Photo by Ian Dooley on Unsplash
It is said that the proof of the pudding is in the eating. Former Prime Minister Winston Churchill clearly endorsed this when he sent back to the kitchen a dull dessert, complaining that the pudding had no theme. It raises the question as to which pudding best represents the theme of recent Conservative Premierships.
David Cameron and Boris Johnson combined to bequeath the UK the disastrous legacy of Brexit. Given they both went to the same illustrious public school, the pudding theme for both their times in office has to be the traditional offering of strawberries, cream and meringue appropriately known as Eton Mess.
Between these two came Theresa May, who had to grapple with some of her senior ministers always opposing her. Perhaps cabinet pudding – pre-divided into separate portions – would be appropriate here.
For Liz Truss, looking back to the past while heading the shortest tenure as PM of modern times, it must be Traditional Old English Fruitcake.
The Sunak premiership is still work in progress – if one can label delaying of key decisions and ducking responsibility as work. But the pudding choice is becoming increasingly clear following the latest example of dither and delay over the problem of RAAC (Re-inforced Autoclaved Aerated Concrete). This is literally causing school buildings to collapse, which the Government typically only announced the day before schools were about to start the new term despite warnings given much earlier. The authorities are now investigating whether a similar problem is affecting not just hospitals and courts but the very centre of our democracy the Houses of Parliament – as if those ancient buildings did not have enough problems already.
In 2017 a piece of masonry broke from the roof smashing an MP’s car windscreen. In 2018 another piece fell off, this time from Parliament’s Victoria tower. Last year, a dodgy light caused an electrical fire which was happily dealt with swiftly: some 40 fires have been detected between 2008 and 2012 and there is now a four-person fire-safety team patrolling the palace literally every hour of every day.
Last year the House of Commons had to suspend a session after water started pouring through the ceiling: at least it might have helped to put out any potential fire.
Recognising the scale of the problem(s) the cross-party Commons Public Accounts Committee agreed that something had to be done, that it was urgent, and that it could only be effectively achieved if there was a complete decant of Parliamentarians and their staff for at least six years. The cost was estimated at just under £4 billion. This was back in 2017.
2023 was the year in which the decant from Westminster would take effect. Readers will have observed that MPs are still there.
The Treasury confirmed that any delay or dilution of the programme and the cost would escalate dramatically. The delay to-date has already raised the likely price to £13 billion with one recent forecast projecting costs could be as high as £22 billion and take an extra 27 to 48 years.
Leading the debate against any sensible solution was the then Leader of the House the ultra-Conservative Jacob Rees-Mogg. He said:“It seems to me that if we were to have a decant of 29 years we would never come back to this Palace.” Out in the real world, sensible folk might welcome this and add “and about time too!”
In design terms the Parliament buildings look back to another age rather than forward to the future. An oblong chamber, with two parties confrontationally opposite each other, with too few seats for members and no facility for electronic voting, the building should be allowed to become the museum it already really is. But faced with the problem – and the opportunity – this Government chooses to do nothing at all.
If MPs cannot be relied upon to take care of their own place of work, how much confidence can there be that they can take care of the country? In the pudding context, one word increasingly comes to mind: Crumble.
Schools are crumbling, as is the supply of teachers. Care homes are crumbling, as is the supply of local pharmacies. The NHS is crumbling, as is the availability of doctors and nurses.
Roads are crumbling with growing numbers of potholes, and more Councils are running out of money to pay for a range of public services. Trust in the police – and indeed in the Government itself – has been crumbling for some time. The list goes on.
So an obvious choice for a pudding is a wide range of assorted Crumbles.
But there is another option, given the scale of the crumbles and in particular that voters in the UK may have over a year to wait for any chance of change. There is a perfect phonetic pudding: “I scream”.