The decision by Boris Johnson to block a vote of no confidence shows he is ending his political career as he conducted it: rule-breaking, undemocratic and opposed to all accountability. Of course the Tories backed his decision.
The signal the Labour Party was trying to send remains. There cannot be any confidence in a government that has done such damage to our country since it was elected in just December 2019. Similarly, in a reversal of the New Labour theme song, there is confidence that things can only get worse under any of the possible successors to Boris Johnson.
Equally clear is the signal that Labour is the alternative, that we stand ready, that we can win the next general election. On all current polling we are likely to win. This is the very good reason that it is extremely unlikely there will be a snap election called by the eventual victor in the Tory party race, and why the vote of no confidence was blocked. It has nothing to do with stability or constitutional propriety. It has everything to do with electoral calculation and the risk of a Tory drubbing.
The scale of the damage to this country is truly colossal. Supporters of Boris Johnson’s policies try to claim that every negative development was outside of his government’s control, whether that was the outbreak of the pandemic, the global surge in prices, the cost of living crisis or the dire state of public services.
It is true many of these were global events, with global causes. But there was no need for this country to have among the worst outcomes on almost every front. We have a far higher per capita Covid death toll even than the European Union (whose own policies were generally characterised by mismanagement and incompetence). We have the highest inflation rate in the G7. We have the worst GDP growth outlook in the G20, apart from Russia. We now have “winter in the NHS” in midsummer, and the government plan for energy and water shortages is for households to consume less. Truly world-beating.
One of the remarkable features of the brief Johnson administration is how, like his mentor Trump, he managed to remould the Tory party in his own dreadful image. As a result, there have been almost no dissenting voices in the Tory party on any substantive policy issues. The reason he had to go, as far as the parliamentary Conservative Party is concerned, is that allegations of sleaze and lying threatened to bring the whole party down with him.
Lying has become a stock in trade. Recent poverty data shows that the only “levelling up” that’s occurred is that the north east now surpasses London in terms of child poverty. Building back better has become reopening coal fields. Brexit is so far from done it has become a cause for government law-breaking in trying to rip up the Northern Ireland protocol. This is an attempt to impose on Ireland the same disastrous economic impact that the hard Brexiteers imposed on this country, risking a trade war and the Good Friday Agreement in the process.
None of the Tory candidates have uttered a word of criticism of any of these policies. They all support the Rwanda deportation policy, just as they all supported draconian legislation curbing the right to protest, or to offer legal immunity to police officers and service personnel.
I remember when Rishi Sunak produced his Spring Statement just four months ago, which raised taxes and national insurance and cut pensions, benefits and public sector pay just as the cost of living crisis was getting into full swing. He was cheered to the rafters by all the Tories. That he is now castigated for being a “socialist” shows just how extreme his party has become.
So, despite their undemocratic manoeuvres, there can be no confidence in any of the contenders for the Tory leadership. It will be more of the same, or worse. We need a change of government.
This article first appeared on the Independent website on the 14th July 2022.