The zombie Rwanda policy (Cornish Times Column 8th May 2024)

8 May 2024
Colin in Looe

When Prime Ministers propose unpopular policies during general election campaigns, they lose power, and the bad ideas quickly die.

But when they do the same during local election campaigns, the failed ideas can live on like zombies! In April 2022, Boris Johnson and Rishi Sunak were fined by the Police for lockdown parties in Downing Street. Two days later, Johnson announced an eye-catching plan to send asylum seekers to Rwanda.

The voters were not impressed: The Conservatives lost almost 500 council seats, and a few weeks later, Boris Johnson resigned.

Three of the most important qualities I look for in a leader are the wisdom to recognise when something isn’t working; the humility to admit it; and the courage to try something different. Apparently Conservative MPs see things quite differently: To become Prime Minister, both Liz Truss and Rishi Sunak had to declare an unblinking commitment to sticking with Boris Johnsons’s Rwanda gimmick. 

By April 2023, the scheme still hadn’t been delivered, so to ensure that local election voters got the dose of “performative cruelty” which has come to embody the Conservative party, Sunak announced that asylum seekers would be housed on a barge in a Dorset harbour. The result? The Conservatives lost over 1,000 council seats, but Sunak remained in power, and the zombie Rwanda policy lived on.

Fast forward to April 2024, the Conservatives finally got their Rwanda scheme through Parliament just in time for the latest set of local elections. But small boat crossings are now higher than ever, and last week the Conservatives lost another 500 seats, finishing third behind the Liberal Democrats.

After three huge defeats, it’s not clear whether Sunak is too dim to realise his plan isn’t working; too arrogant to admit it; or too weak to lead his party in a different direction. Whatever the reason, his days as Prime Minister are numbered. The economy is flat-lining, public services are in meltdown and the future looks bleak, but the Conservatives want us to believe that the country is heading in the right direction.

Meanwhile, apart from a few token measures, Keir Starmer has committed a Labour Government to following Conservative tax and spending plans, just as Tony Blair did in 1997. But unlike 1997, the economy isn’t growing, so either Starmer is lying about his true intentions, or he is going to keep taking the country in the wrong direction. That’s why many former Labour voters are taking their votes elsewhere.

Only the Liberal Democrats are bold enough to say that councils across the country need an extra £4 billion to fix social care, build affordable homes, support vulnerable children and maintain basic services like road repairs. 

Next May, voters in Cornwall will have our turn to eject the Conservatives from our Council. If you'd like to help build a fair, free and sustainable society by filling one of those seats as a Liberal Democrat Cornwall Councillor, please get in touch now!


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