Our nearest neighbour, and frequently best friend, is heading for a catastrophe. We’re facing tough and difficult times ourselves — and I certainly don’t want to understate that. But I can foresee a day, not too far away, when we may have to provide shelter and sustenance to our neighbour’s children.
Things have got so bad in their house that children are going to go hungry, malnutrition may even become a feature of life, and some of them may die of the cold. It can surely only be a matter of time before they’ll start piling into emigrant boats to try to find a safer haven with us.
It's the United Kingdom I’m talking about, not an actual next-door neighbour. They’re facing imminent disaster.
For years I worked for the children’s charity Barnardos, which was actually founded in London in Victorian times. The founder Thomas Barnardo was a young Dubliner who was studying to be a Far East missionary when he started one of the so-called “ragged schools” which were trying to educate destitute children. According to legend, it was there he met a boy called Jim Jarvis who offered to show him where all the destitute children lived.
Many of them slept on the rooftops, to try to take advantage of whatever heat came up from the fireplaces below. That was what inspired Barnardo to open the first of his “homes” to take children off the streets and to provide them with a rudimentary education.
Two days after the first home was declared full, another young boy who had been turned away was found frozen to death in a barrel where he was trying to shelter. From that moment on Barnardo’s maxim was that he would never turn any child away.
Of course, the UK has moved a long way from those bitter times. There are safety nets now, a national health service, social services dedicated to protecting children, a strong and wealthy economy that has been developed on the basis of fair distribution, and a classless society where no-one has the right to claim privilege. No child in the UK can be threatened by hunger, cold, or homelessness now.
If only it were so. The entire UK is heading for an economic and social calamity of the sort it hasn’t seen for 30 years or more. Children will go hungry in their thousands this winter, and families will suffer cold and hardship. In one of the world’s rich countries.
And while it’s happening, what is laughingly referred to as its government is fast asleep at the wheel.
It may be hard to imagine anything worse than a Prime Minister who was a charlatan, a pathological liar, and a complete chancer. But Britain is facing disaster right now, and its acting or former or caretaker Prime Minister — whatever you call him — has made it clear by his indolence that he couldn’t care less.
He’s carrying on like a big lump of a spoiled child while his country is heading closer and closer to the whirlpool swirling around the opening of the drain. The monster he created — Brexit, the greatest self-inflicted wound in any country’s recent history — is eating his country’s economy bite by bite. Since the days when (allegedly!) Nero fiddled when Rome burned, there hasn’t been a spectacle quite like it.
And to make matters worse, the race to succeed him is like some mad crazy kid’s comic, with two characters who inhabit a complete fantasy world a million miles away from the country they claim they want to govern. It’s impossible to tell the difference between them, apart from the fact that one is blond and vacant looking, and the other isn’t blond.
This pair is trying to appeal to a tiny and highly privileged audience. Thirty-eight out of every 40 people in Britain will have no say in who the next Leader of the Tory Party is. Two out of every 40 people will.
The average age of that audience is mid-50s, the average colour is pure white, and the average class is halfway between middle and upper middle. They own their own homes, their children are educated, and their biggest problem is the way mooring charges for their boats or paddock fees for their ponies have increased.
Presumably, modern politics being the way it is, this tiny elite audience has been polled and studied and analysed till the cows come home. This presumably explains why the two cartoon characters campaigning for the top job are vying with each other over who can deliver the biggest tax cuts and who can be the toughest on immigration.
One of them, who seems to believe she’s Margaret Thatcher’s natural successor, has even told the cost-of-living crisis is “lowering the tax burden, not giving out handouts”. So if you’re too poor to pay tax in Liz Truss’s Britain, that’s too bad, right?that her way of dealing with the
All this is happening at a time when the Bank of England (no wild-eyed lefties there) are predicting a prolonged recession, with inflation rising to 13% in the autumn. And there have been authoritative predictions that UK energy bills could reach £3,600 (€4,200) in the winter.
According to last Sunday’s, 4 million UK households (no Tory party members among them!) will spend a quarter of their disposable income on energy bills this year.
Nothing like that has ever faced the UK before, and its current leadership is incapable, in every fibre of its being, of telling the truth. Its current Prime Minister, who insisted he had to stay on because of the war in Ukraine and the economic challenges facing his country, is now, a few weeks before he leaves office, on a week’s holiday. It’s so callous, feckless, and irresponsible that it’s beyond satire.
As I said at the start, I don’t want to underestimate the challenges we’re going to face ourselves. There is no reason to believe our cost-of-living crisis won’t make people suffer this winter, even more than they are suffering now. In fact, the Tory leadership election could be one of the contributory factors to a crisis-driven winter for us, because of the stances the two candidates have taken on the Northern Ireland protocol.
But at least here, we have a government we can make accountable. Whether we like them or not, most of us see our government as hard-working, committed, and doing its best to get things right.
We’ll throw them out at the first opportunity, of course, to keep manners on them. But we’d rather have them in a crisis than any possible permutation of Johnson, Truss, or Rishi Sunak.
The phrase “lions led by donkeys” was coined to describe British soldiers in the First World War, who died in their thousands because of the fools who led them. When you look at Johnson and the race to succeed him, you can’t really deploy that phrase again. It’s too insulting to donkeys.