The Tory crisis is not going away. As Boris Johnson hangs onto his job, he’s threatened to pass as much blame as possible on to his subordinates.
That is always a risk as it encourages more people to come forward with bits of the truth.
Nusrat Ghani was transport minister from January 2018 until February 2020. She alleged that a Tory whip said her “Muslimness was raised as an issue” by Downing Street for her firing.
Ghani added that the whip told her that her “Muslim woman minister status was making colleagues feel uncomfortable”.
Ghani told the Sunday Times newspaper she felt “humiliated and powerless” after the episode. And that she was warned not to discuss the issue or her “career and reputation would be destroyed”.
If that’s how the Tories behave towards their own, it’s no surprise that they ram through racist laws and scapegoat Muslims .
It’s disgusting, but flows directly from the leadership. Johnson has openly attacked Muslims in the vilest terms, saying Muslim women who wear the burqa look like “letter boxes” and “bank robbers”.
It’s total hypocrisy that Downing Street says Johnson met Ghani in July 2020 after he was made aware of “these extremely serious claims”. It’s outrageous that his aides say, “The Conservative party does not tolerate prejudice or discrimination of any kind.”
And almost immediately afterwards, Tory MP Michael Fabricant said of Ghani, “She’s hardly someone who’s obviously a Muslim.” He added that her accusation of Islamophobia is a “lame excuse” for her sacking.
In another sign of intimidation, Downing Street officials claim they have held back information from civil servant Sue Gray’s investigation into the scandal of parties held during lockdown.
Three sources told The Independent newspaper they have not revealed messages and pictures on their phones. They said a senior member of staff told them to remove anything that could fuel speculation in the wake of the initial revelations.
Messages in a WhatsApp group were said to contain photographs of people drinking and dancing, as well as references to how hungover people were the next day.
“Everyone’s terrified. It’s a witch hunt,” another source told The Independent. “There’s been a culture of fear in the office every day since the first party story broke.”
Another source added, “I’ve held back from sharing evidence, it’s too risky. And I’d have to explain why I’d deleted some stuff, which would mean saying I’d felt intimidated.”
There are also more signs of Tory panic. The Mail on Sunday newspaper claims chancellor Rishi Sunak now refers to the national insurance increase set for April as “the prime minister’s tax”.
He knows there is bitter anger already over rising prices and falling living standards, and that it will grow. So he’s trying to wriggle out from the blame—and lay the basis to stand for leader if Johnson goes.
Gray’s report is expected to be handed to Johnson in the next few days. Johnson will decide when, and how much, is released. There’s no guarantee MPs will even demand its full publication.
There’s no guarantee Gray will point the finger at Johnson or that he will go even if she does.
That’s why the left has to stop spectating and fight to raise the level of struggle now to drive out Johnson. And this would be a good basis for further battles in the spring. This won’t come from Labour.
It’s a mistake to see this crisis as about an individual prime minister. It’s ultimately about the way millions of people know they’ve been lied to by the Tories, who’ve presided over a vast shift of wealth towards the super-rich.
Everyone should build solidarity for the strikes and campaigns going on—and fight to spread and extend them.
The scandals at Westminster have shone a light on the role of the whips. These are MPs who act as enforcers for the party leaders.
For them, any breath of scandal or inappropriate conduct is useful in order to pressure MPs to toe the party line.
In 1993 Tory prime minister John Major was desperate to force through support for the European Union’s Maastricht treaty. In a series of knife-edge votes several Tories threatened to rebel.
One Tory said about the whips, “They kept phoning my wife and saying, ‘You should tell him to vote with the government.’
“With some it was affairs, or things like visits to gay nightclubs. It didn’t matter if it wasn’t true, or was gossip, they still tried it on.”
During the Tony Blair governments, the whips used intense pressure to push MPs to vote for the war in Iraq, tuition fees and other measures.
The whips can certainly be ruthless. From 1977-9 the Labour government did not have a majority in the Commons. Every vote mattered.
Joe Ashton, then one of the Labour whips, said years later, “The whips’ office killed six people—I say that with deep sympathy. Some of them had to have their operations at 10 o’clock in the morning and come in here to vote at 10 o’clock at night. Others had to postpone their operations until the recess.”
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