The Spectator was established in 1828, and is the oldest continuously published magazine in the English language. The Spectator’s taste for controversy, however, remains undiminished. There is no party line to which The Spectator’s writers are bound - originality of thought and elegance of expression are the sole editorial constraints.
Does Starmer stack up? What can we expect from a Labour government? That’s the question Katy Balls asks in this week’s cover piece. So far it has suited Keir Starmer to keep his plans vague. Roy Jenkins described Tony Blair as being ‘like a man carrying a priceless Ming vase across a highly polished floor’. Some of Starmer’s team joke that the difference now is that he is just standing with the vase, not even daring to walk. The most immediate challenge for a new Labour government will be the economy. While Starmer insists his party ‘always’ invests in public services, he has also refused to rule out spending cuts. One of the biggest cost increases facing Labour would be welfare. Under James Purnell, there was a cross-party consensus on the need for welfare reform. Now, there is a consensus on avoiding the subject. Would Wes Streeting be able to reform the NHS? ‘Wes may be able to do what we can’t,’ says one Tory MP. ‘Have an honest conversation with the public about our healthcare system.’ But even if this Nixon-to-China logic holds, reform would take at least a year to draw up and several years to implement. And that’s if Labour gets into government. This week, Morgan McSweeney used a presentation to warn the shadow cabinet that the election result is not a done deal.
The Tories’ migration problem. On the issue of migration, battle lines have been drawn between the Tory tribes, writes James Heale. This is because immigration is currently the number one issue among key Tory voters, even trumping the state of the economy. So far, Rishi Sunak has failed to stop the boats and the Supreme Court’s evisceration of the Rwanda scheme has further frustrated his plans. Tory hopes now rely on an ‘emergency’ initiative to fix this before next year’s election. As for legal migration numbers, the government has started ‘unpicking’ the system that Boris Johnson introduced in early 2020. Initial Home Office assessments forecast that fewer than 10,000 migrants would arrive on a health and social care visa; more than 100,000 did so last year. If Sunak, whose party discipline is fraying, is unable to resolve the Tory tensions over his Rwanda legislation, then the fate of his flagship bill could end up in the hands of the Labour whips.
Owen Matthews: the changing mood in Ukraine. In Ukraine, the political mood has become sombre and fractious, writes Owen Matthews from Kyiv. To many Ukrainians, Biden’s assurance that the US would back Kyiv for ‘as long as it takes’ now rings hollow. Ukraine’s Nato allies dragged their feet on the supply of weapons which gave Russia time to dig mine-strewn defensive lines. ‘We need to prepare for bad news,’ warned Nato secretary-general Jens Stoltenberg. Fresh opinion polls by the Sociological Group Rating confirm that public opinion is deeply split on how to bring the war to an end, with 44 per cent of Ukrainians believing compromise is needed, vs 48 per cent who wish to continue fighting for victory.
Scotland’s ‘catastrophic’ educational decline. Scottish education is in crisis, writes Michael Simmons. This week the PISA international league tables for pupils in 81 different countries showed that Scots have fallen the equivalent of almost one year of learning behind England. ‘The outcome was described as “catastrophic” by Lindsay Paterson, professor emeritus of education policy at Edinburgh University. It’s hard to think of a better word.... The only consolation for Scotland is that the results are not quite as bad as in Wales.’ Scotland has been on a continuous downward slope since 2000 – falling 11 points (six months) in reading and seven points (four months) in science in the past four years. What’s gone wrong? Progressive teaching methods have replaced a knowledge-based system with ideology fuelled by buzzwords like ‘child-centred’. Teachers are told to prioritise ‘skills and wellbeing’ over the acquisition of knowledge.
Gyles Brandreth: the mystery of Omid Scobie. Writing this week’s Diary, Gyles Brandreth defends the King against the claims in Omid Scobie’s book, Endgame. ‘Charles is not a racist. Not remotely. Anyone who has spent any time with him over any number of years will tell you that. I don’t know if Scobie-Doo has met him. In fact, I am not sure who he has met. As a fellow royal biographer, I have encountered quite a few senior royals and their staff and none that I know seems to have met Scobie either. Where is he getting his material from and why is the press giving it quite so much attention?’