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Cabinet meeting, September 2021

Cabinet meeting, September 2021. Photo: Andrew Parsons / No 10 Downing Street / Flickr / CC BY-NC-ND 2.0, license linked at bottom of article

Changing faces in the Tory top team is just papering over the cracks of a rotten regime, writes Sean Ledwith

Politicians in a bygone era used to talk about the value of assembling a cabinet of all the talents. In contrast, Boris Johnson’s reshuffle this week has seen the elevation to his top table of some of the most incompetent and repellent figures in the Tory Party. In particular, Liz Truss’s promotion to one of the three greatest offices of state - Foreign Secretary - must have been greeted with gasps of disbelief around Whitehall.

Vapid

Truss has been one of the most vapid and empty-headed members of the cabinet under three Tory leaders, and in each of her previous posts has been distinguished only by her capacity to display a breath-taking level of ignorance and to suck the life out of any room she walks into. As Cameron’s childcare minister in 2013 she complained about visiting a nursery where she had seen “too many chaotic settings, where children are running around” (or having fun as most people would put it). As May’s Lord Chancellor and Justice Secretary, Truss’s performance before a select committee in 2016 prompted one legal journalist to note: ‘Liz Truss would have saved herself some time if she had come in, shouted “I DON'T BLOODY KNOW” then walked out.

During the 2019 election, Andrew Neil neatly skewered  her when she was unable to tell him how many starter homes the Tories had built since 2014: “It's easy to remember – it’s zero,” Neil informed her. Last year, in her role as Johnson’s Trade Secretary, Truss unintentionally revealed the reality of a deal with Australia, commenting that: “Of course, in any trade deal we strike, we will be taking into account our high standards, to make sure our farmers are undermined.

Gaffe-prone

It is astonishing that Johnson would hand management of British foreign policy to a gaffe-prone automaton like Truss, and is another sign that the ruling class’s ability to produce high-calibre politicians is degrading rapidly. There is probably no one in government less equipped than Truss to carry out a total overhaul of foreign policy in the wake of the Kabul debacle. The UK’s craven dependence on the US has been painfully exposed not just by that event but also by the original decision twenty years ago to invade Afghanistan.

Over-promotion

The most likely explanation for her over-promotion is a recent poll of Tory Party members that, incredibly, put her top as their most admired politician. Johnson is evidently trying to shore up his base among the grassroots of the party as unpopular policies such as the National Insurance hike and the ending of the Universal Credit uplift start to bite. An alternative theory might be that he has probably ensured that his own stint at the Foreign Office will soon no longer be seen as the most undistinguished of modern times!

Kabul debacle

Truss takes over as Foreign Secretary from the hapless Dominic Raab, deservedly fired for his risible failure to organise the British evacuation from Kabul last month. Toxic stories of Raab, paddle boarding while on holiday in Crete and not bothering to ring Afghan diplomats as the Taliban entered the city, have proved too embarrassing even for Johnson to stomach. Raab was apparently rankled by his demotion to Justice Secretary, so the Prime Minister sugar-coated the pill by awarding him the non-job of Deputy Prime Minister. Raab is probably ambitious and deluded enough to think he might yet be able to have a crack at the top job.

Could do better

He will be consoling himself that at least he has clung onto a place at cabinet, unlike Gavin Williamson, whose dismissal as Education Secretary will have been greeted with joy in school playgrounds and staffrooms up and down the country. Williamson has come to personify the Tories’ calamitous handling of the pandemic and should have been fired months ago, both for the exams shambles last summer and for forcing schools to stay open in December as the second wave raged through classrooms.   

Culture warriors

The reshuffle also strongly indicates that one of Johnson’s strategies for the next election will be stoking up the culture wars as a cynical distraction from actual policy. That is the obvious explanation for Nadine Dorries taking over as Culture Secretary. Apart from her regressive views on abortion and marriage equality, Dorries is part of the ‘war on woke’ brigade who have concocted an illusory threat from the left to British values. A few years ago she moaned that:

“Left-wing snowflakes are killing comedy, tearing down historic statues, removing books from universities, dumbing down panto, removing Christ from Christmas and suppressing free speech. Sadly, it must be true, history does repeat itself. It will be music next.”

Dorries will oversee the next negotiation of the licence fee with the BBC, which does not bode well for the future of free-to-view broadcasting in light of her apparent belief that “a tax on the ownership of a television is a completely outdated concept.

War on the poor

As if all that is not grim enough, we also have the return to the political frontline of the odious Gove, now tasked with dealing with the post-Grenfell fallout as Housing Secretary, despite humiliating himself recently in an Aberdeen nightclub, and evidence of his homophobia and  racism as a student coming to light. Evidently, in Johnson’s reconfigured motley crew, crassness and offensive behaviour are perceived as assets. Whoever sits alongside the murderous buffoon himself in cabinet, we can be sure they will escalate the Tory war on the poor, as witnessed this week when all the above and the overwhelming majority of Johnson’s other MPs abstained on a vote to retain the Universal Credit uplift. The necessity of building resistance to this venal and vicious government has never been starker.

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Tagged under: Austerity Tories
Sean Ledwith

Sean Ledwith

Sean Ledwith is a Counterfire member and Lecturer in History at York College, where he is also UCU branch secretary. Sean is also a regular contributor to Marx and Philosophy Review of Books and Culture Matters

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