It’s unusual, I think, for politicians to be undone by their personal failings. But that is what seems to be happening in the case of Boris Johnson. Yesterday Labour refused to be seduced into the General Election that Boris was offering it, simply on the grounds that they couldn’t trust him, while Parliament is prorogued, not to go back on his word and reschedule it to a date more convenient for him – that is, before Parliament’s bill to prevent a ‘No-Deal Brexit’ has been passed into law.
Most prime ministers would have been trusted on this. Boris, however, is well-known to be a serial and congenital liar, both in his domestic life, once losing a position in Michael Howard’s shadow cabinet for denying an extra-marital affair, and in his professional life – as a journalist, sacked from two newspapers for lying in print. His lies and other acts of dishonesty and disloyalty are widely known, and have been reliably documented. Indeed, they almost seem to define him as a politician. (Other politicians have lied, of course, but not to his extent.) Johnson’s ‘base’ – of elderly party members – appears to have no problems with this; but it is known that his fellow Conservative MPs – including those 21, some highly distinguished, whom he sacked from the Party for voting against a bill of his – distrust him deeply. It could be this which, sooner or later, brings him down. If so he will have deserved it.
In this respect he resembles his great ally and champion Donald Trump, whose own habitual lying appears to have had rather less effect on his fortunes. Is that because the latter’s falsehoods are not so widely known about by his base – as a result perhaps of the mistrust in the ‘Mainstream Media’ that Trump has engendered? Or are the British more shocked by dishonesty than Americans? Has it got something to do with the late stage that capitalism has reached in the USA, valuing ‘winning’ – by any means – over truth? Or is it – and this may be the likeliest reason – that we’ve not yet seen how credulous, forgiving or amoral the British electorate may be; which could be revealed in the days ahead.
Over the next month or so I’ll be looking closely at Boris, in connexion with the final chapter I’ve been commissioned to add to the new (6th) edition of The Lion’s Share, which – in order to conform to the rest of its narrative – will be entitled ‘Brexit and the Empire’. If Brexit owes anything to memories of Britain’s imperial ‘greatness’, it will come out in the statements and writings of Johnson and his Old Etonian chum Rees-Mogg. I’ve written to the Head of History at Eton to ask about the History syllabuses (-bi?) they might have studied there – if, that is, they were taught about anything later and closer to home than Cicero. Unsurprisingly, perhaps, I’ve had no reply yet. I’ve even bought Boris’s novel to read. Kajsa was a little surprised to read an email to me from Amazon, informing me that ‘your Seventy-Two Virgins have been delivered to a neighbour’ while I was away.
In the meantime, how refreshing it will be to see a politician brought down by his amorality!