What constitutes the primary duties of government have been debated by politicians, constitutional experts and philosophers since the foundation of democracy. I’ve always felt that Thomas Jefferson and his colleagues in the drafting of the American declaration of independence made a good stab at it.
“Holding these truths to be self-evident” they defined amongst unalienable rights that governments are created to protect, specifically those of “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness”.
Now it’s questionable whether they lived up to that, as certainly not all men were created equal as slavery showed and women simply weren’t on the agenda then. But as a philosophy for the purpose of government, it’s clear, succinct and covers most bases.
But if they are the criteria by which administrations are to be judged, then Boris Johnson is not just proving perverse but an utter abomination. He may only be days into office and much of the current records are those of his predecessor but he was pivotal in many of the worst aspects and in their greatest failings.
Brexit and austerity are not new. Indeed, he was an architect of one and a supporter of the other. Even the Irish backstop that he fulminates against and blames the EU and Ireland for, has his fingerprints all over it as it was signed when he was Foreign Secretary. If it’s a failure, as he alludes, then its principally his fault.
Moreover, his premiership is set on a trajectory that will worsen the situation on every one of those criteria and imperil both citizens and the state. On life we’ve already reached the shameful position under his erstwhile colleagues, that life expectancy is falling. Given the miracles of modern medicine that’s simply shameful.
For sure there are excuses with drugs and alcohol and other social ills, but grinding poverty and the undermining of public services are a far greater cause for it. Rather than seeking to address any of those fundamental issues, he seems intent on worsening the situation on drugs and alcohol with his so called “libertarianism”. Many of us, including many dyed-in-the-wool conservatives, always thought that we were our brother’s keeper.
Working until we drop will worsen those statistics. It’s not just that people won’t live to receive their pension but they won’t survive the efforts of trying to keep body and soul alive. Compounding that, his actions over the Good Friday Agreement in Ireland and his closeness to Trump and his hawks threaten lives as terror and global confrontations loom.
Liberty is threatened with the removal of free movement. It’s not just the ability to travel freely without border crossings or visa requirements but its rights and protections on health and other benefits that are being taken away. Of course, for the super rich those things never really applied anyway but for the rest of us mere mortals it’s not just a retrograde step, but a threat to our enjoyment of life.
For all his bluster on law and order, it’s more like a prelude for an age of repression. Stop and search has a place, as I’ve argued in Scotland, but its blanket imposition on poor and minority communities is a recipe for riots down south.
Being tough on crime is all very well, but you also need to be tough on the causes of crime. Rather than responding to underlying issues and need, he’s more likely to replicate his London mayoral days with the acquisition of water cannon.
Crime and violence will only increase, as the American model he subscribes to confirms.
The pursuit of happiness for many is now but a distant dreamm with children born into poverty and whose entire lives will be spent in that degradation.
A gig economy making work fragile and incapable of providing an adequate income for many. Homelessness rising and where home ownership, also once a cornerstone of old conservative values, now a distant dream for young people, unless they have access to the bank of Mum and Dad, itself increasing inequality.
It’s a sorry tale but it’s only going to get worse. Preparations for a No Deal Brexit are the very antithesis of good government. Operation Yellowhammer is not some worst-case scenario from civil servants as Michael Gove suggests, but sensible planning and contingency. Having spoken with senior officials, I know the despair they feel.
Despite the haverings of lunatic Brexiteers we’re not at war with the EU.
That a government actively pursues a strategy that will result in food and medicine shortages, potential riots and civil disturbances, as well as preparing to take draconian powers to address that self-inflicted harm, is truly mind-boggling.
The pursuit of “life, liberty and happiness” this is not. Thomas Jefferson and Benjamin Franklin would be incredulous.