Gesture politics

18th July 2021

Home Secretary, Priti Patel – gesture politics her stock in trade

If British Prime Minister, Boris Johnson, spent any time reflecting upon his actions, pronouncements or their consequences, he may find the mantra that a week is a long time in politics weighing heavily at the moment.

It all started so well that Johnson must be wondering how it went so badly wrong.  Just a week ago the nation, or at least the English part of it, was being whipped into a sense of euphoric expectation as the Italy v England Euro 2020 final at Wembley approached.  No one expected a walkover, give the Italians some respect, but the sense that victory was certain was palpable.

So called ‘Freedom Day’, the 19th July, was looming, with even talk of a national Bank Holiday to celebrate.  Cabinet Ministers were buying up England football shirts like they were going out of fashion.

Things began to unravel even before kick off when thousands of ticketless morons manged to breech Wembley stadium security and gain access to the ground.  This in an operation for which Metropolitan Police Chief, Cressida Dick, has boldly stated,

“I am very proud of my officers and the command team.”

As the Euros had earned a place in the government’s herd immunity project, otherwise known as the Events Research Programme, see Wimbledon and the British Grand Prix at Silverstone for further examples, the police were presumably unconcerned about the public health implications of the security breech.

Luke Shaw’s goal after two minutes was cause for great national (English) optimism but was soon frittered away as the team’s lacklustre efforts to break down a sterling Italian defence dwindled into extra time and penalties.

That a penalty shoot out was necessary then lost is a discussion for the sports pages.  That right wing Neanderthals on social media drew attention to the fact that those who missed penalties were three of England’s black players, implying that this made them unworthy to play for the national team, took things to a new level.  The so called Culture Wars, which Boris Johnson, Home Secretary Priti Patel and, ironically, Culture Secretary, Oliver Dowden, have been keen to stoke in recent weeks were catching fire.

The post match antics of the St. George’s flag waving moron tendency, unable to accept defeat, was accompanied by stamping upon and burning Italian flags.  Violence across the capital resulted in 49 arrests. 

While Johnson and his cohorts were compelled to condemn the racist tweets their hypocrisy was immediately called out by England Centre Half, Tyrone Mings, who pointed out in response to Priti Patel that,

“You don’t get to stoke the fire at the beginning of the tournament by labelling our anti-racism message as ‘Gesture Politics’ & then pretend to be disgusted when the very thing we’re campaigning against, happens.”

Patel had been critical of England players taking the knee in order to demonstrate their opposition to racism in general and racist abuse directed at players, adding that England fans had a “choice” over whether or not to boo players as they made their protest.

With his finger, as usual, on the 21st century pulsebeat Tory millionaire dilletante, Jacob Rees-Mogg, weighed into the debate suggesting that there “wasn’t any evidence” that fans who boo players taking the knee do so motivated by racism.

The subsequent vandalising of a mural of Marcus Rashford in Manchester has generated an outpouring of support for Rashford and the other targeted players.  Vacillation over condemnation of racist abuse by Johnson and his crowd, contrasted sharply to the response of the people of Manchester, and across the country, in calling out those responsible for racism.

Johnson may have hoped that a keynote speech on his so-called ‘levelling up’ agenda, scheduled for midweek, would get rid of the weekend blues. Typically though, Johnson waffled interminably, trying to please all of the people all of the time, but not actually getting down to the main business of what ‘levelling up’ was all about.  Perhaps because it is mainly about waffling for so long that no-one will notice?

Such politically incisive phrases describing levelling up as,

“…the yeast that lifts the whole mattress of dough, the magic sauce, the ketchup of catch-up”

hardly added clarity.  Such promises as could be gleaned included £50m for new football pitches and a National High Streets Day, hardly agenda defining promises.

Of course, ‘levelling up’ is no such thing for Johnson and Co, who are quite content to ensure that the playing field remains as tilted as it is presently and that they retain their power and privileges.  If that means adopting the rhetoric of being on the side of the common people, in order to win a few votes, then they will do it.  This has for a long time been the oldest trick in the Tory book. 

Any real levelling up is not fundamentally about regional disparities but about class differences and where the real levers of economic power lie.  No amount of hot air from Johnson is going to address that.   It is, in fact, expressly designed to detract attention from it.  It could even be described as gesture politics!

The concern for the political establishment is that Johnson’s bluster is being increasingly exposed as shallow and may not deliver the necessary votes to keep the Tories in office.  Alliances in the Tory party are swift to change when there is electoral danger and another term with Johnson at the helm may be too much, even for them.

As 19th July approaches the hollow ring of ‘Freedom Day’ rhetoric continues to echo across the land.  Johnson’s tub thumping has become more cautious as the day approaches and public health experts from across the globe regard the British plan as fundamentally flawed.  At an emergency summit last week more than 1,200 scientists backed a letter to the Lancet warning that the UK strategy could allow vaccine-resistant variants to develop.  

Prof José Martin-Moreno of the University of Valencia, a senior adviser to the World Health Organization (WHO), said,

“We cannot understand why this is happening in spite of the scientific knowledge that you have.”

With daily infection rates at 50,000 and climbing, Heath Secretary Sajid Javid’s target of 100,000 infections a day by the end of the summer looks all too achievable.  Javid has even gone to the trouble of contracting the infection himself, just in case the numbers drop.

With nightclubs set to re-open and restrictions on social distancing and mask wearing either going or being downgraded to an ‘expectation’, no table service in pubs and cafes required and Premier League football around the corner, who needs the usual round of winter infections and flu bugs to stay busy in the NHS? 

Polish up that George Cross, it must be better than a decent pay rise?  Or even a government that gives a damn about public health?  Gesture politics of the highest order.

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