There is something rotten in the state of the UK and the man at the top of it is absent, reportedly in Scotland, uttering perhaps that “fair is foul and foul is fair” while bouncing his bonny baby on his knee.
We were warned about Boris Johnson and yet the British electorate handed him a majority in December to do pretty much whatever he wants for the next five years. The UK would be staring down an imminent winter of discontent if only the collective whiplash and dizziness caused by the government’s countless U-turns and double speak made it possible to actually fathom the deadly seriousness of it all.
Johnson recently celebrated his first year as prime minister having replaced what was described as the UK’s worst ever PM, Theresa May with the promise to Get Brexit Done. What is evident is that May’s disastrous tenure is proving to be but a mere-starter to a five-year-long main course of mayhem given the record of Johnson’s administration to date.
The most frightening aspect is that not only is this government in charge of Brexit but that the chaos caused appears intentional and part of a master plan to break up the UK’s system of government by purposefully making everything fail in order to justify root and branch reform. The tactic has long been tried on the cherished NHS (being privatised from the periphery), and every other public body in receipt of a significant share of the public purse.
A ‘hard-right reign’ with Brexit on the horizon
Johnson’s untouchable, indispensable and utterly contemptible chief advisor Dominic Cummings warned the civil service that a “hard rain” is coming to Whitehall and has already managed to chop off the head of the civil service by forcing Sir Mark Sedwill to resign.
Brexit is on the horizon and one can’t help but speculate that Cummings may have been misquoted in so far as everything to date suggests a “hard-right reign” is set to fall upon and devastate not just Whitehall but the fabric of the UK itself.
This morning – one week after the A level debacle – GCSE pupils around the country are celebrating record results thanks to an(other) humiliating U-turn on the algorithm used to award grades after exams were cancelled due to coronavirus. But Btec students have been left in limbo after the latest last minute calamity at the top of government saw their grades-awarding postponed to “address concerns about unfairness”.
‘All-devouring, destructive force’
Universities have been reeling from the turmoil caused by government ineptitude while bereft, angry and devastated students have been scrambling to try and secure uni places first promised but then withdrawn, and then reinstated by some institutions, but not all – with the university term just weeks away from beginning. Millions of people have been severely and adversely affected yet the oleaginous education secretary continues to stroke his tarantula and hold onto his position. Former fire-place salesman, Tory chief whip, David Cameron chum, Theresa May ally, converted Johnson sycophant and disgraced secretary of state for defence Gavin Williamson famously calls his spider Cronus. The name comes from the Titan king who took revenge on his father’s cruelty by ripping Uranus’ testicles clean off with his hands. Cronus was the primordial God of time – the all-devouring, destructive force so metaphorically apt the government that has occupied Number 10 for the last 13 months.
It’s a relatively brief span yet one that manages to encapsulate a seemingly infinite litany of wasted time and billions in public money siphoned off, at the bequest of politicians to private companies. The clearest indicator of the rottenness of those in charge of the state is the grim and appalling reality that the UK ranks number one in suffering the highest number of excess deaths during the pandemic in Europe.
The public was warned about Boris Johnson’s leadership style so how much of a surprise is it that this country has fared so badly under his leadership after a decade of Tory austerity and rule?U-turn after u-turn after u-turn would not be acceptable by any so-called leader in any other sphere of life, business or society yet it has been one of the most defining features of this government since the outset. The last five months alone prove testament enough.
When the ‘virus was at its most rampant’
For example, experts said testing in the community was vital in the fight against Covid-19 yet it was scrapped by the UK government when the ‘virus was at its most rampant’.
Even before lockdown, way back on March 12 the government scrapped community testing to concentrate on testing in hospitals instead. The disastrous consequences for care homes’ residents and staff were exposed by the culling of the old and infirm who were denied testing “at a time when the spread of the virus was at its most rampant”, as the science and technology committee wrote to Johnson in May. The government cannot claim ignorance about this as on the very same day they axed community testing – March 12 – they raised the UK risk level to “high”. Even the Tory supporting Telegraph states the “decision to abandon mass testing on March 12 – a widely criticised move has been identified as one of the key reasons for Britain’s high coronavirus death toll.”
The month of May saw a flurry of u-turns as people started pointing out the brazen hypocrisy of virtuous ministers applauding NHS and key workers on Thursday evenings despite introducing policies to penalise them. For example, during Prime Minister’s Questions (PMQs) on May 20, Johnson steadfastly rejected pleas to scrap the controversial £400 NHS visa surcharge that overseas NHS staff and care workers were forced to pay, and which was set to increase to £624 in October. It was a manifesto pledge after all – a promise made to the electorate that Johnson’s Conservative government would not only continue charging the lowest paid workers the NHS visa surcharge, but that the fee would be increased “to ensure they [‘all foreign workers, including EU migrants after Brexit] are making a sufficient contribution towards our health service.”
The contribution already provided in terms of risking their lives to look after people on the frontline – in hospitals and care homes – was evidently not enough. The Tories wanted more and wanting to appear tough on immigration and migrants, they- wanted to increase the NHS visa surcharge by more than 50% and force some of the country’s hardest-working-lowest-paid people to pay extra. And EU nationals post-Brexit. Such is their wont.
However, the right-minded section of society is not so far right-wing or anywhere near as callous as the current administration running the country, and quite rightly were appalled to learn of the government’s plans. Even Johnson’s own backbenchers – always highly attuned to public opinion – put pressure on the PM to change course.
So, the very next day after ruling it out at PMQs – and as politicians gazed into their mirrors to ready themselves for that Thursday evening’s 8pm “Clap for Our Carers” event – news emerged from Downing Street that the PM had changed his mind. A statement said Johnson had thought “a great deal” about the issue and instructed officials to “remove NHS and care workers from the surcharge as soon as possible”.
One would have hoped the government would have already thought “a great deal” about the issue – and every other issue affecting people’s lives, given they are, after all, the government – before they drew up and introduced the policy. And then defended it before reversing it.
Had they done so they may have realised how unfair, uncaring and punitive the surcharge is on Britain’s lowest paid workers whose physical sacrifice – carrying a real and actual risk of death proven by the harrowing statistics showing how Covid-19 death rates are higher for Britain’s poorest.
But they will be charged again next year because the exemption is only for 12 months – showing the ‘migrant’ workers how much their efforts in fighting the virus on the frontline are actually valued and respected by the government. Despite how hard they clapped.
That very same PMQ day (May 20) saw the government u-turn on a decision that excluded the relatives of low paid NHS staff who die from Covid-19 from being granted indefinite leave to remain in the UK. The original bereavement scheme was introduced in April, as the first wave of the virus was peaking but excluded the families of porters, cleaners, social care workers and care home staff. After weeks of outrage – punctuated by the weekly claps for “our” carers – Johnson’s government again changed its mind.
As it had, eight days earlier (May 12), this time u-turning on the issue of face coverings when, after weeks stating the evidence of their benefits was weak, Johnson’s government announced face coverings should now be worn on public transport and in enclosed spaces – making it mandatory from June 15 for public transport users to don a mask.
The ‘coronavirus conga’
And as it did again, on several occasions through June, starting appropriately enough with a u-turn on allowing shielding MPs to vote in parliament by proxy.
MPs had been scandalised by Jacob Rees-Mogg’s oily insistence to end the ‘virtual’ working of Westminster and “disfranchise” the people’s representatives by forcing MPs back to the Commons to vote on the issue. The shambolic scenes saw MPs lined up, socially-distanced through the Palace and its grounds and forming what was dubbed a “coronavirus conga” at the time. One MP likened it to “exercise hour in a category C prison for white collar criminals”. When asked about what adjustments would be made for disabled MPs, Rees-Mogg replied: “MPs with health concerns will need to make their own decisions about what is appropriate for them.”
Only 10 Tory MPs rebelled against the government’s motion to reinstate a physical parliament – but it, combined with the fury from opposition benches and the public’s perception of Rees-Mogg –slanderer of Grenfell survivors and victims – as epitomising Tory values and concerns, saw Johnson once again announce a u-turn at PMQs. Sir Keir Starmer had told Johnson it was “shameful”. The prime minister seemed suddenly persuaded and apologised “to all those to all those with particular difficulties because they’re shielding or they’re elderly” adding “they should be able to vote by proxy“.
A spokesperson for Labour was quoted at the time, saying: “The fact the government has u-turned in the middle of the PMQs shows how chaotic this entire situation has been.”
But June was far from over and Johnson was far from completing more u-turns, the next being his plan to reopen all primary schools in England so pupils could be back at their desks at least a month before the summer holiday. Of course it didn’t happen and it still remains unclear – some 10 weeks later – as to when and if schools will reopen next month, despite the PM calling it a “moral duty” and “national priority” to do so.
It is risky for a man with a reputation for adulterous affairs and who, the story goes, doesn’t even know how many children he has – and who also conspired to have a journalist beaten-up – to start lecturing the country about what is ‘moral’, never mind what is a ‘duty’.
But then these, as everything else to Johnson are mere words to be spaffed out as the audience and occasion requires. Yet the country needs more than a stand-up-cum-after-dinner speaker to be prime minister.
A footballer proved the PM’s match later in June when, just 24 hours after No10’s latest rejection of repeated pleas to help feed the children of some of Britain’s poorest families through the summer by providing school meal vouchers, they changed their mind. Marcus Rashford – a 22-year-old striker for Manchester United – had led a campaign to prevent 1.3 million children going hungry. On June 15 No10 insisted the vouchers would not extend when the term ended and refused to provide the £15 per week food voucher per child.
Then, on June 16 Johnson said: “I talked to Marcus Rashford today and congratulated him on his campaign, which, to be honest, I only became aware of very recently, today – and I thank him for what he’s done.”
Downing Street later confirmed all eligible children in England would benefit from the “Covid summer food fund” but what the PM’s own words – mere words – confirmed is just how out of touch and unconcerned he actually is. About anything. Particularly not about the well-being of more than one-million children his government has been entrusted to provide for and look after as appointed administrators of the state.
The facts are that the government was facing legal action about its refusal to provide free school meal vouchers through the summer; that the department for education and Downing Street were issuing statements picked up by and reported across the media; and, that Rashford was well on his to becoming a national treasure at 22-years-old for his compassionate campaign.
Yet the man in charge of No10, “to be honest…only became aware of it very recently.” How could he not know?
And the same can be asked about the “world beating” NHS tracing app, promised to be delivered mid-May but abandoned in mid-June after the government had wasted “precious time and millions of pounds of public money on a design that everyone warned was going to fail,” said Silkie Carlo, director of Big Brother Watch, pointedly adding: “and now we’re back at square one.”
‘The awful truth’
Even more money and time has been poured into NHS contact tracers – an incredible £10 billion contract for a centralised contact-tracing model the government has spent months pursuing, until, on August 10, it conceded the need for a more regional approach.
Six thousand ‘tracers’ aka call handlers will lose their jobs on August 24 with the 12,000 left “to be deployed as part of dedicated local Test and Trace teams.” Johnson has continuously promised a “world beating test and trace system”. To lead it he installed Baroness Dido Harding a former telecommunication company CEO, who, when asked if the company’s customer data was encrypted following a massive cyber attack that cost her company £60 million and lost it 95,000 customers, replied: “The awful truth is that I don’t know.”. Marketing headlined their story: ‘TalkTalk boss Dido Harding’s utter ignorance is a lesson to us all’.
But not a lesson to Hancock, Johnson, Cummings, Gove or any other member of the government given Harding’s appointment this week to head the controversial new organisation – the National Institute for Health Protection – which has replaced PHE in an act of blatant blame-shifting by the government.
“The one thing consistent about Public Health England is that almost everything it has touched has failed”, said former Tory leader Sir Iain Duncan Smith commenting on Hancock’s decision to axe PHE, in the middle of pandemic, without the slightest sense of irony.
But Smith has form for this complete lack of Tory-self-awareness and complained recently about Johnson’s Withdrawal Agreement having fine print that favours the European Union. Smith and his ERG mates were among the loudest cheerleaders for Johnson’s “oven-ready deal” and supported its rush through parliament in three days, denying MPs the chance to scrutinise the detail that he, some eight months later, is now saying is grounds for abandoning the WA completely.
But, as clearly and repeatedly evidenced, Tories don’t do irony. Smith is among the exemplars proving how pomposity and arrogance makes one utterly detached. Education secretary Gavin Williamson stepped up this week to provide another prime example.
‘Stupid Boy!’ has always been ‘gaffe prone’
Williamson’s failings have been long known – in May 2019 he was described by the Tory supporting Daily Mail as “gaffe prone” following a disastrous tenure as defence secretary during which he proposed “arming tractors with guns and paintballing Spanish ships” in Gibraltar waters. He also became the first minister to be heckled by his own phone at the dispatch box when Williamson’s mention of ISIS, while making a statement to parliament, sparked Siri into life and forced the minister to grope for his phone to turn it off.
He took over as defence secretary from Sir Michael Fallon – another Tory minister forced out of the cabinet following sexual harassment claims – and was ultimately kicked out himself after leaking details from a top secret meeting about Huawei.
He had more than earned the “Stupid Boy!” label – the favoured putdown of Dad’s Army’s Captain Mainwaring for the “mollycoddled and permanently confused private Pike” – and his sacking by Theresa May for the unprecedented security breach was said to have left “his political career in tatters”. He was facing possible police action for the serious breach yet within weeks ‘Stupid Boy!’ was back in the cabinet as Johnson, without a trace of irony, installed him as secretary of state for education.
The education secretary’s humiliating U-turn on students grades and use of an algorithm to award them has been followed by a series of swerves in interviews to try and evade questions about his position.
Yet he continues to hold on to it with a grip seemingly as tight as Cronus must have performed on his father’s progenitors.
This week Universities UK – “the collective voice of 137” institutions across the country – wrote to written to Williamson seeking “urgent assurances” about the issue of medical student places and also called for “significant financial support” from the government to help them deal with the chaos caused by the grades reversal. They are far from the first and will definitely not be the last to plea for such help from this inept government.
The above mere words merely scratch the surface and do not reflect in anyway the real and devastating problems this government has caused.
‘Naughty Tory’ and the public purse first
The internet does not have enough space to consider them all, but, for a moment just consider the PPE scandal, the PM’s missed Cobra meetings, ask why an accountancy firm – Deloittes – was given millions to set up Covid-19 testing units and think about the blatant cronyism with contracts awarded without tender to Tory friends, acquaintances and donors as evidenced by those handed out to Cumming’s and Gove’s pals at Public First.
Then there’s the ‘‘Naughty Tory’ court case that saw Charlie Elphicke found guilty of sexual assault and dumped by his wife – who succeeded him as Conservative MP for Dover – on Twitter. There’s Robert Jenrick’s dodgy dealings with a Tory donor property developer, Chris Grayling’s proposed appointment to chair the Intelligence and Security Committee and devastating findings of the Russia Report, the resignation of head of the civil service, preceded by the resignation of the top civil servant at the home office, Cumming’s trip to Durham, the chief advisor’s second breach of lockdown ‘eye-test’ trip to Barnard Castle, his rose garden press conference where his only apology was for turning up 30 minutes late (he did, after all, have to come all the way from inside No10 to the back garden).
And if you still have time, recall the historic Huawei u-turn after pressure from the United States, contemplate the chaos and misery caused to holidaymakers encouraged to travel then suddenly forced to add another two weeks to their time off to quarantine on their return home.
Think that Priti Patel – sacked for misleading PM May over clandestine meetings with the Israeli government – is Johnson’s home secretary. Believe that Dominic Raab is the UK’s top diplomat as foreign secretary and remember how he thought ‘taking the knee’ is something from Game of Thrones. Ponder why trade secretary Liz Truss’ meetings with the pro-hard Brexit thinktank, the Institute of Economic Affairs have been removed from public record in what Labour said appeared to be evading rules designed to ensure integrity, transparency and honesty in public office. Question Cumming’s call for “misfits and weirdos” and the hiring of eugenics proponent Andrew Sabiskyas as an adviser at the heart of No10.
As said, that’s merely scratching the surface, so is it really any wonder why support for Scottish independence is soaring when we are led by a man who went against all expert advice and proudly boasted of shaking the hands of coronavirus patients before ending up in ICU himself? The same PM who tried to blame care homes for thousands of deaths.
He lied to the Queen, unlawfully prorogued parliament and has been told to keep his “grubby, populist hands” off the judiciary. This sovereign state, is after all, defined by the executive, legislature and judiciary so, in order to achieve maximum chaos – to justify revolutionary change – it makes sense to attack all three.
During the election campaign he hid in a fridge. When parts of Britain flooded in February, the PM was nowhere to be seen. He is missing again. Despite everything that’s happening and the misery his government has caused. And he is still getting away with it because Johnson always has.
His is the government so recently and – by dint of the UK’s egregious and gerrymandered first-past-the-post voting system – overwhelming elected with a massive majority despite achieving only a minority (44%) vote. To Get Brexit Done.
For whom? Because god – be it Cronus or any other deity – help us, given Johnson’s government clearly can’t, blatantly won’t and evidently has no intention of doing so.
The only care they have for “the public” is to append the word – a mere word – with “purse” so that they and their peers, their friends, associates, chums and old “public” (ie. private) school boys and girls can continue to enjoy the lavish lifestyles that their governance perpetuates by deciding how to spend the tax revenue raised.
Cronus may by the name of a former fireplace salesman’s spider who is still in charge of future the UK’s students and pupils but is also a reminder of the all-destructive power of time and fact is, Johnson has more than four more years left.