Dismal Britain in dire straits and government gets the blame

A man behind bars. In Britain, judges have been told to delay the sentencing of convicted criminals who are on bail because prisons are bursting at the seams.

Photo credit: File

Setting aside the hyperbole, this is how a letter writer to a local newspaper saw the United Kingdom one day last week:

“This is a broken country. We have been led by Conservative politicians who have lied to us, we have inflation far higher than comparable European countries, the National Health Service has been starved of funds, resulting in a 7.8 million people being on the waiting list.

“Our rivers are filled with sewage, our trains are not running and our schools are falling down.”

He might have added that, according to the Institute for Government think tank, our public services, including hospitals, police, courts and prisons, are in a dire strait and will degenerate further unless current spending plans change.

Not only are courts beset by record case backlogs, reports in several newspapers say that judges have been told to delay the sentencing of convicted criminals who are on bail because prisons are bursting at the seams.

The prison population increased by more than 6,500 last year, bringing it close to the capacity figure of 88,667.

Already, the government has announced measures for the emergency use of 400 holding cells at police stations and it said recently it would rent prison cells in foreign countries if necessary.

It is not hard to guess who most people blame for this situation, namely the ruling Conservative party and its latest three prime ministers – the current Rishi Sunak and his predecessors Liz Truss and Boris Johnson.

And of the three, it is usually Johnson who catches most of the flak. Just last week it was revealed that Simon Case, the UK’s top civil servant, told colleagues in private that Johnson “cannot lead” and “changes strategic direction every day.”

His comments in private WhatsApp messages in September 2020 were disclosed at a Covid inquiry into government performance at the time of the pandemic.

A leading Tory, Bernard Ingham, long-time Press Secretary to Margaret Thatcher, said, “The stench of decay hanging over Westminster is becoming unbearable.”

That was late last year shortly before Mr Ingham’s death. It would be difficult to convince Britons that things are any better today.

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Among the items mentioned in last week’s ruminations about Halloween was the pumpkin, that big, yellow fruit, native to America, which kids carve into lanterns with a candle inside.

But there’s more to the pumpkin than that. Picking your own has become something of a national pastime here, as well as a money-spinner for farmers.

Largely thanks to social media, families across the country are paying farmers to let them check through their crops and choose their own scary fruit.

Said Welsh farmer Phil Handley, “A pumpkin in a supermarket might cost a couple of pounds, but people will pay more for the outdoor experience and have fun finding their own fruit. So our pumpkins average out at £5, which is £25,000 an acre.”

In some farms which host pick-your-own days the pumpkins come free.

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Does nobody ever die in the UK? Silly question, but if you check the classified columns of any local newspaper, you might wonder.

My Evening Chronicle says one unfortunate lady “left this earth suddenly but peacefully,” while a young man was “tragically taken too soon.”

The modes of transport were not specified. The great majority “passed away peacefully” or, that being too blunt, just “passed,” invariably “surrounded by a loving family.”

I’m well aware that language changes constantly, that is its nature. When I was a boy, a lowly shopkeeper would address his male customers as “Sir.” Now he says, “Mate.” Four hundred years earlier, in Shakespeare’s day, it would probably have been “Master.”

But avoidance of the D-word in modern life rather suggests deference to one of our ruling “isms,” namely “secularism,” which is deeply uneasy with anything remotely spiritual.

And certainly “dying” hints at coffins and funerals and prayers and other things which might be described (God forbid) as godly.

So when Grandma draws her last breath, let’s just say she got dealt a bad hand in her favourite card game and decided to pass.

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He was the saddest man in the bar, just sitting and looking at his drink. Seeing this, a truck driver picks up the drink and sloshes it all down, whereon the sad man starts crying. Says the truck driver, “Come on. I was just joking, I’ll buy you another.”

“It’s not that,” the sad man said, “this is the worst day of my life.

“I am late at the office and my boss fires me, then I find my car has been stolen. I walk all the way home only to find my wife in bed with the gardener. So I come to this bar and just when I am thinking of putting an end to my life, you show up and drink my poison.”