By January of this year Britain had become the first country in Europe to pass 150,000 deaths from Covid — per capita one of the worst death rates in the world. And, as you’re no doubt tired of reading, as people died, Conservatives partied. The revelation that 10 Downing Street, the prime minister’s official residence, held boozy parties as the rest of the country was in strict lockdown could hardly have been a starker sign of Mr. Johnson’s entitled indifference. But scapegoats were found, made to resign, and the government carried on.
Then came this year’s soaring inflation, which hit 9 percent in May, and an attendant cost-of-living crisis that has put basics like food, energy and fuel out of reach for many. Some families turning to food banks — the number or people that do has skyrocketed in the past decade — are reportedly now turning down potatoes. They can’t afford the gas to boil them.
Mr. Johnson had no answers to these problems, but whenever concrete policy failed, he could always distract with a culture war, taking aim at just about anything or anyone — the publicly funded BBC, the European Convention on Human Rights, trans people and refugees.
Somehow, after defending him through all of it, the Tory faithful have decided that now enough is enough. In his resignation letter Mr. Javid — who is now running to replace Mr. Johnson — criticized “the tone” the prime minister had set in recent months, saying he could no longer “in good conscience” remain in his post. Mr. Javid’s “conscience” was unmoved, however, when the government started deporting asylum seekers. Mr. Sunak wrote that he had always been “loyal” to Mr. Johnson but had “come to the conclusion we cannot continue like this.” Of course, Mr. Sunak — who is now a favorite to be the next prime minister — remained “loyal” when Mr. Johnson was fined for attending parties during lockdown, because he was partying, too. Mr. Sunak is also running to replace Mr. Johnson, and is a favorite to succeed. (If speaking out late were not bad enough, two others hoping to be the new party leader — the minister for trade, Penny Mordaunt, and Foreign Secretary Liz Truss — opted for near silence last week.)
As this calamitous changing of the guard plays out, Britons are enduring the biggest pressure on living standards in a generation, families are struggling, and public services are creaking.
The candidates can contort to distance themselves from Mr. Johnson, but let’s not forget exactly how we got here and who was complicit. In the coming weeks, some of the very same figures who have spent months enabling him will present themselves as a “fresh start” untarnished by this unpleasant business. Until last week they were content to elect and enable a known charlatan. The consequences are as grave now as they were predictable then.
Frances Ryan is a Guardian columnist and the author of “Crippled: Austerity and the Demonization of Disabled People.”
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