‘Stability and strong Government with me, or chaos with Ed Miliband?’ These were the words of David Cameron back in 2015. They haven’t aged well.
Three Conservative Prime Ministers, two general elections and forty-five government defeats in the House of Commons later… is this strong and stable government still intact?
COVID-19 has made our government invincible. Mistake after mistake; despite their handling of COVID-19, their stance on free school meals and the Black Lives Matter Movement, the government continues to lead in the polls with 43%, leaving the Labour Party five points behind at 38%. In contrast to previous governments who have been held accountable for their mistakes, Johnson’s administration continues to thrive. Why is this? COVID-19 has become politicised. In my opinion, it sugar-coats the government’s mistakes in the eyes of the public.
England has the highest death toll in Europe: 42,647 and counting. In comparison to other Commonwealth nations; Australia and New Zealand, enforcing an early lockdown could have saved thousands of lives. Nonetheless, the UK Government portrays a ‘one rule for the elite, another for the public’ approach towards the virus. For instance, the government refused to sack Dominic Cummings for a breach of the lockdown rules as he travelled 260 miles to his father’s estate in Durham. Furthermore, Health Secretary, Matt Hancock, embracing his colleague in the Commons, despite the social distancing rules being in force. Therefore, how has this not affected the reputation of the government? Are they invincible? Given the current political climate, in some ways – they are.
This politicisation of the Black Lives Matter Movement highlights this well.
The Black Lives Matter Movement sparked protests across the nation and many responded in anger, arguing that it will help spread the virus. This attitude was channelled by the government, with Boris Johnson stating in an interview with Sky News that people need to “focus less on the symbols of discrimination or whatever”. This dismissive attitude was followed by the Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab, who likened the solidarity of taking a knee to support black people’s lives, to “Game of Thrones”. In 2020, how is the government not held accountable for such dismissive attitudes, which has not even been raised by the party of opposition?
CNN surveyed 1,535 British adults about their views towards race relations in the UK. It found that most black Britons think that the governing Conservative Party is institutionally racist: 58% in comparison to 39% white people. This raises a fundamental question, is there a racial divide in UK politics today? Given the current situation, yes. COVID-19 has politicised a movement which fights for human rights, working in favour of the government. Rather than being criticised for their lack of commitment to fighting against systemic racism, they have been criticised for not stopping the protests or protecting statues. This is further supported by CNN’s survey. When asked whether statues of slave traders or colonizers are offensive, 70% of white respondents disagreed. Consequently, does COVID-19 sugar coat the systemic racism within the Government and indeed the public? I think so. It must also be noted that COVID-19 disproportionately affects BAME communities. Yet, several times, the government has refrained from publishing the report which addresses this. COVID-19 has highlighted both a race and classist issue from the government, proven in the debate over free school meals.
On June 15th, Marcus Rashford, a footballer for Manchester United, launched a social media campaign, in response to the Government ending free school meals to be provided for children over the Summer holidays. In response, the Prime Minister said in a conference that he was ‘not aware of the campaign’ until the following evening. He and his cabinet congratulated Marcus Rashford, unlike Matthew Hancock who congratulated ‘Daniel Rashford’. However, why did they congratulate Rashford in the first place? The government does not congratulate the opposition in Prime Minister’s Questions when they hold them to account. Thus, are opposition parties effective anymore? After ten years in government, the Conservative Party are invincible – winning an 80-seat majority in the 2019 General Election. During this campaign, the Labour Party’s manifesto was criticised as being unrealistic, it promised free broadband for all and to wipe the NHS debt. Yet, in response to COVID-19, the Conservative Party has been praised for implementing both of these policies. In the eyes of the media and the public, there is one rule for the Conservative Party, and another for the Labour Party.
Johnson’s government are invincible. Given the current political climate, basic human rights are politicised: ending systemic racism and free school meals for underprivileged children. Yet, COVID-19 has overshadowed the Government’s response to both of these issues. Lockdown rules are relaxing despite the high death toll. Therefore, will a spike in cases end the honeymoon period for the Government? Or will their rein continue until the next general election? So far, it looks like the latter.