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Politics

As the energy price cap is announced, where is the government? We investigate

As a shocking rise in the energy price cap is announced, the government appears to have taken “summer recess” in its most literal sense.

Great Britain’s centuries-old political system has lots of fun quirks. Black Rod, the Queen’s speech and, more recently, media figures shaming politicians into preventing people from starving or freezing to death.

In most ordinary countries, rampant inflation, a collapsing health service, energy bills pushing millions into poverty, food banks running out of food, drought, mass strike action and water companies pouring literal human waste into our waterways would probably inspire those elected to govern, to govern. 

But over here of course, we do things differently. As Ofgem announced a devastating increase in the energy price cap, which will take the average household bill to £3,549 a year and push millions into abject poverty, the government’s intervention has been the equivalent of a tumbleweed rolling across our drought-ridden land. 

With no minister put forward to defend or even assuage fears about the price cap and a spiralling cost of living crisis on morning broadcast rounds, money saving expert Martin Lewis was called on again to be the voice of reason and reassurance for millions of families.

So we decided to investigate: where is the government, actually? 

Boris Johnson: Out of office

If an alien landed in the UK this month, you’d forgive them for thinking Mick Lynch or Martin Lewis was the current prime minister.

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Instead we’re still somehow lumbered with Boris Johnson, a man who, true to his colours, has decided to go on a worldwide sulking tour after being ousted from Downing Street by his own party.

In the last month, Johnson has been holidaying in Slovenia and Greece while the country – literally – burned at home.

This week, he flew to Ukraine to mark six months since the Russian invasion, telling people struggling with hardship at home to basically get on with it.

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“We’re paying higher bills – Ukraine is paying in blood”, the PM commented, continuing to ignore the fact that economists had warned of rising energy bills months before Russia invaded Ukraine. He has declined to announce any further help for households.

Johnson did resurface hours after the announcement on Friday to say help would be coming, though not until September, which suggests it won’t be on his watch.

The outgoing PM said: “There’s a pipeline of cash coming through over the next few months and through the autumn and the winter.

“But that is clearly now going to be augmented, increased, by extra cash that the government is plainly going to be announcing in September.”

Now back in the UK, reports suggest that Johnson plans to see out the last week of his premiership “working from home” at Chequers. If his “work” this summer has been anything to go by, Johnson’s out of office message is probably already on.

Dominic Raab: Working hard – to remove human rights

While Boris Johnson jetted off on back-to-back holidays, Number 10 insisted that the government was carrying on its hard work with Dominic Raab deputising for the PM. 

To their credit, Raab does appear to have been working hard. Not at helping ease the burden of the cost of living, admittedly, but attacking barristers for striking over pay and making plans to erode our human rights.

This week, UN experts wrote to the deputy PM warning that his proposed Bill of Rights to reform UK laws around human rights will undermine “the enjoyment of human rights” in the UK. Raab responded by saying their criticisms were “flawed”. 

And where was Raab as the price cap was announced this morning? Retweeting support for Rishi Sunak’s leadership campaign. 

Nadhim Zahawi: Exploring ‘all options’, apparently 

As the Bank of England announced its biggest rise in interest rates for 27 years at the start of this month, Chancellor Nadhim Zahawi was enjoying a holiday abroad with his family where he was, apparently, continuing to work. 

Defending his trip away, Zahawi said: “For me… there is no such thing as a holiday and not working. 

“I never had that in the private sector, not in government. Ask any entrepreneur and they can tell you that.”

The same logic, of course, does not apply to civil servants. 

As the price cap was announced today, Zahawi was one of few ministers to speak publicly about the situation.

Zahawi told Sky News he is exploring “all options” to mitigate the impact, and assured the public that “more help is on its way”, though he couldn’t be clear on exactly what help that would be. Probably because he’s unlikely to be in the job in a week.

Liz Truss: Announcing the vaguest possible policies

With the real prime minister having checked out long before his notice period is up, let’s check in on the frontrunner for the next PM.

If elected, Liz Truss has an enormous challenge ahead as energy bills rocket to unaffordable levels in October. So what’s her plan? Well, she can’t really say yet.

“It isn’t right to announce my chancellor’s plan in August, before I have even won the leadership contest or seen all the analysis being prepared in Whitehall. Under my leadership, we will work flat out to deliver energy affordability and security,” Truss wrote in the Daily Mail on Thursday.

The Resolution Foundation decided to look at the effect what little Truss has proposed may have on people’s disposable income. Of the details put forward by Truss, fellow contender to be prime minister Rishi Sunak, and long-term hopeful Keir Starmer, her plans would benefit the richest, not the poor.

Rishi Sunak: Descending into Covid conspiracy 

It would be hard to count on both hands the number of urgent social crises the new PM will face when they take office in September. 

The only problem the contenders should be facing is which issue to grapple with: the NHS? The broken welfare and asylum system? Rampant inequality? 

Naturally, Sunak has chosen the most pressing target: scientists during the pandemic, he said at a recent hustings.

On the eve of the energy bill announcement, Sunak tweeted the kind of no nonsense policy decision households had been waiting for: “I will never let political correctness stand in the way of keeping you and your family safe.”

When he inevitably loses the leadership contest, I’m sure we can all look forward to Sunak’s appearance as Rishi_5Ghoax_Sunak on Telegram. 

Big Futures
Big Futures is calling on the Government to put in place a plan and policies to break this cycle of poverty for good. We are calling for long-term solutions to meet the biggest issues faced in the UK today – the housing crisis, low wages and the climate crisis. Dealing with these issues will help the UK to protect the environmental, social, economic and cultural wellbeing of future generations. So that young people and future generations have a fair shot at life. Join us and demand a better future.

Greg Hands: In New Mexico… 

The date for Ofgem’s price cap announcement had been set for some time, which is, of course, why the minister for energy, Greg Hands, decided to be in New Mexico on the very same day. 

“Great to visit Los Alamos National Laboratory, here in New Mexico,” he tweeted. “The UK is having a nuclear renaissance, and that means more cooperation with the USA. Nowhere epitomises nuclear cooperation better than here. Useful discussions on fusion & non-nuclear technologies.”

This was shortly followed by a retweeted video of a police officer catching a thief. Since then, Hands has said nothing about the price cap.

Kwasi Kwarteng: Recycling old policies 

Credit where credit’s due: Kwasi Kwarteng, secretary of state for business, energy and industrial strategy (and tipped to be the next chancellor), appears to be the only government member who has actually taken a meeting in the last two months.

A report in The Times suggested Kwarteng has been in discussions with energy bosses about potentially freezing energy bills at their current levels, though “sources close to Kwarteng” played down the significance of the meeting.

Did Kwarteng have any words of support for the millions facing destitution over the price cap increase? Don’t be silly.

Instead he retweeted a government advertisement for the energy support scheme which was already announced months prior and has been deemed insufficient for helping the poorest through the crisis.

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