Has there ever been a British government this rotten, this out of touch with the public and this much of a danger to British democracy, public well-being and our international reputation? Judge for yourself as we take you on a whirlwind tour of the highs and lows of 2021, a year many of us might wish to forget, but that we must remember in all of its gory detail the next time we come to vote for an MP to represent us at Westminster. Sadie Parker provides that aide-memoire!
The UK woke up to the true meaning of third country status, as drivers had their ham sandwiches confiscated at the border when crossing from the UK into the EU. Brexit means Brexit. This was a small and farcical demonstration of what the verbal effluent that streams from Boris Johnson’s mouth, and his catastrophic policies, translate to in practice: we are outsiders on our own continent now. His blessed Brexit has erected massive barriers.
The ham’s freedom to travel is a minor inconvenience. For the young, touring performing artists, anyone working in services, EU citizens living in the UK, or Brits living in the EU, the loss of freedom of movement was catastrophic. Our government behaved as if the panto season had been extended. When the EU explained they had offered Freedom of Movement concessions that would have alleviated problems for those worst hit, but that our government had refused them, No.10 let out a howl of “Oh no we didn’t!” There was a bitter back and forth, foreshadowing even more acrimonious conflicts to come, but our government eventually climbed down, admitting they had refused the concessions for ideological reasons. (Later, in March, Andrew Bowie would admit live on TV that there were no Brexit benefits for the young …)
January also saw the beginning of Johnson’s sinister vaccine nationalism, with the government claiming we would not have been able to get a head start on our vaccine programme had we remained in the EU. This was nonsense-on-stilts as our vaccines were approved under EU law using an emergency clause that the EU could also have relied on had they chosen to. The EU had a different priority, since there were initially far more anti-vaxxers there than here, necessitating a strategy of slowly building up confidence in the jab. Johnson had to go faster, because on 26 January the UK passed the shameful milestone of 100,000 covid dead, according to the government’s counting method (i.e. within 28 days of a positive test).
Also in January: outgoing President Trump’s supporters stormed the Capitol in Washington D.C. in an attempted coup which he had encouraged; Briton-Trump Boris Johnson assumed the mantle of Trumpism as he led the country in an ever-more authoritarian direction under the guise of populism. Meanwhile,the public bemoaned covid testing failures and government failed to learn (see December); Liz Truss announced the UK would join the Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership (CPTPP) to the detriment of food standards, animal welfare and farming, and Tories voted against the genocide amendment to the Trade Bill, even though a Tory MP (Nusrat Ghani) proposed it and a former Tory leader (Iain Duncan Smith) backed it.
The PPE scandal erupted. The public discovered that the government had abused its special covid powers to ditch procurement ‘best practices’ along with any semblance of professional project management and the ministerial code. Their cover was: it was an emergency – we had to move quickly to secure supplies. This might have been more credible had they not ignored existing British companies with expertise in manufacturing or procuring such supplies in favour of mates and donors, none of whom appears to have had relevant expertise. Many of these set up fly-by-night ‘instant’ companies with only £100 of paper assets miraculously able to handle public contracts worth hundreds of millions of pounds, and then either didn’t fulfil those contracts or provided a shoddy product that could not be used. There must be a reckoning in 2022.
Saturday, February 20 marked the first 50 days of Brexit without the transition safety net. Consumers experienced empty shelves, the fishing industry faced decimation and hundreds of companies across dozens of industrial sectors began to report that Brexit posed an existential threat. The government’s response? Suck it up. No government minister appears to have an iota of compassion for the people on whom Brexit has inflicted so much pain. Perhaps this should not come as a surprise. The Times reported that the even the low-grade PM “views most of the Cabinet as pretty low-grade.” A ringing endorsement of his own choices!
As the search for Brexit winners and opportunities continued (in vain), there was at least a little light relief in February as a video of the December 2020 Handforth Parish Council meeting went viral. Jackie Weaver became an Internet sensation, emerging as a champion for local democracy. Some of the phrases used in that contentious meeting entered the popular lexicon. Many of us began to dream of a grassroots movement that will eventually turf the great charlatan out of No.10 as we repurpose the words to chant, “You have no authority here, Boris Johnson, no authority at all.”
Jennifer Arcuri admitted that she and Boris Johnson had been more than best friends and that their affair had endured for years. She didn’t spare his blushes. Suffice it to say, he cheated on his second wife Marina in the vilest of ways. It must have been humiliating for her and his four children with her to have read the details. Marina has only recently recovered from cancer, too. The salacious story was genuinely in the public interest as Arcuri’s revelations paved the way for investigations to be re-opened into Johnson’s corruption while Mayor of London.
The Sewell Report into institutional racism was published and, astonishingly, found that there was no institutional racism. Indeed, it found that slavery had been a brilliant opportunity for the enslaved because it paved the way for them to become African Brits. At least, that’s how it read. Liz Truss, equalities minister, defended the report, claiming it had lots of support, but could not name anyone. When widely condemned, there was massive back-pedalling. It then emerged that a lot of famous people cited in the report had not even spoken to the Commission. What was going on? Johnson’s controversial aide, Munira Mirza had re-written the report, that’s what. No.10 unwittingly outed the UK as having a racist establishment.
Also this month, Patel’s evil Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts (PCSC) Bill was back in parliament. This draconian piece of proposed legislation, amongst other outrages, so hems in the right to peaceful protest as to effectively abolish it, The shocking scenes of police brutality at the Sarah Everard vigil, when police went in hard on women holding candles and laying flowers, demonstrated to the world that they needed no new powers in order to smash up a peaceful protest. Unsurprisingly, an internal investigation found the Met “not guilty” of overstepping the mark, which did nothing to restore the Met’s steadily-declining reputation. Despite Sir Charles Walker, instigator of the bizarre Milk Protest and self-professed champion of ‘freedom’, chairing the Committee Stage of the PCSC Bill, it marched on through parliament …
The Arcuri scandal took a bite out of Johnson when Huffington Post journalist Paul Waugh caught him off-guard with a question at a covid briefing. He asked whether Johnson had acted honourably in giving his then mistress more than £126,000 in taxpayer funded grants and allowing her to accompany him on official trips for which she did not have clearance. Johnson simply answered, “Yes”, but clearly left the podium in a foul mood. He had effectively admitted the affair, but lied about the corruption. This will come back to haunt him at some stage.
The Daily Mail broke a story about Johnson’s lavish, Versailles-style refurbishment of his Downing Street flat. With £840-a-roll gold wallpaper, £100-a-metre curtain fabric and designer furniture at eye-popping prices, Johnson’s then fiancée, nicknamed Carrie-Antoinette, had burned through the £30,000 annual redecoration grant from taxpayer funds and spaffed another £170,000 on her project. The problem was the dishonest and rule-breaking way in which the project had been financed. Johnson told so many lies that he lost track of them. While the Electoral Commission eventually found wrong-doing and fined the Tory Party the maximum amount possible for improper declaration of donations, the internal investigation, headed by a hand-picked ‘ethics’ advisor, exonerated Johnson of any wrong doing in an extraordinary display of ‘one rule for the ruling elite, another for you plebs’. By now, Johnson was up to his neck in sleaze and was the subject of nine different investigations.
Also in April, the FT and The Sunday Times broke the Greensill scandal, in which former PM David Cameron lobbied Rishi Sunak for a soft loan to bail out a dodgy, parasitical supply chain financier that he’d persuaded then Health Secretary Matt Hancock to recommend to NHS Trusts. Johnson has appointed Slaughter and May partner Nigel Boardman (famous for gouging £8m in fees out of the failed public contractor Carillion, including £1m on its last day in business) to exonerate – sorry, I mean investigate.
The Daily Mail broke the story about Johnson saying “Let the bodies pile high in their thousands”, when opposing a second lockdown. Johnny Mercer was sacked as veterans minister after threatening to resign because the government had not kept its promises (welcome to our world, Johnny). UK and Norway failed to reach agreement on fishing quotas, leaving thousands of fishers and fishing businesses at risk, but Liz Truss began negotiations with the Aussies in the most childish of ways. The 100-day anniversary of Brexit saw Northern Ireland ablaze due to Johnson’s insouciance and cack-handed Brexit negotiations, but Enniskillen-born actor Adrian Dunbar cheered us up as Ted Hastings in Line of Duty. “When did we stop caring about honesty and integrity?” he asked.
Dominic Cummings spent seven hours providing testimony to two select committees about the government’s (mis-)management of the covid pandemic. He confirmed the initial policy had been herd immunity. It would be surprising if he had not, as there are so many politicians and associated medical officers, including the PM, on record, in the public domain, saying the strategy was herd immunity. Calls for a public inquiry intensified, but Johnson succeeded in kicking it into the long grass. Cummings had failed to land a knock-out blow.
It could have all been so different with a prime minister and cabinet able to rise to the occasion, and with the moral fibre to set aside the opportunity to make a literal killing in public contracts, to focus on public health. As if to rub salt in the wounds, Singapore revealed that its success in managing the pandemic was due to following the UK’s ‘lost’ blueprint for such events – the one from 2005 which our government didn’t follow.
Meanwhile, Lord Frost went up against the EU Scrutiny Select Committee, which is packed with cantankerous Brexiteers of the swivel-eyed loon variety – including Bill Cash, Richard Drax and Marcus Fysh. He told them Brexit is the opportunity to look for opportunities. In other words, Brexiters lied: there are no opportunities; we are on our own to make our way out of this mess.
Priti Patel’s personal PPE scandal hit the headlines, with her former aide and current friend Samir Jassal and his mercurial partner Surbjit Shergill, having been singled out for the mulit-million-pound dodgy public contract treatment. This abuse of the covid procurement VIP lane was so egregious that the pressure group for probity in politics, Led by Donkeys, would later make a video about it.
Despite everything, Hartlepool voted Tory in its by-election, electing a woman (Jill Mortimer) who wasn’t from the area, didn’t know much about the town and betrayed it the first time she cast her vote. Things seemed to be going the PM’s way. To the dismay of Roman Catholics, he was allowed to marry Carrie in Westminster Cathedral, despite being twice married and divorced.
Johnson’s great good luck in sweeping aside all opposition thus far must have gone to his head, because he went too far in what he did (or rather, didn’t do) next. The Delta variant was raging through India. The scenes of overwhelmed hospitals, bodies lying in the streets and mass cremations were horrifying, yet Johnson continued to insist that he would visit India to open trade talks. Bangladesh and Pakistan, which were not in such dire straits as India, were on the red list, but India was not, allowing thousands of people to come into the UK and seed the Delta variant across the country. It was left to the Indians to tell Johnson not to be so foolish: half the Indian Cabinet had covid, and they could not possibly receive him. Reluctantly, he put India on the red list, but it was too late. Thousands of Brits died needlessly as a result.
Matt Hancock was forced to resign from government after pictures of him emerged breaking his own social distancing rules, snogging one of his aides in the corner of his office. There was no inquiry into who had leaked the security footage, so it was probably done with the blessing of the PM. The vacancy led to the return of Sajid Javid to cabinet. A banker involved in the debt derivative financial products that brought the global economy to its knees in the 2008 crisis is now heading up our Health and Social Care Department. Talk about a fox in a henhouse.
Liz Truss announced her dreadful Australian FTA. Despite all the gaslighting with relentless propaganda, spin and outright lies, most commentators and vast swathes of the public – especially those involved in farming and agri-food industries – saw through it for the disaster that it is. Truss gave the Aussies everything they wanted and left we Brits scratching our heads as to what exactly we have gained beyond an Instagram photo op for Truss herself. Official Department of Trade figures set the benefits at 0.01 to 0.02 per cent of GDP spread over a 15-year period, or about £1 per year per family, which is a teeny-tiny fraction of what Brexit is costing us all.
On the bright side, the Tories lost the previously safe seat of Chesham and Amersham in a by-election, with a massive swing of 25 per cent to the Liberal Democrats (Sarah Green). Were the public finally getting fed up of Johnson’s lies and Versailles? MP Dawn Butler thought so, and bravely denounced him for his persistent lying from the dispatch box in the House of Commons, only to be excluded by the Speaker. What kind of an institution tolerates lying and punishes those who call it out?
Cummings gave an exclusive interview to BBC political editor Laura Kuenssberg, but it was still not enough to dethrone his old boss. The trouble with being as big a liar as Boris Johnson, having angered half the population with psyops that led to robbing them of the benefits of EU membership, and then having enraged almost the entire population by breaking lockdown with his Barnard Castle eye-test, is that nobody gives you much credence.
Priti Patel introduced her ghastly Nationality and Borders Bill which makes millions of Brits second-class citizens, at risk of having their citizenship stripped on the whim of the Home Secretary without having to be informed beforehand and with no right of appeal. Much has been made in the press of those with foreign-born parents being at risk – an estimated 6m Brits, which is almost 10 per cent of the population. In fact, it is far worse than that. Note: a citizen only has to have the right to another country’s passport, they don’t actually have to have exercised that right. Many countries only require you to have had a grandparent of that nationality to apply for a passport. That brings millions more of us into the scope of Patel’s evil scheming.
She may have Dame Cressida Dick of the Met at her beck and call, but the Police Federation announced they have lost faith in Priti Patel, and it wasn’t even due to her lame impression of an England football fan, surpassed only in cringe-worthiness by that of her boss. Gareth Southgate demonstrated the kind of compassionate and inspirational leadership on the football pitch we wished we could see a little of in Downing Street, but alas, it was not to be.
England striker Marcus Rashford led another team off-pitch to deliver over 21m free school meals, the Tories having spectacularly failed on this front yet again. Predictably, they voted against Labour’s Opposition Day motion to provide free school meals in the holidays.
In other news, a bizarre and much criticised ‘art installation’ of a mound of earth made an appearance at Marble Arch. Had it been made of dung, it would have been the perfect metaphor for this government. As it was, it was left to Peter Stefanovic to highlight government bullsh*t by creating a clip of six of Johnson’s most egregious lies at the dispatch box. That clip has now had over 43.2m views. The truth is out there …
The evacuation of Kabul will go down in history as one of the most shameful, shambolic acts of this or any British government. That is not to blame our armed forces who, in a vacuum of leadership from this government, did the best they could with the lack of forward planning and resources at their disposal. Predictably, when France began its evacuation six months earlier, all Johnson’s government could do was sneer and lob abuse at the French, like a drunken slob on a cheap package trip to Benidorm who hates foreigners, but isn’t self-aware enough not to travel abroad where they are guaranteed to encounter them.
Where was our Foreign Secretary as the drama unfolded? On a beach in Crete, sunning himself. “The sea was closed,” he claimed. Dominic Raab is rapidly becoming the Dan Quayle of British politics, but it isn’t funny when so many lives are at stake. Johnson wasn’t joking back in February when he labelled cabinet members as “low-grade”. Of course, Raab did not have the decency to resign. None of this crop of Tory parasites ever do.
As of December 2021, the Afghan resettlement scheme was still not working and hundreds of vulnerable Afghans the UK government had promised to get out (translators and the like) had been left behind to face the wrath of the Taliban death squads. Although the debacle prompted some normally loyal Tory MPs to break cover and criticise the government, Afghanistan is a foreign policy failure of epic proportions – greater even than the Suez Crisis of 1956. Afghans tainted by association with British and other allied forces have had to go to ground. Children now roam the freezing cold streets of Kabul in search of ‘shoe shine’ work to put a little bread on their family’s table. Johnson’s broken promises to the Afghan people have cost lives and are causing untold misery.
This was the month the UK touched the dizzying heights of euphoria as a young woman of Romanian and Chinese parentage born in Canada became the first British woman to win a grand slam since 1977 and the first qualifier ever to win the US Open tennis tournament. Even Nigel Farage, who once made a gratuitously racist remark about not wanting to have Romanians living next door, was over the moon.
The Tories, meanwhile, continued to shame themselves, breaking yet another manifesto pledge by introducing the social care levy, which hits poorer working families hardest, and voting against making the £20 uplift to Universal Credit permanent This meagre sum is literally the difference between food on the table or not for some families. What was that they said about ‘levelling up’ when they were electioneering in 2019? So many hollow promises. Electorate, take note.
Dominic Raab, who should have been fired over the Kabul debacle, was at least demoted to Justice Secretary in the Cabinet re-shuffle. His Tory leadership hopes appear to be forever dashed by his disgrace, but he intends to take it out on us by stripping us of yet more rights. He is gunning for the Human Rights Act next and our membership of the European Human Rights Convention, which the UK co-founded after World War II, championed by Winston Churchill, and which a British lawyer drafted. Slow hand-claps all round.
Liz Truss, famous for the airy, principle-free zone between her ears, taking credit for other people’s work, and running government departments for the benefit of her Instagram account, was elevated to replace Raab. Perhaps the most eye-popping appointment was Twitter troll and all-round ignoramus Nadine Dorries as Culture Secretary. This means the MP who labelled LBC presenter James O’Brien as a “posh boy f***wit” on Twitter, and criticised him for having attended Ampleforth school (the Catholic Eton, apparently) – even though she sent her own daughters there, will be responsible for shepherding the Online Harms Bill through parliament. Be afraid. Be very afraid.
What a stench of crises arose in October – quite literally in the case of the Raw Sewage scandal which saw Tory MPs legalise the dumping of effluent into our rivers and seas with vague provisions to improve the situation in the future. Even the Daily Mail was outraged. One of the things most often cited as a benefit of EU membership was clean water and not having to swim with turds any more. How quickly that has been lost, with a doubling of sewage discharges in 2020 to a staggering 403,171 reported incidents. Had we stayed in the EU, we would be bottom of the league for water quality now. This is a problem that will haunt the Tories for the rest of this parliament and beyond if they don’t do something meaningful about it.
Then on 15 October tragedy struck in Southend when veteran MP Sir David Amess was stabbed to death in a terrorist attack during a constituency surgery. The majority of people would probably find his Brexit extremism unpalatable, but he was a good constituency MP dedicated to serving Southend, and was also notable for his animal welfare work. Sir David Amess was a patron of the Conservatives Animal Welfare Foundation, the chair of the Food and Health All Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) and spoke in favour of Chris Loder’s Animal Welfare (Sentencing) Bill. Nobody deserves to die like that. Nobody. RIP, Sir David.
One of Sir David Amess’s last tweets was to encourage people to attend COP26. His final Zoom call was a discussion about the Children’s Parliament, an initiative that aimed to match 650 British schoolchildren with MPs to create a virtual parliamentary session on the eve of COP26. The call ended at 12.02pm. Three minutes later, Sir David Amess was dead.
A successful COP26 would have been the perfect tribute to him, but it was not to be. Johnson’s press conferences were dogged by questions about his multiple scandals, while his environmental hypocrisy failed to fool the world in quite the same way it dupes certain corners of the English electorate, and he was photographed asleep and maskless next to the vulnerable 95-year-old national treasure Sir David Attenborough, whose address was the highlight of the event. Sure, there was progress, but not nearly as much as the world needs.
At the end of October, the House of Commons Committee on Standards, a cross-party body ably chaired by Chris Bryant, found that Owen Paterson had breached parliament’s anti-lobbying rules. Indeed, the breaches were so frequent and egregious, they recommended a 30-day suspension which would automatically trigger a re-call petition in his constituency, and potentially lead to a by-election. There was no doubt of Paterson’s guilt, but that did not stop Johnson going into overdrive, egged on by his former boss at The Telegraph, Charles Moore, into attempting to overthrow parliament’s processes to police and enforce standards and to neutralise the independent Commissioner for Standards, Kathryn Stone, into the bargain.
This was the act of a dictator, as bold and reckless as his illegal prorogation had been in 2019. However, the uproar was so instant and so loud, Johnson u-turned two days later. Paterson resigned and a by-election was set for four weeks later. Johnson had even lost the support of the Daily Mail (again) in this debacle, but would have his revenge … Daily Mail editor Geordie Greig was sacked and ‘Boris-fanboy’, Mail on Sunday editor Ted Verity, installed in his place. Nevertheless, the fall-out from this episode would be immense.
Showing his true colours, Johnson went on to give a landmark speech at the CBI to calm the nerves of the great and the good of the business world after the twin pummelling meted out by Brexit and Covid. Instead, he made headlines the world over by waffling on about Peppa Pig, humiliating Britain globally once again. Not even the great Armando Iannucci of The Thick Of It fame could have written such a superbly absurd speech. Against the mood music of Johnsonian incompetence, MPs spending more time on lucrative ‘second’ jobs than on actually earning their £82,000-a-year-plus-expenses as elected representatives, a crescendo of anti-immigrant rhetoric from increasingly dyspeptic Tory MPs, distemper on the Tory backbenches at the mere thought of covid public health measures, and the tragedy of 27 drowned refugees in the English Channel, Sir Keir Starmer re-shuffled his shadow cabinet. For the first time in a decade, Labour looks like a government in waiting.
Losing the North Shropshire by-election with a swing of 34 per cent to the Liberal Democrats (Helen Morgan) in what was thought to be an impregnable Tory seat must have been a bitter blow for the Tory Party, but Johnson barely broke stride before he was on to his next scandal. He landed himself in choppy water when details of various lockdown-busting parties at No.10, as well as other government offices, began to leak. Needless to say, he lied about them. He lied repeatedly, and each time the lie was bigger and even less credible. He even invented a ‘golden rule’ live on air after Sky news presenter Sam Coates asked him about the parties. It amounted to the media acting as a fog-horn for government propaganda and aiding and abetting Johnson in keeping the public in the dark about wrong-doing and corruption in his administration. Only those who have something to hide fear the sunlight of scrutiny, prime minister.
If there’s one thing the British public don’t like, it is being taken for fools. People began to share their stories of what they were doing as No.10 partied. The pain, the suffering, the sacrifice, the searing losses, the sheer tragedy were met with responses from many Tory MPs that were dismissive, dishonest and duplicitous. “It was a year ago, move on,” some said, as if bereavement made worse by government prohibitions to attend the death bed of a loved one or their funeral could so soon and so easily be forgotten. Talk about out-of-touch Tories. (They’re not all bad – see Day 25 of our recent advent calendar.)
In consequence, Johnson’s authority to impose public health measures to save lives was greatly weakened. The first ministers of Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland were able to take steps to stem the spread of the Omicron variant, but, for purely political reasons, Johnson left the English to their own devices. In an attempt to stave off a massive spike in covid infections, he ordered a ‘million-a-day’ booster drive, but only notified the NHS at the same time as the public, the mere eight hours’ notice causing chaos. Eventually the number of jabs did reach one million, thanks to a tremendous effort and sacrifice by health-care workers – again.
Meanwhile, in the absence of tighter measures, Omicron has continued to romp away. The Office for National Statistics estimated that by 23 December, 1 in 25 had covid in England, compared to 1 in 40 in the other home nations. This disparity is likely to be greater now.
We look forward to a winter of discontent as Priti Patel swoops down on genuinely peaceful climate change protestors, getting them jailed immediately, but allows anti-vax nutjobs like Piers Corbyn to roam the country free, inciting violence, as his followers smash up covid testing centres and steal NHS equipment. Energy bills are set to double, turning another Brexit promise to raw sewage, while our farmers, who kept us fed during the pandemic, are facing extinction thanks to horrific Brexity trade deals that throw the farming sector to the private equity wolves.
Want a better 2022?
We can turn this around. Boris Johnson isn’t forever. His own party is tired of him and are likely to replace him this year. They may then to try to pretend that all the bad stuff has gone with him, but unless there is a root and branch reform of the Tory Party, and the UKIP element is purged, that won’t be even remotely true. We cannot let them get away with any attempts at cynical reinvention.
We can hold MPs to account by writing to them, and also by reminding our friends and family of their horrific voting records. We should lobby Lords as well as MPs, and in particular try to get Labour peers onside with the efforts of Green, LibDem and cross-bench peers to oppose the worst excesses of the Police, Crime Sentencing and Courts Bill, the Nationality and Borders Bill and the anticipated Bill of Rights. We can also join local groups to fight for specific issues, whether that be a charity that supports a single issue like free school meals, a pressure group like Surfers against Sewage, or an activist group trying to make our electoral system fairer through the introduction of proportional representation.
And, of course, we can read and share articles that tell it like it is!