If you thought you’d never hear right-wing provocateur Katie Hopkins use the words “collective action”, then you’re not alone – neither did she. And yet, over on TikTok, she’s employing the left-leaning term to urge the public to join her in helping “the most vulnerable” and “those least able to afford stuff” by refusing to pay their energy bills, in protest against exorbitant rising costs.
“It doesn’t really matter what people’s politics are right now,” she says. “The simple fact is people can’t afford to pay the bills that are going to be sent to their homes. We all have to stand together. This is everybody now.”
A far-right figure like Hopkins – who once said she wouldn’t let her children play with “lower class” kids – claiming to care about the vulnerable and those on low incomes seems… strange, right? But, increasingly, it’s not unusual. Last month, Good Morning Britain viewers hailed left-wing Tribune journalist Grace Blakeley as one of their “favourite” guests after she delivered a blistering takedown of the government, in light of its inaction in relation to the energy crisis.
When the Daily Mail attempted to revile one of the organisers of Don’t Pay UK – the campaign to boycott energy payments – its (usually right-leaning) readers turned against the publication, demanding that it “stop demonising people who fight back”, and questioning why it doesn’t “vilify the energy bosses making millions from us” instead.
Not just that, but it seems rising bills and lack of government action is causing Tory voters to desert the party, and even embrace (former) Labour policies, with nearly half backing the renationalisation of the UK’s energy network – something put forward by Jeremy Corbyn in his 2019 election manifesto, and mocked by the Tories at the time.
Top all that off with the fact that 55 per cent of people don’t think the government is taking the cost of living crisis seriously – not to mention the never-ending infighting about it between the Tories themselves, and the vast unpopularity of last week’s help-the-rich mini-budget announcement – and you’d be forgiven for thinking this could be the final nail in the Conservatives’ coffin.
Hopkins herself has observed that she’s “saying the same thing as many other people, who probably find [her] views morally or politically abhorrent”. She puts this down to the fact that “ordinary” people “can see that none of this is actually okay”. If this stands true, could it be that the cost of living crisis is finally uniting the UK – which has become increasingly polarised in recent years, largely thanks to Brexit – together against the Tories?
Before we get ahead of ourselves, it’s worth pointing out that this isn’t the first time the UK has seemingly banded together against the government, particularly in the last two years. Boris Johnson’s tenure as prime minister was marred by Tory sleaze, which resulted in his popularity plummeting, despite his supposed “colossal mandate”.
There were sexual misconduct allegations against eight MPs while he was in power – the latter of which led to the cabinet revolt that eventually forced Johnson’s resignation – as well as widespread corruption. But it was lockdown breaches, like Dominic Cummings’ notorious Barnard Castle trip, Matt Hancock’s cursed snog and Partygate that made up the lion’s share of scandals, leading to an immense outpouring of public anger. 59 per cent of people called for Johnson’s resignation, and the Tories dropped to their lowest polling position for over a quarter of a century.
But don’t be fooled: these kinds of widely reproached scandals were happening long before Johnson became prime minister (though not quite so frequently), and will likely continue as long as the Tories are in power. And yet they still haven’t managed to unite the country in finally ousting this greedy, selfish, unscrupulous party.
This is partly because many of them, like lobbying and expense scandals, feel far-removed from the average person’s everyday life. Meanwhile, others are portrayed as farcical – e.g. Cummings’ “testing his eyesight” – appearing more like the plot of a dystopian TV show rather than sinister acts of law-breaking or political corruption.
As journalist Andy Beckett points out in The Guardian: “deepening cynicism about politicians means that a chaotic government no longer shocks and alienates voters as much as it did in previous eras. Nowadays it’s widely expected that our leaders will be out of their depth, as well as entirely out for themselves”.
Corruption, lies, and abuses of power have, depressingly, become part and parcel of British politics. So much so that each scandal follows the same pattern: a dramatic revelation, mass media coverage, a meek apology, and maybe even a resignation. Then the dust settles, the public adopts the government’s line that the scandal is simply “a distraction” from the matter at hand – whether that’s the pandemic, the war in Ukraine, or, amazingly, the Queen’s death – and it’s quickly forgotten about. Just another Tory blunder, eh?
In recent years, this kind of thing has also been followed by a new Tory leader, a cabinet reshuffle, and a promise of something “different”. Rinse and repeat. Much of the public is so indoctrinated by this particular ruling class that they’ll endure all of this just to keep them in power (and fend off “the threat of Corbynism” while they’re at it).
But this might not work with the energy crisis. This time, the “scandal” at hand tangibly affects every single person in the country: everybody’s bills are skyrocketing, and everyone will feel the pinch on their wallets (though, obviously, some more than others).
This means that many people – like Hopkins – who can’t bring themselves to care about another person’s life when it’s threatened by deportation, hunger, or police brutality, can now employ a “we’re all in this together” attitude. This sparks trouble for the Tories, who, as journalist Ben Smoke pointed out, “really have underestimated how much cut-through this issue will have”.
This is starkly evidenced in the Don’t Pay UK campaign, which, a spokesperson tells THE FACE, comprises “anyone and everyone who’s had enough”. At the time of writing, this is 191,500 people (who won’t strike until the campaign hits one million), all of whom are “fed up with the rampant profiteering fuelling the cost of living crisis”. “Heating, food, and energy insecurity are all becoming increasingly harder to avoid, no matter what your background is,” the spokesperson continues. “We know that many of our neighbours and friends will be freezing this winter if we don’t fight back together.”
It’s not just that we’re all feeling the crisis’s effects, though – there’s also a general understanding among the public that it doesn’t have to be this way. The UK is currently the worst hit in western Europe when it comes to the energy crisis: household bills rose by 54 per cent in April, and, from October, will increase by another 27 per cent (going up from an average of £1,971 to £2,500 per year).
Other countries aren’t feeling the effects of the global crisis so heavily, largely thanks to government action. In France, the government limited energy bill hikes to four percent by making the state-owned energy provider take the financial hit, rather than households. Germany has nationalised its biggest gas importer. Spain is set to introduce a higher tax rate on the country’s richest one per cent, as well as a windfall tax on energy companies and banks.
Meanwhile, the UK government’s relief proposals were hindered by its usual summer parliamentary recess, extended this year in light of the Queen’s death, much to many people’s dismay. When measures were finally announced – including the introduction of a two-year energy price guarantee that limits the price suppliers can charge for each unit of energy, as well as a six-month cap for businesses – they were criticised by experts as “an expensive sticking plaster”.
“The government’s ‘price cap guarantee’ is a scam,” says the Don’t Pay UK spokesperson. “Our bills will be double what we were paying last year, and energy companies get their £170 billion profits guaranteed by the government. It’s a guarantee that we’ll be ripped off.”
Amid the chaos – including the pound hitting an all-time low against the dollar, the International Monetary Fund issuing an “unusually outspoken statement” criticising the Tories’ tax plans, and the Bank of England taking emergency action to stabilise the financial market – Labour has seized the opportunity to put itself on election footing. At this week’s Labour Conference, leader Keir Starmer delivered a widely praised speech that addressed formerly contentious Labour topics (including Brexit and the prospect of an SNP deal), emphasised Tory failures, and revealed bold policies, most notably a pledge to launch a publicly-owned green energy company. It’s been described by many – even Starmer’s most vocal left-wing critics – as “the best speech” he’s delivered since becoming the leader of the opposition. Good timing for him, and terrible timing for the increasingly unpopular Conservatives. As one Guardian journalist wrote: “It certainly made uncomfortable viewing for Tory MPs.”
Still, prime minister Liz Truss – who seems to have disappeared post-budget – doesn’t seem to be phased by the unpopularity of her policies. She’s adamantly ruled out using further windfall taxes on energy companies, despite three quarters of Tory voters preferring it to public borrowing, and has lifted the ban on fracking, in spite of expert warnings that it won’t help with the energy crisis. Then, of course, there’s the wildly unpopular mini-budget, which will see the rich gain an extra £9,187 a year from tax cuts, while the lowest income households will save just £22.12. This has been met with disdain by even the most loyal Tory voters.
Besides, even with this paltry government intervention, the predicted fallout of the energy crisis is still grim: an estimated three million people are set to be pushed into poverty, the NHS has warned that rising numbers of people will fall sick if they’re forced to live in cold homes, and the country’s poorest households are at risk of spending half their disposable income on energy bills. All the while, the country’s richest are set to get even richer.
Time and again, the Tories have shown that they’ll always prioritise the one per cent over the majority, but this time, they can’t spin and twist their way out of facts that are hard and fast affecting the masses. According to some outlets, Tory MPs are already sending no-confidence letters in Liz Truss, and on Monday, YouGov reported that Labour are 17 points ahead of the Conservative Party – the highest since 2001. The reality of the cost of living crisis is just too stark, and it seems that the 99 per cent, far too often ignored by the government, are once again getting ready to resist.