I think part of my brain is missing. It’s a tiny corner in that area of grey matter responsible for processing logic. This means I have trouble understanding anything my first instincts tell me is crazy.
Millions of people don’t seem to have my affliction. Not only can they easily comprehend what to me is absurdly illogical and fantastical, they are prepared to embrace it even when this is decidedly not in their best interests.
I first realised these brain cells were absent in the 1970s when I read about Jonestown, a remote jungle settlement in Guyana housing a San Francisco-based cult led by the charismatic but paranoid Jim Jones. He had established his so-called People’s Temple as a sort of socialist paradise for his followers, who eventually numbered almost 1,000. In 1978, however, when the settlement was in danger of being broken up, at Jones’s behest most of them drank from a barrel containing lethal cyanide. It was suicide on a vast scale.
I’m not suggesting this is about to happen in Westminster, but there is surely a whiff of Jonestown in what I will call Johnsontown. Just as Jones’s followers knowingly ended their lives rather than turn their backs on their leader, so a large number of Conservative MPs are now willing to sup from the poisonous barrel of lies that their cult leader, Johnson, has created for them. Whether or not this amounts to political suicide we don’t yet know, but by all the standards we have a right to expect from MPs it most certainly should end their careers. For while the prime minster has been found guilty of a criminal act, one he denied on numerous occasions in the House of Commons, most Tories are still acting as his human shield.
At the front of the queue for the Johnsontown barrel are the usual suspects like Jacob Rees-Mogg, Nadine Dorries and Priti Patel. Behind them are hundreds of lesser-known truth-manglers vehemently proclaiming Johnson’s Partygate innocence. Conor Burns, a Tory MP no one outside Bournemouth had ever heard of until this year, shrugged on Channel 4 News that Johnson “was, in a sense, ambushed with cake” for his birthday party bash inside Number 10. Another apologist MP, also previously unknown beyond his Essex constituency, said of the prime minister: “He’s not robbed a bank.”
But even when Johnson was bang to rights and fined by the Met they still excused the flagrant breach of lockdown rules by the actual architect-in-chief. Cue the ever-dependable Northern Ireland secretary Brandon Lewis to lie in defence of a lie. He said the fixed penalty notice – the first of several expected to be served on Johnson – was like a parking or speeding ticket.
What I think we’re witnessing is the evolution of Johnson into a fully-fledged Trumpian liar, and you have to worry that if he’s not kicked out now then further down the line he might also try to subvert democracy in a way we can’t yet imagine. For Johnson is the Trump we feared he would be. I imagine he secretly admires Vladimir Putin’s “special operation”
Millions believe Trump’s and Putin’s lies without question, and in next week’s local elections millions in the UK will show they still believe Johnson. I don’t, but then – as I said – part of my brain is missing.
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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