What an embarrassment this debate was: Labor will laugh all the way to the polls | Polly Toynbee

Ithat’s it? Is what we saw on the Sunday night debate on ITV really all the ‘world’s most successful party’ can do, in the final days of its 12-year term in power? Not a whisper of a new idea from either of them, no fresh air.

Yes, hooray for the most diverse contestants ever, with just one token pale male, but you’d have to search in vain for diverse viewpoints. Here, there is only the narcissism of infinitesimal differences in style, all for tax cuts varying slightly, but not in their intention to reduce the state. That leaves only “character” to defend: there was boastfulness and boasting of their many qualities, but humility was not among them.

None would put Boris Johnson in their cabinet, they said. He’s the man they raised and served, whose every bad deed they obediently voted out, with rebellions far too late: Kemi Badenoch jumped right after Rishi Sunak’s late jump. Only Tom Tugendhat could shake off disgrace, like the only clean skin.

But if Tugendhat is the last vestige of ‘one nation’ toryism in what is now effectively the Brexit party, he too is a tax-reducer and state-shrinker (with high defense spending ). He too is completely in favor of sending asylum seekers to Rwanda.

The show was a veneer of collegiate affability, barely disguising the vitriol hurled by their campaigns in the most toxic premiership contest ever. A Johnsonite calls Rishi Sunak a “rat” and a “sly assassin”. Penny Mordaunt takes even more fire on the incompetence of David Frost, the incompetent who signed the EU treaty to disown it. She’s mostly come under fire for Kemi Bandenoch’s anti-revival ferocity on trans issues, a topic that’s a planet away from election-winning territory. But “wokeism” is where many members of this deranged party choose to fight. The work was often torn by splits, but never achieved this public toxicity. Its schisms are about deep differences in political leadership, but that poison comes from a lack of substance: all personal vendettas, ambition and malice with little serious content. Tugendhat wins Mr. Nice Guy, but that might not get him far in the nasty party.

The debate lacked many links to what is happening here. The temperature across much of Britain is boiling to an unprecedented ‘red warning’ as wildfires burn across Europe but you would search in vain for a sense of alarm burning among one of them. Nobody gives him priority in his declarations.

For the cost of living crisis, which is at the top of every voter’s mind, all candidates are offering tax cuts as an answer, even if Sunak would delay them. According to the Institute for Research on Public Policy, none reveals that most of what is saved through income tax cuts goes to the better-off, and virtually none to the low-income – but that’s nature. of their common conservatism. Tepid discussions of growth, opportunity, and individual aspirations come with empty cards. Nothing to make the upgrade real. Do they have plans, or are they just unspeakable?

Only Tugendhat has consistently reminded other candidates that the real opponent they face in a real election is Keir Starmer, saying only he, as an indefinitely more moderate voice, can lead the fight against Labour. But none even seem to be on the battleground where the general election is won. All are failing to cope with the state into which their party has led the country. They seem oblivious to things falling apart.

Ambulances are struggling to reach people with heart attacks and strokes, hospitals are overflowing, court cases are booked years in advance, social services are collapsing and children are going hungry. The candidates all defend “change”, but from what to what? We are none the wiser.

At the end of the debate, all swore not to organize early legislative elections. Don’t believe them. Chances are each of them will seize any hope of a new leader bouncing back at the polls, as things are only set to get worse over the next couple of years.

Who would scare Labor the most? None unduly, each with different vulnerabilities, all with the same unanswered questions about future public sector cuts. Smug Sunak is overwhelmed by an economic calamity, Truss is indescribable, Mordaunt implausible, Tugendhat without interest, Badenoch off the ladder on the right. Bring it on, work was laughing after.

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