6th September 2020
Boris Johnson – past his sell by date even for the Tories?
Boris Johnson has carved out the unlikeliest of political careers based on bluster, bigotry and blagging his way out of a tight spot, like the class clown at a public school. As the class clown, Johnson has been able to get by on a whim and a smirk, poking fun, getting the odd laugh and finding a way to scrape through when any tests come up.
Only in the English class system, with a private education, a privileged university and the right connections, could such a combination of attributes land you the top job in 10, Downing Street.
There was always the minor matter of becoming leader of the Tory Party and winning an election but Johnson has had the remarkable knack of being in the right place at the right time and the eye of opportunists throughout the ages of being able to adjust his politics to suit the moment.
The right wing press and the BBC, now under fire for having too many left wing comedians, have been complicit in his rise. A four year long assault on the politics of the Labour Party under Jeremy Corbyn, and the robotic performance of the Tories under Theresa May, helped many Tory MPs and party members buy into the illusion that Johnson was fit for leadership.
To suggest that the joke is wearing thin is to put it mildly. Over 40,000 deaths from COVID-19 by the official count, inept handling of everything to do with the pandemic from late lockdown to lack of PPE, inadequate test and trace arrangements and confusion over the exams and return to school process, have left even Tory MPs wondering at Johnson’s incompetence.
The chattering classes are already talking up Chancellor Rishi Sunak as a successor, as Johnson is regularly out manoeuvred by Kier Starmer at Prime Minister’s Questions. Resorting to accusing Starmer of being an IRA supporter this week, because he had served in Jeremy Corbyn’s Shadow Cabinet, even caused some blushes on the Tory benches. Press outrage seems to have been confined to the accusation against Starmer rather than the slur against Corbyn.
Johnson was always a compromise for the British ruling class, a populist figure who could temporarily unite the Tories and be a focal point for opposition to Labour under Corbyn. Having served his purpose UK ruling circles face a quandary. Do they stick with Johnson through to the next General Election, by which time his character fault lines and political charlatanism will have been completely exposed, or do they change horses early to allow another leader to establish themselves?
The question is widely discussed in the columns of political commentary at the moment but for much of the nation the outcome will be academic. Whoever leads the Tory Party will preside over another round of austerity in order to pay for the costs of the pandemic. Rishi Sunak will soon be presenting a budget which will take the first steps down that road. Unemployment over the 3 million mark already looks likely by Christmas, as the furlough scheme comes to an end.
As it stands, a Labour Government under Kier Starmer is unlikely to change that trajectory. The desire to live up to some right wing media, Bank of England and City of London definition of economic competence will freeze out any radical thinking from a Labour manifesto, effectively taking us back to a choice over who can manage capitalist austerity most competently. Competence being defined as the least threatening path for existing ruling class interests.
That can all change. Pressure from within the Labour Party and mass extra parliamentary action to resist an austerity programme which makes the poor pay, more than they do already, for the pandemic is possible and is certainly desirable.
As the party conference season looms the first formal signs of how the Tories and Labour are looking to set out their stalls will become evident. Popular pressure must build to make those who can afford to, pay their share. Redefining economic competence, as running an economy by, for and in the interests of the working class must also be a battle cry going forward.
Mealy mouthed words about ‘heroic’ health workers will no longer cut it. For any change to be meaningful it needs to be seismic. Labour need to grasp that reality.