Alexander Boris de Pfeffel Johnson attracts scandal and sleaze like dog mess on the pavement on a hot summer day attracts flies. It is simply part and parcel of the nature of the beast. You could no more expect Johnson to act with probity and to maintain the standards traditionally expected of the head of a democratic government than you could expect the ugly and nasty dog mess to emit the fragrant scent of lavender and to arrange itself into an attractive picture of a landscape. The difference is that the dog mess will be washed away by the next heavy rain, whereas we are stuck with the stench of Johnson’s corruption.
However what is even more alarming than the eagerness of Johnson and his incompetent cronies to use high public office as a means to create lucrative business opportunities for themselves and their associates, is the way in which they are determined to neuter and render impotent the already inadequate means offered by the institutions of the British state for holding the powerful to account.
The unwritten constitution of the UK was always a recipe for the powerful and the British establishment to be able to do as it pleased, unfettered by the explicit constraints of a written constitution, that’s why they like it so much. Under such a system the only thing preventing a descent into overt anti-democratic authoritarianism is the self-restraint and sense of decency and propriety of those in charge. Traditionally, apologists for the British state liked to pat themselves on the back about how the UK was a shining example of the highest standards of democratic government, a lesson to the world about how a democratic government and society should conduct itself. During the 2014 Scottish independence referendum campaign, some opponents of independence went so far as to claim that it was only the good offices of the Westminster Parliament which stood between Scotland and a dystopian totalitarian barbarism.
However in the absence of a written constitution spelling out the limits of their powers, with no explicit delineation of the respective powers and responsibilities of the executive, legislative and judicial branches of government, and with ample opportunities for the exercise of undemocratic and unaccountable patronage in the form of appointments to the Lords and the corrupt honours system, the only thing distinguishing a British Prime Minister from a dictator is his or her own sense of decency and and their appreciation of limits and moderation in the exercise of the immense power granted to them by the unwritten British constitution. Scholars of the British constitution referred to this as the “good chap” theory of government.
What the Johnson regime has revealed is just how fragile democracy in the UK really is. When the highest office in the land is occupied by an individual who is patently not a “good chap”, and who has no respect for the customary practices and restraints which have constrained the exercise of the theoretically limitless powers of a British Prime Minister, there is absolutely nothing in the British constitution to prevent a descent into anti-democratic authoritarianism.
By no stretch of the imagination could Johnson and the rest of his government of chancers and charlatans be described as “good chaps”. We have seen how they routinely behave as though the rules and regulations which they enforce upon the rest of us do not apply to them. When evidence of their rule breaking and hypocrisy comes to light they shamelessly insist that no rules were broken, even when, as is the case with Johnson’s lockdown busting Downing Street parties, there is video evidence and we can all see them breaking the rules with our own eyes. Instead they gaslight us, lie to us, and insult our intelligence by not even bothering to come up with a remotely plausible excuse.
Their sleaze and corruption has become brazen, as the Conservatives are emboldened by the knowledge that they will not be held to account by an English media more interested in trivial gossip about members of the royal family and the affairs of so-called celebrities whose talentless fame rests upon an appearance in the mental chewing gum of a reality TV show. Meanwhile they get a free pass from an overwhelmingly anti-independence Scottish media which is so terrified of reporting anything that might boost support for independence that it prefers to concentrate on ferry timetables rather than defending democracy in the UK and standing up for Scotland and the devolution settlement within this so-called Union that they insist is in our best interests.
These are the same Conservatives who are restricting the voting franchise, openly targeting groups such as the poor, ethnic minorities, and younger voters who are less likely to vote Conservative. They are introducing draconian restrictions on the right of protest in England and Wales, and increasing the stop and search powers of the police in England, a measure which is disproportionately used to target members of ethnic minorities. After the Colston statue case, where a jury refused to convict a group of people accused of toppling the Bristol statue of the slave trader Edward Colston, Conservative MPs howled in outrage, leading the government to take the unprecendented step of referring the case to the appeal courts, in the process undermining the right to trial by jury and the rule of law. The Tories have shown that they care far more about the “rights” of statues of slavers, colonialist thieves, imperialist looters and those who murdered and abused in the name of Empire than they do about those who lost their lives in the appalling and entirely avoidable Grenfell tragedy, and the rights of the many thousands who continue to live in unsafe housing.
Meanwhile, despite the promises that Brexit was to unleash a bonanza of opportunities and cheaper prices, exports to the EU have fallen off a cliff and we are faced with soaring food and energy bills, just as the effects of the loss of the £20 per week uplift in Universal credit and the rise in National Insurance start to be felt and businesses are reeling under the onslaught of the rise in covid infections caused by the omicron variant.
But the response of the Tories is to seek refuge in jingoism, to demand that we must have more union flags, more God Save the Queen, and more royal events, while they continue to fetishise and politicise WW2 while picking unnecessary fights with EU states. It’s a pathetic and inadequate substitute for the UK’s loss of influence and relevance, but it’s all they’ve got.
Scottish independence has now become a necessity, an imperative. It’s the only way to save us from the flag waving jingoistic authoritarian and deeply corrupt failed democracy that the UK has become at the hands of the “bad chaps” of the Conservative party.
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