“Do you hear the people sing? It is the sound of angry men” (and women)

Delacroix’s painting “Liberty leading the people” surely provides the inspiration for every stage-setting of the blockbuster musical’s famous revolution scene.

The song titled above, from smash-hit musical Les Misérables, is sung as the 1832 student-led Republican revolution against the rule of French King Louis-Philippe takes to the Paris streets and then to the barricades.  It’s a show-stopper.

The uprising was doomed to failure: the authorities sent in the army, with artillery, and the desperate inevitability of the students’ defeat forms a key element in the show’s emotional impact. Equally powerful, though, is the moment when the revolutionaries begin their march, buoyed up by hope and idealistic fervour: one’s heart leaps in response, and it’s impossible to remain unmoved.

Back in the UK, on the day when the scale of the Conservatives’ defeat in two by-elections has been revealed, it won’t take a genius to see why I was reminded of the song. The difference here is that there is no sense of hope or idealism. This government and its leader have ground them out of us.

This piece has been a long time in the planning. I was going to write it last autumn, when Partygate and the scale of our Prime Minister’s wrongdoing and lying became apparent. I was going to write it when public anger grew and a few Tory MPs developed sufficient backbone to demand that he resign: surely, I convinced myself, he’ll go now. He didn’t.

I was going to write it as one abject Cabinet poodle after another was trotted out to tie itself in knots in feeble attempts to defend the indefensible. I laughed (bitterly) with this blog’s founder editor/writer, David Banks, as we called to mind his beloved satirists, Gilbert and Sullivan, and HMS Pinafore’s Sir Joseph Porter KCB.

The character was a far-from-subtle send-up of the original WH Smith, a successful Victorian bookseller who became MP for Westminster and whom Disraeli appointed as First Lord of the Admiralty, notwithstanding his demonstrable incompetence. We sang the immortal lines:

“..and I never thought of thinking for myself at all./I thought so little, they rewarded me/ By making me the ruler of the Queen’s Navy.”

February came: we lost Banksy, Putin invaded Ukraine, and my angry thoughts seemed paltry and futile in comparison.

In May, the Conservatives lost a little short of 500 local council seats. Still his apologists refused to lay the blame at the PM’s door: still I didn’t quite write the piece.

Finally, yesterday’s by-elections demonstrated, to me at any rate, the level of public anger at this government and its feckless leader.

I don’t claim to speak for everyone: we live in a democracy, and are free to disagree. But, before staunch Boris supporters accuse me of being some kind of lefty remoaner, I’d point out that I’m largely apolitical and am, if anything, a wishy-washy centrist who believes in consensus, coalition and compromise.

And in honesty.

For many years a headteacher, I learned a lot about leadership. Integrity is essential to it. Indeed, had I displayed even a fraction of the rule-breaking, lying, immorality, bad faith and dishonesty – let alone the sheer incompetence – evinced by Boris Johnson as he drags our country into the mire of international contempt, I should have been swiftly out of a job.

There’s an argument that no one in this hapless government is capable of stepping up: it’s true, but Boris isn’t up to it either. I deplore the weakness of the opposition: but that’s no reason to keep in post someone demonstrably unfit to lead us.

Lacking any shred of honour, Johnson won’t go readily. His party needs to grow a spine and remove him. The longer it delays, the more he will shame our nation and flounder amid national and international problems beyond his capability and understanding. Without decisive action, the Conservative Party risks condemning itself to many years in the wilderness.

Does it really not hear the people sing? Or just not want to?


  1. Hello Bernard, and greetings from us in far flung NZ. It’s brilliant to see VOTN back in print. Loved your article and as we always will, do wonder just how Banksy would have painted his own view of the current situation. I find it intriguing to see Boris defending himself in Rwanda where he intends to dispatch plane loads of refugees for processing!! Keep up the great work Bernard, more please!!


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