Tuesday, 7 April 2020

Deference due?

 By accident rather than design I was in the United States in October/November1980 during the Carter/Reagan election campaign.  Reagan was routinely ridiculed as inadequate and totally unsuited to the job, but to my astonishment  beat Jimmy Carter, whom I had expected to win hands down. Reagan even won  the popular vote, which is more than Donald Trump did.

However, what I found equally surprising was  that, once Reagan was inaugurated president in the following January, maybe even earlier, the tone of the media changed and Mr Reagan was treated with great respect, even deference.  He was now Mr President, Commander in Chief, and so on, and commanded the respect due to his office.  If his inadequacy was not forgotten it didn't get much of an airing.

Something similar seems to be happening in the UK today with respect to Prime Minister Johnson.

In discussing the need in a democracy for voters to get accurate and reliable information on which to base their voting decisions the philosopher A C Grayling writes:

"...a political order with a careless and uninterested populace, unprincipled politicians, hijacking of the constitutional process by a small group of vigorous and tendentiously motivated  activists and "advisers" ,driven by such extreme partisanship and individual polemical  imperative that it freely and frequently deploys falsehood, is in danger of creating, sooner or later, a dysfunctional state."*

This comes at the beginning of Chapter Four and Grayling does not say to whom or where he is referring.  Maybe later:  there are another three chapters to go. 

But if the cap fits?

It is right that at a personal level we should have every sympathy for Mr Johnson during his illness, and hope for his recovery.

But we should not forget how he achieved his current position.

Perhaps it is not surprising that he is receiving unctuous praise from his cabinet colleagues, even those who have previously declared him unfit for the job.

But as far as I can ascertain, no one in the media is mentioning that only a moth ago he was openly boasting of having shaken hands with people likely to have been exposed to the coronavirus. See:

 https://www.newsweek.com/boris-johnson-says-shaken-hands-coronavirus-patients-1490214Johnson’s Eton housemaster, Martin Hammond, in 1982 school report

“I think he honestly believes" says the housemaster," 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.” 

Well, now he's learned the hard way that he isn't.

I know we shouldn't "kick a man when he's down" and that is possibly why the media are showing restraint.

But these things should not be airbrushed out of history


*  A C Grayling, The Good State, Oneworld, 2020,  p44


  1. As I saw remarked on Twitter, implying that someone else's serious illness is some kind of karmic retribution seems like a very dangerous game to play.

  2. I've had to look up "karmic retribution." It seems to mean "just deserts."
    I've not implied this: I've simply made two points:

    1. Sympathy for his present predicament should not blind us to the methods he used to achieve office. He is, after all,the man put and end to the "good chap theory of government."

    2. A hope that he will learn from the experience that he is not after all exempt from the ordinary rules of society.

    I might add that I find the declarations form cabinet ministers that they a missing his inspiring leadership somewhat fulsome. I should thing they're more likely to come to rational decisions without him

    1. I'm just saying this is not the time that I would want to be temping fate by pontificating on someone else's illness.

  3. I see that Johnson's father was blathering about Boris "taking one for the team". This expressions means making a personal sacrifice on behalf of colleagues or friends. It can hardly apply to Boris swanning around ignoring social distancing rules, catching the virus, and probably passing it on.

    1. And Johnson senior boasting that he'd go to the pub if he felt like it, and hang the governments "suggestions" (as they were then.) This is neither leadership nor team playing.

    2. Johnson senior boasting that he'd go to the pub if he felt like it

      If we are blaming public figures for the things their relatives say, does that mean we can hold your favourite terrorist supporter responsible for every word his brother Piers has ever uttered?

    3. I've seen the Johnson family lauded for sticking together. In this instance father and son seem to have a lot in common.

    4. I've seen the Johnson family lauded for sticking together

      Have you? Where? I just remember the media trying to make rather a lot of hay out of their differences of opinion on whether the UK should leave the EU.

  4. It as in the Guardian where else?) I can't remember which day. The theme was that in spite of their differences on the EU they stuck together as a family.

    1. It as in the Guardian

      Ah, that famously sympathetic-to-Boris organ.

      I think any apparent compliment paid to the Johnsons in the Guardian was intended to be very backhanded, don't you? Quite possibly in just the way you took it.

    2. No it was straight forward reporting. Nothing tongue in cheek at all.

    3. No it was straight forward reporting

      If it was it would be the first time the Guardian had ever done straight reporting…

      (Not that I'm blaming the Guardian for this: all UK newspapers have an editorial stance which colours their reportage. Newspapers in the UK are not supposed to be and do not claim to be impartial. There's nothing wrong with that (it means a range of perspectives get put out into the marketplace of ideas), but it is something you have to be aware of.)

      (And I mean you must be aware that it wasn't 'straight reporting' because you used the verb 'lauded' above. Straight reporting cannot 'laud'. To 'laud' or not is an editorial judgement. So you've already admitted the piece had an editorial slant and wasn't just 'straight reporting'.)