When Under Pressure, Tories Go “Anti-Woke”

Photograph Source: Matt Brown – CC BY 2.0

According to The Guardian:

“More than 150,000 people have died in the UK from coronavirus since the start of the pandemic, according to government figures.

Britain on Saturday [8 January 2022] became the seventh country to pass the milestone after the US, Brazil, India, Russia, Mexico and Peru.

It comes after an additional 313 deaths were recorded, bringing the pandemic total to 150,057 people who have died within 28 days of testing positive for Covid.

However, separate figures published by the Office for National Statistics show there have been 174,000 deaths registered in the UK where coronavirus was mentioned on the death certificate.

In the past seven days, 1,271 people have died, a 38% rise on the week before.

It comes as an additional 146,390 Covid cases were reported on Saturday, bringing the overall total since the start of the pandemic to 14,333,794.

In the past seven days alone, 1,227,288 people have tested positive, according to official figures, marking more than a 10% rise on the week before.

Last January, the UK became the first European country to pass 100,000 deaths”.

For one of the richest countries in the world— and one that is much less populated than US, Brazil, India, Russia, and Mexico— these numbers make dismal reading.

The pressure caused by the Omicron variant on hospitals is not so much on the uptake of ICU beds (it causes less serious illness than preceding variants), but because so many staff are sick and unable to work as a result of the much more contagious Omicron variant.

Army units are being deployed to help hospitals in London deal with the situation. Of the 200 military personnel involved, 40 are doctors who will help NHS staff care for patients. The other 160 personnel, who have no medical expertise, will check in patients, control stocks and supplies, as well as “conducting basic checks”, the Ministry of Defence said.

Likewise the government expects a quarter of all teachers to be off work because of the Omicron variant when classes resume after the holiday break.

It has been obvious since before the holiday break that “BoJo” Johnson, having capitulated to the far-right libertarian wing of his party, which puts “the market” ahead of public health, will from now face pressure to let “Covid rip”. The public will have to live with the virus, and in time adapt to it the way it has done with the flu.

This lockdown-sceptic group of MPs has become increasingly restive at BoJo’s fumbles in recent months.

BoJo has been warned by Mark Harper, chair of the anti-lockdown Covid Recovery Group, that he faces a serious revolt from his own MPs if he does not end all Covid restrictions by 26 January.

Harper also said BoJo is likely to face a leadership challenge if the Tories do badly in May’s local elections. Harper’s statement came after a poll of Conservative members indicated almost half believe Chancellor/finance minister Rishi Sunak is likely to be a better leader.

The Tories have always used the culture wars as a distraction, and one such “anti-woke” opportunity was immediately available.

On 7 June 2020 the statue of the slave trader and Tory MP Edward Colston (1636-1721) was pulled from its plinth, taken to Bristol harbour and thrown into the River Avon by a large crowd taking part in a Black Lives Matter protest. Colston’s statue bore the plaque: “one of the most virtuous and wise sons of the city”.

On 25 January 2021, 4 individuals were charged with damaging the statue and plinth “with each other and others unknown without lawful excuse”.

On 13 December 2021, the Colston 4 (Jake Skuse, Rhian Graham, Milo Ponsford and Sage Willoughby) went on trial at Bristol crown court accused of criminal damage.

On 5 January 2022, all 4 defendants were cleared of criminal damage after jurors are urged by the defence to “be on the right side of history”.

Colston was a member of the Royal African Company, which transported about 80,000 men, women and children from Africa to the Americas, and lawyers for the 4 protesters argued that the statue’s existence constituted a public offence or a hate crime, even though the defendants admitted to toppling the statue. Since the defendants were responding to a hate crime, they had “a lawful excuse”, and toppling Colston’s statue did not therefore constitute criminal damage. The jury was persuaded by this argument.

Even though jury decisions do not set legal precedents, the attorney general Suella Braverman (whose legal expertise is in property and not criminal law) tweeted:

“Trial by jury is an important guardian of liberty and must not be undermined. However, the decision in the Colston statue case is causing confusion. Without affecting the result of this case, as attorney general, I am able to refer matters to the court of appeal so that senior judges have the opportunity to clarify the law for future cases. I am carefully considering whether to do so”.

Legal experts pounced on Braverman’s statement, saying the charge of criminal damage was relatively simple for the judge to direct and the jury to determine, that no legal issues seemed to be at stake in this case (the defendants having admitted to toppling the statue), and that Braverman was responding to political pressure from Tory MPs who were outraged by the jury’s verdict.

Should Braverman send the case to the court of appeal, the appeal judges will not rule on whether the jury’s decision was correct, but only on whether there was a legal error in the judge’s directions given to the jury.

Depending on the appeal court’s verdict, how juries are directed on a particular point of law in future could be affected, but there would be no overturning of the Colston 4 verdicts or a retrial be ordered.

Nothing with regard to the Colston 4 would be changed by Braverman’s possible “anti-woke” PR gestures.

After Colston’s statue was toppled, a commission was set up by Bristol’s mayor to make comprehensive recommendations about the future of the statue and the empty plinth.

Prof Tim Cole, the commission’s chair, said there had been 14,000 responses during its consultative phase.

The Tory anti-woke campaign against the Colston 4 is clearly designed to distract from its current slump in the opinion polls, and to steer future responses to statues, still standing elsewhere in Ukania, of other slave traders and bloody-handed participants in its imperial project.

The Tories are buying time until the 2022 local elections.

BoJo has lost control over his backbenchers, of the economic consequences of Brexit, the ramifications of the Covid pandemic, and has no semblance of a grip on inflation and other rising household costs.

Big losses in the upcoming local elections will see him get the boot, anti-woke ploys notwithstanding.

Kenneth Surin teaches at Duke University, North Carolina.  He lives in Blacksburg, Virginia.