Last week the UK Government held a reshuffle, where some ministers and Cabinet members were fired, and others appointed. At least one was, apparently, left in tears, while others were jubilant.
For the last two years, the machinations of government have been a familiar tale. Since the all-consuming pandemic started, the UK and indeed every country around the world has been ruled by medical policy. It has disguised fundamental shifts taking place in government and in society over how we view ourselves as well as our relationship with the State. Lockdowns and many intrusive policies have been universally and swiftly implemented, at the expense of personal responsibility and human dignity.
Covid and the ensuing lockdowns have hastened the advent of “freedom” as something that the State gives us, not that which we cede voluntarily as part of a social contract. It sometimes seems that soon all that will remain are laws that will tell us precisely what we are allowed. We are moving ever further from our traditional understanding of freedom: that we can do whatever we want so long as it is not expressly forbidden by law.
What began as health and safety advice has become law, and it is telling that the same British Government that threw us into last year’s lockdowns is pressing ahead to extend the Coronavirus Act that legitimises these powers this Autumn even though the vast majority of the nation has been double vaccinated. Despite the PM’s team substitutions, ‘vaccine passports’ are still firmly on the table and set to go ahead, suggesting a strongly performative aspect to the personnel changes. Ministerial reshuffles, it seems, must serve the wider agenda – to reward loyalty over competence, and offer little use if the many errors made over the past year cannot be corrected.
While the Conservative manifesto promised much in 2019, the government is on track to deliver little. Key among our promises was to freeze tax levels, a promise now tragically broken. It aimed to increase jobs, particularly in under-developed regions of the country, but lockdowns and Covid have cost many jobs and removed much-needed certainty from the job market. It also promised to deliver Britain from the more pernicious aspects of the EU, yet Covid has interrupted any real changes beyond some emotional but ultimately meaningless cosmetic shifts. Brussels has been departed from but, if we are not careful, Westminster will continue to be a carbon copy.
The surge to reach carbon net zero has also persisted despite the turbulence of the last week. Johnson’s new International Trade Secretary has already pledged that climate change and protecting the environment will remain a priority as she negotiates ambitious trade deals around the world. It is, of course, no surprise that such policies often undermine growth and mutual benefit. While climate change is a real issue, it is frankly bizarre that we would restrict ourselves in such a way when these measures do not make any meaningful impact on emissions and have such a high economic cost. The years of flawed energy policy have led to the incoming energy crisis in this country.
A true government reshuffle demands more than just a change of personnel. It should mean a change of approach and yet I am very concerned about the direction of this government. In a healthy democracy, leadership has to be regularly scrutinised and corrected, and the balance between state and citizen kept in check. With the size of this government majority, we could be following through on true conservative policies, but we are wasting it on tax rises and, unfriendly, economically and environmentally damaging “green” initiatives.