The outrageous ousting of Boris Johnson
We have just witnessed a technocratic coup against the democratic wishes of the people.
Of all the claims and counterclaims in the Partygate affair, this one stuck with me. Harriet Harman, the veteran Labour MP who’s been chairing the parliamentary probe into whether Boris fibbed to the Commons about lockdown-era parties in Downing St, shared a blog post by Alastair Campbell last April. Boris and his then chancellor, Rishi Sunak, are ‘lying charlatans’ who ‘deserve to be swept away’, said Campbell in his usual crass style. ‘They lied. Repeatedly’, Campbell cried, causing a hundred thousand Iraqis to turn in their graves. Two months after reposting this deranged screed, this febrile pronouncement of guilt, Harman was appointed to chair the Partygate committee.
So this is Britain. A country where a man whose fact-lite spin brought about one of the most catastrophic wars of the modern era can scream ‘liar!’ at a PM whose alleged fibs were only about a birthday do and garden drinks during lockdown. A country where eating birthday cake in Downing St can lead to your expulsion from public life while spinning dangerous myths about a foreign country makes no dent whatsoever on your career as a vulgar media dispenser of anti-Tory, anti-Brexit platitudes.
A country where a supposedly fair committee on whether a PM lied can be overseen by someone who publicly shared the view that he had; that he ‘built lie upon lie upon lie’ and then ‘dragooned’ his minions to ‘go out and lie for the liars’. Oh, and Harman was only appointed to lead the probe because her fellow Labour MP, Chris Bryant, had to recuse himself, having openly decreed that Boris was – you guessed it – a ‘proven liar’.
You don’t have to be a member of the BoJo fanclub to think this affair stinks. It’s an affair that has scalped Boris’s political career. It cost him his premiership, and now it’s cost him his seat in the Commons. Yesterday he resigned with ‘immediate effect’ as Conservative MP for Uxbridge after the Partygate committee found that he misled the Commons and proposed punishing him with a lengthy suspension from parliament. He preferred to suspend himself, with a 1,000-word fuming resignation letter in which he branded the probe a ‘kangaroo court’.
All the usual suspects are celebrating. But to my mind, the political fallout from Partygate has always been far more scandalous than Partygate itself. Forget the occasional breaking of lockdown rules in Downing St and Boris’s possibly less-than-honest recollections of those incidents. It was the media elites’ cynical use of this trifling affair to wound an elected PM, the Remainer establishment’s milking of every drab detail to tear down the man they hold responsible for Brexit, that was really sinister. They can dress it up as a cool, neutral investigation of a PM’s bad behaviour as much as they like – to the rest of us it smacks of a bureaucratic coup against a fairly and freely elected leader.
It doesn’t matter whether you love Boris or loathe him. Whether you’re a Boris cheerleader who thinks he saved Brexit or, like me, a Boris sceptic who was never convinced by his populist posing and disappointed with his metropolitan reluctance to fight the culture war. The fact remains that he was put into power by the votes of 14million people and chased from power by the Whitehall blob. Made PM by democratic means and undone by Machiavellian means. Chosen by the people to make politics more populist and then ousted by technocrats who believe that they, the adults, should be in charge, not us, the children.
We are witnessing the victory not of the tempering mechanisms of parliamentary democracy, but of Boris Derangement Syndrome. Think about how the odd Zoom quiz and a brief birthday gathering could lead to the removal from public life of a politician who, less than four years ago, won the largest electoral majority for the Conservatives in almost half a century. There is nothing ‘natural’ about this. It was a constructed scandal. Cultural influencers used their agenda-setting powers to turn a historically minor matter into the burning issue of the day. The media, most notably the BBC, exploited their command over the flow of information and opinion to turn Partygate into a Profumo-level scandal. Labour spoke of little else for months, spying an opportunity to slay the man who had parked his tanks on its Red Wall lawns.
Bureaucracy and hypocrisy swirled around Partygate. Who can forget the lack of media outrage when Keir Starmer and Angela Rayner were cleared by Durham cops for doing pretty much the same thing Boris had – having a beer and a curry in the office during lockdown? Then there were all the probes. Sue Gray, the civil-service powerhouse, carried out the original and very critical investigation of Partygate, in the process contributing to Boris’s ‘downfall’ as PM, in the words of the BBC. Now Gray is becoming chief of staff of the Labour Party. If in any other country there’d been the ‘downfall’ of a democratically elected leader as a consequence of the machinations of his opponents, we’d raise an eyebrow. But in post-Boris Britain, we’re meant to celebrate such questionable behaviour.
Boris says he’s been the victim of a ‘witch-hunt’. It is hard to disagree. We know that the vote for Brexit in 2016 and the vote for Boris in 2019 – really another vote for Brexit – drove sections of the political class mad. They agitated for years to void the Brexit vote, and then they turned their attention to ridding politics of Boris via the tactic of scandal-mongering. They were successful on the latter. And the votes of the 13,966,454 people who thought that Boris – not Sue Gray, not Harriet Harman, not the BBC – should determine the future of the country? They don’t matter. They were wrong. Void their ballots.
That noise you can hear is the crowing of the technocrats. They’ve got Trump on the ropes in the US, with a federal investigation into the classified docs found in his Florida home. And they’ve chased Boris from politics here. We can now go back to ‘normal’ politics, apparently, which for us poor Brits means having a choice between two shades of grey: Starmer or Sunak. The triumphalist anti-democrats are in for a rude awakening, I think. They will soon discover that Boris was not the author of the populist moment – far from it – and that the masses’ desire for a shake-up of political life lives on. And one reason it does is because, in Partygate, we have just witnessed how far down the road of anti-democratic intrigue the chattering classes are prepared to go to get their way.
Brendan O’Neill is spiked’s chief political writer and host of the spiked podcast, The Brendan O’Neill Show. Subscribe to the podcast here. His new book – A Heretic’s Manifesto: Essays on the Unsayable – is available to order on Amazon UK and Amazon US now. And find Brendan on Instagram: @burntoakboy
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