Discussing the Prime Ministerial tendency to put off elections when one is in trouble, hoping that something will appear to change one’s fortunes, Tony Blair noted that it is much more likely that whatever emerges will make things worse instead. Rishi Sunak held off the next election, hoping to be saved by events. The event he has been given is the RAAC scandal.

For those who did not spend every day last week hearing about it, RAAC stands for Reinforced Autoclaved Aerated Concrete. It was a material used in construction between 1950 and 1990. In search of cheaper building materials in the 1950s, developers and governments accepted the material’s limited lifespan to avoid the significantly greater construction cost without it.

So far, not so scandalous. A policy-wonk issue, perhaps. One to quietly occupy civil servants, think tanks, and a handful of politicians who choose to take an interest.

Yet RAAC exploded dramatically onto the political scene at the start of last week. Days before the start of the new term, the Department for Education notified English schools that teaching spaces built with the material and which fall above a particular risk threshold could not re-open.

Whitehall whirred into a frenzy as other departments with their own estates to manage turned on the DfE, accusing the Education Secretary, Gillian Keegan, of overreacting and failing to coordinate across government.

And then, in an incredible act of self-immolation, at the end of an interview with ITV, Keegan – still on camera, still on the mic – decried the lack of thanks for, in her words, doing “a f****** good job because everyone else has sat on their arse and done nothing”.

It was not a clip the government would have wanted played across the airwaves for the rest of the week. But it at least covered for Keegan stating in the same interview that “a school can collapse for many reasons, not just RAAC”. Like what, exactly?

It rapidly emerged that the Department of Education had tried to secure funding to rebuild 100 RAAC-affected schools in 2021, but the then-Chancellor, Rishi Sunak, granted funding for just 50 schools. It’s not a great look for the Prime Minister now.

Mr Sunak insisted that 95% of schools were unaffected, which of course was taken to mean that one in 20 schools in England are affected by RAAC.

And in a flailing performance at PMQs, Sunak accused Keir Starmer of having never mentioned the issue before – as if that matters – which later turned out to be a falsehood, as Sir Keir mentioned “crumbling schools” in his summer education speech. Number 10’s clarification that he hadn’t specifically mentioned RAAC was deservedly ignored.

By the end of the week, assessments of RAAC-related risk in the public and private sector were underway, and a scandal had been born, the latest of many to plague this beleaguered government.

But this one is different. Worse. Deadlier, though Keegan may not be sacked, and Sunak will not be ousted over it.

Firstly, it’s literally a school gate issue. It directly impacts children, their parents, and teachers, inducing anxiety in millions of voters and their families who would normally not notice the latest government scandal.

Moreover, it means many children have to return to online schooling – at least part-time – while schools scramble to arrange temporary teaching space. The detrimental pandemic-era impacts on schoolchildren have not been forgotten, and even a brief return to similar conditions will leave parents and teachers feeling sick to their stomachs.

Even when temporary teaching space is in place, we’re talking about portacabins – hardly ideal classrooms. And when bracing structures are in place at the schools affected, how safe will teachers, parents, and children really feel with a return to the classrooms affected? Unlike Partygate, the RAAC scandal is one that touches the daily lives of millions.

Secondly, it feeds into pre-existing beliefs about the current government. They are perceived as a government of incompetents, presiding over a broken society in which nothing gets built and nothing works.

You can’t see a GP, you can’t get a train on time, your bins are overflowing, your housing costs are skyrocketing, the price of your weekly shop is unsustainable, and now your child’s school is crumbling.

Thirdly, timing. This would apply to any scandal, but in combination with these other factors, it is particularly problematic. This is an already scandal-struck government, deeply distrusted and disliked by the country at large. They have been in power too long and face a politically ruthless Opposition, miles ahead in the polls and willing to exploit their weaknesses.

ITV’s decision to publish the Keegan clip speaks a thousand words about the changed political environment we currently find ourselves in. That decision would not have been taken at the height of Boris Johnson’s pomp. The balance of power between the government and the forces that seek to keep it in check has shifted decisively.

Fourth, the RAAC scandal will burn bright but also long. Assessments of other public buildings will gradually come in, hitting the headlines each time – hospitals, prisons, government offices, crumbling and needing repair.

And the task of repairing them will be gargantuan. When the Chancellor, Jeremy Hunt, steps up to deliver his next budget, the big question will be how much – or how little – money is dedicated to RAAC.

This scandal will trundle on and on and on.

Lastly, and most importantly, the emergence of RAAC as an acute scandal and severe policy challenge is fundamentally, inextricably rooted in what has become this Tory government’s original sin: austerity.

RAAC is, and will be until the next election, the great symbol of everything wrong with the UK and our Conservative governments – over a decade of fiscal vandalism and atrophy of the public realm. It is not the straw that broke the camel’s back – that straw was an iron girder dropped from a great height by Liz Truss – but it is the final, symbolic nail in the coffin.

When Mr Sunak argues that he can fix the problems his party has created, he will be met with one word: RAAC.

They cannot run from it, and they cannot hide from it. The Conservatives built their 13 years in power on the bedrock of economic austerity, and like so much reinforced autoclaved aerated concrete, that bedrock has crumbled to dust.