Boris Johnson’s terrible, horrible, no-good week continues

Boris Johnson has had a very bad first few days in parliament. In addition to having a 100% loss record in votes, today his own brother Jo Johnson quit the government and said he would not stand in the next election, and a cabinet minister Nick Hurd said the same. In addition, a Labour party MP Tanmanjeet Singh Dhesi took Johnson to task for a 2018 newspaper column where he compared Muslim women covering their faces and bodies to letterboxes and bank-robbers. Watch

But like his hero Donald Trump, Johnson is incapable of being gracious and cannot bring himself to say that he was sorry, as the Liberal party leader Jo Swinson was quick to point out. Instead he gave the pathetic ‘I cannot be a racist since I have relatives who belong to the insulted community’ defense. As John Crace writes:

But the moment when Johnson totally lost the house was when the Labour MP Tanmanjeet Singh Dhesi was applauded for asking him to apologise for his racist comments about “bongo bongo land” and Muslim women looking like letterboxes. An admission that he could have chosen his words better – that language mattered – was all that was required. But Boris is incapable of saying sorry. So he bumbled, anxiously looking round for support, while his entire front bench stared at the floor, refusing to catch his eye.

Yep, there’s no doubt that he’s a man after Trump’s heart. Woe to the British if Johnson ends up negotiating a post-Brexit trade deal with Trump. Even though Trump is a lousy negotiator, Johnson will willingly give away the store.

Reader Kylee sent me this interesting article by Helen Lewis who argues that an early election will make things worse because it will be fought almost exclusively on the issue of Brexit, although many other major issues are at stake that will go undebated.

Every election is a crossroads, a chance for the country to decide its future. Yet for the past three years, hardly any attention has been paid to the very different visions the Conservatives and Labour, the main opposition, have for Britain. The parties are much further apart than they were even in the aftermath of the financial crisis, when both agreed that state spending needed to be curbed and welfare benefits should be reduced. Since then, Labour has elected a strongly left-wing leader, with a foreign policy sharply distinct from that of his predecessors: Much less friendly to the United States, Saudi Arabia, and Israel, and more sympathetic to Iran, Russia, and Venezuela.

As for the Conservatives, their ideological gravity is now—where, exactly? For a small but driven section of the party, Brexit is an opportunity to remake the British economy. The usual shorthand is the Singapore model: low corporation taxes, disempowered trade unions, low regulation, reduced welfare benefits, and a large, but temporary, migrant workforce.

Johnson’s key lieutenant, Dominic Cummings, has a different set of priorities. He favors tax cuts concentrated on the lower-paid; greater investment in public services; a more punitive attitude toward crime, with longer prison sentences; and a move to a points-based immigration system. These are popular pledges, but tax cuts and higher state spending would be extremely expensive.

Then there’s Labour, which claims to be offering a slightly souped-up version of European social democracy, with higher taxes and well-funded public services. Yet the program already outlined by Shadow Chancellor John McDonnell is more radical than that—if not quite as extreme as the party’s critics depict.

Sunday’s Financial Times has taken McDonnell’s economic program seriously: He does not hide the fact that he plans an assault on capital by offering renters the chance to buy their homes at a discount; higher taxes on landlords; and a £300 billion, or $365 billion, transfer of shares from large corporations to their employees.

You can see why the political-establishment in the UK is torn. Johnson is a reckless, unprincipled, liar whom any reasonable person would shun. But his policies will benefit a narrow slice of that class while Corbyn will hurt them, and the wealthy love their money more than anything else. Hence they will find ways to tarnish Corbyn using personal attacks. It will be a straight copying of Trump’s odious tactics.


  1. unit000 says

    The Cummings masterplan apperas to be taking a hard turn to the populist right (all the cool kids are doing it these days). Something he may not fully appreciate: just how tarnished the Tory brand remains in parts of the country. Those disaffected (largely white (and straight, and cis)) working-class voters who feel that the Labour party hasn’t been addressing their wants and needs -- the stereotype has them hailing from post-industrial towns in the English North and Midlands -- part of the reason they’ve been willing to vote for UKIP (previously) and the Brexit Party (currently) is because those parties are not the Conservative Party. The Tories are the reason that the UK is dotted with post-industrial towns, and memories are long. Adopting Farageist policies may not be enough to make lifelong Tory-haters vote for the party that devastated their communities in the 1980s and 90s.

    It’s also difficult to credibly do populism, with its “people vs elites” narrative, when you have Old Etonians front and centre in your party.

    Labour’s problem, I suspect, will be that the forthcoming election will be fought almost exclusively on Brexit, no matter that everyone is sick to the back teeth of it. Corbyn is probably inclined to try to continue avoiding to firmly commit to either side of the issue, meaning neither Leave nor Remain supporters will feel fully able to trust the party. While trying to rise above the issue and talk about actual policy might seem appealing in theory, the reality is that Brexit is the entirety of UK politics right now -- everyone knows their mind on Brexit at this point and many if not most will cast their vote for a party they feel best represents their view on Brexit.

    I really couldn’t guess what sort of effect this will have on election results. Given how mistaken the predictions were 2 years ago, given the UK’s crappy electoral system and, above all, given that none of us can plausibly predict what this car-crash of a government will try to do in the intervening period, all bets are off.

    (And having said I couldn’t possibly guess the election results, here is that guess: Tories lose seats, remain the largest single party, remain without a majority; Labour lose seats; Lib Dems and SNP gain seats; Brexit party will (at best) have fewer than 5 MPs. Confident only that I will be proven incorrect.)

  2. ColeYote says

    “The [Tories’] usual shorthand is the Singapore model: low corporation taxes, disempowered trade unions, low regulation, reduced welfare benefits, and a large, but temporary, migrant workforce.”

    And a police state where a government organization owns 2/3 of the economy.

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