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Slow Decline

 The distress is overwhelming not the least because such adverse developments have plagued the nation during a political vacuum.

Statesman News Service |

Recent developments in Britain reaffirm the cynical observation that trouble in matters of state begins at the helm. In the generally perceived cradle of democracy, it has assumed the form of a vacuum. Aside from the absence of a Prime Minister, a problem too many plagues the nation ~ ballooning energy costs, the looming recession, frequent rail strikes that are bound to throw communication out of joint, and the prospect of drought. It will be a direly depleted inheritance for whoever steps into 10 Downing Street next. Confusion gets confounded with the prospect of a transition in leadership in the top tier of Whitehall. The nation boasts a caretaker Prime Minister who is packing his bags, so to speak, and there is an almost relentless verbal duel between his two potential successors ~ Rishi Sunak and Liz Truss. Parliament, the embodiment of the people’s will, is not in session, and this is the vacation season. Hence the dominant anxiety that Britain’s politicians have left the people in limbo at the moment of crisis.

“It’s basically like waiting for a typhoon to hit,” is the prognosis of Steven Fielding, a professor of political history at the University of Nottingham. Such accidents shape history as do more profound events. The eminent historian, GR Elton’s description of Stuart England has a strange relevance to this day. “We’re all confident,” he said, “that bad things are going to happen, but at the moment there’s nobody in charge, no sense that anybody has got a grip of those things.” Officials are drawing up plans to avert a shortfall in the supply of electricity and the possibility of blackouts in the damp English winter. With the railway strike scheduled for this week, there is acute pressure on public services, notably the overstretched health system. Chaotic travel recently choked airports and the country’s biggest ferry port in Dover. Markedly, drought warnings have been advanced after the nation experienced its driest July since 1935.

The distress is overwhelming not the least because such adverse developments have plagued the nation during a political vacuum. Boris Johnson, who was forced to quit after a series of scandals, has rejected appeals to recall Parliament or to sit down with the two contenders who are vying for his office to work out how to help Britons facing huge hikes in energy bills. The sense of drift transcends the energy crisis with public services crumbling and the ambulance service under severe pressure. The people are also struggling with routine chores such as renewal of passports or being tested for driving licences. The energy price hikes, caused in large part by the Russian invasion of Ukraine, and their dire prospects for the economy have resulted in a sense of foreboding. As Prof Fielding has lamented: “It’s not so much chaos; it’s just a slow sense of decline, of things stopping one after another.”