55 minus 24: Primus inter mendaces

Posted: 24 July 2019 in 55 minus, politics
Tags: , ,

Bit of housekeeping first: it came as quite a surprise the other day when I realised I’m now more than half-way through this fifty-five day countdown. After a couple of years of not blogging at all, it’s been a genuine pleasure to write these entries; I hope some of you at least have been enjoying them.

Three and a half weeks to go, by which time – if current plans pan out – I’ll be posting the final entry while on the way to Edinburgh, after which I’ll be spending a week at the Edinburgh Fringe.

But there’s still a couple of dozen posts to go, of course, before we’re there.

So, as I write this, I’ve got BBC News on in a small window at the the bottom right of the screen. Theresa May has just handed in her resignation to Her Majesty The Queen, and Boris Johnson is on his way to meet HMQ and accept her invitation to form a government.

There’s nothing I could write that would truly convey the contempt in which he is held by much of the British public; the clowning persona he tries to portray long ago wore out its welcome, and if there’s anything that continues to puzzle me about Johnson, it’s not about him, but the few who still regard him as anything other than a manipulative unqualified, disqualified, sack of shit.

A few years ago, a series of “‘what my family & friends think I do’ versus ‘what I actually do'” graphics did the rounds.

Mitch Benn and I created the following, which has remained truer than I’d wish:

It was John Oliver, I believe, who commented that he and Trump both look like incompetently created clones of each other. And while Johnson is unquestionably objectively smarter than the orange poltroon, they each have their own malleable relationship with the truth, and with objective facts.

There are, however, marked and important differences: with the orange poltroon, one knows that the provably false untruths that he tell cease – for him – to be untrue. He says them, therefore they are true.

The only calculated bit of it is that he carries on doing it because it bloody works, with his base, with his support. They not only don’t care that he lies, they like it.

I’m unsure if there’s any other elected politician in the US or the UK for whom that’s true in the same way.

For Boris Johnson knows he’s lying. Let’s not pretend otherwise. He knows what the truth is, and discards it quite deliberately when it’s convenient to do so or when it’s just… easier to do so.

Johnson’s relationship with the truth is one of dog to lamppost: if he needs to piss over it to make his life even marginally easier or more confortable, he’ll do so, and feel quite satisfied afterwards that he’s done it.

Some of the time, sure, it’s a precise, calculated lie, uncaring whether or not anyone notices, wholly apathetic as to the complaints of others who might reasonably prefer that politicians stay at least within shouting distance of accuracy, precision and correctness.

He lies on these occasions because the truth, the objective facts, are inconvenient to him. He knows the facts, he just won’t let them – as the old saw has it – interfere with the story he’s telling.

And they’re told to make him the hero, to make him the Truth Teller.

Important to remember that he’s the hero in his own mind, the mark of villains through the centuries.

On other occasions, Boris Johnson lies because the truth is just too much hard work; he doesn’t care to find out the facts because the lie serves his purpose just as well, if not better.

The nonsense last week about the chilled fish is a good example of this. Johnson claimed, while waving a sealed kipper around, that it had been given to him, via the editor of a national newspaper, from a fish smoker on the Isle of Man, who he stated was “utterly furious”.

“After decades of sending them through the post like this he has had his costs massively increased by Brussels bureaucrats who are insisting that each kipper must be accompanied by a plastic ice pillow,”

“Pointless, pointless, expensive, environmentally damaging ‘elf and safety’,”

Except that the claim was, of course, unfettered bullshit.

The advice that says that foods that need refrigerating must be kept cool while they are being transported – potentially packed in an insulated box with a coolant gel or in a coolbag – is not only British government advice, the Isle of Man moreover isn’t in the European Union.

Johnson could quite easily have found something that the EU does that could be argued is oppressively bureaucratic, something that he could at least make a case for, while sticking to the unvarnished facts.

But it would be far too much hard work for him to do that; why not just lie about it? why not indeed?

And 90,000-odd Conservative party members agreed with him. Why not indeed?

(Some of them very odd, let’s face it.)

And then there are the casual, unnecessary lies, the untruths that spew from his lips because he doesn’t see the harm in them, because ‘everyone lies’. These lies that Boris Johnson tells… they’re not calculated so he – specifically him – benefits. Well, not solely that anyway. They’re told just ‘for a laugh’, just for the sake of lying, just for shits and giggles, or to get him through the speech, the interview, the statement.

And on the rare occasions when he’s held to account? Then he lies his way out of it with yet more lies.

After his comments – when Foreign Secretary – about Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe led to her facing an increased prison term, he lied about his own culpability. When he got caught out having an affair, he lied to his party’s then-leader, resulting in his sacking.

And Boris Johnson has just become Prime Minister.

I’m not about, by the way, to have a pop at how he was elected, as in ‘I can’t believe that the members of a politial party get to choose the Prime Minister!’ We have a parliamentary system in the UK, with all that that implies. Yes, this is the first time that it’s been a Prime Minister who was elected by the memebrship and who immediately took over, but the ‘party chooses a new leader who becomes Prime Minister…’ has happened before and the usual thing is that a new Prime Minister doesn’t call an election. When Gordon Brown took over from Tony Blair, he didn’t even face a leadership election; he just took over. When May took over from Cameron, she got the job by default as the other candiate stood down.

Yes, it’s a shitty system, but if you wouldn’t have called for an election when Callaghan took over from Wilson, when Major took over from Thatcher, when Brown took over from Blair… try to restrain your hypocrisy just a tad, eh?

As it is, my own position is that of Lynne Featherstone (now Baroness Featherstone) after Brown took over from Blair:

A new PM, implementing the same manifesto/policies? No need for an election; our parliamentary system doesn’t suggest nor require one.

A new PM, who abandons the manifesto upon which the government’s mandate rests, and who pursues policies not of the previous government, not indeed polices from the manifesto? To not call an election drives a coach and horses through the spirit, if not the letter, of our parliamentary system.

When I was in the hall of the Queen Elizabeth II Centre, and witnessed Jeremy Corbyn become Labour party leader, I tweeted the single word: “Fuck.”

When I watched on television Boris Johnson, in the same venue, win the leadership of the Conservative Party, the same sentiment seemed appropriate.

But now? With Johnson as Prime Minister, our Prime Mimister? The Prime Minister and First Lord of the Treasury?

Well, I think Barry Ween says it best:

Boris Johnson: primus inter mendaces¹

Something else tomorrow, something even more upsetting, something deadly serious, and something that I suspect will upset more than a few people with its content.

See you tomorrow.

This post is part of a series of blog entries, counting down to my fifty-fifth birthday on 17th August 2019. You can see the other posts in the run by clicking here.

¹ first among liars

  1. […] to add the clusterfuck that is the current state of British politics, other than to note that our primus inter mendaces has been at it again […]

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