Westminster’s ApathyOver Boris Johnson‘Let Bodies Pile High’Allegations
Some sections of the mainstream media are downplaying or distorting claims that the Prime Minister voiced a stark disregard for people’s lives during the Coronavirus crisis, says Sam Bright
This morning, the Daily Mail has exposed one of the most shocking, stomach-churning stories in modern British political history.
The newspaper reports that the Prime Minister said he would rather “let the bodies pile high in their thousands” than impose a third lockdown to prevent the spread of COVID-19.
This is an allegation – and one that has been strongly denied by Downing Street. However, the language used by the newspaper – “those who say they heard it stand by their claim” – suggests that multiple first-person witnesses have confirmed the story.
It boils down to this: senior (most likely former) figures in Downing Street have accused Boris Johnson of saying that he would be willing to countenance mass fatalities among the British public. Not only that, he was allegedly willing to design policies that he knew would lead to this outcome.
It is difficult to imagine any other period of modern history in which a Prime Minister could be accused of supporting the death of their own people, without a blowback of nuclear proportions. This is not an embarrassing policy U-turn, an extra-marital affair or even high-level corruption – this is the Prime Minister, the person charged with leading and protecting the country, accused of openly supporting a policy of human sacrifice.
And yet here we are. The media’s coverage is cloaked in a light dusting of outrage, but its reaction has not been out of the ordinary. This morning’s Politico Playbook – the email that sets the tempo of the Westminster news agenda – described it as simply another act in the “Dom vs. Downing Street circus”, referring to the ongoing clash between Johnson and his former chief aide Dominic Cummings.
The story here, the mainstream media insists, is the feud between the Prime Minister and his ex-advisors. As a result, it has been portrayed as a routine internal Downing Street spat, with the substance of the claim seemingly of trivial importance.
BBC Newsnight reporter Lewis Goodall described the story as “sub-optimal” for the Government – predicting that it would dominate the “political conversation” this morning. It would be sub-optimal if the Prime Minister forgot the name of a Conservative Party candidate – as he did last week – or tripped over his dog on the way to work. “Let the bodies pile high in their thousands” is not a sub-optimal phrase.
Indeed, it epitomises the decline of political journalism that the Prime Minister allegedly wishing death upon his own people has been warped into a celebrity psycho-drama involving his former advisors. In fact, it is logically absurd.
The only reason not to focus on the substance of the story is that it is unproven; an allegation. Yet, the sources of the story were anonymous, so to focus on Dominic Cummings is disingenuous, given that we have no idea whether he provided the information.
Even the Labour Party seems to have been caught in this alternative reality, in which such an apparent lack of care for human life attracts neither surprise nor unequivocal condemnation. A Labour spokesperson this morning called the alleged comments “shocking and sickening” and urged the Prime Minister to make a statement – but didn’t suggest that he should resign, if they are proven to be true.
“There is a danger that the sheer weight and regularity of political corruption we are currently witnessing in the UK will begin to desensitise us to its reality,” Reverend Joe Haward wrote in these pages last week. We similarly seem to be desensitised to death caused by ministerial negligence and incompetence, due to the events of the last year.
But this is dangerous. For obvious reasons, those in power should be held to account when they cause the needless deaths of citizens – or else future leaders may believe that they can get away with similar, or worse, offences.
Ironically, the notion of protecting of citizens – otherwise known as ‘national security’ – is a central component of election campaigns, and one of the reasons that Johnson beat former Labour Leader Jeremy Corbyn at the last election.
Corbyn was castigated as a ‘threat to our national security’, due to his personal belief in the disarmament of nuclear weapons. This argument rings particularly hollow now that Britain has been pillaged by a deadly virus – apparently with the encouragement of Boris Johnson. As does the notion that Conservatives are instinctively more patriotic than members of other parties. Patriots do not support the death of fellow citizens, after all.
If this story is proven to be true and Boris Johnson faces minimal mainstream pressure to resign, it will be difficult to understand how Britain could continue to call itself a liberal democracy.
what the papers don’t say
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