This was the refrain of practically every element of the gutter press around 2009, at the tail end of the Great Recession (remember that?) with a general election on the horizon and an unpopular Prime Minister parachuted in at a time of international tensions, economic trouble at home, and a rising cost of living. “Britain is broken,” they said, in as many words. “We can’t go on like this,” said an airbrushed David Cameron on a giant poster.
Thirteen years later, we are on the verge of Liz Truss, The Pork Markets Woman who sparked a diplomatic incident earlier this year after ill-advised statements around the Russian invasion of Ukraine, becoming our Prime Minister.
Now the Conservative Party has had twelve years to fix and ‘save’ Britain, let’s take a look at how things are going. This is just things I have observed in the last week or two.
Half the adverts I saw on Instagram for a while were for debt consolidation loans. Some of us remember Martin Lewis’s campaign to stop these being advertised on children’s TV, and Carol Vorderman (erstwhile numbers adder-upper on Countdown) being criticised for advertising them.
The train I was booked on up to Birmingham getting cancelled after the operator’s management made risible claims of “unofficial strike action” (ie peasants refusing to work overtime.) I’m on the replacement train now, funnily enough. Witnessed three arguments over seat reservations and struggled, even with my relatively slim build, to fit into the seat. The staff are amazing. Britain’s antiquated railway infrastructure and profiteering are not.
(A widely publicised incident involving this train operator recently involved a severely delayed train letting people out at Oxenholme station, which was closed and locked at the time. Instead of unlocking the gates, the solution was to take passengers half an hour north to Penrith then put them in taxis back to Oxenholme. For some reason Avanti’s management decided to blame the people who got out at Oxenholme for not accepting a further 90 minute delay to their journey.)
An illuminated advert at Victoria station for an online fashion retailer—whose very name implies excess and lavishness—advertising a buy-now-pay-later deal for school uniforms.
I visited the town I grew up in this week, and walked past my old secondary school. The school was considered failing by Ofsted when I left it, and since then it has introduced a number of changes. I note from their website that one of them is a house system, for which you need a matching tie (£5.85 from the official retailer.) It’s hard to tell whether this is a reaction to the success of Harry Potter or a wider swing to “the old ways” inspired by the school’s MP, Michael Gove, and his stint as education secretary, which included returning GCSEs to one big exam at the end of the year and changing the grading to use numbers rather than letters.
The school has a banner out the front. “Instruct [LOCAL ESTATE AGENT] to sell or let your home,” it says, “and we will donate up to £250 to [THE SCHOOL.]” (It only deigns to mention in tiny, poor contrast small print that the amount is not payable until completion.) Said school’s buildings look much the same as they always have, but the pigment on the plastic cladding has degraded yet further. I wonder if they fixed the plumbing that led to brown liquid coming out of the taps.
Around the corner, outside the health centre, was a floral tribute to the late Dr. Gail Milligan, a GP who was under immense pressure at work and who took her own life. I remember Dr. Milligan seeing my ingrown toenail and prescribing me antibiotics. There are many more in the surrounding areas who undoubtedly owe her life to her. I am not going to explain the details of what happened to her because they are likely to be triggering for some. But they are appalling—you can read them in the linked article.
“I’ll cut the deficit, not the NHS,” said that airbrushed David Cameron billboard back in 2009.
Over a decade after the papers screamed about “Broken Britain,” the country seems more broken than ever.
I wrote in 2019—three short years ago—that Theresa May would likely not go down as the worst prime minster in history, but Boris Johnson might. Now it’s a question of how quickly Liz Truss takes this ignominious honour from him. It’s not correct to say that she’s inherently worse than him—rather, they’re both similarly terrible, but in subtly different ways. Boris, with his born-to-rule bravado and inability to take anything seriously, was the worst possible person to lead the country through the COVID pandemic—now Truss, an incompetent career cliché machine with her foot repeatedly in her mouth, is the worst possible person to lead the country through a cost of living crisis with international tensions between nuclear powers in the background.
We shall do very well out of this whole charade if we get a snap election, or if Truss is an international embarrassment for a few years and nothing more. That’s if we’re lucky.