The Twilight Zone
The UK’s already a laughing stock, now comes Liz Truss to make things immeasurably worse. We are on the brink of a new era. After a seemingly endless leadership campaign in which the media has indulged the miserable figures of Rishi Sunak and Liz Truss with acres of newsprint and hours of screen time in some twisted pretence that this was a democratic process, it will end soon. Tomorrow she will ascend to the highest political position in the land – a test case of failing upwards – with an agenda of attacking workers’ rights and destroying environmental regulations.
As the whole of Britain discusses the social catastrophe we all face, these two putative leaders have nothing to say at all. Next week we face the appointment of a leader silent about the calamity around us. Truss can only speak about tax cuts as she babbles to the party faithful seemingly detached from reality and published gibberish in The Sun while ducking out of facing serious journalists. Her colleagues are already predicting her political demise so sure are they of her incompetence.
In Hertfordshire this week Sunak presented his case – such as it is – to Conservative party members. He faced not one question – not a single one – concerning the cost of living crisis. These people inhabit a different world from the rest of us. If they have nothing to say about socio-economic collapse, what they have to say about ecological catastrophe is actually worse.
As Pakistan goes under water, Truss, playing to the gallery apparently intends to issue up to 130 drilling licences for oil and gas firms in the North Sea. Not only is this environmental suicide, as Owen Jones writes: “If the purpose of this is to confront the looming social catastrophe of energy bills, to describe it as an exercise in futility would be generous: it takes the best part of three decades to pump fossil fuels out of the ground and put them onstream.”
How can this madness be explained?
Owen again: “It is undoubtedly that the ideological predilections of the Tory right are prioritised above the Earth’s survival, energy independence and people’s livelihoods. Renewables are indelibly culturally associated with dangerous lefty nonsense, while gas and oil somehow represent macho British tradition. That the case for renewables is based both on pragmatic economics and incontrovertible scientific facts is irrelevant. It is hard not to conclude, too, that an addiction to waging eternal culture war is at play.”
Our actual destiny is being guided by a relative handful of people driven by a macabre ideology. This is true of the Brexit fiasco unfolding before our eyes, and now putting a torch to our climate targets and hopes. After the summer in which Europe has burnt and its rivers dried up the flickering consciousness of ecological breakdown has been fanned by everyday reality, this is a moment of shame.
How could someone as palpably dense as Truss have stumbled into this position? How can we be facing the prospect of a leader actually worse than Boris Johnson? What is this?
One explanation is that Truss is a puppet, albeit not a very good one. The ridiculous and tragic oil and gas proposals have not come out of nowhere. They are not, as presented, some pragmatic reaction to our current crisis. As Adam Bychawski has identified a string of Truss policies and campaign staff originate from the Institute of Economic Affairs (IEA), the Adam Smith Institute and the Centre for Policy Studies.
These ‘think-tanks’ with their murky funding have been lurking in plain-sight for years and now have their moment. As Bychawski writes in Open Democracy: “Truss is particularly close to the IEA, having founded its parliamentary wing FREER in 2011 and hired its former communications director to run her campaign. Her policies to scrap the planned rise in corporation tax, crack down on the right to strike, review inheritance tax, loosen financial solvency regulation and deregulate the childcare sector were all first proposed by the IEA. None of the think tanks discloses its funders, but the IEA has received donations from BP and ExxonMobil and, along with the Adam Smith Institute and the Centre for Policy Studies, the tobacco industry. The IEA and the Adam Smith Institute have also received millions of dollars from US funders of climate denial.”
Truss may be clueless and silent but she’s being fed her lines from these bodies. We can see it but we can’t necessarily stop it. We should be aware that our next Prime Minister is the puppet of dark money. This may not be new but it seems more blatant, the stakes more bleak and urgent and the lack of agency among our Tory masters even more depressing.
England has had its joint hottest summer on record, tying with 2018 in data stretching back to 1884, the Met Office has said. 33 million people in Pakistan have been affected by the worst flooding in a decade and more than 1,200 people have died. In Japan they are issuing umbrellas to schoolchildren to protect them from the sun. The Rhine, one of Europe’s most important rivers which is used to transport cargo including chemicals, grains, and coal across the continent, is drying up amid record-breaking summer heatwaves. The Loire is so low that France has had to shut down the nuclear reactors which the river is used to cool.
Truss’s response? She will do her masters bidding: call for a windfall tax on the renewables industry and an end to the UK’s target to cut net greenhouse gas emissions to zero by 2050. The ban on fracking will be lifted within weeks.
In a fifty year period England has gone from Rivers of Blood to Rivers of Shit as this detached clique rules over us, ignores the worlds problems and engages in its own ideological frenzy. We are entering the Twilight Zone. It may well be, as some Tory colleagues think, that Truss will be such an abject disaster she will be out within months. Some are already organising her replacement. But what damage can someone do in their short time in power? We’re about to find out.