‘Oh, what a tangled web we weave, when first we practise to deceive!’
Behaving and speaking in every way akin to a Viceroy, the UK Prime Minister snuck into Scotland last week on 04 August 2021 for what appeared to be little more than a two day photo opportunity.
Alexander Boris de Pfeffel Johnson slipped into Scotland, refusing to meet with the Scottish First Minister as political courtesy would have expected. Following the same stage managed circus show game plan which managed to win him and his Conservative Party the December 2019 UK general election (aided, of course, by the vagaries of the First Past the Post UK electoral voting system), he met nobody other than hired stage hands, carefully selected Tory party apparatchiks and, of course, ‘succulent lamb’ members of the British media for what was almost nothing more than just a photo shoot for a politician.
UK Prime Minister Johnson is the leader of a Tory party which has never won an election in Scotland since 1955. In those 66 years since, Scotland has voted against his Tory party and all it stands for at every single election. The reduction to single figures of Tory MPs came after the 1980s and the decade of destruction, ruin and lost opportunity of Thatcher and monetarism and the neo-liberalism her and her Tory Party inflicted on a Scotland which never voted for.
PM Johnson’s party was most recently and once again routed in Scotland in the May 2021 elections for the Scottish parliament. His Tory party and his candidates stood on a single issue ticket – ‘How to stop another Scottish independence referendum’. They were heavily defeated, winning less than a quarter of the vote. It must be recognised that it is only because elections to the Scottish Parliament use the D’Hondt single transferable voting system (STV) that the Tories managed to get their number of MSPs beyond just a handful.
The SNP on the other hand won a fourth successive election victory to the Scottish parliament. They romped home, winning almost 48% of the vote despite a voting system specifically designed to stop them from doing so. They came within just one seat of winning an overall majority in the Scottish parliament. And on a manifesto commitment to hold an independence referendum.
While in Scotland, Prime Minister Johnson refused to be drawn on the constitutional question. He made no “gaffes” about that question, of course, on this occasion.
On the coronavirus crisis, UK PM Johnson has been in power – and therefore is responsible for - a period in which the UK has suffered the highest death toll in Europe. According to Amnesty International, his Britain has one of the highest fatalities of healthcare workers in the world. Johnson and the Tories clapped the NHS workers while it was politically beneficial for them to do so but, in the cold light of day, they reveal their true colours. The Tory Government at Westminster refuses to pay NHS workers a pay increase and scraps the free parking for NHS workers in England and Wales.
While in Scotland, he made no “gaffes” about the issue. He referenced the vaccine rollout in Scotland (“stunning”). He said he wanted the UK to move from “jabs jabs jabs” to “jobs jobs jobs”.
He may have wanted to deflect from the statement made by Richard Burnett, chief executive of the Road Haulage Association, who warned that the UK was within two to three weeks collapse of the “just in time” supply chain because of UK red tape and lack of haulier jobs. “jobs jobs jobs” except those workers who filled the essential and necessary of the jobs of the UK before the Tory “oven ready” deal which excluded all of those immigrant workers who are essential to the UK ‘just in time’ economy.
“All of the above” (and still probably loads of other under the radar stuff) is no doubt why PM Johnson made the statement he did about the closure of collieries under Thatcher during and after the 1980s. It was not a gaffe, nor an “unhelpful” comment. It was far more than an insensitive comment: it was in my view planned, calculated and intended to be a provocative statement which would be focussed on and so draw attention from so many of the other ills of this Conservative Government.
As Peter Oborne evidences in his excellent wee book, ‘The Assault on Truth’, the lies told by and on behalf of PM Johnson throughout the course of the December 2019 election campaign “were not innocent. They were part of a deliberate and carefully calculated strategy of deception”. And that it was ever thus and continues today. Aided and abetted by the British media.
Asked about ending oil and gas exploration, the UK PM Johnson is quoted as saying "Look at what we’ve done already. We’ve transitioned away from coal in my lifetime. Thanks to Margaret Thatcher who closed so many coal mines across the country, we had a big early start and we’re now moving rapidly away from coal altogether”.
According to the media, Johnson apparently laughed after saying Mr Thatcher had closed so many coal mines. For environmental advantage.
That comment - and that laugh - was rightly condemned by many across the political spectrum. Labour’s Kier Starmer thought it “shameful”, a failure to recognise the devastating impact colliery closures had on the affected communities and how out of touch he [Johnson] was with working people.
For me, it was yet another in a long line of those patently deliberate and carefully calculated lines of deception which Conservative Governments have deployed repeatedly ever since winning that election back in 2010.
Right wing commentators such as Tom Harwood have been all over social media since, commenting on “the subsidy” which the coal mining industry enjoyed. A “subsidy” which sucked all the goodness out of the public purse with little or no return. “An unprofitable industry”. And so it was right to close unprofitable mines. The Tory case. No understanding of longer term social and community interests, energy security interests and/or economic interest. Nothing but the short term profit and balance sheet, having no regard to the moral economy - which, rightly or wrongly, underpinned so much of economic and social planning after 1945. And no reference to the much greater subsidy afforded to foreign imports of coal into the UK, giving foreign subsidised coal producers an unfair advantage in the Thatcherite analysis.
And to hell with the communities and all of the associated skilled engineering and manufacturing industries which the UK mining industry had hitherto relied on. Industry and jobs which provided thousands of workers across the UK with meaningful and decently paid employment and which allowed communities to thrive. Not only have the mines been shut down and sterilised but all of those associated industries and jobs have been lost for all time, like tears in rain.
Anyone with more than a superficial interest in the miners fight for jobs and community during the early 1980s will know that a greener energy industry formed no part of the colliery closure programme after 1980. That was a Thatcherite assault on industry, trade unionism, collective bargaining, and destruction of the National Union of Mineworkers, and working class collectivism.
During the strike itself, the Conservative Government increased imports of coal from overseas. After the strike ended, the UK continued to rely on the majority of its electricity energy production from coal until or least about 2004. As UK coal production reduced prior to 2004 (to break the NUM and the indigenous coal industry), the UK government had to depend on increasing coal imports to maintain electricity generation. Imports of coal – rather than production from the vast coal reserves that exist under our feet but which have been sterilised by UK Government – simply contributed to the huge trade deficit which affects the UK.
And PM Johnson and his Tory ilk squandered the huge and immeasurable benefits the north sea oil and gas industry could have brought to Scotland, or the UK, had it been managed competently. The huge North Sea oil and gas revenues bounty was spaffed away by successive Conservatives governments and drained away in order to subside London’s overseas centred financial centre.
But last week’s “look over there, squirrel” comments by PM Johnson undermine everything we who have been brought up in a parliamentary representative democracy are meant to believe in and continue to support.
Johnson has no interest in or care for the working class – let alone the NUM, or the former mining communities. They are no more than potential votes for him. He is an elitist cut from the same cloth as Nigel Lawson, Thatcher’s Energy Secretary and then chancellor during that crucial period in the early 1980s during which time the Tories were readying for the final countdown. In his memoirs, Lawson derided the then Department of Energy as ‘the Department of Nationalised Industries’. Lawson at least had a chance to go underground – Johnson has no idea of an extractive industry he tries to use for his own short lived populism. Lawson says this, in his memoirs:-
A miner’s job is dirty, difficult, and dangerous, but it has its attractive side too. For one thing, detailed supervision is impossible underground, and the teams of miners working the seam enjoy a degree of independence unknown in any factory job. Miners are also – or were then – one of the last bastions of old-world courtesy. Whenever we came across a group of resting miners huddled in the corner of the long tunnel leading to the coal face we were wished a cordial and totally non-deferential ‘good morning’. And a miner feels he is doing a real man’s job – often reinforcing his macho image of himself by choosing to work semi-naked and in some cases even spurning the eye-protection that modern coal-cutting machinery, which spends splinters of coal flying in all directions, clearly requires”
Utter contempt for the working class and the mining industry. At least Lawson went underground, albeit fleetingly. The charlatan Johnson wants to use the miners and the breaking of the ‘red wall’ for his own nefarious purposes for as long as he can. For the time being – and I submit only because of the vagaries of the FPTP system – he is getting away with it, but not in Scotland.
In Scotland, we have rejected you PM Johnson and your Conservative party emphatically for 66 years. We see through you and your Eton privileged billionaire class. In the words of Peter Oborne (not renowned as being a trade union movement guy):
“Political lying is a form of theft. It takes away people’s democratic rights. Voters cannot make fair judgements on the basis of falsehoods. Truth has been taken out of the public domain …
Lying, cupidity and lack of integrity have become essential qualities for ambitious ministers. Meanwhile public spirit, truth telling, and scruple are an impediment to advance. It has become all but impossible for an honest politician to survive, let alone flourish, in Boris Johnson’s government.”
And lying, cupidity and lack of integrity are all factors in the way UK PM Johnston deals with politics, class, trade unionism, and Scotland. His Tory governments have rejected the calls for public inquiry into the policing of the miners strike in England and Wales despite all the strength of the evidence that inquiry needs to be had. The Scottish government has not only decided to do so but has also acknowledged a heinous wrong was done and a right needs to be righted. In Scotland, we have already entered a period where we look at that period in our recent history and come to terms with it. Thompsons Solicitors in Scotland has played a major role in the campaign to bring justice back to the mining community in Scotland who were wronged in the 1984/85 strike. The Tory Government in Westminster refuses to do so.
The UK PM Johnson further adds to the continuing provocation of and contempt for the NUM, miners and the mining community. The Mineworkers Pension Scheme contributes a substantial surplus which the UK government derives great benefits from. The UK Government takes money which should be paid to retired miners but which it chooses to spend elsewhere on public spending issues not related to the mining communities. The UK Government of Johnson chooses not to return the huge surplus to retired miners to increase their pension benefits. Rather, it chooses to spend the miners’ surplus pension funds on other priorities, such as UK government spending on Union flags, corrupt payments to Tory Minister cronies and Tory party donors, rather than paying retired miners better pensions.
That it was ever thus.
Blog by Bruce Shields, Partner.