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Opinion

With Westminster is in turmoil, who is left to govern?

Harold Wilson once said a week is a long time in politics. But even he would struggle to keep up with the goings-on in our disintegrating government.

10 downing st, general election

Photo: Sergeant Tom Robinson RLC / defenceimagery.mod.uk

Remember the start of this week? All that way back then? Remember when some commentators decided that everything was ‘febrile’? The atmosphere in Westminster, in Number 10, among backbenchers. Everywhere was febrile. A trip to the shops? Febrile! 

Junior ministers were resigning with such frequency that if nobody chucked it for 20 minutes we felt a bit lost.

When Andrew Murrison went, many people suddenly learned that there had been a parliamentary trade envoy to Morocco. Though, to paraphrase Noel Gallagher, Murrison’s departure was hardly Paul McCartney quitting The Beatles. 

Things are moving so quickly, who knows who will be in charge by next week. Maybe it’ll be you? Maybe you’re getting to be chancellor. Or the bloke in my local Tesco who calls everybody Buddy. Maybe Nadine Dorries will be PM. Or Keir Starmer has found a way in. Though I’d give Big Zuu a go. He has a plan, and he has heart. 

That might not be at the core of the current collapse, but it’s a big issue. That is, the thought that it would be useful to have ideas and plans and a way forward. When The Big Issue interviewed Michael Gove a couple of weeks ago a lot was covered, from levelling up to a punt at leadership. Gove was clear – there’s a big canvas, he said, and he had plans for it all. How quickly things change. 

Because while the machinations of parliament are fun to follow, there is a nation to govern. I realise this sounds like the teacher who says you can have some fun, of course you can, but you need to get that coursework in too! 

The reality is not so much staring us in the face as throwing a bucket of cold water over us and barking. People are not striking because they are on the pig’s back. The Resolution Foundation released data last week to show how far behind other advanced nations British wages have fallen in the last 15 years.

Some parliamentarians might bluster and say that Britain is great and use the old saw about the fifth largest economy in the world. But Britain’s average wages are 10 per cent behind France. They are 19 per cent behind Germany. Ireland has leapt ahead.

The damage done by the miserable, shameful experiment of austerity continues to be felt. One positive at present is that the shirkers/strivers split that George Osborne happily introduced into national discourse is on the way out. Maybe because now we really are all in it together. There is backing for strikers’ aims because they are understood and commonly felt. That would not have been the case five years ago. Though it’s clearly not the optimum way for such community feeling to rise. 

Back to the plans. Where are they? At present the really interesting progressive policy thinking, among all the national and devolved administrations, is coming from Cardiff. They are trying things around Universal Basic Income, coming up with useful plans for renters and there are now creative infrastructure initiatives based on the idea that how future generations will live must be considered. At The Big Issue, we’re always going to second that emotion.  

As Westminster continues to eat itself, it could do worse than look west to Mark Drakeford. Though, given the speed of change, by the time you read this he might be prime minister. 

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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