A government in chaos, a government risking voters’ incomes and savings, a government that wants more power to rig our democracy and avoid being held to account.
We’re only four weeks into 2022 and yet political and social crises abound. Russia and NATO are edging closer to conflict; inflation is skyrocketing, squeezing consumers in the UK and posing a threat to the stability of poorer nations; the pandemic continues to claim lives, and while the Omicron wave appears to be flatlining in the UK, the global situation is far less certain. Oh and of course, don’t forget the potential for further new covid variants given much of the global population remains dangerously under-vaccinated.
And yet in the face of all this, our Government is consumed by its internecine battles and rule-breaking. Look at any major newspaper and you’ll see that rather than addressing these very real and immediate issues, our political leaders are embroiled in their own scandals.
That’s not to say the Government’s internal crises should be ignored. Incisive media scrutiny is a highly effective way of holding the powerful to account. From partygate to new allegations of Islamophobia plaguing the leadership, it’s only right that we know and fully appreciate what our leaders have been up to.
But if they hadn’t done any of this stuff in the first place, we wouldn’t need to have these conversations at all. If the Prime Minister had stuck to the rules he himself made, he wouldn’t be so uncertain about whether he attended a party or a work event. If the PM’s stooge Michael Fabricant had any sensitivity to issues of discrimination, he wouldn’t have dismissed Nusrat Ghani MP’s claims of Islamophobia in the Government.
But here we are. The Government gazes inward while virtually everything that could go wrong is going wrong out in the real world.
We’re facing huge uncertainties at the moment. The very real threat of war in Ukraine has led to a series of frantic negotiations between NATO and Russia. Britain is certainly right to take swift action, and it is clear that Defence Secretary Ben Wallace is very focused on the task, but it is of course harder for Britain to command the leverage it once did in matters of international defence now that we are out of the EU. Added to this, Johnson himself was remarkably silent on the issue till a few days ago. Clearly there were more pressing things on his mind…
We’re also plunging into a cost of living crisis, with spiralling energy prices on top of creeping inflation. There seem to be few plans on this subject from the Government front bench, despite the fact that this issue will have a significant tangible impact on voters. In fact, the Government seems to be poised to make the situation worse by hiking National Insurance contributions in April and decimating ordinary people’s wage packets.
So, how can a Government manage to pay so little attention and be so completely wrapped up in itself?
Partly, because it has to be. To move forward and save its own reputation, both at home and abroad, the Government needs to address its dirty laundry, which has been thoroughly aired in public. The Government hopes that will let them stand a chance of clawing back their lost credibility. Only then can the Government hope to be taken seriously to influence pressing international issues and offer reassurance to people at home.
But in reality, the fact that the Government is so wrapped up in itself at a time of crisis shouldn’t come as a surprise. This has been the Government’s default for a long time - it’s just never been quite so obvious as now.
Consider the Government’s long-term priorities. They tout ‘levelling up’ as a key aim; they have promised a ‘Green Industrial Revolution’. But these turn out to be just empty slogans, aimed at bolstering the Government’s image. Forget pork markets, it’s all pork-barrelled politics with funding earmarked for levelling up directed to ministers’ constituencies, even though those constituencies are fairly affluent. We’ve seen how the Government has promised hundreds of thousands of sustainable jobs, all the while cutting the schemes that would support them. And we’ve read reports that the Government has threatened MPs with having funding removed from their constituencies if they vote against the Government.
Also telling is the swathe of anti-democratic legislation that is designed to limit the freedoms and rights that we ought to expect in a modern democracy while stealthily rigging the system in the government's favour. The Elections Bill, for example, is set to make it harder for charities and civil society groups to campaign and will afford huge powers to the Government to limit who can campaign at election time and control the regulator of elections and political parties. The Judicial Review and Courts Bill will prevent the Government from being accountable to the law by rendering judicial reviews of Government decisions largely ineffective. And the Policing Bill will criminalise and make it harder to hold protests and political demonstrations - ways Britons have been standing up to powerful leaders for hundreds of years. These bills have been key priorities of the Government for some time.
So it’s clear they have form - because while the world has been caught up in the turmoil of Covid and geo-political uncertainty, and while the British people struggle to get by, the Government focuses only on itself and how it can retain its power.
This is what partygate shows us. Our prime minister is attempting to hold on to his position for himself and himself alone. His allies are scrabbling to do the same. His leadership challengers are looking for a route to their own prosperity. No-one in Government is looking at what is actually best for Britain and for the world around us.
That’s how we got here. It is self-centredness and an infatuation with power that has led so many high-profile Government figures to play fast and loose with the rules - whether those rules are about parties, standards in public life or even our democracy itself.
We’re lacking the Government we deserve and we are owed so much more.
If you feel the same as us, take a look at our campaign for a better democracy. Change is possible if we all raise our voices together.