EEven when caught in the act, Boris Johnson can’t help but lie. It’s pathological. Inconsiderate, even. The closer he gets to the end of his political career, the more extravagant the lie becomes. There’s not even the dubious glamor of burning like a latter-day Don Giovanni. At least the Don acknowledged his own flaws and embraced his immorality. The convict shows no signs of being able to handle the basics of distinguishing between good and evil. His narcissism and his rights are total. He lives in a bubble, thanks to the nodding donkeys around him.
It wasn’t until Wednesday night that Johnson had ordered the Treasurer General, Michael Ellis – a man who lives for public humiliation, “kick, please, harder, harder!”, to defend the indefensible in the Commons – to propose an amendment to thwart and delay Labour’s motion that there should be an inquiry into allegations that the Prime Minister misled Parliament.
Ellis duly did as he was asked and Tory MPs were told there was a three-line whip for them to support the amendment. And Education Secretary Nadhim Zahawi was sent to the media to make a fool of himself. Something he usually handles on his own without anyone else’s help.
Then the whips started to do the math and realized that although the doomed had a working majority of 75, they didn’t have the numbers to guarantee the amendment passed. When the chips are down, there are fewer and fewer conservatives willing to stake their careers on Johnson’s probity. Most aren’t dumb enough to be seen to actively block any investigation. They can see the writing on the wall. And it’s got Johnson’s name on it.
So after Charles Walker, one of the softer Tory MPs, used Thursday’s trade statement to call on the government to rethink – he also quite misleadingly described Johnson as “an honest and decent man”, even Boris’ friends wouldn’t go that far. – the Commons Leader later announced that the amendment would be dropped and the Tories would have a free vote on the opposition motion.
At the time, the convict, who was on holiday in India lecturing Gandhi on the virtues of telling the truth, told the hacks who were with him that he never wanted the amendment, that never had anything to do with it. and that he welcomed the investigation which he tried to delay. Breathtaking, even by his standards.
All of this dampened some of the heat of the ensuing debate. Even so, it was a damning and degrading few hours for what remains of Johnson’s reputation. During Prime Minister’s Questions on Wednesday, we saw Keir Starmer fueled by hatred and contempt for a man determined to bring the country back to where it was. Now we have a more statesmanlike, measured Starmer. A man demanding to be heard in silence by both sides of the house. You get the feeling that even the Conservatives might be starting to see him as the next prime minister.
After apologizing for believing what the Prime Minister’s spokesman told the Daily Telegraph about the BBC, Starmer tried to use the occasion to rise above partisan politics. What was at stake was more important than that. Labor does not have a monopoly on the truth, but it is everyone’s responsibility to uphold the principles of parliamentary democracy. If lying has become the norm, it demeans us all.
And the Labor leader had no doubt that the convict had lied; he had lied to the dispatch box about the Downing Street parties, relying on the good faith of opposition MPs not to call him a liar to get off. So it was now up to Parliament to correct what the Conservative Party refused to do.
All of the opposition MPs gave speeches that were variations on the same theme. SNP leader Ian Blackford took advantage of the speaker’s temporary dispensation on unparliamentary language to repeatedly call the convict a liar and to point out that the Tories knew his character when they made him their leader. Although when Blackford mentioned Johnson lied to the Queen about prorogation, it was too much for Lindsay Hoyle. The Queen may never get over the idea that the UK had a crooked prime minister.
Labour’s Chris Bryant also spoke forcefully about democratic values, though he was rather too quick to give Johnson credit for at least partially admitting his wrongdoing. Only that morning had Boris insisted that he had not even unknowingly misled Parliament.
The real interest of the debate centered on the few Tory MPs who had bothered to show up. Most had wisely stayed away. Some, like Bob Neill, contented themselves with vocalizing their deep dissatisfaction but preferred to let others deal the coup de grace to the post of Prime Minister of the Convict. Baby-faced assassin William Wragg was once such a curator. He reiterated his lack of support for the Prime Minister and said no Tory MPs could benefit from his work at the moment.
Steve Baker began by quoting the Romans of the Bible, before moving on to the Old Testament. He had been willing to believe Boris had repented until he heard his lack of contrition at the 1922 committee meeting on Tuesday. So it was time for him to leave. Vengeance will be his.
Of the backbenchers, only Danny Kruger offered wholehearted support. He knew Boris hadn’t lied because he delivered Brexit. Which qualified him as the idiot of the day. Dim Danny has yet to learn that Johnson lied through his teeth to get Brexit done. And still does.
It was left to Unctuous Ellis to close the debate for the government. And he wasted no time in debasing himself completely. A man must take his pleasures where he finds them. The fact that he was left behind by the government’s reversal only made it more exciting for him. The prime minister had only ever tabled the amendment so he could withdraw it almost immediately, he purred. The condemned man apologized profusely. And he couldn’t comment on what other excuses Johnson might be forced to make. It was above his salary. But why couldn’t everyone just acknowledge that Johnson was a Latter-day Saint. More sin against than sinner.
In the end, Ellis was just a slick of oil on the Commons carpet and the vote passed. Another nail in Johnson’s coffin. And a sign that even Tory MPs have standards of decency in public life.