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Boris year zero—a year of lies, cuts, corruption,  racism and ‘getting it done’

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Issue 2714
Thousands of people took to the streets the day Johnson became prime minister  (Pic: Guy Smallman)

There were those who thought a year of Boris Johnson as prime minister would spell disaster. 

Apart from the outbreak of a plague, soaring unemployment and migrants dying in trucks and in the sea, how wrong they were.

There has been the casual racism, the clampdowns on civil liberties, the throwing at money at business mates at every opportunity. 

And there was the bumbling act designed to distract us as the planet burns. 

So it could have been worse.

Johnson ran his general election campaign last year with arrogance, lies—and weakness. 

He made a slew of spending promises from the NHS to welfare that quickly turned out to be rehashed announcements. He lied over benefit cuts, and spending on the poor. 

The centrepiece was £13 billion of funding to build 40 new hospitals—a policy so good the Tories announced it three times. It turned out to be £2.7 billion to refurbish six hospitals, eventually.

But Johnson has kept some promises. He pledged to “come down hard on crime”  and increase stop and search.

And the government is still pushing ahead with one wheeze it promised—the onshore tax havens, or “freeports”.  

When the then new ­international trade secretary Liz Truss arrived at her department, she told staff how fabulous it was to be “in such a hot room because, let me tell you, trade is hot”. 

One constant in the first year of Johnson’s government has been racism. Johnson threatened last summer to deport anyone who made it across the English Channel. 

“If you come illegally, you are an illegal migrant and the law will treat you as such,” he warned. “We will send you back.”  

Home secretary Priti Patel was dishing out the same spiel this month.

Johnson’s friendship with a US entrepreneur who was granted £126,000 in public money during his time as London mayor should have been a damaging scandal. Jennifer Arcuri insisted that grants her companies received were justified and “purely in respect of my role as a legitimate businesswoman”. 

Her firms got public cash and went on trade missions backed by Johnson. 

A wealthy tycoon has denied he paid for Boris Johnson’s £15,000 New Year jaunt to the Caribbean. Johnson declared the freebie trip in the latest Commons register of interests. But David Ross insisted he didn’t actually pay for the villa, he just helped arrange it with a phone call. 

Boris Johnson celebrated ‘getting Brexit done’ with a £350 bottle of 1994 vintage Chateau Margaux.

Johnson promised grants of up to £5,000 for flood victims last year.  But it turned out the rules on getting the grants were so strict that thousands of victims couldn’t get them.

Boss David Ross didn’t pay for Johnson’s £15,000 New Year jaunt to the Caribbean, so who did?

Resistance to Johnson began on day one

Boris Johnson probably thought it would take more than a day for thousands of people to oppose his leadership victory on 24 July 2019. 

But the “Fuck Boris” demonstration in central London, pulling in 5,000 people, sparked off a year of resistance to his turgid premiership.

The protest not only opposed Johnson but also his transatlantic ally Donald Trump, wider attacks on working class people and Brexit. 

On 20 September an estimated 250,000 people across Britain joined a one-day strike to demand urgent action on the climate catastrophe. 

A strong anti‑Tory current ran throughout many of the demonstrations. Chants of, “Where the fuck is the government?” and, “Less Boris, more forests,” could be heard.

And around 2,000 people joined an angry demonstration against the Tory victory in London after the general election on 12 December. 

Thousands more marched through the streets of Glasgow. 

Protesters defied police attempts to kettle them—and raised demands about the NHS, and Johnson’s track record of racism and sexism.

There has also been organised workers’ resistance in the last year. 

UCU union members held protracted strikes demanding better pay, pensions and conditions across 74 universities. 

And as Johnson approaches his one-year anniversary as prime minister, Tower Hamlets strikers are battling to save their jobs. 

Perhaps the most impressive challenge to Johnson has come from the Black Lives Matter movement.

This furiously erupted despite near-total lockdown conditions in Britain and took Johnson and his government to task.

In typical fashion, Johnson claimed the protests had been “hijacked by extremists intent on violence”. 

As much as Johnson can be relied on to be a racist, homophobe and sexist, people can be relied on to resist him.

We need to do much more of it.

Coronavirus chaos  


The World Health Organisation (WHO) declares that coronavirus is a “public health emergency of international concern”. 

The government decides not to work with other countries to buy protective equipment—despite being warned to stockpile it.


The prime minister’s chief advisor, Dominic Cummings, outlined the government’s strategy summarised by someone present as, “herd immunity, protect the economy, and if that means some pensioners die, too bad”.


4 March Boris Johnson says that the country is “very, very well prepared”.

Johnson boasts that he had shaken the hands of everyone at a hospital where patients infected with coronavirus were being treated 

5 March Johnson floats the idea of “herd immunity” on ITV’s This Morning, saying that “one of the theories is, that perhaps you could take it on the chin, take it all in one go and allow the disease, as it were, to move through the population”. 

23 March Johnson announces a strict national lockdown a week after allowing the Cheltenham Festival to take place, with more than 60,000 people attending each day. 


Johnson says, “I want to say a special word about testing, this is how we will defeat it in the end.” 

Only 2,000 people out of 500,000 frontline NHS England workers had been tested for coronavirus so far—or 0.4 percent.

Johnson is admitted to hospital with coronavirus. He remains in hospital until 12 April.

Dominic Cummings travels 250 miles with his son and wife during the lockdown even though he had virus symptoms at the time. 

He then “tested his eyes” on a trip to Barnard Castle.


Johnson said “you can find all sorts of inconsistencies” in the government advice on getting back to work.

Over 45,000 people have officially died in Britain from coronavirus

The things they say

‘He will be great’

US president Donald Trump pays tribute to Boris Johnson 

‘Don’t mess with Boris’

The Daily Express newspaper 

‘You’ll be dead to me’

What top Tory advisor Dominic Cummings said would happen if anyone leaked government information—according to a leak

‘He didn’t chair any meetings. He liked his country breaks. He didn’t work weekends’

A Downing Street senior advisor on Boris Johnson’s handling of the coronavirus crisis

‘The health of Boris Johnson is the health of the body politic and, by extension, the health of the nation’

Columnist Allison Pearson in the Daily Telegraph

‘Wonderful news. Many congratulations to Boris Johnson and Carrie Symonds’

Labour leader Keir Starmer gushes his congrats to Johnson after he becomes a father for the time

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