Now is the Autumn of our discontent. As the cold weather starts to arrive in Britain, fuel shortages, tax rises, benefits cuts and supply chain problems seem to be coming with it. In the next few months, millions of people will face increased living costs, struggles to put food on the table and a cold home at night. Similarities with the late 1970s are apparent, but the challenges faced by Britain today are in many ways worse. The list of crises and problems seems only to be getting longer, yet our Conservative government does next to nothing. In fact, only last week they were all having a jolly good time at the Tory Party Conference.

The Tip of the Iceberg

Unfortunately, it seems that Britain’s current issues will only get worse. Queues for petrol and empty supermarket shelves already seem fairly dystopian, but as the effects of global warming and post-Brexit economic difficulties become clearer it could turn downright apocalyptic.

Gaby Hinsliff writes in The Guardian:

‘The UK’s petrol crisis is just a taste of a more jittery, uncertain future. The shortage of tanker drivers has sparked a run on the pumps — and the only question now is what we’ll run out of next’.

The world has already seen the horrific wildfires in Australia and California, and widespread flooding across the UK. Scientists predict that such extreme weather will only become more common as climate change continues. We will need urgent action from our leaders if we are to manage this threat and make the necessary changes to protect people. The same goes for Britain’s economic wellbeing. The cost of living is going up, with record inflation rises and the highest taxes in 70 years. Many working people will be struggling to make ends meet. However, with shortages expected to become more common, and a lack of migrant labour to fill essential supply chain roles, things will almost undoubtedly get worse before they get better. Unsurprisingly, people’s minds are full of worry and trepidation. In a time of crisis, it is the duty of our leaders to help guide us through it. Currently, they are falling well short of that mark.

The Feel-Good Factor 

We are entering an Age of Anxiety. However, as W.H Auden wrote in his poem of the same name, our leaders:

‘Would rather be ruined than changed

We would rather die in our dread

Than climb the cross of the moment

And let our illusions die’.

The leading political strategy is to distract the population and to numb the fear with jokes and triumphalist nationalism. Boris Johnson is the prime example of this. His electoral success is not due to any significant talent, intelligence or genuinely held values. Rather, it is due to making people feel good. His signature buffoonery, gaffes and posh ramblings are designed to relax people and make them feel like everything is okay. When he says he is ‘not worried’ about the current jobs gap and rising prices, he is trying to convince us that we shouldn’t be either. It is a strange dark magic that Johnson possesses where he can make a large part of the electorate believe something which is patently false (Remember that bus?). They believe it not because it is true, but because they want it to be true.

Donald Trump held the same power; the ability to win people over by making them feel better, stronger and more optimistic despite a long list of problems. He was right when he said: ‘I could stand in the middle of Fifth Avenue and shoot somebody, and I wouldn’t lose any voters’. People buy into these politicians with an almost religious, cult-like faith, enabling them to get away with pretty much anything. Sadly, plenty of voters would much rather believe that their leaders are good politicians, doing their best, rather than admit the unpleasant truth.

The same applies to climate change and Brexit, and many other things. It is too scary to see a crisis for what it is. We’d all much rather have a giggle at Boris’ funny haircut. The result is that as a society, a great many of us exist in a strange and dangerous daze, half-asleep, pretending everything is okay because real life is too frightening. It’s why we keep supporting politicians who reaffirm this — because we’re not ready to confront facts. The truth is that our politicians and our media have led us sleepwalking into this present mess. The past decade or so has been spent with our heads in the sand, believing feel-good politicians when they say that these inevitable problems will go away. It’s about time we woke up and smelt the bitter coffee.

Fiddling whilst Rome Burns 

There is no greater example of the out-of-touch optimism of the government than this year’s Conservative Party Conference. The day was full of selfies, dancing, and Boris Johnson’s relentless boosterism and optimism.

Perhaps the most striking image of all was Secretary of State for Work and Pensions, Thérèse Coffey, singing along to ‘I’ve Had The Time of My LIfe’ just hours after cutting £20 from Universal Credit. As 5.5 million families woke up to £1,040 less a year, the Tories were enjoying a karaoke session. When journalist Owen Jones confronted Culture Secretary Nadine Dorries on this, she responded with: ‘nobody’ will be worse off. A more honest answer, according to the Joseph Rowntree Foundation, is that it will plunge 500,000 people (including 200,000 children) into poverty.

The Conservative Party’s callousness, cruelty and lack of care cannot be emphasised enough. It is a party that is out of touch and determined to stay in power by keeping the electorate dazed and distracted. Millions of people are going to be faced with misery this winter, but the Tories will keep singing, dancing and laughing.

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