Let’s cast our minds back a year, if that’s at all possible.
The country was waking up to Boris Johnson as Prime Minister; having just missed the latest Brexit deadline, Remainers were as hopeful as ever; ‘corona’ was just an exotic beer you drunk with lime; and most of all, though no one knew it, the Conservative Party was cruising to its biggest ever victory in 30 years.
Each one of those things has been turned on their head in the last 12 months and perhaps the most surprising of these is the last: having ‘delivered Brexit’, left the Labour Party in tatters, and having rid the country of its 3-year legislative impasse, the Conservative Party had a lot of political capital; probably enough to last them the next election campaign. “This is going to be a great year for Britain”, declared the Prime Minister on 2nd January. And then the unimaginable happened…
Of course, no government’s reputation could have stayed shiningly clean during the ongoing dragging-through-the-gutter that has been the Covid-19 pandemic. Indeed, every Western government (save Angela Merkel’s) in power during the 2008 Financial Crisis was booted out of office, regardless of if they were to blame or not. But whilst the Johnson Administration could have done nothing about forced errors, they have made a remarkable number of unforced errors, so many that if The Thick of It ever came back on the air, it would need to look no further than the current tenants at No. 10 Downing Street for inspiration.
Starting with the prime minister’s refusal to sack Adviser Dominic Cummings after he blatantly broke the law during the height of the pandemic, right through to the Department of Education’s use of a “mutant algorithm” (to quote Johnson himself) that gave children from privileged backgrounds inflated exam grades whilst having the contrary effect on everyone else; not to mention outsourcing the job of building a national Track and Trace system to a private firm that had no experience whatsoever in doing anything remotely like that. More recently, they’ve shot themselves in the foot again, over free school meals.
A few weeks ago, the government gave Marcus Rashford an MBE for his role in campaigning for free school meals for children from low-income backgrounds. Weeks later, the government seems to be against the very thing for which they gave him that prize. (Don’t forget, the 22-year-old single-handedly strong-armed the UK government a few months ago: it could happen again). Interestingly, however, the PR strategy of some conservative politicians hasn’t been to stay quiet over supporting an unpopular policy, but rather to slap the other cheek. Ben Bradley, the Tory Member of Parliament for Mansfield, has defended his vote against free school meals for working-class kids, alleging unfoundedly that the summer free meals scheme money had gone directly to “crack dens” and “brothels”. Are they trying to lose the next election?
It seems the Conservative Party are forgetting that it was largely working-class Labour constituencies that put them in power last December, the very people they are treating with such disdain at the moment. And with the furlough scheme having just ended, it doesn’t seem likely they will be increasing their popularity with that demographic anytime soon. With Labour now neck and neck in the polls, you’d think they’d be more careful when taking to the airwaves.
And what for Mr de Pfeffel, the modern-day embodiment of Pericles himself. Rumours circulating that he’s no longer the flamboyant sack of energy he used to be, that he’s unhappy with his £150,000 salary, that he’s having an affair with a younger woman, that his wife has moved out. But you have to feel sorry for the man. You spend all your life plotting to become World King, treading over whoever gets in your way, backstabbing leader after leader, abandoning virtually every belief you might have just to further your political career a little more, and then when you finally reach the top of the mountain, it’s not quite as easy as it looked: a once-in-a-century crisis comes along that you and your utterly inexperienced cabinet are not remotely ready for. Poor Boris.
There’s a scene in House of Cards Season 5 when President Underwood realises his enemies aren’t going to stop coming after him. He turns to the camera and says: “Is this my presidency?” At the moment, with the effects of this pandemic expected to last for years to come, Boris Johnson is probably looking at himself in the mirror and asking: Is this my premiership?
Image: Marcus Rashford via Wikimedia Commons