'This is not the first time Boris Johnson has broken the rules and it is unlikely to be the last'
Diane Abbott is the Labour MP for Hackney North and Stoke Newington
This is not the first time Boris Johnson has broken the rules and it is unlikely to be the last. But the sacrifices made by people during the lockdowns means there is huge popular resentment arising from the latest revelations about the Downing Street ‘bring your own booze’ party.
The huge numbers of people who were unable to visit loved ones in care homes, or who missed milestone family events, or who could not see dying loved ones are fully entitled to feel resentment and anger.
But this is not an episode that is behind us. In the last 7 days there were 1.2 million new recorded cases, the fastest ever spread of the virus. 1,330 people died. And there are now well over 18,000 in hospital.
It is this combination of complete failure to tackle the virus over more than two years as well as the government ignoring its own rules that could yet do for the Prime Minister.
All the reports suggest that he is Prime Minister in name only. A Prime Minister who went to a Cabinet with proposals to restrict the virus. But who did not implement them for fear of rebellion.
This follows the vote late last year when the measures adopted required Labour votes to get them passed. So, we have a PM in name only and Tory government in name only.
Three of the four devolved administrations all took action after a SAGE briefing late last year. But the Westminster government took none. Instead, it resorts to PR stunts. ‘New nightingale hospitals’ with no staff. A few thousand ventilators in schools which is a drop in the ocean. The same is true of the so-called ‘priority testing for 100,000 essential workers’. There are almost seven times that number of clinically trained people working the NHS alone. And millions more people working in transport, or food processing, or energy, or emergency services and so on.
The real content of government policy is ‘no more restrictions, survival of the fittest’. That is the meaning of cutting testing, ordering people back to work, declarations of ‘endemicity’ and the proposed cutting of isolation to five days. Unsurprisingly, the public doesn’t like it.
Strangely, this is contested ground, with repeated assertions in the media that the ‘public is giving Johnson the benefit of the doubt’ on his catastrophic handling of the pandemic. In fact, YouGov polling shows popular approval for government Covid policy close to its all-time low at 31%. And that was before the latest revelations and surge in cases.
As pleasing as Boris Johnson’s swift political demise might be, we should remember that not a single prominent Tory has objected to policies that have led to one of the world’s worst death tolls, and rising. His actual critics have paralysed any action to suppress the virus completely. Any replacement will be as bad or worse.
This is because the pandemic is being used as a battering ram, to ‘let bodies pile higher’, undermine basic rights, such as the right to vote, right to assembly, cut pay and make the State even less accountable.
This is the agenda of Enoch Powell, Keith Joseph and the Monday Club all rolled into one. Their targets are the people we must defend, workers and the vulnerable, the most disadvantaged and oppressed who are bearing the brunt of all this. We must defend them.
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