Boris Johnson is the most dangerous prime minister I’ve suffered. I consider him much more dangerous to the people of the UK than Donald Trump is to the people of the USA. Obviously, one is in power and the other is not but there is also a fundamental difference between the constitutions of the two countries that should make us fear Johnson. In the UK, what rights we have can be swept aside by a simple act of parliament. If Trump ever gets to be president again, he will need stars to align if he ever wants to change the US constitution and meddle with the Bill of Rights because changing the US constitution is not a simple thing.
Johnson’s government has shown a total disregard for anything or anybody that attempts to challenge their authority. As justice secretary, Dominic Raab has suggested that the government may create legislation to bypass Supreme Court decisions. Parliament is sovereign and with a healthy majority they can just legislate away decisions that go against them. Meanwhile, Priti Patel has indicated that the non-existent ‘migrant crisis’ she has promoted for months can be solved partially by removing the right to freedom from degrading treatment. Whether they would go as far as to actually tamper with the Human Rights Act remains to be seen but they are edging towards it. This comes hot on the heels of MPs across the political spectrum calling for a nicer, kinder politics, in the face of one of their number being murdered. They keep forgetting that politics could be nicer by progressing nicer policies.
Johnson has had a rough few weeks in the polls. Labour took a lead in the poll average forcing pollsters onto the news to reassure the right wing newspaper editors that fund their businesses that this still wasn’t good news for Labour. The general consensus was that while people may be deserting the Tories, they’re not all switching to Labour. This could actually be a good thing for Labour, if those switching to the Lib Dems are doing so in constituencies where they are currently second. That we have pollsters that are desperate to show the Tories doing well when they’re doing badly tells us much about our media. It doesn’t take much for the Tories to suddenly do well again though. All you need is Johnson losing his place in a speech and blathering on about Peppa Pig and the British public realise that he’s their man.
The battering the Tories took in the polls occurred after trying to get away with abolishing parliament’s Standards Committee. One of their own, Owen Patterson, was found to have been raking in thousands of extra pounds by lobbying for firms who were paying him. Oh so needy Johnson spent an evening at the Garrick Club with former Telegraph newspaper colleagues who told him to save Patterson. They probably threatened him with some public school style bullying if he didn’t sort it out and he hates being bullied. He finds it worse than being ignored. His attempt ultimately failed but not because his MPs voted against his wishes. It failed because of the newspaper headlines the following day. Those headlines then continued as the focus turned to second jobs that MPs have. Sleaze became the word but, as I’ve pointed out before, that will never be truly dealt with. The negative newspaper attention spooked the prime minister and he was forced into a u-turn.
This reveals much about any prospects anyone has of preventing the Johnson government’s plans on anything. The newspapers tapped into a mainstay of British political discourse: the idea of fairness. The moment the newspapers decided that it was unfair for the government to scrap the Standards Committee, they had a story that would resonate with the electorate and therefore affect the poll ratings. Labour has tried to keep the story going by expanding it to the idea of second jobs in general and not just lobbying. They hope to keep the idea of unfairness in the public mind. So much of our politics is framed around an idea of fairness. If a politician can tap into it and convince the public they are right, it can help them achieve what they want. Much of the debate around immigration over the last few decades has been presented as an issue of ‘fairness’. Those on the right focus on whether it is ‘fair’ for the UK to ‘accept’ people from beyond its borders. Framing it like this works for them. Protest is now being looked at in the same manner, with the government asking whether it is fair for people to be disrupted by protests. Again, it seems to cut through to people. Brexit was framed as an issue of the UK needing to separate from the ‘unfairness’ of the EU.
A British sense of fairness has becomes a tool of manipulation, distorting facts and pushing the country ever rightwards towards more draconian laws and policies. An anarchist sense of fairness would be entirely different. A fairness based on mutual aid and solidarity would be a wonderful thing indeed. If the government get their way, even protesting for such a thing will become very difficult. Our constitution is being altered by this current government in ways that secure their power and make collective action harder to achieve. The newspapers may still be able to change the course of this government but let’s be honest, we can’t hope that they will do so on matters such refugees, protest and human rights. To avoid the bleak future Johnson wants we will need to hope for mass civil disobedience before it is too late.
Image by Number 10, published under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0.