Thursday 11 November 2021

Have we reached a turning point?


The Tories are not the only party to have been accused of using peerages as a means of rewarding large donors; the legislation banning the sale of honours followed the sale of honours by the Liberal leader Lloyd George in the 1920s, and Labour had its own little scandal under Blair. The price may have increased by more than the rate of inflation, but then the Tories have long expected larger individual donations than the other parties. Their role is, after all, to represent the interests of the wealthiest.

In the strict terms of any police enquiry, the latest suggestion that becoming Tory Treasurer and donating at least £3 million virtually guarantees a peerage is not something over which Johnson needs to lose any sleep. The problem with the legislation, which effectively stymied any prosecution for Labour’s activities under Blair, is that the burden of proof is so high. Mere correlation between donating large sums and being ennobled, no matter how strong that correlation may be, isn’t proof of a transaction having taken place. It appears that, unless the prosecuting authorities can amass evidence that there was an advance agreement that if X gave £Y, then X would become a peer, then there is inadequate evidence to mount a prosecution. Nods and winks, to say nothing of the entirely coincidental precedent that the previous n treasurers were ennobled, don’t count. In effect, the bar is set so high that there is never any danger of prosecution as long as those involved are careful never to record anything. The legislation has been rendered irrelevant, and Johnson can continue to distribute peerages as he chooses. Inspector Knacker is unlikely to be banging on the door of Number Ten any time soon. Well, not for selling honours at any rate.

It isn’t as simple as just the legalistic question of a criminal offence, though. Last week, something changed. It’s not that the Tories became any more venal or corrupt than they have been for the past couple of years, although the Paterson affair was perhaps more blatant than previous issues. It’s not that Johnson became any more dishonest or mendacious; he’s been that way all his life and that’s not something that will ever change. No, last week, for the first time really, some of those who have naturally supported him / covered for him / repeated his lies as though they were true / made excuses for him started to turn against him. The media began to press harder, to draw more attention to the amoral morass which surrounds him, and to actively look for new angles to keep the story running. Some of his own MPs and other senior figures in his party started to call him out for what he is and to make it clear that their future support is conditional at best. It’s doubtful that he realises it yet – perhaps he never will, given his apparent ability to believe whatever he chooses to believe – but his position weakened considerably over the period of just a few days. Given the size of his majority, the only people who can end the current nightmare are those within his own party (although who knows what new nightmare they would then inflict upon us). They’re not there yet, but if the polls start to move significantly further against him, Tory MPs can be a ruthless bunch.

On which point, outside the Westminster bubble, the reality of the incomplete Brexit project continues to impact the lives of those whom the world king believes to be his subjects in ways which are almost universally negative. Heaping entirely believable accusations of corruption and sleaze on top has so far had only a minor impact, but as one of his predecessors (a certain John Major) discovered, momentum can build uncontrollably. His best line of defence at the moment is the general public perception that “they’re all as bad”. His problem is that using such a line means admitting that he is in any way ‘bad’ himself. It’s an admission that he is utterly incapable of making. We may yet get to look back on last week as the long-overdue turning point.

1 comment:

Gav said...

Yes, a grudging respect to Andrew Bowie for demonstrating that they're not all as bad.