Job security is a rare commodity these days. An increasing number of people are lumbered with zero-hour contracts or are pressed into fake self-employment, and many ‘business-minded’ people would certainly love it if it became easier to sack employees. Add the Covid-pandemic to the mix and voila: a perfect storm. But fear not, there’s still a sector in which it is virtually impossible to get the sack: British politics.
‘Really? How bad could British politics possibly be?’, I can hear you think. ‘In the Netherlands, Secretary Grapperhaus wasn’t fired when he broke Covid rules, was he?’ Perhaps, but it is far more difficult to escape the consequences of political failure in the Netherlands than it is in the UK. Since the first government under Wim Kok (1994 – 1998), virtually every government was forced to resign due to a political scandal.
The resignation of the Rutte III government was even a minor news item in the UK. It wasn’t that Britons were at all interested in the reason why. What they did find interesting was the fact that a government took responsibility for a grave mistake, which is something a British government would never do. UK cabinet members, however incompetent, hardly ever lose their jobs for their failures.
When only fleetingly looking at a number of the currently active government ministers, it’s easy to distinguish enough scandals they are responsible for that would have brought down a few dozen Dutch governments had these big wigs been Dutch.
Dominic Raab – Foreign Secretary
First offender is Dominic Raab, who rose to prominence by becoming Brexit Secretary after taking over from the incompetent David Davis. Unfortunately for everyone involved, Raab was no better than his predecessor; his complete lack of knowledge owed him the nicknamed ‘The Turnip’ in EU-circles, a not-so-subtle reference both his last name (the Dutch word for ‘turnip’ is ‘koolraap’) and his intelligence. For instance, he admitted to have no idea that the Port of Dover was of such important to British trade – something that the average British teenager would know. His knowledge about Northern Ireland was very thin as well (not unimportant for a Brexit Secretary). If there’s a king at saying silly things, Dominic Raab is a contender – he refuses to acknowledge that users of foodbanks are poor, and has blamed the UK housing crisis on ‘immigrants’ (the number of new houses being built has dropped to the lowest level in nearly 100 years under Tory rule). Despite the fact that he made a fool of himself during his tenure as Brexit Secretary, Boris Johnson named him Foreign Secretary.
Robert Jenrick – Secretary for Housing
Talking about housing, its responsible Secretary has been responsible for scandals of his own. Most notably, he unlawfully approved a housing project worth £1 billion as a favour to Richard Desmond, a billionaire who also happens to be a major Tory donor. Further to making sure that Desmond’s project was approved, Jenrick ensured Desmond didn’t have to pay £150 million in taxes for good measure. In return, Desmond donated a large amount sum of money to the Conservative Party as a reward. There are comparable cases in which Jenrick didn’t let honesty bother him, and he has used £100,000 of tax payer money to fund his third dwelling which he barely uses.
Priti Patel – Home Secretary
If Priti Patel is your friend, you certainly don’t have a need for enemies. It’s common knowledge that Patel broke Ministerial Code by systematically bullying staff at Whitehall, and this should have led to her being sacked. However, as she is a Boris Johnson loyalist he therefore refused to sack her. After this, the police (for which she is responsible) lost 150.000 records which incredibly damaging and embarrassing; again, there were no consequences for her misconduct.
Patel shouldn’t even have been appointed to this role in the first place, after she lost her job as International Development Secretary due to the negotiations she held with the Israeli government – even Theresa May, the Prime Minister at the time, had been kept in the dark by her. In any self-respecting democracy, Patel’s political career would have ended at that point. Instead, she is one of the most powerful figures in British politics.
Gavin Williamson – Education Secretary
As Defence Secretary in Theresa May’s cabinet, Williamson quickly made a name for himself by showcasing his incompetence. For instance, he thought he could resolve the army’s materiel crisis by buying tractors and mounting ‘really expensive guns’ on them. It earned him the nickname ‘Private Pike’, after the dimwitted character from Dad’s Army. His reputation only worsened when he told Russia to ‘shut up and go away’ after the Skhripal poisonings, and he finally managed to make his position untenable after leaking sensitive information from a National Security Council meeting to the press, which simultaneously ruined ongoing trade talks with China.
Despite his reputation, Boris Johnson decided on making him Education Secretary. Again, Williamson is having a hard time convincing anyone that he is the right man for the job. He’s made an incredible mess of the policy for grading GCSEs last year, gave a contract for school lunches to a company that pockets money that should be going to hungry children and recent polls have shown that 94% of UK teachers think he is doing a bad job.
Books about the incompetence and corruption of British government officials could fill a library in its entirety. The worst thing isn’t that these acts of abject political failure occurred; instead, it’s that there are virtually never any consequences for them.