The anti-democracy and not-so-Unionist party

Memes by the author

As democracy has been trampled under a tsunami of lies, scams and evasion of scrutiny this month, perhaps the Conservative and Unionist Party needs a new name? I’ll go first: the Anti-Democracy and not-so-Unionist Party. Here’s why…

Boris Johnson can’t stop lying. To dismiss that with an exclamation of, “oh, but all politicians lie,” is to deny the scale of deceit. It’s like making a false equivalence between a parking ticket and death by dangerous driving. You wouldn’t excuse a hit-and-run-driver by saying, “Oh, but we all commit driving offences,” would you?

Remember the Christmas promise Boris Johnson made on December 24th last year?

“…there will be no palisade of tariffs on January the 1st, and there’ll be no non-tariff barriers to trade.”

The fishing industry has come to a standstill because of non-tariff barriers. Peterhead in Scotland, formerly Europe’s largest fish market, is now a ghost town. Kirkella, the UK’s largest trawler, which usually accounts for ten per cent of the UK’s catch, is moored up in Hull. Grown men struggle to hold back the tears as they describe how their fishing business, which has sustained their families for decades, is now on the brink of collapse.

 “I didn’t have time to read the deal,” says Victoria Prentice (the Minister responsible for Fisheries). “Teething problems,” says Dominic Raab. “They’ve filled the forms in wrong,” says Boris Johnson, who once said no such forms would ever exist and then doubles down on his broken promises by promising them a bright ‘El Dorado’ future. How like him to make an allusion to a mythical place — unless he meant the lacklustre TV soap opera of the same name that was cancelled after one season?

Are we really expected to believe 100 per cent of British fishers filled the forms in incorrectly? Seriously? They all became clones of Darren Grimes overnight, from 31 December  2020 to 1 January 2021? Pull the other one. It’s got flippers on. This is a structural problem, and the government going into denial mode won’t fix it. Can we be confident that behind the scenes, they are secretly beavering away on a remedy? Can we heck. Listen to DEFRA Secretary and local Cornish MP George Useless’ — sorry, I mean Eustice’s — response to this forensic question on the fishing industry from SNP MP Deidre Brock:

OK, then. We’ll bung you £23 million in compensation. It’ll be a great opportunity to put out some fancy memes and enthusiastic tweets, like the one from Devon MP Selaine Saxby. Asked in the Scottish parliament how the scheme would work, Scotland’s Fisheries minister Fergus Ewing admitted, “I had a brief discussion with George Eustice, who gave me very brief details of the scheme, a couple of hours before it was announced in public.” Oh dear. This government doesn’t do details, does it? Ewing continued, “The little that the UK Government has told us indicates that the fishermen compensation scheme will actually exclude fishermen.” Wait, what? Ewing confirmed, “It will be the first scheme in history that was designed to support a group of people who will be ineligible for any support therefrom.” The scheme is only open to on-shore fish processors in Scotland. Not even the whole UK, just Scotland. I see trouble ahead in El Dorado…

The government hasn’t just got it in for fishing. Oh no. They’re planning a Brexit bombshell with a wider fallout: watering down workers’ rights. Between October 3rd 2019 and January 15th 2021 Boris Johnson stated fourteen times — yes, one-four — that he would not weaken workers’ rights. Guess what? Kwasi Kwarteng of the Britannia Unchained claim that British Workers “are amongst the worst idlers in the world” fame, confirmed this week that he would be ‘reviewing’ workers’ rights, which is Tory code for finding ways to abolish them.

Tory plans include:

  • raise the 48-hour limit on the working week;
  • tweak rules around breaks to reduce them;
  • scrap factoring overtime into holiday pay, and
  • abolish the requirement for firms to even report working hours.

How can government claim a democratic mandate for this when the Prime Minister has expressly said on so many occasions the Tories wouldn’t do it? They are shameless. They think a 79-seat majority gives them licence to do whatever they want. I can’t wait to see how they spin this as ‘levelling up’. All those PR firms run by pals of this, that or the other Tory MP or peer, who have been awarded multi-million-pound public contracts with no proper procurement process, will have to earn their keep now.

Don’t even get me started on the government’s mishandling of the COVID19 pandemic… “Did the prime minister REALLY just say that ‘ICU capacity has not yet been overwhelmed perhaps as much as we’ve feared?’ ” Dr Rachel Clarke tweeted during the January 15 coronavirus briefing. “Yes. Yes he did,” was her astonished conclusion. We’re seeing higher death tolls than in the first wave of the pandemic, the NHS is on its knees, tens of thousands of health-workers are off sick with Covid-19, ICUs are packed, other medical procedures are being delayed for months, and yet our government seems increasingly blasé, happily pumping out contested vaccination data to lull the country into a false sense of security. Was anybody surprised when Johnson rejected calls for an immediate enquiry on January 21? Of course. he doesn’t want his mishandling of the pandemic to face the glare of scrutiny.

Oh, and the Tories have done that thing they do, editing clips to make it appear as if another party leader is saying something completely different to what they said. Dominic Cummings may have left the building, but his dark arts and lust for a culture war linger on. Just like last time, Keir Starmer was their target. Fortunately, journalist Peter Stefanovic was on the ball and spotted the doctored video:

Dominic Raab wasn’t going to let his boss have all the fun. He decided to get in on the act too. His contribution to the demise of British democracy, having wanged on about the EU and the UK being ‘sovereign equals’ since he sweatily failed as David Davis’ successor in the post of Brexit Secretary, was to downgrade the status of the EU Ambassador to the UK (João Vale de Almeida). Of the 142 countries who recognise their EU Ambassador, 141 – including a post-Trump United States – accord them full diplomatic status. We are the only country that does not.

It begs the question, if the EU is just an international organisation, as Raab now claims, why did we have to leave it “to get our sovereignty back”?

This is little Englander pettiness in the extreme. Even some Conservative MPs have broken ranks to say how stupid this move is, chief amongst them local Dorset MP Tobias Ellwood:

Meanwhile Somerset MP Jacob Rees-Mogg has been on an anti-democratic spree all of his own. His most recent outrage is to spread the lie — from the dispatch box no less — that it is the EU’s fault musicians no longer have freedom of movement, which they so desperately need to make a living. It’s not true, as I saw one Brexiter tweet, that all musicians are rich and so can afford the now astronomical costs Brexit imposes on touring in the EU. The average earnings of musicians are below the average earnings for the UK, and don’t forget that calculation will be distorted by global celebs pulling in mega-bucks. Why Mogg bothers to lie, when Number 10 has already admitted the UK government chose not to include it due to its innate anathema to Freedom of Movement (at least for British people), is a mystery.

It is not just his lies. He is sucking the life-blood out of our democracy with various moves to reduce the scrutiny of government that he professes to love so much (see Jacob Rees-Mogg: Britain’s Tartuffe). It was amusing therefore to see him thwarted, if only temporarily, by local Dorset MP Sir Christopher Chope, who together with Wellingborough MP Peter Bone foiled his first attempt to shut down Westminster Hall, where debates on public petitions take place. Sadly, the motion was re-presented the next day and passed. The initial excuse was cost. Wait, what? Mogg is suppressing democratic scrutiny because it would cost a few hundred thousand pounds when this government has awarded billions of pounds of dodgy public contracts to its pals without due process? Apparently so.

The reason was later changed to “compliance with public health recommendations” of reducing the number of people on the parliamentary estate. Plausible, but not credible. Marcus Rashford’s petition on free school meals was coming up. Government couldn’t have that, not when they’ve embroiled themselves in a third controversy on the issue. They said they didn’t back Labour’s calls for free school meal vouchers over the February half-term holiday, because “there is wider government support in place… through the Covid Winter Grant Scheme”. Except this claim was fact-checked by Channel 4, and it was found that the guidance says the Scheme is “not intended to replicate or replace free school meals”.

Hot on the heels of that outrage, Mogg suppressed the Future Relationship with the EU Select Committee on January 16 – just as we are embarking on that new relationship, Johnson’s trade deal is throwing up enormous problems, and Lord Frost was about to be grilled by MPs at the next session. Johnson hasn’t read the deal, other ministers have admitted they haven’t either, and Mogg will be damned if he’ll let a bunch of MPs who take their job seriously crawl all over it with a proverbial fine-toothed comb.

I could go on. There’s Priti Patel lying about the possibility of recovering the 400,000 records that have been lost from the criminal database. Gavin Williamson being evasive about computers for underprivileged children being found to contain Russian malware. Brandon Lewis tying himself in knots on BBC Question Time… The point is, these particular Tories are waging a war of attrition on our trust, and if we cannot trust those who govern us, then there is no democracy.

I hope that after President Biden’s inaugural speech in which he placed so much emphasis on eradicating disinformation, people in this country will become less tolerant of it too. Wouldn’t it be great if one of our major newspapers or broadcasters had a “we’re mad as hell, and we’re not going to take it any more” moment, and dedicated itself to calling out all our prime minister’s and his government’s lies? Like the Washington Post did after Trump was elected, changing its masthead in early 2017 to “Democracy dies in Darkness” to signal its intent. The Washington Post’s Trump fact-checkers say that in his four years as President, he made 30,573 false or misleading claims —roughly 20 every single day. I do so hope someone is keeping score for Johnson.