Upon hearing from the Privileges Committee today that Boris Johnson would have faced a 90-day suspension from the House of Commons for deliberately misleading the House and attacking the Committee itself, career politicians and commentators rushed to announce that the miscreant former PM had been punished.
Perhaps it was a relief that, after years of Johnson’s assaults on our out-of-date, unwritten constitution – illegally proroguing Parliament, for example – and his litany of endless lies, some part of the system still held him to account.
Perhaps, perhaps, perhaps
Perhaps such comments are motivated by a lingering faith in the parliamentary process to deliver some kind of just result. Perhaps they’re simply what a political figure or a lobby correspondent has to say when a microphone is shoved under their nose. Such pronouncements are, however, premature.
Johnson has not been punished and most likely will never be punished in any meaningful way. His reputation has not been affected one iota. Those who reviled him beforehand have simply had their views confirmed, and those who laud him view the suspension that never was as a “witch hunt”. How very Trumpian.
Boris Johnson’s lies have run out of road, this much is true. He has based his entire career, his entire life, on lying to others and evading responsibility. And there are, after all, only so many suckers in the world.
However, his real crime, the crime that should haunt him for the rest of his days, the transgression even greater than the lies he spun about Brexit, is his refusal to take Covid seriously.
As we approached lockdown in early 2020, and rumours of an alarming virus spreading from China slowly began to grip the public, it was characteristic of Johnson to adopt the most reckless, foolish, and destructive position imaginable. Herd immunity.
A cypher for contempt
Johnson has not been held to account for that crime, not yet anyway, only for the insult he added to the national injury he inflicted. A true Bullingdon man to the last, he partied while everyone else suffered. His contempt for the rules was really a cypher for his contempt for the public. As was his “complicity” in intimidation of the Committee. This contempt was infectious at Number 10, going by the now-released testimony to the Committee. A culture of contempt.
Having paid little attention to sound scientific advice and hiding behind the shield of faux libertarianism, when he eventually locked down it was too late. Untold thousands paid the price. One in every 295 people has died of Covid, that we know of, many of those deaths avoidable.
Okay, so Johnson was found guilty of deliberately and contemptuously misleading Parliament about the details of his drunken parties. And he has suffered the minor indignity of being suspended (though he chose to resign first). Perhaps he will suffer a bruised ego, and his plan to write some self-serving memoir might have suffered a setback. But he has sauntered away from the kind of criminal negligence that would see the rest of us in court facing lengthy jail terms.
This, however, is nothing new. Did David Cameron and George Osborne ever face, for a moment, any consequences for the hundreds of thousands of additional deaths caused by austerity? One in every 200 people in the UK has been killed by austerity, that we know of. Did Tony Blair face anything other than an afternoon of scrutiny at the Chilcot Inquiry for his part in initiating an illegal war which also killed hundreds of thousands of people?
Then there’s Brexit. If you or I threw stones at the windows of company properties, we’d be charged and punished. But the architects of Brexit, the elected and the shadowy, the Brexit about which Boris Johnson also lied so very much and which has caused so much harm? Who have vandalised entire sectors? Crickets. Both Johnson and Truss despoiled and damaged this country, then walked away with the fat pensions we pay for, and are stuffing the House of Lords with their lackeys and mystery chums.
Johnson’s ‘punishment’ will be the continuation of his career by other means. He will doubtless become the fullest expression of what in his heart he always was; a highly-paid celebrity entertainer on the political right. Send in the clowns.
Breezy, brutal Boris Johnson
You might breath a sigh of relief at his departure and, as my neighbours did three nights ago, set off some celebratory fireworks. Nobody could blame you. However, do not confuse any of this with justice for the many, many thousands of Covid dead and those that live with the after-effects of the illness.
A public Covid Inquiry has begun, looking at the issue of preparedness. The UK government may be shown to have contributed to the crisis the country faced even prior to 2020 through a decade of austerity. Interestingly, in footnote 6 of the report released today, the Privileges Committee said:
“We note that Mr Johnson has recently undertaken to supply the Covid public inquiry with a large number of his personal WhatsApp messages. This contrasts with his highly restrictive release of such messages to us. If it transpires from examination of the WhatsApp messages supplied to the Covid inquiry that there was relevant material which should have been disclosed to us either by Mr Johnson or the Cabinet Office, this would be a serious matter which the House might need to revisit.”
When Cameron and Osborne (and Nick Clegg, for that matter) tore the public sector apart to the cheers of the right wing press and their own backbenchers, it is possible they thought that smashing the infrastructure of public health under the guise of lowering debt (which they never did anyway) could be consequence-free. Perhaps they were right.
Two different types of careless brutality have marked the last 13 years and we lack the frameworks, the ideas, even the words to hold them to account. Most people get caught up in the parties and dramas and rarely speak of the deaths.
Boris Johnson believes his actions are consequence-free. And until we as a society decide otherwise, he is absolutely right.