Opinion

Even the cats on the street know a storm is coming, yet the leadership circus goes on

Rishi Sunak and Liz Truss continue to outdo themselves with increasingly ridiculous pledges, when they should be focusing their energies on the catastrophic hardships we face

If the black cats were trying to send me an omen, their message was unclear Image: Adél Gröber on Unsplash

Last week I came across three black cats. I was out for a walk and as I turned a corner that butted onto the yard of a farmhouse, there they were. Three in a row, all staring at me. I walked away, and they followed. I stopped and they stopped. And then we all realised we had places to be and went our separate ways.

I’m not superstitious. Not really. But being Irish I hold what some believe to be irrational ideas. Or, what I like to think of as rational ideas. I won’t cut down a hawthorn bush. So frequently have I told my children that raised ground in the middle of a field with trees growing on it is a fairy hill, that they as young adults have come to accept it as a settled truth. Years ago, my grandfather told me he had once heard the banshee wail, and I’ve kept an ear cocked on dark nights ever since. That my grandfather may have had a drink is neither here nor there.

Blacks cats as lucky or not remains more uncertain. So I asked around. Some people saw the three of them as a lucky sign. Some thought it less so. If the cats were sending a message, the future they were signalling is unclear.

Yet there is as much certainty and clarity, and forgive the Madeley-esque gear change, in the cat symbolism as in that offered by the candidates in the final, tiring weeks of the race for Number 10. And my straw poll has indicated there is also much more interest in deciphering what black cats could mean than in plotting the end of the leadership race.

Liz Truss and Rishi Sunak appear to be at the monkey tennis stage of their campaigns. And it perhaps offers more of a true version of them than they’d care to admit. 

In recent days Liz Truss, after big claims about international deals and diplomacy, has blithely said she thought it best to ignore “attention seeker” Nicola Sturgeon. She may be playing to a percentage of potential voters in the membership quorum who think uppity Scots should know their place, but it’s a very costly remark. And if she wins and maintains her hardline approach towards the democratically elected leader of a bordering nation, that cost will only accrue interest. 

Her idea to seek different (lower) levels of pay for those public sector workers outside of London was met with such anger she had to immediately backtrack, with her team blaming pesky observers for misrepresenting what she said. Which is a curiously Johnsonian tactic and one that, again, doesn’t show a lot of broad future planning.

Rishi Sunak, meanwhile, wants to identify people who “vilify” Britain as extremists and send them on a deradicalisation programme. So far, so Cultural Revolution. Sunak isn’t a fool, so why is he hustling with this? It’s such a woolly, ill-conceived idea that it would be laughable if it, again, didn’t present an uncomfortable image of the future. What would he have done when the Sex Pistols released Anarchy in The UK? Will he intensify the hunt for Banksy? Would people annoyed that their bus is late who scoff “this country” be reported to the authorities? 

And why are the putative PMs playing playground politics when the crisis of domestic energy bills and crippling costs is hammering towards us all. At The Big Issue we’re backing Gordon Brown’s call for an emergency budget to plot a path to help the population. The time for action, not trite culture war soundbites, is here.

Everybody, even the cats on the street, can see what is coming.

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

This article is taken from The Big Issue magazine, which exists to give homeless, long-term unemployed and marginalised people the opportunity to earn an income.

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