Depends who you ask. According to Boris Johnson you’ve never had it so good. According to almost everyone else problems are mounting up fast. As our Political Correspondent Peter Spencer reports, the Prime Minister’s promises of sunny uplands have an unseasonable feel to them.
The clue might be in the name. Uplands are lovely, but getting there looks like involving an upward struggle.
It was jolly jaunting weather at the Tory conference in Manchester last week, the only blustery bit being the giggle-a-minute master stroke by the party leader.
Having glossed over the multifarious crises caused by the shortage of lorry drivers and other key workers, he buffed them up by insisting the upshot will gleam:
‘We are not going back to the same old broken model with low wages, low growth, low skills and low productivity .. enabled and assisted by uncontrolled immigration.’
There. He’d said it. While ministers had spent the week insisting none of it was anything to do with Brexit, he implicitly insisted it was.
But getting Brexit done would be good for all, he added. Because workers’ wages will in future be levelled up. Because bosses will have to pull their collective finger out.
The speech was an alchemist’s tour de force. Base metal transmuted into gold.
His answer to criticism of his approach on Brexit was once: “F*** business.’
Now, according to Times political commentator Patrick McGuire, ‘they respond in kind with criticism that can be broadly summarised as f*** Boris’.
To put it, ahem, even more politely, they’re saying the stuff he’s created is fool’s gold.
The consensus emerging, not just from anti-Brexit economists but also from think tanks and captains of industry who campaigned for it, is he took his project too far.
Yes, lose the political baggage that went with the ever-closer political ties with the European Union, but for god’s sake not the trading links as well.
It’s worth noting, BTW, that the tanker driver shortage hasn’t affected Northern Ireland, which remains far more closely aligned to the EU than the rest of the UK.
In the end, Britain’s bosses accept, they probably will have to up the workers’ wages. The problem being they’ll then have to pass on the costs to customers.
They argue this translates directly into inflation, and the Bank of England’s chief economist, Huw Pill, told MP’s last week they’re not wrong there.
‘The magnitude and duration of the transient inflation spike is proving greater than expected,’ he said. In other words, oops.
What’s more, he’s on the committee that sets interest rates. If at some point they get jacked up from their current ultra-low levels many more of us will be taken short.
Combine that with higher prices in supermarkets, restaurants, and everywhere else, and trouble ahead looks inevitable.
And while the Conservatives still have a huge eight-point polling lead over Labour, evidence suggests that might just be about to change.
New figures from YouGov suggest voters are losing faith in the Tories’ ability to manage the economy and keep taxes down.
Just over half of those asked said they’re doing a bad job, and sixty-four per cent feared the taxman was on their case.
And when the same outfit put more specifically aimed questions to voters who switched at the last election from Labour to the Tories the answers were striking.
It emerged in the so-called red wall constituencies the two parties are now neck and neck. A space worth watching.
Be surprising if something doesn’t shift, given the planned tax hike to shore up the NHS, post pandemic, and to do something about social care.
The (hopefully) post-pandemic end to the universal credit £20 uplift is also worth factoring in here.
Everyone’s favourite soccer superstar Marcus Rashford got an honorary doctorate from Manchester Uni last week for his child poverty work.
Lovely as far as it goes, but he described the moment as ‘bittersweet’, as he fears the change could lead to one in three kids going short.
Given his own impoverished background, his call for an end to what he termed a ‘child hunger pandemic’ had a heartfelt feel to it.
Never mind doctorate, campaigners would probably think he deserves a sainthood. Ministers might not agree.
Meanwhile, what they’ve blithely referred to as post-Brexit ‘bumps in the road’ are dwarfing Insulate Britain protesters’ motorway blocking tactics.
Hundreds of healthy pigs have had to be culled because eastern European abattoir workers who’ve now gone home have left a nationwide shortage.
The National Pig Association’s chief executive Zoe Davies told Sky News she’d spoken to ‘grown men in tears’ at the thought of having to carry out the cull.
And tens of thousands of litres of milk have gone down the tubes, literally, because there’ve been no truck drivers to do the deliveries.
As one dairy farmer put it: ‘It’s emotionally draining when you’re producing milk and at the end of the day you have to pull the plug and it has to go.’
Little surprise then that, according to the Office for National Statistics, around one in six of us has been unable to buy essential food items in the last fortnight.
And almost a quarter of people have found the same for non-essential things to eat. All that’s on top of the fuel crisis that grabbed the headlines for so long.
There is, however, a surprising sidebar to that story.
Petrol stations in UK go for a system known as ‘just-in-time’. Good in that it lowers costs, but bad in that it can be a bit fragile.
According to EdgePetrol, an organisation that supplies real-time data, two things triggered the problem that led to huge queues everywhere.
The number of motorists who suddenly decided they really must refuel now tripled. But the staggering figure is they only bought five litres more than normal.
Makes you wonder if companies are cutting things a bit fine, or if we’ve all been a bit silly. Both, probably.
Still, at least we can make it to the airport, and get to an awful lot more holiday destinations, thanks to new rules that’ve just been introduced.
Dozens of countries have been lopped off the government’s no-go list, leaving just a handful, in the biggest reopening of foreign travel since the pandemic began.
Ministers have also given up on plans to make holidaymakers video themselves taking tests, after the travel industry said it’d make for a dog’s life for all concerned.
And talking of wo/man’s best friend, a bunch of boffins have got owners to make good use of Covid lockdowns by checking out their pooches’ powers of perception.
Scientists at the Family Dog Project at Eotvos Lorand University in Hungary wanted to know if they could do better than just learn things like ‘sit’ or ‘down’.
They found half a dozen who earned a place in the superdog category by proving they knew the names of at least twenty-eight different toys.
One even managed more than hundred of them.
As the top researcher Claudia Fugazza put it: ‘These gifted dogs can learn new names of toys at a remarkable speed.’
And the rest. A new House of Commons speaker has to learn a lot of names every bit as quickly. But it seems the right dog might be just as fitted to the task.
Some might argue even better, on the grounds MP’s are all barking anyway.
Peter Spencer has 40 years experience as a Political Correspondent in Westminster, working with London Broadcasting and Sky News. For more of his fascinating musings on the turbulent political landscape, follow him on Facebook & Twitter.
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