For the first time since Boris Johnson became Prime Minister, I’m worried about the country’s future. I am by no means a blind cheerleader of the Government, but nevertheless, I do believe it to be infinitely preferable to the hard-Left alternative of the current Labour front bench or, for that matter, the Marxism-lite on offer from Ed Davey’s Liberal Democrats.
I dread to think what would happen if either ever managed to get their hands on the reins of power or, worse still, formed some sort of unholy alliance.
This country would be crippled economically, riven by conflict and generally pitched into a social and political abyss.
If you think high taxation and the rising cost of living are a threat now, imagine how much worse the situation would become under a Labour administration that would send public spending through the roof, while stifling opportunities for wealth creators in order to satisfy its hunger for class warfare.
Imagine being governed by people such as Angela Rayner and Rachel Reeves, with Jeremy Corbyn, Diane Abbott and Len McCluskey salivating in the wings.
I appreciate this may be some people’s idea of a dream team, but it’s not mine — nor do I believe it’s what a nation that, only two years ago, returned a thumping 80-seat Conservative majority wants either.
For the first time since Boris Johnson became Prime Minister, I’m worried about the country’s future
That’s why I’m fearful. Because for the first time in a very long time, I can actually see this happening.
We live in a democracy: no party has a God-given right to rule — they have to earn that privilege at every election. And I am not sure, if things carry on the way they are going, that the Tories will secure it again.
These latest revelations about a drinks party at No. 10 in May 2020, at pretty much the height of the lockdown restrictions, are just the latest in a drip-feed of damaging stories that have not only handed Boris Johnson’s enemies a stick with which to beat him, but also forced even his closest and most loyal allies to question his judgment. And that is a problem that urgently needs to be addressed.
It’s becoming increasingly hard for loyal Conservatives such as me to excuse the behaviour of No. 10. And while I have huge sympathy and admiration for many of the individuals in the firing line, and understand possibly more than most the complexities and nuances of the situation, I can’t allow my personal feelings to render me blind to the truth: if someone doesn’t get a grip soon, the Tories will lose the next election.
And frankly, who could blame the voters? Because all these mistakes, all these misjudgments, have a common denominator: arrogance, entitlement and a sense that those in power are above the law.
Imagine being governed by people such as Angela Rayner and Rachel Reeves, with Jeremy Corbyn, Diane Abbott and Len McCluskey salivating in the wings
These are characteristics no political party or politician ever wants to be accused of; but they are especially toxic for the Tories, since there is already an inherent suspicion of such behaviour.
David Cameron spent years painstakingly trying to unravel the preconception that all Tories were fuelled by an inbuilt sense of entitlement; but recent revelations, I’m sad to say, have undone much of that work.
The consequences are potentially devastating. Because if, as a Tory administration, you are going to do the one thing that is anathema to all conservative-thinking people and go against the fundamental tenets that underpin Conservative philosophy — that is to say the right of the individual to determine his or her actions in a free society — you absolutely cannot make yourself the exception.
Not only must you lead by example, you have to be unimpeachable. And if the rules you impose are some of the most draconian in living memory, you have to bear the consequences of the public’s anger if you flout them while bearing down hard on ordinary people who have made, often unwittingly, even the slightest mistake.
It’s no secret that I always felt the imposition of lockdown far too harsh. I could see the cold, hard logic of it; but, on a human level, so much of what was enforced seemed at times not only irrational but also cruel and unnecessary. If the Government — or its agencies — had shown even the slightest bit of sympathy or understanding for the personal challenges so many people faced, perhaps it could have expected a degree of lenience both in spring and summer 2020 in return.
It’s becoming increasingly hard for loyal Conservatives such as me to excuse the behaviour of No. 10
But it did not. It demanded total acquiescence in respect of all the restrictions, which were often contradictory and confusing, and imposed heavy penalties, both financial and emotional, on those who strayed.
This was a time when little old ladies were being cautioned by police for having a socially distanced cup of tea in their garden with a friend.
When pregnant women were having to give birth alone and, in some instances, denied contact with their newborn babies.
When a 13-year-old boy who died after testing positive for the virus was buried without his family in attendance because his mother and siblings were being forced to self-isolate.
At the time, his relatives naturally said they were ‘devastated’, but they still complied with the regulations and urged others to do the same.
Dog walkers in the Peak District were tracked by drones and the footage posted on Twitter by police, even though they were manifestly not posing any danger to the public or themselves.
At every turn, we were all reminded that even the slightest bending of the rules would not be tolerated, and that anyone who did so would quickly feel the full force of the law.
For me, perhaps the most egregious example of the cold inhumanity of some of these government-imposed restrictions was the response of staff at Crownhill Crematorium in Milton Keynes who, in the October of 2020, pounced on some poor bloke who had dragged his chair next to his mother’s to put an arm around her at his father’s funeral.
He and his fellow mourners were treated like criminals at a moment of intense grief. Even for the most vehement supporter of lockdown, it seemed cruelly heavy-handed.
Worse still, it made no sense. As that grieving son said afterwards: ‘I can sit in a restaurant, I can sit in a pub, I can live at her house, I can travel in a limousine to the crematorium with six [others].
‘But when I want to give my mum a cuddle at Dad’s funeral, a man flies out mid-service shouting, ‘Stop the service’ and makes us split. A devastating day made even worse.’
At every turn, we were all reminded that even the slightest bending of the rules would not be tolerated, and that anyone who did so would quickly feel the full force of the law
And yet, just a few months earlier, staff in Downing Street were ‘taking advantage of the lovely weather’ and sharing drinks and nibbles in the garden.
No wonder the entire country is spitting tacks.
Of course, if the rules had not been so damn draconian in the first place, none of this would have happened.
If people had been allowed to judge for themselves the risks, to make informed individual choices about the wisdom or otherwise of their actions. If the Government had trusted people to make sensible decisions, no one would have felt as though they were living in a police state — in permanent fear of slipping up or being shopped to the authorities by a malicious neighbour.
But they didn’t. They imposed harsh fines, ignored appeals for leniency and never stopped reminding us of our obligations to public health. And, at huge cost to livelihoods, to their physical and mental wellbeing, to their futures and those of their children, the people acquiesced.
We put everything on hold for the greater good, believing — as the saying goes — that ‘we were all in this together’.
Except, as it is increasingly becoming clear, we were not.
It is, of course, perfectly possible that when Sue Gray — the redoubtable civil servant charged with investigating the various Downing Street parties — returns her verdict, she will conclude that, technically, this latest No. 10 bash was somehow within the rules.
But even if that turns out to be the case, it won’t change the all-important optics of the situation, which is that while people were suffering, while human behaviour was being criminalised and families torn apart, the Tories were partying.
I hate to be so hard on No. 10 because I still believe that the Conservative Party is the right choice to lead this country, not least because were it not for the Herculean efforts of this administration we would not be enjoying the benefits of a world-beating vaccine programme.
But this is about much more than the career of any individual politician now.
This is about the reputation and the future of the Conservative Party — and, ultimately, the fate of Britain itself.
It won’t change the all-important optics of the situation, which is that while people were suffering, while human behaviour was being criminalised and families torn apart, the Tories were partying
Source: Daily Mail UK