Britain’s Coming Winter of Discontent – What It Looks Like

3rd September 2020 / United Kingdom
Britain's Coming Winter of Discontent - What It Looks Like

By TruePublica Editor: The summer recess is over – and now we are staring at reality – like a loaded gun at Russian roulette. Our future is now made up of trigger pulls, of ‘ifs.’ What if Covid comes back just as bad, what if we have a really cold winter and the NHS is overwhelmed by both? What if eight million workers on furlough next month are abandoned to the forces of supply and demand and what if the next round of Brexit negotiations fail with the EU and leaves us with no meaningful trade deals in the world? A winter of discontent is less of an ‘if’ and more of an inevitability. It’s like shooting ourselves in the foot, then in the face and loading the gun again.

In the winter of 1978-79, widespread strikes took place by private, and later public sector workforces. The battle was over pay versus inflation. People wanted wages that kept up with inflation, the government wanted to control inflation before paying people. These industrial disputes caused great public inconvenience but were exacerbated by the coldest winter for over 15 years. NHS workers formed picket lines leaving many hospitals with only emergency services operating. Road hauliers went on strike. Unemployment reached 10 per cent. The Prime Minister, Labour’s James Callaghan decided that a conference at a tropical holiday resort would best suit him amid the growing political friction which caused the Sun newspaper to print its famous headline – “Crisis? What Crisis?”

At the time, Labour’s internal divisions over its commitment to socialism that had been growing for a decade manifested itself in disputes over labour law reform and economic strategy during the 1960s and early 1970s. It divided the party along two defined lines and effectively pitted constituency members against the party’s establishment. It proved to be a political disaster, which ushered in Margeret Thatcher and a four decade run of neoliberal capitalism – commonly known as privatisation.

Historians Alan Sked and Chris Cook summarised the general consensus of historians regarding Labour in power in the 1970s:

“If Wilson’s record as prime minister was soon felt to have been one of failure, that sense of failure was powerfully reinforced by Callaghan’s term as premier. Labour, it seemed, was incapable of positive achievements. It was unable to control inflation, unable to control the unions, unable to solve the Irish problem, unable to solve the Rhodesian question, unable to secure its proposals for Welsh and Scottish devolution, unable to reach a popular modus vivendi with the Common Market, unable even to maintain itself in power until it could go to the country and the date of its own choosing. It was little wonder, therefore, that Mrs Thatcher resoundingly defeated it in 1979”


The connections and similarities between the winter of 1978-79 and that of today are striking, with one huge exception – they didn’t have Covid-19 in the 70s. Back then, political ideologies were raging, negative public sentiment rapidly built against the government, there was soaring unemployment, heated fights over Europe and challenges over the Union of Gt Britain.  Today, we are set to repeat history. Only this time, the country faces the potential for a far more brutal result than simply a PM being ousted in a forced election.

As Boris Johnson, well known for his lack of hard work and attention to detail, gets his knees under the table at No10 after the recess – he has a lot sitting in his in-tray right now.


Eight perils

Schools and universities. Whilst Johnson and the woeful Williamson are optimistic that all will go swimmingly – teachers and headteachers do not. The latest U-turn was quietly announced last Friday, just as school governors had spent weeks preparing for the return of pupils this week. The potential for all manner of problems is greater than 50/50.

Covid/Winter Crisis. Last winter was one of the mildest flu seasons Britain has had for a long time. Covid-19 really struck just as the usual NHS winter crisis was coming to an end. If Covid comes back it will cause all sorts of complications but that is dependent on the severity of infections and deaths. However, if this winter is as it should be – cold, then the excess mortality rate could look something like the mortality rate of Covid experienced so far. Even if it is half, say another 30,000 deaths, the economy will be strangled under another lockdown. If that happens the potential fallout will rocket to 75/25.

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Homeworking versus saving city life. Hapless Hancock has been pushing for all office workers to go back on the basis that all is safe and that city life will crater without them doing so. That strategy won’t work with the public and is already causing considerable friction inside the Tory party. As businesses adopt survival tactics including reducing costs anywhere they can – commercial property owners are going to go bust and the banks will be taking a massive hit over the next twelve months. Rents and therefore yield against debt will crater. Potential fallout for this winter is about 25/75 but rising quickly later in 2021.

Unemployment. This is really down to chancellor Sunak. He has stated emphatically that the furlough scheme will end next month. If he sticks to that, unemployment is likely to rise by about one million around Christmas and into the new year. Working and middle-class workers who have always been employed, have families and rent/mortgages to pay will be facing Universal Credit at Job Centre’s – the worst possible welfare system this country has ever developed. When the computer says no – don’t expect these people to simply lose their homes without a fight. Potential fallout 75/25.

Brexit. All serious political parties and activists have now given up fighting to stop Brexit. It’s happened and from 2021 the EU would take years getting to a point of accepting the UK back even if Britain wanted to. The question now is – deal or no-deal? Right now, Britain is heading for no-deal. If that happens, the UK will be standing alone in the world as the only major economy with no trade deal aligning itself to one of the world’s super-powers. The practical problems from a no-deal exit will cause no end of hassle for everyday life in Britain. Potential fallout in the event of no-deal 75/25.

Debt and growth. The chancellor, Rishi Sunak has scored some Brownie points with his job retention scheme and ‘eat out to help out’ campaign. But now he is bringing these to an end and about to make the same mistake the Tories made when the worst chancellor in British history came to No11 Downing Street. George Osborne went against Keynesian economics and rolled out a brutal austerity programme at a time when the country needed a fiscal boost. It failed – with life-changing consequences for millions and was seen as a spiteful class war policy. Sunak is considering raising taxes on business and profits at a time that enterprise and entrepreneurial spirit should be encouraged to fight on in the search for opportunities not bled to pay for the failures of others. The fallout within the Tory party is already quite loud and if Sunak proceeds, expect more than the current 50/50 threat to turn into something else on the high streets and factory floors.

Government and Governance. Leaving aside the legislative programme (Brexit alone has agriculture, fisheries, immigration, trade and markets to pass) this government has decided that it can do everything all at once like no other government. The civil service is facing Dominic Cummings’ ‘hard rain’ programme. This is a total top-down restructure designed to bring technology and AI into the departmental management of government as it centralises its operations. For instance, the NHS is about to be restructured with PHE now dissolved right in the middle of a pandemic. We are expected to believe that cronies with little experience of the huge departments they now control will be improved and will create better outcomes. The reality is far more likely to look like more outsourcing, more privatisation, more corruption and more failure and little else that favours the public good. The power grab will be seismic and public frustration will grow. Short-term fallout 25/75 – medium-term 50/50 and rising rapidly into next summer.

Internal strife. By the time the country hears what the spring budget will bring, the reality of the winter months will have mostly but not entirely unravelled. The mishandling of the Covid crisis and economy will be nothing less than a political crisis for the Tories. The backbenchers will be both exhausted and exasperated by the experience of failures met with U-turns, indecision met with derision and the cabinet’s general lack of ability or even basic competence to keep control. The Tory party reputation for sound macroeconomic policy, already severely damaged, will lie in tatters. Their public health record had decomposed anyway through the failure of a decade of austerity.


Winter of Discontent

It was already a chaotic summer that has seen Keir Starmer wiping out a massive 26 point Tory lead. But if a turbulent winter is characterised more for its political disorganisation and deficiencies on the ground that sees public health and the economy crater any further than expected, Johnson will be sacrificed to save the party – mainly because Brexit will have been done one way or another.

Brexit, once an ideological idea bordering on a fanatical creed, is now seen by the public as nothing more than a tiresome and inescapable burden on society at the worst possible time. The upsides to Brexit will be seen as few, the downsides are many and it will only add to a spiralling mood as the spring months make people feel like marching season has begun.

The only thing that could change these things to any great degree will be something that brings very welcome consequences. Another really mild winter and control of Covid would be very welcome. A vaccine that proves quickly to be safe and is publicly accepted would be a huge boost. A trade deal with the EU before the cutoff date would also be a huge relief. However, this government has put the nation in the position of betting on ‘ifs,’ ‘buts’ and U-turns. Each time, it’s like pulling the trigger – will a bullet be in the chamber? Strong and stable leadership no longer exists.

In waters much calmer than these, Boris Johnson’s lazy and casual approach to the highest office in the land would merely have exposed the country to a recklessness that could have been fixed at a later date. In a storm like this, he and his lamentable, wretched crew have abandoned the helm as we head for the rocks. This government is a public liability on a national scale that we will all have to pay the price for. And that price will be higher for many unable to defend themselves.

Their response will be more slogans, more division and more failure. In a reactionary panic, they will embolden the anti-vaxxers and anti-mask-wearers. They will invigorate the political fringes who falsely hide behind free-speech and civil liberty. They will give air to racists, nationalists, thugs and extremists and attempt to pit the generations against each other – this is what they do best.

Here’s a three-word slogan; Winter Of Discontent. It’s a place where anger and frustration boils over into something else. It’s the current trajectory of HMS Brittania and it needs someone serious at its helm with the moral authority to lead us, not a philandering loudmouth who delivers nothing more than a system of anarchy to benefit the rich and powerful. Britain was not built on anarchy. The worst possible thing this government wants is people to realise they’ve been conned. They don’t want you to look at someone you’ve been shouting at and question why. They don’t want you to sit down and work it out. They don’t want our country to unify or learn to live with what and who we are. If we did that – HMS Brittania would steer into calmer waters and we could work out what needs to be done for the benefit of us all, not Johnson and his rancid comrades.


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