Ruth Davidson, the admirable former leader of the Tories in Scotland, went on record this week to warn Boris Johnson that the Tories will be seen as the “nasty party” if they persist with the 0.2% reduction in the UK’s Financial Aid budget. It seems reasonable enough to consider that being responsible for the unnecessary deaths of a few hundred thousand children around the globe, who would not have died had the £4 billion cut not been made, might be regarded as a symptom of nastiness. But it isn’t as if it is the only indicator pointing in that direction. Nor is it just a question of possibly being regarded as nasty at some hypothetical time in the future. Johnson’s government exudes nastiness from every pore, as exemplified by three of his four senior cabinet ministers. Dominic Raab merely exudes complacency.
Rishi Sunak, the Chancellor of the Exchequer, comes across as the sanest and most level-headed of all those in the cabinet, but it is he who insisted on the cut to the Financial Aid budget, despite the clear commitment to maintaining the legally mandated 0.7% of GDP which was promised in the in the Tory election manifesto, and it is he who is insisting on cutting £20 a week from universal credit payments in the near future. Rob Merrick tells us in an article in Monday’s Independent that the cut will affect six million households and push an estimated 200,000 more children ‘below the breadline’.
This comes on top of the quaintly termed ‘Covid catch-up tsar’, Sir Kevan Collins, having felt obliged to resign his role because Sunak’s Treasury had only agreed to fund £1.4 billion of the £15 billion required for the schools’ catch-up programme. An utterly derisory £22 for each primary school child in England is going to compensate for an average of 115 days of school missed as a result of the pandemic? One could be forgiven for concluding that nasty parties don’t much like children, even the children from their own country. Perhaps that is because it is pensioners, rather than people who still have their lives to live, who tend to vote for the Tories.
Our bright-eyed and bushy-tailed new Secretary for Health and Social Care, Sajid Javid, can’t be held responsible for what happened in that department before his over-promoted predecessor, Matt Hancock, was caught on camera following his Prime Minister’s example by having a steamy extra-marital affair, but the sickening cynicism and ingratitude of the award to the NHS of a George Cross for bravery in lieu of a pay-rise greater than an insulting 1% that was announced soon after his take-over of the portfolio is quintessentially Tory and indisputably nasty. It also requires a certain nastiness to be able blithely to announce that abandoning all Covid restrictions could result in 100,000 new infections every day and (you don’t have long to wait for the inevitable adverb) ‘sadly’ a number of deaths. But, sadly, ‘We will just have to learn to live with it.’
And then, of course, we have our Home Secretary, Priti Patel, the distilled essence of Tory nastiness. Further to her exploration variously of Ascension Island, Gibraltar and Rwanda as suitable – i.e. far-away and out of sight – places to transport asylum-seekers to for ‘processing’, Patel has now hit on the wizard wheeze of forcibly turning back the small boats that asylum-seekers, denied access to more conventional routes, have been using to try to cross the English Channel. This practice is known as ‘pushback’ and is, according to the UNHCR (the UN’s Refugee Agency), ‘simply illegal.’ The title of May Bulman’s report on this in Wednesday’s Independent says it all: ‘Illegal, dangerous, morally wrong – campaigners decry Home Office asylum plans.’ Bulman quotes Steve Valdez-Symonds of Amnesty International who says that pushbacks ‘are disdainful of international law and dangerous for the people subjected to them.’ Moreover, contrary to Patel’s misconception, he asserts that: ‘It is people’s right to seek asylum and there is no requirement [in international law] for them to do that in any one country.’ Not that this is likely to cut much ice with Johnson and his obsequious cabinet who have already demonstrated their contempt for international law via their disdain for the terms of the Northern Ireland protocol.
A Local Government Association analysis has concluded that: ‘Significant government funding cuts, soaring demand for child protection services and increasing costs to give children the support they need mean that budgets cannot keep up.’It calculates that there is currently a £1.4 billion budget shortfall if Councils are going to be funded adequately to keep even the present reduced level of children’s services going. The government argues that this expenditure is not affordable, given the hit our economy has taken from the pandemic. But that simply doesn’t wash from a government prepared to spaff tens of billions up the wall, to use Johnson’s elegant terminology, on a hopelessly ineffectual Track and Trace system, on PPE and other Covid-related contracts for its chums, and on transporting asylum-seekers to Rwanda.
Joseph de Maistre is credited with the saying that ‘Every country has the government it deserves.’ The only representatives of the UK that come to mind right now who are deserving of a government as irredeemably nasty as this one are those mindless sections of our football crowds xenophobic enough to boo the opposition’s national anthem and to shine laser pointers in the eyes of opposing goal-keepers as they get ready to save penalties.