December 13th 2019 seems like an aeon ago. Waking up to the resounding news of a thumping majority – with Labour out of sight for a good ten years at least – was joyous for all who thought he would govern with Thatcherite resolve, free and confident to pursue his agenda. Promises of the ‘roaring twenties’ were ushered in by ambitious infrastructure spending and positive progress on Brexit. And then coronavirus hit - a phenomenon certainly way out of his control, but one for which the planning (or lack thereof) and to which the response, have been a disaster.
Since then, Boris Johnson has presided over a government whose policies on a range of issues have been pointless, arbitrary and downright unintelligent. We can concede to the Prime Minister a nasty bout of illness that appears to have knocked him for six but let us not pretend that that alone is enough to explain away the decline from the swashbuckling libertarian he was once considered to the shadow of a conservative that he appears today.
After the lockdown had served its alleged purpose in allowing the NHS to increase its critical care capacity, Mr Johnson continued to pursue, with little reticence, it appeared, what has amounted to the greatest invasion of personal liberty in our peacetime history. Long gone is his understanding of the common sense and dependability of the British people. Far from trusting us to make our own decisions and take our own risks based on our circumstances and those of people surrounding us, government has succeeded in terrifying the population from going back to work and school, encouraging us to ‘eat out to help out’ while simultaneously castigating ‘affluent younger people’ for spreading the virus. What kind of a society do we live in where a Minister of the Crown can make such outrageous intimations as telling people ‘Don’t kill your gran’ or where the same minister is telling a lady when she will be able to hug her grandchildren? One in which something has gone terribly wrong.
This government has been in panic mode ever since the start of March. It employs a range of tactics to justify its draconian measures, including using fear as a matter of deliberate policy – one SAGE strategy report had said the government has been “using media to increase sense of personal threat” – and encouraging people to spy on and denounce their neighbours. This is the sort of line we would expect from a Stalin wannabe, not the leader of a majority Conservative government.
The cocktail of coercion is heady, though, and Johnson is intoxicated. Always known for his malleability on policy issues (not least Brexit) if it meant a route to power, what was once quietly approved of as ‘flexibility’ has turned out to be little more than an amalgam of inconsistency and contradiction. Take for example, the ‘rule of six’, already confirmed as an entirely arbitrary number by figures such as Professor Carl Heneghan, while gatherings in larger number in the workplace, for worship or team sports are totally fine. In many ways, it is a good job that Johnson has the majority he does, for he needs it for a total grip on power, for rushing coronavirus legislation which gives the government unprecedented powers over our private life through Parliament, and for comfort in the knowledge that he won’t have to face the electorate this year or next. He would run a mile if he thought the status quo could be imminently changed.
Coronavirus aside, the last six months of this administration have been a failure in a plethora of other areas. Mr Johnson’s response to our monuments including the Cenotaph being vandalised? A few tweets. To lies being told about our history and accusations of ‘systemic racism’ being unfairly levelled at Britain? A few lines to an interviewer after visiting a factory or a primary school. Virtually nothing from him on illegal migrant crisis in the Channel or on Extinction Rebellion paralysing business in London? More tweets and perhaps a few platitudes to the sound of ‘we’re bringing in new legislation to combat…’ without ever seeing to the enforcement of existing laws. Where have been the rousing addresses to the nation, the naming and shaming, the updates to the public on the progress of prosecuting those who do not wish us well?
So much of Johnson’s kowtowing to general wokery comes from an obsession with ‘looking good’, with trying to please too many people. The result has become a cocky government that does neither this nor that, while remaining confident they still have the people on side. Well, Boris, I’m afraid that while you are trying to placate the wokists, the eco-fascists and the big-government lovers, your base is abandoning you in their droves. Especially us young’uns.
Come back, Boris, please. Otherwise I might have to vote for Sir Keir. Because it’s better to be screwed and have voted for it, than to be screwed and have not.