If Netflix needs a new political drama, the last few weeks in British politics could provide them with two seasons' worth of storylines. It is quite amazing that the regular scandals pouring out of Westminster aren't fictitious plotlines made up by a writers room ready to serve us with House of Cards level government dramatics. No, they’re real life. Britain is saddled with a government whose main aim seems to be seeing how far they can go before they all get ousted. And unfortunately, with the way it is looking, they have a long way to go.
In the two years since Boris Johnson’s premiership began, the British political landscape has endured many significant changes. Entering, the focus was on getting Brexit ‘done’, now it’s dealing with the implications of a global pandemic; while Brexit showed cracks in the governments competency, COVID-19 ripped it wide open. When Dominic Cumming decided to go rogue, he revealed that the government had essentially been clueless and deceitful throughout the early months of the COVID crisis. Matt Hancock was a repeat offender, with Cummings claiming that he should’ve been fired for “at least 15 to 20 things – including lying to everybody on multiple occasions”, a shocking allegation when a significant amount of these lies cost hundreds of lives. The PM too was called out for COVID related failures such as constantly delaying lockdowns, and missing key COVID-19 meetings but also for other scandals like Wallpapergate, in which Boris lied about where the money for his Downing Street refurbishment came from before recently (and discreetly) admitting it was donors.
These aren’t even half of the issues involving Johnson’s government, with Cumming himself being at the centre of a big one. This level of deception should have been enough to push multiple members out of the government but many, like Hancock, have been allowed to cling onto power until they can’t anymore.
However, these scandals cannot be viewed within a vacuum - they are a part of a much larger web of lies, hypocrisy and immunity that has been spun for years by the very politicians we are meant to trust. The Brexit era specifically was shaped by mistruths and smears, many being used as campaigning tools. Key campaign headlines like ‘£350 million to the NHS’ turned out to be false in the aftermath and the fact that there were calls for a second referendum due to the level of falsity present in the first says it all, really. Politicians felt extremely comfortable with misleading the British public to get them to vote their way and, in hindsight, this was not an isolated incident during a tense period of political debate.
Post-Brexit, it seems as though a politics of lies, scandals and lack of accountability has not only been created, but encouraged to thrive. Since Brexit, we have had the exposure of secret meetings, bullying, negligence, corruption and cronyism to scarce reaction. As Twitter’s resident political shade room @PoliticsForAll comes through with new scandals daily, and with reports of Priti Patel pushing to reform the Official Secrets Act so that journalists who report “unauthorised disclosures” (which is really code for reporting the governments wrongdoings) can be treated as spies and face up to 14 years in jail, it seems that they want to strengthen this culture as much as they can.
This is all extremely worrying and unfortunately backlash is lacking. Public outrage lasts for a few weeks, if there is any at all, and then dies down; it is troubling when a campaign video exposing Boris’ constant lying in Parliament can go viral, but still barely affect him. In fact, according to weekly YouGov voting intention polls, the Tories constantly remain far ahead of the opposition; the British public is bonded to the Tories, and Labour is currently not strong enough to break that. Keir Starmer seems fine to throw out a few digs from time to time without applying any real pressure, even declining to sign a parliamentary inquiry request into Johnson’s constant lying. If the opposition can't even properly oppose this, what chance do we have?
There are glimmers of hope - Tyrone Ming's public callout of Priti Patel’s backtracking regarding the England team, alongside Johnson and Rishi Sunak’s u-turn decision to self isolate after public backlash shows that there is room for public accountability. And with people like Labour MP Zarah Sultana and her constant, on-point scrutiny of the Conservatives in Parliament, it seems like there is some oppositional accountability too. But with this government, and their penchant for lying, we need to make sure to keep our foot on the gas in order to avoid further sinking into a nationwide ambivalent relationship with politicians' deceit. I know it's hard, but it's necessary. They’re our government - they answer to us.
Credit photos: GettyImages
Written by Keisha Asamoah