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9th October 2020

Should the Prime Minister be allowed to misspeak?

News Editor Lucy Nichols discusses the Prime Minister’s track record
Should the Prime Minister be allowed to misspeak?
Boris Johnson in 2020. Photo: Pippa Fowles, @No 10 Downing Street

On Tuesday, 29th September, Boris Johnson was forced to apologise after “misspeaking” during a speech.

When explaining the newest restrictions on social gatherings, the PM claimed that people in the North East were allowed to socialise with other households outside of their own as long as they adhered to the “rule of six”.

Later, he tweeted an apology correcting what he had said earlier. The new advice was that those in the North-East should avoid meeting with other households outside.

The PM’s semantic blunder seems to suggest that the rules surrounding coronavirus are so complicated that not even those who set them can understand them.

If this is the case, then maybe we should allow the Prime Minister to misspeak?

History is full of examples of prime ministers making mistakes. Some point to Tony Blair’s decision to enter the Iraq War, while others look at Thatcher’s litany of errors as the reason why she alienated the entire North, as well as her own government.

This is not the first time that the PM has put his foot in it.  Throughout his long career as a journalist, author, and politician, Boris Johnson has had to apologise for all manner of things.

Apologies have been forced out of Johnson for various reasons. In 2012, Johnson was made apologise for inappropriately referring to victims of the Hillsborough tragedy as “drunken fans” in an article for Spectator Magazine from 2004. In 2017, Johnson had to express his regret for remarks that endangered Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe’s life whilst she was imprisoned in Iran. Finally, in November 2019, The Muslim Council of Britain made him apologise for Islamophobic comments within the Conservative party,

Johnson has also come under fire for refusing to apologise to care workers for his handling of the Coronavirus, and for the racist remarks he has made throughout his career.

Although it is not as offensive as past remarks, or as life-threatening as in the case of Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe, the Prime Minister’s latest slip-up is rather revealing: it indicates that he believes to be able to easily get out of any situation, and he does get away with almost everything.

His cabinet support him seemingly and unconditionally, and the Parliamentary Labour Party appears to be committed to a strategy of constructive criticism rather than actually opposing to his actions.

It doesn’t really matter if Johnson makes a slip-up. Even if it makes him look like he doesn’t know what he’s doing, a large proportion of the public seems to be standing firm behind ‘Alexander de Pfeffel’ Boris Johnson.

The unconditional support Johnson receives from his Party, from the public, and the lack of a meaningful opposition from Labour are the reasons why he receives no scrutiny over the handling of the pandemic. Since March, thousands have died, as many have lost their jobs, and we’ve dipped back into recession, while Brexit is still being drawn out.

Whether you voted to leave or remain, it is impossible to believe that Brexit has been handled well.

The reality is Johnson will continue to make blunders that will have severe consequences for others, but not for himself or those sitting on the green benches in the House of Commons.

Why is Johnson untouchable?

Perhaps this is something to do with his position as an extremely upper-class man, or because he won such a huge majority in the last general election, or even because this country is just as right-wing as his government.

Whatever the reason, Boris Johnson is not above scrutiny.

Throughout the crisis, the opposition to his leadership has been significant. Though opposition has always come neither from Her Majesty’s Opposition, nor from Sir Keir Starmer, trade unions, protests, and ordinary people have provided a strong opposition to Johnson’s mismanagement of the worst crisis many of us will ever live through.

We combatted the government’s virulent racism by marching for weeks on end through every city in the country supporting Black Lives Matter. What is more, we fought the drive back to universities and schools by working alongside with trade unions, while A Level students managed to get into universities even after the classist algorithm put so many of them at a disadvantage.

So is the Prime Minister allowed to misspeak?

This depends on who you ask. The Conservative Government would probably argue that everyone makes mistakes, and the Prime Minister is no different; But a fair amount of members of the opposition would say the same.

Though if you were to ask an ordinary working person, a student, or a care worker, they would probably justify the special treatment.

This blunder likely represents the final straw for many. Though it was just a very small mistake, it’s the latest mishap in a very long series of decisions that have brought this country to have one of the highest rates of Covid-19 in Europe, leaving many lives in ruins, damaged beyond repair.

Lucy Nichols

Lucy Nichols

Head news editor at the Mancunion.

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