the end of the UK is hopefully at hand, thanks to idiot nazis in london

Matt Hancock, could you honestly think of no-one better to run test and trace?
Marina Hyde, Groan, Sep 18 2020

3500Baroness Dido Harding. Photo: Hannah McKay/Reuters

Do you remember Ye Olde Operation Moonshotte, an ancient promise by the elders of this government to test 10 million people a day? My apologies for the leading question. There are absent-minded goldfish who remember that figure, given it was announced by Boris Johnson’s government barely three seconds ago. The only representative of the animal, vegetable and possibly mineral kingdoms who doesn’t remember it is the prime minister himself, who on Wednesday told a committee asking him about it:

I don’t recognise the figure you have just given.

Like me, you probably feel grateful to be governed by a guy whose approach to unwanted questions is basically:

New phone, who dis?

Like me, you will be reassured by Matt Hancock’s plan to throw another “protective ring” around care homes. What’s not to fear about a Matt Hancock ring, easily the most dangerous ring in history, including Sauron’s Ring of Power. Like me, you are probably impressed that the government is ordering you to snitch on your neighbours for having seven people in their garden, while whichever Serco genius is running testing as a Dadaist performance piece about human futility gets to live in the witness protection programme. Shitness protection programme, whatever. Speaking of which, like me, you probably feel relaxed to learn that Chris Grayling, who notably awarded a ferry contract to a firm with no ferries, is now to be paid £100k/yr for seven hours work a week advising a ports company. When I read this story I imagined his aides pulling a hammer-wielding Grayling off the pulped corpse of Satire, going:

Jesus, Chris! Leave it! It’s already dead! We need to get out of here!

Elsewhere, testing supremo Dido Harding has surfaced in parliament. It was starting to feel like we’d see Avatar II in theatres before we saw Dido front up to explain this mushrooming fiasco. Her last appearance before a select committee was as head of TalkTalk, after two teenage boys hacked the network, resulting in 157k people having their personal details stolen. When she was appointed to head up the test and trace programme, Hancock explained he “can’t think of anyone better than Dido.” Then take another five seconds, Matt. Off the top of my head I can come up with Baroness Gemma Collins of Towie, and Grandmaster Glitch from the Go Jetters. Still, here she comes again, Dido Queen of Carnage, on hand to gloss the havoc. As she put it:

I don’t think anybody was expecting to see the really sizeable increase in demand that we’ve seen over the course of the last few weeks.

But Dido: they literally were. At least Harding is visible. Huge amounts of the malfunctioning system are now being run badly by unaccountable figures. Take firms like Deloitte, which ran the testing site at what we might call Chessington World of Misadventures. Hospitals felt forced to ask to take it over after the results of NHS staff were serially lost or misdirected. The pile of 2020 sentences I never expected to type is now Earth’s tallest structure, but let’s add another one:

NHS commandeers Vampire Ride from accountancy firm charged with controlling spread of deadly pandemic.

Seriously, stick a fork in me. I’m done. While Harding was defending the barely functional testing system, Jacob Rees-Mogg was telling the Commons that “instead of this endless carping saying it’s difficult to get them (tests), we should be celebrating this phenomenal success of the British nation.” To which the only possible reply is four-lettered. His own ma and pa clearly hopelessly overindulged Jacob Rees-Mogg, but millions of other parents just will not feel minded to take it from this rejected Charlie and the Chocolate Factory character. If there were any justice, Jacob would have been stretched into a mile-long liquorice lace by vigilante Oompa-Loompas as they sang one of their trademark cautionary songs. Instead, he is somehow leader of the House of Commons. There, he speaks of what ordinary people “should” be doing, with the air of a man who knows that if any of the Mogg progeny are sent home from school with a possible Covid symptom, it’s not going to be him taking time off work to homeschool them and wait for a test spot to open up in Manchester a week on Friday. There is zero uncertainty about childcare and loss of earnings in the Rees-Mogg household, where even the adults still have nannies. At the age of 51, Jacob retains the live-in childcare professional who was (formerly?) responsible for wiping his backside.

Yet again, the overriding impression is of a government run by men for whom the domestic sphere is a mystery they have no wish to get to the bottom of. One of them driving hundreds of miles to Durham, just in case he got ill and still had to do his own childcare, sounds to the other guys like a totally reasonable thing to have done. Meanwhile the big boss fails to be meaningfully involved in the lives of between 17% and 29% of his children (awaiting full data). If you can be persuaded it’s normal to drive a 60-mile round trip with a child in the car to test your eyesight, then naturally you believe parents should think it fine to stick a five-year-old in their own vehicle and travel 400 miles to obtain what’s necessary to get the child back to school and them back to work. Either way, of course a government run by weirdo elitists didn’t reflexively foresee that September (back to school, back to offices) was going to mean a huge surge in testing demand. This is the trouble when “hardworking families” is merely a demographic you wish to appeal to, as opposed to who you are. Real-life “hardworking families” could have told you in a heartbeat that September was the main event. THEY could have predicted it. Because unless someone else does it all for you, huge amounts of parenting are about thinking ahead, planning, creating yet another routine that keeps the whole precarious show on the road, the endless foresight of it all.

Only this week Dominic Cummings was pictured slouching through the Downing Street gates carrying some archive letter written by US general Bernard Shriever, pushing for continued investment in ballistic weapons technology. Cummings should hang around the school gates instead, where any amount of mothers who’ve seen all this shit before and didn’t have time for it back then would be able to enlighten him in the simplest possible terms. Namely: Hey squidbrain, I’ve got some “data” for you! Mind if I “special advise” you with it, only I don’t have a window to put it in a 20k-word blog? OK, here goes: I don’t WANT you to build me a fricking missile defence shield, I don’t CARE about the Manhattan Project, I think all your reading recommendations REEK of the business section of the airport bookshop, and I’m NOT going to be accused of “carping” by guys who’d have a nervo if they had to change a nappy. You know what I want? A SWAB WITHIN A THIRTY-MILE RADIUS, YESTERDAY. Now spad THAT, genius.

Mixed messages on snooping sum up UK’s abysmal handling of Covid crisis… time is running out for class clown Boris Johnson
Damian Wilson,, Sep 17 2020

Johnson returns to 10 Downing Street after a cabinet meeting, Sep 15 2020.
Photo: Peter Nicholls/Reuters

Priti Patel says snitch on your neighbours, BoJo says don’t. Another example of his terrible handling of Covid-19. With the PM being savaged by the media and even his own party, he needs to step up, or his days are numbered. he latest draconian measures to combat the spread of Covid-19 are hard enough to stomach for most people, who are already thoroughly sick of being told what to do by a British government that has mishandled the coronavirus pandemic from day one. But the confusing message about grassing on those who break the law is even harder to swallow. Particularly when the prime minister himself suggested snitching on neighbours was not really his thing, while his home secretary, Priti Patel, was adamant we should shop the law-breakers without hesitation. It’s just another example of BoJo being at odds with the advice given by his own government-appointed experts, ministers and scientists: handshaking or no handshaking, masks or no masks, groups of two, six or 50, to the office or not, schools open or shut, jaunts to Barnard Castle with the missus or a strict national lockdown. What the hell is going on?

The PM putting on a serious face and telling us we should stick to the mandate that there should be no socialising in groups of more than six, or else, but then admitting later he would not necessarily inform the authorities if he saw people ignoring the law, makes a mockery of the edict. Although he was quite well turned-out when facing the Commons liaison committee, most people think of BoJo with his shirt-tails flapping in the breeze, tie askew, suit jacket mis-buttoned and tousled mop of hair doing its own thing. He wears a permanent half-grin at his own private joke, eyes flitting around the room when he speaks, as if he’s looking for co-conspirators to share the hilarity of what he’s saying, and he cannot resist a clever quip, a pun or chance to show off his mastery of language, either English or Latin. This combination makes it very, very hard to take him seriously. It’s like having the class clown suddenly appointed teacher of the citizenship lesson, where we all sit waiting for the punchline. In his latest interview with The Sun newspaper, he showed typical form, saying:

The only way to make sure the country is able to enjoy Christmas is to be tough now. So if we can grip it now, stop the surge, arrest the spike, stop the second hump of the dromedary, flatten the second hump. Dromedary or camel? I can’t remember if it is a dromedary or a camel that has two humps? Umm. Please check. Anyway a double hump. So that is what we need to do!

And this is our prime minister delivering bad news. No wonder Joe Biden felt no qualms about having a pop at him over his handling of Brexit, when frankly, interfering in another nation’s domestic political affairs, particularly when that nation is the other half of the so-called “special relationship,” is normally considered a no-no.

But the British people fell for BoJo and his undoubted charm, foolishly as it now turns out, handing him a parliamentary majority of such magnitude that he does what he wants, says what he wants and makes a mess of governing a country facing huge social turmoil, an education system in pieces, economic meltdown, massive unemployment and a future so bleak we cannot even begin to imagine. And it’s not just those of us in gen pop who are baffled by the disappearance of the boisterous, energetic leader that was returned to rule last December. His own party members were horrified by the startling admission that he intended to break international law during the shambolic Brexit negotiations. And now even the usually reliable cheerleaders at The Spectator magazine, of which BoJo is a former editor, have taken their gloves off, savaging the PM over his Covid-19 policy, Brexit dealings, silence over the Black Lives Matter protests, and a desire to be liked so ingrained that he cannot stand to be the bearer of bad news. So even the unwelcome news of local lockdowns and the threat of further tough action over coronavirus is announced with the pledge to end the misery by Christmas, based on nothing more than the fear of people turning against him. In a scathing takedown, editor Fraser Nelson branded the PM a “a forlorn creature skulking around Westminster,” making empty promises about “moonshots of testing regimes,” “world-beating Covid apps,” and “the world’s finest track-and-trace system.” All these boasts ended in disaster. And now, unless things take a real upswing soon, so will Boris Johnson’s premiership.

Where’s Boris?
Fraser Nelson, The Spectator, Sep 17 2020

At the end of last week, the Prime Minister invited Tory MPs to a massive conference call, a kind of digital fireside chat to lift their spirits. It was a disaster. First the MPs were astonished to learn that he wasn’t taking questions; then his connection failed halfway through, at which point the callers, who had been ‘muted’, became ‘unmuted’ and started talking loudly and all at once. One of them, Michael Fabricant, started singing ‘Rule Britannia’. When the call came to an end, the MPs were all left wondering the same thing. What’s happened to Boris? Where is the man we thought we voted for? Physically, Boris Johnson is still around. This week he could be found contradicting other ministers in a parliamentary committee, or sulking on the front bench, being given lectures on competence from Ed Miliband. But this is not the effervescent, bombastic, energising leader MPs thought they’d elected. That man is missing. It’s not just Boris; his whole government seems adrift, defined by its avoidable mistakes: Covid policy, Brexit, party discipline… In all these things there is a conspicuous and baffling lack of leadership.

Take this past week. The PM’s Brexit argument should have been simple enough: if the EU wants to play hardball by hinting that it might stop food being sent from Britain to Northern Ireland, then Britain ought to make it clear that obviously it could not tolerate this. Johnson should have said so from the outset, explaining what the EU was attempting and why he needed to be polite but firm in response. He could have said that he would protect the integrity of the UK using flexibility built into the agreement he had already negotiated, rather than send a minister into the chamber to say the government would go rogue and ‘break international law.’ Perhaps the intention was to scare the EU. It ended up appalling the Conservative party and handing ammunition to the Prime Minister’s enemies. International law is a dubious concept in the UK system, but what mattered to Tory MPs was the idea of breaking a promise and reneging on legislation he had only recently asked them to pass. It became a matter of reputation and honour. By the end of the debacle, the Prime Minister softened his tone, insisting that he is merely seeking a reserve power that he hopes never to use. It was another embarrassing, damaging, avoidable mess. The MPs who bumped into Johnson in the chamber last week said he looked exhausted, broken, and astonished at what he had unwittingly unleashed. It made them wonder: what did he expect? And if he’s the great communicator, why didn’t he bother to communicate?

On Covid, too, his tactics are coherent and should be defensible. He fears that a second wave is underway in Spain and France and seeks to take stern action to stop the same thing happening in Britain. But why the sudden unexplained jump to Covid marshals and a police-enforced ‘rule of six’? These ideas blindsided the cabinet and the country. A bit more discussion beforehand and a proper understanding of the consequences would also have helped. Is he seriously asking people to inform on neighbours whose children have six friends in the garden? If so, why? To ask us not to enjoy the company of our friends and families is a big deal. If he’s serious about governing by consent then we need to understand the reasoning behind the policy; we need to see the evidence. Johnson’s overall Covid policy is now a mystery. Does he seek to ‘flatten the curve’ again? Is he trying to eliminate Covid altogether? We might think that his strategy inspired; we might think it insane, but we need to know what it is. We need to know, for instance, why children aren’t being excluded from the rule of six as they are in Scotland and Wales. There may be perfectly sound, scientific, rational answers to all such questions, but we don’t know, because Johnson is still using emergency legislation to bypass parliament. It’s a strange kind of leadership, and it doesn’t seem like him.

And where was he during the Black Lives Matter protests? This ought to have been the perfect chance for him to rise above his other troubles and defend the country and its values. Instead, his government stayed mute while statues were pulled down and public buildings vandalised. Only when the Churchill monument outside parliament was defaced did the Prime Minister venture to say that it was all a bit much. As Mayor of London, he made several eloquent defences of his city. It’s the Rome of the globalised empire, he’d said, a place of opportunity for all. Kemi Badenoch, his equalities minister, caused a stir when she said that Britain was one of the best countries in the world for black people to live. Why not make that vital point now? Why doesn’t the PM stand up and remind every-one that Britain is among the most successful melting pots in Europe — if not the world? It’s not hard to imagine what Boris the columnist would have been writing in the Daily Telegraph. Why, he’d fume, will no one speak up for Britain?

There are indeed racial disparities in our country. People of Indian heritage earn more than whites, while Bangladeshis earn less. Those of black African descent do well at school, those of black Caribbean descent do less well. The ethnic group least likely to go to university is white British. There is a fascinating discussion to be had, and there are certainly inequalities to be addressed, but Britain is absolutely not a country defined by racial discrimination and the Prime Minister should have said so. Instead, he looks as if the debate terrifies him, and that he would rather stay quiet and let the two sides battle it out. This is cowardly and entirely unnecessary. The case for liberalism is there to be made. The rise of cancel culture, statue-toppling and no-platforming is spreading far beyond university campuses. If the left is so clearly abandoning the basic idea of tolerance and real diversity, then it’s a gift that ought to be seized with both hands. Yet the lack of direction from No. 10 has seen the rot set in even within his own government. Whitehall officials have discouraged the use of words like ‘blacklist.’ There have been serious discussions about renaming the Churchill Room.

Perhaps the trouble is that the Prime Minister is a writer, campaigner and entertainer, but not really a fighter. He dislikes making enemies. He loves to be liked. Critics say he’s a bit too keen to agree with the last person he spoke to. This can lead to contradictory policies and confused messaging. He very much approved of Rishi Sunak’s push to go back to restaurants and the office, but very much sympathises with Chris Whitty, the Chief Medical Officer, who is terrified of a second wave. So he goes with both. But the last thing you need in uncertain times is uncertain leadership. The optimist in Boris Johnson hates delivering Covid bad news, so he tries to leaven his press conferences with cheerful notes, realistic or not. As a result, we’re promised 500,000 tests a day by the end of next month, and never mind if his government is falling at the 230,000 level. We hear of ‘moonshots’ of testing regimes, ‘world-beating’ Covid apps, the world’s finest track-and-trace system. The trouble is that when these promises aren’t met, it leads to disappointment and disillusion. This is far, far worse than the simple bad news would have been. As things stand, polls show that no country has been judged by its people to have done a worse job at handling the pandemic.

All this, to his enemies, is to be expected. It fits the caricature of Boris the clown, who transplanted his Brexit campaigners into government. Hence the chaos, the critics say. The country is being run by Brexit ideologues. But it’s his supporters who are most surprised, even hurt, by recent events. They see in Boris the potential for an exceptional, gravity-defying politician who could reset politics and run government; someone who could inspire and hire brilliant people, and work with them to enact the agenda of his signature liberal conservatism. So why, they wonder, isn’t this happening? For a team to sing from the same hymn sheet, there needs to be a hymn sheet. At the moment, there isn’t one. One of the more depressing events of the last few months was Johnson’s June relaunch, a speech in Dudley billed as his great vision of what lay beyond Covid. His answer seemed to be construction spending, dualling the A1 and building a zero-carbon passenger jet. He spoke about his ‘levelling up’ agenda as if he could pick up where he left off. There was no recognition of the damage that lockdown has caused, or how ‘levelling up’ will now mean repairing that damage, in education, the economy and society at large. Rather than relaunch his premiership, the speech highlighted its main problem: a lack of vision and direction, which is odd from a leader who was elected precisely because he could articulate his vision. Once upon a time, he did this better than anyone. Now he hardly does it at all.

It would be easy for Team Boris to ignore all this. The next general election is four years away, he still leads Labour in the polls, and even with last week’s rebellion his Internal Market Bill still passed with a majority of 77. There is moaning, but no mutiny. And certainly no other contender. The huge majority was won by him, personally. If it wasn’t for him, scores of the disgruntled Tory MPs would simply not be in parliament. The question now is whether he can become a proper leader with a sense of direction and purpose, or whether the pattern we have seen in recent months, of disorder, debacle, rebellion, U-turn and confusion, is what we should henceforth expect. Johnson still has millions of supporters willing him to succeed, baffled to see this forlorn creature skulking around Westminster. They know that he’s not responsible for the pandemic, but they do require of him a sense of what might lie on the other side of it: some promise for the future. On the day he was elected party leader, he promised that Britain would, like a slumbering giant, ‘rise and ping off the guy-ropes of self-doubt and negativity.’ This is how many of his MPs now think of him: a slumbering leader capable of great things, who must begin to rise.

US Democrats warn UK Tories no trade deal if Good Friday Agreement threatened by hard Brexit
Robert Stevens, WSWS, Sep 18 2020

Johnson leaves 10 Downing Street for PMQs at the House of Commons, Jun 24 2020.
(Photo: Alastair Grant)

UK Foreign Secretary Raab flew to the US for talks with leading US politicians after a week of bellicose threats from leading Democrats, including Biden and Pelosi. They responded with unconcealed hostility to Johnson’s threat to substantially alter, effectively tear up, the Withdrawal Agreement his government agreed with the EU less than a year ago. Johnson is seeking to pass legislation, the Internal Market Bill negating clauses in the “Northern Ireland protocol” enshrined in the Withdrawal Agreement Parliament passed last December following the Conservative victory in the General Election. The Tory government claims the Bill is required to “protect jobs and trade” in Britain at the conclusion of this year’s transition towards leaving the EU. But it explicitly nullifies what is known as the “Northern Ireland Protocol,” breaking international law in the process. It grants government ministers powers to intervene on matters relating to export declarations on goods shipped from Northern Ireland to Great Britain and to negate the application of EU state-aid rules in Northern Ireland. Biden warned that Johnson’s proposals imperilled the 1998 Good Friday Agreement that ended three decades of civil conflict in Northern Ireland and military occupation by the British Army. In Washington on Wednesday, Raab was subjected to a humiliating dressing-down by top Democrats, who warned that the UK calling into question its EU deal threatens any prospect of a free trade agreement with the US if Biden comes to office. On Wednesday evening Biden tweeted:

We can’t allow the Good Friday Agreement that brought peace to Northern Ireland to become a casualty of Brexit. Any trade deal between the US and UK must be contingent upon respect for the Agreement and preventing the return of a hard border. Period.

Following her meeting with Raab, Pelosi declared:

If the UK violates its international agreements and Brexit undermines the Good Friday accord, there will be absolutely no chance of UK-US free trade agreement passing the Congress.

Amid a threatened rebellion within the Tory Party over the scuppering of a post-Brexit trade deal with the EU and the implications of the UK breaking international law, Johnson sought to reassure dissidents that his was a necessary negotiating strategy, a counterweight to Brussels threatening the operation of the free market between the UK and Ireland post-Brexit. A large-scale rebellion by Tory MPs failed to materialise in a vote held Monday evening on the second reading of the Internal Market Bill. With a massive government majority of 80 and a wildly pro-Brexit parliamentary party and base, Johnson easily won the vote—with only around 20 Tory MPs abstaining in the main and a few voting against. On Wednesday it was announced that after discussions with Tory rebels, Johnson will accept an amendment from Bob Neil MP. In exchange for their support to pass the entire Bill, MPs will be allowed to have a vote in Parliament before such laws, breaking the treaty, are used. While making such token concessions and reassuring noises, it is not possible for Johnson to simply fall into line with the agenda of Biden and Pelosi given the right-wing, xenophobic party he leads. Former Tory leader and cabinet minister Iain Duncan Smith declared:

We don’t need lectures on the Northern Ireland peace deal from Mr Biden. If I were him I would worry more about the need for a peace deal in the US to stop the killing and rioting before lecturing other sovereign nations.

Whatever the parliamentary arithmetic, Johnson is carrying out measures that can only deepen geopolitical fault lines. A hard-Brexit without a trade deal is opposed by his pro-EU opponents on the opposition benches and by the City of London. But potentially the most incendiary element comes from the escalating political and social crisis across the Atlantic. The centrepiece of Johnson’s Brexit agenda has always been developing even closer relations with the US, with the aim of securing a free trade deal with Washington crowning a strategy of negotiating similar agreements across the world. His every move has been dependent on the backing of Donald Trump, who was the most enthusiastic backer of Brexit based on his “America First” agenda of securing the interests of US corporations globally amid escalating trade war. Trump’s support for Brexit was aimed at delivering a major blow economically against the EU, which he described as a “cartel” dominated by Berlin. Johnson’s rise to the leadership of the Tory Party and his entering Downing Street was precipitated by Trump’s denunciations of former prime minister, Theresa May. In 2018, Trump took to the pages of Rupert Murdoch’s the Sun, as he prepared for a visit to the UK, to attack May’s proposal for a “soft Brexit” as a betrayal of the 2017 referendum Leave vote. He said of Johnson, who had just stepped down as foreign secretary, that he would make a “great prime minister.”

Trump reiterated his attack on May the following year amid intensified divisions between the pro- and anti-EU factions of the Tory party that ended in May’s downfall and replacement by Johnson. With the US presidential elections due in November and polls suggesting a Democratic victory, albeit in a tightening race, Johnson and the Tories face pressure from Biden et al to shift back to the long-term position of US imperialism, of supporting Britain’s EU membership as a firm political, economic and military ally and a counterweight to Germany and France. This threat is amplified by the substantial influence in the Democratic Party of its Irish lobby, reflecting the 33m-strong Irish-American population. Moreover, the US has developed long-established relations with the Republic of Ireland as a significant base for US corporations accessing EU markets, including tech giants Google and Apple. Raab relied on Trump to register US support for Johnson’s strategy. After discussions, Pompeo and Raab held a press conference. Without mentioning the EU, Pompeo declared:

We trust the UK. I am confident they’ll get it right.

Raab was careful to continue blaming the EU for the impasse, declaring:

I think it’s a great opportunity for me to be clear that the threat to the Good Friday Agreement … as it’s reflected in the Northern Ireland Protocol has come from the EU’s politicization of the issue and to be clear on how that’s happened and why that’s happened. Our commitment to the Good Friday Agreement and to avoid any extra infrastructure at the border between the north and the south is absolute, but what we cannot have is the EU seeking to erect a regulatory border down the Irish Sea between Northern Ireland and Britain.

Even Pompeo’s lukewarm backing came with a price-tag attached, with Pompeo demanding that Britain break with the EU’s existing policy of opposing additional US sanctions on Iran, which Pompeo declared would go ahead next week. Raab’s trip was a telling expression of the dangerously fraught relations between the major imperialist powers. No matter how these conflicts play out, what faces the working class is an even greater onslaught on its living standards as British imperialism seeks competitive advantage to secure market share and access to resources amid mounting trade and military hostilities. The escalation of the Brexit crisis confirms the correctness of the SEP’s insistence that the working class must oppose both competing factions of the ruling elite and intervene independently seeking to unify its struggles with workers through the continent in the fight for the United Socialist States of Europe.

Boris Johnson’s premiership is a calamity for Britain – and he knows it
Peter Oborne, Middle East Eye, Sep 11 2020

Johnson at the end of a virtual news conference on the ongoing situation
with the coronavirus, Sep 9 (Reuters)

Twenty years ago, Boris Johnson hired me as political correspondent at the Spectator magazine. He was a joy to work for, a fine editor and a loyal colleague with the quickest mind I had ever encountered. Over the last few months I have found myself trying to reconcile the exhilarating and generous individual I knew so well back then with today’s prime minister of Britain. A prime minister who shamelessly lies to parliament, who misled the Queen over the prorogation of parliament, who wages permanent war on the independent civil service and who turned his back on Britain’s international obligations by pledging to tear up his own Withdrawal Agreement with the EU. It’s impossible to equate the editor of the Spectator 20 years ago and today’s British PM. How did Johnson of the Spectator turn into the man who trashes Britain’s reputation by ripping up international agreements? It’s as if we are talking about two different people. Johnson of the Spectator stood up for the rule of law, for British institutions, for the union, for the international order and for the honest politics which as prime minister he daily subverts. Back then he had a sophisticated understanding of policy, which disdained simple solutions. We would have lucid discussions of complex issues, either in weekly conferences or at the famous Spectator lunches. Boris was sunny, liberal, optimistic and pragmatic. So how did Johnson of the Spectator turn into the man who trashes Britain’s reputation by ripping up international agreements?

I acknowledge Middle Eastern readers will have allowed themselves a hollow laugh by this stage, given Britain’s record in the region. The betrayal of the Arabs after WW1. The invasion of Iraq. The abuse of the UNSCR in Libya. The extraordinary rendition and torture. A blind eye to Israel’s violations of international law and being complicit in Saudi war crimes in Yemen. Never before has there been a situation where a cabinet minister has flagrantly stated on the floor of the House of Commons that he knew a course of action was unlawful, but that he was going ahead to do it anyway. Brandon Lewis, the Northern Ireland secretary, did just that this week when he confirmed that a new bill to override the Brexit withdrawal agreement “does break international law in a specific and limited way.” Even former prime minister Tony Blair had to produce a statement from his attorney general pretending that invading Iraq was legal. This new policy of flagrantly breaking the law shatters our reputation. Why would any country ever sign a document with Britain again? Only yesterday Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab was lecturing Iran that it must abide by international law and “comply with its nuclear commitments preserve the JCPOA.” Farcical! What stinking hypocrisy from the British foreign secretary! And immediately picked up by French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian, who took aside the wretched Raab to inform him that the UK’s proposed breaching of the Withdrawal Agreement was “unacceptable.”

Earlier this year, Britain condemned Iran’s detention of the British ambassador in Tehran on the basis of international law. We used international law to condemn Russia’s annexation of the Crimea, and the attacks on civilians in Syria’s Idlib. Yet Boris Johnson, an intelligent man, has gone ahead and deliberately trashed Britain’s reputation around the world. Why? What follows is no more than informed speculation. No one can look into the soul of another human being and be sure about motive. But here is my own attempt at reconciling the inspirational editor I worked for two decades ago with the dishonest lawbreaker in 10 Downing Street today. Early last year Johnson entered into a bargain with Michael Gove and Dominic Cummings, formerly the organisers of the Vote Leave campaign. They would propel him to Downing Street, enabling him to realise his ambition to become prime minister. In return Johnson would abandon the traditional Conservatism he supported at the Spectator. Cummings was installed in Downing Street as a “senior adviser” while Gove would run the government. I explained some of the elements of this arrangement in a Middle East Eye column in July (below). Johnson is in office. Gove and Cummings are in power.

Note that yesterday it was Gove, not Johnson, who held talks with the European Union. This is Gove and Cummings’ policy, not Johnson’s. All politicians are in one sense actors in search of a scriptwriter. In Cummings, Johnson had found his scriptwriter. Deep down, this Faustian pact makes Johnson miserable. Look at his recent photographs, and you can see the deep unhappiness in his eyes, which in recent weeks are starting to tell a story of private panic. His government is a national disaster but, remember, it’s also a private tragedy for Johnson. Johnson is scared. He’s destroying Britain. He knows it. As a highly intelligent man he will sense that history will damn him as one of Britain’s worst prime ministers. It’s not just Brexit. The Covid-19 crisis is worse, with his government sending out chaotic messages and overseeing the worst death toll in Europe. In the words of the Daily Mail, one of the prime minister’s biggest backers, “the government’s approach seems bewilderingly confused. Stay at home. Go back to work. Stay alert. Don’t mix with more than six people. Eat out to help out.” Johnson won’t last. He may go of his own accord, though Gove and Cummings will fight to keep him. That’s understandable. He’s their tool and their only route to power, so he serves their purposes. The Conservative Party may in due course act to remove him, as it has done before with leaders far better than Johnson. One way or another he will go. Times are far too serious now for Johnson’s trademark brand of cheery rascality and empty ebullience. Fear, anxiety, and actual suffering are much more widespread, while economic disaster and national disintegration loom. The nation will want a sober leader at this grave and terrible time.

The real power behind Boris Johnson
Peter Oborne, Middle East Eye, Jul 27 2020

Johnson and Gove arrive at a news conference in London, Nov 29 (Reuters)

It’s 17 years since the neocons led Britain and US into the calamitous invasion of Iraq. Such was the scale of the disaster that you would have thought it would have driven them out of public life. The British neocons have not merely survived. They’ve flourished. They’re back in charge. It’s the opponents of the war (the former Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn being the leading example) who have lost power. In Britain Michael Gove is today the senior representative from the dark days when the drums were banging for war in Iraq. Gove is commander-in-chief of the Tory Islamophobes, as well as Britain’s most senior and experienced warmonger. There has not been a foreign invasion or intervention he didn’t support. Not just Iraq. Afghanistan. Libya. Each one of them a disaster. Each backed to the hilt by Gove. He was the education secretary who destroyed the careers of numerous teachers and damaged the life chances of hundreds of children with his response to the “Trojan Horse Plot”. As we now know, the so-called Islamist conspiracy to take over Birmingham schools was a fabrication. An Islamophobic conspiracy theory encouraged by Gove and his acolytes.

Gove has emerged as Britain’s real prime minister. Last week, Boris Johnson celebrated his first anniversary in No 10. But Johnson is prime minister only in name. He is a cheerful and sometimes diligent handshaker on public occasions but this floppy-haired frontman doesn’t put in the time or the effort to be a serious PM. A Sunday Times article revealed that in the crucial days leading up to the UK’s coronavirus lockdown, aides were told to keep their briefing notes short if they wanted the prime minister, distracted by personal issues, to read them. That same article revealed that Johnson failed to attend any of the first five emergency Cobra meetings to deal with the Covid-19 pandemic. Anybody can see this for themselves at Prime Minister’s Questions every Wednesday in the House of Commons. Johnson turns up unprepared, out of his depth and with little command of the detail. Take, for example, Johnson’s claim last Wednesday that Labour leader Keir Starmer stayed silent when a man and woman were poisoned in Salisbury in 2018. Starmer had condemned the attacks publicly. Johnson’s attempt to smear the leader of the opposition backfired because he hadn’t done the homework.

Johnson is a bumbling puppet for ambitious, highly intelligent and motivated Gove. With Johnson off the ball, Gove quietly stepped in and took over the reins of power. As chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster, Gove manages much of Whitehall. The decision not to extend the Brexit negotiating window? Gove’s in charge. He told the House of Commons:

We are looking to get things done in July. We don’t want to see this process going on into the autumn, and then the winter.

That destructive war on the civil service? Gove again. The eviction of Cabinet Secretary Mark Sedwill was a triumph for Gove. As a friend of Sedwill told the Daily Telegraph:

The whole Gove-Cummings axis has been sowing discord between the Prime Minister and Mark Sedwill.

As a cabinet minister told the Times deputy political editor, Steven Swinford, Gove “is empire building. He has put himself at the heart of every major decision in government.” This same articlecites a cabinet minister rhetorically asking:

Did Boris really win the election so he could make Michael Gove prime minister?

And another cabinet member describes Gove as a “spider in the middle” of a government “web.” MEE reached out to the Cabinet Office with some questions but received no response. And as Boris Johnson faded during the Covid-19 emergency (he caught the disease badly and some wonder whether he has fully recovered), Gove was the cabinet minister who confirmed the deeply damaging Sunday Times report that Johnson had missed the first five emergency Cobra meetings. It’s an impressive story of political survival. Gove has repeatedly shown a magical ability to change sides and extract himself from deeply unpromising situations. Gove was given his first job in government by his close friend, former prime minister David Cameron. He abandoned Cameron (honourably so in my view) over Brexit. After the Brexit vote was won in Jun 2016, Gove threw his weight behind Johnson’s Tory party leadership campaign only to ditch him, declaring:

Boris cannot provide the leadership or build the team for the task ahead.

It was the darkest betrayal I have witnessed in 30 years as a political correspondent. And yet, only three years later, Johnson asked him to join his government in a key role as his closest ally. What is the secret of Gove’s success? Part of it is personal charm. He is courteous, especially to his political opponents. This elaborate friendliness conceals the fact that he is beyond doubt the most treacherous politician at Westminster today. However, there are two other crucial factors in Gove’s ascent. Firstly, press tycoon Rupert Murdoch. For the last two weeks, BBC viewers have been watching a detailed and forensic analysis of Rupert Murdoch’s hold on British politics over the last 50 years. It shows Murdoch’s ability to build up and then destroy politicians’ careers. Even now at the age of 89, Murdoch remains formidable. Gove, who worked at the Times newspaper before entering politics, is Murdoch’s protege.

According to Alex Spence of Politico magazine, Gove and his wife, Sarah Vine, attended the wedding of Murdoch and his wife, Jerry Hall. This makes him part of Murdoch’s inner circle. According to the Guardian, the Tory government refused to deny that Rupert Murdoch asked former British Prime Minister Theresa May to reappoint Gove to the cabinet or face a bad press in his newspaper titles. And during a brief (and uncharacteristic) period outside government, Gove found himself involved in controversy when the Times dispatched him to the White House to interview Donald Trump with Murdoch himself reportedly in the room. Gove and Murdoch share the same neoconservative politics. For an ambitious British politician, an ally like Murdoch is priceless. Murdoch has been reported as saying that Gove will “do a fine job running the country.”

The second crucial figure in Gove’s ascent is Johnson’s advisor Dominic Cummings. Cummings served as Gove’s special adviser during his time as education secretary under David Cameron. He was then appointed by Johnson as senior adviser in Downing Street and given remarkable power to drive the government’s agenda. In theory Cummings advises the prime minister. But I find myself wondering about his allegiance. For Johnson, politics is a game. He has reportedly said that he has “absolutely no convictions except one, and that was from a long time ago, for speeding.” The same, emphatically, cannot be said of Gove and Cummings. They are ideologues. They both passionately believe in Brexit, wage war against British institutions including the BBC, the civil service and, in due course I have no doubt, the judiciary. They are both neocons. One year into the Johnson government, it is Gove and Cummings, not the hapless Johnson, who ought to be celebrating. They are the ones in charge.

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