Saturday, 18 December 2021

In pursuit of truth?


“In all humility, I have got to accept that verdict”, said Boris Johnson in response to the result of the by-election on Thursday. The idea of Boris Johnson expressing – let alone feeling – humility is so far removed from reality that some conspiracy theorists may even wonder how the deep state managed to replace the real thing with a fake. Normal service was quickly resumed, however, when the PM added that people have been hearing “a litany of stuff about politics and politicians” from the media. What he seems to mean by that is that the problem isn’t anything that he and his gang have said and done, but that the media have dared to report it. He dismissed all the reports about parties, corruption, sleaze, flat refurbishments, and Peppa Pig as “exactly the kind of questions about politics, politicians, the running of government” which he believes that people really neither want nor need to hear about. From his perspective, the media should be concentrating, Pravda-style, on reporting only what the government tells them to report. Having proved over the past two years that the journalist-turned-pm doesn’t understand what being PM is all about, he neatly demonstrates that he doesn’t actually know very much about journalism either.

A few days ago, he was reported to be furious with the BBC in particular for continuing to report stories about parties and broken rules. Apparently, he thought that the media had ‘made their point’ and should now move on. It is the approach he has adopted throughout his life; do what you like, lie, bluster, and obfuscate, and wait for the fuss to die down. The idea that actions should have consequences, or that he should be in any way held to account, is one around which he cannot get his head. And, as the infamous Eton letter demonstrates, he’s been the same since childhood. The problem – for the rest of us, if not for him – is that, to date, the approach has generally worked. How a man sacked – twice – for lying, and who was party to a conspiracy to have a journalist beaten up, could ever have got to be PM is a puzzle to which there is only one possible solution: the utter amorality of his party, from top to bottom. The members of that party, from MPs through to the ordinary members who voted him in as leader, have not only indulged him, they have positively cheered him on, even when his actions are prima facie criminal. For the whole rotten party, power is more important than principle or honesty – especially the power to line their own nests and look after their own at the expense of others.

Johnson seems to believe that he can prevent or deter the media from asking the ‘wrong’ questions by simply refusing to answer, telling journalists that they are asking “the kind of question that breaks the golden rule”, as though it is for him to set any rules about what questions they should be allowed to ask. In a robust democracy, journalists would refuse to publish or air interviews in which a PM decided which questions to answer, and the media would decline to report any statement which they know to be factually untrue (a category which would almost completely remove Johnson from the airwaves). Instead we have mostly had sycophancy and compliance – one might suspect that the only reason the government doesn’t take action to control the media in line with the PM’s ‘golden rule’ is that, as Humbert Wolfe wrote, they are usually quite good at controlling themselves. At the moment, the media are actually showing an unusual degree of backbone in continuing to report things which the PM would rather see kept quiet. Whether they will continue to do so, or eventually conclude instead that, faced with a government able to ‘exonerate’ itself from all sins and willing to stonewall indefinitely, they’ll get fed up and move on remains to be seen. The latter of those two options would be a bad omen for all of us.

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