Is this really a heat-wave we’re experiencing this week in the UK, or have the jaws of hell opened? Yesterday Boris Johnson won the Conservative leadership race, and is shortly to become the country’s next prime minister.
In total, 92,153 members of the Tory party backed Johnson. Collectively they’re a group that represents a tiny fraction of the overall electorate. And here’s a few more stats: half of the Conservative party’s members are over the age of sixty-five. 97 percent of its members are white. 71 percent are men. These are the people who chose the new Prime Minister. Hardly an overwhelming mandate.
In a victory speech Johnson wheeled out his usual routine, making all sorts of thoroughly unrealistic claims about the country’s bright, bright future, and declaring ”DUDE, we’re going to get Brexit done on October 31.” And later on, addressing Tory MPs at a meeting of the 1922 Committee, he said that calling a general election is not a priority.
And so, it looks like we’re stuck with Boris Johnson – voted for by 0.35 percent of the overall electorate – for the foreseeable. Here’s the reality of what a country under the new PM might look like.
Many, many, many more wildly offensive ‘gaffes’
Having built his career on acting as the Conversative party’s court jester, waving union jacks from broken zip-wires, Johnson shows his true colours when he speaks his mind.
Over the years he’s described gay men as ““tank-topped bumboys”, compared burkas to “letter boxes” and used the racial slur “piccaninny” when speaking about Tony Blair’s state visit to Africa in 2010.
Bumboys. Take a minute to think about that.
He also claimed that the Libyan city of Sirte could become an economic hub if they “clear the dead bodies away” and compared same-sex marriage to bestiality. “If gay marriage was OK – and I was uncertain on the issue – then I saw no reason in principle why a union should not be consecrated between three men, as well as two men, or indeed three men and a dog,” he wrote in his 2002 book Friends, Voters, Countrymen.
And in 2016, Johnson mistakenly told Iranian ministers that Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe – a British-Iranian dual citizen and charity worker – had been teaching journalism in the country. Zaghari-Ratcliffe had been convicted for spying, and Johnson’s inaccurate comments were later cited as proof that she had been spreading “propaganda against the regime.” She is still incarcerated in Iran today, and this month described being chained to a bed in a psychiatric ward in Tehran. “It was proper torture,” she said, adding that she was “broken” by her experience.
Johnson, meanwhile, has insisted that he will not be “muffled” as prime minister and will “continue to speak directly”. Addressing his past comments, he had this to say: “If sometimes in the course of trying to get across what I genuinely think, I use phrases and language that have caused offence, of course I’m sorry for the offence that I have caused.” Quick observation – saying “sorry you were offended” isn’t the really same as apologising for a racist or homophobic comment.
'People who have worked with you do not think you are fit to be prime minister.'@BethRigby challenges @BorisJohnson on his previous controversial comments. He apologises for any offence caused but says he'll "continue to speak as direct as I can".https://t.co/qOl9lhpMhe pic.twitter.com/Umw3qLpOWa
— Sky News Politics (@SkyNewsPolitics) June 12, 2019
Tax cuts for the rich
During his leadership campaign, Johnson attracted criticism when he pledged to cut tax bills for some of the wealthiest people in the country – by raising the 40 percent income tax threshold to £80,000. Currently, anyone earning over £50,000 pays a higher tax rate; but under Johnson, three million high earners could be handed a substantial tax cut.
Johnson argues that such tax cuts will boost government revenue. In reality, we already know that a lot of rich people are incredibly adept at siphoning their money away into offshore bank accounts – and with the goalposts moved, it will arguably be easier than ever for high earners to fiddle themselves down into a lower tax bracket.
The Institute for Fiscal Studies have conducted research into the possible effects of such a tax cut, and claim that it will cost around £9.6 billion to implement. They say the move will benefit the top ten percent of households in the UK – while nine years of Conservative austerity continue to hit the poorest in UK society hardest.
He also wants to raise the point at which people start making National Insurance contributions, a move which will cost an estimated £11 billion a year. Again, this is a move which will largely benefit higher earners. In fact, a study by the New Economics Foundation estimates that it will force 50,000 households into poverty.
According to the Institute for Public Policy Research, meanwhile, austerity has resulted in an estimated 130,000 preventable deaths. The amount of supplies distributed by food banks in the UK has risen by 73 percent in the last five years, and according to government figures, 4.1 million children in the UK are living in poverty. Many essential public services are now hugely underfunded.
So the real question is, where will the money for Johnson’s tax cuts come from? Yet more government borrowing, or further cuts to welfare spending? Either way, it’s very clear that this move mainly benefits the wealthy.
“Do or die” Brexit chaos
Johnson insists that the UK will leave the European Union in October 31 – with or without agreeing a deal. He’s previously claimed that Theresa May’s Withdrawal Agreement, which was rejected three times by parliament, is now “dead”. He insists that he will secure a better one. Though he says that he can persuade Brussels to reopen negotiations, the EU dismissed that idea within moments of him becoming Tory leader. “The United Kingdom reached an agreement with the European Union and the European Union will stick with that agreement,” said Frans Timmermans, the European Commission’s first vice president. “We will hear what the new prime minister has to say when he comes to Brussels.”
The EU commissioner Vytenis Andriukaitis also warned against “cheap promises, simplified visions, blatantly evident incorrect statements,” and said that politicians like Johnson were undermining democracy.
So if the European Union won’t negotiate any further – or any small concessions Johnson does agree don’t help to push the deal through parliament – then where does that leave his grand promise to “get Brexit done”? Well, his vow to leave in October – even if that means leaving with no deal – will be a tricky prospect in practice. Even if Johnson does manage to get a Withdrawal Agreement through parliament, it would be near-impossible to pass all of the necessary legislation before the deadline; especially since the Conservative-DUP pact gives him such a tiny majority. A no-deal Brexit, meanwhile, would mean leaving the EU with no trade agreements. Experts have warned that it could result in shortages in food and medication, major delays at borders, a slowdown in the housing market, and uncertainty for UK nationals living in EU countries (and vice versa).
Since a majority of MPs have voted against a no deal Brexit. they will likely use every single mechanism possible to try and thwart it as the deadline grows closer. Johnson has refused to rule out suspending parliament ahead of October 31, effectively preventing MPs from voting against a no-deal Brexit. Going down this route would be a highly controversial move; the UK’s exit would have no democratic mandate.
It’s time to get to work to deliver Brexit by 31st October, unite the party, defeat Jeremy Corbyn – and energise our country!
— Boris Johnson (@BorisJohnson) July 23, 2019
“Make the UK Great Again!”
Johnson has pledged to reverse many of Theresa May’s cuts to public services. He’s vowed to raise education spending. He says he will employ 20,000 police officers, and also claims that he will insert high speed broadband into every “orifice” of every household by 2025. He’s promised better infrastructure. He’s also made a pledge to raise the National Living Wage, and wants to create six “free ports” in the UK: ie, zones that pay very little tax.
Except, hold up. Where is this enormous sum of money going to come from?!
Much like the fictitious and misleading claim that Johnson painted down the side of his Leave Campaign bus – “we send the EU £350m a week – let’s fund our NHS instead” – these spending increases just aren’t costed. In fact, the Nuffield Trust estimates that the NHS alone will be landed with a £2.3 billion shortfall in the event of a no-deal Brexit.
Johnson hasn’t explained where he will magically discover billions of pounds for all of his shiny spending increases, while also chopping taxes for high earners. He also hasn’t clarified whether he will honour Theresa May’s pledge to inject £20 billion per year into the NHS. All of Johnson’s latest ‘promises’ feel more like feel-good-factor carrots; dangled to entice potential voters ahead of a potential snap election.
All talk and no conviction
Johnson makes a concerted effort to appear moderately progressive. He’s recently made a big show around climate change, and has vowed to honour Theresa May’s plan to reduce greenhouse gas emissions to net zero by 2050. He publicly opposed the prospect of a third runway at Heathrow airport, and once claimed that he would lie down in front of a bulldozer to prevent it. Interestingly, he was absent for the key vote.
Except, looking at Boris Johnson’s past voting record, the whole lot is hot air. Johnson has almost always voted against measures to reduce climate change, and also opposed the introduction of emissions-based vehicle taxes. And when Johnson was Foreign Secretary, he continued with substantial cuts introduced by his predecessor: his department cut work posts relating to climate change by 60%.
Johnson also claims to be a bold supporter of the LGBT+ community (remember that photograph of him marching at Pride wearing a pink cowboy hat?) but his record says otherwise: at best, his commitment is vague. Though he did vote to repeal Section 28 – which banned the promotion of homosexuality in schools – he’s been absent from multiple key votes elsewhere: including the vote on allowing marriage between two people of same sex, and the vote on gay adoption.
And as for welfare, Johnson has said barely anything to address it during his leadership campaign. However, he has vowed to continue with the DWP’s flawed Universal Credit scheme – with no mention of the fact that 17,000 people have died while waiting to hear if their disability benefit claim was successful. His voting record also suggests that he will be doing very little to improve the welfare system – he has always voted in favour of a reduction in welfare spending.
Yeah, we’re fucked.