Governments are defined by their reactions to crises. The current UK Government, headed by Prime Minister Boris Johnson, has fumbled every single opportunity to do right. In the past week alone, we have seen embarrassment after embarrassment, which has led me to conclude that Boris Johnson's government has failed the country throughout the Coronavirus pandemic.
As things stand, the UK has the second-highest number of deaths per million people in the entire world (not including countries with a population below one million). We have now surpassed even the direst prediction made by expert Professor Anthony Costello of the UCL Institute for Global Health, who worried that the UK could hit 40,000 deaths as a result of COVID-19. The United Kingdom’s current death toll stands at 42,153, as of the 18th of June 2020. And all this government has done is spin, deflect and lie.
That is to be expected. This, after all, is the government whose electoral strategy was to trudge along the Brexit highway, repeating the tired old “us against them” mantra, begging the electorate to finish what they started, over five years ago. A series of single-issue voters elected a single-purpose government, only to find that when that one purpose takes a back seat to a far more pressing concern, the government is wildly incapable of any measure of an effective response.
Now, this article may seem like I’m writing it out of anger and rage. I am. Over 40,000 of my compatriots have died because this government was too slow to lockdown, too slow to get vital PPE out to hospitals and to care homes, too slow to protect the homeless and economically vulnerable, failed to protect schools and teachers, failed to find a functioning alternative to an already malfunctioning Universal Credit system, failed to use any sort of executive authority to engineer Britain's manufacturing capabilities to aid in the fight against COVID-19 – instead opting to purchase cheap PPE made in sweat-shops. Further, Boris Johnson failed to attend five different emergency COBRA meetings on the virus before it reached the UK, the government vehemently defended their own advisor who flagrantly showed a disregard for the lockdown rules, they also tried to deflect blame onto footballers for the government’s shortcomings, they privatised the mobile track and trace app in shady circumstances, only for it to emphatically fail in every conceivable way, and most recently, attempted to rescind the food vouchers programme for underprivileged children throughout the summer – meaning innocent British children faced starvation. That is until Manchester United and England footballer, 22-year-old Marcus Rashford, stepped in to make a public plea for ministers to make a U-turn (which they reluctantly did).
Thankfully, due to the British press actually doing its job and critiquing the government, including many political pundits of both left and right persuasions, the government was forced to either backtrack on bad policy initiatives or were forced to act when they otherwise would not have. That said, they have failed in so many areas and the numbers ultimately speak for themselves.
I took the decision to stop watching the government’s daily briefings about two or three weeks into the lockdown. Chiefly because it was abundantly clear that they were being used not to aid the public’s understanding of the ongoing pandemic, but to spin public opinion in favour of the government. Remember, this government is comprised of the spectral former backbenchers who led the Brexit insurgency in the Tory Party. Their communique has always been one of deceit. The difference is that now, people aren’t falling for it.
It is one thing to propagandise about a foreign power who reigns over us, subjugating our people and illegitimately dictating how curvy our bananas must be. It is another to say that the government is performing well, before announcing that 1,172 of our compatriots have died on that day (Apr. 21). People have seen through the spin, the lies and the deflection. At the time of the UK locking down (Mar. 23), the UK Government’s approval rating was at 47%, with 32% disapproving (net. +15%). After repeated cockups, blatant lies, the Cummings scandal and being told they’re out of line by a 22-year-old footballer, approval has dropped to a net -12% (34% ap., 46% disap.).
What’s more, the new Labour Party leader, Keir Starmer, who took over from the much-maligned Jeremy Corbyn in early April, has seen his popularity soar to unprecedented heights. Indeed, no opposition leader has enjoyed such sky-high poll numbers since Blair in the mid-90s. Starmer is closing the gap against Johnson. This is likely due to his relentless hounding of Johnson at the dispatch box, in which Starmer, a former Barrister and Director of Public Prosecutions (2008-2013), is able to demonstrate his interrogative prowess to the voting public.
When all is said and done, the government will have to take stock of their performance. I’m sure that we will see plenty more fantasy-land spin from the Cummings crew in the period to come. Earlier in the pandemic, I wondered if this government would plant the blame at the feet of the NHS after the pandemic, using any manufactured irritation as a useful excuse to privatise it.
However, looking at studies on the public opinion of the NHS, we find that favourability remains around the high 70s, with the British public viewing it as a vital, live-saving mechanism and a major part of British society. That said, given how demonstrably bad this government is at ‘reading the room’, they must just chance it and see. Given that this government’s electoral coalition is built off of the back of many former, life-long Labour voters who loaned the Tories their vote in 2019 so as to Get Brexit Done, taking a wounding shot at the NHS could very well be the knockout blow on this government’s public support.
I have always maintained that Johnson is a very capable campaigner. When he was appointed Tory leader in July 2019, I thought that he would be a great asset for the Conservatives on the road. He would undoubtedly win them votes through his clever use of language and his affable persona. Although, Boris Johnson is a case study in proficient campaigning failing to translate into suitable governance.
This government has fluffed its lines one too many times. Unfortunately for us, this gaggle of blaggers and clowns happen to be in power during the most devastating international crisis in a century. The rap sheet is as long as your arm; this government has failed the UK.