Britain: The Land of Chumocracy and Cronyism

Covid-19 has wrought terrible devastation across the globe, and perhaps nowhere has felt the most amount of damage and uncertainty than America and the U.K. With record numbers of deaths per capita, a flood of terrible decisions and a onslaught of misinformation, managing the virus has been extremely difficult. The U.K especially have zigzagged in and out of lockdown enough times to confound any journalist, social commentator and of course, the millions of citizens who don’t know where they stand from one day to the next.

Throughout the entire ordeal, No.10 have had their feet held to the fire as Boris Johnson kept the U.K “open for business” and that it has also unravelled that the government has consistently handed out more than a handful of contracts to private companies – without going through the usual channels of putting said contracts out to tender. The test and trace scheme was handed to Dido Harding and produced by Serco with astonishingly bad results. For instance, the bespoke contract was delivered using Excel instead of custom-made software and, despite businesses across the U.K taking in all the information they needed from customers, it was all for nothing when the test and trace system failed to conglomerate the data. What’s worse is that the government still claims, at every opportunity, that it is the NHS test and trace system.

Please, don’t let them get away with that one.

The choice to give out contracts and not put them out to tender is not just an example “chumocracy” among the Conservative elite, it is also evidence of cronyism. The Conservatives have closed their ranks and they bully out those who might try to put forward their ideas and expertise or ways in which to improve the country. Conservative donors and friends (in one instance, a pub landlord) have widely benefitted from this chummy approach and, whilst this kind of treatment would be baffling at the best of time, it feels more like a slap in the face during such a turbulent period in our lives.

There is, however, a more severe level of cronyism which was highlighted in today’s newspapers, and that is the one in which a contract was given to a Russian-owned firm to design a new briefing room for No.10. The company, Megahertz, has also worked on projects for Russia Television (RT), Channel One and Public Television of Russia,  which has raised concerns regarding the security of No.10’s new media suite. This might seem unconnected to what has transpired throughout the Covid-19 crisis but we need to go back a little to understand why this briefing room debacle raises so many questions.

Back in 2016 ex-MI6 agent, Christopher Steele, released a document stating (among other things) that Donald Trump was subject to Russian control after Moscow had managed to acquire compromising material (kompromat) on the then-to-be president of the United States. The kompromat – the infamous prostitute sex tape recorded in Moscow’s Hilton Hotel. When the information that Trump could be a Russian puppet was handed further up the chain toward Theresa May’s office, a blanket was thrown over the investigation and interest dwindled. But this wasn’t the first time that Theresa May and Boris Johnson’s government have ignored crucial information regarding Russia.

The Russia Report has long been an article of particular importance to the U.K media, and for good reason. The report claims that Russian money has flooded into London and upholds (and has fractured) the London property market. Property investment a tool of choice for money launderers and Bill Browder (known as Putin’s number one enemy and proponent against corruption) even goes so far as to say that London is “floating on a sea of Russian money.” The Russia Report thus raises the question as to whether or not Russian Roubles have made their way into the U.K’s political system. The report has been constantly sidestepped by Prime Minister Johnson and, before him, Theresa May.

Although heavily redacted in order to (one would guess) protect people within the government “the report notes that links between the Russian elite and the U.K allow access to business and politics that can be used for influence. “To a certain extent, this cannot be untangled and the priority now must be to mitigate the risk and ensure that, where hostile activity is uncovered, the tools exist to tackle it at source,””. So, do we have a party in power who might very well be at the beck and call of Russian financiers and Russian interests?

Well, it might seem like a tenuous connection between the Russia Report and the hiring of Megahertz to design and build No.10’s new media briefing room, but the more you peel back the layers, the stronger the case becomes. After all, it is not simply a link between Russia, it is the way that the government now responds when faced with issues.

Over the last couple of days the U.K has been the subject of a new law which prohibits that thing we claim to love so much: free speech. Cancel culture is used by the right and left to claim that the other side is silencing their right to free speech. The truth is that both parties are involved in cancel culture but what we perhaps did not expect was that Home Secretary, Priti Patel, would push through a new law which prohibits peaceful protests, marches and public demonstrations illegal if they cause “serious annoyance”. The law also means that the Home Secretary can decide on what protests are legal and which are illegal. This could technically mean that the Priti Patel could allow protesters to walk the streets if they are marching for a Conservative party initiative, but block those who are standing against the government.

Barrister and author Chris Daw told the Big Issue:

“The bill hands over the power of deciding whether a protest is justified or should be allowed — decisions we as citizens have had for generations — directly to the Home Secretary. That’s an extremely chilling development. It’s completely contradictory to everything the liberty of the free citizen is about in Britain.”

“A politician could use that power to prevent protests in favour of causes they disagree with. This law gives power to whatever government is in charge to decide what causes can take to the streets.”

So what the hell are we looking at here? Why is it that a Conservative government, under a man who calls himself a libertarian, should act so willingly against the people whilst hiding secrets about financial backing from Russian interests? And we should never forget that this is all being done in a liberal democracy where we supposedly champion the people’s voices.

All the evidence points to Conservative links with Russia (though it might spread to parties beyond the Conservatives – time is yet to tell) but the truth is that we may never really know what is going on with money sieved through the London property market. What we do know, however, is that the British government have showed themselves capable of acting like Vladimir Putin’s own thuggish kleptocracy and we are happy to have RT’s own design company into an area where sensitive information is shared. Using a Russian company does not mean that the government is puppets to Putin’s regime, but why was the contract to design the room not put out to tender? Isn’t that something they do when their chums are involved? 

Another lackluster speech by Boris Johnson

Boris Johnson’s speech yesterday was hardly the breath of fresh air that most people thought it would, and should, have been. Construction and manufacturing businesses were told that they could continue doing business (not that the construction business ever stopped) but that these businesses must suddenly implement measures to ensure that the two metre social distancing measures.

This is the “shape of the plan” as Boris Johnson tries “reopening society”. The Plan has fallen under heavy criticism as people from all professions have pointed out a waterfall of issues. For instance, that reception, years 1 and 6 would try to be back in school before the summer break period. Many teachers and school staff believe that this would be a huge mistake given that children would find it hard to distance themselves from one another and any social distancing tactics that teachers might try to practice around children would only end up scaring them. I imagine it would be hard to teach a child whilst wearing a face mask and gloves though, hopefully, measures will not be so drastic.

Manufacturing businesses, on the other hand, have to make the decision as to whether or not they can reopen and if or how they can put in place safeguards for their employees. It is only early days and the Prime Minister made clear that more information would follow later today (Monday) but given the smoky information that has come out of Downing Street since Covid-19 touched down on UK shores, clarity might be hard to find.

Another confusing statement came from Boris Johnson that he has “consulted across the political spectrum” and that his plan is in-line with other UK leaders. Before Boris Johnson’s speech, and in answer to the Sunday newspapers headlines, Nicola Sturgeon took to Twitter with the following statement:

There is very little trust among those reading the papers that Boris Johnson is in-sync with other leaders and his actions are instead speculated as those being taken by someone who wants the economy up and running and is taking timid and untimely steps toward achieving that aim. The primary problem is that, much like Boris Johnson’s vague comments stepping into the Covid-19 emergency – when he was still calling for Britain to “stay open for business” – he is still expressing that same vague quality about getting back to business.

The UK needs clarity. The UK needs leadership. Unfortunately, Boris Johnson’s career in journalism might give him the gift of spin, but he has very little substance.

The Johnson Family Drama

Nigel Farage recently tweeted:

“Bloomberg has more money than sense. Only ideas and personality win in politics.”

Farage is a man who consistently dances the line around what is real, and what is not. He is a man who has blown trumpets and raised noise when it comes to political and – whilst his reasoning and facts are simply not there and whilst you may not agree with his politics – he has been extremely effective.

Nigel Farage, Donald Trump and Boris Johnson all have one common trait among them; they are personalities. Nigel Farage wears tweed, chimney sweep hats and walks the British countryside in order to stand up against his beliefs, and people can join in for a fee. A strange business model. Donald Trump acts like a successful businessman and professes to stand up for the average American. Boris Johnson bleeds a persona of a well-spoken, stuttering toff.

In the last week we found out that Boris Johnson’s partner, Carrie Symonds, is now pregnant with Boris Johnson’s child. The Prime Minister is about to enter a new phase of his life as a father.

From here on out the optics around Boris Johnson will change and this change in optics will help him and his cabinet greatly. It might sound very low-brow, but as Nigel Farage says, personality wins in politics, and the United Kingdom are about to see not a calculated, power-hungry man like his closest colleagues know him to be, but a bumbling, fuzzy-haired figure become a father.

Cue the “Exclusive” from The Telegraph (or is the Daily Mail that scores all those family photo sessions?) showing Boris as a new father, cradling a newborn alongside Carrie Symonds. And then of course there is the possibility of marriage. No doubt a large televised event that will have everyone yapping on about what kind of dress Carrie Symonds will be wearing. Of course, not forgetting the Telegraph/Daily Mail photo shoot.

This isn’t a sniping attempt. It is just a fact that this change in Boris Johnson circumstances is bound to unfold into something much more than the standard Prime Ministerial story. The UK is about to become witness to a drama.

I can’t help but think that the minds of Dominic Cummings and whatever “weirdos” he heaves up from the dregs of the advertising and marketing world (to which he has shown a substantial preference) will work the angle of the forming family unit and turn it into some kind of national drama.

A man who has spent much of his adult life in the spotlight curating and perfecting the personality of a lovable rogue, has also used this jokey laid-back approach to shrug off allegations of racist and derogatory comments. The sad truth is; (and again I must say that this is only a matter of circumstance and not some master plan) that Boris Johnson’s fatherly personality will change him even further in the eyes of the public as a loving fatherly lovable rogue, whilst the truth is entirely the opposite.

Dominic Cummings is very aware of just how effective optics are in getting what he wants and Boris Johnson’s upcoming fatherhood will be front and center whether the Prime Minister likes it or not. Considering Johnson’s usual spaff, pay-off and run, it is hard to imagine how he feels now that this child is being held front and center in the world’s media.

This is all a prediction, and maybe I’m wrong, but we know that narratives are a clincher. Donald Trump was a bolshy character who came to the limelight by promising to lead a kind of revolution against the “elite”. Boris Johnson and Nigel Farage both did the same -the contradiction of elitist fighting the elite is not lost on most people – and they invited the people to come along on the journey with them as they pushed a neo-empirical story-line of fighting the good fight.

Britain is now going to follow unkempt lovable daddy Johnson showing smiles to the camera whilst turbulence rides below.