As Boris Johnson’s fist tightens around the throat of democracy, one has to ask: will he jump or be pushed, and will we be gathered around the coffin of our long standing governance before long… or can we resuscitate the UK’s political sphere into something recognisable when he goes?
Many scholars who study authoritarian regimes have spoken out about commonalities between the conservative government and more radical and open authoritarian governments across the world: one of the keenest scholars of authoritarian legislature is known as OpenBookshelf on several social media platforms, and I recently invited her to speak with me about authoritarianism.
The meat of our conversation focused around the subversion of any attempt at democratic discourse under the Johnson regime- from the effective illegalisation of protest to seeking to overrule judicial decisions, effectively giving the government unilateral powers of censure: these are tools of truly toothless governments seeking to solidify support under the silence of the oppressed.
Johnson’s cabal embodies the antithesis of “the other”: rich (but not all rich), white (but not all white), brash (but not all brash). It is a cabinet that personifies the worst aspects of the British public and seems to work to the destruction of the offices they helm, all the way from a home secretary whose parents naturalised and who harbours what seems to be a sociopathic distaste for people who come from overseas (all legally, as there is no illegal way to seek refuge…), a simpering culture minister who did not know that the de facto video hosting site for everything from politics to cookery to DIY, YouTube, was being “used by young people to learn things”– a chancellor of the exchequer who has been overseeing the rules that allowed his wife to pay less tax than she was due to pay in the UK and refuses to clarify whether he too is a benefactor.
But the rot which corrodes the front of the house extends further, sinuous tendrils working its way through tories who accuse their constituents of “selling school meal vouchers to brothels and crack dens” or who blithely accuse doctors, nurses and teachers of flouting lockdown rules like Johnson so confidently has done.
The problem with this cultish populist government, if you’d like to pick one specific problem, is that this acidification of the pillars of democracy will lead to a fatal erosion: and what will be left when the corinthian columns of freedom no longer exist?
Well, to fret over that, one has to believe they do still exist and I, for one, do not.
In a democracy, a government who obtained 44% of the vote overall would not be in power with a huge majority: the tories spent more time splitting the left vote with endless smears of a fairly decent politician in Corbyn, promising empty shelves (as they delivered not once but twice during the pandemic) and escalated bills and taxes (as they have now provided so expertly). But Corbyn’s labour had it’s own myriad problems from upheld claims of anti jewish sentiment to internal saboteurs, and the left vote was split so widely that we have this watered down opposition bench and a furious SNP desperate to extricate itself from English politics and be done with Westminster once and for all- however you may feel about indyref one or two, it would be churlish to deny that Scotland has founded grievances especially after watching the tories openly jeering Ian Blackford during today’s debate about Johnson’s wilful lies at the despatch box: any pretence that Scottish politics is respected in parliament is belied by their actions.
Indeed it has been said that democracy is the worst form of Government except for all those other forms that have been tried from time to time.…’Winston Churchill, speaking about democracy and it’s flaws
Democracy may not be perfect- America’s downfall to and through Trumpism and the UK’s similar crash and burn into Johnsonism has demonstrated this. And yet Democracy means something tangible to all and sundry who rest under it: it is infinitely preferable to the invisible shackles of other rules where the will of the people is so thoroughly ignored or discounted.
In a democracy, a failing and floundering party in charge would not be propped up by press punditry, where regulars who knew of Johnson’s failure to uphold the standards of the PM would have reported without delay, or going further back would simply have been honest about his unsuitability for the job. Instead he was painted as the roguish journo turned political pundit who would magically MUGA- Make Us Great Again.
In a democracy, a party who repeatedly broke manifesto pledges is… well, par for the course, unfortunately- everybody knows that manifesto pledges are subject to change dependant on the conditions of the world but the conservatives are diligent at one thing only: disregarding manifesto promises under the guise of covid, brexit and war. Many conservative voters have been programmed to believe that the war in Ukraine is responsible for escalated energy prices and tax hikes: but both were decided long before Putin’s fist came down upon the border of Ukraine and this can be seen on this very blog- I spoke months ago about the proposed NI hike and my disgust at a government wilfully raking money away from the British proletariat. The broken promises aren’t the main issue so much as the lies around their reasoning: a desperation for cash, the wilful dismissal of concerns around energy storage and long term green infrastructure and terrible health secretaries forcing restrictive contracts on doctors, or more bothered about kissing colleagues than running an effective health service have led to an NHS strapped for cash and bent backwards over the knee as covid continues to kill over 500 people a day.
In a democracy, then, we would see feasible solutions to a government who has proven itself unable to front its duties: but we don’t. We see a desperate cadre of MPs more concerned about their pay packets than the corruption seething at its core. Johnson was not the architect of the erasure of democracy- it far precedes him- but he is the accelerant, the petrol upon the slow burning flame that has now turned into an explosion through our oft highly regarded political spectrum and this is glaringly obvious to those who dare to stare into the flash point.
Under the last labour government the education secretary resigned because exam targets were not hit, despite the protestations of the prime minister of the time. That is honour, and duty and overall the brave ownership of a job not so well done. In place of that long respected system of accountability we now see cronyism at it’s finest as Johnsonite stooges circle the bullet-riddled wagons to protect a man who has completely derailed transparency in politics.
Johnson’s ascent to power was solidified between (as Supertanskiii has spoken extensively about) client journalism a la Laura Kuenssberg, an ever increasing tory bias at the BBC and a desperation to empower a right wing leader with supposed Charisma: whatever you think of Johnson, somehow he manages to capture the credulity of smarter people. He has been described as roguish and comedic, hosted TV shows and written entertaining articles utterly bereft of fact. Add to that the indulgent upbringing of a boy who is quoted as saying he wished to one day be king of the world and powerful friends like Evgenny Lebvedev assuring him that he would rise to the top job if he backed brexit and you see that Johnson has both clawed for the job and been pushed uphill by those with agendas he could fulfil: now at last that Brexit has decimated the economy but deepened the pockets of the already wealthy, perhaps his ‘good friends’ are done with him at last- will the PM so known for leaving the wreckage of marriages, friendships and reputations in his wake hear the crash when his marionette strings fall loose at last and he falls to earth from his ascension?
Until Boris Johnson is ousted from his lofty perch and finally feels the sting of repercussions for his scorn towards the office and the British public we will only see this merry go round of fervent front benchers and unashamed back benchers forced before us to defend, deny and distract us at the valuable expense of our dignity and the last shreds of their respectability. The conservative government has long commanded my grudging respect as a party that will ruthlessly do what it takes to uphold it’s own values. Now it does not even have that. I am not their target audience, not their voter base- but their expert job in alienating their voters to enshrine a man who has destroyed their credibility has been something to behold, and until they decisively show Johnson the door for his misdeeds, his shadow will be cast long and wide over the always detestable but once, at least, respectable- Tory Party, henceforth known as the party of illicit parties.
Daviemoo is a 34 year old independent writer, radicalised into blogging about the political state of the world by Brexit and the election of serial failures like Trump and Johnson. Please check out the rest of the blog, check out Politically Enraged, the podcast available on all streaming platforms and share with your like minded friends! Also check him out on ko-fi where you can keep him caffeinated whilst he writes.