Drugs, bribes, dodgy deals, law-breaking, and extramarital affairs. Such is the sleazy precedent set by the current UK government under the leadership of Boris Johnson.
While Conservative parties everywhere find the core values they seek to maintain change over time, the only thing being conserved in the UK is power in the hand of an elite and privileged few. Through a carefully crafted public image, Boris Johnson and his ever-changing cabinet have managed to ride out a series of scandalous waves, betting that the public’s outrage will eventually give way to apathy.
And, as time goes on, the public’s tolerance for such sleaze has indeed seemingly increased.
Back in the early 2000s, the published diaries of the Member of Parliament (MP) Edwina Curry revealed she and the former Prime Minister (PM), John Major, had had a four-year fling. The news was sensational, revealing the notoriously dull John Major to be, in fact, nothing less than “a sexy beast.”
While, nowadays, the idea of two consenting adults engaging in some extramarital activity is not particularly titillating, the news left a lasting impression on the British psyche. It, yet again, revealed to the public that even the most mundane politicians might not be exactly what they seem.
News of the affair remains in the public consciousness today, with Indian restaurants still finding mileage out of the name “The Major Curry Affair.” Fast forward two decades later, however, and you’d be hard pushed to find a member of the general public who even remembers the name Charlie Elphicke, a Conservative MP who was found guilty of three counts of sexual assault in just 2020. Or even recall the case of a rape victim at the hands of a former Conservative minister in the same year.
THE CULT OF BORIS
Capitalizing on this apathy is Boris Johnson. Or, to give him his full title, Alexander Boris de Pfeffel Johnson.
Whereas former prime ministers would be referred to as Thatcher, Blaire, and even Churchill, to most of the UK’s general public, the current premier is simply known as “Boris,” a familiarity deliberately propagated and jumped on by his team of PR people.
The first-name moniker is a testament to this privately educated millionaire’s ability to manipulate his public image. Ask voters why they chose to elect Boris in 2019, and you’d be met with comments on his down-to-earth nature and lack of concern over being politically correct. For many, Johnson represented common sense in a time when Britain was feeling a bit lost. As Brexit unfolded and the reality of economically insulating ourselves began to set in, Boris promised clarity even if this clarity was at the expense of truth.
For behind the tussle-haired bravado and rambling speeches about Teslas and Peppa Pig, Boris Johnson’s main concern has always been the acquisition of power and wealth. While outwardly appearing as a clown, disarming press and public, inwardly, there are machinations at work.
We need only look to college letters sent to Johnson’s equally sleazy father, Stanley Johnson, to see evidence of his true character. Sent in 1982 by the housemaster, Martin Hammond, the letters explain that:
“Boris sometimes seems affronted when criticized for what amounts to a gross failure of responsibility (and surprised at the same time that was not appointed Captain of the School for next half.) I think he honestly believes that it is churlish of us not to regard him as an exception, one who should be free of the network of obligation which binds everyone else.”
A PROFESSIONAL CON-MAN, BORIS JOHNSON’S CAREER
Those surrounding him also allege this, calling him a shrewd politician and highly intelligent strategist. So far, Boris Johnson’s career has seen him reach the highest position of power within the country.
Over the years, Boris’ complete lack of values and principles has served him well. “Boris” is now a nebulous persona that shifts according to whatever polls best. In a time of great divide, he had no qualms over falsely claiming how much extra money there would be for the NHS should the UK vote to leave the EU. A claim the equally sleazy mastermind behind Boris’ campaign, Dominic Cummings, has since admitted was simply a decoy tactic.
Chameleon-like, Boris Johnson has successfully used the “Boris” persona to evade responsibility. Watch as he bumbles his way through direct questions on the funding for his flat refurbishment. See how he rambles away pointed and pragmatic questions with archaic terms, name-calling, and charm.
This reputation for shirking blame has carried him far. Formerly the Mayor of London, Boris would tip off the press when riding around London on his push-bike or using the underground. Through drip-feeding the public the image he wanted to portray, Boris managed to secure eight years as the capital’s Mayor, notoriously difficult for a Conservative to achieve.
As a career politician Boris Johnson has come to learn that these shrewd PR moves are disarming and also play well for his long-term public image.
Back in 2018, for example, Johnson found himself in hot water for comparing women wearing burkas to letterboxes and bank robbers. While the details of the story fade in the memory, people still remember him coming out with cups of tea for the journalists gathering outside his home before refusing to answer any questions.
“I have nothing to say about this matter,” Boris told the reporters, “except to offer you some tea.”
A RULING CLASS
Perhaps still lingering in the back of Etonian minds like Johnson’s is the relic-life belief that it is up to them (the posh) to rule. Even if one is not particularly suited to the role.
Look back through Jonson’s career, and you’ll find it littered with quotes that belie his outward appearance as a man of the people and the working class.
In 1995, he wrote:
“Families on lower incomes have absolutely no choice but to work, often with adverse consequences for family life and society as a whole, in that unloved and undisciplined children are more likely to become hoodies, NEETS, and mug you on the street corner.”
Around the same time, in The Spectator, you’d also find the Prime Minister letting his privilege show:
“The modern British male is useless. If he is blue-collar, he is likely to be drunk, criminal, aimless, feckless, and hopeless. And, perhaps, claiming to suffer from low self-esteem brought on by unemployment.”
This attitude of being a ruling class has meant Boris’ cabinet of ministers all appear to reflect his same mistrust of the general public and disregard for the rules. For this ruling class, they are not so concerned with governing, so much as the privileges and opportunities it affords – both now and in the future.
Just this past week, the Speaker of the House of Commons has felt it necessary to call the police in to investigate drug use within parliament. It appears cocaine use is rampant in the halls of Westminster especially surrounding the gated offices of Boris and Home Secretary Priti Patel.
More sleaze in Johnson’s camp came out earlier in 2021 as it came to light that the Health secretary responsible for encouraging mask-use and social distancing had been having an affair with his aide. Awkward kissing aside, Matt Hancock and others were also found to be issuing unusual multi-million pound PPE contracts at the start of the pandemic. Leaning on the help of friends and family in times of crisis is all well and good, but relying on a dog-food company rather than a PPE procurement firm is strange, to say the least. Many have cried nepotism.
Evidence that the current government considers itself a law unto itself is one of the latest scandals regarding the MP Owen Patterson. Patterson came under fire for stretching the lobbying rules to their limit, approaching officials at the Food Standards Agency numerous times, seemingly in aid of companies like Randox Labs and Lynn’s Country Foods who had Patterson on (declared) payroll. Patterson also used his parliamentary office to conduct his private business, holding meetings and using his time as an MP to lobby for these companies.
The rules are clear, MPs should not take money to raise issues in government. Patterson seemingly did this and was caught doing so. Rather than address the issue, Johnson and his cabinet sought to change the law and rip up the standards system that Patterson found himself on the wrong side of.
What becomes clear is that if this Conservative government cannot profit from their position, it hardly seems worth the bother. And this “looting” attitude is perhaps unsurprising. The pejorative term “Tory.” used here to refer to the Conservative party is an old Irish word from the word “tóir” and “toraidhe,” meaning pursued outlaw. Combined, the term “Tory” has been used to describe some Conservative party members’ cavalier and unlawful behavior.
Of course, the term has become disarmed over the years, with some Conservative MPs even proudly wearing pin-badges saying “Tory Scum.”
GOVERNMENT CORRUPTION SPREADS
While corruption at the hands of power is nothing new, what we’re seeing with the current UK government is corruption at an unprecedented level.
Social science tells us that when voters believe corruption to be rife, we are more likely to overlook it. With some politicians in positions of particular power now acting with impunity, our apathy to corruption is seemingly giving them a mandate for sleaze.
Nevertheless, Johnson’s latest scandal may be harder to shed. With videos emerging that while the rest of the country was cut off from loved ones, with friends and family dying in hospital alone, Downing Street staff held Christmas parties, enjoying cheese and wine.
For many in this country, leading the country out of its trading bloc, botching the pandemic response, and refusing to hold accountability is one thing. Trifle with their Christmas plans, however, and you’ve got trouble.
With new restrictions now coming in over the Christmas period as the Omicron variant spreads, Johnson and his government’s hypocrisy is perhaps the last straw.