It’s fair to say that I wasn’t best pleased at the outcome of the 2019 general election.
This wasn’t due to any undying loyalty to the resoundingly vanquished opposition mind, nor was I sufficiently enamoured with any of the night’s many losers to the extent where their pain vicariously became my own.
However, there was one oh so simple hope I did carry with me throughout the campaign.
Owing to my sense of optimism being beaten down, desecrated and terminally punctured over the preceding few years, I wasn’t hoping for anything outlandish or crazy – I just didn’t want the mendacious demagogue who’d spent his entire career violating the very concept of integrity to win the majority he so craved.
So, inevitably, that is precisely what happened.
However, as loathsome a prospect a Boris Johnson premiership undoubtedly was, the greater threat undoubtedly lay in the cabinet of misfit toys he would bring into power alongside him.
And we weren’t talking your garden variety political jobsworths either – these were premium chancers. Unscrupulous careerists to whom being a conduit for the most brazen of lies isn’t so much a question of integrity, rather a rite of passage to attain a higher position on the proverbial greasy pole.
You could argue that the political realm has always been awash with the amoral and callous, relentlessly pursuing their own self interest. “T’was ever thus” as Johnson’s most slippery of lieutenants once said – and, by and large, that’s often been the case.
The key difference however, is that a ghoulish lack of empathy and perpetual undercurrent of astonishing ineptitude becomes really apparent on the rare occasions a legitimate life or death crisis holds the nation in a relentless stranglehold.
Of course I’m referring to the coronavirus – a pandemic which needs absolutely no introduction as it continues to keep vast swathes of the global population marooned at home.
The outbreak of this new and highly contagious virus has exposed both the alarming fragility and rank hypocrisy residing in both Britain’s public services infrastructure and the powerful establishments to whom its ultimate fate is tied – the treatment of the NHS being the most obvious example. It’s all well and good praising them to high heaven and offering up tokenistic applause when they’re the only thing standing between Britain and an unthinkable fatality count, but don’t expect superficial gestures to erase a decade of gutting their resources and having your sympathetic pals in the gutter press undermine their plight at every turn.
The more obvious examples of failures of leadership and historical negligence on the part of the government are well documented by this point. However, the true extent of their blundering is effectively impossible to quantify – owing almost entirely to the deliberate obfuscations and contradictory communications from the government.
Let’s use a recent example to illustrate the point – Britain’s involvement (or lack thereof) in the EU ventilator procurement scheme.
This was an unedifying cavalcade of calamity and confusion from the get go. The first stance attempted was that we simply didn’t need to. We were out of the EU and didn’t need to cooperate with those pesky eurocrats anymore as Britain could stand alone.
So far, so Brexit – but, soon after, word got out that this wasn’t actually the case and Britain hadn’t taken part on account of “missing an email”. A convenient and undeniably useful excuse for when you’ve forgotten to do a work assignment perhaps, but considerably less credible when a global pandemic has the country you’re attempting to run gripped tightly by the gonads.
This confused and apparently gleeful indulgence in contradictory messaging rumbled on for a while, essentially relegated to a background gripe with more pressing items of woe being at the forefront of the news agenda.
However, the moment senior Foreign Office official Sir Simon McDonald informed the Foreign Affairs Select Committee that the decision was indeed political, Pandora’s box lurched open once more – the sorry spectacle attaining its peak level of intrigue when the following bizarre and seemingly coerced retraction was hurriedly released into the public sphere:
So what really happened? Who’s actually responsible for this procession of pitiful incompetence? Nobody on the outside could ever realistically hope to know – and that’s precisely the point. Clearly something is amiss, otherwise the messaging wouldn’t be so erratic – yet with each jarring gear shift the truth becomes ever the more buried beneath increasingly vague and repeatedly contradictory lines of communication.
And, if the spin doctors are especially lucky, it’ll serve as a suitably convenient distraction to an altogether more horrific government induced catastrophe elsewhere.
You could be forgiven for thinking a torrent of disinformation, itself being bolstered by incredibly cynical timing has a fairly familiar ring to it – and you’d be right. It’s the Vote Leave modus operandi – and its reemergence is no coincidence; not when many of its key figures now ply their trade at the very top of our current government.
Dominic Raab is Foreign Secretary, Priti Patel is Home Secretary, Boris Johnson is the Prime Minister – and, of course, we have former Vote Leave Director Dominic Cummings as Boris’ senior adviser. To name but a few.
With this in mind, it’s important to realise that this isn’t just a government dealing with the coronavirus pandemic, it’s a government with a constant focus on its own PR – and when you’re an administration with such a startling penchant for hapless bungling, you need a crack team of shameless bullshitters to do the donkey work.
Naturally such donkey work ranges from the sinister to the downright embarrassing. Whether you’re subtly attempting to retrospectively change the nature of the target you’re about to fail, or heralding a decrease in reports of shoplifting while the vast majority of shops are closed as some sort of achievement – integrity is left forlornly at the door when you sign up for Team Boris.
Just stick to the script, never concede even a semblance of fault and never, ever, under any circumstances acknowledge the amount of care workers who have died. This isn’t just a grisly statistic for the generic Tory drone, but a political inconvenience which must be evaded at any cost.
Besides – if you let empathy seep too deeply into your thoughts and flaunt these rules on moral grounds, it would be an admittance of culpability – and that will certainly leave you in a very uncomfortable position when the inevitable public inquiry rears its vengeful head.Follow @grahamlithgow