Cast your mind back to December 2019 (or 1BC, Before Covid, as it should probably henchforth be known). The general election has been a fraught campaign between the incumbent Prime Minister Alexander ‘Boris’ Johnson who came to power on the back of the toppling of Theresa May, and Jeremy Corbyn who was battling accusations of antisemitism in his own party.
Somebody comes to you from the future – they can’t tell you who wins but they can tell you what is happening a year from now.
The Treasury – they tell you that the rail services have been effectively renationalised, the UK economy has shrunk by 11.3% (the largest for 300 years), the UK has borrowed £394billion, easily a peacetime record, including a government scheme costing £43billion to pay people not to work (indeed, making it illegal for those people to work) and they’ve given a million NHS workers a pay rise.
Unions – they tell you that the teaching unions have managed to persuade the government that all schools should be closed and children are to be taught remotely.
They tell you that everyone is confined by law to their own homes with minimal, strict exemptions and the opposition has not only failed to oppose this, but been incredulous that it took so long to do. They tell you a close government adviser praised the “innovative intervention” of China’s Communist Party in imprisoning their population, even saying “I think people’s sense of what is possible in terms of control changed quite dramatically between January and March; [China is] a communist one party state, we said. We couldn’t get away with it in Europe, we thought… and then Italy did it. And we realised we could.” And the government listened to this man and gave him a top table seat.
There’s a new national tradition – everyone has to come out of their homes and applaud public sector workers. The incumbent Prime Minister does it outside Number 10 – it is frowned upon to not do it.
‘Freedom passes‘ are coming – an official document that would be required to access the most basic services, Anthony Blair’s dream finally come to fruition, even more authoritarian than even he could have imagined. Papers, please.
Who, dear reader, do you think wins the election? The fop-haired [MASSIVE AIR QUOTES] “libertarian” [END MASSIVE AIR QUOTES] who campaigned to leave the EU or the turnip growing socialist who was frightening Jews? The man even gives you £100 to bet on it – where does the money go?
Ok sure, we’ve been sneaky here in neglecting to mention that a global pandemic struck. But ok, fine. Let’s tell them – a pandemic strikes and world leaders are panicking. Tell me with a straight face that you’d still lay a ton on De Pfeffel over Jezza.
And herein lies the problem. Johnson has paralysed the system because the way he chose to react (yes, it was a choice) to an undoubtedly scary situation was entirely against every “principle” he had ever claimed to espouse. Yet his followers, his party, those who have loved him for years, yearned for the day he would embrace his destiny and seize the keys to Number 10, can’t quite take it in. The Tory media can’t figure out how to approach the subject, MPs who love him but hate his approach to Covid have no idea how to hold him to account. They are confused, wrong-footed and nervous to try.
The man spent decades carefully building, honing and cultivating this mawkish, sickly adoration. He became a darling of the Conservatives and built up such a cultish following that, now the illusion has evaporated in plain view of anyone who cares to see it, his devotees are still staring dimly, wide eyed at the small, helpless Wizard of Oz, exposed as nothing more than a carnival showman with silly hair.
Still today, opinion pieces in the Telegraph and the Spectator pine for the ‘Old Boris‘, clamour for him to realise his mythical, non-existent ‘Churchillian spirit‘. It’s as pitiful as watching latter day Branch Davidians hold on to the myth of their founder.
Imagine – imagine – it was Corbyn in Number 10 and McDonnell in Number 11. Imagine the ferocity of the Tory benches. We’d actually have an opposition, which frankly is a damn sight more important at the moment than the resident of the seat of power.
It’s perfectly clear now that the government, of whichever stripe had been selected to lead the country, would have done exactly the same thing, give or take a few hundreds of billions of pounds (who can really take in these vast numbers any more?). What matters is how they are held to account and how they are opposed. Sir Keir Starmer’s Labour party has been supine, acquiescent at every turn, nay even demanding the government to go harder, faster, deeper. “What he said, but better” is the rallying cry of Her Majesty’s Most Loyal Opposition Leader.
The only opposition, once again, is a small sect of the Tory benches, just like on Brexit. This is simply not healthy. The government benches are supposed to back the government, the opposition benches are supposed to oppose. Like it or not, that’s the system and it’s breaking down. Every institution that is supposed to act as a brake on power has failed us – the opposition, Parliament itself, the media, the courts, every restraint on power currently lies slack while the proverbial bull trashes the – irony of ironies – China shop.
I have no love for Jeremy Corbyn. Any time Jewish people speak up and say they’re frightened is usually a good time to be very careful indeed. In that regard it was with a sense of huge relief that he got nowhere near power. But look what we have now. An authoritarian government and no opposition. Even if you believe everything the government has done has been right, even if they chose the right way to deal with this, no power should ever go this unchecked in a democracy. Ever. There is no excuse.
We will pay for this fealty for decades.