“Fifty years from now Britain will still be the country of long shadows on county grounds, warm beer, invincible green suburbs, dog lovers and pools fillers and – as George Orwell said – “old maids bicycling to Holy Communion through the morning mist” and if we get our way – Shakespeare still read even in school.” ~ John Major Speech at Conservative Party Conference 1993
Visions of the future as an eternal version of the past never wear well, especially in a period of late capitalism defined by the maxim “move fast and break things.” As Karl Marx remarked when capitalism was taking off beyond its North European cradle All that is solid, melts into air.
Thirty years on and some of Majors eternal bucolic vision is already looking a bit far gone.
Thanks to Major himself, the Football Pools were overwhelmed by the National Lottery that he introduced and were pretty much dead by the time he was turfed out of office just four years later.
There may still be some long shadows on county cricket grounds, but a lot more attention is paid to 20:20 and even when Major was speaking, cricket as such had long been supplanted by Football as a totemic national sport. A visions of crowds of the hoi polloi chanting obscene -if original – songs on terraces, while munching on meat pies and drinking Bovril, conjures an image of a different kind of country than that of chaps in whites languidly striking leather with willow in arcadian surroundings. Whish poses a question beyond “who do you think you are?”, which is “WHERE do you think you are?”
“Warm beer”? Although there are still around 40,000 pubs in the UK, they are currently closing at a rate of 50 a month, or 600 a year. At that rate, the last “Last Orders” would be called some time in 2088.
In a country now turning its back on formal Christianity at an increasing rate, “Old Maids” (ouch) cycling to Holy Communion through the morning mist” – which, for me, conjures up an image of Margaret Rutherford playing Miss Marple – are a rare sight. Major might not have understood that many of the single women Orwell was referring to were bereaved by the mass slaughter of young men in the First World War, which left a legacy of many single women in one generation and a deep reluctance to suffer such extreme loses ever again. You could still see this in an odd sort of way as late as the first years of this century in the ceremonial welcomes given by rows of silent people to the coffins of dead soldiers flown back from Afghanistan and Iraq being driven through Wootton Bassett during Blair’s auxiliary role in the opening stage of the Wars for the New American Century. Respect, but there’s a limit…
That phrase “Shakespeare still read even in school” indicates both the Tory suspicion of teachers as dubiously progressive thinking people who can’t be trusted with “the national heritage” as they want us all to imagine it, but also how poorly he understood just how subversive Shakespeare can be. Shakespeare will be read and watched and performed because he was a brilliant, funny, moving poet of a playwright who asks hard questions about power and humanity even in the midst of a seeming puff to mindless patriotism. The opening of Henry V, which for people on the right and far right is nothing more than a mash up of “once more unto the breach” and “we happy few” and sticking it to the French with arrows at Agincourt, is of a cabal of cynical Archbishops faking up a “legitimate claim” to the French throne to sell to the new young King; to divert his attention from helping himself to their land holdings. The version of this I saw at the Globe a few years ago had the discussion taking place with the plump, crimson clad prelates sitting on portable toilets, just to underline the point. I think the Tories like the heritage, but may not watch the plays themselves much.
As for the Conservative Party itself, it is now looking as endangered as it ever has and could well not exist in its present form by the time Major’s 50 years are up (2043). “Tis a consummation devoutly to be wished” (Hamlet) or as Richard II put it, talking of his dying uncle, John of Gaunt, “Pray God we may make haste…and come too late”.
This post has been written for the newcoldwar.org site published in Canada.
It used to be a truth universally acknowledged in the UK that instability in government was something that other countries with less sang froid and stiff upper lips were prone to, but not us. “I have been in negotiation with one of the French governments” was a joke from the 1950s Goon Show that sums this up. Until relatively recently it could be taken for granted that UK governments were, if not strong, at least stolid, and if not stable, at least able to stumble along with a somnambulist inertia that everyone could live with. Not anymore.
We have now had four Chancellors of the Exchequer in as many months and will probably be on our third Prime Minster of the year by Xmas. Kwasi Kwarteng was sacked on Friday afternoon by increasingly isolated new PM Liz Truss “because”, as one BBC commentator pithily put it, “he agreed with her”. Boris Johnson resigned in July. There was already a definite fight on economic policy between himself and his Chancellor Rishi Sunak, whose resignation started a flood of Cabinet members jumping ship and making his position untenable.
There was then a leadership contest in which Sunak won a majority of MPs, but Liz Truss won the backing of Conservative Party members – who tend to be older, whiter, better off, more Southern and rural than most – for her attempt to defy gravity. Running alongside Truss in a sort of three-legged race, was Kwazi Kwarteng. Both Truss and Kwarteng were joint authors of “Britannia Unchained” a wild neo liberal tract from 2012, aiming to slash and burn the state and allow the private sector to rejuvenate the economy in one mighty bound, if given enough “incentives”. Having won the race and promised to “deliver and deliver and deliver”, Truss and Kwarteng went for broke, sacking the chief Treasury civil servant and announcing a “mini budget” without a financial forecast from the Office for Budget responsibility to give it some cover.
This announced £54 billion worth of tax cuts to benefit the wealthy and corporations, which would have to be covered by borrowing, on the presumption that this would stimulate “growth”. This was at the same time that government Ministers were still solemnly intoning that pay claims by workers were unaffordable and “inflationary”. At the same time, they announced a subsidy for energy bills, again to be paid for by borrowing £150 billion over two years while refusing to put a tax on the windfall profits of UK based energy producers (projected to be £170 billion over the same period). As the Daily Mail put it “AT LAST! A TRUE TORY BUDGET”.
As the Chancellor was speaking, the pound collapsed ten cents against the dollar and the interest rates on UK Government bonds started rising sharply as investors started to demand what one of them called a “moron premium”. The knock-on effect of this was that the Bank of England had to intervene in the bond markets to buy government stocks to prevent a run on pension funds that could have seen them collapse; and raise interest rates to stop a collapse in the currency – which had a devastating effect on mortgage rates, with lenders withdrawing 40% of the schemes previously on offer. A young woman on the BBC Question Time programme caused a horrified sharp intake of breath the following week when she said that her previous mortgage offer of 4.5% had gone up to 10.5% as a result. That intake of breath was the sound of the air coming out of the Conservative Party’s support across the country. One sort of growth that Truss has definitely delivered has been a staggering increase in the Labour opinion poll lead, which is now around 30%.
This is meltdown territory. Extrapolations from these polls have projected a collapse of the Tory Parliamentary Party to fifty something MPs at best, and 3, or 0, at worst. Unless they can pull something miraculous out of the fire, it’s possible that future historians will be writing books entitled “The Strange Death of Conservative England”. This is much worse than1992, after the pound was forced out of the European Exchange Rate Mechanism on “Black Wednesday” and the stuffing was knocked out of the previous long period of Tory governmental dominance. This lot have had black Friday, Saturday, Sunday, Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday…
If you want to see what this looks like, check out the faces on the Tory benches at Prime Minister’s Questions last week, and look at Truss’s face too. The great baying, roaring monster that is the usual face of the Parliamentary Conservative Party at PMQs is weirdly shell shocked. Even the cabinet, with the single exception of Truss’s overpromoted understrapper Therese Coffey, although sitting alongside Truss on the front bench, seem in another world. Visibly plotting.
As in the Book of Revelations, we now are seeing “a great wailing and a gnashing of teeth”. Party discipline is in disarray. Frantic efforts by demoralised and angry Tory MPs to steady the ship are combining with comments, some off and some on the record, that whatever they do now they’ve blown any reputation they had for economic competence and the attempt to find a new course may lead to a split. This last is possibly overstating things, but nemesis looms one way or another. Jeremy Hunt as Chancellor has little support in his own Parliamentary Party – getting less than 30 endorsements when he stood for leader – and was a deeply unpopular Secretary of State for Health, when he presided over the long and bitter Junior Doctors strike.
The underlying problem that Truss tried to solve with an act of will is that the underlying fundamentals of the UK economy are shaky. Investment is low and therefore so is productivity. In Britannia Unchained, Truss attributed this to workers in the UK being “the worst idlers in the world” and needing to “graft” more. Clearly a woman with a popular touch. The attempt to break with long slow managed decline by leaving the EU after the referendum in 2016, a piece of faith healing on a par with “throw aside thy stick and walk”, has compounded the long term British disease of weak investment from the private sector with a collapse in exports to the EU. There is now a balance of payments crisis of historic proportions. A running deficit of 8% according to Torsten Bell of the Resolution Foundation. This is very thin ice to be jumping up and down on in the way that Truss has tried to do. Sacking Kwarteng and replacing him with Jeremy Hunt was supposed to be reassuring; but an extraordinarily wooden press conference by Truss, simply left everyone speculating how long she had left. The Bank of England has now said that it will stop buying government bonds on Monday. So, probably not long. This very short press conference makes painful viewing. After attempting to describe the complete wreck of her economic policy as decisive action by her that somehow left it intact, she took just three questions, from the BBC, ITN and Murdoch’s flagship tabloid, the Sun, to take the key indicators of the media temperature, eyes desperately looking around the room for sympathy in an awful icy silence, finding none and fleeing at the end to calls of “are you going to apologise?” As she spoke, the interest rates on UK government bonds went up and up and up.
The basis for Johnson’s sleight of hand, that Brexit would unleash the animal spirits of Great British entrepreneurism, supposedly stifled by the dead hand of Brussels bureaucracy, allowing “left behind” regions to “level up” has gone up in smoke. Cakeism is as dead as the Queen, and all the Kings Horses and all the Kings men can’t put it back together again. When Truss went for her weekly audience with Charles III he is reported to have said, “You’re back again. Dear, oh dear”. Ouch.
At the same time, inflation is hitting living standards hard. One in four children are now living in poverty. The effect of tax breaks for the rich and a wages squeeze on the rest of us is a redistribution of wealth from worst off to best off. As a result, we have seen a wave of local and national strikes by Rail Workers and Communication Workers which have rolled on all summer. Barristers just won a 15% increase in fees after an all out strike. Large settlements have been won in local disputes. Nurses and Teachers unions are balloting and getting record turn outs, flooding over the government’s thresholds of 50% turnout and a majority of all those eligible voting yes to be lawful. More significantly, although these strikes are being bitterly resisted by employers, with the government backing them up, there is no sign of support for them flagging among the workers involved, they have very strong popular support and arguments about wages versus profits have now been aired on mainstream media, whose beautifully coiffed attack dogs have been exposed as the tawdry hacks they are by a set of trade union leaders, like the RMTs Mick Lynch, who stand their ground and tell their truths and strike a popular resonance. Rallies for the union led Enough is Enough campaign have regenerated the sort of enthusiastic support and political ferment we saw in the early period of Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership of the Labour Party.
Meanwhile, Truss’s government has had to make u turn after u turn as it collides with reality. They have conceded that onshore windfarms might be a good thing after opposing them as matter of principle all summer. Truss still has an irrational antagonism to solar farms, even though they are only allowed on marginal land and cover less acreage than golf courses; but even here she has run into a row with the unlikely figure of her Business Secretary, Jacob Rees Mogg, who, although he flirts with climate denial, knows a cheap energy source when he sees it. They have also told Friends of the Earth and Client Earth that they will not appeal against the High Court Judgement that their climate plan for 2050 is unlawful; so, they will have to come up with one that is by the end of March 2023.
At the same time, noises from previously belligerent Brexiteers put into the Northern Ireland Office have become positively apologetic towards the Republic of Ireland and, whisper it softly, the EU itself, to try to resolve the row over the Northern Ireland Protocol, which put them at odds with Ireland, the EU and the United States. A deal on this may not be enough to prevent Irish unity in the relatively near future however, as there is now a strong current of Unionist opinion that is open to it and seeking to explore it, Sinn Fein is the largest Party in the Northern Irish Assembly, and is leading in opinion polls for the next General Election in the Republic. Truss’s gauche attempt to dismiss SNP leader and Scottish First Minster Nicola Sturgeon as an “attention seeker” who she would “ignore” have won her no friends North of the Border and compounded the pressure for a new independence referendum there.
In what might be one of her last significant moves, Truss looks set to announce that China will be officially classified as a “Threat” rather than “strategic competitor” as now. If this goes ahead, this will be another act of spectacular self harm by the UK, as the Office for National Statistics points out
In 2021, China was the UK’s largest import partner and sixth-largest export partner for goods.
The UK imported £63.6 billion of goods from China in 2021 (13.3% of all goods imports to the UK) and exported £18.8 billion of goods (5.8% of all goods exports from the UK)…
China is one of the UK’s largest trading partners, accounting for £93.0 billion (7.3%) of the UK’s total trade in 2021.
There are also 143,000 Chinese students studying at UK Universities, a quarter of the international student intake that pay the exorbitant fees that keep the higher education sector going. Combine this with taking an axe to joint research and development projects between UK and Chinese Universities and you have a formula for serious damage to one of the few world class sectors the UK still has.
Combine this with Truss’s intention to double military spending to £100 billion a year by 2030 and you have a situation in which the rest of public spending will be squeezed at home, after ten years of austerity have already cut them to the bone, and the country will be gearing up for war abroad. The UK already spends more on its military than any other country in the world other than the USA, China and India, and is in direct alliance, through NATO and AUKUS, with countries responsible for two thirds of global military spending. Inside the country it’s possible to pass this off as “defence”. People overseas, given the UK’s consistent history of military interventions, will understand it better.
Opposition to this is hampered by the bipartisan policies of the current Labour leadership on these issues, and a motion calling for increased military spending proposed by the GMB union was passed at Party Conference in September. This was posed as defence of unionised manufacturing jobs. It must be very reassuring for a woman in Yemen who has seen her family blown to bloody rags by a BAE systems missile fired from a Saudi jet, whose pilot was trained by the RAF, to know that the workers who built it were trade union members with decent terms and conditions. The only delegate who spoke against support for the Ukraine war at Conference was suspended the following day. Labour MPs have been banned from criticising NATO, with the dozen or so from the Socialist Campaign Group who had signed a Stop the War statement told to take their names off if they didn’t want to be expelled from the Parliamentary Labour Party. A similar motion, also proposed by the GMB, is going to the TUC this week and the scale of the vote against it will indicate where the ground the Labour leadership is standing on will begin to shift.
Opposition to increased arms spending is much wider than support for a peace deal in Ukraine, as the phrase “Putin’s war” for the war that NATO provoked is repeated like a mantra across a wide political spectrum, from Boris Johnson to Owen Jones. But, as the crisis bites harder over the winter, the struggle over the cost of living deepens and widens, the government stumbles from crisis to crisis and desperately tries to improvise itself out of the hole it has dug, clarification can’t help but spread through the ferment.
Lord Frost must have choked over his freshly ironed copy of the Daily Telegraph this morning. Spread across the wide open spaces of its front page – because, as long as there is an England, the Telegraph will forever be a broadsheet – was a map with the whole of Southern England coloured red.
This is to show the areas in which – in the current drought – wildfires are just a flicked match, barbecue ember, or suns rays concentrated through a thrown away bottle away. As the wildfire in Wennington showed at the end of last month, if vegetation and buildings are dry enough, and the winds are strong enough, a small fire can spread out of control and burn down whole streets. We should note that Wennington is on the edge of Rainham marshes, not an area we would normally expect to catch fire. In fact, we got lucky that time, because the winds were quite low. So, anyone who owns a property in that red zone, which stretches right across the Tory heartlands of the soft South, has real reason to be worried.; which would be why the Telegraph published it.
But, this is where ideological dissonance slips in. The Telegraph puts a lot of effort into bigging up all the forces on the Tory right, from Lords Lawson and Frost, to Steve Baker and the Net Zero Scrutiny Group, who like to argue that Climate Breakdown is all a woke plot; that because dealing with it requires a fairer society that would be uncomfortable for people like them, not dealing with it, while hoping with Mr Micawber that “something will turn up”, is the better option.
Indeed, this is just two days after Frost opined in an essay on Public Exchange, that “there is no evidence” that the UK faces a climate emergency.
One can only conclude that he goes through life with his eyes. and ears firmly shut, and has not bothered to read very much. He could just look around him. Perhaps, like so many “non elite” Brexit supporting members of the House of Lords, he hasn’t been around to notice what’s going on here because he’s off on holiday somewhere continental. But, he can’t really miss it there either. If he is in Italy, perhaps he has noticed coverage of the drought that has cause the Po river to dry up on parts of its course. If he has passed through Germany, he might have noticed that the Rhine is now so low that shipping is being restricted. If he has gone to the United States, he can’t have missed the epic drought and wildfires there this Summer which have produced fire tornadoes in California; or the floods in Kentucky that washed whole houses down streets turned into torrents. Had he popped up to the Arctic for a bit of whale spotting, he might have been made aware that it is heating up four times faster than the rest of the planet and the permafrost is melting 43 times as fast as it was.
If he wants some written evidence, maybe he should just read the latest IPCC Report. Current policies, which he thinks are too fast, have us heading for a 2.7C average temperature rise by the end of the century. Crisis? What crisis?
But, of course, he is from a political current that dislikes “experts” and prefers its own prejudices whenever that’s more convenient.
Frost’s proposals are designed to make other people, in poorer parts of the world, pay the price for the over consumption of people like him.
He blathers complacently on – with that blithe self confidence that so many upper class people have, that if you state total bollocks with enough conviction you can disregard any evidence to the contrary – “the prevailing mood is one in which individuals are asked to restrict their use of energy and in which unsatisfactory renewables technology is touted as the best solution to our problems.Instead of focusing on technological solutions that enable us to master our environment and get more energy in a more carbon-efficient way — nuclear, CCS, fracking, one day fusion – we have focused on managing demand so we can use medieval technology like wind power.”
This is such flabby thinking that it beggars belief that he can be taken seriously by anyone with a fragment of critical intelligence. But, let’s look at them one at a time anyway.
“Individuals are asked to restrict their use of energy”. At the moment, the biggest pressure forcing people to reduce their use of energy is the rapid increase in fossil fuel prices (and the profits of the energy producing companies that flow from them). Frost does not favour taxing those profits to give people a break. He stands for the free market (in this context). Nor does he favour an insulation programme that would allow people to keep warm and cook food, using less energy and getting lower bills as a result. Using less energy means less demand for fossil fuels, therefore fewer profits for the producers. Can’t have that, can we? This is of a piece with his complaint in the Brexit campaign that the EU was introducing standards to force vacuum cleaners to become more efficient – on the grounds that a proper clean needs to burn lots of joules. Vacuum cleaning for petrolheads.
That “unsatisfactory renewables technology”, overtook fossil fuels in UK electricity generation in 2020. “Medieval” wind power produced 24% of UK energy demand in 2020, increased 715% from 2009 to 2020 and is now much cheaper per Kilowatt hour than fossil fuels or nuclear; and steadily getting even cheaper. That reduces bills. Once the turbines are up or the solar panels installed, the wind and the sunshine is free. “Unsatisfactory” for fossil fuel producers, no doubt. Very helpful for the rest of us. Oddly, Lord Frost does not seem so keen on “the market” here. He wants to restrict renewables as such. Perhaps not as suicidally keen as France’s Marine Le Pen, who wants to “tear down” turbines that are already up; but in the way that the Conservatives have restricted onshore wind with all sorts of planning “red tape”. You’d think, with onshore wind being among the cheapest energy sources, he’d want to cut the restrictions and “let the market work its magic”; but not a bit of it. You’d think, as a patriotic Brexiteer wedded to notions of “energy security”, he’d want to make the most of an energy source that doesn’t have to be imported. He could make a bit of a campaign of it, painting them red, white and blue and calling them “Freedom Farms”; with banner headlines in the Tory Press screaming “It’s Britain’s Wind!” But, no. If its low prices for energy users with fewer carbon emissions on the one hand, and sustained fossil fuel profits generating billowing clouds of carbon dioxide on the other, its no contest.
In full macho mode, Lord Frost prefers “technological solutions that enable us to master our environment” (my emphasis). So butch. 50 shades of Frost. Let’s see what he has in his special room. “Nuclear, CCS, fracking, one day fusion“. While its in the nature of denial for people to clutch at straws, this is a peculiarly old fashioned vision of modernity. Taking them backwards, which seems an oddly appropriate thing to do… “Fusion” has been the holy grail for nuclear power that has been full of promise for at least 50 years; but has never actually arrived. This year, next year, sometime, never. He might as well argue that “one day” we will power ourselves with Unicorn farts. “Fracking” for oil and gas. No one wants a fracking site in their backyard. Presumably Frost wants to enforce them on unwilling communities “in the national interest” of the profits made by the fracking companies. Perhaps he hasn’t noticed that oil and gas are fossil fuels. So, not a solution to a problem created by burning too many fossil fuels. And not a “carbon efficient” way to generated energy. “Carbon Capture and Storage.” The IPCC Report made it very clear that this is not a technology capable of economic deployment at the scale needed. Indeed, given that this would be such a “get out of jail free” card for carbon intensive industries, you’d think that it would have been developed by now. Instead, rather like fusion, it is the solution that’s just around the corner; and has been for decades. “Nuclear”. There is an argument about how “low carbon” nuclear energy generation is. What is in no doubt is that it is immensely costly. Costlier than fossil fuels. Costlier than renewables. And slow. By So, Frost’s “solutions” are a mix of unproven wishful thinking combined with a cavalier disregard for costs; both environmental and financial. And, that’s it.
With the whole of Southern England a tinder box, perhaps the threat of wildfires in the backyards of prosperous Tory speissburgers might make a few of them pay attention – especially if house price values start being affected. But, with Frost highly influential with Liz Truss, and medieval thinkers like John Redwood slated for cabinet posts in our new and unimproved Conservative government, we can expect a lurch even further to the right. Their problem is that its only possible to safely deny reality so long as that reality isn’t imposing itself on people’s lives, as climate breakdown is. It has been argued that climate is “above politics”. It isn’t, as Lord Frost and his ilk demonstrate. But the reality of it is foundational to any politics that is relevant from here on. We’re not in the Holocene any more Toto.
The Conservative Party is full of racists and Rishi Sunak is not white.
Watching the Sky hustings yesterday, Sunak came across as much cleverer than Truss. Very quick on his feet. Slightly puppyish public schoolboy enthusiasm. Close your eyes and, y’know, it could be Tony Blair. Look at him and he even has some of Blair’s mannerisms – the parallel chopping hands, the way of remembering the names of questioners in the audience to engage “personally” with them, the fake self deprecation. But being clever could be a problem. “Too clever by half” to lead a Party full of people “tired of experts”. The Conservative Party is full of people who employ people like Sunak to do their accounts. They don’t want to be bossed by smartarse backroom nerds, however slick.
More substantially, “its the economy stupid”.
Truss, 2D cardboard figure though she is, rapidly reduced to speaking clock responses when caught out, represents a continuity of the “triumph of the will” style delusions that fuelled Brexit.
The sense that she is both a Margaret Thatcher tribute act and “continuity Boris” – having been loyal to the shameless charlatan ’til the end – nevertheless indicates that a cosplay version of the real thing is the best they can do now. Thatcher was PM at a time before the reunification of Germany, when the UK cut a more powerful global figure than it can possibly do now. Johnson could genuinely embody “cakeism” because of who he is – Eton, Oxford, Bullingdon, the Spectator. That shameless sense of entitlement that he could always eat his cake because someone else would keep supplying him with more – and his projection that the country could reassert its imperial habits of doing the same – were quite genuine in his case. Bone of his bone. Blood of his blood. For Truss, middle class girl from Leeds, taught, like all of us are in the state education system that the way to get on is to impress others, can’t convince in the same way. At Eton, they are taught that, whatever their limitations, they are the people that others have to impress. Truss can, at the most, impersonate that. And she tries very hard. And it shows.
Nevertheless, on the economics, she is trying to make out that the only reason we are heading for a recession is because people are saying we are (“talking us into a recession”)- thereby neatly inverting reality. Her formula for the immediate crisis is to
hold down wages and “stop unions holding working people to ransom”,
a Kamikazi Brexit, slashing and burning all residual EU regulations on labour and environment standards within 18 months and possible trade war with the EU over the Northern Ireland Protocol,
trying to keep the economy from tanking with immediate tax cuts, which by and large benefit those who are least badly hit.
This may be based on a calculation that whatever they do, they are likely to lose the next election, so they might as well try to “move fast and smash things”, as they say in management, safe in the knowledge that an incoming Labour led government under Starmer would be too wed to ruling class interests to overturn very much of it.
Her rapidly withdrawn proposal to cut public sector pay to match local cost of living figures – claiming that it was “misunderstood” because it was understood only too clearly that, if you put out a press release claiming “savings” of £8.8 billion based on figures calculated on “savings” from the salaries of nurses, teachers, and police officers, it is not a “misunderstanding” to conclude that it is precisely those people whose wages would be cut – indicates how badly thought out so much of this is.
The fundamental flaw in her idea is that seeking to boom an economy by boosting consumption without investment was exactly what started the global inflationary surge when Joe Biden did exactly that with his stimulus package last year. Underlying all this is the low level of private sector investment, which none of Truss’s programme will boost. Inflation will bite hard into living standards.
Sunak, by contrast, is a “sound money” man. He seems to think it doesn’t matter if human civilisation perishes in rising floods and fires, so long as the books are balanced when it does. The Governor of the Bank of England thinks likewise, hence the rise in interest rates this week. This signals an impending series of clashes between Downing and Threadneedle Streets as the crisis intensifies.
This goes to the heart of the Conservative conflict and the impossible dilemma they face; given that they exist to politically block any solution that might actually work, if that was based on state investment or greater equality. Raise interest rates, keep money tight, and zombie companies, those that are only able to keep ticking over if the interest rates on their debt stays near to zero, go bust. Everyone employed by them loses their jobs, and have to claim benefits. Everyone with a mortgage gets squeezed and cuts back (and landlords with mortgages put rents up). Measures taken to curb inflation leads to recession. Measures taken to avoid recession fuels inflation. Snookered.
On other matters, they are agreed.
Both see the solution to the inflationary spike in gas prices fueled by the Ukraine war – which hits the UK very hard because we have such a high dependence on gas for cooking and home heating in the draughtiest houses in Europe – as a Ukrainian victory. Its increasingly evident that this is a fantasy. The options are a negotiated compromise peace; or a long term frozen conflict (which NATO will go for so as not to lose face). The only way to get an immediate cut in gas, and therefore energy prices, is to push for peace, not keep fuelling the war. Jeremy Corbyn was right to call for the UK to stop supplying arms this week.
Both see the solution to the increased costs of energy from fossil fuels is to double down on fossil fuels. Sunak’s responses to “Net Zero Questions”
New coal mines? “Yes” to avoid coal imports, even though he knows that the projected coal mine in Cumbria would export 80% of its production.
Fracking? “Yes” – where locally supported.
Onshore wind? “No”. Not caveats about local support. In the immortal words of Hermione Granger. “What. An. Idiot”.
And Truss wants to cut the “green levies” on energy bills, even though this is marginal and their effect over the years, in paying for what little insulation has been done, is to reduce bills. She has also made noises about letting the 2050 Net Zero target slip; thinking, like Johnson, that we can get away with a “Climate Pass”. As if the laws of physics will bend because she wants them to.
Both are fully paid up Cold War Warriors against China and both will ramp up military spending, not noticing that Nancy Pelosi’s brinkmanship this week was not at all popular in Taiwan; where, by and large, people are quite content to fudge along with the current ambiguity in relation to the People’s Republic rather than be used as a causus belli by the US (which is a long way away from where the fighting would take place – as it is from Ukraine).
Both favour using racism – deportations to Rwanda just a start, a new definition of Refugee based on the Australian model that dumps desperate people on far off Pacific Island camps, imprisoning and criminalising people for being desperate (and actually wanting to come here and make a contribution) restricting of access to “legal routes” that don’t actually exist. None of these restrictions apply to people who can buy their way in of course.
Truss adds a petty twist all of her own that goes down really well with her audience, in seeking to keep the UK together by goading Scots nationalists. This goes down a ton at 19th holes in Hampshire. Not so much in Glasgow.
With 16 million people already cutting back on food and essentials, even before energy bills go through the roof in October just as the weather gets colder, with the war in Ukraine increasingly going badly for NATO and voices for peace getting louder, with unions taking up the fight to defend their members and even non union workers in places like the Amazon warehouse in Tilbury expressing collective self respect by holding a sit in against wage cuts, with arguments now being heard that we need to redistribute wealth away from profits back to the people whose work made those profits, and the likelihood that our next Prime Minister will be someone who wants to go for confrontational broke on all fronts; we are in for a Winter in which there will be desperate struggles and serious political shifts.
Facing the realities of climate breakdown, the slippage of US global hegemony (with everything that flows from that), the global economic impasse of neo-liberalism – given a local twist of Brexit deepening the stagnation and slow disintegration of the UK, there is almost an imperative for the Conservatives to double down. As the old gods fail, the true believers worship all the harder and the old songs take on a willed manic quality that will be increasingly shrill. We will get political leaders to match. Far from looking after the apple stall, they will kick it over to see which way the apples roll. “Steady as she goes” does not fit times in which time is not on their side.