No, everything is NOT on fire; it’s just very hot. Incredibly hot for London at any time, even high summer. The grass has been torched into brittle yellow blades that break at the slightest breeze, and the weather alerts are a scorching amber. In fact, the entire UK is going through the kind of drought it hasn’t seen since the 1990s.
Somewhere in all of this lies an easy metaphor that for once rings true: it’s nature’s nod to the political turmoil the country is going through as the heat in our airless living rooms is nicely matched by the fervour of the politics. A small cohort of no more than 160,000 people, or 0.2 per cent of the population, is getting ready to choose our next prime minister. The rest of us are bracing ourselves.
As I drive by College Green near the UK Houses of Parliament where I have recorded countless pieces-to-camera over the years, I am thinking it’s become more of a field of straw than a Green. It looks as if vapours are actually steaming up off the brown grass, but my eyes must be playing tricks on me. The metaphor happily still stands, though: the prime ministerial race is definitely steaming – no tricks there. And gone with the vapours are names that were touted as “definite maybes” only days ago, like former ministers Jeremy Hunt and Penny Mordaunt.
Also gone with the vapours is the Rishi Sunak who was once adored by the nation as the most socialist Tory chancellor of the exchequer (finance minister) in history. He showered us with aid when it was most needed in the time of Covid-19. But out goes Superhero Sunak and in comes Evil Twin: the nation suddenly wakes up to the hour of reckoning amidst a crushing cost-of-living crisis when we desperately need someone to blame.
Sunak is now derided for swamping us with aid that we will have to pay back for eternity, for not having a clue how to use a contactless card, and, of course, for marrying an obscenely rich wife who has spent years basking in non-dom bliss, since she does not pay tax on her foreign earnings despite being resident in the UK.
And here we are, left with only two options – either Evil Twin or present UK Foreign Minister Liz Truss, whose priority upon meeting Scottish First Minister Nicola Sturgeon was apparently to find out how on earth one gets interviewed by Vogue, a fashion magazine.
Our immediate future will, therefore, be decided by one of these two Oxford alumni who received the same education from the same economists around the same time yet who, somehow, are now prescribing opposite medicines: cut taxes advocates one, give more handouts counsels the other, increase interest rates cheers the first, decrease interest rates roars the second, less debt, and more debt, and so the list goes on. Surely economics is a less fluid discipline than this?
It’s a thunderous scene of Tory discord that must be music to the ears of the opposition Labour Party, but one tune that can be heard over all the din is the silence of its leader Keir Starmer. It seems that he is heeding Napoleon’s advice not to interrupt your enemies while they are making mistakes. Or he could just be on holiday.
* The writer is an Egyptian TV presenter based in London.
*A version of this article appears in print in the 18 August, 2022 edition of Al-Ahram Weekly.