When you live in the real England, the shenanigans in Westminster seem so theatrical, the players there so out of touch. Watching television news and reading screaming headlines of a House of Commons in self-destruct mode, you’d be forgiven for thinking that the nation is unruly, almost in a state of near rebellion and high treason.
No, it is not.
After weeks spent here in the north of England, in cities, towns and villages, in communities and at communal gatherings, there is an overarching sense of frustration. The members of parliament at Westminster are out of touch. People are fed up with Brexit — and want it over one way or another. But most of all, they want their broken nation fixed, one way or another.
The nation’s hospitals and National Health Service is broken. There is a mandated four-hour time limit to be seen and treated by medical staff at Accident and Emergency units in England. Over the past six weeks, I have accompanied accident-prone friends to the A & E departments at Macclesfield hospital just outside Manchester and in Lancaster. Six hours in Lancaster, seven on the first trip to Macclesfield, six on the return. There were many others who waited far longer.
Regular operations are regularly postponed, patients have few nursing staff looking after them, student nurses from training universities are overworked and making treatment recommendations above their knowledge base, and staff are generally demoralised and overworked.
Community social workers are dealing with a crisis when it comes to the new payment scheme introduced by the government. Those on benefits are receiving less and waiting longer — pushing them closer to the abyss of homelessness and helplessness. The vulnerable are simply being passed by and forgotten, social workers, either working for county councils or for schools, are frazzled, overworked and toiling at the rock face for a decade of austerity.
In Westminster, while the prime minister and the chancellor of the exchequer declare austerity over, these case workers laugh and continue to juggle the underbelly of British society left behind by a welfare state that has long ceased to exist, to be well, or indeed fare as functioning.
Towns and villages are feeling the devastating effects of the so-called “county lines” gangs who had spread the drug trade from the cities, roping in the vulnerable, beating up the unwilling, finding easy pickings in the shires where policing is all but vanished.
There’s an acute shortage of police officers — the experienced one leaving, younger ones overworked. More than 20,000 have been cut, and others refocused to deal with terrorism threats — police don’t readily respond to burglaries or routine crimes. And the streets of those cities are patrolled not by police in many cases, but by community support officers — looking ever so much like the real thing except they lack true police powers and are not in physical shape to handle themselves if needed.
It is not unusual for there to be but one response unit and supervisor for British Transport Police between the Irish Sea and the North Sea north of Manchester to the Scottish border.
Knife crime is soaring. Youth clubs in London teach children as young as eight how to give first aid to a knife victim, reminding them of the importance of not removing the blade, keeping pressure one the wounds to stem blood loss, and to keep feet elevated so that blood stays in the core torso.
The train service is broken, with commuters paying more each year for fewer trains that are poorly maintained and service that’s overpriced and unreliable — and later than before.
It costs £140 (Dh634) to take the train from London to Glasgow. You can fly for £39.99.
Roadworks on the motorways of the UK take months — often years — to be completed. Driving the M6 from London to Manchester can take two hours — or six.
To the point of pointlessness
County and city councils lack the funds to fix potholes on side streets. Libraries have closed, social services for the aged and the infirm trimmed to the point of pointlessness.
In schools, classrooms are larger than before, resources are limited and teachers are quitting their profession in droves.
Wages have been largely stagnant in the public service that in effect, anyone working for the government has effectively had their take home pay reduced by 15 per cent over the past decade. There’s an outlet store called The Company that caters now just to public employees — offering end-of-line goods just at their best-before date so that many can make ends meet and feed their families.
There is a simmering anger that so much time is being wasted at Westminster talking about Brexit. As far as many are concerned, they voted for it three years ago and are deeply disappointed that it hasn’t happened yet. That simply reinforced the general feeling that the shower in Westminster couldn’t care one iota for the people that put them there.
What’s more, these plain-speaking people of Britain know they’ve been conned by politicians who will say anything to make sure they’re elected next time out. That’s what’s going on beyond Westminster.