Who runs a caretaker government when the caretakers are on holiday?

It is difficult to find encouraging precedents for the current collective dereliction of duty, says Sean O’Grady

Earlier this summer, when ministers attended work

What do you call a country with a caretaker government when the caretaker has gone on holiday in the middle of an economic crisis and a European war?

Why, the United Kingdom, of course. It seems Boris Johnson might have had a point when he said that this was no time for a protracted and distracting leadership election. Of course, that was the price the country paid when his government collapsed beneath him through his own fault, and thus he cannot escape culpability. Still, so it is proving: Britain is drifting into recession and an existential struggle for survival for the most vulnerable in society. Families who, in Theresa May’s famous phrase, were just about managing in 2018 or 2019 are now faced with a squeeze on living standards unprecedented since the Second World War: higher fuel and food prices, energy bills, council tax, tax and national insurance, with rents and mortgages up.

The situation is getting dire and it demands leadership. But the caretaker prime minister is demob happy and on his second honeymoon, the caretaker chancellor, Nadhim Zahawi, is away on holiday and the caretaker deputy prime minister, Dominic Raab, is busily spinning for the former proper chancellor, Rishi Sunak. Meanwhile, the caretaker foreign secretary is touring the country making impossible promises and bad policy on the hoof. The likely future chancellor, Kwasi Kwarteng, doesn’t know the whereabouts of Boris Johnson (one can only hope that Carrie Johnson does). It’s not ideal.

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