Instead of higher wages, the British public have so far encountered only higher prices. Inflation has risen faster than at any point since 1997 and the climbing price of gas globally is placing further strain on people’s lives, making energy more expensive than anywhere in Europe.
Whereas other governments, in Spain and Italy, have ensured that struggling families are protected from rising costs, the Conservatives have offered no such clemency. Three million households in Britain already live in “fuel poverty,” made to choose between heating and eating in the winter. After the Conservatives raise a cap on energy prices in October, that number is expected to increase by a further half million.
Mr. Johnson nonetheless claims to have given British Conservatism a kinder face. He speaks rousingly of “leveling up” and “turbocharging” left-behind communities. But the behavior of his government suggests otherwise.
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On Sept. 30, it ended a program that compensated people for up to 80 percent of lost income during the pandemic. And on Oct. 6, the Conservatives will cut Universal Credit, Britain’s all-encompassing welfare program, by 20 pounds, or $27, a week — just when more people than ever rely on it. The largest single reduction to the welfare state in British history, it’s forecast to push half a million more people below the poverty line, including 200,000 children. (A newly announced winter hardship fund worth £500 million, or $673 million, will do little to soften a cut 12 times its size.)
This grim confluence, from fuel shortages to spiraling poverty, has been described by many as a “perfect storm.” Yet the metaphor erases the active role the Conservatives — and in particular, the prime minister — have played in orchestrating these foreboding conditions. The bleak winter ahead is of their making.
But Mr. Johnson is unlikely to bear the consequences of his actions. His government, resting on a large majority, remains secure. And for him, crises are always opportunities. A master shape-shifter, unburdened by any sense of accountability or honesty, he thrives in conditions of adversity. The rest of the country won’t be so lucky.