Covid-19 has made a government of disgrace the new normal

For any government, facing a global pandemic would be an enormous political challenge. The implementation of an unprecedented nationwide lockdown could never have been predicted back in December, when the Tories won their majority. However, the actions they have taken will indiscriminately define the rest of their tenure.

Regardless of the demanding nature of our current climate, without a doubt, this crisis has exposed this government and the Prime Minister, for what they really are.

Crises are known for bringing to the surface the real nature of leaders in defining moments. For over a decade, our country has been led by the same party, but the crisis has revealed ever more blatantly, the kind of politics they wish to govern by. In the wake of the pandemic one would hope the world will become a better place. But will this transfer to British politics?

The country held its breath when Boris Johnson was taken into intensive care in early April and it was a defining moment in the nation’s experience of the crisis. Furthermore, the Health Secretary, Matt Hancock, contracted the virus at the end of March. Unlike Johnson, Hancock managed to escape with a mild experience of the virus. Despite having a real and life threatening experience, it seems ludicrous that the PM has opened the floodgates as early as July 4th, even encouraging a return to hustle and bustle, despite a still ever present threat in circulation

Image: Insider. Soho, London, 4 July.

Furthermore, these past few weeks have seen the rise of racial tensions in Britain, in response to the death of George Floyd, who was murdered by a white policeman in Minneapolis. The Black Lives Matter movement has hit many cities and towns across the country in joining the fight against exposing the persistent racial inequality in our country and expressing solidarity with America. However, this was also met with protests from the far right, evoking, “scenes of violence, desecration and racism” in central London just a few weeks ago. 

Johnson’s treatment of the BLM movement was half hearted and his address only initially prompted by the leader of the opposition at Prime Minister’s Questions.

Moreover, the biggest blunder during the address of the BLM movement was Dominic Raab’s treatment of “taking a knee.” The term refers to the symbolic gesture adopted by footballer Colin Kaepernick in 2016, during a national anthem to highlight the persistent racism underpinning American society. Despite this, the foreign secretary described it as “a symbol of subjugation and subordination” originating in the Game of Thrones TV series.

Not only does this show a sheer lack of sensitivity during a pivotal moment for the BLM both here and in the US, but a mirror into how out of touch this party really is. 

Scenes from Central London, depicting a far-right protest. Image: The Guardian

The Covid crisis has exposed the bare bones of the charleton, Johsnon. He is a career politician that thrives from using the tactic of “political bluster” as seen in this season’s PMQs. It worked with Jeremy Corbyn, however, with the meticulous Keir Starmer, he only appears more out of touch than usual.

During the crisis, we’ve already witnessed two major U-turns in the government, with the abandonment of the NHS surcharge for migrant healthcare workers and the Marcus Rashford led campaign to continue food provision for some of Britain’s poorest families. U-turns alone are not proof of weakness, but these examples certainly illustrate that this crisis reveals a government and leader out of touch with the rest of society and their concerns. 

And then there’s Dominic Cummings. The evident breaking of the lockdown rules by the government’s chief advisor was the cherry on the cake in terms of symbolising hypocrisy and ignorance.

If the maker of the rules himself could not abide by them, how was there ever any hope for the public? The Cummings debacle may have been brushed under the carpet, but it is one that will certainly define the Tory’s handling of this pandemic in years to come. Moreover, it provides us with the most glaring of symbols into the realities of this government. 

The sea of social change anticipated by the joint experience of Covid-19 and the BLM movement could be on the horizon, however, the leadership of this government has maintained its status quo and exposed itself for what it really is; a government of disgrace, hypocrisy and removed from the issues felt by the majority.

Experience of a crisis can often bring out the best in people, however, for the Tory’s, their worst sides have definitely been revealed. The most worrying part? It has become the new normal. 

The actions of Dominic Cummings symbolise the wider government failures during this crisis

In the early hours of last night, we were greeted with the breaking news story that Dominic Cummings, the senior advisor to the Prime Minister, Boris Johnson, had broken lockdown rules by leaving London to travel to his family’s farm in Durham

Here reportedly, his wife was unwell with Covid symptoms. Cummings’ motives and further explanation, was that this was an essential journey as he had to help with childcare. There is confusion over whether at the time of travel, Cummings had symptoms or not but even so, he ignored his own public guidance to stay put and “protect the NHS and save lives.”

It doesn’t serve the public message and only adds to further confusion. Additionally, his sister and nieces (who hadn’t developed symptoms) had already offered to help look after the children. In the wake of the findings, the Tory party seem to be divided over whether these actions are forgivable or not. Michael Gove, in a Tweet, proclaimed, “Caring for your wife and child is not a crime” – it seems politicians are exempt from their own rules.

If we put the actions of Cummings aside for one moment, we can see how this lack of responsibility has been a prominent feature at the heart of the UK government during the COVID-19 crisis. As an individual, isolated issue, it does partly feel like the media are dragging it out a bit, when we should be focusing on more prominent issues. I think it’s wrong what he did, and he does deserve to be sacked, but I think it’s significance is in the bigger picture it points to.

Image: SkyNews

There are many instances of this, “do as I say, not as I do” attitude from senior government officials, which points to further failures of dealing with this crisis. Most notably, this includes Neil Ferguson, who’s epidemiology model on the virus was used to shape lockdown regulations in the UK. Ferguson broke lockdown rules to receive frequent visits from a lover (who wasn’t a part of the same household). Although I am not a fan of the “name, shame and blame” culture, it does point to some wider issues that surround this crisis. Failures from individuals, and the government as a whole, illustrates the aversion of responsibility and denial culture that Boris Johnson’s Tory party embodies.

Image: Yorkshire Post

Take the return of Prime Minister’s Questions. In his second performance as new Labour Leader, Keir Starmer pressed the PM on when exactly the Test, Track and Trace facility will be available ahead of the plan to reopen primary schools in England from June 1st.

It took time and time again before Johnson eventually blurted out that he “promised” that by next month this system would be in place. The week before, Johnson claimed the meticulous Starmer was “ignorant” and didn’t know the facts. Besides from reading out the advice from the government papers themselves, this mere slither of Johnson’s performance feels to me like a blueprint for what’s to come over the next four years. In professing the “ignorance” of the opposition, Johnson uses rhetoric to avert attention from his own scrutiny, and avoids delivering a response to the criticism at hand.

Johnson also told the House of Commons he wished the Leader of the Opposition wouldn’t be so, “negative”. This is a dangerous line of defense, which allows Johnson to appear to have the upper hand. The very point of facing the opposition is so the government can be scrutinized, the PM is evidently aware of this, however, he uses it to his advantage to avert any responsibility. Starmer’s criticisms over the government matter more than ever in the light of their appalling handling of this crisis. 

In deliberation, Johnson uses this unique characterization that he has managed to perfect over the years. He plays the idiot to avoid responsibility and always fails to directly answer a line of questioning. It’s this ignorance and sheer lack of accountability that is a sign of the deterioration of the Conservative Party. They may be ahead in the polls and be the shining beacon in many minds of the public, but in reality, they lack imperative accountability and the humanity to admit mistakes. If Cummings, Matt Handcock, (the Health Secretary) and Johnson were simply able to apologize for their mistakes and move on – they would at least have a portion of respectability, even if it were to be short lived. 

Keir Starmer was never the ideal Leader of the Opposition in my eyes, but I have to admit, his performance at PMQs has taken me by surprise. He is definitive, meticulous and has an unwavering sense of dominion over Johnson who appears to be crumbling at the seams as the weeks go on. Without the support of his backbenchers, Johnson is revealed for what he really is. He’s not a leader, he doesn’t have the accountability that politicians need, for he was always a mere campaigner even back in his Mayor of London days. Faced with criticism, Johnson never accepts responsibility. Will he ever accept failure over the horrific PPE shortage that NHS workers have had to deal with? 

Johnson told the public to practice, “Good, solid, British common sense” with the loosening of the lockdown. The switch from, “Stay at Home” to, “Stay Alert” is irrefutably vague. However, it seems that even before this subtle change, his own senior advisors couldn’t cope with following the simplest of instructions. And when faced with criticism (rightly so) senior Tory’s practice their public school boy tradition of worming their way out of accountability – it’s what they do best. 

Johnson and his clapping for the NHS whilst stripping them of adequate PPE, and formally making immigrated NHS workers pay a £400 surcharge for using the NHS, shows himself for what he really is. He’s hypocritical and all about proclaiming a false image of national unity in a time of crisis. It’s the illusion of display at its finest – however, it doesn’t take much for the cracks to be revealed.

In the weeks since recovery and addition of another heir to the great Johnson bloodline, the PM has taken a back seat in the workings of his government. Barely appearing in daily Press Conferences, it does beg the question over whether this figure of fun is more of a part-time Prime Minister who simply lacks the skills of tackling scrutiny. Where is he today to defend the actions of his senior advisor? It would certainly fit in with the theme of avoiding accountability that has protruded during the worst health crisis of a generation.

Have an opinion? Join in with the debate in the comments 🙂

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An Election for Change

Image: DW

If you’ve been living in the United Kingdom for the past three years, it can feel as though nothing has changed. Despite having two new Prime Ministers in less than five years, the country has not moved forward and life has got a lot worse for many people.

Nearly a decade worth of austerity has resulted in increasing social deprivation, declining working conditions and education standards due to a myriad of cuts to essential services. They have been preserved by the political elite, whom will never be affected by any struggle. Above all, the legacy of the David Cameron years and the condition of the present day, is far from the promised glory that eradicating the deficit was meant to achieve.

With the next snap election on the horizon, it can feel as though we’re simply repeating political history, due to the 2017 snap election which resulted in the election of former Prime Minister, Theresa May. However, this will be far from history repeating itself, but an election that will mirror calls for staunch, political change.

In 2017, I was one of the, if you like, typified left-wing, young labour supporters, who had a belt of optimism around me. It was my first time voting in a GE, what can you expect? When sharing my opinions online whilst being apart of a Guardian feature on first time voters, older generations were quick to shut me down for my optimism and hope for change.

“I feel strangely optimistic’?! Why? Next you will be saying we live in a democracy!”

“we’ve relied on EU imports since the 15th century”. !!!! What grotesque ideas the young have…”

But like many, I really believed that the 2017 election would be the election of change and in many ways, it was. During the 2017 election campaign, like many students, I could not get as politically active as I would have liked as I prioritized my summer exams which were just around the corner.

Although I was not an active campaigner, I felt like I really found my political voice in the 2017 election. In many ways, it was the first election where I started to truly care. Say what you like about Jeremy Corbyn but he is an excellent campaigner who thrives of the rallying crowds and inspires the feeling of change, as I witnessed at a Labour rally in York, before the 2017 election.

Image: Me at a JC rally in York, PA

In 2017, a year after the Brexit vote had past, the Labour Party made a gain of 30 seats, despite Jeremy Corbyn being reluctant on the issue of Europe and not giving his party a stable stance. The Conservative party lost 13 seats and could not even reach a majority in the House of Commons and as a result, were propped up by the DUP (Democratic Unionist Party). Despite valiant attempts, Theresa May failed to get a Brexit deal passed through parliament and resigned this summer.

With the non-election of Boris Johnson, we have seen a shift in the pariamnetary and political rhetoric in this country. His use of rhetoric and dangerous language at times, has changed the nature of political debate in the establishment. It’s harsher, cleaner and not as forgiving. It appears not to make any allowances for issues other than those defined by Brexit. With the ever increasing failure to get ‘Brexit done’ the parliamentary landscape has got more and more divided and the people of this country more frustrated.

With the election of Sir Lindsay Hoyle, change for the Commons is on the horizon, as yesterday during his election speech, he promised to help heal the divisions within the system and make room for coherent and considerate debate on all sides.

As a Remainer, I inherently don’t believe Brexit is a good idea for the country but now take the position of wanting to get the best deal possible so that we can move on and address the more imperative issues. Although Brexit and its ramifications are very real, especially for my generation who will have to live with the long-term consequences, we cannot go on with another decade of political stagnation. It is time for change and the creation of a political landscape of debate which benefits us all, and not one that just serves the agenda of the elite.

We need to abandon the rhetoric that parliamentary democracy is a barrier to the political project that is Brexit and start opening up the debate to allow room for the issues which have been ignored. I am alarmed that the current leaders can be so consumed by one issue for so long and are blind to the deprivation going on around them.

This election, although being defined by the parameters of Brexit, is not just about one singular issue, but it is a chance to open up the political spectrum and address social problems which have been ignored for nearly a decade. Another five years of a Conservative government led by Boris Johonson will do our country and its people no favours.

We need to move forward and make way for a government which gives attention to the ramifications of decreased funding in all our schools, the increasing amount of homelessness in our streets, the waiting lists for GP and NHS appointments and the climate crisis which is imminently real. We need a government which cares about other people’s issues – and not just their own self-fulfilling, political prophecy.

After nearly a decade of austerity and four years of prolonging the Brexit debate, forgive me for being an optimist for change, but it is simply the only way forward.