Opinion

Boris Johnson is just a human manifestation of the British state – getting rid of him won’t solve all its problems

15 Jan 2022 5 minutes Read
UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson. Picture by Annika Haas (CC BY 2.0).

Ifan Morgan Jones

It looks like it’s now over for Boris Johnson’s premiership, whether he goes quickly or his demise is dragged on over months or even a year.

It’s very difficult to think of anything more damaging for a politician, particularly one who claims to be a populist man of the people, than to impose strict rules on the population and then to be seen to have presided over a government that flouted those same rules repeatedly and extravagantly themselves.

Every day seems to bring a new revelation about a string of parties or a colourful anecdote about someone dragging a suitcase full of wine from Co-op that will stick long in the public memory.

But while Boris Johnson may carry the can for them the scandal isn’t down to one person but rather a matter of attitude and culture at Westminster and Whitehall. He is just a human manifestation of a British state which seems to believe there is one rule for them and another rule for the rest of us.

Boris Johnson may have been at the party on 20 May, but so were over 100 other people, few of whom seem to have recognised that there was anything wrong with what they were doing. There were parties going on at No 10 while he wasn’t there, and there seems to have been other parties going on in other parts of Whitehall that had nothing to do with Number 10.

It’s clear that while Boris Johnson seems to have turned a blind eye to or even participated in what was going on, this culture of telling the public to do one thing while doing another themselves is deeply embedded within the UK Government.

The scandal also tells us something bout how tangled the network of colleagues and contacts are within Westminster and what impact that has on people’s ability to keep each other in check.

One of the parties alleged to have happened at No 10 was to say goodbye to James Slack, who quit as Boris Johnson’s director of communications to become deputy editor-in-chief of the Sun – which seems to partly explain why the Sun has been so quiet since the scandal first broke.

This cosiness and lack of accountability seem built into the structure of these institutions. The Met Police won’t investigate any criminal wrongdoing unless the internal UK Government inquiry points to any. But the senior civil servant carrying out the investigation into alleged Covid rule-breaking in Downing Street and other departments, Sue Gray, reports to Civil Service head Simon Case, who reports to the Prime Minister.

In her excellent book Haven’t You Heard? Marie le Conte paints a picture of a Westminster where power depends on drinking in the right groups of men (and it is mostly men) from a certain class and educational background. Those who have access to those networks get things done and rise through the ranks far more efficiently than those who are not.

The Westminster Bubble has never seemed so much a barrier between the rulers and ruled. And it points to there being something incestuously unhealthy about the British establishment. Everyone who is supposed to be keeping each other in check seems to know each other very well, and depend on each other for their advancement, and that can ultimately only lead to back covering and closing ranks.

Varied

The other similar scandal that comes to mind straight away is the phone-hacking scandal of almost exactly ten year ago. In that case, it wasn’t until the New York Times started digging into the story that it turned out the entire establishment – politicians, media and even the police – had been turning a blind eye to what was going on.

In the case of both the phone-hacking and party gate scandal the lethal mistake seems to have been to annoy the Royals – in the first case, by hacking Prince Harry’s phone and in the latter by partying before Prince Phillip’s funeral. It seems that accountability only follows if the British establishment slights another and more senior part of that same establishment.

In many ways, Boris Johnson represents the British state in a microcosm – well-connected, wealthy, Eton and Oxford-educated, but arrogant and dysfunctional. And removing him as Prime Minister won’t solve the problem – the whole nature of the scandal is the result of a culture and attitude deeply embedded within the fabric of the British state.

It would be very easy at this point to end by juxtaposing Wales with Westminster and argue that our own political institutions don’t have any of those problems.

But it’s worth remembering that the prequel to the current scandal was the resignation of the Welsh Conservative leader Paul Davies for drinking in the Senedd with other politicians, a few days after the Welsh parliament had introduced an alcohol ban at pubs.

If we want to build a state that is better run than that controlled from Westminster, we need to put the structures in place to ensure that power is spread around the country and that we are represented by people from different backgrounds who mix in different circles.

We also need to ensure that our media is as varied as possible. There’s no point having pluralism if the media are best mates with everyone in power and all singing from the same hymn sheet.

Otherwise, we are in danger of simply recreating Westminster in Cardiff Bay and Whitehall up the road in Cathays Park.

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Mark
Mark
3 days ago

The cosy back watching culture is endemic in all public funded bodies.

Steve Duggan
Steve Duggan
3 days ago

The them and us attitude has been within the British establishment for centuries – it will be very hard to dislodge. Our best hope of ditching the rot in Wales is by gaining independence and putting in place regulation and law to prevent it happening here.

Malcolm rj
Malcolm rj
3 days ago
Reply to  Steve Duggan

That’s the only answer and Wales will always be neglected until we control our own country the sooner we have independence the better wake up Wales

Dave
Dave
3 days ago

nice article this, fully agree but is the Welsh Parliament any different? and if so why? and if it is, how does the English Parliament change their culture for the betterment of English People? #IndyWales is my view.

Robert Williams
Robert Williams
3 days ago

No, of course getting rid of Johnson won’t ‘solve all our problems’, but Ifan is in danger of distracting from the unique dreadfulness of the present occupant of No 10.

Crwtyn Cemais
Crwtyn Cemais
3 days ago

Erthygl ardderchog ~ An excellent article

Peter Cuthbert
Peter Cuthbert
3 days ago
Reply to  Crwtyn Cemais

Yes, good article. Perhaps we should also notice that underlying the whole problem is the level of inequality in Britain. Indeed one could even describue it as the British Caste system. Thus we have the ultra rich and priviledges ‘royal’ level under which lies the seriously wealthy landed gentry, then the next level is the ‘other’ wealthy types like CEOs, City gamblers and so on. Those of us who work to live are just the Oiks at the bottom who can be ignored. Better ‘rules’ might help but greater equality will help a great deal more and eventually provide us… Read more »

Padi Phillips
Padi Phillips
3 days ago

Interesting and important article. I particularly agree with the last three paragraphs, but would suggest that in a future Wales that no only is our media as possible, (and I think the way that Norway ensures that there is a robust and independent press is worth emulating) and our politicians selected from a range of backgrounds that in addition our representatives become to a certain extent delegates subject to a recall system better developed than is currently the case and with a wider remit.

Y Cymro
Y Cymro
3 days ago

Boris Johnson is merely a festering pimple on the political pus-filled backside of the British State.

Grayham Jones
3 days ago

No in wales 🏴󠁧󠁢󠁷󠁬󠁳󠁿 kick all English party’s out of wales 🏴󠁧󠁢󠁷󠁬󠁳󠁿 stop being little Englanders and be proud to be welsh it’s time for a new wales 🏴󠁧󠁢󠁷󠁬󠁳󠁿

Dafydd
Dafydd
3 days ago
Reply to  Grayham Jones

Are you real?

Brechfa Smythe _ Rhydderch
Brechfa Smythe _ Rhydderch
2 days ago
Reply to  Grayham Jones

I know I can’t believe 36.1 % of votes cast at the last election were for the Tory party. The problem is Wales has less than 10% voting for Plaid and the Labour Party no longer knows what it stands for.

Wrexhamian
Wrexhamian
2 days ago

The Tory success in Wales wasn’t as surprising as you think it was; it was an anomaly based on the commitment to get Brexit done, and on the comparative unelectability of Corbyn, partly, but not wholy, owing to the negative coverage of him in the media. Don’t worry for Wales, it isn’t likely to be repeated. Obviously, those percentages have been made outdated by the most recent polls. The Welsh Labour Party’s May 2021 manifesto will give you a basic grounding in what they stand for. Note, in particular, the references to greater, more effective devolution, which was one of… Read more »

Ex Plaid member
Ex Plaid member
3 days ago

Boris is not to blame. This is how he behaves. Looking after his own interests alone. The Tory party are to blame. They knew this was the type of man he was before voting him as their leader. They knew what they would get. The British people are to blame in aggregate. They knew (or should have) that this is the type of man before voting the party into power he was the leader of. They should have known what they would get. Too late to complain now. The opposition parties are to blame for not providing a credible alternative… Read more »

hdavies15
hdavies15
3 days ago

“Blame” is hardly the appropriate word. It is far too emotive and leads us nowhere. Any form of diagnosis will highlight the huge structural flaws within the Tory Party and ergo the British State. It has been allowed to evolve into the condition that prevails today – a corrupt state, managed by a corrupt and deviant political class, led by a man whose default behaviour is to say the first thing that comes to mind, often a lie or a distortion of truth. What could possibly go wrong ?

arthur owen
3 days ago

You say there were a hundred people at the party really there were thirty seventy did not turn up,your case is strong enough without this exaggeration.

Erisian
Erisian
3 days ago

It’s going to take some realy fresh thinking to save the UK and I see no evidence that any English part has any idea at all – except more of, more or less the same crap that has got us all in the state we are currently in.

Quornby
Quornby
1 day ago

Johnson is the second biggest arse to inhabit 10 Downing Street and the dullest by some distance.

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