We live in a representative democracy: we elect MPs and they are responsible for governing on our behalf. Or so the theory goes.
Currently, we have a government which appears to have no care at all for this theoretical responsibility:
- They do not care about the truth;
- They do not care about the law; and
- They do not care about us – the citizens of the UK.
They do not care about the truth
Johnson is notorious for his mendacity. The journalist Peter Oborne has collected his lies by the dozen and his website lists many by Johnson and his cabinet members.
Of course nobody born has gone through life without telling a lie, and politicians are no exception to that rule. But Johnson and his colleagues are in a completely different league.
As Rory Stewart put it:
“There’s huge evidence: Boris Johnson lies all the time – you can document hundreds of lies, so I don’t think we’re waiting for the Sue Gray report to find out whether he lies.
He lies to his wife, he lies to his employers, he lies to his colleagues, he lies to Parliament. And often he does it in different ways, sometimes he does it by pretending to be ignorant, sometimes he does it with a joke, sometimes he does it by ignoring the question.
He’s probably the best liar we’ve ever had as a prime minister. He knows a hundred different ways to lie.”
“He has mastered the use of error, omission, exaggeration, diminution, equivocation and flat denial. He has perfected casuistry, circumlocution, false equivalence and false analogy. He is equally adept at the ironic jest, the fib and the grand lie; the weasel word and the half-truth; the hyperbolic lie, the obvious lie, and the bullshit lie – which may inadvertently be true.”
Here is Johnson lying about “Partygate” – the series of parties held in Number 10 at a time when it was against the law to hold or attend parties and normal members of the public were fined up to £10,000 for breaking the law. https://twitter.com/i/status/1508749663167557632 He illustrates Stewart’s points nicely.
We have reached a point in UK politics where if a minister makes a statement, it is at least as likely to be false as true.
And this has profound democratic implications. One of the foundations of our democracy is that the government of the day can be held to account in the House of Commons. Opposition parties can pose questions and ministers will answer them. In the past, it has been assumed that no minister would knowingly mislead the house – and even suggesting that they might do so is considered ‘unparliamentary’ and can result in expulsion. We now have the ridiculous situation where opposition MPs have been expelled and threatened with expulsion for calling out the Prime Minister’s lies to the House, while Johnson himself goes merrily on his way.
Lies undermine democracy.
They do not care about the law
MP Andrew Rosindell said of Johnson’s law-breaking at Number 10, “He’s made a mistake, no question about that, we all do. I think we’ve all done it, let’s not be so judgemental that the prime minister of the United Kingdom has not committed some horrendous, terrible crime that deserves the entire government to be derailed.”
Of course, we have all made mistakes. When those mistakes include breaking the law, we are not surprised to find that we are punished for it. We do not tell the judge, “let’s not be so judgemental that I have committed some horrendous, terrible crime that deserves my entire life to be derailed by a criminal conviction or a huge fine.” Apparently, the Prime Minister is different: he is above the law.
And it is not just Johnson: the list of crimes and ministerial code violations that have escaped the law is too long for this short article. No one has been tried for the plundering of taxpayers’ money via VIP Lanes for contacts of ministers that saw the government ‘buy’ £billions of – often unusable – Personal Protective Equipment at the height of the first COVID wave. No one has been tried for the test and trace programme which saw an eye watering £37 billion of taxpayers’ money allocated (far more than other European countries spent) and whose delivery was slated in two highly critical reports from the National Audit Office. No-one has been tried for allowing Russian interference in UK politics – indeed the government refused the demand from the Intelligence and Security Committee of the House of Commons for a full investigation.
They do not care about the citizens of the UK
The population of the UK is getting steadily poorer because of government policies. Most people are poorer today than they were in 2010 and this mass impoverishment is accelerating this year because of the ‘cost of living crisis.’ Where we might expect ministers to be straining every sinew to find ways to help us, one of the most frequent refrains from minsters is that they cannot solve every problem; they cannot help everyone; they cannot save every business, etc.
They are not responsible, apparently, for the wave of poverty sweeping the UK: Therese Coffey for example, rather than looking at the support government might give to families struggling to afford food, welcomed the growth in foodbanks: “I visited a similar food bank in my own constituency that has been working together with food redistribution schemes. Marrying the two is a perfect way to try to address the challenges that people face at difficult times in their lives.”
Rees-Mogg went so far as to find it rather uplifting: “It [the State] provides a basic level of welfare … but on some occasions that will not work and to have charitable support given by people voluntarily to support their fellow citizens I think is rather uplifting and shows what a good compassionate country we are.”
And Sunak put forward a disastrous mini-Budget which does next to nothing to help UK citizens at a time when most families really need help. Quite different from the approach of almost every other government.
Sajid Javid is supposedly our Health Secretary; he should be responsible for promoting the health of the UK population. Instead he has surrendered to COVID, leaving us with one of the world’s worst death tolls and plans to turn the NHS into something much more like the US system so that we can be responsible for our own healthcare. In his words,
“But government shouldn’t own all risks and responsibilities in life. We, as citizens, have to take some responsibility for our health too. We shouldn’t always go first to the state – what kind of society would that be? Health and Social Care: it begins at home. It should be family first, then the community then the state.”
The fact that so many people are finding life harder year after year is not inevitable; it is not the result of some Act of God – it is because we have a government which lies to us, breaks laws when it chooses and consistently selects policies which enrich its donors and its members at our expense.
“government is increasingly acting as a mechanism for redistributing wealth from the ordinary subject citizen to the wealthiest.”
The UK cannot afford this government to continue with its programme of mass impoverishment.
In the short term, we need to force further U-turns on the most damaging policies. The U-turns on school meals, on corruption and on the plan to give Russian oligarchs 18 months to move their money out of the UK before sanctions bite all show that where the public is sufficiently determined, we can force change.
In the medium term, we need a government that is prepared to govern for the 99% — and surprisingly, perhaps, this requires only five significant changes to the way we are governed.
Then, instead of struggling more and more each year, UK families will start to find each year slightly easier than the last.
If you think you might like to help or just to keep informed, please do sign-up and join the 99% Organisation.