I maintain no candle for Boris Johnson. The previous Tory PM deserves his place in historical past for getting Brexit over the road and defending the individuals’s democratic rights within the course of. The way in which during which he has been dispatched from public life has additionally been outrageously anti-democratic – the product of a years-long marketing campaign to oust him through countless scandal-mongering and media outrage. However Johnson was all the time insubstantial, a phoney populist whose lack of political substance and seriousness undoubtedly contributed to his personal explosive demise.
Even so, the one-note commentary in latest days – following his shock resignation from parliament on Friday, leaping earlier than he was pushed by the Commons Privileges Committee – is sufficient to flip me right into a Boris booster. ‘Boris Johnson scuttles away from his flagrant crimes’, thundered Andrew Rawnsley in yesterday’s Observer. The information media’s favorite struggle propagandist, Alastair Campbell, accused Johnson of ‘scarring our democratic world’ – which was cheeky, coming from the person who campaigned to overturn the most important democratic vote in British political historical past.
These takes had been positively tame by the requirements of the previous seven or so years, as Johnson – as soon as handled as a loveable buffoon by the media – got here to be portrayed, post-Brexit, as primarily a crypto-Nazi. The New Statesman’s Paul Mason as soon as accused him of ‘inciting far-right mobs’. LBC’s James O’Brien mentioned Johnson had moved Britain in a ‘fascistic course’, even referencing Martin Niemöller’s ‘First They Got here’ as he fumed in one among his mad monologues.
This deranged, ahistorical blather about Johnson the strongman, born of post-Brexit elite hysteria, later met its match within the sanctimonious, ginned-up scandal that lastly introduced him down. Specifically, Partygate – the scandal that by no means dies. First it launched a media firestorm in late 2021, then a police investigation, then the sainted Sue Grey’s report, and extra lately the Privileges Committee investigation into whether or not or not Johnson ‘recklessly’ misled parliament concerning the events.
The revelation that Johnson had damaged his personal Covid guidelines, presiding over varied dos in Downing Road throughout lockdown, was undoubtedly damning. Not least as a result of police had harassed members of the general public for a lot much less in the course of the pandemic. However it wasn’t precisely the Profumo Affair, was it? In the long run, it boiled right down to Johnson being fined over an impromptu birthday cake. Of all of the issues that may have introduced down the notoriously libidinous Johnson, it’s quaint.
That in fact didn’t cease Pippa Crerar, Paul Model and the remainder of our Covid-marshal media from fulminating about it for months on finish, poring over grainy snaps of naff-looking, M&S-buffet get-togethers as in the event that they had been frames of CCTV footage from a grisly terrorist assault. Slowly however certainly, Partygate was constructed because the scandal of the century. Each twist and switch was ‘unprecedented’; Johnson’s eventual £50 superb was talked up as if he’d simply been collared in a serious medicine bust.
Now, let’s distinction this with the chatter round one other former premier, Scotland’s Nicola Sturgeon, who can be again within the information. The place a post-Brexit Johnson has change into probably the most maligned British political determine of our period, Sturgeon was till very lately among the many most revered – significantly in England, the place journalists caught solely her vibes and none of her failures.
Sturgeon is now embroiled in a scandal that, if there’s any reality in it in any respect, would make Partygate look much more risible in contrast. She was arrested yesterday, as a part of Police Scotland’s investigation into what occurred to greater than £666,000 of SNP supporters’ money. She was questioned after which launched with out cost. This follows the arrest and launch in April of her husband, Peter Murrell, and the SNP’s long-time treasurer, Colin Beattie.
The shock-and-horror media commentary has been conspicuous by its absence in Sturgeon’s case – largely, I’m positive, due to Scotland’s insanely draconian contempt-of-court legal guidelines, which make even discussing the investigation a dangerous enterprise. Sturgeon, for her half, insists she is harmless. Nonetheless, this severe scandal that may’t be talked about quite places Partygate, a minor scandal endlessly talked about, into perspective.
As Sturgeon and Johnson compete for column inches right this moment, I can’t assist however really feel that a number of the political epithets hurled at Johnson over time would higher match Sturgeon. No, I’m not going to name her a fascist. The debasement of that time period through wilful, malicious overuse has gone far sufficient as it’s. However relating to authoritarianism and anti-democracy, Sturgeon is well the extra questionable determine, happening her report.
In spite of everything, Sturgeon tried to cancel Brexit, as one of many leaders of the so-called Individuals’s Vote marketing campaign. Regardless of ruling over just one a part of the UK, she imperiously demanded that every one these idiots in Brexit-backing England and Wales suppose and vote once more. Then there’s her assault on free speech: her authorities turned even dinner-table dialog right into a probably legal matter with its outrageous Hate Crime Act. And let’s not neglect her gender invoice, which got down to rip up ladies’s rights within the title of gender ideology – and introduced her management crashing down as a consequence.
Johnson was hardly a saint when it got here to civil liberties. His authorities’s crackdown on protest and try to rein in on-line speech confirmed that, for all his maverick tendencies, he was glad to go together with the type of intolerant liberalism, first pioneered by Tony Blair, that’s now ingrained in our political class. However relating to problems with freedom and democracy, it’s no contest: Sturgeon virtually exudes the ‘kindly’ authoritarianism that almost all menaces liberty right this moment.
The distinction is hanging. Boris Johnson is damned as some sinister tyrant as a result of he supported Brexit, thought the large vote for it ought to be revered, and made just a few impolite gestures in direction of the civil service. In the meantime, Sturgeon is (or no less than was) lauded for campaigning in opposition to democratic votes, inviting the thoughtpolice into Scots’ houses, and preventing for the proper of male rapists to be housed in ladies’s prisons.
The one rating on which Johnson genuinely broke new floor in illiberalism was with lockdown, however in fact most of his critics agreed with that anyway, and solely blasted him for not robbing us of our most elementary freedoms sooner. In the meantime, Sturgeon, drunk on lockdown moralism, delighted in being that bit extra tyrannical than the supposedly feckless English, and was showered with reward for doing so.
Because of this, for all of Boris Johnson’s myriad flaws and failures, I can’t assist however scoff in any respect this hysterical, Boris-bashing commentary. The borderline hero worship of Sturgeon set in opposition to the unhinged demonisation of Johnson speaks to a political and media elite with a decidedly warped view of the world – and a curious understanding of what authoritarianism actually means.
Tom Slater is editor of spiked. Observe him on Twitter: @Tom_Slater_