Gordon Brown is right: the cost of living crisis needs emergency action - not Tory party grandstanding

Gordon Brown has called for an emergency budget involving Boris Johnson and the candidates to replace him (Getty Images)Gordon Brown has called for an emergency budget involving Boris Johnson and the candidates to replace him (Getty Images)
Gordon Brown has called for an emergency budget involving Boris Johnson and the candidates to replace him (Getty Images) | Getty Images
The former prime minister is calling for an emergency budget ahead of the looming energy price cap rise - but it seems unlikely to happen before September

The Edinburgh Festival Fringe, cocooned within the well-heeled environs of the Scottish capital, feels far removed from the most pressing issues facing people across the UK right now.

It is however a welcome and much-needed diversion from the reality that many of us are facing at the moment and in the months to come - not to mention a much-needed boost to the local economy.

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While an eclectic mix of theatre, performance art and comedy is the standard Edinburgh festival fare, current and former politicians - never ones to miss a public platform - have muscled in on the action in recent years, whether it’s Nicola Sturgeon chairing events at the Book Festival, or Alex Salmond hosting his own chat show (not the one on Russia Today).

On Sunday it was the turn of Gordon Brown to use the arts jamboree as a platform.

But at least he used it to good effect, with an important message that managed to make headlines beyond Edinburgh’s Old Town.

Sitting alongside political comedian Matt Forde in the grand McEwan Hall (which hosted Brown’s own graduation many moons ago), the former prime minister was in a relaxed, raconteur-like mood, quite at odds with how he was often painted in the media during his time in Number 10.

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Once the pleasantries and reminiscences were over, however, he made an impassioned argument about the cost of living crisis that drew a burst of applause, reflecting the feeling in the hall - and society at large - that much more needs to be done. Now.

Referring back to his upbringing across the Forth in Fife, he took a leaf out of Liz Truss’s book and drew a comparison with what he’d seen himself growing up.

“The poverty we’re seeing around us and the poverty we’re going to see from October, because energy prices are going to go up dramatically, is something that I never thought we’d return to in my lifetime.

“You know, I grew up in Kirkcaldy, which was a mining town and a textiles town, and I saw unemployment and poverty as I grew up. And one of the reasons I wanted to be in politics was to do something about it.

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“But I thought we’d never go back to these conditions - you’ve got children going to school, ill-clad and hungry, you’ve got pensioners having to choose between feeding themselves and feeding the meter, you’ve got nurses - this is what’s outrageous - nurses having to queue up at food banks after doing a backbreaking shift at the hospital.”

Brown, who spent a decade as chancellor, stressed that “there’s only so much that charity can do” and that the cost of living crisis is a “moral crisis” because it’s within the power of elected officials to do something about it, despite the global pressures on energy costs.

He went on to reiterate his call for an emergency budget: “It’s got to be soon. Now I know Liz Truss and Rishi Sunak and Boris Johnson don’t really get on and I’m not sure they’re going to talk to each other ever again.

“But they should get together this week agree in emergency budget, and if they don’t, I think Parliament should be recalled immediately. Because this is a national crisis that needs emergency action.”

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Downing Street has since confirmed that Johnson has no intention of taking any meaningful action, so instead we have four more weeks of inertia until either Truss or Sunak become the new PM on 5 September.

A zombie government combined with the tiresome, drawn-out Tory leadership saga is not just unhelpful at a time of impending national crisis - it’s a tasteless joke that even the most desperate Fringe comedian wouldn’t dare to make.

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