Several years ago, I randomly won a prize when buying some bottles of lager: a glass chalice that the brewery would engrave with an inscription of my choice. I thought it would be amusing to choose a phrase that gently mocked the constant reminders that accompanied every beer advert, so I asked for my engraving to read: “Please drink irresponsibly”.
Several weeks passed and no chalice arrived. Finally, I received a letter from the brewing company. I shan’t name the company, but let’s just say that their beer is not expensive, reassuringly or otherwise. The letter was a long, patronising and sanctimonious explanation for why they could not possibly be associated with the disgraceful inscription I had asked for, and that they took their societal responsibilities concerning alcohol very seriously.
Huh, I thought. I just wanted a mildly amusing beer glass. You’re the ones selling millions of pints of cheap falling-down juice on a daily basis. If you’re so worried about alcohol consumption, maybe stop flogging low-priced kegs of beer to the local Firkin and Fightstarter.
Do as we say, not as we do
And so to the Conservative government. We are regularly reminded by Tory ministers that we should all be responsible for wearing face masks in indoor spaces to prevent covid transmission. Meanwhile, the government has removed all requirements to do so, and their entire coterie of MPs sits in the House of Commons bare-faced. Guys – if you didn’t want covid to spread, maybe you shouldn’t have gone with a policy of herd immunity? Maybe you shouldn’t have kept all the borders open and discharged covid patients into care homes?
Sajid Javid justified Tory MPs not wearing masks in the chamber because “they’re not strangers”, which is an unusual interpretation of how airborne virus transmission works. Lucky he’s not the health secretary, eh? Oh.
On the bright side, Strictly Come Dancing is back again! It will be spreading joy once more, though with stories of vaccine refuseniks amongst the professionals, it may also be spreading covid. Still, the line-up is looking good. I wonder if they’ll consider doing a celebrity version this year. I’m kidding, I’m kidding! I’d actually heard of one of them this time.
But with ‘only’ a thousand people a week dying of covid, what better time to announce the government’s latest job creation scheme: a cabinet reshuffle. Inspired by the success of the Afghanistan mission – replacing the Taliban with the Taliban – Boris Johnson has done the same with the cabinet. It’s less of a reshuffle and more a case of juggling a load of balls. Still, it’ll make a change to let some different ministers get their snouts in the trough.
There was no surprise as Gavin Williamson was finally relieved of his position as education secretary: not so much a downfall as a clownfall. It is worth remembering that Williamson hasn’t been the worst education secretary of recent years. Sure, he caused chaos and was no good at his job, but at least he didn’t deliberately try to break everything, unlike Michael Gove. Speaking of whom, here he comes again, ready to start bustin’ some moves at the newly rechristened Department for Levelling Communities (I may have misremembered that one).
Rumours that Gove was going to be appearing on Strictly proved unfounded, despite demonstrating his prowess in the commercial/street dance genre. Matt Hancock was also in the frame but producers decided his raw animal magnetism would be too much for any of the female professionals. There have been quite enough marriage breakups already.
As the reshuffle continued, Dominic Raab was lined up to be sacked from his position as foreign secretary but refused to go anywhere. He did much the same thing when Kabul was about to fall. Eventually, Raab agreed to relinquish the role in exchange for being made deputy prime minister, only to then get into an argument over who should have use of the grace-and-favour mansion at Chevening: himself or new foreign secretary Liz Truss. Honestly, why not let them both have a mansion? Levelling up has to start somewhere.
Unlit uplands beckon
As a special treat to anyone under the age of 60, the government is also suggesting that the UK will soon be going back to imperial weights and measures instead of metric. With supermarket shelves increasingly empty of fresh produce, we’ll soon be able not to buy our fruit and veg in pounds and ounces instead of the kilograms we currently can’t buy them in.
And with the country also facing a shortage of gas supplies, energy bills soaring and the majority of energy companies predicted to collapse, it’s clear that Brexit will deliver on at least one of its promises: we’ll soon be in the unlit uplands.
The business secretary, Kwasi Kwarteng, has insisted that there was “no question of the lights going out”, so I’d say it’s probably wise to start stockpiling candles now. Kwarteng told the Commons that there would be no throwback to the 1970s and the three-day week. It was kind of him to remind us that the last time the country experienced energy shortages was also under a Conservative government. Consistency.
Kwarteng went on to say that energy companies would not receive any support. “The government will not be bailing out failed companies. There will be no rewards for failure or mismanagement”, he said, which was a surprise to Gavin Williamson, who has been promised a knighthood for his.
Impact of government decision making
“The taxpayer should not be expected to prop up companies which have poor business models”, continued Kwarteng. Maybe not. And yet, I can’t help but remember that it was the Conservatives who were responsible for thinking that gas and electricity shouldn’t be national utilities and deciding to create a market for energy supplies, with competition primarily based on which company could offer the least customer service in order to make a profit. The Tories were also responsible for deciding to take us out of the European internal energy market as part of Brexit, giving us reduced bargaining power and more precarious supplies.
Maybe at some point the government will take responsibility for its choices and recognise that what UK citizens are experiencing – rising bills, food shortages, benefit cuts, increasing poverty – is a direct consequence of political decisions. Sure, we might be drinking the cheap lager; but the government owns the brewery.