The Prime Minister’s meagre apology won’t save him, writes Shabbir Lakha
Boris Johnson says he’s sorry. In the pantomime that his government has now become, he claims he mistook the party in his backyard for a “work event”, and insists that nothing can be known for sure until the outcome of Sue Gray’s investigation.
Gray, who few people had heard of before this week, is now the most namedropped person in British politics. And rightfully so if she knows better than the Prime Minister himself where he was and what he was doing.
But for everyone who isn’t a Tory cabinet minister in survival mode, it’s patently obvious that Boris Johnson is trying to take the us for fools, again. First, he wasn’t aware if any party had taken place in his own house, then it was just cheese and wine at an outdoor work meeting or a socially distanced Christmas quiz, and now with the leak of the explicit party invitation from his closest aide, he “mistakenly” thought it was a work event.
If you took him on his word, you’d have to wonder if Boris Johnson actually lives at No 10; or how regularly his work involves boozing it up that he can’t differentiate. While the work ethic of the Etonian crew is certainly questionable, the lies are finally catching up to Johnson, and no one needs to wait for Sue Gray to know it.
The Tory Cabinet has rallied behind Johnson by filibustering news interviews with pure waffle and inventing a new drinking game involving Sue Gray. With the obvious exception of Rishi Sunak who likely sees himself as a contender for the top job and doesn’t want to be tainted with Johnson’s shitstorm.
Meanwhile, the situation for Johnson is so bad that even Keir Starmer, who has faithfully stood by him through the pandemic, has finally called on him to resign, though beaten to the punch by everyone including the Scottish Tories. The polls have the Tories down ten points to their lowest point since 2013.
People are rightfully furious. While Johnson was partying up in his backyard, hundreds of people were dying from Covid, thousands of people weren’t able to spend final moments with their dying loved ones or attend their funerals, and thousands of people were being fined for the smallest violations of the rules.
In the week of the May Downing Street party, during the first and strictest lockdown, 800 people were fined for breaching Covid rules, the default fine had just been increased to £100, and there was no formal appeals process (or a Sue Gray investigation people could defer to for that matter). At the time the rules were that people could meet with a maximum of one other person, outdoors and socially distanced. Between March 2020 and June 2021, 117,000 fines have been issued over Covid regulations, disproportionately to black and ethnic minority people.
So while the Metropolitan Police were stopping and searching the equivalent of a quarter of London’s young black males, and police forces around the country harassed people if they suspected they had exercised outdoors more than once a day, the Prime Minister and government officials were bringing their own booze to Downing Street.
The Police don’t come out well in this story either. Scotland Yard is now “in contact” with the Cabinet Office after Martin Reynold’s explicit email, but so far have refused to say they will investigate. Perhaps Cressida Dick would have been quicker to intervene or investigate if it had been a vigil for a woman murdered by a police officer.
More than people feeling let down by Boris Johnson’s evident lack of integrity, which I doubt most people held in high regard to begin with, it’s the culmination of two years’ worth of anger against a government that has repeatedly shown its contempt for working people.
From the delayed response to Covid that put the whole country in such a precarious position to begin with and has led to the highest death toll in Europe, to the failures over PPE and ventilators, to the dodgy contracts to their mates to the return of austerity to pay for their failures, Boris Johnson has brought to light the stark difference between the lives of the ruling class and the rest of us. How the law is a tool to punish working people but never the rich.
It’s clear that Boris Johnson’s position hangs in the balance and his departure from Downing Street is more a question of when rather than if. In the midst of still-high Covid spread and the growing cost of living crisis which will only build resentment against the government, and with local elections looming, the Tories are in damage limitation mode.
But Boris has to go. Rather than the internal machinations of the Tory party, his ousting should be the product of the mobilisation of the widespread anger. The left can play a crucial role in building popular struggle which brings together the political and the economic and deepens the contradictions of the system.
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Shabbir Lakha is a Stop the War officer, a People's Assembly activist and a member of Counterfire.
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