OPINION
24/07/2019 12:35 BST

Boris Johnson As PM Will Help Us Galvanise A True Opposition

Don’t despair or let politics be something that is done to you, writes Sian Berry, co-leader of the Green Party.

Reuters

When he was mayor of London, Boris Johnson tried to reduce the air pollution statistics by spraying glue on the roads near the monitors, not by actually doing anything about the quality of the air.

Then he brought in the so-called “Routemaster” buses, which were supposed to be a clean new option, but turned out to be heavily polluting, as well as being, as all too many Londoners are suffering with right now, incredibly ill-ventilated.

The Garden Bridge and the idea of an island airport – both ideas proposed more or less on a whim, but never serious transport projects, nevertheless wasted tens of millions each in public funding, before finally being stopped by the new Mayor. 

London Assembly Members, especially those aiming to be Mayor one day like me, are still trying to get to the bottom of the Garden Bridge project spending, and we are counting the cost.

Every London commuter felt the impact of the massive hike in bus fares that went up more than 50 per cent during Boris Johnson’s mayoralty, even as he cut back the size of the congestion charge zone to reduce what people pay when they travel by car.

These failures were of vision and management, a lack of attention to the job and a willingness to be distracted by shiny things and snake oil. They display the behaviour patterns of a man not concerned about seeing things to the end, or delivering on his promises. But they also show something more worrying: a real lack of willingness to operate according to the rules.

Johnson is swearing to almost anyone who will listen that we will leave the EU on 31 October, if necessary with a no-deal Brexit.

That’s an option that should not only not be on the table, but shouldn’t be anywhere near the table.

Given his record, we can but hope that continually repeating it means there’s no chance of it being followed through. We might hope that Johnson’s complete disdain for being consistent or following through on promises may save us yet.

But concerns about his upcoming time in office also have a far darker side. We have cause to worry about our values as a nation and what damage may be done by the prime minister, his colleagues in the Leave campaign, and his allies in the Brexit party in the name of trying to build support for no-deal.

We saw with little surprise, but with deep unease and trepidation, the US president welcoming him into office as “Britain Trump”, and the worry I have is about what kind of a nation we could become under his leadership with the kind of nudges those allies will provide.

The personal record of our new prime minister as a highly paid, newspaper columnist and editor includes deeply disturbing statements: expressions of attitudes that have no place in a tolerant, inclusive, non-discriminatory Britain.

I won’t repeat them here – you’ll have been seeing them everywhere in recent days.

But they are causing deep frustration, and fear, among communities in Britain that such a man now has so much power, even if it is with a tiny majority. Those of our citizens who were victims of the upsurge in hate crime that tracked the 2016 Brexit vote will not be sleeping easy with the prospect of a campaign supported by the cabinet to make no-deal acceptable, and the levels of xenophobia and intolerance that would encourage. 

Also a source of great concern is the way in which our new prime minister was chosen, the second in a row chosen only by the members of the Conservative party.

Our antiquated, undemocratic political system has led us to this point, unsurprising really since there’s been no significant reform in Westminster in 100 years.

But in the Green Party we focus on hope, and there is great cause for hope now.

For Johnson is an extreme figure, backed by the extremes in our politics here and an extraordinarily extreme US president.

So, as in the US, in the UK the reality of having this prime minister, his casual, truly care-less approach to the climate emergency, and his extreme Brexit position, is producing a powerful reaction – and is building up the opposition to him and all that his Tory party stands for. 

Many are answering the Green Party’s call to channel that frustration into a renewed focus on political action to counter this: our work to stop Brexit, listening and acting on the concerns of citizens across the country who have been damaged and sidelined by austerity, and our demands for action on the climate emergency.

These are nothing less than demands to renew the UK – something so clearly desperately needed as the food banks groan under the strain of demand and the countryside is stripped of its animals and plants.

So in the Green Party we have a message for everyone who is worried and frustrated today, something to ponder as Theresa May makes her way to the Palace, and Prime Minister-designate Boris Johnson picks up the keys to No 10: Don’t despair; channel the frustration and act. Don’t let politics be something that is done to you, make politics what you do to make things better.

Sian Berry is co-leader of the Green Party