The Monkey on Our Back
About eight months ago, The Guardian published an article by the playwright James Graham in which he gave us a handy short list of Boris Johnson’s misdemeanours – to which I have added a few from my own observations. We should keep these in mind if we are to remember just why we need a dramatically different style of government.
So, we know that Johnson has:
- tried to dissolve parliament illegally.
- purged his party of MPs who didn’t agree with him.
- passed legislation that made it harder for people to vote.
- misled the commons, broke promises, told barefaced lies.
- mis-used his time as PM to write a book for his own profit.
We also know he:
- passed legislation that made it harder for people to protest.
- tried to change the law to protect a lobbyist colleague.
- said that investigating historic child abuse is a waste of money.
- has shown bigotry, misogyny and sneering contempt with remarks attacking homosexuality, Muslim women, single mothers, the “Black Lives Matter” community; and
- has advocated male dominance in a marriage.
There are a few who would say all of that is ok, like Jacob Rees-Mogg or Peter Bone’s Wellingborough constituency party – but more of that later. For the rest of us, it’s a litany of lying, stealing and bullying and it’s all in the public domain. The overall picture shows Johnson’s immaturity, self-centred recklessness, insensitivity and disdain for the vulnerable.
Johnson’s answer is to say: “I defend my right to speak out”. Fine – as long as it doesn’t hurt anybody and it’s not a lie. Johnson hurts people and destroys trust, almost every time he opens his mendacious mouth.
But without the elitist, entitlement-driven, hierarchical ideology of the Conservative party, Johnson would never have been a Conservative MP, never mind Prime Minister. Given his apparent inability to express himself in anything but advertising slogans and a lot of um-ing and er-ing, he would have remained fairly anonymous, an egocentric ‘little boy in long trousers’.
But there is a Conservative party and it allowed someone like Boris Johnson to thrive. His lying certainly thrived. The scale of his mendacity is unprecedented.
The Conservative Circus and ‘The Dirty War on the NHS’
I suppose the idea that “government should work for everybody” finally got thrown onto the political scrap heap in the 1970s, when the extreme right of the Conservative party (namely John Redwood, Oliver Letwin and Nicholas Ridley) decided to sell off our public services, particularly the Health Service, and make off with the proceeds. This story is jam-packed with deceit, meanness, theft and lying on an industrial scale.
Those Three Musketeers (Redwood, Letwin and Ridley) along with Margaret Thatcher as Milady de Winter, knew that this would enrage the public, so they agreed to keep a lid on the whole idea. This process is minutely documented in John Pilger’s excoriating TV programme ‘The Dirty War on the NHS’.
A barefaced example of their devious undemocratic behaviour occurs at roughly the 20 minute mark where Nicholas Ridley is advising:
“… a policy of preparation for the return [of the NHS] to the private sector by stealth.
… we should start now to recruit chairmen who will be sympathetic to our objectives.
… we should first pass legislation to destroy the public monopolies. We might also need to take power to sell the assets”.
All this with the blessing of the same Margaret Thatcher who, in 1979 aged 54, stood outside 10 Downing Street and gave us this neat piece of “cornball”
“Where there is discord, may we bring harmony;
Where there is error, may we bring truth
Where there is doubt, may we bring faith
And where there is despair, may we bring hope”.
So, did these covert nationalisation plans appear in the 1979 Conservative manifesto for the election that returned Tories to power? Well, no, not exactly. The manifesto said:
“… we want to see those industries that remain nationalised, running more successfully and we will therefore interfere less with their management”.
The phrase “Industries that remain nationalised” actually turned out to be a skilfully disguised privatisation process making sure these organisations like the NHS didn’t remain nationalised.
This did not stop David Cameron claiming in 2015 that:
“My Love for the NHS, my respect for the NHS, runs through every sinew of my body. The NHS is safe in my hands”
Mind you, in 2011, Mark Britnall, Cameron’s advisor, had sneeringly proclaimed:
“The NHS will be shown no mercy”.
So who do we believe?
And “running more successfully” actually meant a gradual underfunding that brought the NHS to its knees, resulting in long waiting lists and not enough doctors and nurses.
As for “Interfere less with their management ”, this meant underfunding the NHS to force it to take out £11bn worth of loans tied to punishing repayment plans (80bn over 40 years). These were ring-fenced so that the NHS had even less money for patient treatment. Add to this the management consultancy fees (around £640m, every year, according to the Bristol University 2018 research), and you have an obscene amount of public money, literally the “life blood” of the nation, haemorrhaging away from the veins of NHS patient care.
From the 1970’s onwards, we have a constant stream of privatisation – of public assets like Health, Education, Transport, Water and Energy with no compensation to the public, all under Conservative stewardship. And I include Blair, a closet Tory of the “Money isn’t everything – it’s the only thing” school of conservatism.
The “Monkey” … again
Rather like the old music hall acts, Johnson is an entertainer who uses a kind of bumbling stand-up patter as a way of distracting public attention away from their daily trials and tribulations that he and his government are responsible for. Nero, the allegedly fiddle-playing Roman emperor, used the same trick.
Boris relied heavily on verbal fireworks and a steady stream of lies and for the most part the Tory party cheered him on. When the Daily Telegraph sacked him for lying were they swimming against the tide. The Tory excuses like “He’s not perfect”, as in “none of us are”, completely miss the point.
The Circus … again
Governing a country requires fairness, honesty and having the wellbeing of others at heart. The Tories aren’t, and never have been, fair or honest because those qualities are not part of their ideology. Instead they believe in inequality, privilege, entitlement, hierarchy, control, elitism and deference. They also believe in preserving the Conservative Party at all costs.
Lying is part of the Tory way of life – Matt Hancock about PPE delivery, Jeremy Hunt about doctors’ pay rise, Rishi Sunak’s promises about inflation levels he knew he couldn’t keep and of course Boris Johnson lying just about everything..
But the rotten cherry on the top of the mildewed Conservative cake was Peter Bone’s Wellingborough constituency party newsletter sent out in December 2020 where they revealed all their meanness and dishonesty. It contains the following –
There are lessons that we can learn from Trump. A lie can go round the world before the truth can get its boots on. Campaigners should view fake news as a technique that “crowds out genuine news” and allows “honest politicians” to be “pushed off the front pages”. You say the first thing that comes into your head. It’ll probably be nonsense, but it knocks your opponent out of his stride and takes away his headline.
Kier Starmer did challenge Johnson about this, but Johnson just shrugged it off as if it didn’t matter, basically saying “Lying is ok”. But lying on this scale is the refuge of the weak. It is an instrument of control. When hidden agendas are all about hurting the vulnerable, lying is all you have left. If the best you come up with is a lie, then its time to emigrate. I hear Moscow or Riyadh would be sympathetic.
The Circus Audience
It’s time to look at ourselves We vote these miscreants into power time after time – and time after time they let us down and betray us. Come a general election, we are dazzled by the promises, glib slogans, soundbites, the showmanship, the fake sincerity, and the “come and join our club” tribalism. We keep believing whatever they tell us, hoping and praying that this time it will be different.
Don’t expect any change from the Tories. To paraphrase Schopenhauer “Honesty and integrity are invisible to those who have none”. The Tories are chained to their elitist and hierarchical beliefs of privilege, entitlement, inequality and deference, and have been for centuries. They are the direct inheritors of a land-owning aristocracy and their belief in their sole right to rule, mostly for their own benefit, remains unshaken. They have created great wealth for themselves, and great poverty for millions in the UK. They believe in inequality and hierarchy as the natural order of things.
In the meanwhile they praise the virtues of honesty and integrity, proving that they practice the complete opposite of both ideals. They definitely don’t “Walk the Talk”. They just do as they like.
Time to Say “Goodbye” to the Circus?
As to how to deal with inveterate liars, George Carlin, the American humourist has some long term advice for us:-
“Don’t just teach your children to read. Teach them to question what they read. In fact, teach them to question everything.”
That’s advice we should all take. Question everything. When faced with people who lie without thinking or regret, there is no other option but to ask awkward questions and probe for the things they aren’t telling us – and do it again, and again, and again … until we feel we are talking to someone we can trust.
If we don’t challenge everything they say and do, we deserve everything we get. So, now that Boris, our entertaining “monkey” has gone, have all the lies and dissembling ceased? – can we relax? Not a chance.
George Carlin nailed it in one . . . . .
“Just because you’ve got the monkey off your back, it doesn’t mean the circus has left town.”
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