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Editorial: Despite its majority, this government is losing its grip

IT IS rare that a government, secure behind an 80-seat majority in the House of Commons, has appeared so vulnerable.

Public opinion is increasingly volatile. The perception that the government lacks maturity, common sense, strategic vision or even routine competence exists as much among Conservative MPs who bemoan the Cabinet’s lack of that quintessential Tory value “bottom” as it does among the public.

In a political climate as febrile as this shifts in opinion are unpredictable and contradictory. Faced with the huge human outpouring of emotion triggered by the murder, far from our shores, of George Floyd, the government struggled to find a message that resonated with any critical category of opinion even among its own supporters.

The outright racist fringe – the people who provide one tranche of votes necessary for a Tory election win – cannot tolerate the slightest surrender to historical fact or contemporary reality when it comes to the twin issues of empire and race.

The middle ground of middle Britain – the more propertied among the middle classes or those members of the working class who imagine their precarious hold on property represents a lifetime of security – will often acknowledge the reality of racism and police violence without really comprehending how this provides the continuous soundtrack for the lives of black people in Britain.

There is a vast range of public opinion – now a majority – that can draw from their own experience, that of friends and family, or from life as it is lived that racism is an active, and for some people, a decisive factor in shaping the lives they lead.

It is from this enormous pool of understanding that the the Black Lives Matter movement has burst through in places and among people seemingly strangers to political action.

Crises of confidence in policing become critical for society as a whole at the point at which they become unbearable for the people on the business end of the problem.

Behind every recurrent social explosion there lies a hinterland of mounting social problems. In this moment it is the finding that people from Britain’s black and minority ethnic communities are experiencing a disproportionate level of fines for breaching Covid-19 regulations. This appears especially unjust given that these are the communities that bear disproportionally the effects of the coronavirus.

It is from the steady accretion of facts such as these, from the indignities and injustices that people bear that the weight of public opinion can suddenly shift.

The government’s tin ear to the voices of working people is nowhere more evident than in its maladroit handling of the summertime school meals issue.

This is a problem of the government’s own making. And it is entirely consistent with its approach from the very beginning of the present emergency.

When the direct consequences of government policies have no bearing on those cocooned by wealth and privilege such people have no insight into the inevitable consequences of such policies.

It would never occur to a class accustomed to outsourcing childcare to the private education system that finding money to feed a family of children throughout the summer is a fearsome problem for millions of people.

All credit then to Marcus Rashford who has pledged to “keep taking steps forward” after his campaign to extend our children’s food voucher scheme into the summer holidays forced a complete reversal of government policy.

In his unassuming manner this exceptional sportsman has drawn on his own experiences to shape a campaign that changed government policy.

And in a sign of the changing mood Manchester City's Pep Guardiola asserts that people in sports should not “stick to sports.”


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