Paralysis in Downing Street in face of multiple crises must end – Christine Jardine MP

I look around me at the moment and everywhere I see turmoil. A need for leadership.

Boris Johnson emerges from a VX4 vertical aerospace aircraft at the Farnborough International Airshow last month (Picture: Frank Augstein/WPA Pool/Getty Images)
Boris Johnson emerges from a VX4 vertical aerospace aircraft at the Farnborough International Airshow last month (Picture: Frank Augstein/WPA Pool/Getty Images)

The fear of the Covid virus may have passed for many but the impact on our economy, coupled with the war in Ukraine, is continuing to disrupt lives. To cost lives.

Everywhere problems, but no solutions from those charged with finding them.

Where is the leader we need to lift us out of this? Where is the vision of what Britain could achieve for its people in the 21st century?

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Over the years, I have collected political heroes and idols from a huge variety of countries, parties and philosophies. Bobby Kennedy, Benazir Bhutto, Nelson Mandela, Franklin Roosevelt.

They may not have agreed with each other on much, but they had one important thing in common: vision.

Their commitment was not simply to win at the ballot box, or in the public debate, but to use that platform to enable their dreams for their people.

One other important thing is that each emerged when their country or their people needed them most. What we would give for that just now.

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When I look at the contenders for leader of the Conservative party, they seem more like reality TV game show contestants bidding for the keys of a new mansion than for the responsibility of steering one of the world’s great democracies out of crisis.

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Most frustrating is that among our politicians at Westminster there are those with the ideas, the insight and the vision to cope with the challenges we face.

Last week, amid warning of energy bills breaking the £4,000-a-year ceiling and the economy shrinking, there was nothing from the current Prime Minister, the Chancellor of the Exchequer or even the leader of the opposition.

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The government held a meeting but came up with nothing.

Meanwhile the two contenders for Prime Minister continued their excruciating pas de deux across the country in which the most popular step appears to be the policy U-turn.

There is one, however, at least one costed plan on the political table at Westminster. It’s simple, far-reaching, fast-acting and bold.

The Liberal Democrats, my party, would cancel the 70 per cent increase in the energy price cap expected to be announced by Ofgem later this month.

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Household bills would stay the same and the government would instead pay the shortfall to energy suppliers so that they can afford to supply customers at the current rates.

The government would use a combination of the windfall tax on energy companies and the extra money inflation is bringing into the Treasury through VAT to take the burden away from families and pensioners. Simple.

We are also calling for more targeted support for vulnerable and low-income households. This would include doubling the Warm Homes Discount to £300 and extending it to all those on Universal Credit and Pension Credit. And we would invest in insulating fuel-poor homes to bring prices down in the long term.

Like I said, there are those at Westminster with bold ideas.

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I would much rather the new Prime Minister used our idea to help people than we had to wait for a general election to fix it.

More will be needed, I know. A long-term strategy to support families and businesses and sort out our broken system. I don’t just mean our energy provision.

It is not simply the fact or the existence of the cost-of-living crisis, burgeoning energy bills, Covid, monkeypox, inflation, war in Ukraine or the climate emergency which is creating problems at the moment.

It is our government’s inability to respond effectively. We need to recall parliament and provide help quickly for people. But the silence from both governments and the main opposition is deafening.

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To make things worse they are also in danger of neglecting the bigger picture. What we need them to do is lift their heads and look beyond the immediate series of crises we face and recognise that we face a far bigger, more far-reaching and ultimately more dangerous threat to our democracy.

Back in the middle of the 20th century our modern democracies, our definition of human rights, the society that we all recognise grew out of a threat to worldwide political stability.

A generation of politicians and world leaders emerged to take on the challenge and succeeded.

Primarily Roosevelt and Winston Churchill but there were others like Charles De Gaulle and Konrad Adenauer who forged a strong, stable future for their countries.

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In current international relations, the attack on Ukrainian sovereignty, the thwarting of democracy in Hong Kong and the nascent renewed tension around Taiwan hint at a fresh threat to our security.

Across the Atlantic, we are witnessing an unprecedented series of events which puts US democracy under a pressure none of us anticipated.

And we see a similar Trumpian approach begin to emerge here with ludicrous claims that justified scrutiny of a litany of unacceptable behaviour by Boris Johnson is a witch hunt.

No. Politicians, all politicians, are answerable to the public for our actions. If we fall short, we have to go. And that in the end may be the answer.

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The apparent paralysis in Downing Street in the face of domestic and international crises has to end.

We are rapidly running out of time to save our society from economic dislocation and our democracy from international chaos.

We need change.

Christine Jardine is the Scottish Liberal Democrat MP for Edinburgh West

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