Feature: In Britain, citizens care more about rising living costs than leadership race

0 Comment(s)Print E-mail Xinhua, August 5, 2022
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LONDON, Aug. 5 (Xinhua) -- On Canvey Island, where the River Thames meets the sea and a popular day-trip destination for city-weary Londoners, people quietly go about their business. Although the Tory leadership race dominates the country's media coverage, residents are preoccupied with more pressing concerns.

As soaring inflation in Britain takes its toll on consumer spending and sends shockwaves across industries, citizens in the small tourist town are growing increasingly anxious about the possibility of a gloomy and more uncertain economic outlook and care less about who will win the election and become the country's next prime minister.

In the town with a population of around 40,000, "the leadership race is hardly mentioned at all," said Owen Worsfold, who works at the local post office. "People here are more interested in the weather and talking about energy bills and the cost of living."

After Boris Johnson was ousted from Downing Street by a cabinet revolt in early July, 200,000-odd Conservative members in the country began to select their next party leader. They have chosen former Chancellor of the Exchequer Rishi Sunak and Foreign Secretary Liz Truss as the two finalists in the election. The winner will be announced on Sept. 5.

The reticence in the leadership contest is especially unusual for Canvey Island, a town in the Castle Point constituency, one of the safest constituencies for the ruling Conservative Party. In the 2019 general election, the Conservative candidate in Castle Point won 76.7 percent of the votes, the highest among the party's House of Commons seats.

"Canvey Island is suffering, like much of the leisure industry. The leadership contest is just not a hot topic at all on Canvey Island," Scott Petty, who owns the Leisure Island Fun Park along the Eastern Esplanade close to the riverfront, told Xinhua.

One hour from London, the island used to be humming with leisure activities in summer, but not so these days. Petty said the number of visitors to his park is down 50 percent compared with pre-pandemic days.

"The cost-of-living crisis means people just don't have the money to spend. If something has to go to help family budgets, it's often leisure and entertainment," Petty said.

Inflation in the country rose by 9.4 percent in June, hitting a fresh 40-year high. The Bank of England on Thursday projected that the figure would rise to 13 percent in the fourth quarter. A new grim analysis by utilities consultancy BFY Group said energy bills for British families would soar to 500 pounds (about 610 U.S. dollars) a month in January next year.

When shopping in the newly-opened Aldi supermarket famed for its low prices on Finchley Road in northwest London, Jahan Kabir, an accountant in his 30s, said he is more focused on rising living costs than the leadership campaign since the race is being decided solely by its party members while most of the country's citizens have no say. The more important is, the fast-growing prices of energy, food and household goods are what directly affect his day-to-day life.

Kabir said surging inflation is a significant problem that the future leader is expected to solve. Still, he doubts any of the two final candidates can offer a quick solution to it.

Although both Sunak and Truss have promised big tax cuts, it remains to be seen whether the winner will make good on the pledges and put a lid on runaway prices and slower growth.

Steve Nolan, a lecturer in economics at Liverpool John Moores University, told Xinhua that he is "fairly pessimistic" about what the next few years will bring for the British economy.

In Nolan's view, poverty is a big challenge. He voiced concern over whether the country's institutions would be strong enough to cope with it. "I definitely don't think the political actors are as strong as they need to be," he said.

"I wish the government had given us more help, but they haven't," said Petty, owner of the Canvey Island fun park. "You would have thought we would have been rewarded for our loyalty to the Conservatives, but instead, they just take our loyalty for granted." Enditem

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