Scandal engulfs the Tory party as they push through a raft of authoritarian legislation.
‘Anger is an energy’, sang Johnny Rotten as frontman of PIL, before he became a prick. I don’t know about you but I’m feeling somewhat angry this week, as the government passed legislation to suppress voter turnout, punish refugees and make noisy protests illegal.
Scandal! In the Tory Party
For #RightWingWatch I continued looking at parts of the right wing media ecosystem, as Murdoch’s new TalkTV channel launched to a fanfare of culture war bullshit, and the Murdoch press promoted the fragile identity politics of Douglas Murray, whose new book is being published by Harper Collins (owned by Murdoch’s News Corp).
It feels like a perfect storm of legislation designed to erode basic democratic principles like the ability to protest and to vote, Murdoch launching yet another right wing propaganda channel and the Conservative Party lurching from one scandal to another. A total of 56 MPs are now apparently under investigation for sexual misconduct, while one minister (now named as Neil Parish) was apparently caught watching porn on his phone in the Commons chamber.
Oh, that’s not all. Under another government bill to deal with a problem that doesn’t exist, universities and student unions will be fined by the government for ‘supporting cancel culture’. Under the pretence of supporting ‘free speech’ the government is threatening to fine educational bodies for expressing their opinions.
In her article supporting this authoritarian legislation, Michelle Donelan, the universities minister, supports her argument by reference to a story about one university which informed students about the content of books like 1984 which they would be studying, claiming that telling students about violent themes was a ‘trigger warning’.
This legislation could have a seriously chilling effect on free speech at universities. According to the minister, it will “put a duty on universities to promote free speech and academic freedom, not just protect it. It will put a duty directly on Students’ Unions to protect free speech. And it will establish a new Director for Freedom of Speech and Academic Freedom on the Office for Students Board – with the power to fine universities, colleges and students’ unions and recommend real redress for those who have had their speech unlawfully restricted. And it will provide a new legal tort as a critical backstop, offering a direct route to redress for individuals who have suffered loss due to a breach of the freedom of speech duties.”
So if universities and student unions don’t conform to the government’s demands, they can be fined, while people claiming to have been ‘cancelled’ will be able to sue universities for damages.
Elections in the UK already suffer from an outdated First Past the Post system which means most votes don’t count, but now the government has taken control of the Electoral Commission, and is imposing voter ID which will make it harder for younger and working class people to vote. There’s no sugar coating these laws, they are an attack on the democratic system which follows the kind of playbook that the US Right Wing has used for years to suppress ethnic minority voters.
The neutering of the Electoral Commission also means less scrutiny of elections and government finances. One by one, this proto-fascist government is knocking away at the institutional supports of democracy, and while I am remaining stoic and understated (because British), I am genuinely quite worried about where this leads.
The Electoral Reform Society said that the bill “will make it harder to vote for millions, while making it easier for the government to control the Electoral Commission. It’s a travesty that parliamentarians passed a Bill that erodes our precious democracy.”
And in the middle of this absolute onslaught of authoritarian right wing, anti-democratic legislation, the Labour Party has decided to run Facebook adverts attacking the Lib Dems for wanting to legalise drugs and decommission nuclear weapons. Unsurprisingly, a lot of people felt that the ads actually made the Lib Dems look good.
Taking the PPE
With the scale of the waste and fraud in procurement during the pandemic becoming increasingly clear over recent months, this week we were also treated to the spectacle of police raiding the London home of Baroness Mone, the lingerie tycoon and Tory peer. The National Crime Agency has launched a fraud investigation into PPE Medpro, a company linked to the baroness. Mone denied any involvement with PPE Medpro, a company that was set up at the beginning of the pandemic and won over £200 million in government contracts. It later emerged that she had been the person who recommended the company to the government’s VIP contracts lane.
On top of the massive levels of alleged fraud involved in many of the PPE deals which the government signed, almost £5 billion of bounce-back loan money given out to businesses in response to the pandemic may have been lost to fraud. The Times reported that “It is estimated that as much as £17 billion of the £47 billion the government spent on bounce-back loans for businesses will never be paid back and about £4.9 billion of that is suspected to have been lost to fraud, according to a report to be published tomorrow.”
The government’s response to the pandemic, and the supply chain shocks of having to procure lots of medical supplies quickly was totally shambolic. Looking at government contracts responding to the pandemic over the past two years I have seen numerous contract awards that seem suspicious, like awarding huge PPE contracts to companies that previously had zero assets. The instruction from government to follow emergency contracting procedures that didn’t require competitive tendering created a culture rife for abuse, with well connected businesspeople able to secure huge middlemen fees for brokering deals. Some people got very rich during the pandemic for doing almost nothing.
The government has recently issued contracts to consult on the terms of reference of the upcoming Covid inquiry. Who will be held accountable for the waste, the fraud, the corruption, and the poor decisions that led to thousands of preventable deaths?
This week, the High Court “ruled that the government broke the law by discharging untested hospital patients into care homes during the early stages of the COVID-19 pandemic”, according to Sky News. Matt Hancock blamed Public Health England. Boris Johnson said that they didn’t know Covid could be transmitted asymptomatically (Labour said this was misleading Parliament).
It’s a good thing that the government has so much excess PPE that it’s now going to start burning 15,000 pallets of it monthly to generate electricity. Perhaps some of it can be used to protect Tory ministers from the public’s anger when we find out the scale of corruption and incompetence which reigned in government during the pandemic.
John Lubbock leads on the Right-Watch project at Left Foot Forward
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