Cabinet received an update from the health secretary and the prime minister on the coronavirus outbreak. The PM wished Nadine Dorries a speedy recovery, noting that she was following official advice to self-isolate.
The chancellor set out the measures being taken to manage the impact of coronavirus, laying out details of his economic action plan that will be announced at budget.
He outlined how this plan – combined with the measures announced by the governor of the Bank of England this morning – will make the UK one of the best placed economies in the world to manage the potential impact of the virus. The chancellor added the budget will ensure businesses, the public and those in public services working on the front line against the virus get the support they need.
He said despite the impacts of the outbreak being uncertain, we have the economic tools to overcome the disruption caused by the virus and move the country forwards.
The chancellor also said that despite coronavirus being “front and centre in our minds”, the budget will implement the manifesto on which the government had been elected. He said it was vital that people know this is a budget that delivers on the promises made to the British people – investing in public services and cutting taxes for millions of hardworking people – and that there could be no delay in laying the foundations for a decade of growth where opportunity was spread equally across the UK.
The PM said that this budget starts to tackle head on the challenges facing our economy and country – addressing productivity and regional imbalances – and showing that the government is responding to the public’s desire for change. It will set the path for further action through the year.
After nearly four years of wailing and gnashing of teeth, Britain has made up its mind. We’re leaving the EU. At 22.00 on Wednesday 12th December 2019, the BBC/Sky/ITV exit poll opened the final chapter in Britain’s Brexit saga. A crushing majority for Boris Johnson’s Conservative and Unionist Party has redrawn the political map. Constituencies which have been Labour for decades have turned Conservative. The Brexit Party failed to gain a single seat but upset the voting balance. In my home city of Sunderland, had the Brexit Party not stood then a constituency which has been Labour since the First World War would have turned Tory. The Liberal Democrats not only failed to rally the remains of Remain, they actually lost a seat – awkwardly, the seat of their leader Jo Swinson. Following John Bercow to the House of Commons exit are high-profile Remainers Anna Soubry, Chuka Umunna, and Dennis Skinner – who lost his Labour constituency of 49 years to a Tory. Despite climate concerns being a big campaign issue the Greens have failed to achieve anything resembling a breakthrough. Meanwhile in Scotland, a huge surge for the SNP means that 2020 will be dominated by an existential struggle not over the future of Britain in the European Union, but the future of the 350-year old British union itself. British politics used to be boring. Not any more.
The immediate question is, “why?” There isn’t a single answer, and at the headquarters of Labour, the Liberal Democrats, and even the Conservatives, heated debates on this question are now taking place. But one answer is that this wasn’t so much a vote of confidence in Boris Johnson, it was a vote of no confidence against Jeremy Corbyn.
The signs have long been there. In 2015 Corbyn faced a vote of no confidence by his own party, and lost. His response was to do nothing. In 2017 Corbyn entered a general election, and lost to the robotic Theresa May. His response was to do nothing. In 2019 Corbyn faced a national vote in the European elections, and lost (even losing his own constituency’s seat in the European Parliament, and on his birthday as well). He responded by doing nothing. Two by-elections showed a collapse of support for the Labour Party, and his response was to do nothing. Now, Jeremy Corbyn has led the Labour Party to its worst defeat since 1935. His response, for now, is to do nothing. Not even resign. This, coupled with Brexit, explains last night’s election result.
Much has been said about the December 2019 election being a Brexit election. And undeniably, Brexit was a major factor. But despite a great deal of discussion and tentative polls about Remainers now having a bigger majority than Leavers (and the former head of YouGov’s disturbing rhetoric in January 2019 about “Crossover Day”, whereupon enough Leave voters had died that a second referendum should be held to return a Remain result), there was not a surge in support for Remain options. The answer to this is Brexhaustion and the clarity (or lack thereof) of party leaders’ positions on the biggest peacetime political issue the British have faced since the stirrings of revolution in 1832.
Under Boris Johnson, the Conservatives advocated an “Oven-Ready Brexit”; not so much a gourmet a la carte Brexit option but a lukewarm, reheated version of what Theresa May had offered four times before. This was not a Remain option, but neither was it a crash-out Hard Brexit option. Jo Swinson’s Liberal Democrats evolved from calling for a second referendum to simply offering to revoke Article 50 and cancel Brexit. Nigel Farage’s position of immediately leaving the EU under WTO rules was, at best, vaguely phrased. Jeremy Corbyn’s position has long confused people, until entering the election campaign with a promise of negotiating a magical, perfect deal with an irritated and impatient European Union in record time, holding a Leave/Remain second referendum, but not actually taking a side himself and leaving open the bizarre possibility of him negotiating a deal and then campaigning against his own deal. Anna Soubry’s Independent Group for Change, which was stillborn to begin with, has become as politically relevant as UKIP or the novelty candidates Lord Buckethead, Count Binface, or Mr Fish Finger. Nigel Farage, now turning into the British equivalent of one of the USA’s “perennial candidates” who won’t go away, became an irrelevance as Boris took the limelight as the lead figure for Leave, gifting the Brexit Party a net total of zero seats in Parliament despite their success in the European Parliament earlier this year.
Forced to choose between the Conservative, LibDem, Brexit Party, and Labour options (the SNP’s proposal being irrelevant for most British voters incapable of voting SNP), Johnson’s seems to have been the least unpleasant option on the menu. Swinson’s proposal to ignore more than half of the electorate and cancel the whole process has failed spectacularly, reflecting widespread concern in Britain over the last few months that this Liberal Democrat proposal was neither liberal, nor democratic. The Lib Dems failed to rally the remains of Remain, possibly because the British people are simply exhausted by Brexit and want it to end – one way or the other. And Corbyn’s plan to be an “honest broker” favouring neither Remain nor Leave has backfired worse than anyone anticipated.
The nation has been glued to opinion polls throughout the campaign, anxiously and excitedly watching as the Lib Dem and Brexit Party vote share collapsed, while the Conservatives and Labour raced upwards. But hopes or fears of Corbyn achieving the same as in 2017 – of eating into the Conservative majority just enough to cause a hung parliament – failed to materialise. 2019 is not 2017. The Conservatives are no longer led by a reluctant Remainer and mediocre politician, but by an admittedly charismatic leader and enthusiastic Leaver. The Brexit Party became irrelevant once their far bigger rival came under Leave leadership. The Lib Dems’ policy was clearly unpopular with many Remainers uncomfortable at the idea of just cancelling the biggest democratic decision in British history, regardless of their own views. But while the Conservatives, Liberal Democrats, and Brexit Party all clearly stated their Brexit positions and evolved them, Labour did not. The Brexit option offered by Jeremy Corbyn remained more or less the same as his position during the 2016 EU Membership Referendum campaign itself – vague and unclear to everyone.
Labour’s mistake was to frame the December 2019 election around domestic issues. Twelve years after the Global Financial Crisis and ten years after the start of state austerity, Britain is in a shockingly poor condition. Unemployment, growing child poverty, the spread of zero-hours contracts, public services from hospitals to bus routes to police stations being financially eviscerated, intense housing pressure, skyrocketing levels of personal debt – all of these are real, and urgent, and Labour was right to draw attention to them. But Labour was wrong to believe that these were more important to the British people than Brexit.
For the last three (now, nearly four) years, Brexit has colonised British consciousness to the point of complete saturation. Since the beginning of David Cameron’s referendum campaign in 2016, “Brexit” has been a word which the British people have been unable to avoid on a daily basis. Love them or loathe them, Swinson, Farage, Johnson, and Sturgeon at least had a clear position on an issue which has not simply dominated British politics, but has been the entirety of British politics, since 2016. Corbyn’s attempt to focus on domestic issues while treating Brexit as a footnote, was misguided. He wasn’t helped by the poisonous atmosphere of British politics and the polarisation of the British population into warring camps who see the other as not merely different, but evil. He wasn’t helped by his unclear promises on a second Scottish independence referendum, nor by his commitment to scrapping Britain’s nuclear deterrent, nor by his past associations with groups whose commitment to peace and cooperation is, to say the least, highly questionable. He wasn’t helped by a manifesto which promised too much and which was offered by a man whose complete inability to deal with the foul anti-Semitism scandal in Labour gave a widespread impression that if Corbyn can’t manage his own party, he can’t manage an entire country. And he certainly wasn’t helped by a broad perception that the Labour Party (even before he took control) has come to represent the London middle class, rather than the British working class. But as 2017 demonstrated, Corbyn at least had the ability to muddle through these issues, and in the 2019 campaign his past associations with terrorist groups, or his position on Trident nuclear submarines, was barely mentioned compared to 2017. What felled him in December 2019 was a public lack of trust in him and his Brexit position, and a public desperation for Brexit to end, one way or the other.
Britain is now approaching the Brexit endgame. Corbyn will linger on for a while longer, until he steps down in favour of another radical socialist who will lead a remnant of the Labour Party in opposition against a huge Conservative government more preoccupied with the SNP than the Labour MPs sitting across from them. The leaderless Liberal Democrats will wander in the wilderness until reforming as a party dedicated to rejoining the European Union. Nigel Farage will follow Tony Blair into the lucrative job of an after-dinner speaker. In the meantime, Boris Johnson will deliver Brexit. But potentially, a Brexit which is not as harsh as many Remainers feared.
With such a huge majority, and with his rivals and opponents trounced, Boris is not in the same position as Theresa May – trapped by hardline Eurosceptics in the ERG and held to ransom by Arlene Foster’s DUP. 2020 will be dominated by a race against the clock to negotiate a trade deal with Brussels, and the looming war of words between a significantly strengthened case for Scottish independence versus a significantly strengthened case for One Nation Conservatism. But Boris can now comfortably ignore demands for a Hard Brexit and deliver a softer version which will disappoint everyone. But perhaps everyone being disappointed is preferable to half the country being furious. In his speech on the morning of Friday 13th December, Boris acknowledged that much of his vote, like the 2016 Brexit vote, came from the vast and mysterious land beyond London, called “Britain”, whose people are tired of being ignored, tired of being left behind, and eager for remedies to a broken economy and a broken political system. Brexit is coming, and nothing can stop it now. But maybe, just maybe, a majority government aware of the need to placate four angry nations, and aware of the need to strike a good deal with the EU to prevent the further polarisation of the country after January 31st 2020, can do what the British do best, and half-heartedly muddle through.
LONDON — Prime Minister Boris Johnson won a resounding election victory on Friday that will allow him to take Britain out of the European Union in matter of weeks.
For Johnson, whose 20-week tenure in power has been marked by chaotic scenes in parliament and stark division on the streets over Britain’s tortuous departure from the European Union, victory in Thursday’s contest was vindication.
Educated at the country’s most elite school and recognizable by his bombastic style, the 55-year-old must not only deliver Brexit but also convince Britons that the contentious divorce, which would lead to lengthy trade talks, is worth it.
A landslide Conservative win marks the ultimate failure of opponents of Britain’s departure from the European Union who plotted to thwart a 2016 referendum vote through legislative combat in parliament and prompted some of the biggest protests in recent British history.
Johnson won an outright majority in the 650-seat parliament after an exit poll showed the Conservatives on course to win a landslide 368 seats, the biggest Conservative national election win since Margaret Thatcher’s 1987 triumph.
“I think this will turn out to be a historic election that gives us now, in this new government, the chance to respect the democratic will of the British people,” Johnson said after winning his seat of Uxbridge.
He said the Conservatives appeared to have won “a powerful new mandate to get Brexit done.”
U.S President Donald Trump said it was “looking like a big win for Boris.”
Labour were forecast to win 203 seats, the worst result for the party since 1935, after offering voters a second referendum and the most radical socialist government in generations. Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn said he would step down.
With results from across Britain indicating the exit poll was accurate, Johnson’s bet on a snap election has paid off, meaning he will swiftly ratify the Brexit deal he struck with the EU so that the United Kingdom can leave on Jan. 31 – 10 months later than initially planned.
But nearly half a century after joining what has become the world’s largest trading bloc, Johnson faces the daunting challenge of striking new international trade deals, preserving London’s position as a top global financial capital and keeping the United Kingdom together.
Sterling soared and was on course for one of its biggest one-day gains in the past two decades. The pound hit a 19-month high of $1.3516 versus the dollar and its strongest levels against the euro since shortly after the 2016 Brexit referendum.
As of 0510 GMT, Johnson’s Conservatives had made a net gain of 41 seats.
After nearly four years of Brexit debate that has riven the United Kingdom, deadlocked parliament and shocked allies, a majority will allow Johnson to lead the United Kingdom out of the club it first joined in 1973.
But Brexit is far from over.
He faces the daunting task of negotiating a trade agreement with the EU, possibly in just 11 months, while also negotiating another trade deal with U.S. President Donald Trump.
The outcome of the negotiations will shape the future of Britain’s economy. After Jan. 31, Britain will enter a transition period during which it will negotiate a new relationship with the remaining 27 EU states.
This can run until the end of December 2022 under the current rules, but the Conservatives made an election promise not to extend the transition period beyond the end of 2020.
A big majority may give him the political security to extend the trade talks beyond 2020 because he could overrule the Brexit hardliner European Research Group (ERG) faction in the party.
“The bigger the Tory majority of course the less influence over this the ERG and Eurosceptics will have,” said Brexit party leader Nigel Farage. “It will be called Brexit but it won’t really be.”
Johnson called the first Christmas election since 1923 to break what he said was the paralysis of Britain’s political system after more than three years of crisis over Brexit.
I think this will turn out to be a historic election
The face of the victorious “Leave” campaign in the 2016 referendum, Johnson fought the election under the slogan of “Get Brexit Done,” promising to end the deadlock and spend more on health, education and the police.
He was helped early in the election by Farage’s Brexit Party which stood down hundreds of candidates to prevent the pro-Brexit vote from being split. Early results showed the Brexit Party had poached a significant number of voters from Labour.
While Brexit framed the election, the slow-motion exit from the EU has variously fatigued, enthused and enraged voters while eroding loyalties to the two major parties.
Results showed Johnson’s strategy had successfully breached Labour’s so-called “Red Wall” of seats across the Brexit-supporting areas of the Midlands and northern England where he cast his political foes as the out-of-touch enemies of Brexit.
The Conservatives took Sedgefield, once held by former Prime Minister Tony Blair, Labour’s most successful leader.
A defeated Labour now faces a civil war between the socialists who control it and more moderate factions which will demand power.
“This is obviously a very disappointing night for the Labour Party with the result that we’ve got,” Corbyn said after being re-elected in his own north London electoral seat. He said he would not lead the party in any future elections.
Weary Labour candidates said his leadership had played a major role in the defeat.
Ruth Smeeth, who said she also expected to lose her seat in Stoke-on-Trent, laid the blame firmly at Corbyn’s door.
“He should have gone many, many, many months ago,” she said.
The Liberal Democrats were forecast to win 13 seats, the exit poll said. Jo Swinson, Liberal Democrat party leader, lost her seat to the Scottish National Party.
The Brexit Party were not predicted to win any.
The Scottish National Party, which strongly opposes Brexit, would win 55 of the 59 seats in Scotland, the poll said, setting the scene for it to demand a second independence vote, after secession was rejected by 55% to 45% in 2014.
Scotland’s first minister, Nicola Sturgeon, said Johnson did not have a mandate to take Scotland out of the EU.
“We don’t want Brexit,” Sturgeon said. “Boris Johnson may have a mandate to take England out of the European Union, he emphatically does not have a mandate to take Scotland out of the European Union.”
Here is what to expect from a majority Conservative government:
BREXIT BY JAN. 31
Johnson has promised to bring back to parliament before Christmas the legislation required to ratify his exit deal with Brussels and ensure it is passed by the end of January.
All Conservative candidates have signed up to the deal, so it is expected to have a relatively smooth journey through parliament as opposition parties will not have the numbers to defeat it or make changes to it.
NO EXTENSION OF TRANSITION
After Jan. 31 Britain will enter a transition period during which it will negotiate a new relationship with the EU27.
This can run until the end of December 2022 under the current rules, but the Conservatives made an election promise not to extend the transition period beyond the end of 2020.
If they fail to hammer out a new trade deal by the end of 2020, a deadline trade experts say is unrealistic, Britain could effectively be facing a disorderly no-deal Brexit again.
BUDGET IN FEBRUARY
The party has promised to hold a post-Brexit budget in February, boosting spending on domestic issues such as the health service, education and police.
The Conservatives plan to introduce an “Australian-style” points-based immigration system. They have promised to reduce overall immigration numbers. In particular there will be fewer low-skilled migrants.
Under the new system, which will treat EU and non-EU citizens the same, most immigrants will need a job offer to come to Britain. There will be special visa schemes for migrants who will fill shortages in public services, or who are leaders in fields such as science and technology.
Finance minister Sajid Javid has said he will rewrite the country’s fiscal rules so he can spend an extra 20 billion pounds per year over the next five years, raising borrowing for infrastructure to 3% of economic output from its current 1.8%.
Johnson’s party has said it wants to have 80 percent of UK trade covered by free trade agreements within three years. It plans to prioritize agreeing deals with the United States, Australia, New Zealand and Japan.
Lib Dem leader said leaders should be ‘very careful’ about relationship with US president, ahead of his arrival for Nato
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Parties attack Boris Johnson and Nigel Farage over Donald Trump ties
The Institute for Fiscal Studies has published a briefing on the Conservative, Labour and Liberal Democrat plans for local government funding. This is not an issue that has attracted much attention in the campaign so far, but it deserves some focus because councils provide vital services – and the gap between what’s on offer from the Tories and Labour is vast.
Although the Conservatives claim to be a low-tax party, under their plans it is more likely that council tax would have to rise, the IFS suggests.
The money allocated by the Conservatives would not be sufficient to meet rising costs and demands over the next parliament even if council tax were increased by 4% a year, necessitating a further retrenchment in services or unfunded top-ups to the plans set out.
The Labour party has allocated more than enough money to meet rising costs and demands, allowing increases in service provision and quality, although not enough to restore them to 2010 levels. That is true even if council tax were frozen – although Labour has no plans for such a freeze.
In her BBC phone-in Nicola Sturgeon said she would like to see the SNP represented in the talks with the EU that would take place if Labour formed a government and negotiated a new Brexit deal. This issue came up in response to a question about fishing. Asked if the SNP would want to have someone negotiating alongside Labour on this, Sturgeon replied:
I want to make sure, in any of these discussions, the interests of the fishing industry were absolutely paramount, and that’s a commitment I would make on behalf of the SNP.
I think Scotland should be at the table in any of these discussions, all of the time, rather than being shut out by Westminster. And fishing is an example of the particular interests we have that mean that we should be much more represented.
The speed at which officers dealt with the London Bridge terror attacker has been praised by the Metropolitan Police’s top cop.
Cressida Dick made the remarks as she confirmed two victims lost their lives to the knifeman and that three others are being treated in hospital.
She condemned the ‘the empty ideology of terror’ and also thanked members of the public for showing ‘extraordinary courage’ by stepping in to help disarm the assailant.
At a press conference outside Scotland Yard this evening Ms Dick refused to comment on the identities of the fatalities or the condition of the injured parties.
Praising how officers handled the situation at Fishmonger’s Hall, she said: ‘My understanding is that police were called at 1358, two minute to 2 and city of London Police officers had bravely and professionally confronted the suspect at 1403, just five minutes later.’
She called on anyone with video footage of the incident to get in touch with authorities to help them with their investigation.
The commissioner added: ”I also want to thank the members of the public who have helped, either by showing extraordinary courage by stepping in to tackle this attacker or by following the instructions they have subsequently been given by officers at the scene and in the area.’
‘The empty ideology of terror offers nothing but hatred and today I urge everyone to reject that.
‘Ours is a great city because we embrace each other’s differences. We must emerge stronger still from this tragedy. In doing that we will ensure that the few who seek to divide us will never, ever succeed.’
‘We will be working as fast as we can to understand who this man is, where he comes from and whether there is anyone else who we need to find quickly who might be in touch with him.’
Earlier Ms Dick gave a briefing to Home Secretary Priti Patel and Boris Johnson, who is due to hold an emergency COBRA meeting this evening.
Butler says we need to be honest about what Britain did wrong in the past.
When people ask why people can’t get over this, they don’t realise how offensive that is.
Turning to the Windrush scandal, she refers to the case of Hubert Howard, a Windrush victim who died recently without having had compensation or an apology. Butler says the system that created that injustice is still in place.
Butler is now talking about the value of diversity.
She says Norman Tebbit used to talk about the cricket test as a way of evaluating if people were loyal to the country. But this year England won the cricket world cup with a team that included a West Indian, a Pakistani, a South African, an New Zealander and an Irishman.
She says Labour will establish an independent review into the rise of the far right.
And it will ensure more black history is taught in schools. Because black history is British history, says says.
She says, within a month of taking power, Labour would launch a review into the shortage of BAME teachers in schools.
Jeremy Corbyn says he is just the warm-up act for Dawn Butler, the shadow minister for women and equalities.
Butler takes to the stage. She says there are people trying to divide the country. She says a video has gone viral of a man and his children receiving antisemitic abuse on a train. It is unsettling to watch, she says. She says some of the people on the train did not intervene. But it was a woman in a hijab who intervened, she says. She says the woman said she knew what it was like to be abused like this.
Butler says all forms of racism are wrong.
She says after Boris Johnson compared Muslim women to letterboxes the number of incidents of Islamophobia went up by 375%.
Corbyn says antisemitism ‘will not be tolerated in any form whatsoever’ under Labour
Corbyn says sometimes when people are challenged they are asked if they are “tolerant” of others. He does not like the word, he says. He prefers the idea of being respectful, he says.
He says abuse has no place in our society. Attacks on people, and attacks on churches or synagogues or mosques, are attacks on all of us, he says. He says Labour would ensure there was full protection for places of worship. And attacks on places of worship would count as aggravated crimes, he says.
Antisemitism in any form is vile and wrong. It is an evil in our society … It grew in Europe … and ultimately led to the Holocaust … Under a Labour government it will not be tolerated in any form whatsoever.
He says Labour has a rapid process for dealing with these complaints. That process is constantly being reviewed. And Labour supports educating people about the problem, he says.
Corbyn says he wants to work with people of all faiths and none. It has always been his pride and his pleasure to do this, he says. In government, his door will be open to all faith leaders, he says.
He says the chief rabbi will be very welcome, as will be the archbishop of Canterbury, and leaders from other faiths.
Corbyn says he thinks history may be the most important thing children learn at school.
Labour would promote the emancipation education trust, to ensure that children learn more about slavery. It should not just be taught during black history month. It should be taught all year round, he says.
Corbyn says there is not proper BAME representations at the top of public life. There are only 25 black female professors in British universities. He says a Labour government would carry out a review to ensure BAME people are properly represented at the top of the education system.
Corbyn speaks at launch of Labour’s race and faith manifesto
Jeremy Corbyn is now speaking at the Labour race and faith manifesto launch. He starts by thanking Alf Dubs for what he said, and for all his campaigning on behalf of immigrants.
He is speaking at the Bernie Grant arts centre in Tottenham. Corbyn says he knew Grant very well, and is proud to be speaking at an arts centre named after him. He says Grant taught people a lot about the impact of Britain’s colonial past.
He says N15, the postcode area where he is speaking, is the most diverse in Britain. He says 150 languages are spoken here.
Chief rabbi’s attack on Corbyn over antisemitism ‘unjustified and unfair’, says Lord Dubs
Lord Dubs is speaking now at the Labour event.
He says he is “bitterly disappointed” at what the chief rabbi, Ephraim Mirvis, said about Jeremy Corbyn and antisemitism. He does not accept a lot of what Mirvis said, although Dubs says he thinks Labour should have addressed the problem more quickly. But the chief rabbi’s comments were “unjustified and unfair”, he says.
Q: Why won’t you take part in the Channel 4 News debate on the environment on Thursday?
Johnson says he is taking part in other debates. He says as mayor of London he showed how emissions could be cut without the economy being harmed. But Labour would take a sledgehammer to the economy, he says.
Q: Do you think Nicola Sturgeon should consider the chief rabbi’s comments before propping up a Labour government?
Johnson says Corbyn has not been able to stamp out antisemitism in his party. That is part of a wider failure of leadership, he says. He says you cannot be PM and refuse to take a position on Brexit. He says you cannot be neutral on that any more than you can be neutral on antisemitism.
With the installation of Boris Johnson as Prime Minister of the United Kingdom, the second of the (self-declared) oldest democracies of the world, has, alongside political developments in the United States, reached a tipping point. The political system(s), and most importantly the traditional principle of the division of powers, of both will have to demonstrate their resilience against anti-democratic leaders. If this principle fails to show its working order and effectiveness, then democratic politics and the recognition of the rule of law in the US and the UK are seriously endangered. There can be no doubt that Johnson and his cabinet suffer from democratic illegitimacy: a handful of people, namely the party members of the Conservatives and Conservative Members of Parliament at Westminster, have voted for a new Prime Minister, while the nation’s electorate has been ignored. The counterargument that Johnson’s legitimacy derives from the mandate of the Conservatives’ win in the 2017 general election is, however, an invalid argument as the electorate mandated, and arguable rightly so, a prime minister (Theresa May) who promoted and pursued a very different agenda to Johnson. This is what received a public mandate, not Johnson.
As a consequence, Johnson’s premiership resembles a democratically illegitimate coup d’état by an elitist minority, now established with power over life-impacting decisions on future generations – namely the outcome of Brexit. New elections to receive a mandate, or not, would be the only democratically acceptable way forward. New elections to receive democratic legitimacy applies to Johnson as this demand similarly would have applied to Gordon Brown’s succession of Tony Blair in 2007. But Johnson would not be Johnson if he called for new elections as this would exhibit uncharacteristic honesty and democratic attitudes. As an alternative example in a comparative perspective, the then spiritual brother of Margaret Thatcher, the previous German Chancellor Helmut Kohl (1982-1998), launched a similar change of government (although through a confidence vote, not party leadership change), but immediately announced new elections after his toppling of the previous government in 1983.
This points to the question of honesty in politics; and this brings us back to the reference to the US. With Donald Trump and Boris Johnson, the US and the UK, two Western nations that pride themselves as the oldest democracies worldwide, have two supreme political leaders who have a proven record of public naughtiness with regard to their uneven and erratic tempers, their disrespectful language and misbehaviour towards their likewise erratically chosen enemies (often in public through social media), their ignorance or dismissal of their fellow citizens’ sentiments and fair-mindedness; and whose behaviour is influenced, if not determined by egomania. Thus, the question arises inevitably: how could it come to this? One might probably have to admit that politicians have always twisted their arguments, even lied, have always pursued bipartisan ideologies, and have always needed a strong ego to sustain and be successful in political competition. This is very likely true. But what causes dismay and disgrace is the blatant and unashamed impertinence with which the Trumps and Johnsons of this world present their divisive ideologies time and again. (It is noteworthy that Trump has been the first well-wisher to Johnson, via Twitter, of course, in his typically gauche language, calling him a ‘good man’ and a ‘very good guy’).
But also this has been the case in history, one might say: there have always been nasty politicians, and the inversion of democratic values and political ethics into activist, thoughtless, and aggressive battle-cries is not only what we know from political literature, but also from history. (The analogy to fascism of Trump’s stirring-up rants during his rallies, for example, is not (yet) what Johnson does, but one does not need to stretch the imagination too far to imagine Johnson acting like this). However, the crucial point is: even if there are historic precedents of politicians acting and speaking like Trump and Johnson, this only raises suspicions of how far down politics has declined the UK and the US to have two supreme leaders who relentlessly violate democratic public goods and political ethics, foremost of which is their complete lack of respect for plurality, equality, law, and honesty.
Likewise, this points to another conclusion. There is no doubt that there are millions of decent people in the UK and the US who are offended and disgusted by the likes of Johnson and Trump. But the fact that such men have risen to the highest leadership raises, too, the question of the moral fabric of societies which create the conditions for them to rise to power. Just one simple question: We would be unlikely to accept a person who constantly lies and cheats in our circle of friends, but society has made it possible that they become installed as national leaders. As potential friends we would not grant them enough credibility to be trustworthy and we would turn around and tell them to leave a dinner party. But what do we do when such people occupy national executives and heavily influence our, and our children’s future? The founder of investigative journalism, the US journalist Walter Lippmann, in the 1920s stated that a society which cannot detect lies is not fit for freedom. Hence, are we fit for freedom?
Parts of British and American society appear to be sleepwalking into Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World: amusing themselves so to not realise their loss of freedom. And there is a sheer endless number of trivial daily amusements in the modern, image-flooded, technological world. So, we have to be on our toes and relentlessly vigilant to master the challenge of our times: namely to work for the cultivation of public mores which would not allow the likes of Trump and Johnson to hijack politics. Such mores, i.e., foremost respect for plurality, equality, law, and honesty, would link the public mandate of leadership with esteem and decency which it has lost. Some may say that this was never the case, however, we should not forget about the differences between, for instance Jimmy Carter or John McCain and Donald Trump, or Boris Johnson’s record of dishonesty and amateurishness as Mayor of London and before. Loud activism seems to render politics ill-founded and desultory. But we as people should not accept this. We deserve better. But we have to get involved and make our disagreements and discomfort heard. We need to detect and unveil the twists and tweaks of their politics; and we must use all legal means to fight for our freedom and future which is threatened by egocentric and ill-prepared demagogues whose only skills are outrage and noisy political behaviour. However, to not sleepwalk like Huxley’s protagonists and not amusing ourselves to death (i.e., losing freedom) without noticing it, we need a further awareness because Trump’s and Johnson’s lies are creating deeper labyrinths. Their language is ‘gaslighting’, i.e. psychologically manipulative and distorting our perception of reality, reminding us of the eponymous 1944-movie with Ingrid Bergmann. To not have our political perception of what is ‘honest’ and ‘dishonest’, ‘democratic’ and ‘undemocratic’, ‘respectful’ and ‘disrespectful’ destroyed and inverted, and to not get used to regard politics as per se evil and selfish, but to uphold certain standards of public life and mandate, we must cultivate our awareness and sharpness observing and critically commenting on politics; and not only amusing ourselves while drifting into the dystopia of a brave new world.
Coming back to Lippmann’s warning: It emphasises another indispensable condition for freedom to detect lies, namely to the value of education. Education is here understood not as specialised education in a particular subject, discipline, or profession, but as the cultivation of general knowledge and of political and ethical judgement, parallel to the German concept of “Bildung”. In other words, this skill of political judgment and knowledge would theoretically allow every individual to scrutinise the knowledge claims made by politicians. It would allow to check those claims for evidence, consistency, and factual truth. It would thus detect lies or “gaslighting”. This is a crucial target for primary, secondary, and HE in order to build and save democracy; and every democracy that really wants to be one should aspire this critical skill in its people. Many conclusions for the educational system and the national curriculum follow-on from this which to develop I do not have time here. But critical issues touch upon questions of student fees, elitism, social mobility through education, and curriculum development. The neo-liberalisation and the development of education into a market commodity seem detrimental to Lippmann’s plea and the conditions of its realization. Indeed, and this is last point I wish to make, there is seems to be a silent, but ever stronger and harmful complicity between the neo-liberalisation of education and authoritarian government – that is authoritarian precisely as it abolishes a critical civil society.
This aspect becomes visible through the application of a Foucauldian perspective on the relation between power and knowledge and would suggest that knowledge is organised in such a way that it produces a certain kind of society to make a certain kind of power organisation and execution possible. When applying this to the power of capitalist market ideology, then knowledge would be organised so that it produces a non-reflective, non-critical consumer: in large, a consumer society which does not critically explore politics, government, elections, public morality, the limits of law and ethics, but is complacent in superficial happiness, with money-making, and consumerism. Such critique of modern, industrial society is not new – we know such critique since the 1960s with Herbert Marcuse’s One-dimensional Man – but such critique receives novel topicality through the current overwhelming degree of political disenchantment and retreat into the private sphere. In this vein, it would be important research to study comparatively the structure, content, and historical developments of national curricula in the UK, the US, and elsewhere in order to determine and assess this ‘soft skill’, so-to-speak, of democracy and the future of democratic society.