Boris Johnson at a prison, December 2021. Photo: Flickr/Andrew Parsons Boris Johnson at a prison, December 2021. Photo: Flickr/Andrew Parsons

Lindsey German on the Tory leader’s ninth life and the quagmire of Cressida Dick’s cops

It’s hard to overestimate the sordid, corrupt, and arrogant nature of the Tory government as revealed in events over the past weeks. Protective of their own elite clique, cynically using Covid restrictions to try to distract from the various scandals engulfing them, contemptuous of the people that they rule over, and prepared to tolerate the most blatant corruption, Johnson and his friends and allies have shown themselves in the most abject light.

It is clear for one thing that the Xmas party in Downing Street was by no means a one off. The Treasury, Department of Transport and no doubt others held ‘impromptu’ social gatherings, as well as Johnson’s residence hosting several other events during lockdown.

This is at a time, remember, that not only were millions of people sacrificing meeting loved ones, sometimes in truly terrible circumstances, but also people were being arrested for breaking lockdown regulations. When it comes to those at the heart of government, however, they suffer no sanction whatsoever.

The most shocking footage of the last week was the filming of the press conference rehearsal where Allegra Stratton was seen laughing about the party, she and her colleagues clearly understanding that they had broken the regulations but simply did not care. Her tearful resignation speech was no doubt at the ignominy of her behaviour being found out and broadcast across the news channels rather than contrition at the act of holding a party itself.

Stratton at least did not attend the party – unlike the head of communications in Downing Street, who orchestrated official denials while having given a speech at the party himself. We should not feel sorry for Stratton. Her record includes a misleading interview with a young single mother which is grossly offensive and for which she and Newsnight had to apologise. Married to the political editor of the Spectator, the house outside which she resigned probably worth £4-5 million, she is part of an elite in politics and media who mercilessly pursued Corbyn but most of the time allow mistakes or evidence of wrongdoing on the part of the Tories to be ignored or brushed off.

Sunday marked two years since the 2019 election. Boris Johnson won an 80-seat majority following a campaign of vilification and sabotage against the Labour leader, Jeremy Corbyn. The Labour Party defeat came after it had adopted the disastrous second referendum policy. Corbyn’s mistreatment came at the hands of many fellow Labour MPs, superannuated members of the House of Lords, and the mainstream media, not least the Guardian and the BBC.

Much as they disliked Johnson, they feared a left Labour government even more and did their best to ensure it wouldn’t happen. Now they wring their hands in desperation when they see the consequences – Johnson presides over the most corrupt government in 100 years and he is simply not fit to be in the position that he holds.

The difficulty for the elite is that problems are piling up around the Tories and Johnson which are too numerous and too serious to ignore, and Corbyn can no longer be blamed for the failures of the Labour opposition. There’s the whole blatant defence of lobbying which Johnson tried in the Owen Patterson case. There’s his own corruption and deceit over the refurbishment of Downing Street. There’s the party itself, which press officers spent a week denying existed.

Then there is the worsening situation with Covid-19. We know cases of the Omicron variant are growing and we know that the NHS is already overwhelmed. Waits in Accident and Emergency are now at record levels. Yet government measures are both half-hearted and repressive – talking about mandatory vaccination and Covid passports while at the same time insisting pubs have no restrictions.

All this has created great anger among large sections of Tory MPs, who are threatening to vote against his Covid measures this week. They also fear that Johnson’s slump in the polls means many of them will lose their seats in the next election. The fact that there is talk of the Tories losing their 23,000 majority in the Shropshire north by-election tells you how discontented people are and how nervous the MPs have become.

It is hard to see Johnson lasting more than a few months. Once again, however Keir Starmer seems incapable of taking advantage of the crisis. Labour has risen rapidly in the polls over the last week, although Starmer’s personal ratings have fallen yet again. Starmer has already said he will support the government on the Covid measures for reasons of public health. Reasons of public health surely dictate that this contemptuous and negligent prime minister should be removed.

Meanwhile discontent is growing – some of it channelled in a right-wing direction with the anti-vax and other protests, some of it demonstrated through the growing number of strikes, and through a whole range of campaigns. It will continue to grow as prices rise and if the pandemic worsens. This is the biggest crisis of Johnson’s premiership, and it should provide new opportunities for the left as long as we can seize them.

Too many on the left treat this as irrelevant: they argue that he will just be replaced by another Tory, or ask why are people getting so worked up about a party, when there are so many more important issues. But these miss the point: political crises can be resolved by changes of leadership, but they very often are only deferred, and not for long. That’s because they reflect much deeper issues about government, policy, economic priorities and the balance of class forces.

So a relatively trivial question about a party can become the catalyst for deeper divisions, change and conflict. In these situations, class struggle comes more to the fore. And that can only benefit socialists.   

Metropolitan blues

What a year it’s been for the Metropolitan police. Three cases stand out. Most recently the case of serial killer Stephen Port where if it were not for police mistakes three of the victims would have survived. Then there was the murder of two sisters, Biba Henry and Nicole Smallman, whose bodies were photographed by police who then shared the pictures. Most shocking was the abduction, rape and murder of Sarah Everard by a serving Met policeman who was armed and in the diplomatic protection unit.

In the first two cases, family members had to do work that should have been done by the police to bring justice. In the Everard case, obvious signs of the perpetrator’s behaviour were not acted on, and women protesting at a vigil were attacked.

There is something deeply rotten in the Met. Not just institutional racism, sexism and homophobia but an inability to protect working class people in times of such danger. Commissioner Cressida Dick should go. And we should look at the reasons why so much of Met policing treats London’s citizens as a problem. We see it in these cases, in stop-and-search of young blacks, in the double standards over lockdown measures.

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Lindsey German

As national convenor of the Stop the War Coalition, Lindsey was a key organiser of the largest demonstration, and one of the largest mass movements, in British history.

Her books include ‘Material Girls: Women, Men and Work’, ‘Sex, Class and Socialism’, ‘A People’s History of London’ (with John Rees) and ‘How a Century of War Changed the Lives of Women’.