Friday, 30 April 2021

Nothing to see here


The traditional context for using the phrase “Nothing to see here. Move along now.” is the policeman given the responsibility of keeping bystanders away from some incident or other. It never means that there is actually nothing to see, merely that (s)he and those who stationed him or her there don’t want people stopping to see it. When the perpetrator of the incident uses the phrase, (s)he is either trying to hide what has happened, or else merely extracting the urine. And as Boris Johnson demonstrated yesterday, the two are not mutually exclusive.

His demand that people stop asking him awkward questions to which there is no truthful answer which does not expose his failure to follow rules, and no lie which can be made to fit the known facts (not that that is something which overly worries him), is based on his assertion that people at large are either not interested in establishing whether he’s followed the rules or not, or else simply don’t care. It amounts to saying that if electors don’t care how venal, dishonest, or corrupt he is, then opposition politicians and the media should just shut up and accept it as well. It plays to the popular trope that all politicians are only in it for themselves anyway, and has the added advantage – for him – of enabling him to tar others with his own used brush.

Sadly, his assertion that people don’t care has an element of truth to it. It is based on the results of opinion polls which show that, despite all his lies, bluster and evasion, despite presiding over one of the worst death tolls in the world due to Covid, and despite all the contracts corruptly awarded to mates and donors, if an election were held tomorrow, he would still win a clear majority of seats in England: enough to continue in government across the whole UK. He’s wrong, though, in claiming that it means that ‘people’ don’t care; what it actually means is that ‘people who vote for the Tories’ don’t care enough to change their vote as a result. To him, those two caveats might not be important – like Trump, he seems to believe that the only opinions that matter are those of people likely to vote for him. But his current majority, like any future majority in line with the polls, is based on a minority of votes which gifts him near-absolute power as a result of an electoral system which is unfit for purpose; the ‘people’ to whom he is referring constitute only a minority.

But even if he were right, even if ‘people’ in general really don’t care about how dishonest he and his government are, does that really mean that they should not be questioned or held to account? There have been major crimes in the past which many have almost admired for their audacity, but no-one seriously suggests that the criminals should not be prosecuted as a result. A democracy – even a partial democracy like the UK – in which governments are excused from breaking rules or even outright criminality because the electors don’t care is a democracy which is doomed. The opposition should care, the media should care, we all should care whether those we elect to lead us are honest or not. Whatever Johnson says, there really is something to see – and we should insist on seeing it.

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