People in the north of England are proud of their reputation for not suffering fools gladly, so I’m at a loss to understand how so many of us here could have put a complete barmpot like Boris Johnson in Downing Street.
Thanks to the 45 so-called Red Wall seats – mostly northern constituencies that switched from Labour strongholds to Conservative at the last election – we have the most dishonest and corrupt prime minister in modern British history. Yet even after a year of serially mishandling the Covid pandemic and the exposure of lie upon Johnson lie, opinion polls still put the Tories ahead.
They are expected to win this week’s by-election in Hartlepool, a seat Labour managed to hang onto in 2019. As a measure of how seismic that shock would be, when the constituency’s MP was New Labour architect Peter Mandelson his majority was 17,500. Not that ticking Mandelson’s name on a ballot paper was necessarily a sign of savvy voting. He was twice forced to resign from the government because of scandals. An example of this resident of Notting Hill’s style came when asked what single item he would grab before escaping from his burning house. Mandelson’s unctuously Johnsonian reply was: “My Hartlepool United scarf.”
Which brings us back to Johnson, whose scandals are beginning to pile as high as the bodies he allegedly said he would rather see than take the country into another lockdown last autumn.
The row over the costly refurbishment of his flat over the shop in Downing Street had even right-wing papers like the Times and Mail frothing at the bit, and it occurred to me that the government needs a politics version of Line of Duty’s Anti-Corruption Unit 12, AC-12. As viewers of the BBC1 crime drama know, the Mr Big is usually unmasked as someone who occupies a stratospheric rank in the police force, and far as this government is concerned it is clear the stench of corruption comes from the top.
The media are having a lot of fun with Johnson’s flat refurbishment scandal, which revolves around who paid £58,000 towards a makeover of the private quarters occupied by the prime minister and his fiancée. Described as “Wallpapergate” in one paper and “Cash for curtains” by another, it’s now being formally investigated by the Electoral Commission but you would be right to feel wary. A feature of this corrupt government is that time and again it is exonerated from wrongdoing.
As for the “bodies pile high” remark attributed to Johnson, unless someone produces a tape I’d imagine that to be just one more line on the long list of his outrageous utterances. And it seems the Conservatives – at least in the south of England – are pretty relaxed about Johnson. On BBC Newsnight one Home Counties Tory MP shrugged and said his behaviour was “priced in” by voters. In other words, everyone knows full well that the prime minister is a lying scoundrel but it’s not considered important.
Is that what modern politics have come to? And has that character trait of northerners not to suffer fools really deserted them? I’m not a fan of Johnson’s estranged Svengali and son of County Durham, Dominic Cummings, but I hope this northerner has got the tapes and documents to bring Johnson’s vile premiership to an end.
Roger Ratcliffe has worked as an investigative journalist with the Sunday Times Insight team and is the author of guidebooks to Leeds and Bradford. Follow him on Twitter @Ratcliffe
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