Monday 20 March 2023

Stupid or mad?


Reading some of the stories about Boris Johnson’s planned ‘bombshell’ defence to the charge of misleading parliament, it appears that there are two main elements to his response. The first is that Sue Gray is going to work for Keir Starmer, so everything she said and all the evidence she collected are tainted and invalid and can be ignored, and there is no other evidence that the parties actually took place at all. And the second is that whilst Boris Johnson was on the television night after night telling us all that we must not meet with other people indoors unless strictly necessary for work purposes and even then we must maintain social distancing, there is no written evidence that anyone told Boris Johnson that attending an event not strictly necessary for work purposes and not maintaining social distancing was against the rules. This is a man who claims that he didn’t even know he was at a party because no-one emailed him to tell him so. The defence will, of course, be delivered with the customary bluster, distraction, and outright mendacity for which he is famous, but stripped down to its basics it sounds a lot like pleading either stupidity or insanity. Too stupid to understand his own rules, or mad enough to believe that anyone else will believe that what he says is in any sense true.

That doesn’t mean he won’t get away with it, of course. There are those in his party who seem to believe that a majority of the seven members of the investigating committee who painstakingly and unanimously put together their interim report will be bowled over by his (alleged) charm, wit, intelligence, erudition and occasional classical allusion, and will agree that Boris Johnson couldn’t possibly be expected to know what the rules set out by Boris Johnson were. It doesn’t seem the likeliest outcome, and would be the death knell for any claim that the House of Commons has any standards at all when it comes to the truthfulness of ministers. It’s more likely that the majority – under increasing pressure from Johnson’s allies – will agree some minor slap across the wrist, which Johnson will take as seriously as he took the police fine which he received, whilst claiming it as a complete exoneration. However, attempting to browbeat and undermine the independence and integrity of the four Tory members of the Committee doesn’t look like the smartest move for someone who wants them to let him off, and going in with guns blazing – which is what he seems to be preparing to do – isn’t likely to help them find a way of reversing the conclusions of the interim report.

And then we have what in any rational world would be the likeliest outcome based on any examination of the facts – guilty as charged. With that guilt exacerbated by his own attempts at denial and continued refusal to accept the validity of the process, never mind any conclusions it reaches, any self-respecting parliamentary committee could only see his response as requiring a more severe penalty than might otherwise be the case, an outcome which neither he nor dozens – perhaps 100 – Tory MPs are likely to accept. And then what? Is he really prepared to blow up the Tory Party and the government in pursuit of his own selfish interests and insistence that he is right and every one else is wrong? All the past evidence says yes to that. Pass the popcorn.

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