State of the Nation
The UK is not currently in a good place. Lots of things are going wrong at the same time. First there is a huge cost-of-living crisis. Relatedly inflation is now running at 10% and is forecast to hit 15% sometime next year. Interest rates have gone up in the past few days. Not that there is any corresponding rise in income for savers. [That’s us.] But it does mean a hefty monthly increase for mortgage-holders [both our children]. Energy prices have spiralled in the past 12 months; and the OFGEM price-cap will rise again in September, and at at three-monthly intervals thereafter.
It is the holiday season and all known forms of transport are suffering cancellations and delays. Heathrow and other major airports are cancelling flights. The cost of flying from Heathrow to Edinburgh is currently running at about £950, and involves changing planes in Paris or in Brussels. Gatwick Airport ran out of water a couple of weeks ago. We know that the train is a better bet environmentally. But assorted rail unions are running a series of one-day and two=day strikes which are forecast to continue into the autumn. As post-COVID lockdown holidaymakers head for the Channel in their cars, there have been unprecedented delays at Dover with both cars and commercial vehicles backed-up for miles on the M2.
How are our politicians coping with this chaos. Boris evidently feels he is on gardening leave. He is said to be on a honeymoon in Slovenia with is current bidie-in. Since his not-quite resignation, his only reported activities have been a delayed wedding reception at the home of a wealthy Tory Party donor, and preparation of a resignation honours list. Which will send the unspeakable Nadine Dorries and a gang of equally unsuitable cronies to the House of Lords. [There is a theory that ‘Mad Nad’ is being elevated so that Boris can then inherit her ‘safe seat’ when he loses his current more marginal one in Uxbridge.]
At a time of unparalleled financial woes, the Chancellor of the Exchequer is also on holiday. No, it’s not Rishi Sunak these days. It’s Nadhim Zahawi, a 56-year-old Kurdish property millionaire, under investigation by HMRC for tax evasion and other suspicious dealings. But don’t worry. A Treasury spokesperson said that he is looking at his screen ‘on a daily basis’. Probably placing bets on Pop Idol which has made him a lot of money in the past. What about the Minister for Transport, that juvenile lead Grant Shapps, another man with a very iffy business past. [Which he has sought to airbrush from his Wikipedia entry.] No-one knows whether he is on holiday or not. But it doesn’t seem to make any difference as far as our transport problems are concerned.
Sunak v. Truss
What passes for political activity during what the papers used to call the silly season is an interminable set of ‘hustings’ at which Rishi Sunak and Lis Truss are concerned to sell themselves to tiny groups of Conservative Party members around the country.. ‘Swivel-eyed loons’, as a former Conservative cabinet minister described them. In this travesty of democracy the next Tory Party leader, and more significantly our next Prime Minister, will be elected by a small group of people, who make up less than 0.5% of the electorate. Not only is this a tiny group of people. But there is data that shows that they are wholly unrepresentative of the country whose leader they will elect. They are predominantly white. They are predominantly above average age. [I don’t necessarily quarrel with either of those things.] They are not interested in ‘levelling up’. They have no interest in foreign affairs. They are agreed that we have ‘too many immigrants’. They are opposed to gay marriage. They hark back to the ‘great days’ of Margaret Thatcher. They can’t understand why Boris was forced to resign. Their views are largely set by the Daily Mail and the Daily Telegraph.
So – in order to suck up to this tiny unrepresentative minority, the two candidates seek to outbid each other in ludicrous claims. We know that Rishi Sunak is a posh Wykehamist, married to a fabulously rich wife who is a serial tax evader. I don’t dislike the man. And I think he is honest about the country’s economic woes, and that he is right to warn against increased borrowing in order to finance uncosted tax cuts. But, given this government’s stated commitment to ‘levelling up’, there is something deeply repugnant about his boasting to Tory party members about diverting funds from urban priority areas to Tory-voting councils. In Tunbridge Wells of all places.
As for Lis Truss, the notion that she is fit to be Prime Minister is simply risible. She is charmless, wooden, and clueless. As her former Cabinet colleagues noted, her ambition has always outstripped her ability. She thinks she is Mrs. Thatcher re-incarnate. But in reality she is more like Marine Le Pen. She claims broad support for her much-heralded tax-cutting programme. But her only supporter is the maverick Cardiff academic Patrick Minford. A life-long admirer and personal friend of Margaret Thatcher. [I was at Balliol with him, but we never spoke.] Lis Truss speaks disparagingly about her old school, Roundhay a former grammar school in Leeds, which was judged ‘outstanding’ at its last OFSTED inspection in 2013. But it was good enough to get her into Oxford. [Yet another politician who read PPE.] And she now seems to think that sending all bright children to Oxford or Cambridge will be socially beneficial. And the academic year will start in January. Her other headline attracting policy initiative was to suggest that civil servants outside London and south-east England [teachers, nurses etc.] should all have a pay cut. This policy was enthusiastically talked up on television by the Minister for BREXIT Opportunities, the insufferable Jacob Rees-Mogg. A man who responded to BREXIT by moving all his family’s trust funds and inherited wealth out of the UK into an Irish bank.
I watched the first televised ‘husting’. The only thing that the two candidates could agree on is that all the troubles at the port of Dover were “nothing to do with BREXIT”. For the Tory Party members, BREXIT is an article of faith. The idea that it has been an unparalleled act of political, economic, and cultural self-harm is beyond their comprehension. We know nothing of the candidates’ views on environmental matters and global warming. Nothing about how to deal with plastic pollution. Nothing about combatting falling educational standards. Nothing about how to recruit and train more hospital doctors and nurses. Nothing about cleaning up Britain’s rivers. Nothing about how they will deal with Russia. Or China. [Truss’s much vaunted trade deals, e.g. with Australia, have been cut-and-paste’ affairs which sold out on British farming and agriculture.]
I won’t go on. It’s too depressing. Let’s try and end with some good news. Ships laden with grain and oil are finally leaving Ukraine.For Turkey and for Italy. In a deal negotiated by the United Nations. The England ladies football team did good. Cue lots of media references to ‘the Spirit of 1966’ and all that. [Sadly the few survivors of that team all now have dementia.] I walked on the John Muir Way last week. By the sea. Susie and I had lunch the other day at The Loft Cafe in Haddington. Which does the best Ploughman’s Lunch I know. It is a vintage year for Scottish strawberries. They are of excellent quality, and the only thing that has gone down in price this year. We saw the Soweto Gospel Choir at the Fringe a couple of days ago; huge energy and lots of noise in the amphitheatre at New College on The Mound. And I am going to Be Bop a Lula at the Brunton Hall in Musselburgh tonight. To see Billy Fury and Buddy Holly, and Gene Vincent and Eddie Cochrane. Who said nostalgia ain’t what it used to be.