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After the election, everything is unknown The future of both parties is still uncertain

(Leon Neal/Getty Images)


May 28, 2024   5 mins

Though I am old enough to have voted in general elections since 1983, I cannot recall any time when the result of an election seemed so uncertain. I do not, of course, mean that there is much doubt who is going to be prime minister on 5 July. But what happens next?

Pretty much as soon as the first results were announced after the 1983 election, any well-informed person could tell where the country would be by the time of the next election. Large-scale privatisation was promised in the Tory manifesto and, in more general terms, private enterprise was obviously going to get stronger. With the exception of Arthur Scargill, everyone understood that trade unions would be weaker.

But where will Britain be in four years’ time? The next government will come to power staggering under the weight of its self-denying ordinances. Starmer has made more promises about what he will not do — reverse recent tax cuts, abolish the triple lock on pensions — than promises about what he will do. Positive proposals are remarkably vague — “Great British Energy” sounds more like a slogan from a Seventies advertising campaign than a policy.

Partly, of course, the problem lies in the practical constraints that will face the next government. The Covid pandemic and lockdown will make themselves felt for decades more. Just before the election was announced, the compensation scheme for those who were infected by blood transfusions brought the prospect of another £10 billion on the national debt. The fact that Labour has been so far ahead in the opinion polls for the last few years has produced an odd situation: the official opposition — which expects to be in government for several years — has worried about public finances more than the government. Once he had headed off the crisis of crashing bond markets in 2022, Jeramy Hunt has not had to do much except ensure that the government did not actually go bankrupt until it had staggered over the finishing line of electoral defeat — at which point he can arrange lunch with a head-hunter and start talking about how to restore his own finances.

Being in opposition — even when the opposition is heading for defeat — can be fun. Think of Neil Kinnock appearing in a Tracy Ullman pop video or William Hague knocking nine bells out of Tony Blair at PMQs. Starmer and his team look miserable. Not since 1945 has a ministerial team looked so exhausted on the cusp of victory. The desperate concern to avoid mistakes make the shadow cabinet appear as if they are at the end of a marathon egg-and-spoon race rather than sprinting to victory.

What happens after the election will depend, in part, on the scale of a Labour victory. Psephologists insist on the size of the swing that would be required to give Labour an absolute majority. But in a strange way, not getting a majority might be useful for Labour. It would give them a means to escape from the straitjacket that they have squeezed themselves into. A government dependent on the votes of Liberal Democrat or Green MPs would be able to blame policy shifts on other parties. It would, to take the most obviously example, be much easier to take Britain back into the European Single Market if this could be presented as the price that Labour had to pay for Liberal Democrat support.

All the signs suggest, however, that Labour will get an absolute majority and probably a large one. I can imagine lots of things that might go wrong for the Conservative Party in the near future — presumably, they can too, which is why they have decided not to hold out for a later election. It is harder to see what might go wrong for Labour. Keir Starmer’s weaknesses are very different from those of Donald Trump but, in both cases, the weaknesses have been so obvious for so long that they are priced into the electoral market.

In addition to this, Starmer is a pure-blooded Labour man. He does not like other parties and seems to have no more time for those of the Left than for those of the Right. In this respect, he is very different from Tony Blair, who learned from an eclectic group of what he would have called “progressives”. Mainly this meant Roy Jenkins and some of the other figures who had left Labour to form the Social Democratic Party in 1981 (an unforgivable crime in Labour orthodoxy), though he also picked up ideas from, for example, writers who had been associated with Marxism Today.

Starmer is also a traditionalist in his attitude to Labour voters. He seems to rejoice more in the return of prodigal sons from “Red Wall” seats than he does in the possibility that the party might build a different kind of support base among people who have not previously voted Labour — or not previously voted at all.

In a strange way, this traditionalism was accentuated by Jeremy Corbyn. The struggle between the two men felt like the last battle in the Labour civil war of the early Eighties. But now it is less obvious what Left and Right mean in the Labour party. Green politics cut across conventional views of industrial growth. Opposition to the European Union was a Left-wing policy in the early Eighties but now most of the Left opposes Brexit, and, though Starmer seems determined to ignore this fact, so does most of the electorate. Similarly, the use of allegations about support for terrorism or antisemitism against the Corbynistas seems a bit odd now that the United States is desperately trying to rein in Israel.

The most important question about the aftermath of the election, however, involves the losers. Elections produce seismic shifts when — as in 1945 or 1983 — the losing party recognises that they need to adjust their policies in the aftermath of defeat. Usually this has meant accepting some element of the policies of the winning party. It seems unlikely that the current Conservative Party will react in this way to a Labour victory. Many on the Tory Right have very safe seats; John Hayes, who heads the Common Sense Group, has the largest majority in the country. It is possible that tactical voting will take some of these down or that Tory voters will rebel against a former Home Secretary who slagged off the police and got herself sacked twice. But, on the whole, I would guess that the Tory right will be strong after the election. Indeed, Suella Braverman and Kemi Badenoch may be the only politicians looking to the near future with relish.

“The most important question about the aftermath of the election, however, involves the losers.”

Will the Conservative Party survive? Some say that its instinct for power is its secret weapon. But this cuts both ways. What purpose does the party serve if it looks as though it may not be in government for a long time? Centrists may quietly join other parties or leave politics altogether — on the whole, the moderate Tories are the ones who stand a chance of getting a job in the real world. It is possible that the Conservative parliamentary party will eventually shrivel to a rump of rent-a-gob backbenchers who would be happy to trade the prospect of ministerial office for a regular gig on GB News. Nigel Farage is right to say that he and Jacob Rees-Mogg ought to belong in the same party, but that party is not going to be anything that would be recognised by Thatcher or Macmillan or, for that matter, the Third Marquess of Salisbury. The kind of grouping that might be formed by a merger of Right-wing Conservatives with Reform would attract a significant electorate but, without the brand loyalty that went with traditional Conservatism, that electorate would probably not be large enough to form a parliamentary majority.

Labour might also run into problems. I doubt if rebellion on the Left (mainly expressed in university towns and seats with large Muslim populations) will do it much damage at the coming election, and I would guess that Starmer can count on a very disciplined parliamentary party afterwards. But Gaza, green politics and opposition to Brexit are not going to go away. These are often the issues that the young care about most and also, curiously, the issues that are most likely to unite parts of the Labour Party with other political groups — including some who might, until recently, have described themselves as Conservatives.

Perhaps all this will eventually create a different kind of movement — not necessarily one that operates inside the Labour Party or even in any conventional party. Not only am I unsure which party will win the election after next, but I am, come to think of it, not even sure that I know which parties will be serious contenders when the time comes.


Richard Vinen is Professor of History at King’s College, London. His book Second City: Birmingham and the Forging of Modern Britain is out now.


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Right-Wing Hippie
Right-Wing Hippie
26 days ago

After the election, everything is unknown. The future of both parties is still uncertain.
On the contrary, I’d say we know well in advance what’s going to happen. That’s why Starmer et al look so damned miserable: decline will continue, the larders at Whitehall will be empty, nothing will get done as both parties continue faffing about, there’ll be a lot of turgid hot air about the glories of the NHS, and when things go wrong they’ll be blamed on the lockdowns and Brexit and not, you know, on the pervasive rot that permeates practically every aspect of British politics and culture. And from across the pond I’ll continue to mourn in silence the mother country, my second country, which I feel fortunate to have visited while even a shadow of its former self yet remained.

Martin M
Martin M
26 days ago

I on the other had am rather more optimistic. Starmer seems certain to win, but at least the Tories will have shaped him in their own image before he does. We will hopefully not have to contend with too much Socialism.

Hugh Bryant
Hugh Bryant
25 days ago
Reply to  Martin M

Starmer will complete the transition begun by Blair to an administrative state over which the electorate and its representatives have no control. Net Zero cannot be achieved in a democracy.
This is the last election. Sure, there may be a vote in 2029 – but there won’t be a choice.

Walter Marvell
Walter Marvell
25 days ago
Reply to  Hugh Bryant

100%. Support for the private sector, entrepreneurs, capitalism has been erased from all political parties under the 3 decade Progressive State. Capitalism is discriminatory and nasty snd incomptable with a human rights equalitarian society. Labour will have near zero MPs with knowledge of business. They all come from the charity, NGO, public sector where equality hiring has stamped out meritocracy and the anti business animus is fostered. The Tory betrayal of the strivers, savers, SMEs and enterprise classes can never ever be forgiven. The Thatcher revolution has been ripped to shreds and an unfit shallow progressive party, riven by crude socialist, nasty identitarian and deranged green credos, plus naked class envy will – as you say – soon let their fellow travelling permanent techocrat rulers complete the strangulation of our forsaken wealth generative sector. GDR here we come.

Martin M
Martin M
24 days ago
Reply to  Hugh Bryant

So, you are saying Starmer will abolish Parliament, and rule by decree? That is a big call!

DenialARiverIn Islington
DenialARiverIn Islington
26 days ago

I’ve just spent two days paddling my kayak down the magnificent river Severn, followed by the FA Cup Final in by far the world’s most interesting, vibrant and entertaining City……and I say that you’re a miserable old fart who knows nothing.

Robbie K
Robbie K
26 days ago

Made me chuckle.

Stevie K
Stevie K
25 days ago
Reply to  Robbie K

Very much with you in kayaking down the Severn. Despite the stubborn resilience of everyday life in most of Britain you conjure up, especially in summer. Our crumbling and deeply undermined institutional sector is going to get very crazy and even more disfunctional. The kayaking will keep us sane my friend. Keep paddling.

Richard Calhoun
Richard Calhoun
25 days ago

Especially when we observe the ‘state’ of that Country across the pond!

mike otter
mike otter
25 days ago

There is still a high level of local ownership in USA and people can, as in Spain, effect change at a local level. These are typically common sense slightly conservative effects on the homeless or dog wardens but can also effect planning, zoning, schools or other important issues. Once you get to city and state level its the usual woke <40s who still think and act like teenagers BUT there are limits to their writ. Their 2 for 1 fentanyl and crack special offer deals backfired badly in Oregon & Ca, their removal of police left a pile of (mostly BAME) corpses in NYC and Chicago. In the UK those woke kids rule all the way down to the attendent in the non gendered public conveniences so Starmer + co are as much a threat to civic society as was Blair and the headcase Bruin. Thankfully there will always be a lot of people who don’t buy it and don’t enable it. I am sure Starmer would love to have a Stasi type spy network reaching into every home but there are large parts of UK society that won’t let that happen. Its not just the usual suspects – travellers, African churches, those living by liaquat: There are also quite large networks of middle and upper middle class Brits who have close family or social networks. Thats all you really need to neutralise a Starmer or his ilk.

Alex Lekas
Alex Lekas
25 days ago

Ah, yes; bread and circuses. A winning strategy.

UnHerd Reader
UnHerd Reader
24 days ago

Suppose you had an accident and had to visit A&E. Your Nirvana will quickly turn to dust.

Andrew R
Andrew R
26 days ago

They won’t be able to solve the major problems in health, education, employment, energy and transport any more than the Tories could. They’ll just follow the path created by Welsh Labour, ideology first and foremost. Handing the keys of government to NGOs, creating policies that are of no benefit which the electorate do not want. It’s a distraction that puts off having to deliver efficient public services (remind you of anyone?).

They will enrich themselves (just like the Tories) because who want to deliver real change. Cutting budgets while continuing with the insanity of mass immigration which public services cannot support. The death spiral gathers pace.

Karen Arnold
Karen Arnold
25 days ago
Reply to  Andrew R

I think you could be right but hope you are wrong.

Brendan O'Leary
Brendan O'Leary
26 days ago

The young “care” about green issues in opinion polls but not in their actions.

JOHN KANEFSKY
JOHN KANEFSKY
25 days ago

That is certainly true of students my way. They are the worst for littering, have to be penalised financially for not sorting rubbish for recycling, etc etc.
Experience shows that it is OAPs who are actually the most environmentally conscious in practice.

John Dellingby
John Dellingby
26 days ago

I’m hoping something shifts after the next election. One main issue is that the public are in denial every bit as much as the politicians. They seem to think that with a flick of a magic wand, we can go back to 2004, and all will be well. I don’t think people know just how badly screwed we are on every front.

Walter Marvell
Walter Marvell
26 days ago

Er – did you not notice the EU inspired Blairite Revolution which created a permanent unelected governing class separate from and above the now emasculated Parliament of out of favour nation states??? The architecture of power was utterly changed. We have immovable deep set progressive ideological laws hardwired into the New Order. Impotence is deepened by the EU legacy of oversight by foreign legal bodies which also make change impossible – hence the combination of the mass migration/open border refugee and asylum disaster, victim/oppressor human rights and equality toxicity, and top down coercive health and net zero policies embraced by all. The policy free Labour are avowedly progressive and aim to surrender power to yet more technocratic regulatory blobs in rail energy & OBR. Let the State run things. Nothing will change because this governing Blob rules above the passive weedy emasculsted Westminster executive. Our course is set and has been since the New Order of the 1990s.

Mike Downing
Mike Downing
26 days ago
Reply to  Walter Marvell

Nothing will change…

Until the collapse of the EU then – so how long before that happens?

j watson
j watson
26 days ago

I wonder if all this going to seem rather parochial and the next 5 years be more about how we weather external storms – be these China-Taiwan, further conflagration in the Middle East and Ukraine, ever greater migration driven deliberately from the Sahel and parts of Middle east, Trumpian chaos, and probably 1-2 major things we can’t yet guess.
Whilst major threats these may present opportunities for more radical response that without the shockwave would be more difficult.

Peter B
Peter B
26 days ago
Reply to  j watson

I don’t consider the inability to deal with problems at home to be “parochial”. It’s job #1. I’ll go further and suggest that was a major reason for the Red Wall vote in 2019 – the fact that politicians had given up even pretending to care about people in the UK.
Before I forget, let’s hear some examples of this “Trumpian chaos” from 2016-2020. Some of us are under the illusion that any chaos got worse when Joe Biden took over. What are we missing ?

j watson
j watson
26 days ago
Reply to  Peter B

Red Wall voted Tory mainly due to Corbyn and because Bojo had his schtick. Subsequently they’ve clicked the Tories never really cared.
I wonder if you take too much comfort from the past?
I certainly hope the possibilities I outlined do not come to pass.

Peter B
Peter B
26 days ago
Reply to  j watson

Do tell us more about that “Trumpian chaos”.

j watson
j watson
25 days ago
Reply to  Peter B

Err, let’s see where does one start? So here goes – strategic failures regarding Iran, Syria & Afghanistan (and remember he signed the deal with the Taliban), or the abject failure to do anything about the Affordable Care Act demonstrating inability to move beyond rhetoric; the US faced one of the worst economic crises iintrinsically linked to his disastrous handling of Covid, in amongst of which he suggested injecting disinfection might be a good idea; damage to democracy – he encouraged Jan 6th and claimed without any evidence the result was illegitimate.
Now that’s just a start. He gets in again and a constitutional crisis will ensue. He’s already made clear his primary objective is revenge not the American people.

Susan Grabston
Susan Grabston
26 days ago
Reply to  j watson

Indeed. Emboldened to deploy digital IDs and CBDCs. Governments never lose the opportunity to curtail freedoms through crisis, pseudo or otherwise. And we have a sovereign debt crisis dead ahead.

j watson
j watson
26 days ago
Reply to  Susan Grabston

On ID I hope they do. We need it to vote in 5wks so what’s the big deal?
More broadly the political discourse doesn’t easily facilitate the type of conversation we should be having – that we are an ageing Nation attempting to fund increasing healthcare and pension bills from a relatively shrunken pool of younger workers’ taxes. Thus higher taxes or low expectations inevitable. Of course punching ourselves in the face via Brexit and via an incompetent Right wing party hasn’t helped.

Walter Marvell
Walter Marvell
26 days ago
Reply to  j watson

JW it is impossible to take your comments seriously when you consistently ignore the greatest socio economic catastrophe of modern times – the enforced two year suffocation of the economy under the Covid lockdown – and parrot instead the remainiac mantra of evil Brexit and Tory scum. The likes of Boris were never right wing – nationalisation magic money NHS worship and super high taxes give a tiny clue. The negative impact of Brexit has been madly overstated in a similarly deranged manic way. You pot and pans rainbow lockers have much to answer for.

Hugh Bryant
Hugh Bryant
25 days ago
Reply to  j watson

More broadly the political discourse doesn’t easily facilitate the type of conversation we should be having
The ‘political discourse’ is precisely engineered to prevent us from having those conversations – and particularly, as you say, the one about whether we should continue to tax and regulate the productive people in this country into the ground in order to go on pandering to public sector vested interests as well as those boomers who could easily afford to pay for their own social and healthcare and winter fuel.

Walter Marvell
Walter Marvell
25 days ago
Reply to  Hugh Bryant

So true. The wild mass uncontrolled migration of over a million a year? Na. Its impact on the already rigged property market enriching an entire region and class? Na. The frightening breakdown of the Stalinist NHS and the almost weekly horrors (infected blood/midwifery/doctors strikes? Na. The two tier policing of BLM/Gazan street mobs and the truth about islamist terror? Na. The pro newt anti growth regulatory insanity that is stopping new reservoirs, airports roads and homes? No – the cosy progressive alliance that alligns state media, state law and state administration has made it its business to suffocate public discourse on all these awkward multiple strategic disasters that have befallen us under this New Order. Just shriek Tory scum! Brexit! Sadly, the game will soon be up. Time to reap what we have sewn.

James Kirk
James Kirk
26 days ago

Does he get paid for several paragraphs to tell us our fortunes and concludes, like us, that he doesn’t know?

Tyler Durden
Tyler Durden
25 days ago

The only certainty for Briton is that taxes will be kept high – and interest rates too as far as is sustainably possible – to realign the UK with the Eurozone to get ready for the single currency at the end of the decade.
And that’s just above everything certain in Labour economic policy. They have absolutely nothing else to put on the table.

Adrian Smith
Adrian Smith
25 days ago

Starmer does not need to say in clear unambiguous English what he will do in order to win, so why would he take the risk of doing so? For the Tories to stand any chance of winning they would need a really good big idea of how they would dig the country out of the hole it is in (mostly due to pandemic spending but also due to the Tory government not really doing anything since the pandemic). It is really clear already that neither party has a good big idea.

Jack Martin Leith
Jack Martin Leith
25 days ago
Reply to  Adrian Smith

Conceiving ideas, even big ones, is the easy bit. What should come first is a depiction (an actual picture) and articulation of the desired state of affairs. Change, yes — but change into what? The desired state of affairs is the what. Change is the how. But what most people want — a comfortable life — is unattainable, no matter which party is in government.

John Riordan
John Riordan
25 days ago

“But Gaza, green politics and opposition to Brexit are not going to go away. These are often the issues that the young care about most and also, curiously, the issues that are most likely to unite parts of the Labour Party with other political groups — including some who might, until recently, have described themselves as Conservatives.”

What’s very worrying is that the supposedly-popular opinion on all three of these things is catastrophically wrong. Opposing Israel’s right to defend itself, believing we can power an advanced economy with wind and solar power, and thinking that EU membership ought somehow to be restored after the disgrace that Brussels and its UK political support has revealed of itself since 2016 – these are political positions founded upon complete ignorance. If ideas like this are going to dominate simply through demographic shift, the least of our problems will be whether or not the Tory Party can ever win an election again: the country will ruin itself at a far faster rate than it has even managed in the recent past.

Karen Arnold
Karen Arnold
25 days ago
Reply to  John Riordan

If the EU changes from within in becoming far more right wing, those who favour rejoining may be in for a nasty shock.

Stephanie Surface
Stephanie Surface
25 days ago
Reply to  John Riordan

Many young people can‘t be bothered to vote. They were upset about Brexit, but statistics showed that they simply didn‘t turn up to vote at the referendum. Also they will soon enough find out, that the so-called green policies will cause deindustrialisation on a huge scale ( currently destroying the German economy) as there is no efficient cheap replacement for fossil fuel yet. The green policies of Net Zero actually are the main cause, that we currently are in this dismal economic place, apart from the other stupid political decision of the lock downs. Sir Kneel Down btw. wanted harsher lock-downs and his future Secretary for Energy told us that he will be “laser-focused” on decarbonising the UK’s electricity system by 2030. Maybe it will take a disaster like four years of a Labour Government to make everybody finally wake up.

Richard Calhoun
Richard Calhoun
25 days ago

Our politics is at a crossroads, of that there is little doubt, and the divisions within the 2 main parties only confirm this.
This July general election will resolve very little, Labour will find themselves with a small majority, I suspect, but with a massive public debt and rising.
We could have as many as 3 general elections by 2030 and only then will we know which way our politics is destined, the small state with low taxes or the continuing big state with its massive welfarism bill.
I think the electorate will choose the small state because that is the only way we are going to grow our economy and increase the standard of living for working people.

D Glover
D Glover
25 days ago

I think the electorate will choose the small state because that is the only way we are going to grow our economy and increase the standard of living for working people.

Not so. You pass a tipping point when more voters are benefit recipients than are net contributors. All pensioners, unemployed, and long-term disabled are on the recipient ‘team’. So why should they vote for a small state? It might be good for the economy and for working people, but it’s not good for them.

0 0
0 0
25 days ago

Not true we face ‘tough choices between cutting more, borrowing more or taxing more.’  What matters is HOW the public invests, HOW it taxes and HOW that’s  financed. That’s what has enormous consequences for our individual and collective well being.

Invest to for multiplier and productivity spread effects and to build the cultural, social and economic capital which repays the investment. Tax to improve the well being of the great majority while reducing social and economic dysfunction. Thus boosting dynamism not only reduces costly social problems but increases opportunities, while repaying debt faster. Financing can be arranged to augment tangible national wealth rather than mountains of paper obligations to wealth holders, whose assets can be better employed investing in the economy. So provide a framework to encourage that.

Bryan Dale
Bryan Dale
25 days ago

The Conservative Party has been destroyed by radical leftists who have more in common with the Labour benches than with conservatives like Jacob Rees-Mogg. We saw it during Brexit when much of the party tried to block Brexit despite the referendum results. The last five years have shown them scheming to block any move to the right like tax cuts, deregulation or ending net-zero.

Richard Calhoun
Richard Calhoun
25 days ago

Whichever party governs after the election will continue with gigantic ‘Welfarism bill that we pay every year.
Nothing will change until the profligacy of welfarism changes.

David McKee
David McKee
25 days ago

Starmer is a blank sheet of paper. So people will superimpose on it their hopes and ambitions, however impractical and downright damaging they might be. They will assume Starmer has ‘promised’ them. They will be mightily upset when Starmer doesn’t deliver.
The Conservatives will not react to defeat by copying their conqueror, because he has already copied them. If they are wise, the Conservatives will use the leisure of opposition to think through the country’s problems, devise workable solutions and then argue their case in the country.
Oh, and Jeremy Hunt is standing for reelection in Godalming and Ash. If he wins, he will be busy with the renewal of Conservatism. Snide comments from Prof. Vinen about meetings with headhunters are misplaced.

Peter Shaw
Peter Shaw
25 days ago

What is certain is that after the GE , Jews will continue to feel compelled to leave the country for their own safety.

Alex Lekas
Alex Lekas
25 days ago

“The most important question about the aftermath of the election, however, involves the losers.”
No, that’s not the most important question though it is the most telling of what’s wrong with the system – the belief that if only “my team” wins, all will be well. The most important question is, what changes? What known issues will be addressed?
The issue is far less one of left/right and far more one of a public that has little confidence and even less trust in the political class to do anything of value. The “future of the parties” is a secondary, it not tertiary, concern, that mostly highlights the disconnect between the govt and the governed.

John Tyler
John Tyler
25 days ago

Everything? No! For example, we know for certain that hyperbole will continue unabated.

David Webb
David Webb
25 days ago

In 1945, 1979, 1997 the party coming into Government had clearly done a lot of work – they knew what they wanted to do, and how they were going to go about it. There’s no indication that Starmer’s Labour have done any serious thinking at all. The VAT on independent schools (whether or not you agree with it) is built on an assumption that all the tax will just roll in, and no parents are just going to put their children in an overcrowded state system instead. They’ll doubtless be able to set up the quango ‘Great British Energy’, but they’ll make minimal progress in building all those wind farms or the pylons to distribute energy – and Labour still talk as if wind power were virtually free. There are plenty of problems for which the Tories should take blame, but nowhere is there a Labour policy that will make anything other than worse.

Santiago Excilio
Santiago Excilio
24 days ago

Being a voter in this country and hearing that Sunak is going to be replaced by Starmer, is rather like being a kid in an orphanage in the 1970’s who’s just thrown themselves on their bed in relief at learning that Jimmy Saville has cancelled his weekend visit only to hear the sound of a didgeridoo coming down the corridor . . .

Martin M
Martin M
24 days ago

You don’t like didgeridoo music?