Twelve Long Years
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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