This Party Sucks.
It's not that the Tories lack morals. It's that they also lack manners. There's only so much disrespect the British public can take.
Yesterday there was a hospital-shroud sky over London. In the cold outside Downing Street, a handful of quiet, furious people stood in front of the gates with a big sign and a cheese plate. They did this because, as the sign explained, ‘we’ll never get to party with our loved ones again.’
They were members of Covid Bereaved Families for Justice. And they had just found out that last Christmas, while a terrifying virus tore through the country, while lockdown restrictions forced so many to watch their loved ones dying alone and untouched and afraid - the party of government was tucking into wine and cheese.
While ICUs overflowed and thousands died every day, a raucous Christmas party was held in Downing Street. While their fellow citizens slogged through the darkest part of the year marooned in grief, cut off from family and friends, watching all the joys that made life the littlest bit meaningful get confiscated in the name of the collective good, while all of this was going on, more than fifty Tory politicians and their associates treated themselves to a shindig and a secret Santa. Very secret, as it turns out. These festivities weren’t officially happening, and nor were several other scrumilly illicit parties, and all of this would count among the more family-friendly scandals in Tory history had it not taken place when the entire country was supposed to be on strict lockdown, because the vaccines were months away and any large gathering would cost lives.
Apparently there was a quiz.
Well, here’s a question for ten points: if a bloviating sociopath manages to cheat his way to National leadership in time for a global pandemic, how many octogenarians will his electoral base have to bury before he starts doing his actual job?
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There’s a truth dawning in Britain like the morning of a war. The truth is that cruelty and efficiency don’t actually go hand in hand. That the biggest bully won’t lead you to the brightest future, let alone to the febrile fantasy of former glories he promised to take you to on the election stump. Any feckless father can promise a trip to Disneyland if you’ll just let him know where mum keeps her credit cards, but only a few will laugh in your face afterwards.
We’ve been here before. Last year Johnson wanted to be fun dad so much that he didn’t impose lockdown restrictions before it was too late. Britain rapidly racked up the highest death toll in Europe. The Prime Minister was busy, perhaps, picking out fancy wallpaper for the home renovations at the centre of his latest corruption scandal.
Or one of them. I lose count. It was only a couple of weeks ago this shambling embarrassment of misleadsrship flubbed a high profile speech to business leaders so badly it degenerated into an eye-watering anecdote about Peppa Pig.
Peppa - and I cannot stress this enough - Pig.
So here’s another question, via the Independent’s own Trent Crimm.
Is this a fucking joke?
The answer is yes. The joke is on anyone without wealthy parents. It always has been. The Tories have made it very clear that the rules don’t apply to them. Privilege and the proper use of it is, in fact, one of their few consistent policy platforms. It was the same story in early 2020 when off-brand Grand Vizier Dominic Cummings broke quarantine to visit his mum and dad because he couldn’t cope with looking after his own kids without help. Well, nobody wants to be saddled with looking after small children in a pandemic, Dominic, but that’s part of parenthood, just like making hard decisions about public health is part of the job you spent your sordid little career chasing.
Well, a dog might chase a bus, but that doesn’t mean you should let him drive. And it turns out it’s the small insults that still matter. It’s the artisanal sea-salt rubbed in the open wounds of ordinary life already lacerated by a pandemic policy- if you believe Cummings- of ‘letting the bodies pile high.’
Of course, we’ve no evidence that Boris really said that. But according to the Johnson playbook, what really happened doesn’t matter. What matters is what you can get people to believe.
And right now, I believe the Tories are in big trouble. For days, with a new lockdown looming, the government has been throwing excuses at the wall to see what would stick. There was no party and we weren’t there and you can’t prove it and we’ll call our fathers if you try. But then someone leaked a video of senior members of government not only discussing the party but actually laughing about it.
‘I wasn’t there!’ giggles Allegra Stratton, in a cosy Christmas briefing session designed, with no small irony, to prepare ministers for awkward questions from the press. Stratton was until recently a government spokesperson and, uncoincidentally, a personal friend of the Johnsons. She seems to have got paid pots of cash to do almost entirely sod all until she got caught on camera laughing about breaking the rules while, I repeat, tens of thousands of her fellow citizens died alone. They died alone, with nobody to hug them goodbye or make them laugh so they wouldn’t be scared, because their own fucking government was too busy scheming over the cheese plate to do its fucking job.
And because that happened, this Christmas, there are hundreds of thousands of empty places at the dinner table. Meals that won’t be made, washing up that won’t be argued over, tasteless gifts that won’t be given, awful in-jokes that will never be told again, and the Tories had a party and laughed about it, and no amount of excuses can make that right.
Yesterday, Stratton announced her resignation in floods of angry tears. She seemed shocked to be made to fall on her ornamental sword by a Prime Minister who has spent his whole career making women clean up his mess. Watching Stratton sob her way through a public immolation someone else should have made, you could almost hear the cold, collective scrape of public outrage unsheathing itself around the country.
Nobody’s out here expecting the Tories to have morals. But we do expect them to have manners.
We expect them to have the minimal decency to lie. To at least pretend they think the rest of us are people. Deceit, after all, is the one thing this braying talentless cod-Thatcherite cargo cult can actually do.
They may not be able to run the country in a crisis. They may not be able to run anything in a crisis except away from responsibility, but my god, they can lie. We know they can lie.
Except when they can’t be bothered. Except when it’s easier to just have a little giggle at their own naughtiness, a good old chuckle at the expense of the rest of us gullible oiks doing what we’re told because we think our neighbors’ lives actually matter, to us gullible oiks who believed them in 2010 when they ran for power with the preposterous slogan:
.We’re All In This Together.
Now there’s a line that aged like Iggy Pop left on the counter on a hot day.
There is only so much disrespect the British public can take. Not everyone understands this. We are, after all, a nation fatally accustomed to putting up with whatever stupid decisions malicious aristocrats make in our names. We take a masochistic pride in keeping calm and carrying on, so much so that we put it on tea towels and sell it to tourists. The rules might be unfair, but we jolly well stick to them, and all the rich are required to do is pretend to respect us for it.
That’s why this hurts.
Callous disregard for human life comes as no surprise. But this particular insult is wounding in a way those at the centre of the scandal will never understand, because they’ve forgotten that anyone who didn’t go to Oxbridge has pride to wound.
This is what happens when you forcibly marry the frantic ideology of neoliberal individualism to old-school entitlement of the rich and spineless. That’s what produces the delusion that your right not to subject yourself to the most minor personal inconvenience trumps a stranger’s right to breathe. This has, in fact, been the unspoken attitude of many ruling elites since Feudalism - but it hasn’t been fashionable for several centuries to say so out loud.
Ready for the next round of Christmas Quisling? Here’s the next question:
How much longer are we going to put up with this?
Because frankly we’ve let these spineless grinning shitclowns get away with it for too long. They’ve spent twelve years vandalising our democracy and destroying the basis of civil society. They’ve ruined our international reputation and torn up the social fabric like a tablecloth at an Oxford drinking club, the sort where only those young men with the most murderously avaricious ancestors get a seat at the table.
I’m sick of it. Too many people have suffered and too many lives havee been shortened so that Tory grandees can line their friends’ pockets and celebrate their cleverness over the corpses of the credulous with the easy glee of those who never once had to clean up after their own parties.
I’m sick of watching these lying toffs trash the place and leave the rest of us to mop up their mess. I’m sick of the stink of their dirty linen. Scroll down the laundry list of sleaze and corruption and you’ll find admissions that last hear about Shaun Bailey, the failed Tory candidate for London mayor, held an unauthorised gathering at Conservative party headquarters in Westminster. Nobody will face any real consequences for this, despite the very real possibility that people died as a result. Eleven winters ago, when student activists protesting austerity occupied the same building, police sent some of them to jail for a year.
I was there, reporting on the occupation. Actually, it was my first major report as a baby journalist. It was another freezing winter, and the students were animated by righteous anger, and they lit bonfires in the vestibule and danced on broken glass and everything was beautiful and nobody got hurt. I can confidently say that it was one hell of a party.
You can’t protest like that anymore. In fact, you can’t protest at all anymore. The Tories saw to that. The people in the Conservative party paying enough attention to the proles to anticipate the riots its policies would provoke managed to drag themselves away from their fun and games for long enough to make almost all forms of dissent functionally illegal.
Yes, I’m talking about the Policing and Crime Bill, which is still being pushed through in the face of major public opposition -although not as major as you might expect, given that it effectively criminalises any and all free speech which happens to bothers the party in power. Call me Saul Alinsky, but I thought bothering the powerful was the entire point of protecting free speech? Regardless, in a tea-spittingly British act of crypto-fascism, the Policing and Crime Bill proposes lengthy jailtime for people who cause “serious annoyance”.
One of the things you learn when you go to an English private school, like I diddid, is that nobody is ethically or practically qualified to be a leader of men just because they went to an English private school. Our institutions of power and the invertebrates they spawn are not unlike viruses, in that they are good at self-replicating, and not much else, and even when the host body starts attacking itself in panic, they’ll carry on self-replicating until the host body chokes.
But hey. We’re all in this together. Right?
It looks like hypocrisy. It stinks like hypocrisy. But in fact, behind the closed doors of their plague parties, the rich and cowardly have some consistent principles. The principles run as follows: we are entitled to power, and we are entitled to do whatever we want with that power for as long as we can get away with it. All of this is perfectly in order, because we are big and you are small and we are rich and you are poor and we make the rules and you follow them, old thing, and if we want to have a holly jolly superspreader bash, that’s our business.
The trouble is that a virus doesn’t care about any of that that.
A virus doesn’t care who your parents were. It doesn’t care what your assets are worth to the state or where you went to university or whether you can pronounce ‘paternity test’ in Latin. You might think your life matters much, much more than most of the pitiable culls you conned into voting for you, but a virus does not know that.
A virus evolves to exploit any weakness in a host species. The major weakness of our species is that we are led by people who have forgotten they are part of one.
A virus does not know its place, because a virus does not have a brain. And this endless, awful pandemic, is one of many species-level problems that can’t be solved by shouting at someone, or punching someone, or coming up with a clever fib to weasel your way out of responsibility.
You cannot bully or blackmail a virus. Privilege might insulate you from the consequences of your mistakes, but we are still part of a species. And nobody is too posh to die.