At some point, possibly this year, the Johnson premiership will be history. Johnson says that he would like to be judged on his record.
How does that record look?
Johnson’s record is extremely poor in terms of measurable things like wage growth, protecting the economy, keeping the citizens of the UK safe from COVID and out of poverty; and it is equally bad in vital but not so easily measurable things like preserving our democracy, maintaining a civilised social contract and encouraging social cohesion.
Johnson has failed on the most important measures
Johnson famously said,
“I’ve given you the most important metric – never mind life expectancy, never mind cancer outcomes – look at wage growth.”
So perhaps it is only fair to start there.
The Bank of England shows what he has delivered in terms of wage growth – and what this year is likely to bring: the biggest fall in living standards since records began.
Even compared with Cameron and May, Johnson’s record – on his preferred metric – is dire; and compared with previous governments it is even worse. And note that the figures above are average figures (arithmetic mean) – the median figures are even lower.
So why, you may be wondering, would he choose to focus there? Part of the reason may be that his record is even poorer on many other metrics.
Take the economy. Although Johnson has been Prime Minister only since 2019, he has had a profound impact on the UK economy since 2016 when he led the campaign to pull the UK out of the EU. If we look at real (inflation-adjusted) GDP per capita since 2016, we see that the UK has had the weakest growth rate of the world’s 8 largest economies.
Perhaps that is unfair; perhaps May should shoulder at least some of the blame for the period 2016-19.
But when we look just at Johnson’s premiership, the picture looks even worse.
Johnson’s premiership has shrunk the ‘size of the pie.’ When that happens, someone is bound to get a smaller slice – and in this case, that someone is the majority of those outside the top 1 per cent of earners. If we look specifically at those in poverty, there is no evidence of Johnson having done anything to reduce the rate of growth; if anything, the growth in poverty has accelerated still further under Johnson – and that is even before this year’s cost-of-living crisis is factored-in.
So why did Johnson not focus on cancer outcomes and life expectancy?
The Statista database has data on 155 countries. Those with the highest current rates of COVID deaths – currently the world’s least effective countries – are shown in the graph below.
Of those 155 countries, the UK sits behind only Austria (literally off-the-scale in the chart) as currently the worst. Even more importantly, the UK is 27th worst (again out of 155 countries) in the total death toll. Despite the UK being a rich country with a strong science base, Johnson has led us to be among the bottom 20 per cent of countries globally in handling COVID. Life expectancy in the UK has stalled for the first sustained period in over 100 years.
Johnson is also destroying the fabric of society
Not so easy to measure, but equally important, are some other aspects of Johnson’s record:
- His dismantling of democratic safeguards;
- His unwinding of the UK’s social contract; and
- His deliberate stoking of social tensions.
Johnson has been unparalleled in his assault on the system of democratic safeguards which has so far prevented the UK from sliding into dictatorship. The Courts Bill will make it harder to mount a legal challenge to the government’s law-breaking; the Elections Bill will make it harder for poorer and younger people to vote and place the Electoral Commission, which has traditionally been an independent body, under the control of the government it currently regulates; and the Police Bill will make the UK one of few countries in Europe without a right to peaceful protest.
“We are dangerously close to the ‘elected dictatorship’ that Lord Hailsham, the former Lord Chancellor, warned us about half a century ago.”
The UK has since the aftermath of WWII had a social contract consisting of an NHS and a Welfare State, which between them aimed to rid Britain of five ‘Giants’ — Want [poverty], Disease, Ignorance, Squalor and Idleness [unemployment]. We have already looked at poverty, and to some extent disease – but now the government plans to change the UK healthcare system to something far more like the US system. This would be a disaster for all but the very wealthy. The Education system is vastly underfunded. The government declined to prevent water companies pumping sewage into our rivers and coastal waters. And proper jobs – those offering job security, decent pay and guaranteed hours – are becoming increasingly scarce.
And although Johnson repeatedly promised to unite the country, he has done the opposite, deliberately stoking Brexiter/Remainer tensions, fostering an anti-immigrant attitude and conducting a ‘war on woke.’ In a more united Britain, we should expect to see hate crimes falling steadily over time; we see the opposite.
Finally, of course, Johnson has a unique track record as a liar and law-breaker. He has turned the UK from a serious player on the international stage to a laughing-stock. It is impossible to imagine any of his predecessors being shunned at a meeting of global leaders as Johnson has been. History will not be kind.
Johnson’s track record is uniquely bad on almost every dimension. He may be the worst British Prime Minister in modern history.
It is therefore good news that there is now a good chance that the Johnson Premiership is nearing its end. If you would like to help ensure that is the case, there are two things you can do now:
- We can write to the Parliamentary Standards Commissioner asking her to investigate whether Johnson remaining in post is compatible with Parliamentary Standards. If you would like to do that, everything you need is here; and
- We can write to our MPs asking them to call for a vote of no-confidence in the Prime Minister. If 54 MPs write to the 1922 Committee, a vote will be called. 54 letters does not look impossible, even if no further MPs turn against him. If you would like to write to your MP, these general guidelines may be useful, and this template may help you get started.
If you think you might like to help or just to keep informed, please do sign-up and join the 99% Organisation.