When the BBC News icon on my phone announced the fifth Conservative prime minister in six years, I ought to have been shocked. But no. I just rolled my eyes and proceeded to scroll through cheerier things on Instagram.
It’s not that I don’t care. I very much care. There’s more than enough to talk about in UK politics right now. Who is Rishi Sunak? Should there be a general election? Will this PM outlast a lettuce? Yet, as Sunak vows yet more action to ‘unite’ our country with actions, I can’t help but yawn.
As this well-worn theme is used once more, let's consider its recent past. In the last ten 10 years our country has got through a lot ‘together’. Austerity and Coronavirus both jump out to me as occasions when the country has been called-on to act ‘together’ and be ‘united’.
In launching austerity, George Osborne did at least acknowledge that ‘It is the poorest – those who had least to do with the cause of the economic misfortunes – who are hit hardest’. It looked like a call for action: to protect and cushion the people who were unfairly hit by welfare cuts. But instead it became a prediction of what was to come. As Sunak says similar things in a different font I fear we are in similar territory again.
And speaking of those who are hit hardest, the health and wealth of the North has always lagged behind the rest of the country. Even as a child on trips down south I noticed how different the wealthy southern highstreets were from the ones, like in my own town, with more shops closed than open. Austerity only deepened a divide that was already there.
Then Covid hit and we were all brought ‘together’ once more. Yet, with the cuts Northern councils and cities relied heavily on grants. The North’s poverty increased and the cuts had crippled our hospitals. Therefore it was no shock that the North was disproportionally hit once more. So as we are still left crawling to the finish line it is hard to imagine how we are meant to catch up so we can deal with an economic crisis with the rest of the country. Not even the vote for the current prime minister was done all together.
Now it wouldn’t be fair if I didn’t acknowledge the attempts to help the North and South unite. So let’s talk about levelling up: a term that perhaps focusses on sharing resources and power to ease economic disparities across the UK. Although he didn’t actually invent the phrase, it’s clear Boris Johnson really pushed for levelling up. A promise to invest in Northern cities? As Johnson gained many votes from the North it’s surely no coincidence that he started this fight for ‘levelling up’. We’re now on PM Three since the push for levelling up began, and I am still confused as to what it is. Is it; to help give people a voice? Is it to give the North better infrastructure? Is it long term or short term? Who knows?
So as I brace myself to unite once more I can’t help but wonder how Sunak is going to pick up the people still struggling to unite from over a decade ago. What is he going to do if we simply can’t all unite through actions? What buzzword will be used next? I’d like to suggest the buzzword ‘listen’:
-We will listen first and then take action.
-We will listen to who you want in power.
-We will listen to the rules we ourselves have set.
Sounds good, but I don’t see it catching on anytime soon. And even if it did, would any of us believe it – or is it too little too late?. Maybe even if a news notification did pop up on our phones saying “Sunak is listening”, we’d still choose to just roll our eyes and scroll through Instagram for something cheerier and more certain.