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Paying the Price

As the worst week of the PM’s political life comes to an end, Sheila Lawlor, Politeia’s Research Director considers the reasons behind Boris Johnson’s woes.

Boris Johnson, who won an 80-seat majority in 2019, has now begun to see the dominoes fall – not, though, the northern ‘Red Wall’ seats won from Labour, but his own party’s strongholds. Last night’s rout in North Shropshire, a Conservative fortress on the Welsh border since the 1830s, made for a defeat every bit as spectacular in its own way as his own rout of the established orders two years earlier when he swept the whole country to win the day for Brexit.  Johnson, who sought to ‘take back control’ on behalf of the masses against the classes, is now hoist by his own petard.  He and his ministers seem to have joined the other side.

In Parliament a raft of new Covid measures had already prompted a rebellion from 100 Tory MPs. The new rules were seen to be inching the country nearer the ‘big brother’ state.  They mandate Covid ‘passports’ (or a negative test) to get into night clubs and high capacity venues; face masks once more in indoor public places and on public transport. And then there is the backdoor assault on economic freedom, the new ‘work from home (if you can)’ guidance. At a stroke, city centres have again been put to sleep. Shops and businesses, which suffered from stop-go laws ordained by Whitehall from March 2019 must now wave goodbye to the best fortnight of the year, deprived of the custom of millions of commuters and many other customers terrified into ‘staying at home’. Those bars and restaurants still standing will lose out on the seasonal good cheer of the bumper season – it can bring 25 per cent of annual income – now that cancellations for Christmas parties are the order of the day.

The justification for the latest round of measures is the rise of the Covid Omicron variant which is known to spread like wildfire. But the evidence from South Africa is that on the whole Omicron is nowhere near as serious as previous variants, with fewer hospital cases, whilst those who do end up in hospital with the variant generally do not need oxygen,. Indeed, many of the covid-positive patients in South African hospital are there because of other conditions. Despite the ratcheting up of fear levels by government and its scientists, at the time of writing just 117 patients are in UK hospitals with the confirmed omicron variant,  though we are not told whether they were admitted because of it or other conditions.

There is in Britain today a far greater real reason for fear than Covid: that we are being ruled by inept officials who have seized power by instigating a medical reign of terror. After an initial struggle in March 2019, the prime minister gave way to it. But Boris has not been alone in perpetrating the powers of Whitehall. Round his cabinet table sit men and women, his accomplices, each a symbol of the failure of cabinet government, which Boris should know from experience, can, unless checked, end as Mrs May’s did, in tears.

What we see on the outside is apparent complicity with the established orders of Whitehall to use Covid to entrench official thinking and the powers of the state, rather than tackle and solve the problems of the day. Instead, problems have piled up – from inflationary price rises, failed schooling, and untreated patients. The abandonment of sound economic policy at the behest of the ‘new Keynesians’ has led to the UK now facing inflation of 6 per cent and the highest level of peace-time public debt. School closures, empty classrooms and cancelled exams, in favour of learning from home and teacher assessment, the result of an unholy alliance between teachers’ unions and education bureaucrats, have blighted the life chances of millions of pupils. And caving into NHS officials – both scientists and bureaucrats –has shut down medical treatment and hospital care to sick people with cancer, heart disease and other illnesses at a cost of lives shortened or lost, with almost six million patients now on waiting lists. In each area individual ministers and the cabinet as a whole, probably from the best motives, waved the white flag of surrender to officialdom and the big state got bigger. Meanwhile, in the Commons too many MPs for too long nodded through the rules, leaving it to a band of Conservative opponents to challenge their government, since the Labour Opposition had ceased to justify its role.

Boris must remember that today’s battles do not in principle differ to other greater battles twice fought, twice won, to take back control from unelected powers in Brussels. They should define the government as one that stands for ‘their’ side, good, orderly government, as ‘their’ government, neither one in hock to officials on either side of the Channel, nor that of a governing class which breaks its own rules.

Today’s battles are ones to preserve the very freedoms that have shaped the UK and its people for centuries and have brought a way of life blessed by personal liberty, a free economy under laws made at Westminster. Determined by the electors through the ballot box for their country, themselves, their businesses, their jobs – in short for their way of life. Many who voted against Boris this week, both in parliament and in the  country, had backed him in the two momentous polls to change the destiny of Britain — ‘to take back control’ from the EU in 2016 and  finish the job three years later, so the country would be set free to flourish. For that, however, they are still waiting, and the prime minister is paying the price.

Image courtesy of ©UK Parliament/Jessica Taylor

Dr Sheila Lawlor

Dr Sheila Lawlor is Politeia’s Founder and Director of Research. Her background is as an academic historian of 20th century British political history, having started her working life as research fellow at Sidney Sussex College, Cambridge and Churchill College, Cambridge. Her academic publications include Churchill and the Politics of War 1940-41 and for Politeia she has written on social, economic and constitutional policy.

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