Forget Tory sleaze – a Christmas crisp crisis will cost Boris Johnson his red wall majority

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Walkers is experiencing shortages following an IT glitch (Getty)
Walkers is experiencing shortages following an IT glitch (Getty)

As if the ever-present threat of Covid, the return of Westminster sleaze and the arrival of autumn’s slate skies weren’t enough to dampen your spirits this week, we have a new crisis to contend with. Yes, there’s a national shortage of crisps. It’s hard not to feel like we’ve reached a certain nadir.

Walkers crisps, a national institution, are missing from the shelves and it’s causing an uproar. We’ve been robbed of our last and simplest pleasure, the crunch and tang of a huge bag of cheese and onion with our lunch. Actually, that’s just me. You might be more of a salt and vinegar person (heresy!) or maybe you’d pick prawn cocktail as a side to your sandwiches.

There’s something unexpectedly patriotic about our favourite food brands. Branston pickle in a cheese sandwich; HP Sauce; a packet of Hobnobs; the snap of a corner of Cadbury Dairy Milk; half a can of Heinz Baked Beans or a spread of Marmite on freshly buttered toast. These are shared pleasures that seem to transcend political and, to an extent, cultural divides. Entire businesses are designed around the export of these “tastes of home” to expats living in the US, Australia and Asia.

Seeing the supermarkets stripped bare of crisps is an arresting sight that follows weeks of disruption in food and other supply chains. We have endured a three-week fuel crisis, couldn’t go to Nando’s due to a lack of chicken, and found vegetable aisles with scant supply as Europe struggles to find enough lorry drivers to move goods around – and Brexit Britain at the bottom of their priority list.

As we head towards Christmas, Boris Johnson will be hoping so very hard that we don’t end up with an unexpected logistics glitch in the supply of Quality Street, or he knows his reputation is toast (with/without Marmite; delete according to your preference).

The Walkers debacle has absolutely nothing to do with Johnson, by the way, or Brexit or the British government. It’s the result of a computer snafu after the manufacturer upgraded its IT systems. Not a conspiracy, not a failure of leadership, just a good old-fashioned corporate tech bungle. It’s almost nostalgic in itself. Walkers is focusing its limited production capacity on the old favourite flavours as well as Quavers and Wotsits. Thank goodness.

So there’s absolutely nothing the prime minister could have done about this, but that’s not how it feels to voters who just want their fix of salty potato snacks and a much easier job of getting in the weekly shop. If they can’t find chicken or milk in the chillers because of Brexit and haulage policy woes, but then move into the confectionery to be disappointed yet again, it’s not the CEO of Walkers who will feel the burn of that rage.

There’s a suggestion that newly converted Tory voters in the former red wall constituencies are taking increasing notice of the ways Brexit isn’t panning out for them as they’d hoped. There’s talk – mostly propagated by the new intake of Tory MPs sitting in that region, to be accurate – that the electorate is noticing the duplicity inherent in the second jobs scandal and is beginning to wonder if it did the right thing in December 2019. Maybe, maybe not. Voters will certainly be flummoxed, then furious, when they can’t pick up a KitKat.

After a deeply unusual – for some, traumatic – winter last year, families are making early preparations for a jolly old Christmas knees-up next month. They’re picturing the turkey with all the trimmings, the box of Quality Street on the coffee table, toys and games wrapped under a real pine tree for their children.

It doesn’t matter that their 25 December would inevitably have fallen short of their wistful imaginings either way, now they have a scapegoat. In the form of the missing Christmas traditions that just weren’t available this year. Whose fault is that? Boris Johnson’s – even if it isn’t.

Farcical though it sounds, the next election could be decided on the ease with which any given voter could buy a tub of Quality Street this Christmas time.

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