Liar, Liar, Pants on Fire

This book ought to mark the end of Boris Johnson’s political career. It’s about his habit of lying, shamelessly, about anything and everything, as a journalist, a politician and a married man; and about his journalistic sources, Brexit, coronavirus, Corbyn, and his mistresses. It finds room for other well-known liars too, like Blair (‘WMDs’), the odious Michael Gove, and of course the liar-in-chief over the water; but it’s Boris the book focuses on. It also directs the reader to a website which conveniently lists his many deceptions over the years. You might like to take a look at it: Extraordinary.

Here’s the book itself, as advertised on Amazon:  It’s by Peter Oborne, who used to be a Right-of-centre political newspaper correspondent, like Johnson, but has now turned against his old pal. For a nicely-produced hardback it’s quite cheap. (I bought it from an independent Swedish bookseller, by the way; not Amazon.)

There have been other books like this, going back some time. I have some of them in England, which I’ll look up when (if) I can get back there. Boris’s rank duplicity has been well known and indeed unquestioned for a few years now, which is why when I’ve called him out for that in my latest books (as well as in earlier blogs: search ‘Boris’) I’ve had no fear of being sued for libel. 

Which bears on the other – and more important – question raised in this book: how on earth is he allowed to get away with it? Oborne devotes his final chapter to this. One answer, of course, is supposed to be his personal charm and even magnetism – ‘he’s a character, isn’t he?’ – although having lived with other ‘charming’ public schoolboys at one stage in my career I’m afraid that does nothing for me any more. The other main factor is the societal and political context  in which he’s allowed to operate. The craven media is of course a major part of this, most of it backing his lies and his ambitions, and the less craven section of it pussy-footing around them. Oborne, as a journalist himself, has inside knowledge of this.

Beyond that there are certain more general contemporary trends, most of them associated with what is called ‘populism’. Distrust of conventional (‘establishment’) wisdom and authority is one; confusion (at the very least) over what is ‘truth’ is another. (Oborne is very good on what he calls the ‘privatisation’ of ‘truth’.) Johnson deliberately plays to all this. This is despite his own solid gold ‘establishment’ credentials – Eton, Oxford, the Daily Telegraph, and all the rest. (But then wasn’t Oswald Mosley a ‘Sir’?) He has also played along with it, for example as Prime Minister by removing a number of higher and traditionally-minded civil servants who turned out to be too keen to ‘speak truth to power’. Oborne argues, persuasively, that this, together with Johnson’s emasculation of Parliament and attempted curbing of the judiciary (‘enemies of the people’) – both probably inspired by Dominic Cummings – is all leading to the destruction of Britain’s democracy, through the undermining of the institutional ‘checks and balances’ that are meant to safeguard it. It is this, incidentally, that makes Oborne’s argument a conservative  rather than a radical one. Radicals – or ‘progressives’, as he calls them – are the enemy here; radicals of the Right, however, rather than of the Left. I’d go along with this. (It’s why, even as a ‘Leftist’, I’ve always had a soft spot for the House of Lords.)

The very end of this book reads as a kind of manifesto for how to resist and counter the danger; but in a non-‘radical’ way. So far as we – ‘we the people’ – are concerned, it mainly comprises writing to Tory MPs and Lords. I’m not sure that will be enough. But it has to be said that Oborne has stated the problem convincingly. Yes, Johnson is a ‘character!’ – that’s part of the problem – but a highly dangerous one. At almost any other time in British history he could not have survived the publication of this quite damning book. But of course he will; at least for a while, or until he’s found out in a really scandalous lie. 

About bernardporter2013

Retired academic, author, historian.
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1 Response to Liar, Liar, Pants on Fire

  1. Tony says:

    What also alarms Oborne, who is a Thatcherite in other respects, apart from the culture of political lying since New Labour is the extent of Islamophobia in the Conservative Party and among many of its voters. He has pointed out on the ‘open democracy’ website how the Conservatives were willing to exploit anti-semitism issue in Labour while having a pernicious racist problem themselves. And of course Johnson’s racist remarks are well known. The problem with him being ‘found out’ is that he has cultivated this persona of being a card and a clown so successfully, that no body expects him to tell the whole truth, and are become increasingly forgiving of his misdeeds, and that is the truly frightening thing.

    Liked by 2 people

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