War is hell – but it’s no free pass for Johnson’s Cabinet

Posted on March 7, 2022

Putin’s invasion of Ukraine is despicable and abhorrent. This isn’t news, but it’s become necessary to say so before criticising western governments in order to deflect accusations of being apologists for Russia’s unconscionable actions. But this appalling war mustn’t be used as cover for the flannel, bluster and hypocrisy of Johnson’s cabinet – and, in particular, of three women in his inner circle.

When Margaret Thatcher became Prime Minister in 1979, there was a short-lived argument among some left-leaning people that the election of a woman to high office represented social advance. By the time she had sold off council houses, shredded public services and manufactured a senseless war, this position had lost all credibility. Gender was certainly not a determinant of compassion or empathy. Her successors in the Cabinet room are current living proof.

It is highly likely that they revere Thatcher, although, goodness knows, in terms of intellect they’re not in the same circus. In place of political intelligence, we have over-confident, bragging trash-talk. Style (of a sort) over substance doesn’t even begin to cover it. Tough chat, threats and sneers are the order of the day – along with the hope that the memories of those they’re meant to represent are as hazy as their own. Chief cheerleader of this vile band is the Home Secretary.

We are faced with a refugee crisis. People who, just a short time ago, were packing the kids off to school, going to work and coming back to lounge on the sofa to watch telly, are now homeless, frightened and dispossessed. Fortunately, we know how to deal with such people. Our tried and tested method is to keep them waiting in miserable conditions in Calais for as long as possible before criminalising them and forcing them into the hands of unscrupulous people-traffickers. We’re not reminded that what they’d really like is to go home. Back to school, work and tea and telly. They’re being pushed, not pulled.

Could this be the time for Patel and her cronies to put away the talk of hostile environments? Might it be the point at which we admit workers, potential taxpayers and contributors to pension funds to a country undergoing a labour shortage? Time to reassess our attitudes now that the refugees aren’t all brownish looking? No. I’m not holding my breath either.

At the same top table as Patel sits Liz Truss, the Foreign Secretary. Regular readers of this blog will know that its usual style is an attempt to deflate the great and the good with humour and pointed mockery. We’re way past any such gentleness with someone charged with one of the great offices of state who jabbers first and retracts later and whose appearances on the international stage are enactments of fever dreams of being thrust unrehearsed onto the stage of the school play.

In recent days, a quotation from US Civil War soldier, William Tecumseh Sherman, has been doing the social media rounds: ‘it is only those who have neither fired a shot nor heard the shrieks and groans of the wounded who cry aloud for more blood, more vengeance, more desolation.’ The bellicose posturing of a UK no longer part of an official united Europe looks more embarrassingly out of place with every passing day. And, yes, before you point it out, Putin hasn’t been in the horror of the fog of hellish war either.

The final member of this unholy trinity is culture secretary, Nadine Dorries. If the penny might just drop into Patel’s consciousness when it comes to refugees, it seems it might already have done so when it comes to Dorries and the BBC. Her distrust for this organisation is well documented and her determination to diminish its part on the public stage is obvious.  But while announcing her determination to send Russia to a cultural Siberia (did she employ a speechwriter for that?) she praised the corporation for its unbiased and brave reporting of the war. We can only hope that even she was capable of understanding that Disney or, heaven help us, GB News, wouldn’t quite be up to the job. Her track record on consistency or self-awareness doesn’t prompt great optimism.

It is entirely proper that our main focus should be on supporting those affected by this disaster and, as ever, millions of British people, miserable in our impotence to do anything else, have donated with great generosity. But this doesn’t give a free pass to the tried-and-tested incompetents whose inability to deal with crisis has been so chillingly demonstrated in the past two years. This isn’t whataboutery. This is taking the opportunity to point out the dangerous folly of allowing this government’s rhetoric about policy  – domestic or international – to go unchallenged. Careless talk, as we were told during another war, costs lives. A healthy democracy challenges those responsible for it.

As a footnote, it’s an accepted fact that if you write into the public domain, you’re sticking your chin out. On this occasion, I’m conscious that I have made women the principal focus of my opprobrium. Lest this leave me open to accusations of sexism, I’ll bring some  balance by finishing with the following observation.

Last week, Boris Johnson’s government conferred a knighthood on Gavin Williamson. The spirit of the Bullingdon, the freemasons, good old boys and the golf club live on in public life.  These are the  sort of people who are in charge. It’s not treachery to call them out in times of war – it’s duty.


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