A culture of lies belittles the office of Prime Minister
Mick Whelan's column: February 2022
A month on and partygate is still on the front pages of all the national papers and the main topic of discussion on all the early morning news programmes and any political show of note. As one wag said, why doesn’t he ask Carrie if it was a party? After all, she was sitting next to him, drinking a gin and tonic!
We watch minister after minister seek to defend the Prime Minister while he himself has gone into hiding, shielding outside once more his own Covid rules. This is not about political points scoring; this is about the whole country being treated with contempt with, clearly, one rule for some, and one for the rest of us.
Boris Johnson and his chums broke the rules – and the law – and partied like there was no tomorrow whilst those who abided by the rules, and guidance, for the greater good, were not with their loved ones when they died or able to go to their funerals. All those who followed the rules and could not visit relatives or friends in care, or in hospital, all those who as key workers – like train drivers – went to work and put others first whilst fridges were bought to keep the Downing Street party wine nicely chilled – and suitcases brought out to wheel in extra supplies of party booze – are, understandably, furious about the frolics in Downing Street.
The truth is that Boris Johnson’s culture of lies and arrogance belittles the greatest office in the land. There has scarcely been a statement or speech by the Prime Minister, made in or out of Parliament, which, when fact checked, has turned out to be accurate; in many cases they have been, deliberately and misleadingly, false. In the past, if you misled Parliament you stood down; if you were caught misleading the country then your own party, never mind the opposition, would demand your head.
What we expected, and what we are seeing, is the ultimate in deflection – a series of contentious announcements to get the actions of the PM out of the news – the sonic cannons to send immigrants back crossing the Channel, the defenestration of the BBC, and voter ID costing millions of pounds when there is no problem in the UK but will disenfranchise millions in future. Would it not have been better not to write off the £4.3 billion of fraud for Covid services and get that back? And investigate the illegal VIP fast lane for the provision of PPE or the £37 billion wasted on the failed track and trace system?
Before Christmas, because of government policy, footfall on Britain’s railways had fallen off a cliff, revenue had dropped to 40% of pre-pandemic levels, and the industry advised us that they would be reducing timetables, as they had done previously. Imagine, then, our surprise when the public statements of some train operators put the timetable changes down to the non-availability of staff.
This is even odder when we have reports of certain operators removing all Covid measures but then asking us for flexibility. Operators not undertaking safe training, and introducing unagreed rosters, or failing to adjust diagrams, we are dealing with these as necessary and as they come up. One company said they could not put safe diagrams in place as their roster department – who were working from home – were too busy!
There are obviously companies which are happy to have less safe working practices in place and I wonder what the regulator is going to do about this? And, if the regulator doesn’t, don’t worry, because we will.
Please be safe.
Yours in solidarity,