A major bookmaker has slashed its odds that the Prime Minister would resign by today according to media reports. Betfair is offering odds of 7/1 that Boris Johnson quits by the end of this week, as he faces huge backlash from politicians from all sides for attending a party at 10 Downing Street during lockdown. The shortest odds offered are for the PM to quit by the end of January, with prices slashed to just 4/1. And this was before the revelations about two parties in No 10 on the night before the funeral of Prince Philip, who was buried on 17 April 2021.
On Betfair Exchange, the market is leaning towards the UK having a new Prime Minister by the end of the year. And with Labour showing a ten-point lead against the Tories, according to the latest YouGov Poll, the pressure mounts and Johnson’s position gets more untenable by the day. But however one may delight in the approaching Tory melt-down, my concern is that they are in trouble with the public for the wrong reasons.
Whilst the old slogan ‘fish rots from the head down’ is relevant here, what about the sleaze and corruption that we have been living with since the Johnson administration took centre stage?
Only this week, following in a long tradition of sleaze/corruption allegations, a high court judge ruled that the government’s operation of a “VIP lane” for suppliers of personal protective equipment during the coronavirus pandemic was illegal.
In the lead up to Brexit, the Johnson Government (using Royal powers) had Parliament prorogued in 2019, marking one of the many controversial chapters of his premiership. The move was later unanimously ruled unlawful by the Supreme Court. Judges were already in bad odour with the right following the ruling by three judges that the UK government would need the consent of Parliament to trigger notice of Brexit under Article 50, ‘Enemies of the People’ screamed The Daily Mail on 4 November 2014.
In 2018 the parliamentary standards commissioner rebuked Johnson for nine different breaches of parliamentary rules in one year, after he was late to declare financial interests. These included an extra £52,000 in income and joint ownership of a London property. He was forced to apologise. Open Democracy reports (13 January 2022) that Johnson has been accused 18 times of breaking rules and getting away with it!
The real reasons for concerns should relate to policies they are pursuing attacking hard won civil rights over the years. These will not be reversed if and when ‘a new broom’ takes over at No 10. They will only be defeated politically.
The government’s Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill having passed through the Commons is currently before the House of Lords. It is designed to introduce new police powers and review the rules around crime and justice across England and Wales. It proposes wide-ranging and new police powers such as the ability to impose “conditions” on any protest which is deemed to be disruptive to the local community and up to 10 years in prison for damaging memorials, such as statues. The traveller community has raised concerns about Part four in the bill that would change trespass from a civil to a criminal offence. Criminalisation of trespass could make it punishable by a £2500 fine, time in prison, or the confiscation of the vehicle – which for many Travellers is their home. George Monbiot gives an excellent analysis in The Guardian: https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2022/jan/12/uk-authoritarianism-minority-policing-bill-roma-gypsy-traveller
According to The Big Issue magazine: https://www.bigissue.com/news/politics/5-new-laws-for-2022-and-what-they-mean-for-your-rights/ policing (already mentioned), elections, borders, the NHS, and the online world are all due a major shake-up if the government’s plans go ahead.
‘The Nationality and Borders Bill could redefine what it means to enter the UK illegally and could even see people stripped of their British citizenship without warning. The NHS could see the greatest restructuring in its 70 years of existence under the Health and Care Bill, while the Online Harms Bill could make the internet a very different place to the one we know.’
Then there is the Elections Bill that could change who is, and who isn’t, allowed to vote. The government says that the bill, which is due to operate from 2023, is designed to crack down on voter fraud. Just what evidence there is of voter fraud to justify this measure has yet to be disclosed, while under the new measures, a photo ID will be required to vote in person and those using a postal vote on a long term basis will have to re-apply every three years.
Founder of the Hands Off Our Vote initiative, Freddie Mallinson, told The Big Issue that the requirement amounts to “bureaucratic nonsense [which] makes it that much harder to go and vote and could easily mean hundreds of thousands miss out on their chance to have a say.”
He continued: “I just don’t see the justification or rationale without concluding they’re passing a law they believe will benefit them and their political careers.”
Another attack on the rule of law comes in the form of the Judicial Review and Courts Bill currently at the Report stage in the House of Commons. Writing on The Constitution Society Web site: https://consoc.org.uk/the-judicial-review-and-courts-bill-how-much-space-is-left-for-the-rule-of-law/ Tevž Sitar says that the bill “represents the most recent reform intended to improve administrative efficiency in the judicial review system. Unfortunately, it will simultaneously damage fundamental common law principles, in particular the rule of law and the effective exercise of judicial checks on the executive branch…” In addition it is reported that the government is considering the possibility of introducing a “interpretation bill”, which would be a yearly act of parliament by which the government would ask MPs to overturn court decisions that the government does not like: https://theconversation.com/why-the-uk-governments-plan-to-overturn-court-decisions-is-a-bad-idea-173441 . They also have plans to allow ministers to overrule judicial review findings, (a process by which people can ensure that the government obeys the law) although the government stresses that there were ‘no plan’ to implement the proposal currently: https://bylinetimes.com/2021/12/07/when-it-comes-to-undermining-judicial-independence-are-the-conservatives-looking-east/ .
The list goes on and on from reform (i.e.) watering down the Human Rights Act, ‘reforms’ to the Official Secrets Act and don’t forget the 2020 Parliamentary Constituencies Act which is expected to help the Tory party gain about 10 parliamentary seats by scrapping seats in traditional Labour held areas: https://www.ft.com/content/6c880e2b-bf07-4424-88f2-16e71f4042a9 . Coincidently the same Act has nearly doubled the election spending limit, allowing wealthy Tory donors to further increase their stranglehold on British elections.
So should we be surprised? No. Just read my blog written in November 2019 The Tory manifesto – an Executive ‘power grab’ – we have been warned at: https://thespark.me.uk/2019/11/26/the-tory-manifesto-we-have-been-warned/
In it I pointed out that the Conservative Party manifesto for the December 2019 general election made their intentions absolutely clear. Page 48 reads: “After Brexit we also need to look at the broader aspects of our constitution: the relationship between the government, parliament and the courts; the functioning of the Royal prerogative; the role of the House of Lords; and access to justice for ordinary people. The ability of our security services to defend us against terrorism and organised crime is critical. We will update the Human Rights Act and administrative law to ensure that there is a proper balance between the rights of individuals, our vital national security and effective government.”
So in one way all this stuff about 13 parties held on government premises while coronavirus restrictions were in place is a bit of a distraction. It may bring Johnson down, but not his government committed to undermining the rule of law and our human rights. As for the bookies I’m reminded of the old proverb “Bet with your head, not with your heart”.
The struggle goes on!