As part of the ‘Save Big Dog’ campaign, the mantra “We Got the Big Calls Right”, was first uttered by the Prime Minster in Parliament on 19 January, then parroted by Tory Ministers and Members of Parliament in many interviews recently.
“We got the Big Calls Right” is the latest in a long line of Government slogans:
- ‘Take Back Control’,
- ‘Take Control of our Borders’,
- ‘£350 million more for our NHS’,
- ‘Sunny Uplands’,
- ‘Levelling Up’,
- ‘Fix Social Care’,
- ‘Global Britain’,
- … and many others.
All are either misleading, fictitious, or meaningless. It is gaslighting by the powerful Government to control, manipulate or disadvantage their victims, the vulnerable public, to their own advantage. Summarised appeals to the unthinking instincts of people who are not much interested in politics itself. Basic populist propaganda and demagoguery.
And it works! It got Trump elected in 2016 (‘Make America Great Again’), got Johnson victory in the 2016 Referendum, got Johnson elected in 2019 (‘Get Brexit Done’), and nearly got Trump re-elected in 2020.
But “We Got the Big Calls Right” must be challenged. Because the truth is: ‘They Got the Big Calls Wrong’.
Here is my top ten list of some of the big calls I think they got wrong:
- Brexit. A total political economic and social disaster from beginning to end. UK trade with the EU plummeting, prices up, delays up, shortages of goods and labour everywhere, businesses closing, people disorientated and dislocated, valuable research influence lost, allies the world over and particularly in Europe antagonised, the Union threatened, UK GDP forecast to be lower by 4% as a result (twice the estimated economic hit of Covid) and everyone poorer. (See the Parliamentary Select Committee Report 9 February 2022). Undoubtedly a mega-disaster. You need to go back to the execution of King Charles I in 1649 to arguably find a more momentous moment in British history.
- Scotland. Another disaster, as Johnson’s Government abandons any attempt to take Scottish interests into account and to collaborate effectively. The Tory leader in Scotland, Douglas Ross, supported by all his MSPs called for Johnson to resign.
- Northern Ireland. The Protocol which Johnson signed, then lied about to both Nationalist and Union supporters, fundamentally undermined the constitutional position in Northern Ireland, vis-a-vis its relationship with mainland Britain and Ireland. It threatens the Good Friday Agreement and the UK’s so-called special relationship with the USA. It is unsettling the country, damaging and diverting trade, encouraging division and polarisation of opinion, and encourages thoughts of Irish unification.
- France. Deliberately contrived antagonism with France over fishing quotas and asylum seekers, careless diplomacy over the submarine deal with Australia, and manifest rivalry with President Macron over dealing with President Putin has soured relations with our closest European ally, though the Tories appear to think, disgracefully, that this is in their own electoral interest.
- Afghanistan Withdrawal. Johnson laughingly presents this as “one of the outstanding military achievements of the last 50 years or more”. In fact, the withdrawal was an unprecedented disaster, beginning with Trump’s unilateral deal with the Taliban to withdraw, which the UK apparently did nothing to prevent, moderate or change; followed by Biden’s extremely short timetable to actually carry out the withdrawal, which the UK apparently did nothing to attempt to divert him from, and about which Biden deliberately did not consult the UK. This was followed by the terrible scenes in Kabul when many supporters of the UK with legitimate offers to be brought out were left behind, while a UK plane was filled with pets, which Johnson denies approving, despite written evidence to the contrary. It ended with the disastrous Taliban take-over, the subsequent freezing of aid and finance to the country, causing the worst humanitarian disaster in recent times, and the delayed UK implementation of the Afghan resettlement programme. If that constitutes a ‘great achievement’, for Johnson, then what would a failure look like?
- Covid Response Failures. These have been numerous, contributing to the UK having one of the highest deaths and death rates in the world, and one of the worst economic performances during 2020 and 2021. The list of failures can be summarised as follows:
- Slow to lockdown in March 2020, with Johnson missing five Cobra meetings while he concentrated on his own personal affairs
- Massive shortages of protective wear, despite warnings ahead of the pandemic that the stockpile of PPE was inadequate
- Covid patients from hospital sent untested into care homes
- £37 billion ineffective test and trace operation
- Infected individuals from India with the Delta variant allowed into the country without testing or quarantine for 3 weeks after being identified as a variant of concern
- Promises about mixing at Xmas 2020 hopelessly muddled and ultimately reversed
- Ridiculous mixed messaging about following the science, hand washing, mask-wearing etc
- Lack of coordination between England and the devolved nations
- Failure to agree patent waivers on vaccine manufacture abroad, condemning the developing world to remaining largely unvaccinated
- Massive UK contract fraud and corruption
- Environment, Climate Change, COP26. Extensive Government rhetoric about how seriously it takes it all, and target-setting, unmatched by any serious and coordinated plans or policies for reducing emissions, beyond waiting for new technology to catch up, and the provision of some isolated pump-priming finance deals. No serious plans for adapting to climate change.
- Environmental standards. Pre-Brexit promises from senior ministers, including Michael Gove, about how EU environmental, health and animal welfare standards would be maintained post-Brexit have not been honoured. For example, the UK Government has reversed the ban on bee-killing neonicotinoids, which it had previously supported as banning in the EU. The UK has now signed trade deals with Australia and New Zealand which hold farmers in those countries to a lower standard than that currently applied in the UK.
- Covid Loan Fraud. Lord Agnew, Minister for Fraud, has just resigned because of ‘arrogance, ignorance, or indolence’ in the Treasury and British Business Bank in issuing Bounce Back loans without due diligence and in not bothering to pursue known cases of fraud. Estimated loss to the Treasury of £4.3 billion. This is on top of the crony contracts and other loan scandals such as Greensill.
- Trust deficit. The public cedes authority to its elected Government to undertake governance on its behalf and to spend taxpayer money to do that. This requires trust between Government and public. This has been in steady decline since the Brexit referendum, and has now reached crisis proportions with the recent revelations about Owen Paterson MP, Wallpapergate and Partygate. The Prime Minister breaches the Ministerial Code and the Nolan Principles so frequently, without remorse or apology, that public trust in him, his Party and his Government is now at a dangerously low level. The unwritten contract between Government and people has been broken, and is a great betrayal of trust.
This top ten list of failures could be expanded to a top twenty two including:
- the disgraceful hostile environment for refugees and asylum seekers;
- the Government clamp-down on meeting freedom of information requests;
- the Government’s readiness to overlook Russian involvement in securing Brexit;
- the Government’s failure to legislate against international dirty money-laundering, particularly by Russian and ex-Soviet states like Kazakhstan (revealed by the BBC Panorama in the Pandora Papers), in London and outposts of the British state like the Virgin Isles;
- corruption around the financing of the Towns Fund and other levelling up funds;
- the failure to legislate to force the water companies to stop putting untreated sewage into rivers;
- the unwillingness to tax in a progressive rather than a regressive way;
- the failure to plan for proper reform of the social care system; the failure to manage the police, courts, probation and prison systems in a just, effective, and responsible way;
- revenge policies vandalising the BBC and Channel 4;
- the scandalous failure of Duty of Care towards Cladding victims;
- the delay in opening a Covid Public Inquiry;
- the vastly expensive and ecologically damaging HS2 Rail project.
The list of Government failures is very long and incredibly frustrating and disappointing, particularly in a period of extensive poverty and inequality in many areas of life. To this can be added the seriously undemocratic features contained within the latest Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill, the Nationality and Borders Bill, the dangerous Elections Bill, and failings within the Environment Act.
Were there any successes? Yes, of course. Pump-prime funding for vaccine development, provision of funds for vaccine purchase, and insisting on a fast rollout of vaccines. Probably others. The actual discovery of the vaccine recipe, their production, the medical services to care for patients and implement the vaccine programme was of course done by others.
But the failures far outweigh these few successes.
At the time of writing, Operation ‘Save Big Dog’ continues apace. The self-serving Prime Minister of self-styled Global Britain, with no personal international standing, and no credibility or experience as an international statesman, military man, intelligence man or diplomat, visits Eastern Europe and dialogues with vicious, authoritarian dictator and international murderer Vladimir Putin. UK Health policy is changed to placate one hundred very right-wing Tory MPs.
The last word goes to Professor Robert Barrington, Professor of Anti-Corruption Practice at the Centre for the Study of Corruption in the University of Sussex:
“There is more corruption and corruption risk in and around this government than any UK government since the Second World War. The PM has direct influence on this through personal example and through what he allows amongst his Ministers and No. 10 staff. There has been an absolute failure of integrity at No 10 which has consequences for democracy and Britain’s global influence – and longer term, if unchecked, for the economy and national security. The enablers of this are any MPs or Ministers that allow the failure of integrity to go unchecked”.
“We Got the Big Calls Right” is a lamentable refrain by the Conservative Party desperately calling up its populist playbook, designed to hoodwink the population into overlooking the completely indefensible. It is complete rubbish, and should be consigned to the bin, from where it should never have emerged.
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