Now we are in the time of truce, politically speaking. Politicians abide by it every summer. No papers are signed, no declarations made, but by unspoken agreement they withdraw from battle. A curious business: for 11 months of the year the members of all parties attack and challenge each other as if their lives depended on it. The urgency of the nation’s problems apparently demands it. Answers are sought, assurances given, taunts and tirades fly. But come Christmas, the rhetorical guns fall silent, as the real guns did on the Western Front in the First World War. One is irresistibly reminded of the famous stories about troops in opposing trenches singing carols to each other, even coming out into no man’s land to play a game of football. As if the terrible reasons for being at war with each other were not really that momentous—not even true, perhaps. If trying to kill each other mattered so much for the rest of the year, how could it be set aside so easily now? Was war in fact a giant game, to be taken up and put down as one chose?
So with our politicians. They have all gone on holiday and only the faintest murmur of disagreement clouds the air. We scarcely know where our leaders are. We may not want to know, I grant you—perhaps the public welcome this respite from having them in our faces all the time—but what about the ‘issues’ that seemed so vitally important during the rest of the year? What are we supposed to believe? That somehow ‘child poverty’ and ‘housing crisis’ have stopped happening? That the poor have taken a break too—kicked back for three or four weeks without a worry in the world before, come 18 January, when cabinet meetings resume, suddenly feeling poor again? I don’t think so. But how is it that politicians can so easily put on the back-burner what for the rest of the year is supposed to be boiling its head off on the front element?