By Rowan Gavin
At long last, the Johnson juggernaut has run out of road. The Bohnson’s repeated scandals, criminal convictions, outright racism and transphobia were not enough to unseat him; in the end all it took was a few opportunistic cronies seeing a chance to pull their knives. Et tu, Gove?
There is some vindictive pleasure to be taken in seeing the one-time icon of modern British Conservatism ousted, but ultimately this week’s events are an abject reminder that we do not live in any kind of functioning democracy. Johnson’s successor will be the third consecutive Prime Minister who enters office without any kind of ‘mandate from the people’. Not that our dysfunctional electoral system provides such a thing; the more Johnson rabbited on about the public’s support for his selfish cause, the more I was reminded of Gil Scott Heron’s famous remark on the election of Ronald Reagan: “mandate my ass”.
Meanwhile, Keir Starmer has made a point of reminding the press that Labour are in opposition to a party, not just one man. “We don’t need to change the Tory at the top”, he says. Unfortunately, his lack of clear commitment to any real principles of change make him largely indistinguishable from the Tory sharks who, having inflicted the fatal wound upon Johnson, now swim in circles, sizing each other up to see who will earn the right to consume the carcass.
‘Security, prosperity, respect’. Starmer launched the Labour party’s new slogan, the most yawn-inducing piece of empty political rhetoric this country has seen since ‘strong and stable’, with a speech in January at the height of ‘partygate’. He chose to emphasise his patriotism, reflecting on “all that the British have to be proud of”. And what would that be, Sir Keir? Firstly, “The rule of law.” Ah yes, truly it makes the heart swell with pride to reflect on the hate speech and violence enacted on people in this country by the agents of the law, while those in power flaunt its precepts every day without consequence. What else? “Her Majesty the Queen.” The figurehead of the empire that was still torturing independence fighters well into her rule. The head of a family that defended a known child abuser for years. How wonderful it is, Sir Keir, to be presided over by such an enlightened monarch.
In that speech, Starmer’s ‘contract with the nation’, he went onto laud NATO as a preserver of peace in Europe – which hasn’t exactly borne out in the months since – and to present “new powers for local police” as a key element of his vision for Labour government. He also doubled down on his wet-blanket strategy of giving the government “the benefit of the doubt” while their corruption and short-termism contributed to the deaths of tens of thousands at the height of the COVID-19 outbreak. This is the vision of governmental alternative we are presented with: competent, civil authoritarianism rather than the offensively incompetent pseudo-fascism of Johnson. A rose by any other name would smell as sweet, we are told, but while Starmer’s Labour still wears the rose, the vapid husk of an opposition they have become has no fragrance at all.
I have no desire to reflect further on Johnson’s time in office. We can only hope that he disappears from public life as swiftly and completely as May and Cameron did before him. At least those two left us with a couple of memorable gaffes, amusing entries in the long ledger of political idiocy that make it more bearable to reflect on the otherwise bleak legacies of their respective terms. I do not expect to ever laugh about anything Johnson did. Though there were many blunders, each was either a carefully calculated publicity stunt or a vile revelation of what it is to live as a human being composed purely of hunger for power. I can look back at Cameron or May in their vulnerable moments and laugh at a posh idiot failing to relate to a public they know nothing of; to look back at the times Johnson’s charade fell apart is to stare into a void so self-obsessed it does not even stare back.
At time of writing it is unclear whether Johnson will flounder on until the council of sharks chooses our new demagogue in the Autumn, or be ousted by next week. In either case, I don’t expect it will feel very different to live in this “fine nation”, as Starmer calls it. I will not feel secure while those authorised by corrupt powers to wield violence in the name of policing roam our streets. I will not feel prosperous while the number on my new electricity meter ticks down increasingly quickly. I will not feel that I or my loved ones are respected while the powerful regurgitate bigotries that were once only voiced in public by fundamentalists and neo-fascists.
But I will go back into the communities of people that resist these cruel forces, today and the next day and the day after, to organise where we can, celebrate when we can, and have as much fun as we can along the way. While this month has been a reminder of just how powerless most of us are when it comes to the machinations of high government, it has also been a reminder that there is power in a union, power in Pride, and power in protest music. Find your power where you can.
Things may not change all that much as a result of this news, but at least this weekend we get to raise our glasses and recite once more, with satisfying finality, the mantra of our times:
Featured image credit: Number 10 via flickr
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