“How many hospitals are we going to build? 40. How many more police officers are we recruiting? 20,000. That’s right, how many nurses, more nurses, are we recruiting? 50,000 exactly right.”February 14, 2020
In this rare TV footage, the British Cabinet can be seen chanting the mantra about hospitals, new nurses and police numbers which had been deployed to win the 2019 general election. Boris Johnson leads the chanting. The sole exception is an embarrassed-looking Cabinet Secretary Sir Mark Sedwill, whose head is slightly bowed. Chancellor Rishi Sunak is the most enthusiastic participant. Since he was seated on the Prime Minister’s left, in full view of the cameras, he may have felt he had little choice. Failure to participate would have been marked down as a sign of disloyalty. The same was of course true of the other cabinet ministers around the table.
All the claims repeated by the Cabinet in the quote above were false or misleading. As we have exposed elsewhere in this website, relatively little money had been set aside for Boris Johnson’s fictitious 40 new hospitals while the 20,000 new police officers would do no more than replace existing cuts. As for the boast about 50,000 new nurses, Boris Johnson himself publicly accepted in an interview on 8th December 2019, two months before the cabinet meeting, that the actual figure was 31,000 (HERE, 11min onwards). This demeaning cabinet meeting took place on 14 February 2020, the day after a cabinet reshuffle hailed by some as the “St Valentine’s Day massacre.”
All the figures dutifully repeated by cabinet ministers had long been exposed as false, exaggerated, or outright lies. Yet they were obliged to collectively chant them for the benefit of national TV as part of what was in effect a loyalty test. Their demeanour suggests that cabinet ministers themselves realised that the episode is a charade. Menace lay behind the buffoonery: Boris Johnson was publicly humiliating cabinet ministers by forcing them into repeating his own lies and falsehoods. In theory the British Cabinet is a forum for free discussion, after which all ministers must take collective responsibility for decisions reached. In this televised and very public cabinet meeting Boris Johnson was forcing cabinet ministers to take collective ownership of the lies and deceptions he employed to win the 2019 General Election.