#031 Boris Johnson’s Reckoning
At the end of 2021 Boris Johnson’s conservative government were finally exposed as the dishonest, duplicitous, corrupt and anti democratic government they are, and have always been. From the moment, in early November, when almost all conservative MPs decided, rather than voting to suspend Owen Paterson MP, a conservative MP found guilty by an independent parliamentary standards watchdog of paid lobbying, they would instead vote to change the parliamentary system itself that investigated Paterson’s actions and found him guilty, it was clear then something was changing about the conservative party leader and government, in the minds of the masses.
After from several manifesto promise breaks earlier in the year (maintaining the pension triple lock/increasing national insurance/people selling homes to pay for social care), through Johnson’s terrible ‘Peppa Pig World’ speech to the CBI and Johnsons’s multiple downing street parties, in breach of covid rules of the time, https://www.itv.com/news/2021-12-07/no-10-staff-joke-in-leaked-recording-about-christmas-party-they-later-denied, to Johnson and Sunak’s refusal to resign after being fined by the police for breaking covid laws they themselves set, https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-politics-61083402, and through the endless failures to combat the Delta and Omicron covid-19 variants, even leading to hospitals limiting services, https://inews.co.uk/news/covid-hospitals-limit-services-nhs-official-warns-visitors-may-be-banned-stop-omicron-spread-1378633, Johnson, at the turn of 2022, was deeply entrenched in sleaze, incompetence, failure and dishonour.
Editorial by the Independent (May 2022): https://www.independent.co.uk/voices/editorials/boris-johnson-partygate-fines-police-b2082860.html
This lead to a significant decline in polling for the conservative party, and the loss of North Shropshire constituency, in mid December 2021, a constituency that has been consistently conservative held, all the way back to the very inception of the modern conservative party in the 1830s. The conservatives fell so significantly, it was akin to the last few months of Theresa May’s premiership in mid 2019 before she was pressured to resign.
For progressives this was, of course, good news.
People were right to take affront to all these scandals and poor political choices, but it was all so very predictable. Back in 2019, despite exit from the E.U. being the main issue of the time, it was clear the general election would determine much more than simply, when and how Britain would leave the E.U., and it was equally clear that Boris Johnson was not an individual Britain should ever entrust to govern the nation on any level, yet here we are.
At times of government crisis, it is normal for people who once supported and voted for the government, to look closer at the main opposition, which in Britain’s case is the Labour Party.
Whilst the polling for labour, since these scandals began, increased dramatically, in some cases even showing a 10%+ swing to Labour, people still seem somewhat sceptical when asked about Keir Starmer specifically or about the Labour Party’s readiness for government.
As polling guru John Curtice put it at the end of 2021,
“We are talking about a collapse in the Tory vote not a revival of the Labour party…The point is that Labour still have to make any kind of significant advance in their own popularity. This is all about the Tories going down the tubes.”
Here I will explore and outline why I think the public are correct to be skeptical of Starmer’s alternative, as it stands. Keir Starmer now claims Labour is a “government in waiting” and that he has a “new agenda” to “build a new Britain”. On boxing day 2021 he linked to an independent article, linked below, which contained some interesting claims that, when compared to things he’s previously said and done, and to events that have actually occurred in reality, reveal why people are right to hold heavy skepticism & deep mistrust in Starmer’s Labour alternative.
- First, Labour’s actual election results so far, under Starmer, suggest anything but a ‘government in waiting’. Whereas Johnson’s conservatives lost North Shropshire for the first time in almost two hundred years as the incumbent government, Starmer’s Labour similarly, even as the main opposition, lost Hartlepool constituency for Labour, for the first time in decades, in the same year, winning less than 30% of the vote. Labour has also failed to gain a seat in any of the other by elections since the 2019 elections unlike the liberal democrats. In Batley & Spen Labour narrowly held its seat, with just 35% of the vote. Equally Labour’s local election results in 2021 were poor, losing over 300 councillors and 8 councils across England. Scottish Labour achieved their worst ever performance, winning just 22 MSPs in the Scottish parliament, this *after* helped install his preferred centrist leader in Anas Sarwar, and only in the Welsh parliament did Labour gain 1 seat compared to the conservatives who gained 5. Finally, even in the Labour stronghold of London, in 2021, did Labour lose a seat on the London Assembly. These results together tell a story very distant from the one Keir Starmer wants to tell and suggest many people do in fact not see Starmer’s Labour as a government in waiting.
- Second, Starmer claims to have transformed the party, which the Independent article supports by writing, “…[Starmer] having completed internal changes to the party rulebook to break the hold of the left…”
This is patently nonsensical even under Starmer’s own terms - increasing the percentage of MPs required for a future labour leadership hopeful to make the ballot cannot be seriously described as transforming the labour party. This really represented little more than a factional move to make it more difficult for a left candidates to reach the ballot of all labour party members, and far from a positive transformation, this move was in fact an anti democratic move, in keeping with Labour’s frequently anti democratic tendencies, explored here, https://link.medium.com/v1vDHJBommb. One way Starmer is transforming Labour however is around Labour’s finances, which are reportedly nearing bankruptcy as a result of huge losses in members & union donations alongside costly legal capitulations.
- Third, Starmer claims to have “exposed the failings of Boris Johnson’s administration”. Again this is a struggle to take seriously. Johnson’s administration has been exposed through the media and its own incompetencies, rather than anything the opposition has brought to bear. For instance, it was Johnson’s decision to try to save Owen Patterson from his lobbying punishment that lead to the North Shropshire defeat, and it was the Mirror newspaper that lead on the 2020 Downing Street Christmas parties story. Starmer’s Labour have in fact often supported the government’s poor decision making, throughout the pandemic, and in the rare times they have opposed, it has always been done at the very last moment when it is clear Johnson’s government will U turn imminently. Marcus Rashford, a young footballer, has arguably shown more effective opposition, in shaming the government over free school meals for children.
- Fourth, in the Independent article Starmer has promoted, it is written Starmer has “appointed an unapologetically centrist shadow cabinet” and that “November’s shadow cabinet reshuffle completed the clear out of Corbynites from his top team, and brought centrist figures like Yvette Cooper and Wes Streeting into key posts.” Alongside this, Starmer leans into the slogan “New Britain”, a clear rehash of the 1990s slogan “New Labour New Britain” and the article also admits, “despite the 10 pledges he made during his leadership election to preserve elements of his predecessor’s agenda, Starmer has made it increasingly clear that he is determined to shift Labour’s direction.” All of this together indicates very clearly Starmer has wholly abandoned the ten progressive leaning pledges he made to become leader and has fully embraced a centrist outlook, wholly lead by the labour right. This U turn indicates that Starmer can not be trusted to stick to anything he says and also speaks to a significant lack of policy, progressive or otherwise, that would improve people lives significantly for the better. There doesn’t seem to be a new agenda at to speak of yet. Potential policies he could have taken forward and developed from his original pledges are explored here, https://link.medium.com/IRvyPFXhhmb.
- Fifth, Starmer has celebrated the honouring of war criminal former prime minister Tony Blair despite a petition gaining hundreds of thousands of signatures in days to rescind the knighthood. https://labourlist.org/2022/01/he-deserves-the-honour-keir-starmer-welcomes-knighthood-for-tony-blair/
- Sixth, two of Starmer’s current solid policies, £10 minimum wage now and a temporary suspension of the 5% VAT on energy bills, are both weak and largely insignificant policies all things considered. In April 2022, the minimum wage for 23 year olds and above will be £9.50 per hour anyway, and temporarily suspending the 5% VAT on energy bills is almost irrelevant, relative to the energy increases customers must endure, assuming Johnson’s government does nothing.
- Finally, the Independent article says, “I think that one thing the public know very well is that the Labour Party is now led by Keir Starmer, not Jeremy Corbyn, and we’re a changed party,” but all this speaks to really is Starmer’s refusal to re-admit Corbyn as a Labour MP following the lifting of his unjustified suspension in late 2020, (more here - https://link.medium.com/b7aTdlbrmmb), which was little more than political opportunism and cynical virtue signalling, to distance himself from Jeremy Corbyn MP. Starmer previously had no problem serving in Jeremy Corbyn’s shadow cabinet, 2015 - 2020, campaigning to make him Prime Minister twice and Keir Starmer even paid tribute to Jeremy Corbyn when he won the leadership in April 2020.
This cynicism and disingenuousness was also echoed by David Lammy MP in December 2021, implying it runs deeper than just Starmer as an individual. Despite previously giving speeches praising Jeremy Corbyn as labour leader and despite calling him his mate and even claiming Corbyn was heading to No. 10, Lammy more recently has turned on Corbyn and apologised for nominating Jeremy Corbyn for leader in 2015 publicly, at Limmud festival, seemingly for political motives.
Lammy also later turned on the labour movement and declared the reason he would not stand with workers on picket lines because he was “serious about the business of being in government”.
This despite standing on picket lines in 2016 and 2018 (as did Keir Starmer who tried, and failed, to ban Labour MPs from standing with striking workers).
Similar hypocrisies can be seen from other members of Starmer’s 2022 shadow cabinet too, including Angela Rayner, Lisa Nandy, Jonathan Ashworth, Jenny Chapman and Thangam Debbonaire.
Ultimately, it’s important to remember progressives seek the end of tory government as much as anyone else, but at the same time, such a questionable, opportunistic, cowardly, vacuous, poorly performing and dishonest alternative ‘government in waiting’, should greatly concern all of us genuinely interested in seeing real political progress.
Whereas Johnson’s failings are clear for all to see, he frequently lies and breaks promises, (even manifesto promises), https://www.mirror.co.uk/news/politics/3-tory-manifesto-promises-boris-24929759, and he appoints & promotes clearly unsuitable people to high positions without a second thought, https://news.sky.com/story/chris-pincher-pm-told-to-explain-knowledge-of-mp-allegations-before-giving-him-deputy-chief-whip-job-12645346, Starmer is also happy to break his promises and pledges too, such as those he was elected as leader on - https://evolvepolitics.com/fact-check-yes-keir-starmer-has-broken-or-rowed-back-on-a-large-proportion-of-his-labour-leadership-pledges-already/, even Andrew Marr, on primetime TV, has questioned Starmer on his reneging on one of his pledges, alongside his hypocrisy on breaking covid-19 restrictions, an area Johnson has been found wanting.
Starmer is also more than happy to stitch up candidate selections, within the labour party, and arrogantly riding roughshod over labour party rules, https://www.theguardian.com/politics/2022/may/13/wakefield-labour-executive-resigns-accusing-keir-starmer-byelection-stich-up
As the polls narrow in Feb 2022 between labour, lead by Keir Starmer, and the conservatives, lead by Boris Johnson, to a few points, neither leader can really be said to embody the leader Britain needs. Johnson is a serial liar who has broken manifesto commitments, broken his own rules personally and is known for his sleaze, incompetence, failure and dishonour. Starmer is also a dishonest character, who used progressive policy pledges to become leader, only to renege on them all & instead has leaned heavily on performative patriotism and relentlessly attacking progressives & the left. He’s a hyper factional figure, incapable of uniting & leading a broad coalition to form a new government.
Britain needs to restore people’s faith in good government, honesty and democracy itself. Both political parties should get rid of their current leaders and find figures who will keep their promises and offer the trustworthy, reliable, decisive, competent and likeable leadership the country desperately needs.
Labour Supporting Journalist Owen Jones, on Keir Starmer -
UPDATE June 2023:
Boris Johnson was found by the Privileges Committee, in the House of Commons, to have knowingly misled the House on several occasions. This followed the Sue Gray report and the police investigation that found both also found wrong doing with regards to Partygate.