“Christmas won’t be Christmas without any presents,” says Jo at the start of Little Women. BoJo is going one better. This Christmas, not only will there be no presents, but there will be no anything. After cancelling Christmas altogether last year, this time around he is creating a kind of half-Christmas, Christmas methadone, to ease us back into the festival. There is nothing the man will not do to get himself compared to Churchill. Thanks to his foresight and the happy accidents of the global economy, we will be able to wallow in our beloved blitz spirit, making do and mending, with a safe low dosage of consumerism to tide us over.
There will be no PlayStation 5 under where the Christmas tree used to be. There will be no jokes in Mrs Brown’s Boys, as usual, but none in the Christmas crackers either. There’s no petrol or HGV drivers, of course, but correspondents also report shortages of tennis balls, merlot, white bread, sardines, M&S chicken kievs, fish sauce, frozen apple strudel, tinned sardines, spring onions, fire alarms, an effective opposition, chocolate Hobnobs, cat vaccines, cat worming pills, bubble bath, Leon fish-finger wraps, marmalade, butter beans, dog-poo bags, goats, crisps, decaf coffee, bulbs (plant), bulbs (light), pigs, blankets, pigs-in-blankets, roofing lead and Harry Potter merchandise, especially wands. The last is hard to take; usually there are more wands than you can shake a stick at.
On the off-chance you manage to get to 25 December with a full tank and are able to dodge Insulate Britain’s armed roadblocks, you’ll arrive at houses that are too expensive to heat. The environmentalists ought to be encouraging the free movement of cars this Christmas; there are few people more persuasive on the subject of double-glazing than a chilly mother-in-law. There won’t be any turkeys, or at least not dead ones. There are plenty waddling around in barns, but there’s nobody to slaughter them. For the handful that do make it to Bernard Matthews’ big barn in the sky, there’s nobody to drive them to the shops. In a delicious irony, there are shortages of everything except shortages. Like it or not, this is what leadership looks like.
Nobody could accuse this government of neglecting traditional values. This brave, embattled group of officials have worked out the kind of country they want and are going full tilt towards achieving it. They have looked at our tiny lives and realised that while we pretend to crave the choices occasioned by being a modern nation, really we hate them. We scroll Netflix for an hour, increasingly furious, before giving up and going to bed. With the entire history of recorded music in our pockets we turn again and again to Ed Sheeran. We thumb through a hundred cuisines on Deliveroo before deciding to order Domino’s. We don’t know what to do with choice.
Through the government’s careful husbandry of shortages, it is removing mundane consumer decisions like what cereal to buy or what milk to put in your flat white, and replacing them with more existential queries, like “will my children starve?” and “will I be able to heat my home?”. In doing so it is creating meaningful experiences for a generation that has grown soft. The joy of selecting from 20 types of pasta is nothing compared to knowing you have snaffled the last packet in Islington. You probably take turning the lights on for granted, but you won’t when they’ve been off for a month. Up and down the country, people who will never know what it’s like to fight in a war are getting a taster of the same esprit de corps on petrol station forecourts.
As to Christmas itself, the event has been crying out for a bit more drama. Rather than a bloated jamboree of dry turkey – a bird that at the best of times proves a choice of meats isn’t always desirable – and low-grade family conflict, Christmas 2021 will be a wholesome affair more in keeping with the original event. Small groups of us, having reverted to subsistence farming, will be sitting around on hillsides, guarding our livestock, before using the stars to navigate on foot to an inn and asking if we might sleep in the barn. We still have two months to go. Plenty of time to appreciate the irony that Brexit has helped bring about the kind of Christmas turkeys might actually have voted for.