Is there any way to hold Johnson accountable?
The PM is enjoying rising popularity and total impunity, is this inevitable?
It didn’t have to be this way. The govt has presided over one of the most catastrophically botched handlings of the pandemic of any major economy, and sticks out like a sore thumb around the world as a pure and abject failure, a nation deluded with grandeur, and sharply in decline, unable to manage its own internal affairs let alone exert power or influence on the world stage.
And yet, as all this occurs, the Prime Minister has had a rocket placed underneath his previously dire polling due to a potent combination of a world beating vaccine rollout thanks to a world beating health service his party is dedicated to dismantling, and a complacent and senile opposition more than happy to toe the establishment line.
Is there any way around this? Those of us who’ve watched closely the car crash we’ve seen unfold since March 2020 know it never had to be way, and know the government has been criminally incompetent, dangerous, and callous from the get go. And yet, the public think no one could have done a better job, view the opposition negatively, and will almost certainly re-elect the ruling party at the next election, and even potentially give them a rare endorsement at the May local elections.
To get a view of whether Johnson can actually be made to answer to the public for his (let’s be frank) crimes, we first need to look at Her Majesty’s Opposition, because like it or lump it, their role here is sizable and they do have an impact on how this whole matter has been framed, and how it will be framed going forwards.
When Keir Starmer became Labour leader, talk of calling him a Tory was pretty satirical and tongue in cheek; none of us thought he’d toe the line and lick Johnson’s arse whenever he did something dreadful, we just thought he likely didn’t share our political priorities, but we certainly hoped he’d keep to his 10 Pledges and put out the arguments for a radical social democratic domestic agenda, albeit minus the key ingredient of class struggle. Now, we see various dreadful things happening and Labour toeing the government line.
When the police acted grossly out of proportion in Bristol, lit an emotional powder keg and started off riots that weren’t inevitable, Labour MPs endorsed baton swinging thugs (the police) and condemned protesters who want to maintain their civil liberties, with no nuance or talk about the excessiveness or otherwise of police force used and how conducive it was to calming and deescalating the situation. Nope, from Labour we saw a strong clapping endorsement of excessive state violence against people out protesting their civil liberties, with the rest of the liberal commentariat ignoring the fact no justice was ever achieved through the ballot box along, and that these things do occasionally get messy, and a police van or two probably isn’t something to shed tears over.
When the govt staged a Tory takeover of Liverpool, using a deeply regrettable situation to take over a city that despises them and everything they stand for, with Tory MPs lining up to encourage the same for their local Labour administrations, Labour’s frontbench endorsed it, and pushed back against Liverpudlians unhappy about having democracy taken away from them; sticking it to another heartland they think they can’t, but certainly can, loose.
When a coalition of the Tory libertarians, the Labour left, and the Lib Dems come together to oppose the continuation of excessive COVID enforcement powers the govt doesn’t need for the measures in place, Labour’s frontbench rolls over with no concern for civil liberties or these powers becoming normalised even though the legislation is outdated, clearly needs to be paired down, and much within it hasn’t been used and won’t be needed whatever happens with the virus.
And when we see a slippery slope of powers rightly needed in the midst of an emergency being normalised such as with the potential for “no jab no job” or domestic vaccine passports and surveillance, the Labour frontbench continues to roll over without any sort of moral backbone or opposition on the ground of civil liberties (why would they, they have a deeply authoritarian leader).
So we have an opposition totally useless and unable to oppose anything, that’s one of the factors that has allowed the govt and the PM to emerge from this without having to pay a political price, “constructive opposition” is leading to an indefinite continuation of Tory rule. But that’s clearly not the whole story, so let’s dig into this deeper.
The media is clearly useless. They wouldn’t scrutinise the may worrying signs about the extreme direction this govt could take during the election, preferring to hound a septuagenarian socialist with a reformist manifesto and a record of defending human rights and civil liberties.
And now, they basically come along for the “Boris show”, still unaware of the damage this man was wreaked upon people’s lives, in their little bubble, as ever failing to hold him to account, and essentially acting as the propaganda arm of the Johnson government they’ve become so servile. The media were never good at holding power to account, but there have been some new lows.
So when you have a toothless opposition, a servile media, and a ruling party willing to shapeshift and do whatever it takes, however shameless, to cling onto state power, you see the potent mixture of factors keeping these toffs insulated from consequences for the foreseeable future.
This isn’t normal, and with attacks on things like the media, public dissent, and the judiciary, we’re heading rapidly towards a seriously illiberal vision; we may be the next Hungary, because this is how it started, a centre-right party with even some liberal elements or traditions, becoming radicalised in power and turning to the arms of the far right for intellectual and political lifeblood.
Can any of this be stopped? The no 1 thing is mobilisation and education, no one in the institutions is doing anything, we can’t rely upon our brittle checks and balances, we have to, we absolutely must, build popular resistance from the ground up, because this government is coming after everything we hold dear, and it’s going to get away with it, without anyone standing up until it’s too late.