A week of political chaos – there’s more to come
There’s a lot to choose from this week as Britain is immersed in a multitude of crises – much of which, is the fault of a government fighting back with PR and not solid action supported by the professionals. Leaving aside the public health crisis where something in the order of 60,000 are dead, the economic crisis that is marching straight at us, the unemployment crisis and so on, the government, led by a PM who has been largely absent, is lurching from one self-made disaster to the next.
Michael Gove has been accused of ‘doublespeak’ after claiming that there will be no ‘new customs infrastructure’ in Northern Ireland after Brexit before claiming there would be ‘some expansion of existing infrastructure.’ Making a statement in the Commons Gove said – “Subjecting traders to unnecessary and disproportionate burdens, particularly as we wrestle with the economic consequences of Covid-19, would not serve the interests of the people of Northern Ireland for whom the protocol was designed.”
He also added: “There is no such case, however, for new customs infrastructure and as such there will not be any.”
So, “some expansion of existing infrastructure” actually means – employing 50,000 (yes, fifty thousand) newly trained border guards in Northern Ireland at an annual cost of around £1.25billion. And all 50,000 of them need to be trained, booted, suited and armed with clipboards to comply with Tory promises as per the treaty by January 1st 2021. Needless to say, the pandemic has government resources stretched to the limit right now so nothing has actually been done about it anyway.
During the referendum campaign, Gove and many of his Brexiteer colleagues promised over and over again, (is this Johnson’s biggest lie) all the way to last week’s admission to the contrary that there would be “no change to the border between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland” after Brexit.
The Liberal Democrats are to take the first steps to try to force the government’s hand to seek a Brexit transition extension. This comes amid the pandemic crisis that is focusing (or at least should be) all of the governments’ resources at the public health and economic chaos caused by the virus. EU negotiators have pleaded with the British government to extend talks as they feel they cannot reasonably expect a deal to be agreed by the end of this year.
The opposition party will seek to put forward a bill in the House of Commons next month requiring the government to seek a two-year extension of the Brexit implementation period from Brussels. New reports suggest that David Frost, the UK’s Brexit negotiator, has given just two weeks for progress to be made in talks – or preparations will be made for a no-deal Brexit. In the meantime, UK negotiators are working flat out to reach a deal with the US for a trade deal.
With a majority of 80, this Bill will fail – but will have huge public support and many will start asking questions of the government as a result.
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Staunchly left-wing Jeremy Corbyn led Labour to a historic defeat, but in so doing handed centre-left Keir Starmer the keys – and in the very difficult balancing act of being the opposition in a crisis – has inflicted more damage in a few weeks at the despatch box that Corbyn did in years. For the first time, this Tory party really does fear it’s opposition. One only has to look at the most farcical story you can imagine pumped out by (Boris Johnson’s partner) Carrie Symonds’ ex-boyfriend at the Daily Mail about donkeys – to see the fear in their eyes.
The New European reports that Dr Steve McCabe, a senior fellow at the Centre for Brexit Studies at Birmingham City University, noted that Labour was deemed unelectable until Tony Blair managed to turn around the party’s fortunes ahead of the general election in 1997.
“He (Starmer) starts from a state in which the party is at a low base in terms of seats but strength in terms of members. An overwhelming majority of members are cognisant of the fact that nothing can be done without power. The crisis concerning COVID-19 has exposed problems such as underfunding of the NHS and the fact that questionable employment practices such as ‘zero-hours contracts’ leave those under such conditions in a desperate plight when economic circumstances later as alarmingly as has occurred in the last couple of months.”
And he warned the Tories that those who had lent their vote in the election to Boris Johnson to ‘get Brexit done’ may now be tempted to switch back to Labour having seen failures of the Covid-19 pandemic.
“Many of those who voted to Tory in exasperation at their situation and in the hope that Brexit would improve their prospects may discover that, given the magnitude of the current crisis, the ability of Johnson to really change may be extremely limited.”
A bereavement scheme granting indefinite leave to remain in the UK to relatives of foreign national NHS staff who die from Covid-19 has been extended to low-paid workers after their exclusion attracted criticism from Labour, trade unions and workers.
Although this has not been reported as such, it was a dramatic U-turn and a considerable failure of a flagship policy promoted by the hapless Home Secretary Priti Patel and the hard-line Brexiteers. Once again, the pandemic demonstrated the reality of the main Brexit theme – that immigration wasn’t the problem at all. The general public’s reaction on day one of the Bill passing was one of horror – and so a reverse took place very quickly to stem public anger and to stop a negative story exploding in their faces. This story is unlikely to go away as different key workers are identified as being crucial to the working cogs of Britain’s machinery. The fruit-pickers story is just one (of many) of them.
Political, not scientific
The Tories got caught once again fighting a blame-game that they are already losing. First, they exposed a scientist, via the Daily Mail of having an affair with a married woman as being the entire reason why scientists should not be trusted, then the scientists started resigning or fighting back.
Professor John Edmunds, who advises SAGE members on infectious disease modelling, told a Lords science committee that it was up to politicians to re-open classrooms, not scientists.
“Clearly the decision to open primary schools or not is a political one. It is not a scientific decision. Scientists can offer some advice,” he told peers. It looks like the risk to children is low and that the vast majority don’t have significant symptoms … It may be that they are less likely to transmit to others as well, and so the risk to others may be relatively low.”
But what Edmunds was really saying was like so many of his colleagues – it makes no difference what the scientists have advised – the politicians did what they wanted. This is yet more evidence that SAGE was indeed being politically influenced, and when it wasn’t influenced, sidelined.
The British public and school teachers themselves are almost universal in agreement that schools should not re-open. Accusations that the unions are responsible for this is just another lie by the right-wing press.
Prof Edmunds’ comments come after ministers hit the airwaves on Tuesday claiming the decision to get teachers and pupils back into schools was based on scientific advice.
Cummings and goings
Even The Daily Mail joined calls last month to ban Dominic Cummings from coronavirus scientific briefings. And even hard-line Tory Brexiteer and former Brexit secretary David Davis was among those pushing for Cummings and Ben Warner, an adviser who ran the Tories’ private election computer model, to be prevented from attending future meetings of the Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (Sage). That didn’t work.
Davis was worried that Cummings would alter the advice given by scientists to government officials – which is exactly what Cummings did. But then the scandals rocketed off from there. A Government-funded track and trace App was just one of them, which included no less than … Cummings and Ben Warner.
Other Tory MP’s have bitterly complained about Boris Johnson’s right-hand man. This has come from the way press briefings are being handled to the way the media, in general, have complained about censorship. ITV’s Piers Morgan complains about it daily, but so too has one lobby journalist – who asks – “I’ve been shut out by No. 10 (after decades as a lobby journalist) – what are Boris Johnson and Dominic Cummings so afraid of?” Ironically, the question is asked by John Cusick of openDemocracy.
Dominic Cummings is as toxic a brand to this government as anyone.
Scandals to come
There are many more to scandals to come and unfortunately, the general public is becoming resistant to the reality as the new norm washes over them. For instance, the Independent Office for Police Conduct (IOPC) is to reveal its long-delayed decision on whether to investigate Boris Johnson for possible criminal misconduct over his ‘friendship’ with Jennifer Arcuri. It will be a whitewash response to an offence in public office. It’s taken eight months just to find out only if Johnson has a case to answer and was deliberately delayed before the December election.
Three days before that election Boris Johson said he had given approval for the release of the Russia Report, which has still not been published to this day. This is about the (very long-awaited) Parliamentary report into alleged Russian interference in UK democracy. This will also be a whitewash. What the report would have said if it had been published was that the Tory party has a considerable level of funding emanating not just from Russian individuals – but those with strong links to the Kremlin. Even the BBC was asking when this report was to be forthcoming in late February.
The treasury will start to sink in accusations that it has secretly funded some of Britain’s biggest companies with £billions of taxpayers money – many of them running offshore operations to evade tax. In this, they have already legally demanded that any company applied for the big business scheme must sign gagging orders. Many small to medium size companies (the biggest overall employers in Britain) will go bust. Law suits are already being lined up.
Key workers who have died on the frontlines of this crisis have families creating class-action lawsuits against the government for not protecting them with the correct equipment. This will be tantamount to corporate manslaughter, which is why the Covid-19 virus was very quietly downgraded to protect the government.
There are many examples of egregious behaviour within the Tory government emerging now – the stench of corruption could hardly be stronger.
Will a second Covid wave come to Britain? The UN has warned it will, the EU has warned it will. Will Britain be prepared? Lockdown 2 will quite likely hit early winter and when it does all manner of serious society-wide problems will emerge and the government could be immersed by a health and economic meltdown at the same time (as opposed to one followed by the other). Tory donors and backbenchers will be sharpening their knives by then.
And then Brexit arrives, which will involve even more political chaos.