Wednesday, February 21

Johnson hopes Putin’s war will save him, but don’t be fooled – ‘Partygate’ still matters | Owen Jones

NNow that the Metropolitan police have issued 20 fines to government officials for violating the Covid rules they were tasked with drawing up, there are two things we can conclude about Boris Johnson. Either, when he declared less than four months ago that “all the guidelines were observed”, he was completely ignorant about the laws he was directly responsible for – or he repeatedly and shamelessly lied. There is a third possibility – he had no idea what was going on in the prime minister’s official residence – that is too insulting to anyone’s intelligence to even bother indulging.

Which of the two options is true is interesting as an academic debate, but both provide the same answer to the basic question: “Regardless of your political standpoint, is this person fit for high office?” Let’s indulge it anyway. Johnson is, notoriously, not known as a details man. If the phrase “educated beyond his intelligence” could sprout arms, legs and a contrived untidy mop, it would be him. Oxbridge does not, unfortunately, lack his type of him: mediocre youngsters concealed in privilege, whose pretentious vocabulary and unnecessary use of Latin disguises a lack of depth and knowledge.

As foreign secretary, his civil servants privately briefed that he had “the attention span of a gnat”, and that submissions to him “needed to be short, and they needed to be clear about what he was being asked to do”. His public statement by him that Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe was training journalists in Iran, rather than visiting relatives on holiday, was one example of how his lack of attention to details produces dreadful real-world consequences. That Johnson reportedly leaves top secret papers strewn across a flat that he shares with his wife, Carrie – who is known to be close friends with British journalists who visit their residence – shows that he is a fundamentally unserious, lazy man who thinks consequences are for other people.

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It is so clearly a matter of public record that the prime minister is a liar that the very act of claiming he is not a liar is itself a deception: he was, after all, sacked twice, as journalist and politician, for not telling the truth. His former employee of him the journalist Peter Oborne compiled an entire book, The Assault on Truth, dedicated to documenting his lies of him, but there was n’t enough space to include them all so he set up a sprawling website to finish the task. The only leeway that could be given is that men so pathologically obsessed with lying lose their grasp of the difference between fact and fiction, and so can lie without even being aware of it.

The likely conclusion, therefore, is that Johnson is both a liar and someone who cannot absorb very clear and basic information, unlike the millions of ordinary people who fully understood and complied with laws that he was ultimately responsible for designing and communicating. You wouldn’t trust a man with this combination of qualities with the most rudimentary responsibilities – and yet he is running your entire country.

As Vladimir Putin’s forces continue to unleash barbarism on the people of Ukraine, the prime minister’s acolytes’ argument will be tediously predictable. Does the war not put a few boozy gatherings in No 10 in perspective? Must we obsess over such trivialities while children are being slaughtered? Don’t fall for it: moral clarity demands that the horror in Ukraine must not be used to smother objections to the corruption of our democracy, which is what this is.

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Yes, Johnson’s team believe that Putin’s tanks have rescued their man, and they can wave polling statistics that suggest their Teflon-coated conman has crawled from the electoral abyss. Labour’s consistent failure to offer an inspiring alternative, relying instead on their opponents’ fetish for self-immolation to win by default, has certainly helped the Tories. But this really does matter. It’s not just that so many citizens could not hold the hands of dying loved ones, or endured crippling extended loneliness, and therefore feel righteous fury at their rulers. It’s that if our government gets away with rampantly disobeying laws that were used to victimize the powerless – including arresting homeless people and fining children – then they will, rightly, believe that they can get away with other abuses of power.

Many understood that “one rule for them, another rule for us” was a key guiding principle in British society, but it has now been erected in big, flashing neon lights over the heart of government.

Owen Jones is a Guardian columnist

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