AS Boris Johnson and Keir Starmer walked together to the opening of parliament by the Crown’s first substitute, the premier seemed relaxed. He had taken, with his customary insouciance, Starmer’s pledge to resign if the Durham police officers decide to issue a statutory fine.
Starmer is taking a bold step in relying on the Prime Minister’s sense of honour but Johnson is also exposed if the Durham police — who have been left holding the sticky end — allow politics to shape their decisions.
In its media counter attack on Starmer’s morality poker play, government sources are complaining that the leader of the opposition is putting unacceptable pressure on the Durham police. In this they may have in mind the new sense that the supposedly natural community of interests between the forces of law and order and a Tory government can no longer be taken for granted.
Although nominally a disciplined and centralised emanation of the bourgeois state, the police force is nowadays the site of an increasing range of contradictions — between tradition and innovations like equal opportunities, between the exercise of individual discretion and imposition of mandatory punishments and, increasingly, between its institutional interests and government direction.
Pay and workloads, establishment numbers and the lack of promotion opportunities are always issues simmering on the back burner — and with sharp social conflicts on the near horizon the government cannot risk annoying the police.
It was not so long ago that a Tory breach in this unspoken alliance resulted in a masterly period of inactivity from the police when a bout of austerity resulted in the London riots.
The warnings that now populate the political debates — that we face an almost unprecedented period of runaway prices, unsustainable energy costs and unaffordable housing with a quarter of the population facing stark choices between heating or eating — barely concentrates ministerial minds on the coming problems of government.
Johnson’s indifference to political principle or consistency is thrown into sharp relief by the sheer irrelevance and political frivolity of the legislative programme laid out in the Queens Speech.
Much of it is designed to appeal to the atavistic backbenches and the ageing legions of county Conservatives.
On the day that the meteorological office warned that the rise in global temperature is getting close to tipping point, the government’s lack of strategic vision, its failure to grasp the big picture, was painfully apparent.
Johnson’s schtick is that he got Brexit done although, given Starmer’s disloyal role in making sure that Jeremy Corbyn had no opportunity to discharge that mandate, he should get equal credits.
It is not just that Starmer cannot argue the case for taking advantage of the new opportunities offered by our freedom from the EU treaties and the judgments of the European Court of Justice. He doesn't want to and he cannot afford to annoy the residual Remainer sentiment in Labour.
The opportunities Brexit provides to intervene with a robust regional and industrial policy, take control of financial services, banking and investment or develop a progressive foreign policy would run immediately up against the interests of big business and the United States. And because Starmer is now the joint guardian of the deal done with the EU Commission he has to keep quiet on an issue that still animates lots of voters.
The more astute of Tory thinkers have noted that where two years ago the Tories were divided, today they lack strategic vision. Nominally committed to lower taxation, they are raising taxes at a point when most people cannot afford them — and with a trade policy supposedly opening up global markets in what looks like a global capitalist crisis.
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