Lindsey German on Tory double standards and Sir Keir’s relentless rightwards steer
The row about Boris Johnson’s party in Downing Street last Christmas isn’t just about the event itself. After all, it was a year ago, and the lamentable Cressida Dick, head of the Metropolitan Police, has said nothing to see here.
However, there is a little bit more to it than that. To understand why we need to cast our minds back to the second lockdown which Johnson eventually imposed after trying to avoid it for as long as possible. It meant no one was supposed to have a Christmas party, social events and family gatherings were cancelled. Most people found their Christmas activities curtailed. But that was obviously just for the little people. The elites who run the country - yet again – made sure that the rules did not apply to them.
This was at a time, if I remember correctly, where because of Covid-19 restrictions campaigners were not even allowed into Downing St to hand in a letter at the front door. Incidentally, Labour’s idea that the way to deal with this was to report it to the police is particularly stupid, given that Downing St is awash with police, many of them conspicuously armed. It would have been a remarkably unobservant bunch that failed to notice a party going at full swing in one of the function rooms.
But that’s what happened at a time when people couldn’t visit loved ones, even when seriously ill. In London, people could not mix indoors outside their family or support bubble, and as Dominic Raab has admitted, an indoor party would have broken the rules. It’s no surprise there is so much aggravation about it all. It’s also no surprise that those around the Tories and Johnson flout the rules with complete abandon. Dominic Cummings did so earlier that year when he broke lockdown rules with his trip to test his eyesight in Barnard Castle.
They lecture some of the poorest on the need to manage on benefits and to seek work they happily preside over an economy where inequality grows and where many are in insecure and underpaid employment, and they adopt increasingly authoritarian methods to deal with any dissent. Their own lives are governed by completely different standards. They don’t follow the same rules, think that it’s perfectly ok to pay no or hardly any tax, regard the kind of corruption we’ve seen recently from MPs as showing initiative and entrepreneurship.
The public school and Oxbridge educated elite are characterised by selfishness and disregard for everyone else. The response to the pandemic from government has shown this time and again. We have seen increasing restrictions in recent days to deal with the growth of the Omicron, such as wearing masks on public transport and in shops. But these measures were abandoned by Johnson earlier this year for selfish political reasons, and now will be harder to enforce.
He still refuses to pay decent sick pay to those infected and having to self-isolate. Most importantly, the government’s determination to allow business to carry on as usual relies on high take up of vaccines and boosters, while large parts of the world are still denied these basic resources which we know would help stop the spread of the pandemic.
The Christmas party may not be the most important thing to hold against Johnson but it is symptomatic of a man and a government who have always put themselves and their narrow economic and social interests before the health and wellbeing of the rest of us.
If Wes Streeting is the answer Sir Keir is asking the wrong question
Keir Starmer never was Mr Nice Guy – you don’t get to be the Director of Public Prosecutions that way – but he is now looking very nasty. His reshuffle on Monday promoted Blairites and right wingers, the last Corbyn supporter left the Shadow Cabinet, and former leader Ed Miliband was demoted. David Lammy as foreign secretary, Yvette Cooper in the home office, Wes Streeting at health, and Blairite fixer Pat McFadden as chief secretary of the treasury, all signal a substantial move to the right, and two fingers at the left, many of whom voted for Starmer believing his promises that he would unite the party.
The only unity from now on is on the Blairites’ terms. Notable is his open feud with his deputy, Angela Rayner, who he tried to sack earlier this year and who was humiliated this week first by being told nothing about the reshuffle and then seeing a close aide suspended from Labour, allegedly for briefing the press.
None of this is doing him any good – but he and his Blairite allies seem incapable of seeing it. It’s two years this week since Labour lost the election – all blamed on Jeremy Corbyn – but the polls show the party’s position is more or less the same today. Council by election results show gains for Greens and Lib Dems, less so for Labour. And the Bexley by election showed a huge drop in turnout and an abstention of the Tory vote but still a reluctance to vote for Labour.
No one really knows what Starmer stands for, and with the party echoing the Tories on immigration, minimum wage and law and order, why bother to switch to Labour? Yet this is a time when discontent is widespread, where industrial action is growing and where the failings of the system are daily apparent – as we see with the privatised electricity companies this week.
That’s why much of left politics has to shift from an emphasis on Labour and parliament towards one on organising and fighting back.
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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’.
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