Cutting and pasting is not really “blogging”, but then we are living through a situation which is not really “normal” and although my blog is very small fry is the overall scheme of things, yet there is something to be said for recording things which document that situation as it develops. Thus, what follows is a “Guardian” editorial for Wednesday, 8th December 2021 timed at 18.59 GMT. Here we have a national newspaper of the better sort setting out the behaviour of our Prime Minister in terms such as those you would expect to read in a report of the trial of a major criminal. How this will play out, I have no idea. In any normal job one would expect to see instant dismissal, but with Boris Johnson “normal” does not apply and I suspect he will not go voluntarily and I would not be surprised if we end up with that most unusual of British happenings, a removal by force.
Begins . . .
Boris Johnson’s career path is paved with falsehood. He was fired from his first journalism job for fabricating a quote. As a correspondent in Brussels, he traded in grotesque Eurosceptic mythology. In 2004, he was sacked from the Conservative frontbench for lies he had told to Michael Howard, then opposition leader, about an extramarital affair.
In the 2016 referendum campaign, he misled the public over the cost of EU membership. In the 2019 general election, he boasted about the qualities of a Brexit deal he now wants to renegotiate. No one who has followed the prime minister’s dysfunctional relationship with the truth now believes him when he denies knowledge of a Christmas party in Downing Street on 18 December 2020, in contravention of pandemic restrictions.
The prime minister told MPs on Wednesday that he was “sickened” by video evidence that such an egregious breach of the rules occurred and by the sight of his staff making light of it. Allegra Stratton, the spokesperson caught on camera, has resigned. The cabinet secretary is due to investigate. Mr Johnson claims to share public fury.
That is doubtful. Most people obeyed the rules, forgoing time with friends and family. Many could not visit sick relatives. Some were denied the chance to say farewell to dying loved ones. To know something of their pain then, and their feelings of betrayal now, Mr Johnson would have to know also the power of empathy and what it means to exercise personal responsibility. But he is a stranger to those things. They cannot be allowed to impede his ambition and vanity.
If Mr Johnson’s outrage were sincere, he would have demanded the inquiry when reports of the party first emerged and not waited until the evidence forced his hand. He would not have told MPs last week that no rules had been broken, nor sent his spokespeople out to issue still more brazen denials in the following days. Those rank falsehoods now hang over Downing Street, befouling the political air.
As a journalist, Mr Johnson was able to practise dishonesty alone. But a prime minister needs a team. Elevating contempt for the truth into a governing ethos is a corporate enterprise. MPs must hold the line. Cabinet ministers are expected to defend it on television. Officials must implement policies conceived in defiance of good judgment. Aides must practise misdirection, as was captured in the video clip that plunged No 10 into chaos. Loyal servants are needed to take the rap for their boss, as Ms Stratton has done.
The effect, over time, is an ever-widening circle of cynicism that infects the public, corroding faith in the political process and degrading the office of prime minister. The spectacle of Mr Johnson lurching between denial and affected contrition would be unedifying in any circumstances. At the current juncture, when restrictions are being reimposed in England, it is profoundly damaging. The prime minister’s brazenness in refusing to address the question of trust when announcing the new measures on Wednesday evening will not make those questions go away.
Pandemic regulations will be imposed by law, but public compliance through the winter requires willing acquiescence and respect for official warnings. That needs confidence in the motive and integrity of politicians who make the rules, plus patience and a spirit of collective social responsibility. Those conditions are hard to meet with a leader who has no conception of probity and can only simulate compassion. It is hard when the prime minister is a liar.
There is a grim absurdity in the prospect of an inquiry, led by the cabinet secretary, into an event the very existence of which has been denied by Downing Street. There is no need for an inquiry to understand the origin of the political crisis that this party has triggered. It springs from moral failure at the top. It is a syndrome that radiates dishonesty outward from the very heart of government. That syndrome has a name. It is Boris Johnson.
Ends . . .