17 February 2022
Save Our Boris
by J.R. Thomas
There’s a good rule in life; when you find almost everybody is of one mind, in complete accord, with practically no dissenters, go for a long walk and think it all through again. And if you come back from your trek, with doubts now perhaps dancing in your newly stimulated mind, to find that John Major has joined the lynching party, a drastic rethink may be needed.
Last week the former Prime Minister decided to release his dogs of war onto an increasingly downcast looking Boris Johnson, and his intervention had the effect that a seasoned observer might have well expected. How indeed could such pearls of wisdom not do so, well trailed to the press, delivered with wit and thoughtfulness? This is a man with form after all, the man who drove Britain’s interest rates to an all-time recent high in defence of the country’s membership of the ERM – and abandoned it the following day. A man who called his colleagues (excuse me Mr Editor, but needs must): “Bastards”. Who had, as a married man, a four year secret affair with one of his own ministers. Who, when invited to support his beleaguered leader, Margaret Thatcher, in trying to retain her leadership of the parliamentary party, found himself unable to take a telephone call due to “toothache”. Who lost the 1997 election to a record Labour majority. Who led a party mired in sleaze and chaos and [that’s enough, we get the idea. Ed]
But Mr Major, or Sir John as he now is and likes to be called, did indeed further aid the reversal of the tide for Boris, who within 48 hours was looking more secure in No 10 than he has since the beginning of the year. The Tory Party does not mind kicking a man when he is down, but they do somewhat object to a failed leader doing it, especially when his personal antipathy to Mr Johnson is well known, and when Mr Major’s record is one that most men would wish to keep hidden under a rhubarb forcer.
It all looked to be over for Boris three weeks ago, but since then things have picked up a little; Keir Starmer was photographed (beware the telephoto lens, all ye of naughty tendencies) through a window in company drinking beer (deduct ten points but add five points for it being beer and not prosecco); Christian Wakeford, little known Tory M.P. for Bury South with a majority of 402, defected to Labour with a vicious attack on his former party leader; Scottish Conservative leader Douglas Ross joined in, calling Boris “lightweight”, an odd choice of word from Mr Ross, followed closely by perpetual critic Ruth Davidson. But still, no viable alternative leader has yet emerged and suggestions that Jeremy Hunt might put himself forward for a rerun of the 2019 contest – doing what is known as a Heseltine in the trade – produced an immediate pro-Boris surge. By Tuesday this week the Johnson camp was breathing again and torrents of new Conservative policy leaks were flooding Whitehall. Yes indeed; it’s lower taxes coming soon, immediate relief for low band council tax payers, more infrastructure expenditure in the north (not in Bury South perhaps though), help with energy bills, bigger and better gunboats in the English Channel, the kicking of SAGE and those deficient experts, and, best news of all, an end to all those pesky coronavirus restrictions – party on, folks! The Tory thinking now seems to be to wait for any defenestration attempts until at least after the May local council elections. But, sooner, naturally, if further editions of less redacted versions of the Sue Gray report make alarming reading; or indeed if the Metropolitan Police, boldly led by Commissioner …. er ….(enter name of choice here), do start issuing fines to the party goers, including B. Johnson, or some other horror emerges; Boris filmed kicking Dilwyn the dog? Anyway, it was all Carrie’s fault, is the new line being vigorously pursued in Tory circles. And he was recovering from his own bout with Covid; and he has two tots running around distracting him. Anybody could make minor errors in such circumstances.
Boris is not out of it yet. Who cares about whether it was wine and cheese, who organised the gatherings, whether they were parties, birthday parties, or work time break-out sessions. If you draft and implement legislation, turn it on your fellow citizens, ban them from funerals, weddings, christenings, the bedsides of the old, celebrations of births, from comforting the sick and the lonely, lock people in their own homes, and undermine the economy of the whole country, you had better damn well abide by those rules yourself, in the spirit as in the legality.
That is the nub of the fury in the country; it was the politicians up to their old game of making one law for the herd and different rules for themselves. The question is, can there be forgiveness? Any such concept must begin with abject apologies, heartfelt promises never to do it again, with cries of mea culpa and not by pointing at others. There has to be a period of sackcloth and ashes, tricky when running the country, but there are ways of metaphorically walking into the wilderness. And there probably has to be a general amnesty for all who transgressed; all those students, dog walkers, friends enjoying secret cuppa’s, those who went to their sick relatives’ bedsides, the non mask wearers, those who drove too far, those who climbed together in quiet mountains or drank together in back bar-rooms. They would have to be forgiven, their records wiped, their fines repaid, and it admitted that they probably made no difference to the transmission of the disease.
Will that happen? Under the Boris we used to know, the torrent of ideas and the defending of liberty, it just might. It would be hugely controversial and there would be much shrieking. But a humble admission of previous mistakes might begin a healing. Will it happen? Almost certainly not.
In which case Boris will have to go unless Ms Gray’s report clears him completely; one £100 fine for party-going might be allowed. We would not expect a PM to quit for one speeding ticket, but we would want him out for anything more than that. So it must be for illegal party attending.
But there is another reason that forgiveness might be an appropriate course of action. We have become a bitter, angry, divided people; our discourse has become rude and intolerant. When a former Prime Minister, seemingly without humility or even insight, attacks his present party leader in unpleasant terms, the time has arrived that we must reflect on what we are becoming. We need to recapture virtue and good nature; a PM who abjectly apologised, asked for another chance, showed that he was reformed, become humble and caring, well, maybe that might set an example, especially if he put a short time limit on his continuing in office, to move aside for a new a leader in the autumn. It would at the very least give time for a new leader to emerge, tried and tested. Will it happen? Stranger things have.