A competent government should be capable of crisis management. But what we have seen in 13 years of Tory rule has been the complete opposite.
Did you know that the name Tory originated from the Irish word ‘toraidhe’, meaning outlaw or robber? The name might be used more kindly today, but it could be said that some of the actions of the party remain the same as they did 300 years ago – crooks and fraudsters who think they are above the law.
What the Tories and their lapdog press are incredibly good at, is turning their own crises, mishaps, and failings into a catastrophe of someone else’s making. It’s a bit like when a five-year-old blames his sibling for eating all the chocolate cake when his face is smeared in chocolate – the blame game, psychologists call it.
This week, the headlines have been littered with yet more scandals involving high ranking Tory ministers. From new alleged Partygate breaches by Boris Johnson, to a speeding ticket fine fiasco and concerns about the beleaguered Home Secretary’s competence, Rishi Sunak is a long way from his promise to stamp out sleaze within his party and steady the ship.
But instead of crawling under a rock in disgrace at yet more humiliating incidents involving top ministers, the right-wing forces have been almost rubbing their hands in glee. As they see it, the latest scandals to sweep through senior Tory ranks have provided the perfect opportunity to have another stab at the left-wing Whitehall ‘blob.’
The first of the recent sleaze stories involved Suella Braverman, who as attorney general last summer, was caught speeding in a 50mph zone. Now for us mere mortals, the arrival of a speeding fine notice on our doormats means one thing only – pay the pesky fine and take the three-point hit, or book yourself onto a speed awareness course. So, news that one of the highest politicians in the land had tried to avoid going down the conventional speeding ticket route by allegedly asking civil servants for a bespoke arrangement to avoid having to attend the course with other motorists, understandably ignited outcry and condemnation.
The Prime Minister was forced, yet again, to consult his sleaze watchdog. The question everyone was asking, was would Sunak sack Suella Braverman and risk alienating the right-wing among his party, or keep her and risk looking extremely weak? He opted for the latter and decided that Braverman’s handling of the speeding offence did not breach ministerial rules and would not be investigated. In standing by her, Sunak might have avoided backlash from a right-wing baying mob, but did little to boost his reputation as a strong and decisive leader. Sunak will look ‘extremely weak’ if he doesn’t sack Braverman, said former government advisor Jayne Ozanne. And the saga proved just how weak and desperate the PM is.
But instead of the scandal focusing on the Home Secretary’s sense of entitlement and Sunak’s weak leadership, for Braverman allies in government and the press, the story was turned completely on its head, to make out, as we saw with Raab’s resignation, that it is the civil servants who are the bad guys.
“From Boris to Braverman suspicion is growing about a Whitehall plot to take out Brexiteers,” splashed a headline in the Express. The article, written by the newspaper’s political editor David Maddox, takes on a decidedly ‘I told you so’ tone. It revisits the Dominic Raab scandal, who was ‘forced to quit’ as Justice Secretary and Deputy PM a few weeks ago. Apparently, when Raab resigned, a Tory MP called the Express and asked: “Who are the blob going to take out next?”
Of Braverman, the MP said: “She’s the only one left with a backbone and the only one left who was a serious Brexiteer not a sell-out.”
In what is an incredibly speculative, emotionally-charge editorial, centred solely on conjecture rather than facts, Maddox continues: “Sure enough, this weekend the leak intended to force a minister to resign has arrived that Ms Braverman may or may not have asked for advice on how to deal with a speeding ticket.”
Referencing the Priti Patel bullying allegations, Boris Johnson’s downfall, and even Nadhim Zahawi, Maddox attempts to argue that these top Tory figures have all been the victims of some kind of left-wing, Remainer conspiracy to oust them. He cites several unnamed (never a good look in journalism) Whitehall insiders, maintaining the same message.
“They all read the Guardian like an in-house magazine and there is no doubt in my mind that they want a Labour government.
“The idea that the civil service is politically neutral is just a lie and I am convinced that there has been an attempt to take out ministers,” one ex-bureaucrat told the Express.
Journalist Leo McKinstry, who has never kept his antipathy towards left-wing politics hidden, barked the same message, claiming in a separate op-ed:
McKinstry continues that the impartiality of the civil service is now “increasingly undermined within Whitehall by partisan officials who despise the Tory government.”
“Any refusal by ethnic minority female politicians to submit to the left-wing orthodoxy can be viewed as a form of treachery,” he writes.
Like Maddox, McKinstry brings up the ‘ejection’ of Dominic Raab and that ‘similar accusations’ of bullying were made against Priti Patel, and health secretary Steve Barclay.
Have these commentators forgotten that Raab was found guilty of bullying following an independent inquiry by a respected barrister who was asked by the prime minister to investigate complaints made by 24 different people? Have they forgotten that a Cabinet Office inquiry into allegations of bullying by Priti Patel found evidence that civil servants were treated poorly by the former Home Secretary, as well as compelling evidence of bullying?
No doubt adding fuel to the fire that Raab’s resignation last month was a ‘victory for the blob,’ as UnHerd phrased it, the disgraced former deputy PM announced this week that he will stand down as MP at the next election. The right-wing press was quick to inform readers that Raab is to stand down after being forced to quit Rishi Sunak’s cabinet over bullying ‘allegations.’ After Raab was ‘found guilty’ of bullying, would have been a more accurate description.
As for Suella Braverman, well perhaps observers should look at the furore the Home Secretary is creating within her own party, before being so quick to blame the left-wing ‘blob’ for some kind of so-called witch-hunt against her. And any kind of backlash over her own potential dodgy actions certainly has nothing to do with her ethnicity or gender, as McKinstry implies.
Tory MPs have accused Braverman of stoking divisions in the party and have dismissed the claims made by Braverman allies that she has been subjected to a ‘witch hunt’ because of her hard-line stance on immigration. One Conservative MP said Braverman had ‘picked a fight’ herself with multiple groups across Westminster in recent weeks and months.
“I don’t think anyone who is quite that punchy could have a witch hunt against them,” they told i.
And then there was the widespread criticism among her own party that her speech at the National Conservatism conference last week was a dress rehearsal for a future leadership pitch. The suggestion has even been raised – by many Tory MPs may I add – that Braverman is “trying to get herself sacked or find an opportunity to resign so that she could boost her own chances as Mr Sunak’s future replacement by becoming a focal point for the right,” as a backbencher said.
Motives aside, the week went from bad to worse for the Home Secretary, as no sooner had the dust settled on the speeding fine controversy (kind of), but a fresh controversy emerged. Government sources told the Guardian that Braverman has repeatedly got things wrong and were forced to ‘fact-check’ the Home Secretary’s statements to cabinet. The same evening, an additional alleged incident came from the Independent, which claims Braverman failed to declare her links with Rwanda when appointed Home Secretary.
Needless to say, Braverman allies and the right-wing media went further into anti-blob meltdown. ‘Civil Service slammed as the new ‘enemy within’ over yet more anti-Suella Braverman smears,’ splashed the Express.
“Two new attacks on Suella Braverman in the press this evening have sparked a war of words between Tories and the Civil Service, in an astonishing breakdown of relations,” continued the newspaper.
Never one to shun the media limelight – for all the wrong reasons – Boris Johnson also hit the headlines this week. Offering some respite for the controversies engulfing the beleaguered Home Secretary, fresh allegations surfaced that the former PM broke lockdown rules by hosting family and friends at Chequers during Covid. Johnson has been referred to the police over the new accusations.
Coming on top of the claims made about Braverman, the ‘blob’ loathers within political and media circles moved up a gear in the hysteria stakes.
‘Totally untrue!’ Boris Johnson hits back at alleged new Partygate breaches,’ was the headline in the Express.
The Johnson loyalists on Twitter came out in force, blaming, you guessed it, civil servants for the fresh controversy surrounding the former PM.
“Pro-EU civil servant Blob filth are terrified of Boris Johnson coming back,” wrote one especially angry Johnson supporter.
Some Tory MPs are even planning on submitting letters of no confidence in Rishi Sunak over the new Partygate police report, as the party’s civil war continues.
But back to Braverman. This week, Lord Daniel Hannan wrote in ConservativeHome about how a “frenzied effort to concoct a Braverman scandal makes this country look ridiculous.”
What he should have said is that such efforts make the government look ridiculous.
OK, so a story about a potential speeding fine mishap is pretty feeble and should not really be headline news. But of course, it was never really solely about a speeding ticket.
For those who see the Home Secretary as incompetent at best and malign at worst or possibly both, the whole event had the smell of an abuse of power about it. For Brexit-championing, Suella Braverman allies and the Tory press, it was an opportunity to present the establishment as desperate to oust those in power that they don’t like. Commentator Allister Heath went a step further, arguing that Tory Britain needs to be more like Florida, as the only man who can save us from the ‘woke blob’ is Ron DeSantis. I kid you not, writing for the Telegraph Heath says the civil service has gone too far against its war against a Tory government, and the ‘only hope is a Ron DeSantis inspired fightback against left-wing institutional capture. Have a read, if you dare!
In reality, the speeding ticket story and the other scandals to surface this week, confirm epic failings within the Tory party. It’s weak leadership for starters. While Raab’s confirmation that he won’t stand at the next election shows a clear sense of Tory despondency about their prospects. Meanwhile the Braverman allegations show the relationship between the Tories and the civil service is going from bad to worse. Having been demonised as workshy by former cabinet officer minister Jacob Rees-Mogg, threatened with thousands of job cuts, denied appropriate pay rises, and blamed for the Partygate scandal by Boris Johnson, and, to top it all off, labelled as left-wing ‘blob’ by the populist press, it’s not surprising that civil service morale has plunged to new depths.
A competent government should be capable of crisis management. But what we have seen in 13 years of Tory rule has been the complete opposite. Ministerial incompetence, rule breaches, lies, and more, have been at the helm of Downing Street proceedings. Even the new Prime Minister, who pledged to stamp out sleaze for good, has been entangled in his own controversy, such as his wife’s non-domicile tax status.
When you really think about it, it’s no wonder they’re looking for someone to blame. The civil service is just an easy target and, best of all, they can’t answer back.
Right-Wing Media Watch – Populist press works up war on ‘middle-class eco-zealots’
Deny, deceive, delay, seems to be something of a mantra when it comes to the right-wing media’s climate change reportage. Without the guts to openly deny it, they take a more spineless, pontificating, moral high ground approach – which they do about most things if we’re honest – to prevent doing anything about it, while whipping up a rumpus towards folk who are doing something about it.
As such, the pages of the likes of the Mail are littered with sneery drivel about ‘posh eco warriors’ waging some kind of war on decent British people.
Just take a look at the coverage of this week’s Just Stop Oil protests. Using typical antagonistic language, the Daily Mail relished reporting about the moment a ‘furious motorist attacks Just Stop Oil eco-zealots as he pushes them to the ground before police officers swoop in and handcuff HIM during another slow-march protests through capital.’ We can assume the capitalised HIM is meant to imply the police were wrong to arrest the man who attacked a Just Stop Oil activist rather than the protestors.
Meanwhile, the Spectator used the same incident in London to have a dig at Just Stop Oil’s apparent class privilege. Like the Mail’s piece insinuated, the Spectator suggests the police are not being harsh enough on the activists.
“We need to talk about Just Stop Oil’s class privilege,” is the headline of Brendan O’Neill’s opinion piece, followed by the subtext: “It’s easy to work out why these protestors are being treated with kid gloves by the police.”
“I have never felt such a strong desire to buy a man a pint as I did when I watched that builder just clear Just Stop Oil protestors off the road,” writes O’Neill, who goes onto describe the activists as “doom-mongering posh irritants…” to raise awareness of the coming “eco-apocalypse or some nonsense.”
This is a popular gripe of climate change deniers, labelling green activists as posh and with nothing better to do. But if the anti-climate action brigade got off their high horse, they might realise and report that this isn’t always the case and working -class activists have long been environmental heroes. During the Industrial Revolution, environmental activism was led by the working-class who resisted the building of ‘dark satanic mills’ in an effort to preserve their livelihoods. Similarly in more recent times in the US, a lot of environmentalism is driven by poorer, often black, communities who are exposed to industrial pollution.
Then there was the Mass Trespass on Kinder Scout in the Peak District in 1932. That was an environmental fight about the struggles of the working-class against the rights of wealthy landowners, which had a far-reaching impact and helped secure walkers’ rights in the countryside.
For her book Working-Class Environmentalism: An Agenda for a Just and Fair Transition to Sustainability, Dr Karen Bell, who comes from a working-class background herself, says most of the people she interviewed were working-class and had organised their own local environmental campaigns, including those to preserve green spaces, address pollution and resist toxic developments. “Their activities rarely reach the media unless they are particularly creative or dramatic,” says Dr Bell.
The author continues about how working-class environmental activism remains hidden because the people involved typically don’t have professional friends in the media, government and in academia.
This makes a lot of sense, and the continued reporting about the ‘posh eco-warrior-zealots’ by the populist media, contributes to the illusion that environmentalism is solely the domain of middle-class people.
But then that’s what the climate change deniers in high places want us to believe, to whip up furore towards ‘posh kids’ from privileged backgrounds with nothing better to do. It distracts from the real meaning and purpose of the protests – for the government to halt all new fossil fuel projects to combat climate change.
As well as turning climate activism into some kind of class war against a ‘smug and privileged’ middle-class, there is a growing tendency for these right-wing outlets to present climate change as a culture war issue. Last summer amid soaring heat, Mail columnist Stephen Robinson bemoaned how weather maps were being adorned by jolly symbols instead of colours to denote high temperatures. He claimed the Met Office – in cahoots with the BBC – has become an “all-singing, all-dancing amen choir for the climate alarmist ‘blob.’” The Express went for a similar angle, declaring: “It’s not the end of the world! Just stay cool and carry on…”
Their deceive and delay approach, sprinkled with some outright denial and the spread of supposed ‘middle-class smugness’ and what you are left with is a public who are being dangerously misled into believing there is little in terms of scientific consensus about the causes and consequences of climate change.
Woke bashing of the week – Right-wingers in meltdown over Gary Lineker’s Amnesty International award
If there’s one well-known and well-liked figure the anti-woke brigade love to hate, it’s Gary Lineker.
The Match of the Day presenter has been back in the news this week after it emerged he was heading to Rome to receive a ‘Sport and Human Rights’ award. Lineker, who is a staunch advocate of the rights of migrants and refugees, received the award, alongside footballer Natali Shaheen, the former Palestine captain.
The news of the award sparked indignation among the right-wingers, whose loathing of Lineker moved up a notch following the former England footballer’s tweet earlier in the year that caused an almighty row with BBC bosses.
Of the Amnesty International award, Conservative MPs were quick to share their derision. Tory MP Craig Mackinlay, said: “It is another self-congratulatory fest of one woke group to another woke activist.”
While fellow Tory MP Gareth Johnson said: “Gary Lineker needs to decide if he wants to be a politician or a public broadcaster. He can’t do both.”
Sir John Hayes, the outspoken chairman of the Common Sense group of MPs waded into the right-wing backlash, saying: “This award is a matter of regret, but also rather pathetic.
“Perhaps it is time for Gary to hang up his microphone as he did his boots long ago.”
Meanwhile, GMB presenter Richard Madeley, who is also known for his anti-woke outbursts, having raged that ‘woke councils’ need to stop ‘treating us like we’re idiots,’ decided to revisit Lineker’s controversial tweet. The MOFT day host appeared on GMB this week to promote the new series of his quiz show. Madeley, who’s not the most diplomatic of presenters, and is often dubbed as Alan Partridge’s doppelganger, seized the opportunity to grill Lineker about the ‘yesterday’s news’ tweet.
Madeley said Lineker had compared the government to the Nazis. To which Lineker replied: “You’ve misrepresented what I said, and that’s what happened because of the Daily Mail headline which caused this furore in the first place.”
Madeley’s rant, like so many of them, didn’t go down well among viewers. “Richard Madeley, the ITV tory mouthpiece grilling Gary Lineker, this morning, pity he never grills the Tory Ministers that appear on GMTV shocking Lineker was not on this morning for tweets he made, yet RM made a huge point about them. Well done Gary you won,” tweeted one viewer.
“Richard was painful in the Gary Lineker interview… seriously seriously painful,” someone else said.
The reignition of antagonism towards Gary Lineker among Tory MPs and right-wing political pundits in light of the popular MOTD presenter receiving a ‘Sport and Human Rights’ award, shows that the anti-wokesters learnt absolutely nothing from the high-profile fall-out first-time round. That the toxic right-wing playbook was exposed for all its cynicism and absurdity, and those with progressive views who prioritise equality and inclusion won’t be silenced.
And rightly so.
Gabrielle Pickard-Whitehead is a contributing editor to Left Foot Forward
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