Going through the motions

Rishi Sunak gave a landmark speech on Monday. That’s landmark in the sense of an abandoned ruin by the side of the road to nowhere. The Prime Minister was attempting yet another relaunch, but he was really swimming in the sea offshore from an English beach – just going through the motions. All he has left are culture wars tropes and scaremongering about a big bad scary world. After all the tensions stoked up by his needless and unceasing culture wars, Rishi Sunak telling us that the world is full of nasty people feels like the child catcher in Chitty Chitty Bang Bang warning us never to accept sweets from strangers.

Sunak was speaking at an event in London organised by the right wing Policy Exchange think tank, he claimed that “an axis of authoritarian states” such as Russia and North Korea were attempting to undermine British values. Just what are those “British values” though? The values that Rishi Sunak stands for include corruption, sleaze, patronage, lack of accountability, political dishonesty, the demonisation and persecution of vulnerable people, mindless flag worship, enabling war crimes, and the hagiographic adoration of the head of state. So nothing at all like Russia or North Korea then.

The speech was not so much a speech as it was an excursion into a black void of meaninglessness as Sunak went through the motions of uttering sentences but produced nothing that actually had any real semantic content. Even so, the cringiest moment in this cringefest came not from Sunak himself but from the BBC’s Chris Mason, who is rapidly making Laura Kuenssberg and Fiona Bruce look like the Spanish Inquisition when it comes to asking questions of the Tory party. Mason did not so much ask Sunak a question as feed him a line in order to enable him to score a party political point against that other senior conservative, Keir Starmer. Chris Mason asked: “Are you saying the country will be less safe under Keir Starmer?” To which Sunak replied: “Yes”. This is what the BBC is proud to call ‘holding the powerful to account’.

Sunak trotted through a list of the usual culture war targets, gender activists and anti-racism campaigners, saying: “From gender activists hijacking children’s sex education, to cancel culture, vocal and aggressive fringe groups are trying to impose their views on the rest of us. They’re trying to make it morally unacceptable to believe something different and undermine people’s confidence and pride in our own history and identity.” That would be pointing out that the British Empire was not a glorious force for good in the world but rather a massive exercise in theft, expropriation, genocide and enslavement. He then added: “Scottish nationalists are even trying to tear our United Kingdom apart”.

Is he about to ban pro-independence political parties and Yes rallies? It is very telling indeed that the “threats” to the UK according to Sunak are leftists, environmentalists, pacifists, migrants, peaceful protesters, democrats, those who support human rights and advocates of Scottish independence.

Sunak then added that he “couldn’t accept” that the UK’s problems were due to “14 years of Conservative government”. That’s us telt then. Nothing is the fault of the Tories who have been in power for the past 14 years. The myriad issues which beset the UK are merely unfortunate coincidences and have nothing at all to do with a Tory government which gave us austerity and stripped public services to the bone even as boardroom pay packets ballooned and the wealthy enjoyed tax breaks and government handouts.

But apparently, Sunak’s dream is “a country where people can disagree respectfully”. That’s lovely. It would be a whole lot more convincing if he hadn’t said this just a few minutes after basically calling anyone who disagrees with him – on any issue – an extremist.

The real extremists are this dangerous government of opportunistic right wing British nationalist populists. The Tories are that very modern political tragedy, a populist party which isn’t very popular at all, saying that half the population of Scotland are extremists.

The BBC saw fit to broadcast this speech live, but it contained not one single policy announcement, far less any major new development, it was nothing more than a long and rambling party political broadcast amplified by client journalism. The speech was relentless empty populism and culture-war red-meat. This is all that Sunak and his party have to offer neither he nor the Tories are capable of anything better.

What this excuse for a speech boiled down to was telling us to ignore the record of the Tories over the past 14 years because the party which was not responsible for anything that went wrong since it came into power can guarantee that everything in the UK will suddenly start working perfectly if we give the Tories another five years.

Sunak leads a party that has been in government not just for the last 14 years but also for most of his life: that’s 31 of the last 44 years. As prime minister he has criticised courts, judges, lawyers, peers, civil servants and anyone who legitimately questions his decisions. He has vilified decent people who are disabled, unemployed, homeless, sick, hungry and vulnerable. He and his government have demonised refugees, asylum seekers, people sleeping rough and people who struggle to survive through no fault of their own. They have driven vital public services including health, education, transport, housing, police, probation, prisons, defence and river quality into the ground.

Now Sunak has the utter gall to tell us that he and only he has wherewithal to offer a safer and brighter future for all of us. The most depressing thing about Sunak’s latest rubbish reset is that there is still time for more rubbish resets before the next GE.

The real tragedy here is that the ‘change’ that Keir Starmer promises is no change at all, all he offers is the same corporate private sector bullshit repackaged and rebranded and he will do nothing to change the dysfunctional structures of Westminster upon which he depends as much as Sunak for the near absolute power both of them crave. Even Suella Braverman is now in favour of policies that are too left wing for Starmer, she has called for the abolition of the two child benefit cap. That’s her ruled out as a defector to Labour then.


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