Lessons from Boris Johnson

Published : 29 Mar 2023 08:18 PM

A day after the former UK prime minister Boris “BoJo” Johnson was interrogated  by the UK parliament’s Privileges Committee over whether he had intentionally misled MPs over the Partygate scandal, the host of the audience-participation BBC programme Question Time, Fiona Bruce (renowned for her obsequiousness towards Tories), asked the audience: “Let’s have a show of hands shall we? Who believes Boris Johnson was telling the truth yesterday?”. The cameras turned to the studio audience (said to be handpicked for “balance”), and no one raised their hand.

Such are the consequences of BoJo’s decades-long history of being a congenital liar and distorter of anything resembling a factual state of affairs if it served his colossally bloated self-interest.

The audience reaction on Question Time was an appropriate response to what has been reckoned to be an unsuccessful almost 4-hour appearance before the Privileges Committee, though BoJo’s few political allies and the usual right-wing toilet papers claimed his was a laudable “fightback” against a “kangaroo court” (BoJo used similar language in describing the proceedings), and so forth.

First and foremost, the “victim” had to do their utmost to discredit the body questioning him about the breaching of Covid lockdown rules introduced by his own government— BoJo was charged with one offence by the Metropolitan Police, though the evidence suggests he should have been charged with several other breaches of these rules.

The Met has been a shambles for decades, and conducting any kind of investigation, even of the most mundane kind, seems to be beyond its current capabilities. It gave BoJo an easy ride, the equivalent of a gentle tap on the wrist, in a slipshod investigation.

Sunak is just as duplicitous as his predecessors, 

but his habit of not appearing too much in public

 and projecting an air of competence when 

he does is serving him reasonablywell so far

BoJo also attacked the investigation, likewise incomplete, conducted by the senior civil servant Sue Gray. Gray found instances of Partygate rule-breaking, but desisted from discussing its criminal aspects, saying this was a matter for the police. Like the police, Gray said nothing about the “Abba party” in BoJo’s flat, during which the music could be heard in the streets outside.

Shortly before BoJo’s appearance in front of the Privileges Committee, it was announced that Gray had accepted the offer to be the chief of staff of the opposition leader Keir Starmer.

BoJo and his PR team tried to make the most of this development, insisting that Gray was probably aware of an offer from Starmer even as she was carrying out her investigation, which of course discredited her findings.

BoJo made the further accusation that the Privileges Committee had relied on Gray’s evidence when it published the preliminary report on its conclusions about BoJo misleading Parliament. There is nothing sinister in this release—the principle behind it being that BoJo had to be informed in the name of due process about the charges he was likely to face so he could prepare a defence for his appearance before the Committee.

The Privileges Committee issued an immediate rebuttal, saying the witnesses it used had been independent of any sources used by Gray.

In his appearance before the Privileges Committee BoJo was testy and hostile, refusing to grant it any legitimacy, saying he was the victim of proceedings that lacked legitimacy. BoJo declared arrogantly to the Committee that he would regard it as fair and impartial only if it exonerated him.

BoJo went on to accuse the panel of “complete nonsense” after the senior Tory Bernard Jenkin suggested his former boss did not seek “proper” advice before telling MPs that no parties took place in Downing Street during the pandemic.

BoJo tried to pretend he had no independent powers of decision during Partygate, since he was completely in the hands of his (subordinate) advisers, most of them spin doctors

He said that if the inquiry was accusing him of lying, then it also levelled the same charge at civil servants, advisers and MPs, saying: “I don’t think you seriously mean to accuse those individuals of lying and I don’t think you can seriously mean to accuse me of lying”.

The Committee chair, the veteran Labour MP Harriet Harman, ridiculed this claim that he had sought “advice” on whether or not crowded gatherings had breached  lockdown rules when BoJo  himself had been in attendance. “If I was going at 100mph and I saw the speedometer saying 100mph, it would be a bit odd, wouldn’t it, if I said: ‘Somebody assured me that I wasn’t.’ Because it’s what you’ve seen with your own eyes”.

Proceedings started with BoJo’s hand on the Bible promising to tell the truth, before saying: “I’m here to say to you, hand on heart, I did not lie to the House”. Oops, another likely whopper from the man who lied to the queen when he sought to suspend parliamentary proceedings in order to forestall opposition to his Brexit legislation.

BoJo is exuberantly optimistic most of the time, and here was a perfect instance. Numerous pieces of evidence are proving inconvenient for him.

He told MPs the “bring your own booze” garden party on 20 May 2020 was intended to motivate staff because his cabinet secretary had left the job– but the secretary did not resign until 29 June.

The Privileges Committee’s published “core bundle” of evidence prior to the hearing included a No 10 official claiming that BoJo “had the opportunity to shut down” lockdown gatherings in Downing Street but “allowed the culture to continue”.

Other claims made against BoJo in the evidence included Simon Case, his cabinet secretary, and Jack Doyle, then communications chief, insisting they never told BoJo Covid rules were followed.

The vast majority of Brits think Boris Johnson is dishonest, a new poll has revealed after BoJo insisted he did not lie to MPs over Partygate during the Privileges Committee hearing.

The YouGov poll found that 72% of Brits think BoJo is dishonest, while 51% of Conservative voters and 59% of pro-Brexit voters interviewed believe the same.

In total, only 13% of participants polled said BoJo is honest, with 15% saying they didn’t know.

If the Tory majority Privileges Committee finds BoJo deliberately misled the House, he could be suspended as an MP – potentially triggering a by-election in his parliamentary seat which he is likely to lose.

It could be some time before the Committee issues its final report. It has been suggested this could be after the nationwide local elections in May.

The Sunak government has received a slight boost in the polls as people recoil from the chaos of the Johnson and Truss prime ministerships. Sunak is just as duplicitous as his predecessors, but his habit of not appearing too much in public and projecting an air of competence when he does is serving him reasonably well so far.

Kenneth Surin teaches at Duke University, North Carolina. He lives in Blacksburg, Virginia. Source: CounterPunch