The abysmal and deadly failures of the Johnson government’s COVID-19 response have been extensively documented, with the UK’s death toll (now more than 180,000) the highest in Europe second only to Russia. I won’t be analyzing them in this post. Instead, with Johnson having officially confirmed his resignation, I want to spotlight a statement he made before the chaos of the pandemic kicked off in full that made it clear what his governing philosophy and priorities were. Anyone who heard it should have fully expected what was to come.
Prior to the carnage of Spring and Autumn or his blunt pronouncement-cum-self-fulfilling prophecy in March that “many more families will lose loved ones before their time,” Johnson gave a speech at London’s Old Royal Naval College three days after the finalization of Brexit. It was a twenty-eight minute hubristic declaration of the UK’s commitment to global capitalism and why the country, now freed from the shackles of EU membership, was apparently destined to become an economic superpower. What would become the speech’s defining moment came six minutes in when Johnson said the following:
[When] we are starting to hear some bizarre autarkic rhetoric, when barriers are going up, and when there is a risk that new diseases such as coronavirus will trigger a panic and a desire for market segregation that go beyond what is medically rational to the point of doing real and unnecessary economic damage, then at that moment humanity needs some government somewhere that is willing at least to make the case powerfully for freedom of exchange, some country ready to take off its Clark Kent spectacles and leap into the phone booth and emerge with its cloak flowing as the supercharged champion, of the right of the populations of the earth to buy and sell freely among each other. And here in Greenwich in the first week of February 2020, I can tell you in all humility that the UK is ready for that role.
There it was, stated unambiguously, albeit dressed up in Johnson’s theatrical verbiage: the health of Britain’s private sector came first. The health of its public faced with the threat from a deadly novel virus came second (more accurately, probably tenth or twelfth.) Johnson painted neoliberalism as the most progressive and liberating force on earth, and himself as the valiant world leader ready to defend it with every ounce of strength he had.
This was also, appropriately enough, the first time Johnson had mentioned SARS-CoV-2 publicly. During his public address earlier today, he touted “getting us all through the pandemic, delivering the fastest vaccine rollout in Europe, the fastest exit from lockdown” among his stellar achievements as PM. It was a sick joke, coming from the man who made clear early on that he valued economic stability far more than human life. He stands atop not a legacy of effective leadership, but a mountain of corpses.
Good riddance to him and a preemptive “up yours” to the similarly unprincipled goon who’ll replace him.