Our armchair historian and openly British blogger reveals what he really thinks about Prime Minister Boris Johnson and his current government in the UK...
How to F#ck Up a Country in One Tory Lesson
by Coast Watcher
I’ll nail my colors to the mast and state that I favored Brexit. The European Union has a soft shell of socialist values layered over a hard core of capitalism. The UK and the EU are not compatible in their way of doing things, and the EU’s one size fits all policy is asinine at best, destructive at worst. The policy pays scant attention to national characteristics which leads itself to the strengthening of nationalist feelings and a push-back against the very ideals the EU is supposed to espouse. Recent challenges to EU laws have risen in Poland and Hungary as these nations clash with the EU over access to abortion laws and LGBTQ+ rights.
I'd hoped that the country of my birth would have enacted a decent and sensible plan to deal with their departure from EU and that necessary measures would have been put in place in a speedy fashion.
I was wrong.
The Human Cost of Brexit
The resultant fall-out from Brexit is an utter shambles. The ruling Tory party (first under David Cameron and currently under the shambolic Boris Johnson) seem hell-bent on turning the country into a right wing dictatorship, using the natural prickly post-Imperial conservatism found in a sizable minority of British people to push through laws which are not in their interest. They rely upon the average Brit’s knee-jerk reaction of bloody foreigners! to get support for the government in any international dispute. And people die as a result.
Recently, at least 27 refugees and asylum seekers died trying to cross the English Channel after their dinghy deflated and sank. It was the worst disaster on record involving migrants in the sea separating France and the United Kingdom. The famous and hard-working Royal National Lifeboat Institution (RNLI) helped rescue survivors. They’ve had to do so on numerous occasions before and since when refugees attempt to cross one of the world’s busiest shipping lanes in treacherous weather conditions. For this humanitarian duty, the lifeboat crews who risk their lives to save those in peril on the sea have been heckled and even received death threats from anti-immigrant persons.
The RNLI charity’s chief executive, Mark Dowie, has recognized that the migrant crisis is a “polarizing issue,” but lifeboat crews carry out “humanitarian work of the highest order.” Rescuers who are called out from bases along the Channel coasts of Kent and Sussex are faced with desperate situations, including “terrified and suffering children.”
Another volunteer spoke of one occasion when his lifeboat brought rescued migrants ashore. They were confronted by an angry mob who shouted, “Go back to France!” The crew member said, “It’s one of the most upsetting things I’ve ever seen. I can’t imagine what those families felt like, coming ashore to that after the night they’d had.”
In Hastings, the lifeboat was blocked from launching by an angry crowd of locals who shouted abuse at the crews. The incident resulted in the police being called, and rightly earned a backlash against the crowd on mainstream and social media.
A clause slipped into the Nationality and Borders Bill gives the British Home Secretary draconian powers to strip any person born in the UK of their citizenship, without notice if it’s not “reasonably practicable to do so.”
Frances Webber, Vice-Chair of the Institute of Race Relations, said: “This amendment sends the message that certain citizens, despite being born and brought up in the UK and having no other home, remain migrants in this country. Their citizenship, and therefore all their rights, are precarious and contingent.
“It builds on previous measures to strip British-born nationals (who are mostly from ethnic minorities) of citizenship and to do it while they are abroad, measures used mainly against British Muslims. It unapologetically flouts international human rights obligations and basic norms of fairness.”
Maya Foa, the director of Reprieve stated: “This clause would give (Home Secretary) Priti Patel unprecedented power to remove your citizenship in secret, without even having to tell you, and effectively deny you an appeal.”
The US government has condemned citizenship-stripping as a dangerous denial of responsibility toward a country’s citizens—although the Biden administration is guilty of doing virtually the same in cases involving deported undocumented immigrants who have underage children born in the US.
The affairs of this province remain as tangled as ever. Strong sectarian divides between Protestant and Catholic communities has subsided in the years since the Good Friday Agreements of 1998, ending centuries of strife. The peace negotiations were begun by then-Prime Minister John Major (probably the last halfway decent Tory PM Britain had, which really isn’t saying much, as his regime was mired in scandal after scandal) and finished under the successor regime of Tony Blair (who undeservedly took all the credit).
The mainstay of the agreements is the relaxing of border controls between Northern Ireland (Ulster) and Eire (The Republic of Ireland), which is in the EU. The contentious and divisive checkpoints were dismantled and peace descended upon the province for the first time. Now thanks to wrangling over the shipment of food products—mostly meat, eggs and poultry—between the UK and EU, those checkpoints may rise again, causing outrage and a renewal of nationalist feeling in the hard-line sectarian parties and communities. Violent disturbances have already occurred in Belfast and other cities.
The National Health Service
Last, but certainly not least, we come to the institution beloved by all British people—their national health service.
First authorized by Parliament in the 1946, the National Health Service Act began in 1948 and has served the UK population with easy, free at the point-of-use healthcare across the entire country. Administered and owned by the government, it’s a cherished part of British life.
Naturally, the Tories hated it from the get-go. Much like the Republican Party of the US, the Tories have never met a public asset they didn’t want to sell off for private profit.
Former President Donald Trump (may he never rise again to molest the world with his dire presence) put pressure on the Tory government to allow US healthcare industry mavens to take part in directing NHS policy. This pressure is being maintained by the Biden administration. Blatant capitalists now sit on all the NHS boards at both the national and regional level, ensuring the smooth transfer of British public-owned assets into private corporate ownership. Tory Members of Parliament are under strict instructions to decry and deny any accusations of privatization. They’re even succeeding in whipping up pro-privatization sentiment among some sections of the British people.
How long this sentiment will last remains to be seen. Perhaps for some British people it’ll end when they’re required to pay £2,000 for an ambulance ride, similar to what many Americans are now billed.
First P.M. Cameron, then Johnson, have followed the time-worn path of running down a public asset to the point where they can throw up their hands in mock despair and cry, “Public ownership doesn’t work! We shall have to privatize this so it runs efficiently.”
In the case of the NHS, the Tories work on it by cutting its budgets in secret ways, instituting pay-rises that are well below the rate of inflation. They impose unrealistic “quotas” on staff that can never be met, thus resulting in burn-out and departure of valuable personnel. All this at a time with COVID-19 cases increasing in the UK.
The Tories continue to privatize parts of NHS services, such as methods for disposing dangerous medical waste. Instead of each hospital dealing with its own waste on site using special furnaces, the Tory government handed operations over to a private firm located in the English Midlands. Hospitals and clinics are now required to ship their waste to this facility across the national road system, with all the dangers that entails. Naturally the facility is unable to cope with demand, resulting in a dangerous medical waste piling up at hospitals across the UK.
In London, a specialist eye clinic was sold to billionaire Richard Branson’s Virgin Group. In one year it went from an Excellent rating to actively blinding patients. Another London clinic was likewise sold to Virgin Group, and within a year went from an Excellent rating to Failing.
Forty-nine other General Practices have so far been sold into private hands, and the Tory government stands on its hind legs and cries, “It’s more efficient!”
I won’t go into great detail over the Tory mishandling of the COVID crisis, averaging 48,000 cases a day at the time of writing, beyond to say that its policy currently seems to be to throw up its hands and say, “Well, what can you do?”
There isn’t one worth the name. Current Parliamentary Labour Party (PLP) leader Sir Keith Starmer is another politician in the Tony Blair mold, a neoliberal who seems determined to lead his party as far to the right as he dare. The PLP is doing its level best to oust any true socialists still in its ranks. It has not restored the Whip position to former Leader Jeremy Corbyn. Expect no opposition worth the name from this quarter.
(In essence, the Whip is the means by which a party controls its membership. It ensures members vote the way the leadership wants and follows policy closely. It’s especially important to parties which do not have a majority in the House.)
No Tory government member is ever far away from sleaze and corrupt practices. The provision of PPE and sanitizing equipment during the COVID crisis enabled Tory party members and donors to make out like bandits on the public purse. One of the most prominent scandals to date was that of now-former Minister Owen Paterson who was found guilty of accepting payments to advocate on behalf of two private companies. P.M. Johnson attempted to fix the scandal by pressuring his party to change the parliamentary rules governing such matters. Although he succeeded in doing so, the affair caused a massive public outcry and a rapid U-turn on Johnson’s plan.
And, of course, there’s that fine old British governing party tradition of selling titles for cash. Recently the Sunday Times reported that all but one of sixteen Tory Party treasurers over the last two decades had donated more than £3 million (roughly $4 million) to the Conservative Party, for which they were offered a seat in the Lords (the UK Parliament’s Upper House).
In Media Res
Of course, not everything is being reported by British mainstream media. According to information given by Claudia Webbe, MP for Leicester East:
• 5 billionaires own 80% of UK press.
• 3 companies dominate 83% of national newspapers.
• 5 companies dominate 80% of the online market.
• 5 companies own 80% of local titles.
Beloved of right-wing governments everywhere, austerity measures are yet another way of cutting public expenditure so more money can be given to the rich. In my most recent visit to the UK, I was appalled to see so many people sleeping rough (homeless) on the streets. Even provincial cities have many people without a roof over their heads.
And no, they’re all not “there deliberately” or because they drink or have mental health issues. The majority have lost their jobs and homes thanks to Tory policies which border on the vicious. The means-testing of people with disabilities is farcical. Even amputees are required to attend review boards every six months to see if their condition has improved. Funding for disabilities and social workers is cut to the bone and beyond, resulting in failures to deal in a fair and timely manner with those who need help most.
There is push-back against the increasing privatization of the NHS. There are people determined to make the UK a safe place for migrants to come to. It’s going to be a long uphill struggle, but it’ll be worthwhile. In the meantime world events move on. With climate change making an increasing impact on the peoples of earth, modern politics is looking increasingly like rearranging the deckchairs on the Titanic. The same-old, same-old conservatism is dangerous. Time to kick it into the long grass.