Between the Covid spikes, the dark conservatism of Boris Johnson develops

Between the first two spikes of the Covid 19 pandemic, Boris Johnson’s true colours have started to appear. This has not been a surprising process for anarchists. While some mainstream voices have suggested that his government has acted in odd ways as a response to the pandemic, it is clear that he and his government are acting in ways they were always completely up front about. Even the billions of pounds injected into the furlough schemes were done so in very neoliberal ways, specifically to support businesses, rather than people. Now, everything from the economy to the constitution is getting the treatment they always said it would.

An example of how Johnson operates is the UK Internal Market Bill. This Bill is odd in that it proves that Johnson was telling the truth, on at least one occasion. The fact that the truth was concealing a lie should also not come as a surprise. Throughout the election campaign last year, Johnson assured people that his “oven ready” Brexit deal would not result in a border between Great Britain and Northern Ireland, even though it was clear that the deal meant exactly that. He was telling the truth, it emerges, because his deal was a lie. The way he has recently acted, to suggest that the international deal poses a risk to the integrity of the UK, is to suggest that nobody was asking him about that issue mere months ago. The fact that this was the deal he got voted into office on the back of doesn’t seem to matter.

What this example shows is that the prime minister is a man who vehemently believes in doing whatever he likes because he has the power. He believes he has the right to rule, not simply because of his election victory but because he’s just the right person for it. He has believed it all his life. I don’t think there’s anything more dangerous than this. It was always present in his style but now we get to suffer it in his policies. This arrogance is not a unique feature of conservatism but added to strong beliefs in authority, paternalistic government and hierarchy it is a dark conservative force to be feared by those who want freedom.

In everything from the constitution to the day to day Covid response, we are witnessing the horrors of a man and a small team of men around that man, shoring up their power and changing the UK to make it ever harder to achieve progress. The dark forces of conservatism are in the ascendency and they will have a chilling effect. Just look at the way Greater Manchester has been treated this week. Needing more money to protect the poorest from strict lockdown rules, the government of Johnson played hard ball and created a clear north south divide. The message is stark. You do what you’re told and you get what you’re given. They don’t work with anyone and they believe their way is always right.

A few weeks ago, the government updated guidance handed to schools on teaching issues like citizenship, politics and democracy. What these guidelines now do is place anti-capitalism in the same extremist category as fascism. The result of this is that teachers cannot now teach revolutionary socialism with reference to material by groups committed to the downfall of capitalism and / or the state. Their neoliberal urge to promote the free market is accompanied by the urge to supress other viewpoints. As a tutor of politics, I sometimes get to teach anarchism to A-Level students. I always include a link to Freedom because I want students to understand exactly what anarchists are saying today. I suspect that if I were teaching in a secondary school, I would be in breach of these guidelines. Under such guidelines, perhaps even teaching the 1945 general election, with reference to labour’s manifesto, would be forbidden.

It’s a subtle change to the fabric of teaching but we will see less subtle changes when it comes to the fabric of the constitution. The Tory manifesto last year didn’t just say “Get Brexit Done”. It also said that:

After Brexit we also need to look at the broader aspects of our constitution.

During the first wave of the pandemic, much of their activity was on hold but they have since made up for it. They are now focusing on key constitutional matters. The manifesto goes on to state that:

the ability of our security services to defend us against terrorism and organised crime is critical. We will update the Human Rights Act and administrative law to ensure that there is a proper balance between the rights of individuals, our vital national security and effective government. We will ensure that judicial review is available to protect the rights of the individuals against an overbearing state, while ensuring that it is not abused to conduct politics by another means or to create needless delays.

We are already seeing that they are giving powers to the UK’s secret police to break the law without any course of redress for those that bear the brunt of their criminality. Considering how hard it can be to get justice against state agents as things stand, placing them above the law is a clear statement of intent. The intention being that they will be breaking the law in the interests of the state. As citizens, we will have no way of stopping them and no way of seeking justice through the courts.

It is not clear yet what they intend to do with regards to the Supreme Court and the Human Rights Act. I think we can guess though. The fact that they consider the court striking down their actions in government, as conducting “politics by another means” is telling. In a liberal democracy this is normally just seen as a check on executive power. The Legislature makes the laws and the Judiciary judges the actions of the Executive in relation to them. There are overlaps with how decisions affect public policy but again, what is being hinted at is an Executive that wants to be unfettered by legal decisions. This is despite the fact that they have a majority in parliament so could change the laws if they wish.

I fear for migrants with the direction this is going. Already the British state is a brutish state when it comes to people who cross a line on a map seeking a better life. Now, it seems that the Home Secretary, Priti Patel, is hell bent on being as nasty as possible to people who reach these shores. In fact, she’s reported to have even suggested installing wave machines to capsize boats in the channel to prevent people reaching the shores in the first place. That, and the idea of detaining and processing asylum cases on British territories in the South Atlantic, are just two of the inhuman ideas that have been conjured up in her brain over the course of the last few months. Changes to judicial review and the Human Rights Act are further threats to everyone caught up in the ludicrous immigration system.

Boris Johnson has talked himself up as Rooseveltian and he is a great admirer of Churchill. In a recent speech, he claimed that previous crises have created a better world. He failed to point out that Roosevelt created a better world for Americans by investing huge sums of money in infrastructure projects. He failed also to say that after the Second World War that better world for Britons was put into operation because the people elected to crush Churchill at the ballot box. He may have won the war but the peace was forged not through free-market dogma and the suppression of anti-capitalism. It wasn’t forged by being shitty to refugees. It was forged by working with international partners to solve the problems of displacement abroad, while creating, simultaneously, the NHS and welfare state. We can only shudder at the thought of a ‘better world’ crafted by Boris Johnson, Priti Patel, Rishi Sunak and Jacob Rees-Mogg.

While people talk up Johnson’s ‘libertarian’ credentials, all we see is a power grab. It is a government that forces through its agenda, shoring up its own power and suppressing alternative viewpoints. From the pandemic response, to teaching, asylum, rights, the existence of a judiciary, this government is as dictatorial as it is inept. The dark forces of conservatism threaten are on the ascendency. There will be consequences for us all.

Jon Bigger