Boris Johnson alleged comments are in character with his catastrophic policies which have resulted in thousands of deaths, argues Terina Hine
Does anyone doubt that Boris Johnson uttered those callous words “let the bodies pile high in their thousands” as he raged against a third lockdown? It is unlikely.
Does anyone doubt the PM repeatedly stated he would prefer to “let it [Covid] rip” through the population rather than countenance a second lockdown as alleged in this morning’s Times? Of course not.
In fact, Johnson’s remarks are entirely believable because they are wholly in character.
The prime minister has taken great pleasure in displaying a cavalier attitude to Covid - from shaking hands against medical advice in the beginning, to promoting Eat Out to Help Out in the summer right through to his refusal to close schools during the worst days of the pandemic. So his words fail to surprise however distasteful they may be.
And it appears that journalists and broadcasters agree. To be fair the denials have been less than convincing. Johnson’s simple “no” when questioned about his explosive remarks, followed by a rapid change of subject, and Gove’s non-denial denial hardly invoked confidence. So this morning saw the news and media outlets giving more credence to the off-the-record briefings than to the PM’s on-the-record denials. For a prime minister’s word to be held in such low esteem is quite something.
But given the murky world of lies and corruption the Johnson government has come to represent it was only a matter of time before even our compliant media would tire of this sleazy roadshow.
From the Jennifer Arcuri affair we learned that Johnson has little regard for the truth. Now this has been compounded by Dominic Cummings’ revenge blog and the drip-drip of briefings about the infamous flat refurbishment. But don’t be fooled. Johnson is not alone: recent revelations about David Cameron and the Greensill lobbying scandal sit alongside crony Covid contracts and the shocking PPE procurement overseen by Matt Hancock. Johnson’s disdain for abiding by the rules is shared by many in his party.
Which is why who said what and when is not really the issue - it is actions, or lack of, that speak louder than words.
When Johnson was preferring “bodies piled high” to locking down the economy, he knew a second Covid-19 wave was underway and he knew about the new “Kent” variant; he had already dismissed SAGE’s calls for a two week circuit break and it was clear the UK was at tipping point once again.
At the time of his outburst, the UK had had fewer than 50,000 Covid deaths - today we have had 127,000. That is almost 80,000 more bodies - so they did indeed pile high. If the PM had acted faster, had followed the science, had prioritised life over business, thousands of lives could have been saved - thousands of mothers, fathers, sisters, brothers, sons and daughters.
The fact is Boris Johnson didn’t care.
And through it all, he has had the support of the loyal opposition. Starmer’s failure to oppose the government during the Covid crisis gave the Tories a free rein. He approved the return to the classroom at the peak of the pandemic, failed to challenge the late lockdowns, and failed to intervene when it was clear the Tories were handing out contracts to mates, and still refuses to call for any resignations.
While Johnson is accused of focussing on his flat refurbishment rather than the country, Starmer’s focus has been on opposing the Labour left rather than the government. This is part of the reason why the Tories are currently maintaining their lead in the polls for the May elections. And it’s why Starmer shares Johnson’s responsibility for the pile of dead bodies.
But this isn’t the end of the crisis for Johnson. Dominic Cummings, himself reported to have said at the start of the pandemic "protect the economy, and if that means some pensioners die, too bad”, is due to give evidence to MPs on the government’s handling of the pandemic at the end of next month. That is plenty of time for more accusations and briefings, for more attacks and counter attacks between the warring sides.
The media, which has too often turned a blind eye to the many failings of the government in the last year, have been forced to focus on Johnson and his government’s culpability. For the left, this is the time to double down on demanding Johnson’s resignation and also to show that this is not the case of a single bad apple, but a rotten cartload. Westminster has failed us all.
If change is to happen, if opposition is to be heard, if we want justice and to stop it happening again, the call will have to come from the streets. This is why it is more important than ever to mobilise for the 26 June People’s Assembly National Demonstration - we must demand a new normal.
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