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An Outsider's Guide

to the Last Week

in British Politics

An Outsider's Guide

to the Last Week

in British Politics

Now that British people spend their Sundays watching the gridiron and Americans freely use the word ‘cringe’, it seems our two countries are more entwined than ever, thanks to the world wide web and the way in which we spend most of our lives on it. But, centuries of history and separate political traditions are hard to parse on Twitter, which can lead to rather unfortunate attempts at humo(u)rous commentary. While other outlets can give you the timeline of events, and the brief explainettes, here’s a series of things that you won’t, we imagine, have read elsewhere about the week that was in the US of K.

Everyone’s Pretending They Always Hated Boris Johnson

During the noughties, Boris Johnson was branded as a dashing Cavalier to the Blairite Roundheads, a witty, erudite, engaging public figure sticking up two fingers to the nanny state authoritarianism of New Labour. He was popular with men, popular with women; popular in the true-blue shires and he was whispered to be every liberal’s Secret Favourite Tory.

Obviously, there were millions of people who always loathed him, whether for ideological reasons or the litany of personal grievances that might accrue for someone who’s blagged his way through life unencumbered by consequence. But there were millions of people who adored him, and that’s something Britain just has to face up to. His moral degeneracy and political aspirations have been public record for over 30 years and the entire political and media establishment either patted him on his silly head, or chose to look the other way.

But Still: Boris Is a Special Case

There is no way to discuss Boris Johnson’s abysmal performance as a Prime Minister without addressing his abysmal failures as a human being. His personal life is a horror show of adultery, neglect and cruelty which has culminated in him having an undetermined number of children, at least one of whom he fails to acknowledge. He has repeatedly sought public money to further the interests of his mistresses, and missed the first five briefings on COVID’s emergence when he took time away to write a book about Shakespeare to pay for the divorce of his second wife, on whom he had been cheating while she was undergoing treatment for cancer. 

For those wondering how he thought he could get away with lying, cheating, plagiarising, protecting his friends, appointing incompetents, providing lucrative sinecures to his mistresses, partying during lockdown, outlawing protest, deporting asylum seekers, breaking international law, and mishandling the pandemic to the tune of 150,000 deaths – the fact is he did. He got away with all of it. He is only now seeing the meagre accountability of yet another sacking because he knowingly appointed an alleged sex offender to a position of undue power, and lied about it too many times for the party to tolerate. 

If and when he is finally relieved of his post, he will be endlessly remunerated and quickly rehabilitated as the cuddly face of inane privilege he has occupied since time immemorial. It would be a very, very, ambitious prognosticator who ruled out his returning to the summit of British politics again.

Parliamentary Journalists ARE Pretending They Have Saved the Day

For your ‘beltway insiders’, allow us to raise you the ‘lobby hacks’ – the reporters tracking the politics beat from their offices inside the Palace of Westminster. With a few exceptions, they are largely selected for their connections to the government. Harry Cole, of the Sun, is the ex-boyfriend of Carrie Johnson, the Prime Minister’s wife. Alex Wickham, formerly of Politico and now at Bloomberg, is godfather to Boris Johnson’s son. And there are rumours that another young lobby hack is being selected as a Conservative candidate in the next General Election. 

They each have a private portfolio of information on MPs which they use as a form of horse-trading, trading ‘scoops’ which are common knowledge in Westminster (and beyond). Such was the case with Christopher Pincher, the appropriately named Member for Tamworth who now faces a raft of allegations of sexual assualt. The journalists involved in breaking the story are already being lauded as ‘bringing down the government’ and are being hailed as the ‘best of the best.’ But the irony is that political journalists have, for some time now, not only buttressed the government from due levels of scrutiny, but actually compounded their power and influence.

There Are More Tory mps than any Normal Person Could ever Name

There are some very weird people in British public life. Very weird indeed. They can recite Tony Blair’s final speech to the Labour Party Conference and they know what Margaret Thatcher had to eat on the day she resigned. Even these people – the Rain Men and Women of parliamentary by-elections –  have been astonished to learn quite how many Conservative mps there are. The lifting of the paving slab that has occurred over the past 48 hours has resulted in the most astonishing scurrying from the bottom branches of the Tory tree of life. 

Among those thrust, squirming into the limelight include: Andrew Murrison, the UK’s Trade Envoy to Morocco and the man who chose to take a photo of his resignation letter after apparently covering his camera lens in margarine, Chris Philp, who apparently was running the digital economy and who managed to resign and then unresign over the course of a morning, and Michelle Donelan, who spent just under 36 hours as Secretary of State for Education. Nobody had heard of these people before, they possibly hadn’t even heard of themselves. Perhaps they were figments of the imagination. Who knows.

No One Understands the Constitution

In America, it is law that federally funded schools teach their students about the constitution and all its various amendments and ratifications. While in Britain, unless you are one of the dorks who studied A Level Politics, then the chances are that you don’t know about Sir Edward Coke, Dr Bonham’s Case, and more recently, the quite staggering level of constitutional upheaval engineered by the Blair government. 

What this means in practice is that no one really understands what’s going on: leading to mutterings of the Lascelles Principles and that it might be time to ‘activate the Queen.’ While this is all funny, it’s funny up to a point, because it reinforces the idea that politics is the arena for nerds, wonks and losers, and that means you have candidates of ever-diminishing quality propelling themselves into the political sphere.

The Truth Is, These Are not very Bright Guys, and Things Got out of Hand

It is a truism that politicians say things they don’t believe; malevolently adopting postures and positions they know to be nonsensical if it serves their ends, or affecting performative folksiness of alliterative soundbites and tabloid-ready slogans that obscures their eye-wateringly expensive educations and hyper-wonkish work experience. There exists, therefore, an urge to look upon the gaffes and gibberish, and think ‘this lot are smarter than they’re letting on.’ This obscures the fact that the current governmental crop, as well as being malevolent and dishonest, are also genuinely quite stupid. 

The Conservative Party has undergone a drastic change in the past six years. The party line was avowedly pro-EU at the time of the referendum, with Leave backed by rank careerists, and swivel-eyed cranks. With the post-referendum abdication of Cameron’s government, said cranks and careerists took charge, and this already-quite-thick cohort has been vastly enthickened in the intervening years, as successive waves of Brexit derangement have worked to identify and remove anyone showing too much awareness, skill or expertise. 

The Tories’ pursuit of their Brexit goals has operated as a punishingly severe diet plan for the party’s collective IQ, a sort-of meat grinder of competence that began by ejecting from trade deliberations anyone who was sceptical about the government’s aims, i.e., anyone with the ability to read a chart or do sums. Subsequent cycles have gone on to delete just about anyone you’d trust to operate a bouncy castle. As a result, sea-sponge-level intellects like Suella Braverman, Dominic Raab, Nadine Dorries and Alister Jack occupy positions of great power and, in some cases, absurd technical difficulty. 

When ministers appear unable to operate a phone camera, remember their own policies, or understand the tenets of the very laws they’re passing, it’s not a face-saving affect or a diversionary tactic. These are simply not very bright guys and things have gotten very badly out of hand, and that’s about the sum of it all.

The Brotherhood of Man

It does seem, well, slightly 2016 to compare upheavals in the British and American political system, but we’re not the first people to say that there’s something Trump-esque in Johnson’s refusal to depart office with any semblance of dignity. Of course, there’s something of a qualitative difference between thousands of supporters armed with dynamite and assault rifles breaking into the Capitol and a delegation comprising of Nadhim Zahawi and Simon Hart marching to Downing Street armed with stern words and a couple of pieces of paper (not forgetting Kwasi Kwarteng dialling in his support from a Toby Carvery car park in Sunderland).

The events of 6 January have led to severe sentences for the perpetrators, and it seems that it might just end up with the instigator(s) facing some legal redress. But this is very unlikely to be replicated over the Atlantic: Britain has, for some time, been an accountability-lite country – especially when it comes to its ruling elite.

Johnson has delivered a Brexit that is slowly but surely immiserating the economy and threatening peace in Northern Ireland; he oversaw a response to a pandemic that saw tens of thousands needlessly die while creating a ‘VIP lane’ for his chums to enrich themselves through COVID contracts. He has placed the British secret state at the heart of a European land war, enraging a nuclear power: while this may be the ‘right’ thing to do, the consequences will be at the very least significant, likely catastrophic.

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