diamond geezer

 Monday, September 19, 2022

The National Hiatus is almost over.

Britain stopped its clocks eleven days ago and things haven't been entirely normal since, be that muted, disrupted or totally on hold.

Newspapers have been full of souvenir tributes and royal retrospectives, initially as if nothing else were happening. Television has slowly flipped from single-channel mourning to reflective scheduling. Advertisers went quiet, then tried too hard to be respectful. Sport blew its whistle, arguably prematurely, lest anyone be seen to have fun. A pre-planned avalanche of choreographed ceremonial has provided touchpoints to fill our days.

We've always known this hiatus was coming, we just didn't know when it would hit. It could have crashlanded on top of the Olympics, or Christmas, or the FA Cup Final, or a general election, or a global pandemic, or your summer holiday, or anywhere. Arguably we've been fortunate that it happened in mid-September with the weather neither too hot nor too cold. The hiatus narrowly missed the Edinburgh Festival, waited long enough for children to have gone back to school and only slightly nudged the new series of Strictly. It even avoided a constitutional headache because the Queen stayed just well enough for just long enough to see the back of Boris Johnson.

What wasn't ever clear was precisely how long the National Hiatus would last. The best-laid plans always assumed the Queen would die on 'D-Day' and the funeral would be on D+9, making a total mourning period of ten days. But because she passed away after 4pm D=0 was knocked ahead by a day, delaying everything, and dying at Balmoral also added additional ceremonial stages north of the border before the coffin finally reached London. Four days of Lying-in-State and Ultimate Queueing were scheduled to begin on D+4 but because of Scotland only started on D+5. Under more typical circumstances everything would have been over by now, but instead we're getting the funeral on D+10, twelve days after her death.

And this extended National Hiatus has been particularly bad luck for our new Prime Minister. A fortnight ago on 5th September Liz Truss was declared leader of the Conservative Party, but not yet PM because Boris Johnson was still in the job. On 6th September she spent most of the day travelling to and from Balmoral, where she got to be the last person ever to be pictured with the Queen. On 7th September she filled her Cabinet, tried to make an impact at PMQs and prepared to loose her economic policies on the nation. On 8th September she stood up in the Commons to announce a career-defining energy price guarantee which'll likely be the largest splurge of public spending in modern history. And just 30 minutes later the first news from Balmoral trickled in, the newsgathering focus shifted elsewhere and her hard-earned momentum hit a constitutional brick wall.

Politics has been effectively silenced for the last week and a half with monarchy taking precedence over state. No announcements have been made, no interventions, no party jousting and no Parliamentary proceedings other than loyal tributes. And this comes straight after an even longer period of political inactivity, an entire two months since Boris Johnson resigned and chose to leave all the tough decisions to his successors. Energy prices? Hang on. Northern Ireland? Not yet. Soaring prices and tumbling pound? Hold that thought. Ukraine? Pakistan? Climate change? Can all wait. In normal times tackling calamity would have been at the top of the agenda for weeks but instead Urgent Action has essentially had 74 days off.

And it doesn't get any better for Liz Truss tomorrow. By an accident of the calendar she has to fly to New York to address the UN and give another of her not yet stateswomanlike speeches. On Wednesday Westminster reopens but only for the retaking of oaths while Liz is still stuck abroad meeting foreign ministers. On Thursday she flies back in time for what's likely to be the largest hike of interest rates in recent years, and only on Friday does the Chancellor stand up in the House to announce an emergency mini-budget that finally reveals to the public what Trussonomics is all about. Prepare for a shift to economic fifth gear with all the seat belts deliberately unbuckled.

And then ridiculously the Commons breaks up for a further two weeks to accommodate the party conference season, which someone somewhere must still deem necessary, and only on Tuesday 11th October does due debate finally start up again.

Liz's team spent the summer planning a launch campaign of shock and awe, then were forced to refine it to address the energy crisis, then forced to shut up. But during the last week and a half they'll have had ample opportunity to polish a volley of policy announcements supposedly designed to boost growth, and from tomorrow they'll start launching their policy cannons. We'll get to meet Thérèse Coffey and her targeted plans for the NHS. We'll be told that returning more taxes to the rich will boost growth and should eventually trickle down to the rest of us. We'll hear that bankers need bigger bonuses, that energy companies need more freedom, that hard workers deserve to be rewarded and that regulation has only been holding the country back. We may be in the midst of an unprecedented economic crisis but Liz Truss has long wanted to remodel the country on neoliberal lines and she's just about to trigger that evolutionary process no matter what.

You may be peeved that your favourite supermarket is closed today or that the only thing showing at your local cinema is the funeral. You may have had to cancel an important meeting or lost a day's pay or had surgery postponed because a bank holiday was declared at the last minute. You may be utterly tired of the whole deferential royal shebang by now.

But do try to take advantage of today's relative quiet and take time to take stock, because today is the final day of total inactivity and the full stop on the Elizabethan era. Tomorrow the Truss floodgates open, and you may just wish the National Hiatus had gone on a lot longer.

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