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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Book Review: Why I Write

Title: Why I Write

Author: George Orwell

Published: 1946/2004

Rating: ★★★★★

Overview

Why I Write is an extended essay by George Orwell, that discusses a range of topics. Orwell begins the essay with outlining his motivations for writing. Famously, Orwell wanted “to make political writing into an art”. (Hence Animal Farm and 1984…)

Orwell gives the historical and political background to England, writing during the context of World War Two, with the rise of Fascism across Europe. He discusses the ‘Nation’ and why it fails as a concept in England – mostly, he argues, because England has forever been a country of equal wealth, thus we can never be regarded as a common entity.

Orwell also discusses socialism in the practical and ideological sense. In simple terms, economic socialism believes all commodities and ownership should be regulated by the state, rather than private companies and individuals. In theory, this should reduce the inequality that capitalism naturally produces, when wealth is in the hands of a few. Socialism also promotes equality, freedom, and opportunity for all.

Additionally, Orwell focuses on the influence of the media in shaping political opinion and includes the construction of language in this. The use of language is deliberate and its connection to politics is undeniable – it influences political understanding through the construction of events. Orwell argues, it has a strict purpose, “political language is designed to make lies sound truthful and murder respectable” – any of this starting to sound very relevant?…

Orwell ends the essay with a set of writing rules to avoid creating false meaning, which is often fostered by political rhetoric.

Orwell’s writing rules
Source: Rough House Media

Above all, this essay makes the imperative case for socialism, set in the context of World War Two. Although miles apart from today, the sad endurance of his argument reigns true.

Review and analysis

I’ll say it straight away – I loved this essay and wanted to commit every sentence to memory. Orwell has the capacity to say everything with such coherency that I always almost think about giving up on the ambition to be a writer… Will there ever be a greater communicator than Orwell?

It was the relevance of this essay that made me enjoy reading it so much. Although it was written a long time ago, and in an incredibly different context, the message for political change is something that transcends time. Orwell argues for the necessity of socialism, something I also believe in, but he does so in such an eloquent and damning way, that I think even the most staunch Conservative could get behind him… (possibly!)

Orwell outlines the reasons for why the general public are against socialism and identifies this as its failing point, if socialism can never be mainstream, then how is it ever going to achieve change? I found myself making stark similarities to today’s political climate in the UK. Jeremy Corbyn, the most ardent champion of socialism in the Labour party for a generation, was unable to win a General election (twice) – but the party’s membership was the largest its ever been.

Labour Party Rally
Source: Labour List

In the last election (2019) Labour had a massive defeat and was criticized for failing to get the masses on its side, as the election was overshadowed by Brexit. This and voters’ opposition to socialism resulted in another Tory majority. Orwell argues that people are opposed to socialism as they perceive of it as taking away from their livelihood (in the form of paying more taxes). People think in terms of individualistic economics, rather than the greater good. And what has changed there?

Orwell also includes a four point program for political change, which has striking similarities to Corbyn’s Labour manifesto’s.

On his agenda is nationalization, limitations of income and a minimum wage, educational reform and the dismantling of private education, and an alliance of equality with India. The last point is an anomaly, given that Orwell is writing before de-colonization, this was the only thing I had a problem with. He isn’t radical enough about India and destabilizing the Empire – as he disagrees that India should have free reign from Britain. But again, context is key. This kind of paternalism enforced on other nations, was still in mainstream thought at this time.

As well as outlining the merits of socialism, Orwell describes the failures of capitalism in its creation of unequal wealth, which is unable to allow the progression of the masses. This results in vast, historic, class inequality in Britain, and negates the idea that Britain is a, ‘nation’ of solidarity, but in fact, a country hugely divided by wealth and opportunity.

Orwell goes on to outline the problems with achieving political change and the inherent obstacles that are in the way – most notably, privilege. This is embodied within the origins of mainstream politicians, journalists and lawyers that run the country. Thus, it appears, we are still raging the same battle, which is depressing, but just goes to show how Orwell’s ideas transcend generations.

Furthermore, the failures of socialism are also discussed, the main one being the lack of mass appeal. Which I have always thought is ironic, as socialism is about the masses. However, Orwell makes a valid point in that unless socialism becomes the political mainstream, change will never happen. Centrist Labour policies are essentially a continuation, and thus, socialism needs to be at the centre of any Labour agenda (RIP Corbynism…)

Finally, I found the link Orwell makes between language and politics fascinating. He argues that, “present political chaos is connected with the decay of language…” in the sense that language can distort truth, and influence the political consensus. He brings to light how the language of nonsense and “fluff” can be used by politicians to distort reality and detract from blame.

Lack of understanding is therefore deliberately constructed to deliver false meaning. (*Coughs* Boris Johnson… *Coughs* Matt Handcock…) Which becomes pertinent when thinking about our mainstream, Conservative politicians we have the pleasure of sharing evenings with in the UK, for our daily COVID-19 briefings….Just listen to one of these, and Orwell’s argument about language and politics will be demonstrated.

Too often politicians use the language of buffoonery which alienates their responsibility of answering the question and facing up their reality of failure. Therefore, the public are left in the dark and truth is obscured.

This is a classic Orwell essay, with a message that reigns true. Which is both worrying on the one hand, but on the other, pays homage to the efficiency, clarity, and enduring message of Orwell’s thought. It transcends historical and political contexts and puts forward the type of change we still need today.

“it is only by revolution that the native genius of the English people can be set free.”

My (Current) Preference for Labour Leader

Image: BBC

When I was seventeen, I signed up to join the Labour Party, and have been a member since. This election was the first time I began to become active in the party, alas the election defeat left me very deflated about who to vote for and how.

I am constantly torn between voting for a candidate I truly believe in or to vote for someone who is perhaps, more ‘electable’ – whatever that means.

This article will act as an overview of my current thoughts about the candidates and order of preference.

Rebecca Long-Bailey MP for Salford and Eccles (1)

Like many Labour voters, I truly believed in the policies which were in 2019’s manifesto. For once, politics seemed to offer a slice of hope. No, I was not concerned about the cost because I believed in the type of society that Jeremy Corbyn’s policies were going to create. Any cost was worth it in my eyes.

Rebecca Long-Bailey appears to be the only candidate who is closely aligning herself to maintaining these policies in stating she is, “totally committed to the policies.” Thus, at current, she is the most likely candidate to have my vote. However, I do have reservations about her.

Already deemed as the, “continuity candidate” most closely aligned with Corbyn politics, this label could already steer away more centrist Labour voters or simply those who could not vote Labour due to Corbyn’s leadership. I truly believe in Long-Bailey’s type of politics but whether she could be elected as Prime Minister is another question.

Yes, I would love to vote with my heart but I would also like to see Labour winning some future elections, having been stuck with a Tory austerity government most of my life.

Keir Starmer MP for Holborn and St Pancras (2)

Already in the lead by a mile, Keir Starmer allegedly is the most popular candidate, having secured the most backing from MPs and by the largest trade union in the United Kingdom, Unison.

Starmer’s legal background on the one hand, gives him credibility as a leader and challenger to Boris Johnson. He’d probably be great in the House of Commons and in debate. However, I fail to be convinced by his politics. He was the architect of Labour’s Brexit position in the 2019 election, which arguably, lost them the General Election. Additionally, he is another member of the London elite, which will perhaps do him no favors in winning back Northern, working-class voters.

Additionally, Starmer appears to be in favour of renewing Trident, the UK’s nuclear deterrent, which doesn’t sit well with me. However – I can see him being Prime Minister regardless.

Emily Thornberry MP for Islington South and Finsbury (3)

I used to be more of a fan of Emily Thornberry, before she revleaed on Marr last week that she was rather a fan of the Royal family. Again, another member of the London metropolitan elite, it is difficult to see her winning the trust of Northern voters.

Upon looking at her voting record, Thornberry appears to have very similar views to Jeremy Corbyn. Additionally, she is the most experienced politician in the race and has spent more time in parliament than Starmer. Of all the women candidates, she strikes me as the most convincing. I am hoping that just her presence on the ballot paper will be enough to reduce votes for Jess Philips.

Lisa Nandy MP for Wigan (4)

Unfortuantely, before the leadership contest I had never even heard of Lisa Nandy. And part of having her so low down in the list is influenced by this. She has been out of the limelight since the contest began with most media coverage focusing on Starmer, Long-Bailey and Jes Philips.

The MP for Wiggan presents a complex view on Brexit. Once a proud remainer she came out criticisng the Remain position of the Labour party for not doing enough, but then tried to appeal to the more pro-Brexit opinions of her constituents. Although Brexit will soon be irrelevant (we hope) it does worry me that she appears to be so flippant.

Continuously criticizing Labour’s policies and former leader is also not the right approach for me and doesn’t win my vote.

Jess Philips MP for Birmingham Yardley (5)

If Jess Philips ever becomes leader of the Labour Party, I will seriously think about leaving it.

Being an out spoken critique of your own party is never a good look. Philips has been a staunch critique of Corbyn ever since he was elected which has nonetheless, contributed to the divisions within the party. She is never capable of not putting herself first, which I think is a very worrying type of leadership.

And it hasn’t just been Corbyn at the disposal of her ridicule, Diane Abbott has also been the but of her jokes on too many occassions. Philips even told Abbott to, “fuck off” during a meeting in 2015.

Let’s not forget the fact she is an outspoken, known feminist, but pursues a type of feminism which is only for white, middle-class women. Jess also seemed an eager fan of Jacob Rees-Mogg, who she descrimed as, “a real gent.” It speaks for itself. I could go on, but I won’t. I will leave below a brilliant quote from an article written by Leah Cowan of gal-dem, it tells you all you need to know.

“We need a Labour leader who isn’t going to use misappropriate the phrase “working class” as a dog whistle for appealing to white racist voters, at any cost. We need a leader who will bring our communities together, not entrench racist stereotypes that play directly into the rhetoric of the far-right. We need a leader who recognises that foreign policy, climate change, and the trident nuclear warheads are feminist issues, as women of colour in the global south are most directly impacted by Britain’s wars and exploits globally. Progress has been made on the left which must not be undone by a new leader whose white feminism leaves women of colour and marginalised communities out of a  vision for the way forward. We must continue to believe and act on the premise that a different politics is possible.”

Leah Cowan

Those are my thoughts on the leadership at present – I am sure they will change over the coming weeks somewhat. Remember – if you want to have a vote, you have to sign up by 20th January.

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.

14/10/19: A State of Distraction

Image: Queen at the State opening of Parliment (Monday October 14, 2019) SkyNews.

Like most people in the country, I hold my breath each morning as I enjoy the brief silence before I expose myself to the morning’s news. Alas, the exposure has to be done in an attempt to understand the path of British politics as it changes from one minute to the next.

Standing at on the door of Number 10 during his first speech as Prime Minister, Boris Johnston promised the country that he would restore their faith in democracy with, “no ifs no buts” and deliver Brexit by October 31st. In the Queen’s speech, Johnson seemed to be promulgating a mixture of election style pledges on boosting the regulation of crime and punishment, false promises of education improvements and of course, more policemen on the street. The current climate crisis was merely accounted for, as critiqued by Caroline Lucas, Green Party MP for Brighton and Pavillion, the Queen’s Speech contained just six words dedicated to the issue.

Brexit related issues in the Queen’s speech include confirmed heightened restrictions on freedom of movement and a proposed introduction of a points-based immigration system from 2021. Additional Brexit promises also included a new Environment Bill to reduce the use of plastics and encourage biodiversity and the proposition to raise the national living wage to £10.50. But remember, all these policies have to be taken with a sack (not pinch) of salt, as Johnson has no parliamentary majority but is instead, high bent on churning out a list of propagandist policies that will vote him into Number 10 in the next following election.

It is highly likely that none of his pledges to make Britain, ‘the greatest place on Earth‘ will ever be enacted due to their failure to be passed by the House of Commons in the following few days (thanks to Johnson’s majority of -43).

But again, there was hardly any concrete information on the progress of leaving the EU, instead the issue seems to be brushed aside in favor of hauling out what seems like election promises instead of addressing the current political moment.

In every interview Boris is keen to reassure UK Journalists that progress on Brexit is fine and dandy – but can never elude to anything more. As the days unravel at a seemingly quicker pace, the public are endlessly left in the dark and with no further understanding of how the course of Brexit is going to play out. It seems the current Prime Minister is lost in his bubble of statecraft, with a sole desire of becoming Britain’s greatest orator – but not the beacon of democracy he so promised on the first day of his premiership.

The pomp and circumstance of the Queen’s arrival into parliament on this drizzly, October day seemed a somewhat perfect reflection of Boris Johnston’s government.

It is merely a governance of showy polemic, with little grounding or care for the future impact of policies which are being muddled through in a blurry haze. Speeches are often propagandist, but this one in particular proved to serve as a distraction from the looming realities of the Brexit deadline. Once more, we are still kept in the dark and it is unlikely to get brighter as the eve of Halloween remains on the horizon.