My favourite quotation from ‘Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy’ by John Le Carré is this:
George Smiley: Ever bought a fake picture, Toby?
Toby Esterhase: I sold a couple once.
George Smiley: The more you pay for it, the less inclined you are to doubt its authenticity.
Now, ladies and gentlemen, spoiler alert, if you haven’t read the book, I may reveal more than you might wish to know. That is, were you to read the book and, damn it all, you should have read it. But if you haven’t read it, it is the greatest spy thriller ever written. Really!
Let me explain the quotation – the fake picture is a metaphor for the intelligence provided by a British traitor, or mole working for Russia at the top of the British intelligence service. The intelligence was brilliant, and was devised so as to be exactly what the British wanted. Some of it was true though much was invented; the aim was to persuade the Brits that they had a fantastic source at the heart of Russian intelligence, whereas what actually was happening was that the Russians had a fantastic source at the heart of British intelligence who was stealing ‘the Crown Jewels’.
The mole was able to hang in there because of the quality of his intelligence, and the gullibility of those he targeted. Many involved with its gathering made their careers out of it and many rose to the top unaware that they were doing the Russians’ bidding. Others might have had reservations, but what the hell, and soon nobody was allowed to have any doubts about the intelligence bought from the Russians. Of course cash changed hands! Swiss francs and lots of them. Anyone who suggested that maybe, just maybe, the intelligence was too good to be true, was dismissed as a doubter and a pessimist.
The Brexit analogy
This is exactly the way that Brexiters dismiss anyone who questions the fake intelligence which they have been peddling.
According to ‘Lord’ Frost those of us who disagree with him are ‘declinists’. You know I can see Lord Frost in ‘Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy’ – he would not have been the mole. The Russians would never have chosen a second-rater like Frost to be their man at the top of British intelligence, but they would have made damn sure he got the intelligence that would have advanced his career. It was in their interest to help ambitious second-raters, like Frost and Johnson to get on!
So the fake picture is the perfect metaphor for Brexit, and the Brexiters have paid dearly for their Brexit. They have ploughed all their personal capital into the project and are loathe to admit they have invested unwisely – who wants to admit they’ve been duped? You just suggest that and you’ll get people like Matt Goodwin accusing you of dissing the burghers of Olde Englande. Not just Matt! The right wing press and some senior Labour figures who are terrified of … the right wing press. Don’t forget, the Daily Mail has hired Johnson just days after an all-party committee revealed him to be an inveterate liar and cad, And why? Because Mail readers, like Trump supporters, like a liar and a cad.
Challenging the fake picture
But the resistance must start. Johnson is the fraudster who, aided and abetted by the press and a supine BBC, has been allowed to sell the country several fake pictures. Why? Because he’s jolly, he’s fun, a bit of a lad isn’t he. Yes I know he likes the ladies but since when has that been a crime? He’s an English eccentric, wears funny clothes on holiday like a business shirt and Bermuda shorts. Hah, hah! And he’s clever, really clever, went to Eton and Oxford, knows lots of Greek and Latin and I’ve heard he speaks fluent French but he’s still the sort of chap you could go down the Fox and Hounds with (but only if you paid for the drinks).
I get into meaningless spats about Brexit on Twitter. I know I shouldn’t. It gets me nowhere, but I have one rule. If they insult me – one called me a ponce last week – I block them. You should hear their excuses!
To quote a diatribe from one leaver:
‘Yes, Turkey could still have joined and we couldn’t stop it. During the ref campaign, Turkey was offered an accelerated accession process. It was therefore reasonable to say it was joining the EU, it hasn’t happened yet, but you wait. We can make our own laws. OK, if there aren’t any great benefits yet it isn’t as bad as project fear said. FoM – that was just for posh people and it pushed down wages. I never had to wait at Malaga airport! What has really changed? It was the French slowing things down at Dover – they have us and we are open to the world now. Germany is in recession; Europe is in decline. Brexit’s already succeeded & lots of people have had pay rises as a result. With more free trade around the world, consumers will be better off. Remainers spent literally decades lying about the EU. Boris’s “lies” are insignificant compared to them. Oh Christ, Johnson lied about parties. Hang him now! Politicians have been lying for decades, ministers and prime ministers included. If this small country, with its 70m+ population doesn’t have enough workers, importing yet more low and unskilled labour isn’t going to help. Leave won because it had plenty of facts. Remain didn’t – hence the scaremongering. “Serious economists” were wrong.’
And this is what I mean by a fake picture – a set of beguiling and simplistic beliefs that was sold to gullible people by cynical calculating charlatans like Johnson. In 2016, and indeed ever since then he has been the Pied Piper in chief but he has been revealed now to be a compulsive liar. Back in 2022 his own party realised he was a liability: he’d helped them lie their way to power – which is all they cared about – but his abusive behaviour had become too brazen, too obvious to the public, and there was an investigation into his lying about Covid breaches in Downing Street plus he had made a fool of himself over Paterson and Pincher. He had to go.
But they only dumped him when he was no use to them, and they and their chums in the friendly media had supported him and enabled him whilst he was an asset. He might be a bastard, but he was their bastard, and it suited them to pretend that he was a cuddly eccentric with a vision to level up the country and deliver a jolly Brexit. For years – indeed until very recently – the right wing press had been adulatory in its support for him and the Mail, Express and Telegraph are still rooting for him, and they’ll tell you, it isn’t his own party that has ditched him. No, it’s a Remainer plot to reverse Brexit. The blob and the elite have toppled him. “Biggest stitch up since the Bayeux Tapestry”. I think that is one of Johnson’s ‘jokes’.
These claims are as ridiculous as those of the Brexiter whom I quote above, but Johnson is lapping it up and wallowing in his misfortune. However, his party seems to have walked away from him, apart from a few appalling MPs like Simon Clarke – a special place in hell awaits him. Rishi is distancing himself – of course he was one of Johnson’s chief enablers, made Chancellor when his predecessor was bullied out by Cummings. Yeah, remember when Cummings and Johnson were a team. Boris Johnson, aided and abetted by his acolytes, has sold the country a multitude of fake pictures.
Johnson is a fundamentally unserious unprincipled man who has deceived a substantial number of people into having a totally unrealistic view of the country, its past and its future. He has persuaded them that we are big enough to go it alone – to take back control and throw off the shackles of the EU and there would be no downsides. We’d still be able to live and work in the EU; there would be no non-tariff barriers to trade. These are claims he really has made but he knew they were false, and too many people let him lie – both in his party but more significantly in the media. As far as the BBC was concerned, government politicians could make whatever claim they wanted. Best not annoy them or they might not talk to us. Parliament was incapable of calling out lies and MPs who called Johnson out were suspended.
But we now have to keep saying it. Johnson has been lying all along. He was lying when he wrote about bendy bananas for the Telegraph. He was lying when he backed Brexit. He knew it was the wrong decision. He was lying when he told us Brexit would make us better off. He was lying throughout the pandemic – he wanted to let the virus let rip – and then he never said that. He told us Brexit allowed our vaccine roll-out, which was a lie and anyway, it was never quite the world beating achievement he said it was, and then things got out of hand in 10 Downing Street and he was never one to spoil the fun so when news of the revelling got out what was he to do? Well, lie.
Like he was back at Eton. Where’s your prep? I’ve forgotten it. OK, back to house, fetch it? I am not sure where I put it. Eton enabled him. Allowed him to charm his way to success. Then the British media furthered his ambitions and tolerated his absurdity. London enabled him and then the Tories let him lead them in order to win, but he had no plans – he was always the (big) dog that caught up with the motorbike and he has caused enormous damage.
His whole life he has sold fake pictures and of course it’s difficult for his stooges to accept they’ve been sold a ‘Sexton Blake’ (Cockney rhyming slang for ‘fake’). Our challenge now is to help them come to terms with their loss. Appeasing them and letting them pretend otherwise isn’t an option.