As the Conservative party conference ploughs on, welcome to the Kingdom of Shambolica:
- 137,000 deaths from Covid (official figures), but probably a great deal more
- blowing over £37 billion on a test-and-trace programme that never worked properly
- an NHS on its knees and menaced with yet more privatisation
- growing evidence of dodgy Russian donors to the Conservative party
- queues and violence outside fuelless petrol stations
- energy firms going bust daily
- unpicked crops rotting in the fields
- empty supermarket shelves
- fishermen submerged beneath a tide of empty promises
- uncollected rubbish mounting in the street thanks to a shortage of HGV drivers
- social care at the mercy of an undelivered government master plan
- the poor obliged to beg local authorities for a life-saving handout
- and now the prospect of tens of thousands of culled piglets in the absence of anyone with the skills to butcher them safely.
Welcome to Global Britain, the once-prosperous country that can barely feed itself. How on earth did we ever end up here?
Most of the answer lies in the expansive lap of one man: Boris Johnson. Greedy for the top desk in Downing Street, and desperate to blag a place in the history books, he grabbed a ride on the Brexit express and rode to a crushing election victory on the back of a single three-word slogan: Get Brexit Done.
This is kindergarten politics, a message even Year One kids can understand. It appeals to impatience, xenophobia, and a lack of interest in the small print. Johnson is world-class at all three, as his calamitous premiership so amply reveals. An infantilised electorate took him at his word, and the results – all too sadly – now occupy front page after front page.
The charge sheet is long. Given the referendum was won on such a narrow margin, how come Johnson settled for the worst of all worlds by backing out of every organisation he considered tainted by the word ‘European’. How is that he never anticipated the mass exodus of pickers, butchers, drivers, carers, bar staff, waiters, and all-purpose Euro-muscle? Had he never read ‘Britannia Unchained’, co-authored by Kwasi Kwarteng (his current Secretary of State for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy), Priti Patel (his current Home Secretary). Dominic Raab, (his current Deputy), and Liz Truss (his current Foreign Secretary)? Didn’t he realise that ‘the British are among the worst idlers in the world’? That we are ‘more interested in football and pop music’ than back-breaking days in Cornish daffodil fields, or the hell on wheels that used to be a decent job for HGV drivers? Did the hundreds of thousands of unfilled vacancies come as some kind of surprise?
And this is before he took a cursory glance at the Withdrawal Agreement, just days before the EU-deadline, and consigned the Northern Irish to the strange limbo beyond the reach of many British suppliers but still aligned to its European neighbour, the Republic of Ireland. At the time, he denied he’d drawn a customs line down the middle of Irish Sea. On his feet in front of Ulster audiences, he guaranteed that everything would be for the best in the new Kingdom of Shambolica: no extra paperwork, no empty shelves, just the heady freedoms of newly Global Britain.
It was, of course a lie. Either that, or – in the spirit of his recent address to the UN – it simply didn’t didn’t occur to him that there might be consequences. ‘We believe that someone will clear up the mess we make…’ he warned the world from the podium, ‘….because that is what someone else has always done.’ A very similar line was reported to the press from Carrie Symonds’ neighbour in the days when Boris and his then-girlfriend were having a small hours domestic over his habit of spilling red wine all over her sofa. ‘You just don’t bloody care’, she told him.
Alas, the EU-pigeons are now coming home to roost. Not just the French fishermen angered by their exclusion from mutually agreed fishing grounds. Not just the armies of once-admiring politicians and diplomats in every European capital, bewildered by the sight of the Brits on their knees. Not just Chairman Xi, trying to hide his laughter as our magnificent new aircraft carrier trails her coat in the South China Sea. But even the Americans, our very special partners, now declining to start negotiations on the trade deal the Brexiteers assured us was virtually ready for signature. Your future belongs with your geographic partners, they quietly point out. Why abandon the world’s biggest trade block for the chaos of self-willed isolation?
Why, indeed. The Kingdom of Shambolica is perhaps too kind a vision. Where we find ourselves now is beyond the reach of even Johnsonian metaphor, a helplessness made all the more painful by the lack of an effective opposition. If he’s good at anything beyond deceit and boosterism, then Johnson is truly made for the political dancefloor. He understands the power of laughter. He likes it that he can preside over the enveloping chaos, knowing that he heads a cabinet of yes-men. And he loves those moments when he can roar defiance across the floor of the House of Commons, knowing that the Leader of the Opposition is crippled by sheer decency.
We live in a very different country now. Over the past two years, we’ve collectively surrendered to a bunch of hucksters, liars and incompetents with little interest in anything beyond their own survival. We will reap what they’ve sown. Except no one will deign to stoop in the rain and pick the crop.