UK: A new British winter of discontent | International
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The strike at Felixstowe, the UK’s main cargo port, is the latest in a series of union actions that have brought the country to a standstill over the summer. Dockers have been joined, at different times, by the railways, London public transport or airport staff; In the coming weeks, stoppages of postal workers, public defenders and university personnel are expected.
The trigger for these endless strikes is obvious: the cost of living crisis. In mid-August, British inflation exceeded 10% – a figure that, according to a report by Citi Group, could reach 18.6% next January—. Above all, an unprecedented rise in energy prices has contributed to this: yes, last Thursday, the sector regulator Ofgem announced an 80% increase in the energy bill of a British family, which will now be around 3,500 pounds per year (just over 4,100 euros), could almost double next April.
All this has given rise to a perfect storm that will worsen as the weeks go by. A few days ago, a spokesman for the National Health Service (NHS) warned that it was overwhelmed and pointed out that the flu, covid and rising energy prices could lead to a “humanitarian crisis”. In a recent report, the Joseph Rowntree Foundation denounces that energy threatens to become “a luxury that only the rich can afford.” And in a tribune Guardianformer Prime Minister Gordon Brown warns that, by inaction, Downing Street “risks condemning millions of vulnerable children and pensioners to a winter of abject poverty.”
Two political aggravating factors are added to this economic panorama. On the one hand, the consequences of a Brexit that has left the United Kingdom insecure, exposed to a shortage of energy supply and immersed in a deep identity crisis over its role in the world. On the other, the misrule in which the country has found itself since Boris Johnson announced his resignation on July 7, plunging his party into a succession war that has paralyzed the work of the Government and parliamentary activity.
Johnson’s successor, who will be announced on September 5, will have to face a devilish political panorama. Added to the energy crisis are some polls that put his party more than 10 points behind Labor. Two historical parallels are therefore inevitable. On the one hand, with the so-called winter of discontent 1979, when a succession of strikes, power cuts and rising inflation brought down the Labor government of James Callaghan and ended Margaret Thatcher in Downing Street. On the other, with the 1990s, when John Major’s government was languishing, a young Tony Blair was warming up and Labor was preparing for his first electoral victory in 18 years. After 12 years of hegemony torythe economic situation may hasten the end of the cycle.
The political storm that the United Kingdom is going through has paradigmatic elements: the economic and geopolitical consequences of Brexit, the disastrous legacy of the Johnson Executive and the feeling of misrule transmitted by some Tories increasingly disoriented. And yet, it would be naive to think that the European Union cannot be exposed to the same risks. Like the ant in Aesop’s fable, Europe would do well to take advantage of autumn to stockpile energy, shield its public services and protect its most vulnerable citizens. Otherwise, the summer of discontent may lead, throughout the continent, to a winter of poverty.
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