For those who despair that Boris Johnson is judged by far lower standards than others, they should stop worrying and take heart from the examples of many like him who always fall to earth in the end. Look at all the French politicians who we were assured had a clear path to the Elysee, until they didn’t.
Look at the example of the former Irish Taoiseach Bertie Ahern, who had similar issues with ex-wives and girlfriends and strange financial arrangements.
We all know Johnson is the type of man who doesn’t buy his round in the pub or is always missing when the bill for dinner arrives, and we all know he knew full well that the bill for various expenses he incurred was going to be picked up by others. If there had been the remotest reality Johnson expected to foot the bill for decorating the Downing Street flat, he would done it as cheap as possible. The fact the money is small change to the people covering the bill isn’t the point. The point is that yet again Johnson was able to avoid a bill he incurred… A bit like his approach to fatherhood.
But the good news for Labour is that although Bertie Ahern unexpectedly won a third term in office in the May 2007 Irish election within a year, he was forced to resign with his reputation in tatters following revelations on his finances at the Mahon Tribunal. There is a reason why some people who have held high office, like Mr Cameron and Mr Ahern, are not offered plum board positions in reputable companies, and I suspect Mr Johnson won’t be fending off such offers when he leaves office either.
Labour is wasting its time trying to get people to be shocked at Johnson low personal standards and it is not because people don’t care, they do.
It is because they have already decided Johnson is not a person of high moral standards and when the time comes that Johnson goes too far, which it will, then all the past issues will matter. It has been filed away by the public but not forgotten but people don’t like to be cornered on their own role in putting Johnson into Downing St or being confronted with their own complicity.
It’s best to accept the point has been made that many people, many millions of voters, are complicit and they knew it, what they want now is an alternative that avoids being an ‘I told you so’ moment of reflection for them. So, if Mr Starmer is waiting to be thanked by people for exposing Johnson as a person devoid of morality, he will be left waiting.
What Labour needs to do is start on the assumption that it will win the 2023 general election and plan for explaining to people what it will do in office. Clement Attlee didn’t waste the 1945 election arguing about the war, he argued the war is over, we won and now we need to fix the country and he offered what people wanted after the war which was jobs and houses and the NHS and proper pensions.
The need for these is as great for 2023 as it was in 1945 and therefore Labour needs to get working on a Beveridge Report for the 21st Century. Why can someone get a 100% mortgage as standard on the continent but needs a deposit in the UK, people were happy to have good quality council housing up until Mrs Thatcher changed the narrative and cut funding for maintaining council homes.
Labour can change that narrative back and ensure proper council management services maintain housing, so they do not become ghettos, and if you want to buy privately good for you. Who is better off, an elderly continental person who rents but has accessible savings to enjoy their old age and proper health and social care, or a UK person who has a house worth a fortune but can’t afford to meet their daily needs?
There is no reason why the UK can’t have the innovation and modernity of a sustainable capitalist economic model and the benefits of social democratic social policies, but it needs to argue for them and set out its plan and be honest that some people will pay more tax and that the expectations of people benefitting from more equality will be high.
The UK made a choice to align with the trickledown economics of the US Republican Party in the 1980s, which we know have failed, and not everyone can marry a rich man who inherited his wealth from others like Mrs Thatcher did, while pretending her wealth was self-made, and it can make a different choice again in the 2020s.
The challenge for Keir Starmer is to highlight Johnson’s moral failures but do it quickly and move on.
He’s not going to change the dial by dull lawyerly arguments in Westminster, but he can change the dial by mapping out what the UK will look like by the end of his first term in office from 2023 on, just like Clement Attlee did.
75 years later the framework of the Welfare State that Attlee created remains in place, albeit a bit the worse for wear, but still worth saving.
So let’s hear more about Labour’s Beveridge 2.0 Mr Starmer!
Desmond FitzGerald, Canary Wharf, London
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