Friday 24 March 2023

Johnson on Planet Z?

I watched most of ex-PM Johnson’s “appearance” before the Commons Privileges Committee, mostly because it was an historic occasion (as far as I know it has never happened to any other ex-PM), and a little bit because I wanted to see this former Eton Schoolboy whose report said of him that “he thinks the ordinary rules don’t apply to him” finally get his comeuppance. One thing is clear: if he honestly, really , truly, “on my heart” didn’t realise that the parties did not observe the rules his government was laying down for everyone else, than he isn’t fit to be responsible for feeding the Downing Street cat, never mind governing the country. However, that is not what the Committee must decide but rather: “Were his lies inadvertent?, negligent?” The wonder is that it will take another week or two for the Committee to publish their findings. The rest of the world must be laughing their socks off. Here’s a well-tried aphorism to help the Committee: if it looks like a duck and quacks like a duck then it probably is a duck. Apart from the effrontery of denying what he obviously knew, there are two other aspects of the “evidence” which show his lack of empathy with his fellow citizens. 1. He implied throughout that the Downing Street Staff were entitled to some leeway because they “ worked very hard under considerable pressure." Probably true. So did millions of others: NHS staff struggling with life and death issues without adequate resources and protection because the government had failed to prepare for the predicted pandemic and implement the recommendations of the Cygnus Exercise conducted only a few years previously, while his own party were in power. Ditto care home staff. Ditto, to a lesser extent, the education services, the hospitality industry , emergency services and delivery drivers. 2. He argued again and again that these parties were “leaving dos” and were therefore “essential” work events. Most of us change jobs several times in our careers. I suspect very few people these days stay in the same job from day one to retirement. So leaving a job is by no means a unique lifetime event. I have done it eight times, (to clarify, have carried on doing the same job, teaching, but at different schools and institutions.) I’ve had to think very hard to recall what, if anything, marked my leaving each one. After four years in my first appointment I think I got a mention from the Headmaster in Assembly. (We still started each day with a story a hymn and a prayer in those days). After three years in the next, a small primary school, the staff bought me an LP record. It was of the Huddersfield Choral Society singing Haydn’s “Creation.” It conains the chorus "Achieved is the glorous work," which I arrogantly thought apt, but whether or not they did is another matter. The next one, after six years, I organised myself in the pub at the bottom of the school hill. This was very much a farewell “do” as my next job was at the other side of the world in Papua New Guinea. Against some of their jokey expectations I survived. I can’t remember anything about the other five. My final “retirement” was a bit of a damp squib because they weren’t sure whether or not they would “need me” the following school year. It may well be that some of the “leaving dos” in Downing Street marked the end of long and distinguished careers, but I have the impression that most marked the end of short-term stints. Contrast Downing street’s laxity with the rules pertaining to, and rigorously observed, in the highly significant “leaving dos” we all experience in our lifetimes: the funerals of our relatives and friends, very often dearly loved grandparents, parents, partners, siblings, contacts and colleagues. At some no relatives or friends were allowed at all. At others numbers were strictly limited, social distancing had to be observed both during the ceremony and traveling to and from the funeral, and relaxed socially gatherings after the ceremony to reminisce about the “dear departed” simply didn’t happen. We simply went home, often alone. Against this austere but necessary approach, which Johnson emphasised time and gain from his podium, the indulgence of the Downing Street trivialities is crass and insensitive. Johnson simply doesn’t understand: he is not fit for office.


  1. Spot on Peter. Glad to see you're still batting on.

  2. Good to hear from you Mick. Maybe we'll meet at the "March for Europe" in Leeds today: muster in Briggate 12noon.