It has been three years since our last general election. Perhaps I have become used to the frequency of national ballots, seeing as we had five national elections in the first five years I served as an MP. In normal times, three years wouldn’t feel such a long stretch – but the idea of waiting even another year (let alone two) for the country to have a say in who governs us seems jarring.
There just seems to be something so utterly temporary about the newly announced prime minister, Liz Truss – and the cabinet she is devising. Perhaps it is the complete lack of plans for the myriad of problems and crumbling services our country is dealing with. They appear to me like a bunch of substitute teachers who are just going to put on a video for the period of time for which they have to manage the class.
In the short time I have been in Westminster, Liz Truss will be the fourth Conservative leader and PM – and it just doesn’t in any way ring true or believable that the fourth time is the charm. It feels pretty desperate, to be honest, when set against talk of blackouts, and of care homes having to close because annual bills to keep 30-odd elderly people warm will cost half a million quid.
It would be easy for me to say farewell to the Boris Johnson years with tongue-in-cheek gags about his complete unsuitability for the role; his lies, deceit, stupidity and hubris. I could dial in vitriol and paint by numbers what a disgrace he was as a prime minister – but his legacy truly rings out across our country, in the lives of ordinary people.
I had to catch two trains this weekend. Both were delayed, but I counted myself the lucky one, as the board in front of me at Euston read “cancelled” liberally, as if it hadn’t just messed up everyones lives without a care in the world.
Constituents coming home from holiday this week told me that they were waiting hours and hours for luggage at the airport because of a lack of staff. My father has recently had a persistent cough for months and months, and it has taken him the same amount of time to book in and get a simple chest X-ray.
My taxi driver from the station when I finally did get home (very much delayed) asked me why nobody does anything about drug dealing on his street. I made all the usual noises about lack of police resources, and he understood, but his words were stark: “No one bothers even calling the police now, and the drug dealers know it.”
Most heartbreaking for me this week was the third adjournment of a case of child sexual abuse I have worked on for years. The police officer on the case wrote to me, pleading for my help with the victim to try and keep her engaged until summer next year, when her case is scheduled again. By the time she sees the inside of a courtroom it will be seven years since her initial complaint.
Britain isn’t working. From cancer screening, ambulances, antisocial behaviour, passports, immigration processing, courts, trains and planes, to learning to drive a car – everything is crumbling. All of this is before the absolute calamity happening in pretty much every single home, business and institution in our country regarding the cost of energy. I shall not for one moment mourn the loss of Johnson as our leader. He ignored the cries for help while Rome burned. He will not be missed.
None of the solutions to any of these problems will come easily. In reality, the energy crisis will take years to resolve, with proper plans and investment in every home. Individual regions of the UK will have to change how we use our energy. Bolstering the NHS and finally acting on social care reform will not happen overnight.
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It certainly won’t happen in the reign of PM Truss, who has so far offered literally nothing but tax cuts that will benefit the richest few. Care homes would genuinely be better off having plans to rely on lottery wins to keep the heating on than relying on anything Truss has said or offered. At least that’s a plan.
I suppose I should take heart in the fact that I feel as if Truss and her cabinet are merely a caretaker government for the time being – though I wouldn’t trust them to take care of my garden shed, considering the state they have left the country in.
Now is the time, in this weird interim period, for a positive, confident, future-focused and long-term plan to be sold to the country. The Tories cannot possibly sell this, no matter how polished Truss gets between now and the election; who would be foolish enough to believe it?
It is hard to be positive and move forward when nothing seems to be working, but that is now the gig. The election cannot come a minute too soon.
Jess Phillips is the Labour MP for Birmingham Yardley