We live in a strange time. When the bulk of the members of the Conservative Party have stopped believing in conserving the status quo and have become fanatics for change. Whilst the leadership of the Labour Party disciplines any minister who chooses to speak out for organised labour on a picket line.
Chaos with the Conservatives
For the vast bulk of its history the Conservative Party has prided itself on being the voice of stability. Now it is presiding over chaos. It used to be a party that was very suspicious of ideology and thought that radical change was a risky business that was best avoided. Now it has become dominated by believers in theories about the small state, a brave new dawn of radical free enterprise and the magical transformational qualities of Brexit.
The consequences of their obsessions are beginning to be all too clear. The cost of living is rising at an alarming rate. Prices are already going up by 9% a year and that rate of increase is expected to rise to 13%. Yet anyone who asks for a pay rise to compensate is accused of being irresponsible.
Apparently, the party that claims to speak up for family values expects people supporting families to struggle to put food on the table for that family or to provide them with a warm dry and secure home. People who have worked flat out all week are being forced to visit food banks that are inundated by customers who have no idea how they are going to pay the winter fuel bills.
Perfect storm of problems
Public services are buckling under the strain of rapid rises in costs that are accompanied by tiny increases in income. Simple things like finding a dentist for a child that has acute tooth ache have become a challenge. Services that used to be reliable no longer function. Getting a doctor’s appointment, finding and affording a care home for an elderly relative, seeking a first home in the place where you grew up, or being able to depend on affordable public transport, have all become difficult.
It isn’t even possible to travel out of the country without worrying about what you will encounter. Queues of lorries sit for hours outside Dover burning fossil fuels that the drivers can’t afford to buy. Airports can’t handle luggage or process passports efficiently. Companies trying to sell to our biggest market are struggling with paperwork and losing sales as their costs rise.
The country is facing a perfect storm of problems. A wave of strikes has started. School teachers, nurses, police and care workers are already struggling after a decade of real terms pay cuts and are about to be hit with harsh rises to their mortgages. The country faces the largest reduction in its standard of living since the end of the Second World War.
What happened to Brexit’s sunlit uplands?
All of which is not what we were promised.
We were told that anyone who questioned the theory that leaving the EU would take us into sunny uplands was peddling project fear. There was going to be new money for the NHS. Farmers and fishing communities were going to experience wonderful new opportunities. Businesses were going to trade with ease across the world.
We were supposed to be successfully striking out on our own because we were the fifth-largest economy in the world. We weren’t supposed to be bumping along the bottom as problems surprised and overwhelmed a government that simply didn’t believe they could occur.
Astonishingly there is now no one in a senior leadership role in either of the two main political parties who is allowed to say that some of this chaos might just possibly be the product of daft ideas like Brexit. We are supposed to meekly accept that nothing can be done to change the outcome of a narrow vote held six years ago that was won on the basis of politicians promises that have turned out to be completely false.
At no point was the British public given a chance to have its say at the ballot box on whether it approved of the actual Brexit deal. Never were we asked whether we wanted to leave the single market, experience severe staff shortages in essential services, lose the right to travel easily in Europe or watch as regulations that protect us are torn up.
Brexit decline worse than expected
Unlike a lot of people who argued for Remain I never believed that Brexit would result in a sudden sharp shock. I thought it would result in a long slow decline as we gradually lost market share. I worried that it would make international collaboration weaker at a time when we needed it to be stronger. I believed that it would result in extra competition and loss of markets for farmers and weaker collective research and development in science.
I was wrong. The post Brexit decline has not proved to be slow and steady. It has been rapid and is gathering pace. There is a reason all those traditional Conservatives had strong suspicions of radical change and extremist theories. Sometimes theory loses contact with reality and the theorists keep repeating their mantras and doubling down on their false beliefs regardless of the facts.
Brexit isn’t the sole cause of the chaos that Britain faces. But the ideology that sits behind it is responsible for a remarkable degree of the chaos we face.
Society is important
During lockdown we all learned the value of looking out for each other and of building strong and stable communities. Radical right theorists have spent recent decades trying to convince us of the opposite. They told us there was no such thing as society and that we must rely on the hidden hand of the market to guide our decision-making.
It now turns out that society is actually rather important. And that radical right political theorists have put it at severe risk. We are all about to pay a very high price for their fanatical pursuit of a false cause. Unless, of course, we can get rid of a government that has become dominated by a very narrow faction of extremists and start work on conserving some of the things that really matter about this country.
Like tolerance. Like open minds. Like decent living wages. Like affordable housing. Or like having a government that actually tells the truth more often than it lies.