By their friends shall you know them ...
The Johnson Papers, Part IV
I will terminate the ‘Johnson Papers’ with reference to articles in The Times, Telegraph and Guardian. The latter, of 12 April 2019, reported that the Daily Telegraph had been forced to ‘Correct false B***** claim by Boris Johnson’.
In an article in January of this year, he had said that the majority of the British Public were in favour of a no-deal exit from the EU. The Telegraph said: “In fact, no poll clearly showed that a no-deal B***** was more popular than other options. This correction is being published following a complaint upheld by the Independent Press Standards Organisation.” However, it added, “Johnson was entitled to make sweeping generalisations based on his opinions”.
It also said: “[the piece was] clearly comically polemical, and could not be reasonably read as a serious, empirical, in-depth analysis of hard factual matters”.
Well, I’m certainly glad they cleared that up.
I do wonder though, whether the editor of the Daily Telegraph is starting to question whether the reported £275,000 per year that he pays Johnson for his weekly article is well spent, if his articles are not ‘serious, empirical, in-depth analysis of hard factual matters’.
Readers of that newspaper, Caveat Emptor! As Johnson might well have said himself …
Everyone should read Matthew Parris’ article on page 23 of The Times of last Saturday, May 25; “Johnson is enough of a rascal to rat on B*****”
He calls Johnson an ‘Incompetent scoundrel’; Johnson has a ‘casual disregard for the truth’ and ‘reckless caprice’, also ‘lazy disregard for detail’, to which is added ‘poor negotiating skills’, ‘moral turpitude’ and ‘his failure as foreign secretary to achieve anything but an extension of his notoriety beyond our own shores.’
Not a fan then.
Actually, having seen the results of the European Elections, does it really matter who leads the Tories? It seems unlikely that they will remain in power for much longer, and I can’t see Johnson having the patience for being in opposition …
The Johnson Papers, Part III
The most egregious lie told during the run up to the European referendum, was the message plastered across the battle bus of the Vote Leave Campaign: ‘We send £350M per week to the EU; let’s fund our NHS instead’. It was pointed out endlessly to the leavers during the weeks before the referendum, that since Thatcher’s success in getting an EU rebate, the amount sent to Europe each week, our ‘club membership fee’, was actually £250M. Knowing the parlous state of NHS finances, how many older voters, I wonder, were swung by the £350M argument?
Furthermore, there would be a ‘divorce bill’ that would have to be paid; this was, ‘accidentally’, never mentioned by Vote Leave. The latest estimate for this bill is £39 billion, three years’ worth of our contributions.
Boris Johnson and his friends never dared to mention this to the country, although they must have known that the UK would have substantial financial liabilities, and that they would have to be honoured if the country wanted to retain its credit rating in world finance. I seem to recall Boris himself, when asked point-blank to justify the £350M which was really £250M, waffling in a good-natured way, saying something like ‘the principle was sound if the detail was wanting.’ I paraphrase; I can’t be sure it was him.
The leave group were entirely justified in campaigning to leave the EU for the deeply held reasons they had – although I wonder how deeply held Boris’s were, since he famously took a weekend to make up his mind which way to go, and, it is alleged, wrote two articles for publication in the Daily Telegraph – one in favour of staying, one for leaving. What ‘Leave’ were not entitled to do, was lie to the British Public. That was unforgiveable. Boris was the highest profile Leaver, very eloquent, entertaining and credible when speaking on the subject, and, I suspect, might even have made the difference in persuading many waverers to vote leave.
This is the man who aspires to be our Prime Minister. An opportunist who appears never to shrink from mendacity when it suits his purpose, and, one suspects, his purpose is the greater glory of none other than Boris Johnson.
The Johnson Papers, Part II
On 14 November, 2004, Andrew Porter and Nicholas Hellen wrote an article in the Sunday Times. The subject was Boris Johnson, who had been sacked by Michael Howard from his position on the opposition front bench for lying about an extra-marital affair. When questioned about accounts of his activities in the tabloid press, Johnson described them as ‘an inverted pyramid of piffle’.
Johnson is not the first, and will not be the last politician to come unstuck as a result of sexual peccadillos. Lord Palmerston, Prime Minister for six years in the middle of the prudish 19th century, was known as ‘Lord Cupid’ because of his amorous adventures; Sir John Major, who followed Margaret Thatcher into No 10, famously enjoyed romps with Edwina Currie (immortalized in a wonderful cartoon by Gerald Scarfe). I would add that adultery is a sufficiently common and damaging temptation, that even Moses, more than 3,000 years ago, found it necessary to devote one of his commandments to an edict forbidding it.
The issue was that Johnson lied about it to his boss. Michael Howard, was potentially the Prime Minister of this country, and Johnson would have been a minister in his government.
It is said that John Profumo’s greatest sin, which made his resignation and disgrace inevitable, was not so much having sex with Christine Keeler who was also sleeping with a Russian diplomat, but lying about it to Parliament. Our entire justice system would collapse if it could not be assured that the majority of people would tell the truth in court, when called to do so.
Boris may be an amusing person, a clever scholar and lively and interesting writer, but how, given his track record, can he possibly be trusted to run the country?
The Johnson Papers, part I
On Friday May 20, 1988, The Times printed a story by a young journalist, Boris Johnson. It concerned an archaeological dig that had discovered Edward II’s ‘Rosary Palace’ on the south bank of the River Thames, opposite the Tower of London.
Now the one thing most people think they know about Edward II, if they know anything at all, is that he was supposed to have been murdered in an extremely unpleasant way, thought by his murderers appropriate because of his alleged homosexuality. Boris was only 23 years old when he wrote the piece about Edward’s palace, but he had an eye for spicing up an otherwise dull story.
It is alleged that he fabricated a quotation from Dr Colin Lewis, of Balliol College, Oxford, to the effect that the palace was where the king: ‘… enjoyed a reign of dissolution with his catamite, Piers Gaveston, before he was gruesomely murdered at Berkeley Castle by barons who thought he was too prone to foreign influence’ [A catamite is ‘A boy or young man who is made use of as a (typically passive) sexual partner by an older man; Oxford English Dictionary].
Balliol was Johnson’s alma mater, and Lewis was his godfather to boot, so he probably thought he was on safe ground. Apparently Lewis was not amused, and when the editor of The Times found out, Johnson was fired.
Did Johnson do very wrong or was it just a youthful indiscretion? After all, Edward II was accused of inappropriate behaviour with Piers Gaveston, and he may have been murdered. It was a good story, so what better stamp of authority than a quotation from an Oxford Don? The problem is, that just like the myths surrounding Richard III, historians now believe the truth about Edward II to far from clear. The Thunderer was (and probably still would like to be thought) a purveyor of the truth.
Ultimately, it is a question of trust and judgement. Boris could easily have used the story about the king and Gaveston without attributing it to Dr Lewis; he could have found the details in half a dozen history books. But he couldn’t resist the Oxbridge connection, nor the opportunity of articulating an obscure and salacious word (how many people, I wonder, had to look up catamite in the dictionary – as I did).
But is it possible to trust such a person with the great affairs of state? It is one thing to be careless about the facts concerning a 14th century monarch, quite another to have confidence in that same person to steer this country through the biggest crisis facing it since the Second World War.
Boris was inventing fake news back in 1988, and when you’ve done it once …
A plague on both your houses …
It is quite difficult to know what to say about what is going on in the country. The civil war in the Tory party has succeeded in paralysing Parliament, and Her Majesty’s Loyal Opposition refuse to provide any assistance, while maintaining a policy of ‘constructive ambiguity’. A party with no members and doubtful financing, are favourites to win the elections for the European Parliament, which they are contesting with the sole intention of disrupting those proceedings. And the rest of the world looks on in bemused horror, thinking that the citizens of the United Kingdom are suffering from some national pathological madness.
I’m not sure which of them I hold in the deepest contempt: the Tories, who through their selfish stupidity got us into this mess, or Labour, who cynically do nothing, hoping for a general election, when with the state of the Tories’ popularity in the country, they are quite likely to win the largest number of seats.
Ironically, and although I utterly detest his policies, the one person who has at least been open and consistent – he does what it says on the tin – is Farage. He is excellent on the hustings, and mostly consistent in his policies. But he, just like many Conservative politicians, resorts to accusing the BBC of bias when he is asked the difficult questions – see his performance with Andrew Marr a few days ago. His xenophobia really worries me; I cannot even bring myself to say who he reminds me of …
Now, as if it could not get any worse, and even though a child of nine could see that having a new leader of the Conservative Party – and by default, Prime Minister – will make no difference to the current impasse in Parliament, that is precisely what the Tories propose to do! And as if that were not sufficient, the odds-on favourite is … Boris!
I have said before, and I’ll repeat it; our enemies must be rubbing their hands with glee. Our friends, if we have any left, must be in utter despair.
Welcome to the Mirli Books blog written by Peter Maggs