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Opinion

This caretaker government shouldn’t be sheltering from the storm

Our leaders have gone into hiding, which is no big surprise given the legacy of harm they are leaving behind for others to fix

There was a large cellar underneath my school. It was the place where the heating pipes ran and old chairs and desks were thrown. Now and again pupils would find an open door and duck in for a smoke. Mostly, though, it was where we knew the caretakers went when they didn’t want to be found. Who knows what they were doing. They were down there a lot.

The current Westminster government claim to be a caretaker administration, present until Boris Johnson sails into the sunset. And they’re showing it. Without any further plan, they’re hunched up in the cellar shifting around desks that nobody is using, avoiding difficult questions about what they’re doing. Priti Patel, so proud so recently of her Rwanda flights policy, “declined” to face the Home Affairs Committee, a cross-party group of MPs set up to ask questions of the Home Office, about that policy. That is one way to avoid getting your homework marked. It felt very indicative of an administration who make much of personal responsibility but refuse to take any.

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Boris Johnson was not a good prime minister. Even his loyal Chancellor Rishi Sunak said he was resigning because government wasn’t being conducted “properly, competently or seriously”. If only he’d been in some position to do something about that…

There are things Boris Johnson set in motion that will impact long after he’s gone. That’s not a positive affirmation. Leading Britain the way he did helped cement the SNP’s position in Scotland and could yet herald independence. And the dangerous impact of his casual approach to the truth around the Northern Ireland protocol has not played out yet. By showing two faces but claiming them as one in order to do absolutely anything to push home his Brexit deal, Johnson has made the protocol a politicised, divisive badge in Northern Ireland. 

It is worth always remembering Johnson established the protocol, made much of its benefits, then blamed others for its faults when he needed to change it. By arguing against the protocol as some sort of EU/Irish government stitch-up, he has, without concern, now set communities in Northern Ireland against each other. This will not end positively.

Recent figures show 3.9 million children are living in poverty in the UK. This is down a little on previous stats – it’s believed the £20 uplift in Universal Credit during Covid helped bring the numbers down. But as that UC rise has since been slashed, and as the cost of living crunches and energy prices look set to soar, there is a dark inevitability of child poverty numbers rising in coming months. At the time of writing I hadn’t heard a single putative PM vying for Johnson’s job explain their plans to deal with this. Or indeed anything beyond plans for taxation. And strange references to Paul McCartney at Glastonbury.

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Maybe that is closer to where more truth lies. We need to beware of people offering easily packaged solutions and spend more time with musicians and older seers asking bigger questions. 

Bob Dylan has just announced a new European tour. He’s been out on the road for 60 years, looking for
something, challenging everything, promising nothing. He changed the world, changed millions of lives and, despite it all, never claimed to be anything. He never hid in the cellar. 

Paul McNamee is editor of The Big IssueRead more of his columns here. Follow him on Twitter

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