Stop all the clocks, fly the flags at half mast: the Tories are back in Number 10, and with a thumping majority no less. And they’re already getting to work, with prime minister Boris Johnson setting out his legislative priorities and appointing friends and cronies alike to ministerial positions. If you’ve ever needed proof that the Tories believe the rules don’t apply to them, allow me to present: their first week in government.
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Usually, how things go in the UK is that MPs get elected to the House of Commons and then, if their party wins enough seats to form a government – and they’ve spent enough time tonguing their leader’s arsehole like it’s delicious soft-serve – maybe they get made a government minister. It’s not written down anywhere, because we don’t have a codified constitution, but this is pretty much how it’s always been.
Until earlier this week, when Johnson announced that Nicky Morgan would return to the Cabinet as Secretary of State for Culture, despite the fact that she stood down as an MP at the last election. That’s right: it’s not even like she fought an election and lost. She didn’t even run. Energy-wise, Morgan is very much the yawning posho who didn’t bother to fill out her UCAS application but somehow ended up at Bristol because her surname was above the library. Why go to all the effort of standing as an MP, when the Prime Minister will make you a hereditary peer and give you a top job?
What makes this doubly stick in the craw is that in 2018, Morgan announced that she wouldn’t serve in a Johnson administration after he accused former PM Theresa May of stapping the UK to a “suicide vest”. Morgan told BBC’s Today programme that Johnson’s language was “completely appalling”, and ruled out working for him if he became Prime Minister: “I would not serve in a Boris Johnson cabinet.” How times change, eh?
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And on to Zac Goldsmith, whose career is a sort of laboratory experiment for what would happen if you scraped skin cells from a mediocre white man and grew them in a nutrient bath of nepotism and privilege. A brief CV: Goldsmith is the son of billionaire Sir James Goldsmith and descended from aristocracy on his mother’s side. After Eton, Goldsmith skipped university and at 23 was appointed editor of the Ecologist magazine, which was handily founded by his uncle Teddy. After being given a winnable Tory seat in an affluent London suburb, Goldsmith was elected in 2010, and again in 2015, before it all fell apart for the good-looking (listen, it is what it is) scion.
Then, Goldsmith ran an incredibly racist campaign to be mayor of London in 2016, in which he smeared moderate Muslim Sadiq Khan as an extremist and whipped up Islamophobia in an attempt to win the vote. (Thankfully, Londoners saw through his divisive nonsense, and moderate Tories like Peter Oborne were scathing.)
The Heathrow expansion was approved that same year, and Goldsmith lost the by-election he himself had called in protest at the third runway. Goldsmith clawed his seat back in 2017, before losing it again in 2019. All in all, it’s a spectacularly ignominious political career. But that’s no bother, because you don’t need to be competent or electable to be a minister in Johnson’s government – you just need to have gone to Eton with him!
Like Morgan, Johnson is reportedly also planning to hand Goldsmith a peerage so that he can serve in his Cabinet. Rumour has it, Goldsmith – once the second richest MP, with a personal fortune of an estimated £200-300 million – is a close friend of Johnson’s girlfriend Carrie Symonds. Which is nice.
BREXIT OR DIE
It’s definitely happening – after three years of marching to the end of the road and waiting for Mum to come and fetch us home, Britain really is leaving the European Union. To which Michel Barnier will respond, I imagine, with a ¯\_(ツ)_/¯. On Tuesday, a government spokesperson announced that the UK will write into law a bill prohibiting the UK from leaving the EU any later than 2020. Deal or not, we’re crashing out.
That wasn’t the only shitty thing Johnson’s government announced as their policy priorities this week. They’ll move to ban local councils from being part of the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions campaign which boycotts Israeli goods in protest at the illegal occupation of Palestinian land. It’s not hard to see where that policy came from: Home Secretary Priti Patel is so anti-Palestinian rights that she was forced to resign from Theresa May’s cabinet after holding secret, undisclosed meetings with Israeli officials. Patel had asked officials in her department to see if British aid money could be funnelled into an Israeli military hospital.
And the Tories will also move to ban all-out rail strikes, despite fierce opposition from rail unions, who pointed out that banning labour organising is a move characteristically seen in right-wing juntas, not democracies.
Perhaps most unforgivably of all, at the first post-election Cabinet meeting, Johnson led his chums in a bit of good old-fashioned chanting. Johnson asked them how many new hospitals the Tories were going to build. “40!” they cheered. And how many new nurses will they hire? “50,000,” they responded. Because there’s nothing so banterous as sneaking your mates into Downing Street through the backdoor before chanting it up, Bullingdon Club style.
Feeling depressed? Strap in – there’s five more years of this.