1st May 2021
The charge sheet continues to grow
Did Boris Johnson really exclaim late last year, “no more fucking lockdowns – let the bodies pile high in their thousands”? Unnamed ‘sources’ claim they were in the room when he did. Even the usually Boris backing Daily Mail has been repeating the claims. The BBC has been unable to avoid the story.
Johnson’s outburst has vied for media coverage with his latest faux pas, the redecoration of his Downing Street residence, at a cost of £58,000, subsidised initially it is alleged, by Conservative Party donor Lord Brownlow. Johnson now claims to have covered the cost from his own pocket. When asked in the House of Commons whether he made the now famous bodies piled high quote Johnson responded with an emphatic “no”.
Twisting, turning and openly lying his way out of a tight spot comes so naturally to Johnson that monumental levels of mendacity at the highest level in British government, while still warranting headlines, do not yet appear to ignite into a scandal.
Sleaze, cronyism and lying are nothing new to the political establishment as the history of slave trading, Empire and exploitation upon which Britain’s wealth is based can testify. Even more recently the dodgy weapons of mass destruction dossier, the occasion for which Tony Blair sent thousands to unnecessary early deaths in Iraq, was a clear fabrication for which no one has been held directly responsible.
Johnson’s home decorating travails have an underlying significance in getting to the bottom of who pays for what and in whose pocket the Prime Minister of the day may be when it comes to critical decisions. Yet at times the story appears merely as the sub plot to a soap opera which casts Johnson as the beleaguered man, haplessly manipulated by his scheming girlfriend insisting on £800 a roll wallpaper.
Various inquiries are underway. Johnson’s characteristic bluff, bluster and windbagging may not be enough to see him thorough. Whatever influence Carrie Symonds may exert in Downing Street it can only be predicated upon a government which is weak, lacking direction and cares little about the people it is meant to serve. Typical Tory self serving moral vacuity is nothing new. It is just that it has seldom been so blatantly on display.
The British media meanwhile, in its universal eagerness to applaud the success to date of the vaccination programme, appear to have missed the point that, whatever Johnson may have said, the bodies have piled high in their thousands. While the appalling situation in India occupies the news bulletin headlines the official body count per 100,000 population still remains far higher in the UK.
Some attempt to halt the collective amnesia the media are attempting to generate about the pandemic is being made by those calling for a public inquiry into its handling. The healthcare thinktank the King’s Fund and the Institute for Government (IfG) have both called for an immediate statutory inquiry starting as early as September.
The IfG has stated that,
“Decisions made by the Johnson government have led to more deaths, more economic harm and cost more livelihoods than we might have seen otherwise. This and future UK governments need to learn from what happened and change as a result in preparation for future crises.”
Those demanding an inquiry include the British Medical Association, the TUC, the Archbishop of Canterbury, Labour leader Kier Starmer and the COVID-19 Bereaved Families for Justice group. Johnson insists that now is not the right time for an inquiry, as he continues to try and maximise the PR value of the successful vaccination roll out.
Political memories can be notoriously short and without an inquiry it may be lost that Johnson skipped five Cobra meetings as the pandemic gripped; gave the go ahead for the Cheltenham Festival and the Liverpool v Atletico Madrid game, leading to significant spikes in infections; spent £849m on the infection spreading “eat out to help out” scheme; and has blown £37bn on a test and trace system which has turned out to be anything but “world beating.”
The charge sheet will ultimately be longer but as a start it is bad enough. For the moment the nation is being steered down the path of official optimism with the prospect of outdoor festivals, holidays in the sun and relative normality by the end of June being dangled.
Let’s hope it works out that way. Even if it does, the reasons for the path being such a tortuous one need to be accounted for. At some point Johnson, along with his Tory government and cronies, will need to be in the dock.