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Poverty Division Democratic Destruction: The Johnson Legacy – OpEd

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It’s a tad over three hundred years since Britain had what is generally regarded as its first Prime Minister. Since 1721 and Robert Walpole, 76 have held the highest public office, some good, some indifferent, many rubbish, but none as appalling as the current resident of 10 Downing Street. The soon-to-be-ousted Boris “there were no parties” Johnson, who is without doubt the worst prime minister Britain has ever had.

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Not only is he a compulsive liar, an arrogant, spoilt misogynist, he and his gaggle are completely incompetent. As a result of their appalling governance over the last 12 years, yes the Conservatives have been in power in one form of another for 12 disastrous years, they have created a catalogue of crises that will take a generation to put right, and unless they are ejected from office swiftly, could relegate the UK to a second tier nation – economically and socially, including health care, education and other public services, many of which are in tatters.

It is hard to overestimate the damage the Tories have done. First there’s Brexit, something Johnson claims as one of his three major achievements, that he “got Brexit done”. Brexit should never have happened and it would not have happened had the 51% that voted to leave been given the correct information and understood the implications. The Leave Campaign, with Johnson as its loudest mouthpiece repeatedly and knowingly lied, completely distorting and misrepresenting issues including the economic impact, which is and will continue to be devastating. Immigration, employment, environmental standards, workers rights, etc., etc. They didn’t just mislead and manipulate, they trampled on the truth and seasoned their lies with large dollops of tribal nationalism and British bravado, hiding duplicity in the folds of the flag.

Brexit followed on from years of austerity administered by a previous Conservative government led by PM David Cameron (who gave in to the far right fanatics in the party to grant the EU referendum in 2016). Brutal cuts in funding for public services, including the National Health Service (NHS) were made under the guise of fiscal responsibility, pay was frozen for workers in low paid jobs, inequality deepened, and continues to increase, geographically and between the rich and the rest.

The response to Covid, in particular the vaccine program, is another area where Johnson blubbers success. Currently it is estimated that 178,000 people have died in the UK from Covid/Covid related causes. This is 266 per 100,000 and places the UK seventh in the list of countries with the highest rates of Covid deaths (behind, in order, the US, Brazil, India, Russia, Mexico and Peru): this is hardly a success. The UK government was slow to lockdown, had no workable testing system for months in 2020, making diagnosis impossible, and allowed untested patients to be discharged from hospitals to care homes in England and Wales, which resulted in more than 20,000 deaths of elderly/disabled people between March and June 2020. A barrister representing the daughter of someone who died prematurely in a care home told the BBC, that the government’s failure to protect residents of care homes and decisions that allowed Covid to infest care homes “represent one of the most egregious and devastating policy failures in the modern era.” As for the vaccine, this was indeed offered and delivered quickly, but it was administered by the NHS and had little or nothing to do with Johnson, who routinely claims the credit.

The final area that Johnson claims as a triumph is his government’s response to Russia’s attack on Ukraine. The UK has provided weapons, some training of military personnel and a badly designed, appallingly managed asylum program for Ukrainian refugees. By supplying arms and making outlandish, unrealistic claims about Ukraine “winning the war”, Johnson and co., have prolonged the conflict and condemned hundreds of Ukrainians to death who need not have died.

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If peace is the objective (of the UK, US etc) in Ukraine (and elsewhere), and it’s a big if, and if conflict resolution is the test of success in relation to the war, Johnson (and others) has failed totally. Engagement/discussion with Putin is needed (as President Macron of France has been attempting) not more and more arms. At the same time NATO should be scaled back, with the view to disbanding it completely, not increasing troop numbers and raising defense spending, as is happening. When will humanity learn? Preparing for war is the guarantee of conflict, death and terrible suffering, it is not the way to peace. But men and women like Johnson and his monstrous foreign secretary, Liz Truss (who looks like to become the next PM), have no interest in peace and even less in Ukraine; they are concerned only with stirring up their misguided supporters, strengthening nationalism/idealism – the single greatest cause of conflict – agitating hate and division.

Domestically the UK is facing acute problems; headline issues include: huge increase in the number of people living in poverty (estimated to be around one in five of the population or 14.3 million), with 2,173,158 forced to use a (registered) food bank in 2021/22, up from 40,000 in 2008/9 – before which there were no such things as food banks; inequality has deepened and growth is forecast to be the lowest in the G20 with the exception of Russia. Inflation at 11% is a forty-year high; 6.6 million patients are waiting for NHS treatment (May figures); ambulances are taking on average 50 minutes to respond to emergency calls (the target is 15 minutes) because hospitals are full, because patients cannot be discharged as there is no functioning social care provision; airports have seen huge delays in flights due to lack of staff – many of whom were laid off during Covid or returned home, to Poland or Spain e.g., after Brexit poisoned the collective atmosphere for European workers; the asylum system is totally broken; Britains international standing, particularly within the EU has been trashed and after a litany of Johnson lies and cronyism trust in politicians is at an all-time low.

Dishonesty, incompetence and social erosion

On 7th July, after an unprecedented 53 members of the government resigned over Johnson’s serial deceptions, he was forced to resign. But lacking any self-respect and moral fiber, instead of going immediately and allowing the deputy PM to stand in while a new Conservative leader was elected, he remained in office, and will be there until the replacement is chosen (5th September). It’s Conservative members (180,00 roughly) only, not the general public, that get to vote – this is plainly undemocratic. In circumstances when the leader of the party in government, and therefore the PM, is driven out, a general election should be called.

Constitutional reform with the establishment of a written constitution, which does not currently exist, is required to look at a plethora of democratic inadequacies revealed by Johnson’s abuse and manipulation of power. Included in the changes is the urgent need to move from the unjust first-past-the-post election system to proportional representation; greater regional/national devolution, including perhaps Home Rule for Scotland, and a binding ministerial code of conduct, among other matters.

Johnson and his cronies have presided over a shambolic, deeply damaging period in British politics and national life. A period in which truth has been sacrificed, facts dismissed and the political and social landscape has been poisoned totally. Divisions have intensified (Brexit being the loudest example), tolerance of differences and common sense routinely sacrificed upon the alter of ambition and ideological arrogance, the rule of law ignored; a shameful period of dishonesty, incompetence and social erosion. Johnson’s legacy, as Jeremy Corbin recently said in the House of Commons, is “[greater] poverty, [intensified] inequality and [grinding] insecurity.”

As the final two Conservative leadership candidates (Rishi Sunak and Liz Truss) – is this really the best they have to offer, are demonstrating, the policies and general approach of the Conservative party, which has moved increasingly to the right/far right of the political spectrum, is completely out of step with the needs of the people and the planet. They are ideologically imprisoned in the past and, despite their robotic rhetoric to the contrary, are driven by a determination, not to serve the needs of the populous and be a force for peace and unity in the world, but by raw ambition and a determination to remain in power by appealing to the lowest common denominator – tribal nationalism, hate and prejudice – no matter what damage is done to the country, its reputation or the environment, which they care not a tot about.

In many ways Johnson (like Trump, Putin, Bolsonaro of Brazil, Modi of India, Orban of Hungary etc.) and the toxic brand of Conservatism he represents is a product of the age, The Age of Populism, which has infected many democracies. Such malignant, mendacious men and women (Liz Truss loud, stupid and incompetent) represent, and are powerful expressions of the backward-looking, divisive and deeply dangerous reactionary forces that are standing in the way of change. And if there is ever to be peace and social justice in our world, and if we are to have any chance at all of stopping the environmental catastrophe that is unfolding, they must be swept aside totally.

Graham Peebles

Graham Peebles is an independent writer and charity worker. He set up The Create Trust in 2005 and has run education projects in India, Sri Lanka and Ethiopia where he lived for two years working with acutely disadvantaged children and conducting teacher training programmes. Website: https://grahampeebles.org/

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