Opinion

2007 - 2022

Twelve Long Years

From his summit in Kigali, settling the details of mass deportation and extraordinary rendition, Boris Johnson issued the most predictable statement after his parties losses at Tiverton and Honiton and Wakefield the Prime Minister “promised to keep going.” Turning rejection from even the most conservative communities (dubbed ‘Gammon Upon Avon’) into some Churchillian challenge to be overcome, Boris Johnson assured the nation that he was going nowhere.

The prime minister, speaking from Rwanda, where he is attending a Commonwealth summit, said: “It’s absolutely true we’ve had some tough byelection results, they’ve been, I think, a reflection of a lot of things, but we’ve got to recognise voters are going through a tough time at the moment. I think as a government I’ve got to listen to what people are saying, in particular to the difficulties people are facing over the cost of living, which I think for most people is the number one issue.”

Even by Johnson’s own standards this was a bland cocktail of truism and gibberish. But it is the slippery pig’s trademark response to simply deny reality as a catalogue of crimes and misdemeanours mount up around him which has served him so well. So why change anything? Johnson has lived a gilded life, failing upwards from job to job as is the style of his colleagues and caste.

But does the frenzied excitement of the byelection results actually mean anything will change? Four reasons suggests that this is a tipping-point for Johnson’s catastrophic regime.

The loss of the party chairman Oliver Dowden – who was one of the “gang of three” up-and-coming ministers – with Rishi Sunak and (the since sacked) Robert Jenrick – who wrote an influential letter to the Times supporting Johnson’s campaign to be leader in June 2019 – suggests that yes this is a real crisis for Johnson. It’s notable that his inner circle are feeling the heat enough to put the knife in.

Secondly the Liberal Democrats winning the Tiverton and Honiton by-election with a swing of almost 30%, overturning a Conservative majority of more than 24,000 is hugely significant.  Fun fact: it was the biggest majority ever overturned in British political history.

Third the tactical voting on display means that it in any general election the Tories could fall prey to the Lib Dems in the south and Labour in ‘the north’.

Fourth the rail strike hasn’t played as expected for the Conservatives doing the media rounds. Not only have they been pummeled by the wildly popular Mick Lynch, who has defied the odds of being slain by the right-wing press, but the idea that the public would turn on the strikers has been turned on its head. According to official figures, 38% of workers now spend at least some of the week working from home. Faced with train disruptions millions of people just shrugged, phoned-in and said “I’ll work from home today”. The tabloid’s and studio’s working desperately to whip-up anti-strike fever failed.

Tired to the marrow by privileged failure and corruption, and dazed by endless spin and messaging parsed through focus group and triangulation, the public have warmed to the authenticity of Lynch, who stands like a beacon of sanity in a world of delirium.

This is not how it’s supposed to be.

These developments suggest what I have long suspected, that Johnson’s triumphant election victory – the basis for his entire overblown success – is built on an extremely bogus premise. Johnson won against Jeremy Corbyn and won in the context of England’s Brexit breakdown. Corbyn as a hate-figure for the entire operation of the British establishment has gone, and six years-on the fact that Johnson ‘got Brexit done’ is looking more and more like a reason to eject him than to celebrate him. Johnson’s career will collapse around him as quickly as he rose to power against Blair McDougall’s premonition. He will descend into history as yet another disastrous Tory ruler promoted by the selfish elite that surround him and supported by the network of cronyism that characterises and distorts our political system.

But so what?

Johnson is just the extreme manifestation of the problem of the Anglo-British class system and his replacement by Liz Truss, Rishi Sunak or some other peripheral dolt will change nothing at all. The Conservatives are a political failure not just an individual disgrace.

As Andy Becket has written (‘Look around, the Great Conservative Experiment has failed in the UK‘): “It’s possible that replacing Johnson with a better administrator, or adopting consistent free-market policies, as some Tory ministers and papers want, would turn the Conservatives into a much more effective government. But that outcome doesn’t feel very likely. After too long in office, the party has little fresh talent, and the credibility of free-market reforms has not recovered since deregulated banking wrecked the economy in the financial crisis.”

Alternatively, the Tories could continue to use scapegoats to explain their lack of progress in government: the EU, the liberal elite, uncooperative trade unionists, even the whole British workforce – “among the worst idlers in the world”, according to Britannia Unchained, a 2012 book about returning to “growth and prosperity” co-written by four of the current cabinet. Beneath the bluster and big promises, Conservative rule is often just about shifting the blame for Britain’s failures: away from the party and the interests it represents, and on to everyone else.”

The problem though is not the beleaguered Tories who will likely be ejected along with their priapic leader. The problem is that waiting in the wings are Ed Davey (who I admit to regularly just forgetting exists at all) and Sir Keir Starmer. These are not serious credible people with serious credible propositions for how to fix not only the twelve long years of Tory misrule or the six years since the Brexit fiasco – but the widespread social deterioration and endemic poverty we face. They have no constitutional solution or proposals to resolve the multiple problems in Ireland and Scotland and Wales or the grain-store of resentment and bad karma built-up over decades. The Tories festering regime may be degenerating into self-inflicted chaos but (potentially) on the cusp of electoral success are insipid timorous parties with little to bring to the table.

Thinking that the Johnson regime may be over is as wishful as believing that the pandemic has just gone away. The ‘Lynch Effect’ – speaking truth to power and speaking with authenticity – isn’t just the phenomenon of a charismatic individual. It is about representing people and their interests with integrity. This shouldn’t be such a unique and stand-out thing to do, but it seemingly is. In the absence of such honesty and without a credible alternative vision the risk is that the Conservatives crumbling empire of lies will be replaced by a non-entity, a leader and a party that is characterised by what it is not. After twelve long years the alternative a divided Kingdom faces is one scared of telling hard truths, afraid of standing up for workers and devoid of solutions to the intractable constitutional problems it helped create.

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Comments (17)

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  1. Dougie Blackwood says:

    Spot on. There is no credible leader in any unionist party at Westminster, that is why Johnson has lasted so long. A decent contender and he would have been put out long ago.

    We must now get this message across to the people of Scotland; time to leave the sinking ship.

  2. Alasdair Macdonald says:

    A good analysis.

    There is usually a difference between success at bye – elections and at general elections. Rarely do the former have any impact on how things are governed, whereas at general elections despite the lies and obfuscations parties actually have to state what they intend to do. And, what does Labour have to say? The only time when it actually had policies was in the two elections under Jeremy Corbyn. In the 2017 event, Labour actually made substantial progress. Scared shitless by the outcome, the Tories and their media lackeys, aided shamefully by the Labour Party establishment mounted one of the most relentless campaigns of vilification against Mr Corbyn. I cannot recall anything as bitter and nasty.

    It is not without significance that Messrs Starmer and Davey are ‘knights of the realm’. These are not just baubles. Acceptance of these or any other of plethora of ‘Empire gongs’, indicates genuflection. They will not threaten the establishment. It must be remembered, too, that Davey was an enthusiastic ‘Austerian’ in the Con/LibDem coalition of 2010/15.

    So, even if Johnson goes and is replaced by some other Tory, the corrupt charade will go on as bits continue to fall off and alternative polities emerge.

  3. gavinochiltree says:

    Ex-Eton headmaster, Tony Little, states that Cameron, Johnson and Rees-Mogg have given Eton a bad name.
    But that is British “democracy”. A tiny social elite hogging all the top jobs. All from the south of England.
    A Birmingham PM, or from Wales or Scotland? No chance.
    And as we saw with Brown and Darling, a sniff of advancement, and they turn native.

    Will Boris go? Who has got the “dirty” on him? From his party days in Tuscany, it will be the Ruskies.
    After him, the deluge! Next in line for the Tories are all second/third raters.
    So Labour next? “Wooden boy” , Sir Keir——With Union Jock Ian Murray and Annie Starwars. Hahaha.
    A Westminster election no one can, or probably even want to, win.

    Hopefully Scotland will be on our way by then.
    Leadership of NO will be interesting. Not one charismatic person among them.
    Sturgeon/Salmond will do the business this time.

  4. 220626 says:

    Recapitulation

    Following his party’s losses in the Tiverton and Honiton and Wakefield by-elections, Boris Johnson has assured the nation that he is going nowhere.

    However, three considerations suggest his days might be numbered.

    1. He appears to be losing the support of the ‘inner circle’ of his party. The evidence for this includes the resignation of his party’s chairman, Oliver Dowden.

    2. He appears to be haemorrhaging the support of Conservative voters. The evidence for this includes the unprecedented swing of electoral support away from the Conservative Party candidate in the Tiverton and Honiton by-election. If this result was replicated across the constituencies in a general election, the Conservative Party would lose its parliamentary majority to the Lib Dems in the south of England and to Labour in the north.

    3. Voters appear to be getting wise to his attempted deflection of responsibility for the poor performance of his government in managing our public affairs. The evidence for this includes the response of the public in the current dispute between rail workers and their employers, which is generally sympathetic to the workers despite Boris’s demonisation of them.

    On the basis of these considerations, Mike predicts that Boris’s career will collapse around him.

    ‘But so what?’ he then asks:

    4. the problem isn’t Boris but the Anglo-British class system; and
    5. that system will remain intact irrespective of whoever replaces Boris, whether it’s Liz Truss, Rishi Sunak, Ed Davey, or Keir Starmer. The evidence for this is that one of the alternative replacement candidates has any solutions to the structural problems that generate the social deterioration or poverty we currently experience; none has any structural change proposals with the scope and ambition that’s required to fix what’s broke.

    Critique

    1. The composition of Boris’s ‘inner circle’ doesn’t appear to matter. Almost since he came to power in 2019, his inner circle has been in a perpetual state of flux. This is in keeping with his regime’s conscious political praxis, which is an Odyssean style of project management that treats government as the project management of complex organisations and harnesses the collective power of ‘quantum computation’. Boris’s regime operates by shaking things up and seeing what solutions rise to the surface of the problem it’s addressing. An ‘intellectual restlessness’ is one of its hallmarks; inconsistency, a capacity to stretch established thinking, to absorb new ideas, to see parallels and analogies that jump across the well-worn tramlines, is constantly on display in its decision-making. This regime extends to the management of the government’s own ‘inner circle’, and this may be the secret of Boris’s survival. It’s certainly the secret of his Trump-style populist appeal as a great disturber of the established peace.

    2. The risk of losing the populist appeal that won Boris the last election so handsomely is a greater danger to his survival. If he becomes an electoral liability rather than an asset, then the Conservative Party will ditch him as they previously ditched Theresa May. The scale of the loss in the Tiverton and Honiton by-election might well indeed indicate a haemorrhaging of that populist appeal, but it equally might not; it might be just a spectacular instance of midterm blues. Crucially, having survived the attempted coup within the Conservative Party earlier in the year, the regime has plenty of time to restore its appeal, especially in contrast to the repulsiveness its alternatives.

    3. The incumbent regime will always be able to blame its failures on others – the trade unions, Vladimir Putin, the pandemic, the ECHR, people traffickers and the people they traffick, the media, civil servants, the inflexibility of the established elites that dominate and control our civic institutions, etc. – and it’s a moor point that the electorate is getting any wiser to such deflection. Has the critical capacity of the electorate increased during the last three, twelve, three-hundred years or so? Has it become any less susceptible to othering? I see little evidence that it has, notwithstanding the goodwill that ‘key workers’ currently enjoy among the fickle public.

    4. The problem isn’t Boris but in indeed the Anglo-British class system. That is, the problem is structural rather than moral. However, the problem goes deeper than the ‘Anglo-British class system’ (whatever that might mean); it runs as deep as the economic structures – the ‘productive forces’ – that determine the social relations into which we enter in the reproduction of material conditions of our lives, the nature of our industry, of our work, and these are global and not just national in their extent.

    5. What’s required, therefore, is not just the replacement of Boris with a ‘better’ candidate for the job, but it’s also more than just a shaking of the dust of the ‘Anglo-British class system’ from our feet (through ‘Independence’, say). What’s required is technological development on a revolutionary scale – a fourth industrial revolution – and the ‘great upwelling of the incalculable’ that such development will entail globally, a technological revolution that will ‘rouse a distinctive and dynamic spirit… and, without any cut-and-dried schemes, let that spirit find its own forms no matter how unpredictable and how unrelated to anything in our past history [those forms] may be.’ (Hugh MacDiarmid: The Caledonian Antisyzygy and the Gaelic Idea.) This development will happen despite the politicians rather than as a result of any proposals or reforms our politicians may make. All that’s required is precisely the sort of ‘intellectual restlessness’ in our public decision-making that’s one of its hallmarks of the present regime; inconsistency, a capacity to stretch established thinking, to absorb new ideas, to see parallels and analogies that jump across the well-worn tramlines.

    1. Thanks 220626.

      So i specifically said that the replacing of Bad Boris by AN Other would be useless. And I didn’t really lay out what was required but it certainly is “more than just a shaking of the dust of the ‘Anglo-British class system’ from our feet”.

      I’m not sure how a “technological development on a revolutionary scale – a fourth industrial revolution” would change anything at all, given that none of our dire problems are technical in nature or source?

      1. 220626 says:

        Yep, I think we’re agreed that the problem isn’t moral (‘Boris’) but structural (‘the Anglo-British class system’). I was just taking the analysis a bit further by suggesting that the Anglo-British class system is itself nothing but a symptom of a much deeper structural determinant of our social relations, which is global and not just local in scope; namely, the productive forces (labour and the technologies through which it operates) on which human societies and their ideologies are based.

        All the ‘dire problems’ of social and environmental injustice are no more caused by discriminative ideologies like ‘the Anglo-British class system’ or ‘the Hindu caste system’ or hierarchies of age/gender/race/whatever than they’re caused by ‘evil men’. They’re generated by the productive forces that ultimate shape the distribution of power in any given society, which is why change comes only through changes in the technology through which we collectively secure the material conditions of our lives.

        On a prescriptive level, this is why trades unionists like Mick Lynch and his predecessor, Bob Crow, place such a strong emphasis on the necessity of strengthening the productive forces of the economy through sate capitalism as a precondition for the realisation of socialism and why orthodox Marxists see the same growth as essential to the realisation of communism.

        ‘It is only possible to achieve real liberation in the real world by employing real means. Slavery cannot be abolished without the steam-engine and the mule and spinning-jenny, serfdom cannot be abolished without improved agriculture, and that, in general, people cannot be liberated as long as they are unable to obtain food and drink, housing and clothing in adequate quality and quantity. “Liberation” is a historical and not a voluntary act, and it is brought about by historical conditions, the development of industry, commerce, agriculture, communication.’ — Karl Marx, The German Ideology.

        The much heralded ‘fourth industrial revolution’ which phrase conceptualises in the scientific literature the rapid and accelerating changes to technology, ideologies, and societal patterns and processes that are being brought about in the 21st century by increasing interconnectivity and smart automation, is believed by some to be more than just improvements to efficiency within capitalism but also a significant historical shift from within capitalism towards communism.

        1. John Learmonth says:

          Didn’t half the world try communism after WW2?
          That worked out well didn’t it?
          I’m afraid Marx was wrong, the 4th industrial revolution will return us to a new form of feudalism where a tiny majority control (to use the Marxist term) the ‘means of production’.

          1. John Learmonth says:

            Minority not majority…….apologies

          2. 220627 says:

            4IR might well produce new forms of social inequality. Who knows? You can’t predict the future course of history any more than you can predict the future course of evolution. Both processes are non-teleological (‘purposeless’) random determinations that only appear meaningful in retrospect.

            But some of the scientific literature suggests that the modes of production our developing technologies will require of us in the future will be of such an order of complexity that, for the first time in human history, no one will be able to own or exert control over them or over the societies and ideologies that express them . That’s the nature of the ‘liberation’ or ‘restlessness’ of which orthodox Marxists speak.

            And no one has ‘tried’ communism yet as if it were some sort of voluntary choice. The material conditions on which communism depends as a form of life have yet to be realised in history. Maybe 4IR will create those conditions. Maybe not. No one knows. The genie isn’t yet out of the bottle.

  5. John Wood says:

    Somehow the elephant in the room has not been mentioned. The fact that the UK government is bought and sold for (mainly US and Russian) gold. As are the opposition parties, the media, academic research, and growing proportion of the US and UK economy.
    Johnson is just a fall guy for the organised criminals determined to possess and control the entire planet, including us, These people have so much money they believe themselves to have absolute power. Democracy, as Orwell predicted, is a sham. It is as managed as Russia’s. It now makes no real difference who you vote for.

    It is much too easy to blame the old Etonians. They are being played like puppets.

    In 2020 Prince Charles announced the ‘Great Reset’ of the world’s economy. We were not consulted. It is just a worldwide coup d’état by Charles’s friends at the World Economic Forum. Klaus Schwab, who absorbed Nazi ideology with his mother’s milk, tells us that it has several elements. Governments will have to ‘co-operate’ with the agenda. Shareholder capitalism is to be replaced by ‘stakeholder capitalism’ in which, apparently only the 1% have a ‘stake’. A new ‘social contract’ is coming which looks remarkably like the horrific Chinese social credit system. A cashless, programmable digital currency will enable every transaction to be subject to their monitoring and approval: the 4th Industrial Revolution will control our biology with their technology. But of course, we are simultaneously told this is the plan, and that it is just a ‘conspiracy theory’. It’s Hitler’s Big Lie – so outrageous it couldn’t possibly be true. Well, before dismissing all this out of hand, check it out. Perhaps someone would like to get some answers out of Charles before he becomes king. He’s a prince after all, and no doubt has inherited a belief in his divine right to rule and a well thumbed copy of Macchiavelli.
    Scotland urgently needs independence from Westminster, but at the moment we are the colony of an American colony. If the sovereignty of the Scottish people is to have any real meaning is has to be asserted. We cannot afford to wake up the next day and discover we have just replaced one puppet regime with another.
    As a postscript, it occurs to me that the behaviour of both May and Johnson resembles that of abused, controlled people. May always looked and sounded like a frightened rabbit; Johnson’s apparent incompetence looks like classic passive aggressive behaviour – a common response to abuse, especially for someone who believes his background gives hum the absolute right to fo as he pleases and put himself above the law.
    We need out if all this. ‘You’ll have nothing and you’ll be happy’ isn’t an appealing manufesto. Nor is Musk’s ‘we’ll coup who we please’.
    This is what fascism looks like, 21st c style. Our parents, grandparents, great grandparents died to save us from it but as Camus points out in La Peste, it returns.

    1. 220627 says:

      The ‘Great Reset’ is referenced by a number of conspiracy theories. In the real world, the name comes from a meeting of the World Economic Forum, an NGO based Switzerland, which was convened by Prince Charles in 2020 to discuss ways in which we might revolutionise capitalism and its society as part of our recovery from the latest of its serial crises; namely, the COVID-19 pandemic. The discussion resulted in a programme that closely resembles Prince Charles’s own Sustainable Markets Initiative.

      This programme centres on the cultivation of three core components: a ‘stakeholder economy’, in which corporations are oriented to serve the interests of all their stakeholders and not just those of their shareholders; a more resilient, equitable, and sustainable human environment (‘green growth, smarter growth, fairer growth’); and harnessing innovation for the public good rather than for private interest (a ‘Fourth Industrial Revolution’). Key areas for action were listed as the re-invigoration of research and development, a move towards net zero emissions globally through carbon pricing and the implementation of long-term incentive structures, and rebalancing investment to encourage green public infrastructure projects.

      The Forum went on to suggest that the inherently unstable globalised world of late-capitalism would be best-managed by a self-selected coalition of multinational corporations, governments, and civil society organisations – a suggestion that some critics find profoundly undemocratic, the last stand against an ethos of democracy of a pre-democratic ‘dirigisme’; an insistence on domination and control by self-selected elites. Other critics dismiss the whole project as nothing but a cynical greenwashing of capitalism and its hegemony.

      Conspiracy theories, nurtured and spread by the American far-right, surged in the aftermath of the ‘Great Reset’ forum and have increased in fervour as the likes of Joe Biden, Jacinda Ardern, and Justin Trudeau incorporated ideas based on a ‘reset’ in their speeches. Even Oor Ain Wee Nicola has been framing Independence as a ‘reset’, an opportunity to rebuild a fairer, more prosperous, and more inclusive Scotland.

      1. Alistair Taylor says:

        Integrity, compassion, work ethic, honesty, decency, respect.

        1. 220628 says:

          …are behavioural characteristics we valorise as ‘just’ within the matrix of social relations constituted by and through which power is exercised in capitalist modes of production. The idea that these values are absolute, and not contingent on and therefore relative in their value to capitalism as a form of life, is part of the ideological hegemony or ‘mental slavery’ that capitalism as a form of life has established through its globalisation.

          The collapse of capitalism (as a consequence of the game-changing technological innovations of 4IR?) will annihilate the ‘bourgeois’ values you enumerate and produce a revaluation of ‘justice’ in both our social and environmental discourses. What that ‘justice’ will look like is yet to be determined and anyone’s guess.

          1. John Wood says:

            If you hold to the idea of the ‘survival of the fittest’, the ideology that underpins capitalism, the only real purpose of ethics is to confer personal advantage at others’ expense.
            However I reject that ideology. I find Kropotkin’s counter-argument of mutual aid persuasive. It also reflects more modern evolutionary science. It is pretty obvious surely that an ideology based on struggle and power over is not sustainable – whether that is power in the hands of capitalist oligarchs or ‘robber barons’, or of one ‘social class’ over another. Nature simply doesn’t work like that.
            Mutual aid is the only possible basis for the future. So we need ethics, based on what works rather than authority. They are not too hard to clarify. And they go beyond ‘do as you would be done by’. We can use a simple measure – since every action has an effect, does it result in greater overall happiness or more suffering?
            Modern science has demonstrated that we are not isolated individuals struggling against all others but part of a planetary ecosystem which evolved us, like all other species, to build biodiversity and resilience. To destroy the system we are part of and depend on is a sickness. The planet is far bigger, older, and wiser than a few narcissistic psychopaths. It will, if necessary, destroy us long before we destroy it. It has the power to heal – and so do we, if we just wake up and reject the philosophy of anti-ethics.

          2. 220628 says:

            You’ve got things butt end foremost. The ethics of ‘the survival of the fittest’ is an ideological expression of capitalist relations of production rather than the latter a realisation of the former. Theory emanates from and is a tool of our material practice rather than the other way about.

            Ethics has no real purpose; we live in non-teleological or ‘purposeless’ universe. As theory, it’s a tool that enables us to create dichotomies (‘good’/’bad’, ‘right’/’wrong’, ‘virtuous’/’vicious’, ‘fit’/’incongruous’, ‘natural’/’unnatural’, etc) that establish inequalities of power between ourselves (whom we associate with the positive term of the dichotomy) and others (whom we associate with the negative term). The ethics of mutual aid functions in exactly the same way as other systems of moral discriination: as a tool for the separation of the sheep from the goats, the superior from the inferior, the ‘good’ people from the ‘bad’ people, ‘us’ from ‘them’.

            With regard to your simple utilitarian measure of ‘rightness’/’wrongness’, the long-standing problem with it as a measure of such things is that ‘the greater balance of happiness over suffering’ is practically incalculable. It’s practically incalculable because there’s no consensus around how the cost-benefit differential of any action can be calculated. For one thing, one man’s happiness is another’s suffering, and vice versa. For another, different people weigh different pleasures and pains differently: who’s the ‘happier’, Socrates or a pig in sh*t; who suffers more, the man who loses a fortune or a child who drops her ice cream?

            Modern science hasn’t demonstrated that a planetary ecosystem has evolved us to build biodiversity and resilience. Such a notion is just prescientific teleological nonsense, on a par with the notion that some ‘God’ created us for a purpose. Modern science has demonstrated that we live to no ‘end’ in a ‘purposeless’ universe, that we just live. It has demonstrated that biodiversity is the mechanism by which life remains resilient to and ‘survives’ otherwise catastrophic environmental change, and that human life is part of and doesn’t transcend that system as we once believed. In other words, modern science has deconstructed the traditional dichotomy of ‘man’ and ‘nature’ and our claims to superiority and dominion over the latter as peculiarly moral beings. It has demonstrated that all that ultimately exists is chemistry.

          3. John Wood says:

            Well all I can say to that is that I completely disagree. Let’s leave it there

          4. 220629 says:

            That you disagree isn’t very interesting. The interesting question is why you disagree.

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