A tale of two Elizabeths

Look here upon this picture, and on this….

William Shakespeare, HamleT, Act III, Scene iv

As far as I know – and I’m sure my readers will correct me if I’m wrong – the last official act of the late Queen Elizabeth II was to inaugurate the premiership of Liz Truss. At the time of writing – and again, this might change – Liz Truss is the Prime Minister of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland, wherever the hell that is, and God help us all.

What have we seen, since the last Labour government? A glossy but insubstantial Old Etonian, who, having narrowly dodged a bullet with the Scottish independence referendum, concluded he was impervious to bullets, and went ahead with the Brexit referendum, which he lost. Remember when people were saying David Cameron was the worst Prime Minister since Lord North? Read on.

He was replaced by Theresa May, who was supposed to be a safe pair of hands, and at least appeared to be an actual Conservative. But it turned out that she was a poor judge both of the mood of the country (she lost her majority when she called a general election) but also of her party, which she seemed unable to control.

Therefore her party (not her country) ditched her in favour of Boris Johnson, a spineless pathological liar with no clear vision for the nation beyond the notion that he ought to be Prime Minister of it. His flaws were ruthlessly exposed by the pandemic, although sooner or later they would have been apparent in any case, and so Boris had to go.

So then the membership of the Conservative Party, in their decidedly finite wisdom, decided to replace him with a Margaret Thatcher blow-up doll in the form of Liz Truss. She does, it’s true, have a vision for the nation; the problem is, it is a crass poor-man’s-Ayn-Rand kind of vision which has only a passing resemblance to reality on the ground.

If someone had said in 2016 that one day we would look back on the Cameron years as a golden age of statesmanship they would have been laughed to scorn. Frankly, these days Lord North is starting to look pretty good. There’s talk now of another leadership election to replace Truss. I can’t help imagining three toffs in a locked room choosing their favourite Pokémon: that’s the level we are at now.

The real worry, though, is what happens when – as seems inevitable at this point – the Labour Party wins a majority at the next general election. Sir Keir Starmer QC (a.k.a. the worker’s friend) will have managed this by much the same means as Tony Blair in 1997 – “Vote for us! We aren’t the Tories!” The problem is that as far as I can tell the Labour Party hasn’t the slightest clue what to do with power, assuming they achieve it.

That isn’t due to a shortage of useful policies they could in theory pursue. What is lacking – and lacking in spades – is any realistic awareness of the nature of the multiple crises Britain is now facing. Yes, there are issues around the distribution of wealth, but there are also issues around the fact that there is less wealth than there used to be, and indeed there is likely to be even less wealth going forward.

Liz Truss does at least have a coherent response to this situation: “Let’s give all the remaining wealth to the rich people!” The problem is that she is going to have trouble selling this to the non-rich people, who, inconveniently, form a majority of the electorate. Labour may be able to extract some mileage in the short term from a policy of distributing some of the remaining wealth amongst the non-rich people, but ultimately this is going to founder on the rock called: THERE AIN’T NO MORE WEALTH. SORRY.

Because the supply of wealth is indeed finite. You can have rich people pay no tax at all, and that fact will still be true. It doesn’t matter how intensely you may be relaxed about it, for most people it won’t be even slightly helpful. Material wealth, in an industrial economy, depends on access to cheap fossil fuels, and that access is going away. You could make Noel Edmonds or indeed Kermit the Frog Prime Minister and that would still be the case. (The way British politics is going, I wouldn’t rule either of those contingencies out.)

Labour’s answer seems to be to try and emulate Germany’s famous Energiwende, just at the moment when its inadequacies are being so cruelly exposed by that nasty Mr Putin. But even in a world unpolluted by nasty Mr Putin, those inadequacies would be exposed soon enough. The unpalatable truth is that there is no good substitute for that sweet, sweet crude. Hence the incipient collapse of Germany’s industrial base, and by extension everything that depends on that.

Maybe the incoming Labour government will be an improvement on what we have now. It’s hard to imagine it could be much worse, but then we used to think that whatever came after David Cameron would necessarily be less awful. The point, however, is that it will not make the bad things go away – and no, blaming the bad things on the previous administration does not make them go away, even if the blame is justified.

It may well turn out to be the case that HM Elizabeth II’s demise was a mercy, in that it spared her the much, much worse that is to come. One can only feel sorry for her unfortunate heir, who will have to preside over all that – and indeed for his heirs and successors, whoever they may be. One thing’s for certain: it’s all downhill from here.

Comments are welcome, but I do pre-moderate them to make sure they comply with the house rules.

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