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A Tory party? I’ll give it a miss, thanks.

Posted on January 28, 2022

Here is the bald truth – none of which is news. During the various lockdowns, people working in Downing Street broke the rules and no sensible person believes that the Prime Minister didn’t see what was going on. He really should have done something about it, but, in actual fact, he just rolled up his sleeves and joined in the fun. The question is ……who gives a monkey’s? Or an animal sanctuary cat’s or dog’s? Hasn’t this now just become so much gas and air? A distraction from the bigger issues of the day?

In a strange kind of way, it’s fair to say that distraction is, indeed, taking place. These outrageous tales of inexcusable, insensitive misconduct, taking place in the offices of state that made the rules, have hoovered up airtime to the exclusion of swathes of important business. Our collective disgust has travelled through stages of shock and indignation; maybe it’s time for weary acceptance.  Perhaps this storm of allegations will eventually make us dull and anaesthetised when it comes to this flagrant, arrogant disregard of the rules made for the little people.

The blank-eyed Tory loyalists who are having 50p each-way on whether Johnson stays or goes, are hoping this will be the case. They take to the airwaves to recite the playlist: vaccinations, furlough, employment figures – with the background muzak of migrants and the BBC to add some atmospherics. Don’t be distracted, they tell us. The barbarians are at the gates of Europe, we’ve got inflation to tackle and you’ve got a gas bill to pay. All this talk of cake and cheese and wine is distracting us – and you – from the job in hand.

On the one hand, we can only take delight in the stubbornness of public opinion. All polls show Johnson’s approval ratings bumping along the bottom, with the memes and gifs proliferating on even the most apolitical of WhatsApp groups – ‘I thought it was a work do’ enjoys particular popularity. On the other, for all the jeopardy that the Prime Minister and his party are enduring, there remains the possibility that they could be picking the positives out of a grim situation. Distraction need not all be about booze-runs to Tescos or a knees-up before a royal funeral.

While we’re all spluttering and fuming – and, for the avoidance of any doubt, quite rightly so, in my opinion – we are, indeed, getting distracted from important stuff. The organisation, Transparency International, found that between February and November 2020, there were at least 73 contracts for the provision of PPE, worth over £3.7 billion, that merited further investigation. Of these, at least 24, worth £1.6 billion, went to ‘known political connections of the party in government in Westminster.’  It’d be shame if we allowed ourselves to be distracted from that. Or Dido Harding’s eye-watering incompetence; or Matt Handscock (yes, I know, cheap but funny) sorting a contract for his mate in the pub; or Michael Gove sending a £50 million deal to his old mate and purveyor of beauty products, David Meller.

With 2,260 deaths per million people, the UK’s record is worse than all neighbouring countries with the exception of Italy and Belgium, where numbers are similar. In terms of economic recovery, it fares considerably worse than the US, France and Germany at 2.1% below its pre-Covid level. The ‘it’ll be alright on the night’ strategy for dealing with issues around the Irish border have, astonishingly, not gone away and the number of children living below the poverty line has now reached a staggering 31%. We’ve been asked to protect the NHS as an article of faith by all and sundry since March 2020, but you’ll have to excuse me if I point out that I was under the impression that it was the job of government to do so. As I write, the one plan, as clumsy as it was, to address the screaming need in social care, looks like being ditched by Tories, who have suddenly remembered that they are, after all, the party of low taxation. I reckon they’re only too happy for us to be distracted from all of this.

And we ought to just get one thing straight. None of this, from ‘work meetings’ to sleaze to a flagrant disregard for the weakest and most vulnerable, is aberrant behaviour from the Tories. It’s not a glitch; it’s not excusable misjudgement prompted by an unprecedented pandemic; it’s not even the odd moment of weakness. It’s what they do: it’s who they are. What’s more, we shouldn’t be surprised by any of it – they’ve been in office for nearly twelve years.

As I’ve been writing this, I’ve checked periodically to see if the almost mythical Sue Gray Report has been released. I’m tempted to say that, whatever the outcome, it might be best not to be distracted. Whether cake was consumed, canapes scoffed or prosecco swilled, there are still questions aplenty to be addressed. Let’s not lose sight of them.

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