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The sight of a braying hysterical Tory MP (Jonathan Gullis) is the image of the week. It encapsulates the raw Tory energy at this time; full of malice and feeling more than slightly unhinged. Gullis was responding to Ian Blackford raising the issue of mounting poverty and the ‘cost of living’ crisis. Johnson responded with a fat-shaming joke.
Better Together 🇬🇧 https://t.co/p0Lygvri0y
— Bella Caledonia (@bellacaledonia) January 27, 2022
To be honest I’m not greatly impressed by Blackford, and I’m increasingly sceptical about the SNP, but that’s almost irrelevant. The moment revealed the sheer contempt with which Scottish MPs are treated in Westminster. Almost every time Blackford or one of his colleagues get to his or her feet they are treated with groans and moans and a tirade of jeers from the Conservative benches. I’d love to know what proponents of the Precious Union think and feel as they watch this? The very presence of our elected representatives is treated with disapproval. They are not shouted down for their views they are shouted down for who they are and where they come from.
It feels like a descent in a political culture that is jettisoning credibility every day.
The problem for the SNP, for the Scottish people, and for Labour (not necessarily in that order) is that it’s not clear who benefits from any of this. As John Harris writes the “anger spread by Johnson’s misconduct and broken promises may partly bypass Labour and feed into something much more insidious and grim.”
The problem for Starmer – and for Sturgeon in a different way – is how do you capture this anger and this dismay and turn it into something positive? Starmer has been great at Not Being Jeremy Corbyn and carved a benign, lawyerly centrist figure. He is a safe, if bland pair of hands. But I doubt if you asked 100 people on the street if they could describe a future Britain under his government you’d get much back. He has to offer some ideas, some shape, some vision for people to turn to. Not Being Jeremy Corbyn and Not Being as Corrupt and Useless as Johnson isn’t enough.
Stephen Bush at the New Statesman suggests it’s the subject of some personal satisfaction to Starmer that Christian Wakeford, an MP who represents a constituency with one of the largest Jewish populations outside London, and who co-chairs the all-party parliamentary group on British Jews, feels comfortable switching to Labour. The optics – whatever the reality – of antisemitism – were terrible for Labour under Corbyn. But as Bush points out many others just feel that the celebration of Wakeford’s defection is just further evidence that the party now stands for nothing at all.
This in turn fuels a Labour version of the disaffection as the Momentum drains out of the Labour Party.
Some of Labour’s stuckness is mirrored by the SNP’s Westminster contingent and the air of stagnation is matched only by the extraordinary turn of events as Johnson’s regime reaches week five of partygate chaos. Johnson’s disastrous government now threatens to destroy not just his own career or the Conservative Party but the credibility of Westminster itself. Having been repeated the weird mantra of “Wait for Sue Gray” for a week now, we now have her investigation, that was raised to a a bizarre status, completely undermined by the Met.
Scotland Yard has said it has asked for references to matters it is now investigating to be removed from Sue Gray’s report into parties held in breach of lockdown restrictions at Downing Street.
“For the events the Met is investigating, we asked for minimal reference to be made in the Cabinet Office report,” the Metropolitan police said in a statement on Friday morning.
The Johnsonian chaos is now spiralling out of Downing Street and across the capital engulfing the institutions of power.
As ITV’s Paul Brand laid out the Met’s evolving position seems to be: “We don’t investigate Covid crimes retrospectively – there is insufficient evidence – we’ll see what comes of Gray – Gray found evidence so we’ll investigate – we don’t want Gray to publish her evidence as it’ll prejudice our investigation.”
The impression is one of police bailing out political leaders – and Johnson’s regime being impregnable to any consequences at all for their actions. The impression is one of the British State in tatters, a scene of surreal chaos and one that reflects a system of governance with seemingly no checks or balances or constitutional restraint other than the occasional social media celebrity presence of a Gary Neville or a Marcus Rashford or a Jack Monroe. Occasionally the House of Lords will take the edges off the worst of the draconian legislation coming down the line and we will celebrate the prospect of an unelected chamber defending democracy without a trace of irony.
At this stage I have no idea why there isn’t civil unrest in this country. It may be that the wells of public interest have been so polluted that mass disaffection is the only response. It may be that people are just so exhausted by the pandemic so numbed by the daily dose of corruption and so disillusioned by the political classes that we are just reduced to a sullen mass. On Friday George Monbiot explored these contradictions and asked how is it that such a system holds?
Taking a wider view than just the current political debacle he asked: “What’s going on? How has this system created a near-consensus around its ridiculous ideas? How has it ensured not only that people of power and influence defend them, but that almost everyone else nods along, or simply shrugs as Earth systems spiral towards collapse?”
Attempting an answer Monbiot speculated: “That petty ambition (better job, bigger house, smoother car) is as potent an enforcer of consensus as state terror. That spectacle, banter and an obsession with trivia and celebrity are more effective at defusing dissent than coercion and fear. That our current organisational structures, which look as if they offer choice and freedom, actually do nothing of the kind. On the contrary, though it might have been accidentally achieved, we have arrived at an almost perfectly calibrated system of social control.”
To these answers I would add that the sinews of solidarity and collective interest have been undermined for decades, so that they exist only as a membrane and a memory sullied and eroded by the veneration of hyper-individualism.
The need for a mass movement and a revolt against this whole system mounts every day. In times of such chaos the British State lies exposed as one that has nothing to offer ordinary people. We live in a broken country, one in which elected MPS laugh in hysteria at the subject of poverty and a government that makes political capital out of ‘liberties’ introduces authoritarian legislation to undermine our hard-earned democratic rights.
This is now an economic basket case sustained on pure ego, unprotected by constitution, and consumed by political opportunism. The delusion is fading. We are now in a moment where constitutional crisis is colliding with, not economic uncertainty but dire economic certainty.
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