It is fair to say that everyone in the UK is aware of the ‘goings on’ at the heart of the government in No10. It would also be fair to assume we are all amazed about the revelations. Three issues emerge that shatter confidence in how the government of the UK is being conducted. Firstly, that ‘senior’ people thought it was acceptable to organise ‘drinks’ parties during a period of lockdown, despite being forbidden under rules coming from the very same people. Secondly, and more importantly, there is a culture of drinking alcohol at work where critical decisions are being formulated and made. Thirdly, that dissenting MPs are ‘threatened’ with the targeted removal of funding from their constituencies. Add these toxic behaviours to the culture of arrogant public-school old boys, and the rest of us ‘oiks’ and ‘plebs’ will no doubt vote to clear them out. The idea that they can be like this and deliver a genuine ‘levelling up’ agenda is fading fast.
The behaviours raise serious questions about the general ‘culture’ in government and the lack of awareness of what the country is enduring. There must be an underlying cause for what has been exposed and it may be deeply troubling. It would be almost impossible for the current government to impose any more lockdowns after the recent revelations. But more importantly, they have exposed a deeper problem of an ‘us and them’ culture. The elite vs the rest philosophy leads to exclusion of those deemed ‘unsuitable’. They are seen as those who don’t fit in rather than being fit and able to do the job. Equality and fairness are scattered in the wind.
A culture of ‘public-school old boys’.
TEFS has been concerned for some time that there is a public-school old boy network dominating higher positions in the government. Their blinkered myopia, that obscures their view of the lives of most people, may also be compounded by a ingrained distain and lack of respect. This could be such a powerful force that those from other backgrounds are sucked in quickly and ‘go native’ to survive as insiders. It’s a dreadful realisation.
The dominance of Oxford and Cambridge graduates in government is astounding enough. But more so when considering how many recent leaders were in the Bullingdon Club when students at Oxford. This was only for the wealthy and those equally willing to show off their wealth to taunt the ‘oiks’. These included Cameron and Johnson together in a photograph from 1987. The original was banned from publication due to copyright restrictions -but a painting of the photo by Rhona Marsden persists. Other past members include many Conservatives such as George Osborne, Jo Johnson, Nick Hurd and John Profumo to name a few. It seems Labour politicians were excluded, or perhaps were more mature and better behaved. Witness accounts of prostitutes, drunken abuse and criminal damage do none of them any favours (Sexism, vandalism and bullying: inside the Boris Johnson-era Bullingdon Club’ The Guardian 7th July 2019). It is a relief that the club is in decline but it still exists and there are many other such clubs scattered around Oxford and Cambridge universities. Certainly the ‘Buller’ cry is still in the minds of those running the country and the vestiges live on at the top table of government.
A pervasive culture of drinking.
There is no doubt that a drinking culture pervades much of British society. The Americans are particularly offended since their Federal Government comprehensively bans alcohol. For the UK, this must change as it is dangerous when life-critical decisions must be made. Everyone assumes that strict rules mean that airline pilots, train and bus drivers, doctors, nurses, and many others are not allowed to consume alcohol while at work. Indeed, arriving to work under the influence of alcohol or any other drug is banned in most workplaces. However, it seems that drinking alcohol while at work is not totally banned by law. Instead, different employers have their own rules that apply based upon risk. These rules encompass most people working to keep the UK running from machine operators to delivery drivers.
In contrast, the prevailing culture at Number 10 seems to recklessly ignore the possible risk and consequences. The excuse that they were at booze sodden ‘work meetings’ is absurd. Pleading that ‘it’s OK boss, we got it wrong, but we were drunk at the time’ doesn’t cut the mustard. Each one involved, right up to the prime minister, should be forced to look again at the risks and consequences of making bad decisions while drinking alcohol. I am waiting for someone to cite the leadership of Churchill, fuelled by regularly drinking excessive amounts of wine, champagne and brandy from early each day. Some insist that this did not affect his ability to lead, despite conceding that his drinking was excessive (‘The Myth of Churchill and Alcohol: A Distortion of the Record’ by Michael McMenamin 2018 Churchill Project Hillsdale College). Churchill certainly shouldered enormous responsibility under great strain. But, unlike Johnson, it seems most people who were advising him stayed sober and that should not be forgotten. Johnson doesn’t so much gloss over the drinking as celebrate it in ‘The Churchill Factor’. However, Churchill also made many serious mistakes throughout his career and the real ‘myth’ might be to assume alcohol did not affect his judgement.
Levelling up is a mirage.
A sensible conclusion would be to assume that the idea of ‘levelling up’ is a mirage, or at best a mere slogan. Its purpose is to fuel business investment and even exploitation of working people to feed profit. A key objective is therefore to generate more skilled workers, not for their benefit, but for that of business and more profit. That may not such a bad thing if it was open and clear. But it is hidden from scrutiny most of time as the burden of taxation and social support cuts fall on the weakest. The outcome is a perverse version of ‘levelling up’. The policies on higher education that are emerging point also toward deterring the least advantaged from university and into skills training at eighteen (TEFS 8th November 2021 ‘Where is the government going with Higher Education?’).
The ‘Partygate’ smokescreen.
While ‘Partygate’ might seem unfortunate for Johnson and friends, it does provide a convenient smokescreen for the Conservative establishment pushing through policies that should set alarm bells ringing. Instead, they are getting an easier ride in the media due to the distraction. Also, failure to respond to Augar on student fees is being side-lined for now.
Setting aside impending war in Ukraine and more Coronavirus variants emerging, there are radical changes ongoing such as the ‘Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill’ at its third reading in the Commons and about get Royal Assent. It will severely limit dissent and protests that could openly oppose the regime. Could it be that a response to Augar and student fees is waiting for the Bill to be carved into the law first? Alongside the ongoing ‘Higher Education (Freedom of Speech) Bill’ there is the bill to enable the ‘Advanced Research and Invention Agency (ARIA) to emerge. This will be of great interest for research intensive universities jockeying for position. They will also be expecting the ‘Skills and Post-16 Education Bill’ to pass Royal Assent soon.
On others there is disquiet about what is coming. We have yet to see a draft of the British Broadcasting Corporation (Privatisation) Bill that’s at its second reading. On elections, the ‘Dissolution and Calling of Parliament Bill’ is well advanced at committee stage in the Lords. However, an election in 2023 is looking less likely now. But if is does happen, it will benefit from the more restrictive voting rules planned in the ‘Elections Bill’ at its second reading in the House of Lords.
So far, the media seem to have missed passage of the ‘Barnett Formula (Replacement) Bill’ that drifted into view in June of last year and reached its second reading a few days ago. Keep an eye on this one as a draft has yet to be published. It could have profound effects on the fate of the union.
What of 2022 predictions?
TEFS predicted that Johnson would survive 2022 based on the fear and self-interest of MPs and ministers not wanting to lose their jobs. This is probably the only driving force behind them taking positions of support.
However, the damage is becoming so severe that many MPs, who fear losing their ‘red wall’ seats, want to see him gone. This may come to a head soon, but so far there is astounding support for Johnson amongst the rest. It paints a sorry picture for the populous coming under increasing pressure. The investigation report from Susan Gray next week will no doubt slam the ‘Partygate’ culture and rule breaking as officials try to hide evidence. They would be committing a crime if a police investigation was underway. But it is not, and Johnson might still evade blame as others take the full hit.