There is an old analogy, which like most old analogies, is a bad one. It is the idea that if you drop a live frog into boiling water it will immediately react and try to escape the pan – but if you put it in a pan of cold water and slowly heat it up, the frog will sit placidly in the water until it boils to death.
It’s a good story, but it’s simply not true – frogs, it turns out, will simply jump out once the water is too hot to bear. Sadly, it turns out that humans are much less clever than frogs. The country has been boiling for 13 years, and we’re still just sitting here simmering.
The days of the coalition government feel, by present standards, almost like politics-as-usual – and they certainly tried to present as such at the time, but the public service cuts made over those five years were far larger than anything done under Margaret Thatcher, and hollowed out the public sector, destroying its resilience against what would come next.
What followed was years of chaos and division under Theresa May, followed by years of chaos and incompetence with a constant torrent of scandal and allegations of corrupt practices under Boris Johnson.
May had enables a breakdown of the usual order through her total inability to command a parliamentary majority. Johnson accelerated that change through the hiring of a chief of staff, Dominic Cummings, who cared even less for norms than he did – the relentless drumbeat of prorogation, ethics scandals, and failed cover-ups served as the numbing percussive heartbeat of the administration.
After the brief interlude of Trussism, Rishi Sunak was supposed to be a return to boring normality. But in the same way that remain-voting Theresa May had to be more Brexit-y than the Brexiteers to get any credibility, Sunak – who seems to believe in nothing other than his own advancement – will throw away the farm to do what he thinks his backbenchers or voters might want.
The full litany of chaos is too long and too depressing to list, but even a non-exhaustive recounting of the actual events of the last few weeks speaks to the chaos, short-termism and complete lack of decency at the heart of government. In recent weeks:
- Standing behind a podium with the slogan “Long-term decisions for a brighter future”, Rishi Sunak watered down the UK’s net zero obligations, reversing commitments he had told business just months previously were set in stone – delaying progress on climate change and business investment alike.
- Transport secretary Mark Harper used his conference speech to indulge a conspiratorial movement which believes “15-minute cities” – a local planning concept designed to encourage local communities with good amenities – are in reality a plan to turn towns into eco-jails.
- London mayoral candidate Susan Hall baselessly claimed that Jews in London were “fearful” because of Sadiq Khan. After a barrage of criticism, including from Jewish groups, Hall doubled down on her insult, offensively claiming her dog-whistling was standing up for Jews.
- As a conference in which multiple speakers have claimed to be standing up against “woke” ideas in favour of free speech, an elected Conservative London assembly member was ejected from the conference hall.
- The heroes of the Conservative Party conference are Liz Truss – who signed a copy of her mini-budget, which cost the UK billions in borrowing headroom – and Nigel Farage, whose return to the party was not ruled out by Rishi Sunak.
- Suella Braverman was allowed to launch an attack on her own government’s policies from the USA, before launching a tirade against a “hurricane” of immigration at conference. Immigration’s current record high is caused primarily by economic immigration to fill skills gaps in the workforce.
- Rishi Sunak managed to have his Manchester conference dominated by whether or not he would cancel a long-promised and sorely needed HS2 extension to the city. As currently reported, the train will now run to London – which is notably in the south – and actually reduce capacity on the West Coast main line, which was what the whole project was designed to alleviate.
- Housing minister Rachel Maclean said something so stupid and offensive that it’s worth quoting directly as otherwise it seems unbelievable: “There are plenty of young people who are in the private rented sector who are not weed-smoking bad people, in gangs and crack dens and everything else and smashing up the neighbourhood.”
I’m ending the list here not because I’ve run out of things to put on there, but rather because it’s just too depressing to keep on typing – and there’s only so long this article should get.
What matters is that we don’t let ourselves stop noticing what’s happening just because it’s all so grim. The simple truth behind the chaos is that this is government that has no interest in running the country well, or even in acting with any basic decency – it is a government whose core principles are self-preservation and advancement at any cost.
It is a government that in its destructive short-termism makes Johnson look like an enlightened ruler. That it is even possible to type that sentence shows how far we have fallen.
Still, it is only Wednesday, so who knows how much further we have to go just this week.