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Voices: Truss and Sunak are too deep in fantasyland to weather the coming storm

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In the end, you can’t hide from reality forever. I wouldn’t have the courage, frankly, to check how many columns I have written in the last six years that conclude with if not those exact words, then certainly that sentiment. It is almost certainly well into the hundreds.

But I’m beginning to wonder if I’ve been wrong the whole time. For an extremely long fortnight, Rishi Sunak and Liz Truss have been fighting it out to be prime minister of a country of which they appear to be hovering above in some kind of spacecraft, without ever having touched down to see what’s actually going on here.

There is now a sudden sense that a truly dire set of pronouncements from the Bank of England might – might – bring the spaceship crashing down to earth. Interest rates hiked by half a per cent, in a futile attempt to manage inflation that is not caused by increasing demand but by contracting supply, principally of energy.

The economy is almost certainly already in recession, and a projected five long quarters of economic contraction.

This, surely, must be the moment that both candidates have to abandon their absurd little schedule of policy announcements. That they can’t carry on coming out with arrant garbage like referring people to terrorism prevention programmes for the crime of criticising their country (Sunak). Or copy and pasting public sector pay cut plans from right-wing think tanks without even bothering to read them, and then when the actual contents get drawn to their attention amid an instant public backlash, just pretend it never happened (Truss).

Now that the scale of the crisis facing the country this winter is becoming ever clearer, namely that millions upon millions of people will be forced to find thousands and thousands of pounds they don’t have just to pay to keep their houses warm, there will surely be no more absurd, obscene front pages about the “war on woke” in Whitehall.

Trouble is, if I had to make a prediction, I absolutely wouldn’t bet on it. Sunak, Truss and the entire Tory party are too far gone into the land of make believe to turn back now. How can they?

How, at this point, can an honest conversation with the voters take place? Last night, in Cardiff, Liz Truss was asked, yet again, why it was that she had gone from backing Remain to being an ardent Brexiteer. She said that she had been worried about economic disruption, “but the fact is that disruption hasn’t happened”.

That’s the actual, nailed-on certainty to be the next prime minister, talking. She said the same two weeks ago when there were two-day queues to get through the Port of Dover. UK exports have fallen by £20bn. But these are things that you can only pretend are just not real. You can claim they have not happened. You can even state it is a “fact”.

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Rishi Sunak, in his two and half years as chancellor, never gave a single concrete example of any way in which Brexit had benefited the economy. He can’t because there isn’t one.

Boris Johnson, still officially the prime minister, is spending the crisis on holiday, despite only having a few weeks left in the job. As for the chancellor, well, alas the train on which I am typing this out has just gone through a tunnel so I’m not able to google who the chancellor is. Somebody, presumably, must know.

It is said you get the politicians you deserve. I’ve never been convinced that the people of this country quite deserve what they’ve currently got, but it is probably the case that we don’t actually want to be forced to stare for too long at reality either.

In any vaguely sane world, for the next month, there is only one question that Truss and Sunak should be asked, over and over again, on repeat. And that is, “what are you going to do about energy bills?”

But we know that they’ve got no answer that can come close to approaching the scale of the coming disaster. So make believe it is then. But be warned. In the end, you can’t hide from reality forever.

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