Cynicism is rarely healthy. Particularly when it is thoroughly justified. So, the nation is probably in need of some collective therapy. Because virtually everywhere you look there is a dramatic contrast between what we are being told by this government and what has actually been taking place.
Following the rules
It is only very recently that we have emerged from the worst of the pandemic and got back to living relatively normally. At the start of that crisis many behavioural scientists and many in government had serious doubts about whether they could trust the population to behave responsibly and obey the rules for any length of time.
What happened instead was the exact opposite. The vast majority of ordinary people behaved with great responsibility throughout the pandemic. People helped neighbours who couldn’t get out, loads of us volunteered to deliver groceries, to collect prescriptions, to help out at vaccine centres or simply to ring and offer a kind word. Many of the politicians who were setting the policies did the exact opposite. They displayed great irresponsibility.
It is a shocking list of failure. The prime minister’s chief adviser drove to Barnard Castle at a time when we were all supposed to stay at home. Something which the then health minister also failed to do as he conducted an affair whilst nurses were risking their lives on the front line. Matt Hancock is now forging a new career as a TV ‘personality’. Those nurses have been rewarded with real term pay cuts and accusations of irresponsibility when they go on strike to protest.
The former prime minister was forced out of office after it was shown that he irresponsibly broke rules on social distancing and lied repeatedly whilst in office. The current prime minister also received a fine for breaking the same rules. We are expected to forget that and follow his wise guidance. As he continues to tell us that Brexit is a great success.
Outside of the direct glare of public attention much worse things were happening. Whilst the public were struggling to cope with some really difficult circumstances the government was presiding over some very dubious deals. Contracts were being handed out to friends or to party donors who had little experience of being able to supply what was needed whilst those in the business couldn’t even get their calls taken.
Everyone can accept that in speed in a crisis rules have to be bent. No one should be expected to quietly put up with it being the politicians as well as the rules that were bent.
The Conservative peer, Michelle Mone, has been accused of receiving £29mn after recommending contracts be awarded to a company called PPE Medrow. The company got contracts worth over £203mn. Mone got her money via an obscure offshore account and somehow doesn’t seem to have ever got round to declaring an interest.
That was a particularly gross example of a widespread failure. Some £4bn of the contracts that were awarded ended up providing not a single piece of useable equipment. Hundreds of thousands of pounds were donated to the Conservative Party by companies that received lucrative contracts. Whilst the vast bulk of the public were going through very hard times others spotted a chance for easy profit and used their connections to fleece the community.
Slide into corruption
The slide into corruption has been accompanied by ever more glaring examples of politicians breaking their most basic promises. In recent times, the rot set in when Tony Blair promised us all he had seen security briefings that told him there were weapons of mass destruction in Iraq. Hundreds of thousands of lost lives later, it turned out that he hadn’t.
Trust was undermined again when Gordon Brown told us he had put an end to the cycle of boom and bust in the British economy, when he was actually overseeing a huge boom in financial gambling that created the biggest bust ever. Initiated by the Conservative Party deregulations known as the big bang.
Then David Cameron came in. Promising that we could safely vote blue and go green and that he would end top-down re-organisations of the health service. He ended up deciding to “cut the green crap” and launching the biggest and most damaging top down re-organisation of the NHS ever.
After that we had the false promises of the Brexit campaign as Boris Johnson told us we could both have cake and eat it. Instead of sunlit uplands what we got was large sections of the nation struggling to put any kind of food on the table let alone cake. Theresa May promised us strong and stable government. Before having to resign after presiding over months of chaotic infighting. Johnson’s cheery bumbling incompetence was then followed by Liz Truss over enthusiastically following even more bonkers ideas and driving up mortgage costs.
Order and common sense are sorely lacking
It has been a sorry saga that would make an optimist despair. Now we are being told by one major party that we can rely on Rishi Sunak to restore order and common sense. Despite the fact that he was a minister in the government which led us into this mess, offered his own versions of the fake promises that Brexit would be good for the nation, and has appointed a series of talentless bullies as a reward for doing a deal with him.
The other major party is trying to tell us that all we really need to do is to get rid of the Tories and things can only get better.
Some of us have heard that before. It remains to be seen whether Sunak can deliver any actual improvements to the honesty of government and how things pan out if Keir Starmer does succeed in replacing him in office and follows a centrist agenda.
The risk now is that a deeply flawed government will be replaced by a bland set of professional career politicians imposed on local areas by the party central office. If that happens and all we get is a return of Blairite focus group politics, then cynicism won’t go away. It will get worse. And there are some very unpleasant forces out there just waiting to take advantage.
Honest politics isn’t about what you want to get rid of. It is about what you create in its place. What the public needs really needs is a return to honest grass roots politics from people who are rooted in their community and focus on delivering useful services on the ground. Or is that too much for an old cynic to wish for?