In Gray Time

The period between the revelations about Johnson’s parties at No 10 and the report by Sue Gray is extending into an extraordinary time of morbid revelations and breakdown of the existing order.

Having listened to GMS this morning with a queue of Scottish Tories giving car-crash interviews about their relationship to our disastrous Prime Minister (more of a pile-up than a broadcast),  I was heartened that Boris Johnson might survive his current ordeal leaving Douglas Ross and his colleagues dangling. Stephen Kerr, the Chief Whip for the Scottish Tories in Holyrood appeared on the radio (from 2.07 here) to try and reconcile his absolute belief in the greatness of his leader and his absolute belief in him being unfit for office. Under questioning from Gary Robertson Mr Kerr struggled explaining first that:

“I felt sorry for him in the worst possible sense of those words.”

Confusingly he then stated:

“My conclusion is that on this instance the Prime Minister has been wholly truthful at the despatch box but by his own words .. he has to leave office.”

Up next came Conservative Andrew Poulson, joint leader of East Dumbartonshire Council who squealed: “It’s not a question of whether he’s an electoral asset!”

“He has had many successes!”

Then, stretching credulity he explained:

“I don’t think our electoral chances would be any better or any worse whether there was a different Prime Minister.”

This was reaching into Chemical Ali regions of self-delusion.

Man of Steel

Any joy at the Scottish Tories floundering in their own catastrophic misunderstanding and strategic incompetence was short-lived. Mr Kerr and Mr Poulson were dazed and confused by encountering ‘principle’ and the tricky task of navigating through their simultaneous adulation and condemnation of Boris Johnson while also explaining how Douglas Ross was a very respected and influential Man of Steel.

While watching the Scottish Conservatives festering in a pit of their own hypocrisy is fun – the prospects of Johnson surviving are now looking unlikely. Today’s revelations of blackmail and intimidation will have to tip the scale against the beleaguered Prime Minister.

None of this should come as any surprise after the (now infamous) 2013 interview with Eddie Mair in which Mair asked Mr Johnson whether he was in fact “a nasty piece of work“. Mair, who was standing in for Andrew Marr on the The Andrew Marr Show, grilled Mr Johnson about his dismissal from The Times, accusations that he lied to then-Tory Leader Michael Howard about an affair, and a phone call that revealed Mr Johnson telling a friend he would give him the private address of a reporter whom the friend had threatened to assault.

Today William Wragg, chair of the Commons Public Administration Committee, revealed Tory colleagues had been subject to intimidation by the party whips over their perceived opposition to the Prime Minister.

These are very serious allegations and suggest that the culture of partying is mirrored by a culture of smear and intimidation. Part of this is normalised in Westminster’s bizarre whipping culture but this now reveals a whole apparatus that is broken and unfit for purpose. The idea that threats to withdraw public funding from constituencies is a form of corruption.

Liar, Bullshitter and renowned Moral Incontinent

This is a further breakdown of British democracy. Britain is now in crisis on multiple fronts. It has an ongoing rolling constitutional crisis in Scotland and Ireland; it has a post-Brexit and post-pandemic economic crisis that is scarcely recognised and it has a political class that is haemorrhaging credibility from a very low starting position.

All of this is presided over by a comedy act.

The Tories hypocrisy is matched entirely by that of the media. As Aditya Chakrabortty has written:

“On the last Sunday before the 2019 general election, the Sunday Times cast its vote. “Mr Johnson is regarded with some suspicion by voters,” its editorial admitted. “He has an on-off relationship with the truth,” often preferred “bluster to grasp of detail”, and had a “colourful private life more typical of a French president”. Nonetheless, the paper urged its readers to put a liar, a bullshitter and a renowned moral incontinent in charge of the country. In making this argument, it was joined by the vast majority of national newspapers, and by the end of that week they got their wish. Over the past few days, those very same papers have discovered that a liar, a bullshitter and a moral incontinent runs the government. They are, naturally, horrified.”

Johnson’s moral character may not be a revelation to many but the whole edifice now seems close to collapse.

This shows both the status of British democracy and the fact that the 2019 vote was extraordinary and completely over-amplified Johnson’s political ‘powers’. New polling from Channel 4 shows the Tories would lose all but 3 of the 45 seats in the ‘Red Wall’ constituencies. Starmer isn’t going to win as much as stand back and watch the Tories collapse.

The 2019 victory was one based on a completely unelectable Labour leader and in the prism of England’s breakdown of self-identity over Brexit. These historic oddities have masked and boosted Johnson’s political capital which has now evaporated over night, but the crisis is far deeper and the malignancy far wider than the moral failings of one man.

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Comments (11)

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  1. Paddy Farrington says:

    “The crisis is far deeper and the malignancy far wider than the moral failings of one man.” Spot on, Mike. To which I would add that the latest disquisitions of Tony Blair on the matter of the UK’s decline (“neither should a country, especially one with such a proud history as ours, slip gently into a lower league without a strenuous effort at least to prevent it” he said in a speech he gave today) provide scant comfort, instead conjuring up dismal images of UK aircraft carriers heading for the South China Sea in a vain attempt to “punch above our weight”.

    The launch on Christmas day of the Webb space telescope, the successor to Hubble, was instructive in this respect. This was a collaboration between NASA, the European Space Agency, and the Canadian Space Agency. The central role in the launch was played by the French company Arianespace who sent the satellite on its way on board an Ariane 5 rocket, from the spaceport at Kourou in French Guiana. The video accompanying the launch (which was carried out in French) featured interviews with various officials, including one from the French governmental agency CNES. Arianespace also supports Soyuz (Russian) and Vega (majority Italian) launchers. The emphasis throughout was on international collaboration.

  2. Alice says:

    I feel like a peasant with huge warts on my nose being poked by a huge stick by the local Tory grandee. For goodness sake unionists get real. Folk fought for hundreds of years to stop the bed you were born in being your ultimate life fate. Supporting the unionist parties in Scotland just returns us to that fate….stop voting that way NOW.

  3. Squigglypen says:

    I did laugh at your assessment of the Tolies. You’ve cheered up my day.
    My one worry is that we lose BJ…He’s the greatest asset to the break up of this toxic union. I would think Nicola might be sobbing at the loss of this fine S ass enach…
    So I am in 2 minds..get shot of that f*****n’ clown and lose our best for independence or keep him and destroy the country…and STILL massacre the union…you see my dilemma..still thinking…
    now I’m worrying about Randy Andy who is in tears over losing his military crap….decisions decisions…
    now blackmail…it’s a red letter day folks!
    I know!..Lord Snooty..except he’s a bit lightweight..sigh…back to the drawing board…

  4. SleepingDog says:

    Gonna need a bigger fridge…

  5. Dougie Blackwood says:

    You headline tells the story. When will we see her report and will it prove to be the expected anodyne bucket of whitewash? There was no need for any enquiry as guilt was obvious. The time taken allows the propaganga and arm twisting to soften up those Tory MPs who have a say in the matter. All the Tory wish list is being fulfilled in daily announcements and the awkward squad are being dragooned into line.

    If the foot soldiers can be persuaded not to evict Boris the media will fall into line and the story will disappear without trace. Business as usual and on to the next glorious Tory triumph spurred on by the same right wing media propaganda.

  6. Elizabeth Lynch says:

    Bravo Mr Small! Will the next election show that the people have finally decided to vote out a government that has lied and shown that their moral compass is of the swings and roundabouts variety. Scotland has never voted in a Tory government. Please England vote them and send a clear message you have finally realized flag waving for the land of hope and glory over.

  7. David B says:

    It’s starting to look like the end days of New Labour, when even Labour backbenchers seemed to feel they’d been in power too long. One poll found 13% of the public believe Johnson’s version of events. If the Gray report is all “beyond my remit… etc.” then any residual confidence people may have had in the system will vanish. The sense of unreality is becoming overwhelming.

  8. Derek says:

    “…a completely unelectable Labour leader…”

    Largely made so by the media and their portrayal of him as the destroyer of worlds / remover of money / thief of lifestyle and so on. Wasn’t helped by his hopeless indecision (splendidly lampooned by Dead Ringers) – but his political standpoint is aroundabout that that brought forth the Welfare State. The papers were quite odd thenabouts; the Daily Heil simultaneously being “Save our NHS!” and “Stop Socialism!” is quite something.

    1. Yes absolutely Derek, I pointed this out at the time and was hugely sympathetic to Corbyn. The reality is that he was always going to get massacred by the right wing media and they needed a plan to cope with that. The reality is also he couldn’t string a sentence together and struggled to articulate a vision that would unite people beyond a small movement.

  9. Tom Ultuous says:

    When you consider the blatant corruption the Tories have been involved in and their incompetence at dealing with the pandemic, it shows how thick their supporters are that they only turned on Johnson over a few parties.

    Similar to Squigglypen, I’d rather Johnson was PM when the independence referendum came round..

    1. @ Tom Ultuous says:

      Indeed! Getting rid of the evil Tories is a major selling point for Independence. Their self-implosion would require a rejigging of the independentistas’ marketing strategy that they could probably do without.

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