Monday, 13 December 2021

Giving Boris his due


As the Johnson era winds slowly and painfully towards its inevitable demise, many will conclude that it has been a premiership marked by utter failure. That may not be entirely fair or true, however. Whilst there have certainly been many failures (corruption, sleaze, driving people into poverty, crashing the economy, and tens of thousands of unnecessary premature deaths amongst them), his government has either achieved, or laid solid foundations for, a number of very significant developments:

·        Strengthening the EU: the remaining member states of the EU have been united as never before by the strains of Brexit, and talk of other defections has all but disappeared.

·        Irish unity: No British Prime Minister in history has done as much as Johnson to bring about an end to partition and reunite the island of Ireland.

·        Scottish independence: Some of the latest opinion polls are showing record levels of support for independence; by using all the means at his disposal to delay a second referendum, the PM has dramatically increased the probability of success.

·        Welsh independence: Whilst not quite there yet, the current UK government has managed to turn a fringe interest into a widely-discussed proposition, which may well become the dominant view after Irish unity and Scottish independence.

·        Nuclear disarmament: After the loss of Faslane, which will inevitably occur soon after Scottish independence, England will find its nuclear weapons homeless and be forced to base them, temporarily at least, in either the US or France. (Yes, France! Oh, the irony!) It will probably take at least ten years to build a replacement base, even if they can find a location in England willing to host them. Few things are more certain to increase people’s opposition to nuclear weapons than a proposal to site them on their doorstep.

·        Electoral Reform: Likely to rise up the agenda as people come to understand the problems associated with giving an absolute majority to a single party on the basis of a minority share of the vote.

·        House of Lords reform: removing Scottish, Welsh and Northern Irish peers from the chamber, coupled with the way in which peerages have effectively been sold in exchange for large donations, will cause a rethink of the whole system when England becomes an independent country following the breakup of the UK.

·        Monetary Policy: Johnson has clearly demonstrated that the fundamental basis of economic policy on which the UK (and the Tories in particular) has operated for the past 40 years – the idea that the government is like a household – is just a myth.

I’ve never been a particular fan of Corbyn, most particularly because of his blind spot when it comes to Wales and Scotland, but had I been forced to choose between him and Johnson in the 2019 election, I would reluctantly have opted for Corbyn. Looking back though, I doubt that I’d be able to draw up a similar list of successes after two years of a Corbyn premiership. Johnson’s government has done a great deal to promote these key changes, whereas under Corbyn we would probably have stood still for two years (although there would have been many more of us still around to see it, a far from inconsequential benefit).

Some might argue that none of the above is what Johnson set out to achieve, or even that he actually set out to achieve quite the opposite. They’d be right, although MacMillan’s dictum about ‘events’ comes to mind. No doubt the immediate aftermath to his regime will be overwhelmingly negative, not least from within his own party; but that isn’t the point. History is written by the winners, not the losers, and in the long term the history of the Johnson era will come to be written not by those who lament the passing of the old but by those who celebrate the birth of the new. In that context, it will surely come to be seen as the government which (albeit accidentally) facilitated the emergence of the new from the ruins of the old. Johnson as Gramsci’s midwife. The cost of the Johnson era for the UK’s citizens has been a high one, though, as a result of which I somehow doubt that we’ll ever end up feeling any debt of gratitude towards him.

1 comment:

dafis said...

You give Johnson & Co far too much credit. Change is an inevitable outcome when an old way or regime gets to the point of utter flakiness. The marginal risk is that a Far Right alternative will emerge in England with branches in the other 3 nations. I'm talking now of a hard nosed bunch of thugs for whom Farage is just about tolerable. I remain borderline optimistic that the changes will be for the better but we may have to live with one more period of "unpleasantness" before we get there. The real threat in my opinion lies within the corporate sector where multinationals and the like feel that they should point governments in the right direction. They have been doing this for a while with varying degrees of success but may become more overt in their activities. To some people, Order is of paramount importance.