When it’s considered a worse sin to call out a liar for his lies than it is to lie...
First published in July 2021.
Labour MP Dawn Butler has been suspended from the House of Commons on Thursday for stating the obvious. After detailing several examples of Boris Johnson’s barefaced lies and citing a short video by the campaigner Peter Stefanovic which highlights – or rather lowlights – many more examples of the Prime Minister’s deceit, falsehoods, misleading statements and outright lies.
There’s even a website listing Johnson’s many lies, although only up to December 2019. After that month’s election, the site owner gave up, overwhelmed by the Conservative tsunami of falsehoods and “alternative facts”. There have been so many more since that, at this point, it would be easier to enumerate the truths – I’m sure there must be some – and assume that everything else uttered by a senior Conservative was a bare-faced lie. Certainly, Michael Gove lies as frequently and even more glibly than his boss.
So, it’s not like pointing out that Boris Johnson is a liar is a controversial or contentious thing to say. The evidence that Boris Johnson is a liar is abundant and of long-standing. It’s a matter of record that Johnson was sacked from the Times for lying. It’s also a matter of record that he was sacked from Michael Howard’s frontbench for lying about an affair. His lies are well documented, numerous, well known, and habitual. Johnson’s old boss at the Telegraph newspaper Max Hastings, once described his former employee in damning terms saying, “There is room for debate about whether he is a scoundrel or mere rogue, but not much about his moral bankruptcy, rooted in a contempt for truth,” adding, “He cares for no interest save his own fame and gratification.”
Johnson has had several affairs, which means that he has no compunction about lying to his nearest and dearest just as he is prepared to lie to his boss and his colleagues. We even know that he was quite happy to tell a barefaced lie to the Queen in order to secure the prorogation of Parliament in an attempt to avoid scrutiny of his Brexit deal.
If he’s going to lie to those people you can guarantee that he won’t have any problems lying to those he considers his social inferiors – which for an Eton boy is pretty much the entire population.
Yet when Dawn Butler called out the Prime Minister for their lies, their corruption, cronyism, their sleaze and their enabling of racists, suddenly it was her who was the bad guy. She was ordered by the deputy speaker to withdraw her remarks, and when she refused, pointing out quite correctly that it’s vital to hold liars to account otherwise they’ll just keep lying, she was instructed to leave the chamber. When you have a parliament in which it is a greater sin by far to call out a liar than it is to actually lie, you have a parliament that is unfit for purpose.
And that is precisely what we have in the UK, a Parliament that is unfit for purpose, incapable of performing the task of holding the executive branch of the government to account. In his excoriating account of Johnson’s character, published in The Guardian early in 2019 as Johnson was poised to secure the leadership of the Conservative party and become Prime Minister, Hastings warned that Johnson’s “premiership will almost certainly reveal a contempt for rules, precedent, order and stability.”
That has proven to be the case, the problems compounded by the challenges of a pandemic which would have tested the capacities of even the most competent leadership to the limit. Johnson and his cronies instead used the pandemic as an opportunity to enrich their friends as they hummed and hawed, delayed, stalled and backtracked on public health, mixing vital messages that could have saved thousands of lives as often as Johnson mixes his metaphors. We have a British Government that lies without compunction, which tears up international agreements the moment they no longer suit, which is prepared to break international law and which treats the public and the devolved nations with arrogant contempt.
A Parliament hidebound by arcane rules and archaic conventions is utterly incapable of holding these charlatans, shysters and moral bankrupts to account. Dawn Butler’s expulsion proves that, as if we didn’t already know. The British Parliament is performative, not practical. It exists primarily to give a veneer of democratic responsibility to a government that suffers no effective checks on its absolute power.
And that is why devolution is now in great danger. Brexit removed the last significant constraints upon the British government. The devolved governments represent the last bastion of power within the UK which is beyond the control of Downing Street. Just this week alone we have seen two assaults on the devolution settlement, the so-called UK Shared Prosperity Fund, the replacement for the EU social and structural funding which were disbursed to the devolved governments in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. Unlike the EU funding, which was controlled by the devolved governments, the new fund will be entirely controlled by Westminster, even though it is to be spent on devolved competencies. It represents another power grab by Downing Street at the expense of the devolution settlement. Remember that Vow that the Tories signed up to in 2014 in an effort to persuade Scotland to reject independence, the Vow that promised no changes to devolution without Holyrood’s consent? You won’t be surprised to learn that was a lie too.
Holyrood can’t protect Scotland from this British Government of liars, cheats, charlatans and racists. Scotland’s Westminster MPs can’t protect Scotland either. Dawn Foster made a noble stand against Johnson’s lies and deceits, a stand that was also made twice (here and here) by the SNP’s Westminster leader Ian Blackford, just a couple of weeks ago. But to no effect. Westminster is not an institution that can cope with creatures as morally and ethically bankrupt as Johnson, Gove, and the rest of this shameless bunch of liars.
There are still those in Scotland who harbour fond hopes that the British system of government can be reformed, that power can be distributed away from the office of the Prime Minister and decentralised. It can’t. Despite the lies and the sleaze, despite the criminal incompetence, too many in the UK are still in thrall to the myth of British exceptionalism, even though these recent months have revealed that it’s a myth with lethal consequences.
Escaping this deceitful and ethically bankrupt Britain is not just essential in order to preserve Scottish self-government, it’s a moral imperative. When it’s considered a worse sin to call out a liar for his lies than it is to lie, it’s time to get out.
— AUTHOR —
▫ Wee Ginger Dug, also known as Paul Kavanagh. Blogger.
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[This piece was originally published in Wee Ginger Dug’s blog and re-published in PMP Magazine on 23 July 2021, with the author’s consent. | The author writes in a personal capacity.]
(Cover: Screenshot of Dawn Butler in the House of Commons. / Licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.)