Thursday 27 May 2021

Time to escape the nightmare


In days gone by, no Prime Minister would have been able to continue in post if even a small proportion of yesterday’s accusations by Johnson’s former chief adviser were true. But Boris Johnson is a man to whom feelings of shame or embarrassment, to say nothing of honesty or integrity, are totally alien. He has spent the whole of his life ignoring the rules and norms by which others live, and his experience merely serves to confirm that it is an approach which is rewarded rather than punished. The chances of him changing now are slim; unless and until the men in grey suits from his own party come knocking at his door, he is probably safe. And as long as he keeps them in power, there seems little prospect that Tory MPs are going to develop enough of a conscience to challenge him. It seems unlikely, therefore, that anything short of being escorted out of Downing Street in handcuffs by the boys in blue, accused of one or more serious crimes, will remove the main problem from office in the short term.

The chief accuser is hardly a paragon of virtue either, no matter how hard he tried to present himself as such yesterday. The man who accused others of lying as though that was a mortal sin is the same man who thought it entirely reasonable to paint large lies on the sides of buses just a few years ago. Lies in pursuit of his own objectives are acceptable, apparently – it’s only lies which don’t support his aims which are wrong. Nevertheless, no matter how tainted the witness, there was much in what he said which had a ring of truth to it. The Tory strategy of dismissing every accusation because of the known and obvious flaws of an accuser whose integrity they were so busily defending just a few short months ago looks like a desperate act. It might even work as a temporary fix, but any truly independent enquiry will make it look more like continuing to dig when they’re in a hole. Time will tell.

There is one point on which I find myself in complete agreement with what Cummings said yesterday. A system of government which somehow promotes people like Johnson and Cummings into positions of influence and authority is broken, and very badly so. Cummings himself seemed to be admitting that neither man was ever fit to hold the jobs into which they were somehow appointed. The danger is that attention will now be concentrated on the details of who said what, when and to whom. That is understandable; such matters are non-trivial, to say the least, particularly for the families of the tens of thousands of people who suffered an unnecessarily early death as a result of government incompetence. But saying sorry and replacing personnel are a wholly inadequate substitute for reforming and modernising the UK’s archaic and anachronistic system of government which allowed it to happen. There is certainly no appetite for that type of reform in the governing party, and there seems to be little in the main opposition party either. However broken the system might be, it suits both of them to retain it.

Perhaps Scottish and Welsh independence will be the stimulus which finally forces England to take a long hard look at itself and the way it operates. If it does, then the two newly independent nations will be doing England an enormous favour. I somehow doubt it, though. English exceptionalism is so deeply engrained that everything gets interpreted through that prism rather than shattering it. Being unable to help them doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t save ourselves, though. The sooner we escape from this broken semi-democracy the better.

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