openDemocracyUK: Opinion

Johnson’s behaviour has UK minority communities fearing sinister repercussions

Those at the top have already shown disdain for us. Now we know they can lie and have their transgressions covered up

Daniel York Loh
1 February 2022, 12.02pm
Boris Johnson received Sue Gray's report on 31 January 2022
Mark Thomas / Alamy Stock Photo

Once upon a time, before I somehow managed to claw my way into a career in the arts that sometimes looks quite respectable, I was a drug-addicted petty criminal.

Looking back now to the times I spent standing in front of the magistrates court, I sometimes fantasise about using language similar to that recently deployed by the UK government seeking to justify its own errant behaviour.

But unlike those omitted in Sue Gray’s report, the transgressions I’ve made have never been – and will never be – redacted. The prosecutors never overlooked my petty theft crimes. Surely, as Michael Gove said of partygate at the weekend, I just need some “Christian forgiveness”?

The redactions in Gray’s report, which seemingly go beyond those asked for by the Metropolitan Police, clearly illustrate the level of sheer entitlement and separated privilege that those in the highest office in the land have demonstrated over the past few months. They raise yet more questions over the levels of trust between our elected leaders and the general public. If those at the top don’t follow the rules, why should we?

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We can go back to the Blair government, with its bogus pretext for war in Iraq and the MP’s expenses scandal, to see why many of us have no faith whatsoever in politicians. I’ve long been of the opinion that any malaise in any entity starts from above. We all like to believe we’re free-thinking and independent but large swathes of us often seem to mirror the attitudes of the people in charge, be that unwittingly.

Most recently, however, those of us with so-called ‘protected characteristics’ have felt increasingly at risk in the midst of a toxic political climate that appears hell-bent on rolling back any advances we may have fought hard for. The steady ramping up of anti-immigrant rhetoric and lies purported by the right-wing media have been terrifying to behold – even for those of us who were born and raised in the UK, the only country we’ve ever called home.

While others yearn for the days of Theresa May, often held up as an adult in the room, many of us remember her as the home secretary who actively declared her intention to make Britain a ‘hostile environment’. It is telling that she is now sometimes looked upon fondly as some kind of sensible, more moderate alternative to Boris Johnson.

After all, it was May who declared some of us “citizens of nowhere” for daring to think outside the Brexit vision of nativist England. Brexit was won on dubious promises and outright lies, bolstered by the loudest of dog whistles that there were simply too many of ‘us’ coming into the country. So seemingly hell-bent is the current Conservative administration on appeasing the party’s base, that it is failing to attempt to rectify the immigration atrocity that was the Windrush scandal. Only 5% of those affected have received any redress as recently as November 2021.

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And then we have Grenfell, whose victims Jacob Rees-Mogg, the leader of the House, condemned as lacking “common sense” for not leaving a building they’d been specifically instructed not to leave. The combination of apparent selective compliance with health and safety instructions, as well as the sheer contempt for victims of minority ethnic and immigrant backgrounds, is a shocking double-whammy of elitist disdain and outright dishonesty.

For many in society, there is a breakdown in trust between the people and their politicians. For those of us whose lives have been afflicted by the ruling elite for decade after decade, perhaps that trust was never there to begin with. Our memories certainly haven’t been redacted. And neither will all the fixed penalty notices dished out last year – disproportionately to people of colour, with Black people in particular twice as likely to be fined as white people – for doing what the prime minister and his staff were seemingly doing on a rolling basis.

And so, that is why, when the political elite – which appears set on imposing limits on the country’s non-white population and minorities – repeatedly lies and has its transgressions kicked into the long grass via a heavily redacted report, many from already-marginalised and vulnerable backgrounds are left fearing sinister, far-reaching consequences.

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From coronation budgets to secretive government units, journalists have used the Freedom of Information Act to expose corruption and incompetence in high places. Tony Blair regrets ever giving us this right. Today's UK government is giving fewer and fewer transparency responses, and doing it more slowly. But would better transparency give us better government? And how can we get it?

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