The UK. The kingdom for a pint of bitter?
The explosions across the UK’s political minefield are not just about opening hours in that nation’s pubs, though that is important enough to the average Brit. But memories matter and politicians need to tread carefully and steer clear of false promises. The game afoot is no less than who will run the country.
Here’s the thing – unemployment in the UK is fast approaching 8%, the winter wave of the pandemic is approaching and the government’s salary support scheme is running to an end. Economic prospects are not good. In the midst of this storm of misfortune Britain may have to close its much loved pubs in a bid to manage the pandemic.
Unemployment is a hot button for the British. They will never forget the hunger marches of the 30’s as men and women walked the length of the country from Jarrow on the River Tyne in the North to Westminster in London. The 8th Century birthplace of Bede, Jarrow became a world shipbuilding center in the 19th century. But, devastated by the collapse of its industries in the 1930’s, Jarrow not only suffered directly it also became a totem for the poverty and unemployment of the North as compared to the affluence in the South. The statistics tell a terrible story. In 1932 nationwide unemployment stood at 22%. In the South it was 14%. But in the North East unemployment rose to 28% and in Jarrow to 60%!
People have long memories and the echoes of Jarrow still reverberate down the hallways of history. They lay behind Conservative Prime Minister Johnson’s cynical courting of the hitherto socialist northern stronghold to help him win the last election. Johnson swore to help the have nots in the North, to give them a shot at some form of home rule. Now the commitments he made then are being tested. He is being forced to confront the real divide between the North and the South, this time over the immediate double challenge of unemployment and health care. His newly appointed mayors are accusing him of favoring the South. They want their share of real power; they want extra financial assistance to improve testing, tracing, and nursing care; they want to be consulted; they want Johnson to deliver on his promises.
But no recent government has confronted the systemic differences between the North and South. What may look like a small time squabble over opening times for pubs is anything but. Johnson’s election manifesto committed him to tackling one of the most intransigent challenges facing any UK government. It looks as though he had no plan to do so. Perhaps he forgot Jarrow. Perhaps like most British Prime Ministers before him he thought the challenge would go away. He reckoned without the testing fields of a pandemic.
Boris Johnson’s lack of social memory and his failed commitment to the regions may end up costing him his premiership. A pint of beer to most may be just a drink – in this case it matters a great deal more, it is symptomatic of the administrations failure to deliver.
Have a good day, James.