Johnson shielded by Brexit populism

It almost defies belief that if an election were held next week the result would still be a Tory victory writes Andy Stowe. A YouGov poll conducted over the last weekend of May suggests Johnson’s party would have the support of 45% of voters. Labour are some distance behind on 35%, putting them level with French president Macron who’s been heavily criticised for his government’s response.

Those Tory voters may have been a bit vague about the precise number of people who’ve died from coronavirus, but they can be in no doubt it’s a lot. The official total stood at 38 489. This is 10% of global deaths. The British state is in the same league as Bolsanaro’s Brazil and Trump’s United States. It is true that Labour leader Keir Starmer is narrowing the gap between him and Johnson, but that’s not such an achievement given that the Tories are directly responsible for thousands of deaths and virtually everyone understands that they are incompetent liars. It’s no surprise that they massage the statistics when reporting the numbers of dead, the more accurate figure from the Office of National Statistics indicates 61,795 excess deaths, obliging even the Daily Mail to call the Tories out on lying.

British exceptionalism

Three things explain this.

First, the historical experience is that citizens do tend to rally around their government when there is a major crisis. They assume that by and large the people in charge know what they are doing. Or they prefer to think that. The British ruling class has cultivated a veneer of reassuring competence which is often in direct contradiction to the facts, but this gives them some political capital.

Secondly, the Labour right in harmony with the Tory press and BBC spent the whole period of the Corbyn leadership actively persuading the party’s own voters that it was dangerous, malevolent and completely unfit to run the state. It will take time to persuade millions of people that Labour is better than the Tories. One consequence of the work those people did to deliver a Tory victory is that thousands have died in care homes due to a near complete absence of testing, tracking and tracing.

The third element is the creation of a mass, right-wing populist movement which delivered Brexit and a Tory majority. This is now piling on the pressure for a relaxation of the lockdown. Papers like The Daily Telegraph and The Sun have been egging on their readers to go on holidays abroad, opposed quarantine regulations and persuading them that it’s a good idea to re-open pubs.

It appeals to the white British exceptionalist world view of a readership that is more likely to be older, more overweight, unhealthy and in more dangerous jobs than the average. As with Trump’s voters they’ve opted for a reactionary, nationalist reponse to what’s happening in the world which is actively putting their own lives at risk. It’s an ideological choice which requires an explicit refusal to consider the consequences.

Johnson gets away with murder

In Germany, Italy and the United States this is who is on the streets protesting against lockdowns and vaccinations. In England they provide the buffer which gave Johnson the confidence to hold onto Dominic Cummings when it was demonstrated beyond all doubt that his aide had broken the lockdown rules, edited his blog to conceal a lie and conspired with his wife to lie by omission on national radio.

Johnson, Cummings and the Tory cabinet have, for the moment, virtually got away with murder. Martin Green of Care England said:

“There was a clear instruction to empty hospitals in March and send people to care homes despite no testing for infection. I’ve seen patient notes altered to disguise infection.”

Actually, it’s worse than that. Covid free patients were discharged into care homes where the infection was already rampant and the staff didn’t have protective equipment. They were sent into a sector which is run for profit by private equity firms to die so that hospital beds could be freed up.

There will be a reckoning for this. Hundreds of thousands of people have now had the experience of not being able to visit dying relatives. The Tories are virtually ensuring that a new wave of infection will arrive in the autumn. It will take time for that anger to find a political expression and a way of mobilising protests, but it will happen and they know it. They are so terrified of releasing Public Health England’s report on the impact of the pandemic on black and ethnic minority communities that they’ve decided to suppress it, citing the international street protests against racist American cops. The anger is real and it is widespread. It just doesn’t have a voice yet.

If Labour MPs exerted a fraction of the effort to undermine Johnson and the Tories that they devoted to getting rid of Corbyn they could help bring down this government in weeks.

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