It looks as though the lockdown bandits think they can tough it out

It looks as though the lockdown bandits think they can tough it out

Feeble CON MPs haven’t the bottle to stop them

The PM and Chancellor are going to brazen it out. That much is clear. An apology, a reference to all the other much more important work that needs to be done, Ukraine, a hope that MPs and voters are weary of it all, the happy coincidence that Parliament is not sitting, and so on. It is likely to work for now, even if opinion polls show a certain amount of buyer’s remorse. The May elections may bring a change of heart. But even if they are bad, expect Tory MPs to blame the cost of living, energy prices, tax increases and “every day concerns“.

Tory MPs simply refuse to accept or act on what is now clear:

  • The Prime Minister broke the law (whether deliberately or through ignorance or because he could not be bothered to find out does not really matter).
  • The PM was in charge of and oversaw an office in which others also broke the law. Those others include the Chancellor, the Head of Propriety and Ethics, the woman in charge of the unit responsible for drawing up Covid regulations and other advisors and civil servants at the heart of government.
  • The PM lied about all this – what happened, his knowledge of it, his involvement in it – to Parliament.

This is simply not good enough. Yet it is what we now have – a new convention: that even behaviour which should lead to resignation won’t if it can be got away with. It is not the principle which matters but whether the behaviour is popular or unimportant or can be distracted away or whether, simply, voters have been wearied into no longer caring enough. And if Prime Ministers can mislead Parliament about their personal behaviour what else can they – and other Ministers – now mislead Parliament about, without any real consequences?

In truth, we did not need the FPNs to know all this. For anyone who cared to look or listen to the warnings, the PM’s character was known before he was elected Tory leader. (For the last 3 years Max Hastings has been recycling the same column about Boris’s failings when employed by him. What he says is true but his musings would have been much more interesting, even useful, if he’d reflected on why he chose to overlook Boris’s character and how others might approach similar dilemmas, if indeed he considered it a dilemma at the time. It is not just fraudsters who are interesting but those who enable them too. Often more so.)

The PM’s approach to the law too was amply demonstrated when he prorogued Parliament unlawfully. His casually creative approach to the truth was also known. His approach to leadership and running a team was also known. Tory MPs knew all of this and ignored it.

Still, he did not become PM with an 80-seat majority in December 2019 through magic. Voters may feel now that the PM breached their trust, that he required them to comply with some of the most draconian legislation ever imposed in peacetime but did not treat the law as applying to him. They’d be right to think this. But they are not passive observers. They knew he regarded the law with disdain. They knew he lied as easily as breathing. They were happy for him to ignore the law and stick it to the judges or to the EU when he proposed ignoring a treaty he’d just signed. They were happy for him to lie to businesses in Northern Ireland about the border. Voters are not children. They ignored the warnings. And now they find that his disregard for the law and truth, his contempt for those for whom this matters – a characteristic which seemed unimportant or bearable or charming or desirable when aimed at others – extends to them too. No wonder some feel angry. Would it be impolitic to inquire how many of those now feeling so betrayed voted for the man responsible for that betrayal?

Democracy and the conventions which uphold it do not degrade just because bad leaders do bad things. They do so because voters do not care enough about these at the ballot box. They rationalise away any queasiness they may have about an unfit leader because …. well …. reasons. Labour voters did this over Corbyn, Tories over Boris, a pas de deux which poor old integrity sits out, forever a wallflower these days. The PM does just enough (he hopes) to help voters get past that queasiness and give Tory MPs the excuses they need for not taking their leader’s behaviour all that seriously and doing nothing, almost always easier than taking a stand. It is unsurprising that the one Tory Minister to have resigned is a lawyer – David Wolfson QC – and Justice Minister in the Lords. His resignation letter is here. It is an elegant devastating rebuke to his fellow Tories. It should shame the Attorney-General (Suella Braverman), Lord Chancellor (Dominic Raab) and Solicitor-General (Alex Chalk) that they are not doing the same.

In truth, most of us – whether MPs or voters – are like William Roper in A Man for All Seasons: happy to cut corners and treat the law and principles as dispensable when this is for a good cause or aimed at some bad “Other“. Boris has always known this and used it to his advantage. If some of us are angry at finally realising its inevitable consequence, we really shouldn’t be. We’re getting exactly what we voted for.


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