labour politicians counter that they will boost growth through relaxing planning laws, welfare reform and the national wealth fund, among other proposals.

Improving the Brexit deal is also a welcome move, pending a more fundamental shift in Britain’s relationship with Europe. Labour has promising ideas on economic reform. Even so, there’s no necessary reason why the UK will become the fastest sustainably growing economy in the G7, as Ms Reeves promises.

Yet despite these concerns, change is coming – and Labour deserves its chance at this election. This newspaper has established a tradition of being reluctant to pin its colours to any one political mast; it has often respectfully shied away from advising its readers how to vote. But these are extraordinary times. Trust in politicians has been damaged by the Conservatives to a devastating degree. Only by removing the party from power can that trust have any chance of being rebuilt.

That is why this newspaper is prepared to give the benefit of the doubt to Sir Keir’s party and back Labour on 4 July – but with this proviso: Labour must turn its promises into policies that benefit the hardworking and hopeful people of this country.

For, just as Mr Sunak is finding, the electorate is more volatile and less trusting of politicians than at any time in the modern democratic age. Landslides aren’t for ever. Sir Keir and his team will do well to remember that. We wish them every success.