As we sat down and watched through our fingers as Paschal Donohoe delivered his Budget yesterday, our minds were focused on national issues. But the world keeps turning, and events in the UK will inevitably have an impact on us as well.
Essentially, the Tories have tanked the pound. Kwasi Kwarteng delivered a budget that horrified the experts who had warned before its publication that his new measures could prove disastrous. Which is exactly what happened.
Within hours of his budget, the markets began to get nervous and sterling plunged to an all-time low. When yesterday’s financial figures were announced, the pound had plummeted to $1.06.
For many of us, fluctuating currency exchanges are about as exciting as sitting out in your back garden watching the grass grow. However, these developments have a real-world impact – for instance, British travellers heading off to the US were shocked on Monday to discover they were getting only 86c to the pound when they went to exchange their money.
Obviously, it has far more serious implications than merely annoying some tourists. Mortgages are now even more unattainable for ordinary people in the UK, prices for everyday goods are going through the roof and tens of thousands of British citizens now admit they simply cannot afford to live under these conditions.
When Liz Truss replaced the defenestrated Boris Johnson as prime minister, she must have known she was never going to enjoy a brief honeymoon. In fact, if news of a revolt already being planned by numerous Tory backbenchers is true, it would appear they have skipped the honeymoon phase and moved straight to divorce proceedings.
The fact Labour now enjoys its greatest lead over the Tories in two decades has set the cat among the pigeons in Truss’s own party, although with the staggering degree of vicious blue-on-blue in-fighting, it might be more accurate to say they’re more like cats fighting in a bag.
Under Johnson, they won an 80-seat majority, smashed Labour’s traditional dominance in northern constituencies and looked set to enjoy a period of almost unparalleled power.
But if Johnson was the Tories’ biggest asset, he was also their biggest liability, and even long-time Conservative members were worried his rather chaotic personality would eventually come back to bite him. Which is exactly what happened.
So how did Labour manage to turn an eye-wateringly bad electoral performance in 2019 into a such a huge lead in today’s opinion polls?
Well, Labour leader Keir Starmer may be a walking charisma vacuum, but his greatest strength is that he is not Jeremy Corbyn, a man so divisive that at one point it looked as if Labour was going to sunder into two different parties.
Corbyn may be forgotten, but he’s not gone, as he has proved at numerous events at the Labour conference currently being held in Liverpool. He still retains great loyalty among the more extreme elements of the party, particularly when he posed for pictures on Monday while playing a video game where you get to shoot Margaret Thatcher.
Most sensible Labour politicians know that if they ever want to win another election, they have to come across as reasonable and not entirely mad – something Corbyn never achieved.
The Tories like to mock Starmer as staid and boring – and there is plenty to mock, in fairness – but he also comes across as a safe pair of hands, although dull.
But the days of the Conservatives offering stability and security seem to have evaporated into the ether. Johnson’s main fault was he campaigned as a Tory but governed like a Liberal Democrat, and that enraged voters who had switched allegiance to him.
There are plenty who say he should never have been deposed, but after Partygate he became a busted flush because the public mood in the UK at the moment seems positively vengeful – just ask Holly Willoughby and Phillip Schofield (the television presenters are currently subject to a petition of 75,000 people demanding they be sacked from their TV show for their heinous crime of allegedly skipping the queue to see Queen Elizabeth lying in state).
Truss will know she’s fighting a war on two fronts: against a massively resurgent Labour and a massively mutinous cabal of her own backbenchers.
But it should also be remembered that there is more to a society than just the economy, and while their economy looks increasingly shaky, the bigger picture isn’t very pretty either.
Britain is beset by strikes. The militant unions and their deliberately exorbitant pay demands have managed to grind many of their big cities to a complete standstill. And they warn that it is going to get a lot worse before it gets better, with a winter of extreme discontent on the horizon.
If it’s not Mick Lynch and his supporters causing the stoppages, it’s members of groups such as Extinction Rebellion gluing themselves to main roads and other vital installations.
Frankly, the UK is looking a bit like it’s falling apart at the seams. I’m too young to remember the industrial chaos of the 1970s, but many British observers fear they’re hurtling back to those grim days of scheduled blackouts, a three-day week and never having your bins collected.
On top of that, they also have to deal with growing violence in Leicester and Nottingham between gangs of young Muslims fighting on the streets with gangs of young Hindus. So, apart from their own homemade problems, they also have to deal with imported racial tensions.
Technically, Truss has the guts of two years before the next election to try to steady the ship. Does anyone seriously think she will still be around?