THERE is a Russian proverb: the rich would have to eat money if the poor did not provide food. For millions of UK citizens watching the Tory Party leadership election – or coronation, considering Boris Johnson is the odds-on winner – it feels the best aspects of our country are on the menu.

Does that seem exaggerated? Think of President Trump’s recent state jamboree and his statement the NHS should be on the table for any post-Brexit trade deal with the USA. What he meant was that US private health providers could be enabled to carve up and feed off UK taxpayers as part of the Government’s slow-cook privatisation of the NHS.

Which brings us back to the Conservative leadership hopefuls. Who would be so naïve as to trust them with our NHS in such a one-sided negotiation? Certainly not former Tory Prime Minister John Major, hardly a left-leaning figure. He famously said of Boris Johnson and Michael Gove: “The NHS is about as safe with them as a pet hamster would be with a hungry python.”

In a very real sense it doesn’t matter which of the Tory contenders is awarded the prize they crave. After all, they are to a man (it is to a man) on record as being in agreement with each other on key essentials.

First off, austerity as a way of life for the ordinary people of Britain. Year-by-year cutbacks to local authority budgets until our social care system is failing vulnerable people. Huge hikes in the national debt to fund privatisation and tax cuts for the rich. Declining public services, libraries and access to affordable housing for struggling, low-paid families. Disabled and sick people forced into needless destitution by the Government’s policies. Streets steadily more unsafe due to a reduction of 20,000 in police numbers.

Let us not forget that according to Yorkshire’s own Joseph Rowntree Foundation more than 14 million people are struggling in poverty, or roughly one in five of the total UK population. Of these, 8.2 million are working-age adults, 4.1 million are children and 1.9 million are pensioners. Eight million people live in poverty in families where at least one person is in work.

This on-going outrage against compassion and decency seems just fine with the Conservative leadership contenders. Certainly, they never bother detailing how such inequalities will be turned around when they become Prime Minister.

Instead, we have the bizarre spectacle of pledges of further tax cuts for the most wealthy, along with no meaningful commitments to tackle the poison of perfectly legal tax avoidance offshore. As for the really crucial issue of our age, the crisis that could cost our children and grandchildren their prosperity, and maybe even lives, according to reliable scientific opinion, climate change is barely mentioned.

Why are British people so passive? I ask that of myself. We stand back and tut as the media circus prepares to foist a new Prime Minister upon the nation in an election where only Conservative Party members, a tiny percentage of the population, get the vote.

Personally I believe we take for granted the welfare state created after World War Two and the subsequent decades of relative prosperity. We can’t imagine being plunged back to the hardships of the 1930s. Yet all the evidence points the other way. Unless we are careful about the policies followed by the British state that reality could be knocking at your family’s front door. And it won’t be because of foreigners, as you’ll be encouraged to think by a hugely persuasive media.

Meanwhile we are told repeatedly that we should be obsessed with Brexit, as though the referendum defines British people’s lives.

Actually, any would-be leader of the UK has an urgent responsibility to bring all the regions and demographics of our divided nation together. The North, in particular, should no longer be viewed as our country’s poor relation just because the majority of Conservative MPs have seats in the South East.

What matters most are the life chances, access to justice, happiness and economic prosperity of all our citizens, however humble. Our next Prime Minister must stand for that above everything and match words with real change.