You could be forgiven for feeling exhausted. Since the general election in December 2019 – in itself a tiring and dispiriting event – it seems as if bad news, government incompetence and poorly judged behaviour have been relentless. When Boris Johnson dreamed of being “World King”, is this the type of prime minister (PM) he wanted to be? Was this the way he wanted to run the country? Are these the policies he wanted to enact? Or had he never thought through the details?
As he packed his bags for six weeks at Chequers (two of which will be spent on holiday in Scotland), here’s what the PM was hoping you’d forget over the summer …
Mis-management of the Covid-19 pandemic
By any standard, this has been disastrous in England. More than 65,000 excess deaths. A failure to prepare, despite ‘Operation Cygnus’. Prioritising ‘Brexit over breathing’ in what the PM once quipped was ‘operation last gasp’, but which later became known as ‘ventilator-gate’. Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) supply that can best be described as chaotic, at worst corrupt, with over £1bn awarded to pals of those in power, some of whom have yet to deliver. Our eye-wateringly expensive but ineffective £10bn Test, Track and Trace (TTT) system – a fiasco, despite executive chair Baroness Dido Harding’s assurances to the contrary. The scandalous neglect of care homes: Matt Hancock’s ‘ring of steel’ turned out to be made from the flimsy foil sweets are wrapped in.
Then there’s the arrogant unelected bureaucrat who broke lockdown while Johnson was invoking the country’s ‘all in this together’ spirit. A shaggy-dog story about Dominic Cummings’s Durham flit and Barnard Castle lie – sorry – eye-test. A shambolic exit from lockdown to distract from said shaggy-dog story. The government’s steadfast refusal to do anything but clap for the NHS. Dilatory preparation for the oncoming second wave …
The shame of having to be constantly fact-checked, especially after prime minister’s questions (PMQs)
Lies about statistics, picked up by the Office for Statistics Regulation. Lies about child poverty, picked up by the Office of the Children’s Commissioner. Lies about a £5bn ‘new deal’, picked up by fact-checking sites and found to consist of old, already announced projects. Lies about international comparisons, advice given to care homes, PPE supply, the amount of testing being conducted, the progress of the tracing app, and on and on, picked up by the leader of the opposition (LOTO), Sir Keir Starmer, at PMQs. Frustrated with the PM’s pathological inability to tell the truth, Starmer has taken to bringing physical copies of the government’s own reports and presentations to wave at the PM across the dispatch box. Yet still the PM lies.
“He’s been found out. He either dodges the question, or he gives dodgy answers,” quipped Starmer after one of their more combative exchanges.
Revelations of the failure of three successive PMs and their governments to protect our democracy from interference by Russia
This was the key and most shocking takeaway from the long-awaited Russia report released by the intelligence and security committee (ISC). ‘Londongrad’ is the money-laundering capital of the world. Russian interference is the “new normal”. Russian influence pervades every walk of life, especially politics. The Times revealed six cabinet ministers, ten junior ministers and two newly appointed members of the ISC had received Russian-linked money, as well as numerous other backbenchers and former ministers. Not that there was anything wrong with these donations per se. It was the source of the funds that was suspect, coming from near-bankrupt companies or individuals with excessive debt. The report also highlighted the House of Lords as a weak link. A week later, the PM awarded his buddy Evgeny Lebedev, son of a former KGB spy in London, a peerage.
Ahead of the release of the report, Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab had come out swinging with a clumsy defence, trying to throw shade on Jeremy Corbyn for making hay with documents allegedly leaked by Russian hackers during the general election. The leak had come from former international trade secretary and current candidate for the WTO director generalship Liam Fox’s email account, hacked between 12 July and 21 October 2019 – which doesn’t explain how The Telegraph got hold of the documents to publish them on 10 July. All Raab has succeeded in doing is to confirm that the Tories are lying their faces off: the NHS is indeed on the table in the trade talks with the US.
A sudden recrudescence of sleaze
‘Millennial’ secretary of state for housing, communities and local government Robert Jenrick was one of the first to break lockdown and THE first not to have the integrity to resign. So, the press took a closer look at him … He’s shocked his constituents by claiming £100,000 in parliamentary expenses for his THIRD home. He’s embroiled in cash-for-favours rows in both the Westferry scandal and the Quinn affair. He’s getting heat for allocating the £3.6bn regeneration fund to Conservative marginals prior to the 2019 general election, instead of deprived areas.
Meanwhile, the row over the investigation into Priti Patel’s bullying still simmers, despite the government’s attempt to extinguish it by moving the head of ethics (who refused to ignore the evidence) to another post. This past weekend, a Conservative MP was arrested on suspicion of rape. Chief Whip Mark Spencer and Leader of the House Jacob Reese-Mogg breached their duty of care to safeguard other members of staff on the parliamentary estate by not removing the whip immediately they found out about it. Now they can’t because everyone will know who it is if they do. The victim is said to be distraught that the MP has not been suspended.
Brexit doom reaching its zenith
The former Conservative leader, Iain Duncan Smith, has admitted he didn’t read the Withdrawal Agreement before it was signed, and now he has, he’s not a happy bunny. He claimed some people may have missed things buried in the small print, even though the document is printed in the same font and font size throughout. Curiously, he’s on record urging the house to cut the time for consideration of the treaty to three days, saying it had been “thrashed to death”. He triumphantly helped to vote it through parliament. Apparently, he didn’t know what he was voting for; unlike the British public back in 2016, when all we had to go on was lies from politicians like him, and not a 451-page document outlining details.
Despite the political declaration accompanying the Withdrawal Agreement, ‘no deal’ is once again looming on the horizon. This will be the third year in a row our government has spoilt our Christmas with the threat of it. Some suspect it is what the government has wanted all along. Rachel Johnson once said as much: it will yield a big payoff for Conservative Party donors who have bet in size against the British economy. No matter what happens, it will be 100 per cent this government’s choice. It won an 80-seat majority. It could have extended transition to give us all time to recover from the Covid-19 hit. The country isn’t ready, and can’t be ready on time. IT systems can’t be changed until the terms of trade are known, and changing IT systems is a lengthy process. The government has war-gamed the calamity of no deal Brexit on top of a second wave of the Covid-19 pandemic, a winter flu epidemic and recession. The solution involves the army – and not in a good way.
Hazard a guess as to what Boris Johnson’s response is to all this …
None of it has happened, or is now happening, if the PM can successfully distract you from it. To that end, he’s awarded £3m of our money to a PR company, Topham Guerin, run by two young New Zealanders to do Covid-19 messaging. They specialise in fake news, the goal of which is to sow confusion. Previously, they re-branded the Conservatives’ Twitter page as a fact-checking site, and even set up a fake website imitating Labour. How this qualifies them to do public health comms, which requires the utmost clarity, I do not know. Their first contribution is a new 3-word slogan: “Hands. Face. Space.”
Can you see my eyes rolling from where you’re sitting? Meanwhile, the great issues of the day remain unsolved and with no plan to tackle them: inequality, recession, racism, an ageing population and the climate crisis to name but five.
Enjoy the summer. Then come back ready to take Boris Johnson and his government to task.