A question I keep pondering: when will it be enough? On Tuesday we witnessed what should have been a decisive hammer blow against Boris and his band of buffoons. Former right hand man Dominic Cummings appeared before a select committee to unload a testimony from the heart of government that alleged what some of us suspected all along: that Boris Johnson and his ministers did not “follow the science” when it came to protecting the public from the pandemic, but instead attempted to pursue a series of disastrous policies, from herd immunity to “getting back to normal” in summer 2020. When these mistakes were realised, they weren’t learned from, said Cummings. On the contrary – they were repeated.
As of 27 May, 152,000 people in the UK have died with Covid-19 recorded as a factor on their death certificate. On the same day, polling company Survation reported that 44% of voters said that if an election was called, they would back the Tories, opening up an 11-point lead over Keir Starmer’s increasingly bloodless Labour party – the highest they’ve polled since May 2020.
Boris Johnson, the man who has presided over the UK’s disastrous pandemic response, is enjoying an equally large boost in public approval, shooting up 11 points since April (Starmer is down by seven). The Tories and their leader are flying high.
Meanwhile, the public they preside over are struggling on all fronts. The pandemic has made just about everything worse for the majority; unemployment is still down on pre-2020 levels, with under 25s bearing almost two-thirds of job losses during Covid-19. Researchers have already concluded that existing inequalities have been exacerbated over the last year; those who were already struggling to keep their heads above water are now submerged.
Civil unrest from both sides of the political spectrum has demonstrated a growing unhappiness with the status quo in the UK; from anti-lockdown protests associated with a cohort of far-right and conspiracy theorist groups, to demonstrations challenging everything from new policing legislation to racial inequality, people have expressed their dissatisfaction via taking to the streets.
And yet, none of this, not even the protesting, seems to actually touch the teflon Tories at the top. If to be believed (and it is worth remembering that Cummings – the architect of Brexit – is accused of being an adept liar himself) then the one-time advisor’s claims lay bare a level of incompetence, ignorance and disregard that few from the Tory camp have been willing to blow the whistle on. Health secretary Matt Hancock should have been sacked for at least “15 or 20” things Cummings told the committee, chiefly lying about everything from testing capacity to whether protections around care homes had been put in place (as tragically became obvious, they had not).
According to Cummings, haphazard policy changes were because there wasn’t a policy, full stop, and lockdowns happened late on three separate occasions because Boris was fervently opposed to them. His testimony painted a picture of complete chaos – which, according to Dom, Boris enjoyed. “Chaos means everybody has to look to me to see who is in charge,” Cummings alleged his former boss said on one occasion.
“And yet, none of this seems to actually touch the teflon Tories at the top”
Cummings spoke for seven hours in all and levelled far too many accusations to fit into one small comment piece. But the ultimate takeaway was this: there were tens of thousands of needless deaths from Covid-19 and blame can – and should – be directly apportioned to the personal decisions – and lack thereof – of Boris Johnson and his cabinet.
But is it enough? At this stage, what will it actually take to see any of those at the top of government face a single consequence for their actions? Boris Johnson didn’t sack Dominic Cummings when he publicly undermined lockdown rules last year, and then refused to apologise for the breach. He has yet to fire Matt Hancock, despite allegedly being urged to repeatedly by both Cummings, former Cabinet Secretary Mark Sedwill, and other senior figures, throughout 2020. We know he’s a leader who rewards bad behaviour – see Priti Patel and Robert Jenrick’s current high ranking positions – but does he draw the line at what one MP yesterday suggested could amount to “corporate manslaughter”? Not if he’s as culpable as the rest of them.
Who does it fall upon to hold the Tories even the slightest bit accountable? The limping Labour party, who are holding steadfastly to their single policy of not providing a robust opposition, for fear it will alienate an imagined focus group of ‘Red Wall’ voters they’ve already lost? Or the public? The majority of whom seems to hold no great love for the party that’s been in power for 10 years but simultaneously keeps supporting them, perhaps through apathy, or maybe a politics of fear. When faced with the sheer lack of accountability (and what would that even look like?) from our politicians, we shrug and say “But what can we do?”
I get it, I really do. It’s tiring engaging in an uphill battle against a self-serving political class, a hostile media, alongside fatigue from the daily struggle to survive. But this government kills. Not just through pandemic policy but through the enactment of legislation designed to suppress and oppress, such as the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill, and Priti Patel’s imminent – and inhumane – New Immigration Plan. ‘Levelling up’ plans seem unlikely to come to fruition and the combined twin blows of Brexit and the pandemic look set to push thousands further into poverty. Many of Boris Johnson’s lieutenants – alongside the prime minister himself – served in the successive Tory governments that oversaw a decade of austerity, entrenching inequalities that caused Covid-19 to hit certain communities so hard.
“Who does it fall upon to hold the Tories even the slightest bit accountable?”
Worst of all: these people simply do not care. Cummings’ testimony does not paint a picture of leaders trying their best against all the odds. It depicts a group of weak men, out of their depth and trying to cover their own backs, to the detriment of the people they have been elected to serve. The problem is, when this particular cluster of individuals fuck up, people die.
This cannot run anymore. We must mount a defence and push back against the apathy that allows us to just shrug and accept our Eton-educated overlords, time and time again. Ask yourself this time: is it enough? Are you fed up with feeling helpless? Of having your future decided by a man who allegedly joked about being injected with Covid on live television, to prove it was the same level of threat as swine flu? Unserious people deserve unserious treatment, not the premiership. There is something within the British – no, English, – psyche that welcomes subjugation from people that are not our betters, but just our loudest and richest. Are we not tired? I certainly am.
In the midst of the committee session on Wednesday, journalist Tim Walker tweeted “We’re witnessing a government imploding before our very eyes”. Only if we light the match.