Politics

Lawbreaking, rich lists and yet another ‘shakeup’: it’s a normal week at Tory HQ | Marina Hyde


News that the Partygate investigation has concluded with no further fines for Boris Johnson is arguably a setback for long-game prime ministerial assassin Dominic Cummings. The stop-Boris movement’s trackie-bummed antihero now has to regather, regroup and confront his own reflection in the bathroom mirror with the timeworn war cry: “We go again.” At this point, I don’t even know what you’d call this movie. Day 396 of the Jackal?

Anyway, signs of a healthy politics: an MP from the governing party is arrested on Tuesday on suspicion of rape, sexual assault, indecent assault, abuse of position of trust and misconduct in a public office – but it’s basically been forgotten about by Friday on account of the police confirming the end of their investigation into pandemic lawbreaking by the people who made those laws. The cops confirm the most-fined address in the entire country is No 10 Downing Street.

MPs cheerily tell reporters that all that is now “priced in” to their continued support for the PM, with the next big test being two byelections – one held because the previous MP repeatedly watched porn in the Commons chamber, and the other held because the previous MP was recently convicted of child sexual assault. The justice secretary goes on telly this morning – hey, it’s crime week! – to claim that people just want to see the government get on with the job.

I don’t mean to have lost focus, but remind us what “the job” was again? It feels a bit like we’ve passed the tipping point, and that all this other stuff is now so prevalent as to effectively constitute “the job”. You clock in for a shift of lawbreaking or defending lawbreaking. But if you want to do frivolous things like solve ordinary people’s problems, then, I’m sorry – you do that on your own time. This here is a shirkplace, not a workplace.

Either way, Downing Street has responded to the end of the Met investigation the best way it knows how: with an internal reorganisation in which some people who previously reported to some other people are now reporting to some different people. Yup, it’s another Downing Street shakeup. We go again! Johnson’s No 10 gets shaken up more than a snowglobe. Or maybe think of it as a kaleidoscope full of shit, endlessly resolving itself into new and different vistas. Which are all, inescapably, still made of shit.

According to some readings, Johnson seems to have escaped further fines based on the defence that he works at home – a thing that, in all other contexts, he tells us is very bad. Indeed, the media campaign to force Britons to stop working from home and return to the office continues unrelentingly. As I said this week, Rupert Murdoch is positively obsessed with people returning to their commutes. And, as Cummings confirmed this week, the chief drivers of the anti-WFH push are the newspaper editors and proprietors who constantly harangue Johnson about what it’s doing to their sales. If only the PM could be straight with the public and explain that they should herd themselves back to the office in order to save Fleet Street. As tugs on the electoral heartstrings go, it’s up there with telling them to do it to save buy-to-let landlords or serial sex killers.

Any bright spots this week? Yes and no. It’s been a mixed bag for former knitwear unicorn Rishi Sunak. On the one hand, the chancellor has just made his debut on the Sunday Times rich list, with his and his wife’s wealth estimated at £730m. (The Sunaks’ fortune is put down to her huge stake in Infosys, and his huge mistake in not taxing her on the dividends.) On the other hand, his previously booming personal brand continues to crash like a stablecoin. The chancellor’s approval rating is now believed to be pegged to Franklin Mint items, or TalkTV’s ratings. Sunak’s not even being taken seriously by the CBI. On Wednesday, the chancellor attended the confederation’s annual dinner in the City and gave a speech that went down like a vial of monkeypox. It appears that opening your remarks with the words “Let me tell you the plan”, and then not having a plan, much less telling the audience about it, is not the way the “party of business” is expected to behave. As one business leader in attendance put it on departure, he was “more worried now than when I came in”.

Justifiably. Even the government’s position on a windfall tax on energy companies is subject to a paralysing tug-of-hate between government factions, with Sunak warming to the idea but No 10’s deputy chief of staff, David Canzini, adamantly opposed, apparently on the basis that it is an “ideologically unconservative” thing to do. I remember a Tory party conference four years ago where Jacob Rees-Mogg was telling people not to panic at the Brexit chaos, on the basis that Brexit would be a success “because it is a Conservative thing to be doing”.

You’ve heard of fiddling while Rome burned; our version of that seems to be the country sliding into the howling hellfires while various government figures twat about on the side of the pit debating whether it would or would not be “Conservative” to help. Or maybe whether the most helpful thing possible would just be to sell Channel 4. As indicated earlier: shitty vistas all round. In fact, a few more months into the cost-of-living crisis and you get the feeling Johnson will be begging to go back to the sunlit uplands of Partygate.

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