The Twilight Zone of the UK’s Holographic Politics

Photograph Source: UK Prime Minister – OGL 3

The Twilight Zone is an American television series, inaugurated in the 60s but with several subsequent iterations, involving various genres listed as fantasy, science fiction, absurdism, dystopian fiction, suspense, horror, supernatural drama, black comedy, and the psychological thriller.

Most of these genres happen to apply to the current state of UK politics– fantasy, absurdism, dystopian fiction (though dystopian nonfiction is perhaps less of a misnomer where the UK is concerned), horror, and black comedy are likely to feature prominently in any plausible characterization of contemporary Ukanian politics.

The country’s political comedians are experiencing a boom-time not seen since the days of Margaret Thatcher (some may recall she was widely reported to be entirely lacking in a sense of humour, and comedians cashed in on this).

The current prime minister, the ex-Goldman Sachs banker and hedge fund manager, Rishi Sunak, is a shameless plutocrat who is said to be worth £800m/$980.5m. His wife, who is richer than the king, is worth even more.

Britain’s flatlining economy has just entered what the Bank of England says could be the longest recession and steepest fall in living standards on record.

Britain is the only G-7 nation whose GDP is still lower than before the pandemic— no more does it seem like the 6th richest country in the world,   as its economic performance comes to resemble that of an Eastern European country with an emerging economy. Government figures show the following:

+ the Consumer Prices Index (CPI) rose by 11.1% in October, a 41-year high,

+ the UK’s top energy companies are set to make almost $200bn/$245bn in excess profits over the next 2 years. In the same time energy bills are set to rise to their highest levels in 40 years causing a cost of living crisis. Average bills for electricity and home-heating natural gas have doubled in the last year and are expected to rise further in April. The government does nothing about this bare-faced price gouging,

+ the purchasing power of the pound decreased by 13.20% in 2022 compared to 2021, fuelling a resulting rise in import prices,

+ 1 in 6 British households rely on some form of social welfare,

+ almost a third of British children live in poverty,

+ the number of children eligible for government-funded free school meals is just under 25%,

+ 1in 4 households are in financial difficulty or on the verge of it,

+ almost 1 in 10 households have failed to pay bills,

+ in the 12 months to March 2022, 2.1m emergency food parcels were distributed by a continuously expanding web of more than 2,000 food banks — an increase of approximately 1 million from 2014-15, according to the food-bank organizing charity, the Trussell Trust. This need is driven by spiraling food and energy prices (the price of cooking oil and pasta, for example, has risen 60% in the last year), and plunging wages.

+the sharp decline in public services and public sector wages has ensued in months of industrial strikes by train workers, postal workers, London bus drivers, university teachers and staff, paramedics and ambulance drivers, road workers, workers at Heathrow airport, passport and visa staff, courthouse staff, with nurses due to have their first ever strike beginning on 15 December. This has all the makings of a general strike as the winter starts to intensify.

The meretricious Tory government blames the war in Ukraine and the pandemic for causing these problems, without however fooling too many Brits as people realize several other countries have also had to deal with the consequences of the war and the pandemic.

Certainly never mentioned by the Tories in the way of self-exculpation are 12 years of economically-illiterate austerity compounded by the increasingly disastrous Brexit (which takes 4% – £100bn/$122.6bn a year – from GDP and approximately £40bn/S49bn from the UK’s annual tax revenues), both of which have sapped the UK economically and politically and made it incapable of dealing with jolts to the support systems relied on by tens of millions of Britons.

As the Tories sink in the polls, their MPs are starting to jump like rats off the proverbial sinking ship.

Fifteen MPs, including 3 former ministers, have said so far they won’t be contesting the next general election due in 2024.

This number is bound to increase—  Tories since Thatcher have begun to view politics not so much as a form of public service, but rather as a way to embark on lucrative careers in and after their times in office. More Tory MPs will be seeking “opportunities” outside parliament as the voting-booth guillotines start to loom for them.

In the meantime the remaining Tory MPs engage in internecine warfare, as they put their personal fortunes ahead of the supposedly “patriotic” Tory party and their rotting country.

Sunak, the third premier since 2019, chosen solely by Tory MPs for the job, is thus hostage primarily to his far-right “colleagues”, and makes U-turn after U-turn to placate this or that party faction. Asked to describe Sunak’s task as prime minister, an unnamed Tory MP said Sunak was there “to manage decline”.

It is no surprise therefore that the opposition Labour party has been trouncing the Tories in opinion polls for the last few months. The general election, as of now, is being handed on a plate to Labour and the other opposition parties.

All that Labour and its leader Keir Starmer have done so far is to sit on numerous political fences and watch passively as the ramshackle and decayed Tory party immolates.

Nothing Starmer does conduces to even a veneer of social democracy, and the opposition Scottish National Party MP Stephen Flynn’s got it absolutely right when he asked in a parliamentary debate:

“What is the greatest achievement of the Tories: leaving the single market, ending free movement, denying democracy to Scotland, or getting Labour to agree with all of these?”

Hardly an endorsement of the state of Ukanian politics.

Kenneth Surin teaches at Duke University, North Carolina.  He lives in Blacksburg, Virginia.