Forget talk of ‘building’, this government only cares about Brexiteer revenge, argues STEVE ANGLESEY.
The government is being run on a new three-word slogan: Take Brexit Revenge.
What other rational explanation is there for this irrational administration? It is lurching out of coronavirus crisis and into hand-picked brawls with the civil service, the media, the EU and more, displaying all the fighting acumen of a July 4 reveller who drunkenly blames you for spilling his last orders pint.
Brexit always had a whiff of revenge about it, whether from MPs obsessed with Germany’s part in the Second World War or voters in deprived areas voting to end their own EU subsidies in order to give the metropolitan elites a bloody nose. Now the government reeks of it.
Mark Sedwill, the UK’s top civil servant, is off, supposedly at his own request, although that’s hard to square with months of chatter that Brexiteers viewed him as an obstacle, a blocker.
The prime minister insists the next civil service head will be impartial, although that’s hard to square with briefings to friendly newspapers that they must be a Brexiteer.
Someone from a right-wing blog turns up on TV to blather that ‘people have talked about shaking up the civil service for decades, but when Dominic Cummings does it it’s seen as a nefarious purge’. That’s hard to square with Cummings himself ‘joking’ last August that disobedient civil servants would be ‘purged’ after hearing that some were refusing to use the B-word in memos.
You might have expected older and cooler heads on the government backbenches to protest against the politicisation of the civil service, but of course the older and cooler heads have rolled, purged in the first pre-election act of vengeance by Cummings and Johnson.
John Bercow may have railed against it in the Lords, but in an act of petulant recrimination he became the first speaker of the House of Commons in 230 years not to get a peerage upon retirement.
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Disobedient media outlets from Newsnight to Good Morning Britain have been punished for supposed Brexit scepticism with ministerial boycotts. Channel 4 News is a serial offender, and a Tory spokesman last year accused its parent broadcaster of ‘conspiring’ with Jeremy Corbyn to prevent Conservatives appearing in their infamous climate change leaders’ debate, so naturally Channel 4’s licence is under threat.
Tim Davie, new director-general of the frequently dissenting BBC, might be a former deputy chairman of the Hammersmith and Fulham Conservative party but there are fears that years inside the corporation might have given him Stockholm Syndrome. So he’ll have to cope with decriminalising non-payment of the licence fee, costing at least £1 billion over five years, before it is replaced with a subscription in 2027 if the Tories win again. The end result of journalism that asks difficult questions is now retaliation and recriminations.
Of course, the ultimate revenge tragedy is now being played out in face-to-face talks in Brussels, where the Brexiteers’ absurd demands for redress after years beneath the yoke of peace and prosperity seems to be leading us towards a costly no-deal exit.
The classic example of Brexit revenge is Michael Gove’s insistence that EEC red tape had strangled the life out of his father’s fishing firm in the 1970s. This week, he tweeted: ‘I was a child in care, whose adoptive father ran a business destroyed by the EU.’ That built on a narrative he introduced during the referendum, when Gove told the BBC: ‘I saw the pride my father and grandfather had in their business and obviously it was very difficult to cope with seeing everything they had built disappear. I was just a schoolboy at the time, I didn’t know what I was going to be doing in the future, but it stayed with me.’
We see things differently when we are young, and differently still when we are older but obsessed by ideology. Contacted by the Guardian eight days before the 2016 vote, Ernest Gove said: ‘It wasn’t any hardship or things like that. I just decided to call it a day and just sold up my business and went on to work with someone else.’ Later, just possibly after a quiet word, Gove senior issued a clarifying statement explaining that his business ‘closed as a direct result of Europe.’
How many more mistakes will be made, how many more clarifying statements will need to be issued and how many more times will we be embarrassed and driven towards ruin by a government driven by retribution, reprisal and revenge?