The inevitable has become reality: Alexander Boris de Pfeffel Johnson has been sworn in as Prime Minister. We have a leader for the 1%, chosen by the 0.14%. A Trump-endorsed old Etonian who boasted about being the only politician who stuck up for the bankers “day in, day out” after the 2008 crash. At least he is honest about whose interests he seeks to protect.
Throughout his career, Johnson has shown nothing but contempt for the people he is supposed to represent. Widely quoted are now his comments on Muslim women (who he compared to “letterboxes” and “bank robbers”), Black people (called “picaninnies” with “watermelon smiles”), gay men (“tank-topped bum boys”) and comparison of same-sex marriage to three men marrying a dog. No less shameful is the rest of his political record: his failed vanity projects from the Garden Bridge to the unused water cannon; his debunked “£350m for the NHS claim” spelled out on the side of a bus; his careless remarks that added years to Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe’s prison sentence. And then there is his pledge to deliver Brexit on October 31, “do or die” – regardless of whether that means job losses, medicine shortages or undermining the Good Friday Agreement.
Equally concerning are the people Johnson chose for his cabinet: a line-up of bigots and die-hard Thatcherites representing the hard-right wing of the Conservative Party. The Home Secretary, former tobacco lobbyist Priti Patel, called just eight years ago for the reinstatement of the death penalty, has consistently supported the hostile environment and was ousted from government in 2017 after details emerged of her secret meetings with Israeli politicians. The new Leader of the Commons is Jacob Rees-Mogg, known for his fanatically pro-Brexit views, as well as his complete opposition to abortion and gay marriage, and scepticism towards climate legislation. As Foreign Secretary, we now have Dominic Raab, an outspoken no-dealer who referred to feminists as “obnoxious bigots” and co-authored a pamphlet decrying the “straightjacket” of employment regulation. The list goes on.
Boris Johnson and his cabinet should not be underestimated. These people are not a joke – they are a serious and immediate threat to our country, to working-class people and oppressed communities. After we crash out of Europe, there will be little stopping them from attacking our basic rights, signing off our future to trade deals with Trump and introducing Thatcherism on steroids. All those who believe in progressive values must now unite in demanding a general election as soon as possible.
In the face of this danger, Labour must get on the offensive. It could lead the anti-Boris movement by presenting itself as a clear alternative, representing the opposite of what the government stands for. This means not only criticising the Tories but being vocal about our vision for Britain, combining radically redistributive economic policies with an uncompromising defence of the rights of women, LGBT people, ethnic and religious minorities. This also means no more triangulation on issues such as immigration and Brexit.
There is a clear electoral case for coming out strongly for Remain: as the only force with a realistic chance of defeating Johnson, Labour cannot afford to lose its voters to the Lib Dems and the Greens. There is also an important moral argument: standing on the right side of history – on the side of equality, justice and anti-racism – now more than ever requires being unapologetic in our defence of freedom of movement and internationalism. It is more clear than ever before that Brexit cannot be reclaimed for the left and turned into something progressive. It has always been a hard-right Tory project, and now the only possible form of Brexit is a hard-right Tory one.
With just three months separating us from exit date, we don’t have another minute to waste on infighting, or on futile backroom negotiations with the government which achieve nothing other than undermining Labour’s credibility. Now is the time for rallies, demonstrations, days of action – loud, public-facing campaigns against Johnson and his policies, and for a final say on Europe. And Labour must be clear that, in any future referendum, it would campaign to stay in the EU and transform Britain and Europe alike.
It is not good enough to run a negative campaign against Johnson’s Tories and hope that voters opt for the “lesser evil” if asked. Our supporters are tired of being taken for granted. We need to be able to spark hope, to inspire a movement that can seriously challenge the government and bring it down before damage is done. Boris Johnson’s cabinet is the most conservative in decades. Let’s all mobilise to make it the most short-lived one, too.