Operation Save Big Dog? It’s a shocker. Letter to Conor Burns

Meme by Sadie Parker

Dear Conor,

I am sorry that I have to write to you again so soon after the Owen Paterson debacle. Indeed, if truth be told, I’m also a little resentful. As well as trying to recover from the twin hits of Brexit and Covid on my career, I am also now an unpaid carer for my elderly parents and grieving for the loss a few days ago of a dear friend in the prime of life to the virus.

We elect MPs and pay them a decent salary that is in the top 5 per cent for pay in the UK, plus generous expenses. I feel that I shouldn’t have to spend what precious little time that’s left to me having to ‘work’ as a guardian of democracy, but here we are.

To Boris Johnson. I know he is a particularly close friend of yours and you will not like what I am about to write, but write it I must. He has to go. Not only is Johnson damaging his own reputation, but he is also trashing that of our institutions and our standing abroad. The UK has become an absolute laughingstock. Just because he won an 80-seat majority (but not nearly a majority of the total vote-share, it has to be admitted) two years ago, does not mean he can do whatever the hell he likes. 

As someone who has held senior positions in the corporate world and advised government officials and chief executives the world over, it is patently clear that whatever Johnson’s skillset may be, it is not suited to the business of governing a country. He wants the trappings of power without the obligation of the work and the accountability that the exercise of it brings.

How galling it was to read in The Sunday Times this morning that he is so worried, he has started to read his briefing papers. Pardon my language, but WTF has he been doing for the past two-and-a-half years? It’s too little too late. Johnson is unfit to be an MP, let alone the PM. No wonder we are traversing so many problems in this country (largely unacknowledged, as if refusal to face up to reality were a sensible solution).

Boris Johnson’s “never apologise, never explain” philosophy is his greatest weakness. His lies and ‘non-apology apology’ over #PartyGate have upset not just the hundreds of thousands of covid-bereaved, but also anybody in this country who is able to feel empathy with those grieving – probably most of the population. He has offended anybody who respects the Queen — again, probably most of the population. He has infuriated the vast majority of law-abiding citizens who used the famous British ‘common sense’ Johnson banged on about so much to stick to the rules for the greater good, without the need for a Sue Gray to come along and make an ex-post pronouncement, like some sort of Rees-Moggian nanny.

Equally, he has infuriated the minority of citizens who broke the rules and were fined ruinous amounts as a consequence (will they be getting their money back if Sue Gray finds a way to whitewash the goings on in Downing Street, as Lord Geidt did?). Johnson has become a figure of ridicule. There is no coming back from this. He has no moral authority. Nobody will take him seriously now.

Which brings me to ‘Operation Save Big Dog’ (really?!!!) as outlined in The Sunday Times today. Let me take you through the elements one-by-one, with my comments in blue:

  1. Red meat for the green benches, aka populist policies:  eg Nadine Dorries announcing a £2 billion hit to the BBC’s budget as punishment for telling the truth about the Prime Minister’s behaviour, or as she exaggeratedly calls it, running “an obsessive campaign to destroy Boris Johnson”.

This is paranoid nonsense. The BBC has not been behind a single revelation about the PM’s misdeeds. NOT ONE. Sure, it has reported them — but that’s the job of its news department. It is not meant to be a propaganda outlet for the government.

The BBC is far more than a news agency. It provides programming in the spheres of drama, comedy, films, children’s shows, natural history, science, history, business, lifestyle, gardening, cooking, entertainment, etc. In addition, it provides infrastructure which other broadcasters are able to use.

If you’re going to hit the BBC, at least divide it into two, and only ‘punish’ the news side of the business. Please don’t destroy another jewel in Britain’s crown out of puerile ideological revenge. Trying to stifle the free press and clamping down on free speech is not the way to get rid of bad press The best solution? Don’t behave in such a way as to generate bad press in the first place. 

  1. The Levelling Up White Paper – to be presented by Michael Gove in February, after some delay.

Hmm. So far most of us feel levelled down. It has all been empty rhetoric. There have been so many scandals surrounding this policy, from the Towns Fund not being given to the towns that needed it most but to Tory marginals instead, to funds being used to fill in a Tory Lord’s potholes on his driveway. Now it appears Michael Gove is doing the rounds of other departments to pad out his paper with measures that have already been announced. Very disappointing. Do you seriously think the public won’t see through that ruse?

  1. VAT on energy — scrapping it was one of Boris Johnson’s core promises during the Brexit referendum campaign. He told us we couldn’t cut VAT while we were in the EU.

Well, guess what? EU countries like Spain are slashing VAT on consumer energy bills to 0 per cent and pressing the EU to come up with more measures. What is Johnson doing? Not keeping his promise to cut VAT on energy bills. (Another broken pledge, following on from the betrayals on National Insurance contributions, the triple lock on pensions, the so-called ‘dementia tax’ hitting the poorest hardest, etc.)

Johnson says it’s complicated and would benefit families who could well afford to pay the VAT. So, make an adjustment through individuals’ tax codes then. HMRC know who the high earners are!

That it would only cover 10 per cent of the expected increase in the energy cap is irrelevant. It is better than nothing. Besides, it’s not as if it precludes you from putting other measures in place.

Special mention for Anne Marie Morris: outrageous that she had the whip removed for voting for the cut, even if it would have meant giving control of the order paper to Labour for the day. The public doesn’t care about Johnson’s obsession with always winning every little fight with the Opposition, whether or not it’s for the good of the country. We want pragmatism and we want results. The Executive successfully keeping parliament cowed and in a choke-hold isn’t going to pay our fuel bills.

  1. Scapegoating his staff and firing a bunch of aides and civil servants the public has never heard of. Johnson stood at the dispatch box in December and told us he was as shocked as we were about the revelation of two Christmas parties, one of which he attended as quiz master on Zoom with two aides bedecked in tinsel, and the other being the wine and cheese event that Allegra Stratton joked about (odd that she had to resign but Jack Doyle didn’t — discrimination?). 

What a whopping lie that turned out to be. It is not credible that as boss of Downing Street he has only just found out about the various parties that went on — including one thrown by his wife, in his own flat, to celebrate Cummings’ downfall on 13 November 2020. He’s the boss. The buck stops with him. (And in his marriage, he’s the much older, more experienced partner, so there’s no blaming Carrie either.) I don’t care if he was only at one of the many parties for 25 minutes and I don’t buy that he thought it was a ‘work event’. He broke the rules that he set.

It’s no use trying to throw shade on Keir Starmer for holding a meeting in the kitchen of one of his MP’s constituency offices as he ate dinner while on the campaign trail in Durham. Besides, this was a story that was debunked last April when The Sun published it the first time. Starmer didn’t break any rules. What’s more, he didn’t set them.

Sue Gray can say that Johnson didn’t ‘break the law’ until she is blue in the face. This is Johnson’s Barnard Castle moment. We, the public, know that he broke the rules he himself set and which we obeyed, and that’s unforgivable.

  1. Knighthoods for Gavin Williamson, John Whittingdale and Nick Gibb to “keep them quiet” (Tim Shipman’s words, not mine). 

I’ve been uneasy all throughout Johnson’s premiership about his mis-use of the honours system. He is bringing it into disrepute by rewarding abject failure. Focusing on Williamson and Gibb… I don’t care if Williamson knows where all the bodies are buried. You don’t give a knighthood to someone who failed on multiple fronts as he and Gibb did – free school meals for poor children in the holidays; exam results; university places; failure to provide promised computing equipment; adequate ventilation of schools — it was one failure after another.

  1. Cling on to power: if, as has been widely telegraphed, Sue Gray’s report finds that technically, because of a weird, arcane by-law that may be interpreted (ex-post the infractions) as Crown Property being exempt from Covid laws, Boris Johnson “did not break the law”.

Just no. How dare the PM even contemplate relying on a ‘Crown Property’ exemption when his administration has been so disrespectful to the wearer of that Crown, especially as he didn’t assert it at the time?

#PartyGate is just the tip of the iceberg. There’s the draconian Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill, with Priti Patel having slipped EIGHTEEN PAGES of amendments into the Bill AFTER it passed through the Commons. How anti-democratic is that? If they pass, it will lead to the Belarussification of Britain. It is ridiculous and Putinesque to forbid Brits from protesting anywhere near the seat of democracy, or to put statutes on the book that can jail journalists for 10 years if they write an article that the government feels embarrassed by, or imprison a protestor for a placard Priti Patel doesn’t like the look of. Art-lover though I am, I find it astonishing that a statue has more protection than a human being, with damage leading to 10 years in jail and assault on a person only 5 years. 

Then there’s clause nine in the Nationality and Borders Bill, which needs to be stripped out and re-thought. I worked in Eastern European countries and Russia as they transitioned out of the Soviet era. I will not stand idly by as Priti Patel tries to introduce the sort of ‘police state’ that prevailed there into our country, with citizens forever having to tread on egg-shells and living in fear of State overreach.

Let’s not forget the disgraced Dominic Raab, who has no business being in the (drinks) cabinet after the shambolic withdrawal from Aghanistan (possibly our biggest foreign policy failing since Suez) and his woefully inadequate response. (Another one not up to the job…) He intends to limit our ability to appeal against State overreach through judicial review and diminish our human rights with his Bill of Rights – which, in all fairness, should more accurately be known as the Bill of Fewer Rights to reflect what’s in the tin,.

I find myself in agreement with David Davis, and other Tory backbenchers, when they say the Elections Bill, and particularly the voter ID requirement, is a solution to a non-existent problem. My elderly mother has no form of photo ID. Are you going to disenfranchise her now? Why? What has she ever done to deserve that? That a Conservative government is so gleefully stripping Brits of rights and freedoms is utterly astounding. 

And don’t get me started on that ludicrous Australian trade deal. I can’t understand why we volunteered to give away the family silver so readily and then bent over backwards and allowed Australia to roger us some more (metaphorically speaking). Truly, in this case, no deal would have been better than this appallingly bad deal. It is an absurd betrayal of our farmers, putting our food standards, animal welfare standards and environmental standards (already mortally wounded by #RawSewageGate) at risk, and for what? A higher carbon footprint importing lower quality food from Australia instead of growing it ourselves? What a farce!

We should be joining EFTA, the trade alliance for EU-sceptics, not CPTPP, which has a horrific, non-negotiable ‘acquis’ that we would have to sign up to. Out of the EU – the market on our doorstep – only to sign up to something far worse in the Pacific? What fresh hell is this?

If you have read this far, you will know that I am exceedingly angry with the goings on in Downing Street and I am not at all impressed with the government’s ‘achievements’ so far. Yes, Johnson ‘got us through’ Covid, but at what cost? The highest death toll in Europe (forgotten about with all the vaccine boosterism, the first-leader advantage, which was quickly lost, and the associated jingoistic propaganda which is utterly repugnant in the context of a global pandemic) and colossal corruption in the award of public contracts. Other leaders also got their countries through Covid and in a far better way. Johnson is not good value for taxpayers’ money.

He got Brexit done, true, but as it is quite possibly the worst possible version of Brexit that he could have enacted. We would have been better off not doing it — certainly his ‘oven-ready deal’ has proved to be half-baked. If only Johnson knew how heartily sick to death the public is of first Frost’s and now Truss’s brinkmanship over Article16.

Change the record. Play a different tune. It’s no longer the rallying cry Johnson seems to think it still is. We want to get on with our neighbours. We want to do business with them. And we want our rights to live, study, work, set up a business and retire anywhere on our own continent restored. You ended our freedom of movement and it made illegal immigration worse not better The link between the two was clearly specious and there is no reason to continue to deprive us of those rights.

TL;DR — Boris Johnson’s time is up. I’m not looking forward to a Sunak or Truss premiership, because they’re both lightweights and neither is any more up to the job of PM than Johnson is, but we cannot go on with Boris Johnson at the helm lurching from one crisis to the next scandal to another outrage. If only to spare our 95-year-old monarch from having to deal with such a dishonest, disrespectful and dishevelled prime minister, Alexander Boris de Pfeffel Johnson must now vacate Number 10 and take his overpriced, dodgily-financed, bling wallpaper with him.

Sorry if you feel I have given you both barrels. I know you were in the right place on the Owen Paterson scandal and I know you are a personal friend of the PM’s, but I am asking you to do what is right for the country and send a letter to the 1922 Committee, please.