The Observer’s take on using dirty tactics to support Boris Johnson | Observer Editorial

Aren’t there tactics a disgraced and unpopular prime minister won’t sink into in his desperate attempt to hang on through thick and thin? For Boris Johnson, it would seem not. Last week, there were new revelations about the underhanded tactics his whips have deployed to retain MPs: threats to publish hostile stories about their private lives in the press or to withdraw planned funding at the expense of their constituents. Meanwhile, the government published story after story to try to distract from the critical headlines; policy-making is no more than a tool to try to save Johnson’s skin, whatever the consequences.

Just over a decade ago, the parliamentary expenses scandal exposed the gap between what MPs thought was acceptable and what the public was prepared to accept. Too many parliamentarians saw the manipulation of spending loopholes as compensation for their public office; voters saw it as greed and corruption. The row that has erupted over parliamentary flogging reveals a similar dynamic. The prime minister’s allies and Westminster loyalists say pressuring MPs to voice support or vote with the government is just part of the political turmoil. But voters rightly don’t expect a government to retain its backbench MPs by threatening to fund constituencies or warning them that if they rebel there will be bad news. in the press.

Christian Wakeford, the Tory MP for Bury South who defected to Labor last week, claimed he had been threatened with the withdrawal of funding for a new school in his constituency if he did not vote with the government against summer holiday meals for pupils from low-income families. Tory backbench MP William Wragg revealed colleagues had reported to him that the whips had tried to blackmail them into continuing to support Johnson; he will meet with the Metropolitan Police to discuss these allegations. Chris Bryant, the Labor chairman of the House of Commons standards committee, says he has heard MPs allege that Johnson himself was involved in the blackmail. At best, it is political corruption, at worst, criminal conduct. There is an urgent need for an independent investigation into these allegations. But such an endeavor is extremely unlikely from a government whose main objective at the moment is to avoid accountability for the watered-down party culture that has resulted in the Prime Minister himself being accused of breaking lockdown laws and misleading Parliament.

Everything Johnson and his government are doing now is driven by panic and narrow political interests. Nothing is sacred, everything is fair game. Last week’s distraction techniques, dubbed by its allies ‘Operation Red Meat’, involved Culture Secretary Nadine Dorries launching a politically motivated attack on the BBC, unilaterally announcing a two-year funding freeze and hinting that licensing fees would be completely abolished in 2027, from which she then rowed.

Culture Secretary Nadine Dorries addresses Parliament over BBC license fee freeze - as it happened
Culture Secretary Nadine Dorries addresses Parliament over BBC license fee freeze – as it happened

The BBC is a vital national institution which has already made significant cuts; it cannot afford a cut in funding. Home Secretary Priti Patel has announced that the armed forces will take over operations to limit the number of asylum seekers trying to cross the English Channel, in a move the chairman of the defense select committee has said. described as “rushed” and a massive distraction for the armed forces. Another country, this time Ghana, was forced to call out the government’s false claims that it is in talks with it to treat migrants overseas, a move that would likely violate international law anyway. Meanwhile, Transport Secretary Grant Shapps was aiming for front pages with his announcement that he would crack down on excess train ads, to the amazement of those affected by much more pressing transport issues across the country.

The longer this corrupt and hypocritical government drags on, the greater the risk of long-term damage to public confidence in democratic institutions. How can citizens trust a government to act in their best interest when it makes ridiculous announcements that serve no purpose other than trying to prop up a prime minister mired in crisis after crisis?

Nowhere is this truer than with Covid. During an ongoing national emergency, it is essential that the public trust the government to make decisions for the right reasons, based on evidence rather than a desire to capture the news cycle. It is very good news that Omicron infection rates are decreasing. But is the government abandoning Plan B measures – including the mandatory wearing of masks – this week because the data indicates it is appropriate or in order to generate welfare news? The cynicism that Johnson instills in the electorate will not evaporate with the end of his premiership.

Johnson can last another month; it can last another year. But he is Prime Minister of this country only in name: although he won a large majority just two years ago, his authority has entirely dissipated due to his incompetence and lack of integrity. . The more the Conservative Party supports him, the more he undermines the notion of standards in public life.

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