I write during a break from Twitter as I try to get a good start to the year’s reading. British politics appears to have settled into the mode that best suits its professional participants in our political parties and in the media that covers it. With each passing day the evidence mounts that Boris Johnson has been less than entirely truthful about his involvement in rulebreaking at No 10. Today it has been announced by Cressida Dick that New Scotland Yard will be cooperating with the Cabinet Office to investigate the ins, outs and what-have-yous of it all. The latest revelations concern a birthday celebration. Yes, it’s a huge shock I know, but Boris Johnson is even more dishonest than most other politicians.
The atmosphere is quite something and to be honest I am so glad to be off Twitter at the moment. I dip in to check on what a couple of accounts are saying, but what a depressing experience it is.
It goes without saying that Johnson is an appalling Prime Minister and should go: I’m rather disappointed that the Conservative Party appears to have got humane and nobody is stepping up to do the deed. Johnson is an incompetent liar, has always been so, and most people know this. He has never believed in anything but his own advancement and is a weak, unprincipled slob. I’ve never understood why people imagined he was some sort of genius, he’s not good at politics and he’s even worse at governing. His appeal came only in contrast with what he was set against in 2019: Jeremy Corbyn and the assortment of loathsome Marxists and progressive snobs that were part of his project.
There is a lot of genuine anger about. Down here in Tavistock we are far from the centre of British political life (thank goodness) but I think people feel angry, let down or both. The image to cut through will be that of the Queen at Prince Philip’s funeral. People really have obeyed all sorts of rules, made adjustments and sacrifices and thought that in some way they were part of something bigger than themselves (personally I never felt this, perhaps that’s my own shortcoming but it’s beside the point). I think there is another strand in the anger, I’m not sure I want to overstate it but it will emerge more as time goes by. The rules on gatherings etc, especially in summer when I think the parties occurred, were silly, disproportionate and largely irrelevant. They were also demanded by a large majority of the British public, and I think there’s a sense of being found to be a fool. Like the invasion of Iraq, in a few years time it will be difficult to find anyone who will admit to supporting the covid regulations that we have lived through. The third strand in the anger is really confined to Twitter and the London media: they hate and loathe Boris Johnson with every fibre of their being and will have their scalp, and that’s about Brexit and nothing else. They are utterly irreconcilable, Johnson really gets under their skin (which of course is partly why some people found Johnson appealing).
So that’s my two penn’orth on the developing stories and scandals, it’s probably not very original. I don’t think the parties were irrelevant, Johnson deserves to go for them. Nevertheless, it points to a profound lack of seriousness in our national political life that it might be a birthday party against some rather silly regulations that will do for him. The cover up will prove to be much more harmful than the original misdeeds, it’s all so unoriginal. That it might happen against a backdrop of Western strategic errors in trade and energy policy over a quarter of a century (to me the really interesting political questions and ones for which Johnson bears little responsibility) just makes our politics and public life look even more parochial and ridiculous.
I’ll leave it to others to expound on the shortcomings of our broader politics, whether we’re living through post politics, an age of hyper politics or whatever. But it does seem to me that it is never going to reach a denouement. I can’t imagine how people can maintain such a pitch of outrage over personalities in public life, but they can. I don’t know how the Johnson story will end, but the outrage will roll on because there’s nothing easier than pointing out hypocrisy in others, and once this episode is over another will be along to take its place.