Is it time to use the F-word about Boris Johnson’s disastrous regime?

Even the toxic cocktail of incompetence and neoliberal ideology can’t explain the scale of the British government’s failure.

Why has the British government been so incompetent at dealing with COVID-19? Less than a month ago I explored whether its glaring failings would eventually prove unsustainable. In the space of just four weeks the situation in the UK has deteriorated faster than most anticipated, the virus is far more deeply embedded in the wider population than realised and the numbers diagnosed positive have nearly quadrupled to 4,000 a day.

At the current rate they will exceed the previous record of over 6,000 a day back in late April and although death rates remain far lower there are already ominous signs of rapid increases in hospital admissions. The Chief Medical Officer is reported to be recommending an immediate two-week national lockdown, and the national mood has swung so fast that faint whispers of Johnson’s political demise that were around during the summer break are now discussed openly in media bastions of government support.

Last month I listed many factors in an attempt to explain what had gone wrong. They included incompetence across the board, a cabinet selected for unquestioning loyalty to Boris Johnson and the Brexit cause, ideological commitment to neoliberalism and the determination to use the crisis to further this agenda. That readily embraced large-scale privatisation of much of the pandemic response, especially but not only in the NHS, with this coming after serial cuts in local authority public-health budgets.

Given the rapidity of the evolving second wave, these answers simply aren’t enough. There was certainly an expectation of a renewed surge during the winter and there were fears that this month’s return to schools and later to universities would boost it. Yet we are less than three weeks into the former and most universities are not yet back, and in each case the effect that was expected a month or so after each change is happening much earlier. Hence the numerous local lockdowns across the country and the calls for a new national lockdown.

The obvious answers

The immediate crisis is being made far worse by an appallingly incompetent national test-and-trace system that is rapidly coming apart at the seams despite the best efforts of many thousands of dedicated workers doing their best. Much of this may be due to thoroughly mediocre ministers more or less hung out to dry by the political centre; much more seems to revolve round a chaotic and hugely expensive privatisation of the whole process instead of properly funded use of local experts.

Still, all the explanations mentioned last month and shared by many other commentators and analysts are not enough to explain the sheer speed of the crisis.

At root there certainly is the dominant ideology focused on the neoliberal agenda. This is combined with the deliberate weakening other centres of power and influence: parliamentary accountability, the judiciary (‘enemies of the people’, as one Tory-supporting newspaper called them not so long ago), the BBC and internal opposition in the Conservative Party. But perhaps the one element to which we don’t pay enough attention is arrogance – the utter self-belief of a narrow coterie of people that they alone know the true path and hold other views and the people who hold them in contempt.

The problem is that this could mean that what is actually planned at the centre is a permanent change in the governance of the UK from reasonably accepted democratic norms to variants like those seen in states such as Hungary, Poland and possibly even the US.

Danger zone

Until recently only commentators typically considered alarmist would use terms such as ‘fascism light’ and ‘quasi-fascism’ in the UK. There is a deep reluctance to go down this verbal path. If we do not, however, we may fail to appreciate what we may really be dealing with: a centre of power exhibiting a zealotry that is rare in British politics and even rarer when it commands centre stage, however much hidden from view.

Last month’s column pointed to many positive signs of resistance and examples of community action in the UK and many other countries in the midst of the pandemic. It ended suggesting that the very centralisation of power currently under way means that if it all goes pear-shaped there is nowhere for those in power to hide.

That might be reassuring but may also be wrong-headed. There may be such deeply entrenched arrogance and self-belief at the centre that even strong opposition and public anger will have little effect. Using terms like ‘fascism’ and ‘autocracy’ may not help but we should not dilute the analysis and the consequent recognition of danger.




Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0

This article is published under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International licence. If you have any queries about republishing please contact us. Please check individual images for licensing details.

Image credit: Victoria Jones/PA Wire/PA Images. All rights reserved.

This article was first published in Open Democracy.



Comments (17)

Join the Discussion

Your email address will not be published.

  1. Alistair MacKichan says:

    Many good points, carefully displayed. As we all gradually shrink from forthright clarity of response, we succumb to the autocracy. It wears away at our moral courage. Where is the Scottish spirit which faces the oppressor? I fear for it daily. Our response in times of horror like these is a barometer of our desire to choose our own path.

    1. Graham Ennis says:

      Blunt facts:
      There is a strong suspicion that Boris and the right wing hard core of his party are ultimately planning, after BREXIT, to restore things to “Normal”. That is, suppression of the Welsh and Scottish Governments, and restoration of direct rule. The original creation of these entities was due to rules from the EU making it mandatory to allow regional governments and autonomous regions, where the population was different from the mainstream. After much pressure, Blair was forced to do this, but did everything possible he could to install “Tame Poodle” local governments. Thats why we have the situation we have today. After BREXIT, the london Government can do what it wants, as there is no UK written constitution. It can repeal the Scotland and Wales acts, in a month.
      I think that somewhere on the Tory “To Do” list, this is on it.

      Also, the disruption caused by BREXIT is going to be huge. The economic impact in Scotland will also be huge.
      Perfect situation for a confrontation. I am certain that Scotland faces a “Catalan” type situation and crisis.
      Nobody is preparing for this, thinking about it, and making even basic plans for it.
      Everybody is being wilfully blind.
      In the next few years, Scotland faces a huge political crisis, an intransigent UK Government, and much else. Do not think, for a minute, that the London regime has any interest in Scotland, except for its resources, and that they will be very harsh in shutting down Holyrood.
      At that point, Scots have a choice: Resistance or surrender. Choose one. This could all happen over the next 18 months.
      Discuss: Are you a resistant, or a Quisling?

      1. Squigglypen says:

        Correct . The Irish found out the hard way when fighting a devious arrogant British/English government. You don’t ask for independence..we have it…we walk away and if we have to fight so be it…did it before and terrified the crap out of them….gird up your loins folk..bumpy nervous ride ahead…especially for those in the ‘Scottish/Quislings Office’.
        And we need a proper they know where Scotland starts and they finish.

        1. Graham Ennis says:

          The first legal international frontier for Scotland was hadrians wall. It is former Scots/picts territory north of that. No I am not making a joke. The Northerners that live above the wall are quite sympathetic , Berwick, which is a barony, Not part of England, held a referendum on scotland, and voted 70% yes. In Cumbria, and other border countries, the people are sympathetic, and angry at the way they have been treated by London. Curious, but true. There are also what were known as the “Disputed lands” which were never really settled. The present border at that area is still not where it should be, villages are split, schools are on the wrong side, etc etc. Its also not well marked. Between road signs, on border roads, (often misplaced) there is nothing actually marking the border. Farmers would have their farms split, etc, after independence. All of this is quite important. Some roads meander back and forth across the border, as the land lies that way, and its the only sensible route. This is just one of the many issues that will have to be rapidly dealt with. As an EU border, with a non EU state, it is required to be marked, fenced, and patrolled, with proper border posts. Everyone is avoiding this issue. Hadrians wall is a natural frontier, and the land to the North former Scottish territory. Perhaps allowing the UK to keep the illegal oil fields it seized just before devolution, in exchange, would be a good idea. The Romans always had a great eye for borders. Its also defensible. Comments please?

      2. Dougie Harrison says:

        Alas, I fear, Paul, that you may be correct. I will not be surprised if Trump finds a way to ‘postpone’ the US presidential elections, give how he is plummeting in the opinion polls. As for the same reason, Boris may be asking his lackeys to find reasons why he can ‘postpone’ the 2021 Scottish General Election.

      3. Marga says:

        “I am certain that Scotland faces a “Catalan” type situation and crisis.”

        Writing from Catalonia, at last I see people starting to perceive that Catalonia is not a case of “they deserve what they got, they contravened their own constitution”, but rather a canary in the coal mine of current ultra governance tendencies world wide, including now Boris Johnson and his backers. If the constitution falls into the hands of an uncontrollable force, it stops being a protection and starts being a stick to beat you with.

        You have just seen on the horizon the Single Internal Market which has been straightjacketing the Catalans for years, disabling regional parliamentary activity. Main difference is that here enforcement has been handed over to the justice system, including ultra politicised Supreme and Constitutional courts, while in the UK it will be central government via some kind of (also unelected) quango. President Sánchez in this matter is every bit as savage as Johnson looks to be planning, but by hiding behind the courts he can appear before the world as a democrat.

        The other main difference is that this system is only enforced against Catalonia, in a form of lawfare that makes for criminalisation and interpretation of the law according to the geographical and ideological positions of the subjects concerned. In the UK, Scotland will presumably not be alone.

        Good luck to the Scots, with a ruthless Johnson free to act as he likes, future developments and mindsets will be crucial.

        1. Graham Ennis says:

          I read all that you say.
          We are very obviously going in a Catalan direction now.
          The Basques fought for decades, until they were given more autonomy and retention of all Basque taxes.
          It shed much blood, and a lot of tears.
          But they won in the end.
          We shall see what happens after BREXIT. The london Regime has a solid parliamentary majority, and four more years.
          It can do pretty much what it wants. If it made it cleaer there will be no more S30 orders, then that is a game changer. There should be a national scottish referendum on uk issuing an S30 order. perfectly legal and constitutional.
          They would say no, the Sctos would say yes, and the battle lines would be drawn.
          My immediate concern is that after BREXIT, they will use the law to revoke the Scotland act, and go back to direct rule.
          At that point, it will be tin helmets time!

  2. Mark Bevis says:

    I’ve thought for a while, the Scots need to be setting up an independent constabulary, or border force, Border Patrol, call it what you will, that can defend Scottish independence with physical force against an English takeover. If such a structure is in place when Cummings makes his political move, it can quickly absorb the Scottish elements of the collapsed British army (plus any English volunteers that want to join) and be armed and ready to say no to abolition of the Scottish Parliament, declaring UDI and start raising a militia.

    1. marga says:

      Mark, you might like to investigate who, in times of crisis, is the real boss of all security forces in the UK. Catalonia is one of only 2 Spanish regions with its “own” police force, but when the unauthorised independence referendum had to be disabled, the Catalan police worked to judicial orders, i.e. answered to Madrid.

      In fact, it was Catalan police chiefs who, in the case of independence being acted on, drew up their own plan to arrest the Catalan president and parliamentarians, and this was communicated to Madrid. Nominally, the Catalan force, the Mossos, was answerable to the Catalan government. But police everywhere are what they are.

      In spite of this, the police chiefs of the day have been accused of aiding and abetting the referendum, and tried for rebellion, sedition, disobedience etc., sentence about to be announced.

    2. Anndrais mac Chaluim says:

      And how would we deal with that other threat to security: the fifth column of UK sympathisers north of the border? Internment? Expulsion?

      1. mince'n'tatties says:

        Why beat about the bush? Cut to the chase. Zyklon B pellets are the next logical step.
        ‘ Internment? Expulsion?’ Nah, been tried, jog my memory by whom you certifiable cretin. Too slow, messy even. Best be surgical, eradicate their off spring too, cause they grow up into adults with memories and anger.
        Unless it was a joke? Tell me you are a fan of dark humour and that in these crazy days I’ve misunderstood.
        I had never heard the term ‘Ulsterisation’ and all that word entails until about a year ago, I do get the term now.

        1. Anndrais mac Chaluim says:

          No, seriously. If we’re going to set up an independent constabulary or militia (call it what you will) to defend Scottish independence against an English invasion, what’s the plan for dealing with that other threat to security: the fifth column of UK sympathisers north of the border?

    3. Rab Alexander says:

      I have thought that some sort of militia should be organised before independence. We are a colony of England and they cannot exist without our resources. When the nationalists in the occupied six counties marched to demand civil rights the right to vote only forty odd years ago they wear gunned down by the British state. They will do everything and anything to hold us fast to the English state.

      1. Anndrais mac Chaluim says:

        Maybe you can tell me, Rab. How would we deal with that other threat to security: the fifth column of UK sympathisers north of the border? Internment? Expulsion?

        1. Graham Ennis says:

          I see that people are waking up finally, to the nature of the beast that they are fighting. The blunt example of Ireland should be a warning to everyone.
          What is needed, besides the en-mass grass roots hard line attitude to the quislings, and the clear evidence of the very large parades under the Saltier, is a lot of thinking about what next. My immediate thoughts are that as in France, committee’s of Public safety, entirely civilian, and grouping and organising people in each district to help out in an emergency. \might have been quite useful in the present epidemic. But they should be openly patriotic and anti-unionist in membership. Also, the rather interesting and fairly new sport of Paint-balling is established in Scotland. it is entirely legal, and people can dress up in uniforms and learn the basics of fighting squads, tactics, and movement, and have great fun. They can take part in the paint ball championships, which are held all over the UK and internationally, in Europe, and learn much that might one day be useful. Obviously, I am not going to advocate that one day they might turn into real fighting units. Good heavens! this is only for fun!. But an interesting idea!. Comments please.

          1. Anndrais mac Chaluim says:

            When I was a wee boy, my pals and I used to stalk gangs of Scots and Irishmen, to whom a local hill-farmer gave permission to ‘dress up in uniforms and learn the basics of fighting squads, tactics, and movement’ etc. in the fastness of his cleughs and muirs. We had great fun, sniping at them with our imaginary rifles.

  3. J M Brennan says:

    Before the referendum, an Edinburgh taxi-driver told me he would vote no. ‘If YES wins, we’ll be invaded’. Always good for a laugh, a taxi-driver.
    Now, although his remark seems prescient, it still doesn’t ring true. Why invade a country , a fifth of which is under grouse moor? Who owns the villages? Houses are snapped up as soon as they appear on the market. By whom? What kind of culture has it -stereotyped piping south of the border, so different from the times of the the poets George Buchanan and the Muslim, George Strachan, famous and influential throughout Europe, when , in the words of Peter Davidson, Shakespeare was ‘a figure of purely local significance’.
    Whitehall doesn’t need to invade. Undo devolution, and Scotland will drop back into what the empire always makes of its possessions – remember ‘An Irish RM?: a playground populated by amusing characters who speak in funny accents and fuddle their minds with drink.
    Bella Caledonia voices not only the seriousness of Scotland, but the lack of moral weight and truth in Whitehall.

Help keep our journalism independent

We don’t take any advertising, we don’t hide behind a pay wall and we don’t keep harassing you for crowd-funding. We’re entirely dependent on our readers to support us.

Subscribe to regular bella in your inbox

Don’t miss a single article. Enter your email address on our subscribe page by clicking the button below. It is completely free and you can easily unsubscribe at any time.