Johnson made Red Wall
Tories an offer they
couldn’t refuse, says Roger Ratcliffe

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“Johnson is like that mafia fella in the USA,” said a friend at the gym I use in Bradford. “You, know, Capone. The police finally nailed Al Capone not for being a gangster and arranging murders but on tax evasion charges. The downfall of Johnson won’t be because of his monumental bungling of Brexit and Covid – it’ll be for something comparatively trivial like the gold £840-a-roll wallpaper or free holiday villa in Marbella.”

As a former Lib Dem councillor in Bradford my friend could be expected to have a low opinion of a Tory prime minister, but I take his point. Of course, no one accuses Johnson of being an actual crime boss. Unlike the Corleone family in the acclaimed mafia movie The Godfather, so far as I know he doesn’t send his enemies to “sleep with the fishes”. But the events of the past couple of weeks suggest that he is running the government like a gangster.

The case for the prosecution is straightforward. Like the fictional Don Corleone played by Marlon Brando in The Godfather, Johnson has a close cabal of associates prepared to do his dirty work. In Johnson’s government the role of consigliere, a mafioso right-hand man used to provide a veneer of respectability to the Godfather’s unscrupulous bidding, is played by government chief whip Mark Spencer.

Thus it was Spencer’s wretched job to deliver to Conservative foot soldiers the task of getting corrupt MP Owen Paterson off the hook for using his office to earn £100,000 extra a year as a consultant. It failed miserably and Paterson resigned, but not before 248 Conservatives had disgraced themselves by voting to effectively scrap the anti-sleaze system at Westminster.

Matthew Parris, The Times columnist and himself a former Tory MP, encapsulated Johnson’s motivation last week. “Johnson is an utter cad,” he wrote. “A moral vacuum and a stranger to loyalty, probity and even friendship.” The prime minister, he went on, has been infuriated by inquiries into his own integrity, the holiday villas, the financing of his Downing Street flat’s lavish redecoration, the lies about the EU withdrawal agreement.”

It soon emerged that, in mafia style, backbenchers had been intimidated into supporting Johnson’s monstrous effort to stop scrutiny of his own behaviour. Apparently, MPs were quietly threatened that if they didn’t comply then pet schemes in their constituencies would have funding withdrawn.

What I can’t get out of my mind is that Johnson was aided by many northern MPs in the so-called Red Wall seats, whose constituents surely must be appalled by Paterson’s corruption and the more recent revelation that another Tory, Geoffrey Cox, trousered £1 million last year for legal work while supposedly working as an MP.

I’m thinking of you Nick Fletcher, who won the Don Valley seat in 2019 after almost a century of Labour MPs. I’m thinking of you, Mark Jenkinson, whose constituency of Workington is home to Workington Man, a stereotype held to have deserted Labour and given Johnson his huge majority. And I’m thinking of you James Grundy, Tory MP for Leigh and winner of another seat that had a century of Labour representation.

Do you think you were voted in to be part of a mafia-like government and shield a corrupt prime minister? If you have any integrity you need to start the process of making Johnson “sleep with the fishes”. Politically speaking, of course.

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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