Wednesday 22 March 2023

Boris Johnson Vs Accountability

The Partygate allegations have followed Boris Johnson for over a year. His long-awaited appointment with the Privileges Committee finally happened this afternoon, and you could have got ChatGPT to transcribe the whole three hours before the meeting even commenced. The self-styled "Big Dog" tried shaking off accusations that he knowingly and/or recklessly misled the Commons. You might recall how Johnson forswore any knowledge of parties, and attempted to join in the language of condemnation that quickly blew up around them. As the dossier compiled for the hearing showed, Johnson was present at many of the gatherings he claimed to have no idea were happening. That, your honour, is an open and shut case. But this is politics, and nothing is ever cut and dried.

With overwhelming evidence weighing against him, Johnson's strategy was typically Johnson. In the lead up, he attacked the committee as a put up job. Here, though a separate investigation, news about Keir Starmer's wish to appoint Sue Gray as his chief of staff was one straw at in the wind Johnson eagerly grasped at. The average punter doesn't know nor care about the difference between the Cabinet Office and the Privileges Committee, but casting doubt on one casts doubt on all. To the untrained eye, Johnson's picture of victimisation might look like a reasonable sketch. Then in the committee itself, Johnson played more to the gallery of fans tuning in at home. The metaphors and rhetorical devices employed made his testimony sound more like a column written for the Telegraph than a last ditch effort to save his political career.

Johnson's strategy was a defiant sand-in-your-eye defence. The line was he honestly thought all the gatherings were within the guidelines because they allowed employers a certain lassitude in their application. He refused to refer to any gathering as a party, despite reams and reams of email and testimony that make clear their convivial purposes, and deliberately tried muddying the waters to suggest leaving dos, cheese and wine Fridays, etc. were essential for keeping up morale as Number 10 staff were under the twin pressures of Covid and a prospective no deal Brexit. If you were to take Johnson at face value, and there are still plenty of people who would buy a bridge from him, all that happened was a bit of hair being let down while people were at their desks fighting the pandemic. If these were against the rules, Johnson argued, his senior officials would have warned him. And for good measure, having convinced himself he'd done nothing wrong, there were a few outbursts - aimed particularly at fellow Tory Bernard Jenkin - for the evening news bulletins to chew on.

Was it convincing? Not a bit of it. But Johnson's I-always-acted-in-good-faith arguments are not meant for the likes of me. They're designed to introduce reasonable doubt when there isn't really any, and, should the Committee find against him, provide materials for a stab-in-the-back myth that's good for the North American lecture circuit or a future political comeback. However, despite the obvious contempt Johnson has for the whole process - remember, accountability doesn't apply to him - there is a chance the Tory majority on the committee won't be on board with recommending a suspension from the Commons. Some of them have their reselections to worry about. And forget Harriet Harman's fluff about leaving party affiliations at the committee room door. No Tory wants to see the party lose a seat in a by-election to Labour, and one in which Johnson's character and conduct is the main issue driving what would be a huge protest vote. We apparently won't know until after May as they don't want to affect the upcoming local elections, but politicians are inveterate leakers. I doubt their verdict will stay secret for long.

If Johnson does survive the committee, it's still doubtful he could make the return to Number 10 that he believes is his as of right. His famous luck might get him put of this scrape, but his support is too narrow and, as the marketeers might say, his brand too toxic with the public. Win or lose, today's Privileges Committee theatre is probably the last, long wheeze of an expired political career that doesn't know it's dead.

Image Credit


Ken said...

One of the phrases which politicians use when they win a seat is”my constituents….” During an election, they stand for this class, or that class, even if they try to obfuscate this, Liberals, that’s you. Once elected, they forget that maybe 40% of 65% who might have voted actually supported them, and the majority oppose or even hate them. This parliamentary nonsense was to try to persuade enough Tories in parliament not to vote for a 10 day suspension. This would enable the said “my constituents…” to decide that they wanted a bye election because many would like to see the back of him. Yet another example of the threadbare parliamentary language used to block any actual democratic currents in Parliament.
The good part I thought, if you looked at his body language throughout, his head collapsed lower and lower until his neck disappeared, a literal deflation. And of course, only 22 Tory rebels voted against the “Windsor” agreement, leaving Steve Baker, yes, that Steve Baker, to comment that Johnson was in danger of becoming a “pound shop Farage.”
Et Tu, Brute?

JN said...

It was typical Boris Johnson, blatantly disingenuous shite. Try that 'rambling bollocks and clearly lying' approach if you are (oh, let's say...) a working class Glaswegian, and see what sentence you get!

JN said...

Here's the thing about accountability: a shop-lifter is infinitely more likely to be punished than a president or prime minister who commits the "supreme war crime" of starting a war of aggression. A person who repeatedly commits petty thefts will end up in prison, while Blair, and Bush, and Putin, will probably be get away with it entirely, just like Pinochet did. Does that make logical sense?

PurplePete said...

Sheer pantomime. I loved watching the clip of the event on YouTube.

Porker (minor) had been caught raiding the tuck shop by matron and was up in front of the Headteacher and school governors. Porker said that two older boys had told him that it was ok to steal the custard creams, so it wasn't really his fault then, was it? Matron was very angry with Porker because he was always up to trouble in the dorm but the Headteacher was a friend of Porker's father and took a more benign view of events. Having listened to Porker's long & tortuous explanation, the governing body said they would make a decision whether this rule breaking episode was serious enough to consider expelling Porker.

Blissex said...

«Sheer pantomime»

As usual a lot of "politics" is about "personalities", often involving really important issues as these "work meetings" and "misdescribing" them.

It is good that focus on "personalities" is what matters and takes precedence over less significant and distracting details like these:
«Prices in Britain reversed a recent downward trend, rising 10.4 percent over the year through February.»
«Policymakers approved a quarter-point increase, to 4.25 percent, while affirming that British banks were “resilient.”»

Minus 6% real interest rates and 10% inflation...

Dipper said...

Labour may well live to regret this hounding of Boris Johnson. They decided to attack Johnson on process rather than policy and kept up an unremitting campaign of forensic detail, bringing down the PM on details of cake etc.

In so doing they have created a precedent. Starmer, if he becomes PM, will in all likelihood be subjected to the same treatment, with any failure to account for the smallest detail leading to a route to overthrow him.

FWIW, as someone who ran large teams, good teams have a social aspect to their performance - the team that plays together stays together. Celebratory events and holding occasions such as birthday celebrations and leaving events are very much a work activity.