Britain is sinking day by day into crisis, but its government is missing
The UK is going through a summer of misery as its beloved health service sinks into crisis, inflation soars, taps run dry and strikes bring trains to a halt. Meanwhile, the government is nowhere to be found.
The feeling of collapse only rises; Health officials issued the dire warning on Friday of a “humanitarian crisis” without action to halt rising energy prices over the winter.
Matthew Taylor, chief executive of the National Confederation of Health Services, said in a statement that many “may face the terrible choice between skipping meals to heat their homes and having to live in cold, damp and very unpleasant conditions… These outbreaks will hit the nail on the head as the NHS is likely to experience the toughest winter on record.
The highly unusual intervention comes after weeks of warnings that the UK is only at the start of the worst cost of living crisis for generations.
Inflation topped 10% at the start of the week, putting a strain on households that are already struggling to make ends meet. The country is on course to enter recession, with GDP expected to continue to contract through the end of the year and beyond.
In addition to the economic pain, transport and dockworkers are on strike, and there are warnings of further industrial action in the public and private sectors. Even some criminal lawyers went on strike, causing disruption in the already overcrowded courts.
Outgoing Prime Minister Boris Johnson is, however, on his second vacation of the summer. When asked why Johnson is not back in London to offer an urgent action plan, Downing Street says major spending plans should be undertaken by the next prime minister.
Johnson’s replacement – either Liz Truss, the current foreign secretary, or Rishi Sunak, the former finance minister whose resignation led to his eventual downfall – will not be in place until September 5. It’s been almost two months to the day since Johnson announced he would step in. aside, ignoring calls for him to leave office immediately and allow a new leader to occupy himself with governing.
The next Prime Minister will not be elected by the British public, but by members of the ruling Conservative Party, which is believed to number fewer than 200,000 people in a country of around 67 million.
It is completely constitutionally correct. In the UK, voters elect a local MP. The party with the most seats – and, hopefully, the majority needed to pass legislation in parliament – seeks permission from the monarch to form a government. Conventionally, the leader of this party becomes the prime minister.
In 2019, Johnson won an 80-seat majority in parliament. Although this has since declined, the Conservative Party still has a majority and is therefore still able to govern.
So why do Johnson’s allies say it is up to the next Prime Minister to take action to provide financial support for those suffering from the cost of living crisis, given the urgency of the situation and the fact that the professional civil service could work on the myriad of issues if that is the case.
A government spokesperson told CNN that while ‘budgetary decisions for the coming months will rest with the next Prime Minister, we continue to support people directly with financial support as part of our existing £37billion package. sterling which will continue to arrive within weeks. and months to come to help people cope with the rising cost of living.
But critics from across the political spectrum say this is insufficient and that stronger action must be taken now.
Daniel Kawczynski, a Tory MP who backs Truss in the leadership race, thinks the gravity of the situation means the party should end the race early and install the new prime minister, or allow Johnson to act now.
“The competition has gone on too long and we need leadership now. Naval observation is never a good thing when critical decisions need to be made. So we either have to empower the current leader to act or end the competition. The British people rightly expect us to tackle this crisis,” he told CNN.
In a possible foreshadowing of what could become a scathing criticism of the government in the future, Labor MP Chris Bryant told CNN that “Johnson should act now on the cost of living crisis. It is only a mixture of laziness and complacency that prevents them (Conservative leadership candidates) from taking action.
The opposition Labor Party this week called for an immediate recall of parliament so lawmakers can take immediate action to freeze energy bills, which are set to nearly double in October after the regulator lifted a limit on prices providers.
In a letter sent to Johnson and the two leadership candidates, Thangam Debbonaire MP, shadow leader of Labor in the House of Commons, urged the Tories to ‘bring Parliament back early on Monday August 22 so that we can freeze the energy price cap now”.
She added that next week the UK’s energy regulator “will announce the increase in the energy price cap. In a context of rising inflation to 10.1%, this will not only plunge households into a new spiral of anxiety, pushing them to cut even more before winter. But it will create another shock to our economy. With businesses and households on the brink, we are eager to act. »
The energy price cap is a safety net put in place by the government to prevent energy companies from overcharging their customers.
CNN has contacted Downing Street and several government officials to comment on the proposal, but as of press time had not received a recorded response.
Given the gravity of what is about to befall the country, not even Johnson’s former allies and hard-line conservatives can understand why the ruling party seems happy to rub shoulders.
Neither leadership candidate gave concrete examples of the specific policies that will be implemented to deal with what is going to be a hellish winter for many. A cynic might say it’s because any solution will require huge sums of public spending, anathema to mainstream Conservative members who will choose the next prime minister.
It could also be because government spending of such magnitude cannot be explained in the same way as promises of immediate tax cuts and a refusal to raise taxes on big business, including corporations. energy, to finance a means of getting through the crisis.
However, it won’t be long before Johnson’s successor has to respond to a wider group of critics. First, their political opponents in Parliament. Then, the general public at the polls.
Inaction amid dire warnings coming in every week could be a terminal mistake that will cost the Tories the next general election. And after more than a decade in power, it would be a big ask for the public to forgive them for sleepwalking into a fit.