Imagine a policy position that a mainstream United Kingdom political party could adopt. Imagine the prime minister supporting that speech in a public statement – in a speech, or a newspaper article, or a remark in an interview
And now imagine the prime minister saying just the opposite. It is not only easy to imagine, but also to think of counter-examples of a mainstream policy position he would not take.
We have an infinitely flexible prime minister with no discernible consistency on any question of policy. Of course, there is political – as opposed to policy – consistency: he will be motivated by advancing his own interests and those, where they coincide with his own, of his party.
But on any question of policy – as opposed to politics – there is no depth. This is the politician who wrote two columns about Brexit. This is also the politician who berated environmental policies before telling the United Nations that it was not easy being green.
Perhaps these observations are, well, obvious – but that does not make it pointless to point them out. And nor does familiarity with the prime minister’s lack of principle remove the need to work out the implications of this (lack of) approach.
Before that general election, had opposition parties worked together in that hung parliament, it was plausible that there could have been a further referendum.
The prime minister did not create this Remain complacency and confusion, but he took full advantage of it. Had the forces of Remain, and of liberalism and progressive politics, been less weak the prime ministers opportunism would not have been so successful.
Indeed: the charlatan would have switched sides, and switched columns. The rise of the current prime minister is the index of the failure of liberalism and progressive politics: a mirror-image, a shadow.
The more we complain about the prime minister’s principle-free approach to policy, the more we are really complaining about our failure to get the electorate to take a principle-based approach seriously.
As this blog has averred previously, there is no practical point in exposing lies, if the electorate does not mind being lied to. And the same can be said of corruption: there is no practical point in exposing corruption, if the electorate does not mind the corruption.
The real task therefore for those opposed to the politics of the current prime minister is not just to expose and condemn the lies and corruption – for that is the easy bit – but to get sufficient electors to care about the lies and corruption.
One does get the sense that those in the government machine regard the laws and rules they impose on the rest of us to be only for the rest of us to comply with.
Third, the Member of Parliament is openly saying that Number Ten should be exempt from police investigation and excused from the deployment of scarce police resources.
That is an extraordinary proposition, if you think about it. But one suspects the Member of Parliament has not really thought about it – though that, in turn, makes it worrying as a casual aside.
On any view, such a public statement by a Member of Parliament tells us some unfortunate things about the state of our polity as 2021 comes to an end.
Agree to all of the above, but let’s also throw in another of Lucy’s tweets, and consider the hypocrisy at work here.
On Margaret Ferrier MP – who acknowledged her own Covid wrongdoing AND notified the police – Lucy Allen commented, “…it’s reckless lawbreaking.
Without wishing to detract from your point, isn’t it likely that any offence that may have been committed is now statute-barred, being a summary-only offence where prosecution must be brought within six months? I haven’t checked, so ther may be a statutory exception.
It could be that to make a confected complaint you are transforming a suggestion for police time to be spent on other priorities into a request for special treatment?
I assumed it might be difficult legally (and Robert+Zara offer[s] a plausible explanation of why), but it does feel as if it should come under the scope of some procedure – possibly parliamentary.
It can’t really be ‘bringing the Government into disrepute’ as that seems to be most of them, but illegal activity – which this surely would be, if proved – on Government premises ought to get a hefty penalty.
As for the question of whether the MP should be responsible for what goes on in Downing Street when he isn’t there: he sets the tone, so yes. I’m not convinced that would have happened on Thatcher’s – or even May’s – watch.
If members of the ruling party are no longer subject to national laws then the country is no longer a democracy.
One implication – which may be painful for some readers – is that it shows the failure of liberal and progressive forces.. For if a charlatan could have come to power on the back of liberalism and progressive politics, then the charlatan would have done so.
In this way the prime minister is not a cause but a consequence of a failure of liberalism and progressive politics. The politics of this country since 2015 have been dominated not by Brexit victories but by two decisive Remain defeats – in 2016 and 2019.
There is no good reason why Remain lost the 2016 referendum. Remain was the status quo, with economic benefits, and the policy of every mainstream party, and with the weight of government funding behind it.
But many supporters of membership were complacent. The case for the European Union was never properly made by any senior politician, because there was no political interest in them doing so.
Parties and politicians thereby competed with each other to be sceptical of the European Union, with opt-outs and renegotiations and what-not. And the prime minister only won the overall majority in the 2019 general election because opposition parties gifted him a general election on the issue of ‘Get Brexit Done’.
For if that engagement cannot be achieved then we have the prospect of fundamental disconnect between policy and politics – for it would not matter the policy (or lack of policy) of the governing party, charlatans will be politically successful anyway.
And the starting point for those politically opposed to the prime minister is not to see his manifest faults as telling things about him, but also about the failures of those who opposed to him.
Johnson is not really the cause but the consequence of the defeats of 2016 and 2019, but the explanations for those defeats are harder for his opponents to consider.
Let’s separate out the issues here. First, there is something to be said against politicians reporting each other to the police and seeking prosecutions. Getting the police involved should not be a a routine part of political activity and party campaigning.
It is, to an extent, distasteful as a partisan tactic. But second, if there are laws then they do have to be enforced equally. It may well be that the penalty against parties last Christmas was disproportionate and illiberal.
But it was a penalty that many outside Number Ten incurred. And so either those penalties for others should all be revoked or the party-goers of Downing Street should be treated the same way.
There is a legal basis to argue that there was a conspiracy to commit a summary offence (which as an indictable offence is not subject to the shorter limitation periods associated with summary offences and that met officers in attendance could be committing the offence of assisting or encouraging comission of the conspiracy as well, (cf. https://www.cps.gov.uk/legal-guidance/inchoate-offences)
… and today, we have the vacuous Mr Raab defending the said party on the basis that it was not a “formal” party. Other leading lights of “the party of law and order” have opined that it was a Shroedinger’s cat party – it may not have taken place, but if it did all of the relevant strictures would have been followed.
I don’t know if these people are simply stupid or if they are working on the assumption that we are. If the police do investigate, one imagines the worst that will happen is a fine will be levied and, no doubt, paid from the public purse. In a very real practical sense,
Johnson et al are beyond the law (as shown by his unpunished and very open contempt of court over the Benn Act). Perhaps the best outcome will be a growing public revulsion with them which will sweep them from power at the earliest opportunity.
Downing Street is saying the private individuals resident in, and/or visiting it, should be above those requirements of the criminal law, which it itself stewarded through Parliament using a majority the size of which, on its own, gives rise to huge accountability concerns.
The personal behaviour of the chief executive seems to me one of those areas falling within the scope of activities regulated partly by an in-term accountability function which includes the meaningful threat of losing a Parliamentary vote.
The aura of personal impunity reinforces for me how much a Westminster system which produces big majorities is both a) vulnerable to executive capture and undermining of its accountability functions via the selection of loyal and otherwise largely virtue-deficient Parliamentary candidates; and b) dependent for its accountability function on those (here all too meagre) personal virtues.
Far better to have hung or tiny-majority Parliaments, but in any case there needs to be a way of baking-in that accountability function so it can’t get swept away by the Dumification this episode exemplifies.