angrysampoetry

the foundations of oppression can't be plucked up without the anger of a multitude

Posts Tagged ‘boris

How to engage with ‘partygate’?

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How to engage with Partygate? A couple of problems emerge straight away. Firstly, it seems to be an internal Tory feud. It is Boris Johnson’s own MPs who are clamouring for his apologies and his dismissal as Prime Minister. It is not the leader of opposition driving a moral campaign against corrupt government. Nor is it really investigative journalism which uncovered this scandal. The material was leaked to the press, originally the Daily Mirror[1], which quoted unnamed “sources” and then via a video to ITV news of the mock press conference where Downing Street aides rehearsed how to lie about the existence or propriety of the Christmas party.[2] Whoever these “sources” are, they clearly have an interest in unseating the Prime Minister. I, too, do not like him. But my enemy’s enemy is not necessarily my friend. If a Prime Minister is overthrown by his own MPs this is not a revolution. It is a palace coup.

Business meeting?

Secondly, the danger of this ‘scandal’ and the way it is unfolding leads us to be looking in the wrong direction. No doubt, Johnson and his government are corrupt, perhaps even slightly more corrupt than other governments, but not an anomaly in the organisation of our political systems.

Prison for whom?

We need to be honest with ourselves. Is anyone surprised that members of the government are not following rules that they set? Unfortunately, this is how the “British value” of the “rule of law” works. The rule of law is in fact a rule of a class, with all the pomp and circumstances of be-wigged judges and “m’lords” and “please be standing” in judgement over another class whom they consider in need of controlling. The facts speak for themselves. Overwhelmingly, our jails are full of poor and working class people. This is not because they commit more crimes. It is about who gets prosecuted and for what. The drug laws are a case in point. These aides at the party will help government enact laws to remove citizenship from the same second generation immigrant youth who sold them the cocaine they were using in the toilets. And I am not just cheaply throwing shade. A recent Sunday Times investigation discovered that 11 out of 12 toilets in the Westminster estate had traces of Colombian marching powder on them, including those “next to the private offices of Boris Johnson and Priti Patel”. Unless these party-goers were particularly abstemious (which it doesn’t look like they were from the pictures), then no doubt some of what an anonymous source, called “a cocaine culture in parliament” was going on among the law makers and their advisors.[3]  While promising to spend £300 million “to rid the country’s streets of illegal narcotics,” threatening confiscation of passports and driving licences of those found convicted[4], Johnson is turning a blind eye to the drug use happening in his own office toilet.

None of this is surprising, if we are prepared to admit the class and race dimension of law-making in bourgeois democracies. Ten years ago, the drug charity Release pointed out that “every 58 seconds someone in England and Wales is stopped and searched by the police for drugs”, with black people 6.5 times more likely to be stopped and 5 times more likely to be charged for possession of cannabis than white people. When it came to capitalism’s narcotic of choice, “in 2009/10 the Metropolitan Police charged 78 per cent of black people caught in possession of cocaine compared with 44 per cent of whites.[5]” This means a white person caught with cocaine has a better than half chance of getting away without a criminal conviction. It’s the same powder and it has the same effects on the brain, yet one group is charged for its possession, the other not so. Back in the early Tony Blair years, in a rare moment of sanity, there was some talk about loosening the prohibition laws. 8 members of the Tory shadow cabinet admitted to having taken cannabis in their youth. But still, lassitude towards recreational use was not to be applied universally: they were talking about students smoking weed, not people on council estates[6].

White collar fraud is rarely prosecuted. Minor credit card scams are cracked down on. Even knife crime has different outcomes depending on the class of the perpetrator. Oxford university medical student, Lavinia Woodward stabbed her boyfriend and was spared jail. The judge felt that the criminal system was not for her: “To prevent this extraordinary, able young lady from following her long-held desire to enter the profession she wishes to, would be a sentence which would be too severe.” The class of the person in front of him made him reflect for once on the effects of his power. Woodward’s drug addiction was seen as mitigating circumstances, not her criminality.[7]

checking his pockets for coronavirus

Why should Covid laws be any different in their enforcement to any of our other laws? Unsurprisingly the increase in police powers as a result of emergency coronavirus legislation was not most felt by the upper-middle classes. On returning to school after the first lockdown, I asked a young person I was working with how he was finding the pandemic. His answer was that it was ok, he and friends just knew that the police would stop them even more. The most notable effect for him was increased police harassment. Race and Class’s latest publication details a qualitative study of black people’s experience of dealing with the police with their new powers. At a time of reduced crime, the Guardian reported that police issued 13,445 fines in less than two months.[8] The ethnic breakdown of those fines showed that non-white people were 54% more likely to receive one than white people.[9] These figures are sad but hardly unexpected. People were stopped for delivering food to their elderly relatives, attending a graveside, etc. Why are we pretending to be shocked that the police were not at the door of politicians to close down their parties?

The danger of this current scandal is that we naively accept the convenient fiction that Boris Johnson’s government is a corrupt aberration from the upstanding norm. From cash for questions in the ‘90s, to cash for honours and parliamentary expense fraud in the mid-2000s to the award of Covid contracts, corruption has been institutionalised in British parliamentary procedures and remains largely unpunished. Tony Blair was questioned and Lord Levy was arrested for selling peerages, but never charged. MP Margaret Moran was given a two-year supervision and treatment order for claiming the largest expenses of any parliamentary MP. Her mental health was deemed too sensitive for prison.

a tangential relationship to truth…

The pretence that we are “all in it together” was used during austerity and now again during the pandemic. The truth is somewhat different and politics has tried to cover this gap between rhetoric and reality by the invention of spin. After 3 decades in which, as Mark Fisher put it, “all that is solid melts into PR”, public statements have little relation to ‘truth’ as anyone might normally understand it. In fact, we all know that. The video of the sham press conference to practice explaining away the party should it ever come to light, was a perfect demonstration of where truth resides in politics. “What’s the answer?” giggles Allegra Stratton when asked whether Johnson would “condone” such a gathering. The “answer” in politics depends as least as much on what focus groups decide the “public” most wants to hear and what can be plausibly got away with, than what any individual politician really “condones”.

So, how to engage? Let the Tories stab each other in the back. Good. It might be the only way that Keir Starmer’s woeful Labour party can unseat them at the next election. We need them to do so, not because the Tories are “above the law” or because Labour will be any less above it. In a class-based system like capitalism, the “rule of law” has always and will always protect wealth and private property, and be used as an instrument to discipline the most dangerous parts of the population: the working class. The working class are dangerous not because they are criminal. They are dangerous because Marx’s prediction that they would be the “grave-diggers” of the system was perfectly credible. Their oppression, atomisation, division and alienation is necessary for their exploitation.

Our experience of Blairite “liberal” authoritarianism and “principled” imperialism should make us realise that Starmer’s Labour will not be anything other than a slightly less dangerous enemy. But right now, we might even take slightly less dangerous. It is not the laws that Johnson et al are not personally following that should be most bothering us, but the kind of laws they are enforcing on others. As a recent statement from the Transnational Social Strike makes clear, this government which began by promising to build an extra 10,000 prison places, is now in the process of passing laws to prevent protest, criminalise asylum seekers and travellers, disenfranchise millions, dismiss judicial oversight of governments and silence critics on social media[10]. It is this growing authoritarianism, alongside a brutal economics, a disregard for the environment and a “let the bodies pile high” approach to the pandemic that must be resisted. These attitudes are not just Boris Johnson’s, but the attitudes of contemporary capitalism.


[1] https://www.mirror.co.uk/news/politics/boris-johnson-broke-covid-lockdown-25585238

[2] https://www.itv.com/news/2021-12-07/no-10-staff-joke-in-leaked-recording-about-christmas-party-they-later-denied

[3] https://www.thenational.scot/news/19763599.cocaine-use-westminster-raised-met-police-lindsay-hoyle-says/

[4] https://www.thelondoneconomic.com/politics/johnson-announces-drug-crackdown-after-cocaine-gets-found-in-the-toilet-of-his-own-westminster-office-303863/

[5] https://www.release.org.uk/publications/numbers-black-and-white-ethnic-disparities-policing-and-prosecution-drug-offences

[6] http://www.rave.ca/sp/news_info/111745/all/

[7] https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-england-oxfordshire-39947017

[8] https://www.theguardian.com/law/2020/may/15/rushed-uk-coronavirus-laws-led-to-wrongful-convictions-say-police

[9] https://www.theguardian.com/world/2020/may/26/bame-people-fined-more-than-white-population-under-coronavirus-laws

[10] https://www.transnational-strike.info/2022/01/29/kill-the-bill-and-the-growing-movement-against-authoritarianism-in-the-uk/

Written by angrysampoetry

January 30, 2022 at 11:35 am