Covid, energy prices, supply-chain problems – a global issue exacerbated by Brexit’s new barriers – winter flu and an NHS under pressure all combine to raise fears of a winter if not quite of the level of discontent that saw Labour lose the 1979 general election, then certainly of unhappiness and uncertainty about the future.
Furthermore, few of the practical problems which persuaded many people to vote for Brexit – low wages chief among them – have been solved by leaving the EU, for all the talk about the alleged ‘benefits’ of controlling immigration.
After two years blighted by the pandemic, family-centred holidays, of which Christmas is the most important for many, have become increasingly significant. Tearful children on Christmas morning would only amplify the general sense of unease.
All this risks boiling up into a much broader crisis and one that could produce further political spasms which, like Brexit, only make things worse. History tells us that periods like this can have profound and lasting consequences.
In such a situation, what the country needs is for our elected representatives to live up the finest traditions of democracy – to forensically identify problems and find ways to fix them on a scale that lifts the public mood – rather than retreat to the dubious redoubt of populist rhetoric.
This will require a range of intelligent, humane and, perhaps above all, practical policy responses from government, both Conservative and SNP.
The first big opportunity for such measures is Sunak’s autumn Budget on October 27. He will be looking to start paying off the debts run up during the pandemic, but he should also seek to help those who need it most, from the poorest individuals to industrial sectors that are still struggling. Getting the balance right will be no easy task.
Other questions are simple. For example, given all today’s problems, it should be blindingly obvious that a trade war with the EU – a possible outcome of the spat over Northern Ireland – is the last thing any sensible government would allow.