When we talk to people about things which have negatively affected us at some point we are told to “move on”. Whatever may have happened to us, we should put the past behind us and think of a better and brighter future, rather than dwell on old hurts forever.
There are generally three reasons why we are told this. One, our interlocutor is genuinely interested in our welfare. Two, they are tired of hearing us go on about these things. Three, they are implicated in what we are talking about, and want us to stop talking about it so they can get away with something they know can, and should, be used against them.
Of all the public figures currently active on the global stage, one above all has become famous for telling us all to “move on” – BoJo the Clown, otherwise known as Boris Johnson, Prime Minister of the United Kingdom. Have a look at this list, and take a wild guess at which of these reasons he has for saying it.
Repeatedly caught lying to parliament? Move on. Worst Covid death figures in Europe on his watch? Move on. Dodgy contracts for his mates, avoiding public and legal tendering processes? Move on. Fined by the police, uniquely for a Prime Minister, for breaching lockdown rules he himself imposed? Move on.
Brexit causing ever-increasing harm? Move on. Very bad local election results, with worse to come in imminent parliamentary by-elections? Move on. Repeated misconduct in public office by him and his ministers? Move on. Caught with his pants down and unable to stop the story? Move on.
We should have known what was coming when the long-awaited Sue Gray report, compiled by that very senior civil servant, was finally published following a delay caused by a police investigation. It revealed not simply a few parties in Number 10 Downing Street, the Prime Minister’s residence and office, but a culture of repeated, wilful breaches of lockdown regulations.
While the rest of the UK population was subjected to a lockdown so severe that they could not gather together in groups of more than two or three, unable to care for or mourn dying relatives, and watched their jobs and futures go up in smoke, BoJo and his staff held regular booze-fuelled parties and other forbidden gatherings in his accommodation, which BoJo then lied to parliament and the public about. One law for him, one particularly distressing law for everybody else.
But we all have to move on, he says. He won’t quit, and his own party is too scared to force him out.
Why? Because as soon as he is sacked in disgrace, every one of his supporters will be asked to account for why they supported him, what they knew and what they tried to justify. If you thought the McCarthy witch hunts were bad, wait until you see every word and action of BoJo’s Clown Show picked over, and prosecuted as it should be, even if he is replaced by someone much more reasonable, and publicly acceptable, in the short term.
So there is a very powerful lobby desperate to ensure we all do move on, and let the bastard squirm while they cover their own tracks. Such lobbies have always existed.
In democratic countries it is always expected that the politicians we elect will lie and cheat. Indeed we often hope they will, as long as we generally get a good deal from them, in order for this prophecy to be self-fulfilling.
But there are two elements in this scandal, and how it is playing out, which will ensure it is remembered long after others are forgotten. One is the reason why we are fascinated by these parties. The other is how any of us can survive unless the words we hear have some meaning, even when it is the opposite of what is being said.
No clothes after all
Johnson’s a rogue, we all know that. He has built his career on saying the wrong thing and doing the wrong thing, but with a wit and style which taps into the secret devilry of all of us – much as Caryl Chessman, the highly intelligent serial criminal finally executed in 1960, discovered that the same people who mocked his poverty and failings had a sneaking regard for him when he started committing crimes.
No matter how badly Johnson behaved, his personality gave him a glamour which made him an asset to the very people who criticised him. Sacked more than once from newspapers for making things up, he moved on to better paid jobs elsewhere where he could get away with anything by making people laugh. Thrown out of government for making rude remarks about a wide range of people, he bounced back as Mayor of London, the media capital, because the luvvies who form opinions there secretly held other views they were ashamed of, but wanted to make light of for that reason.
Wherever he appeared, Johnson confronted people with unpleasant truths about their own attitudes and behaviour which they wanted to make pleasant. He could get away with anything, so why shouldn’t they? When they knew what could be thrown at them by anyone who wanted to, why wouldn’t they want the existence of Boris Johnson to throw back?
BoJo understood his audience only too well. Make them think that everything bad about themselves was good, and he had them in the palm of his hand. If anyone questioned him, he would go over the head of the questioner and present that person to the people as yet another of these nasty rule makers – even worse, foreign ones – trying to tell them they were bad and wrong, and trying to use him as a test case.
Brexit is just one example of where this worked for him. He was the bad boy representing those who had been made to feel they were also bad boys, because they didn’t fit the agenda of the public attitudes constantly rammed down their throats, which they had been forced to accept at sword point, on trust, without having the moral basis, and other virtues, of such policies explained in any meaningful way.
The more Boris broke the rules, the more he represented his public. Such was the visceral nature of his appeal, even the most popular and gifted of his opponents could not compete, as they represented nothing more than tired slogans. What would be a scandal for everyone else was a badge of pride for Johnson and his acolytes, and if others didn’t like that, they had to move on.
BoJo doubtless thought that the law-breaking, boozing, vomiting, abuse of staff and wilful misconduct of the Number 10 parties, and lying about it, were par for the course. His supporters would lap it up as usual.
But he got one thing very wrong. In his hubris he forgot one important difference: he wasn’t breaking other people’s rules, he was breaking his own.
Johnson wasn’t representing his supporters by breaking rules he himself had imposed on them. He was just abusing them.
Now his misconduct is just misconduct, not a fight back on behalf of those who watched their family members die while he was messing about, because he had forced them to. Now people can see they were sold a lie, and are questioning their fundamentals of being, which they sold him for the sake of lockdown fines, rather than thirty pieces of silver.
You talkin’ to me?
Bojo has got away with it this far not because he is a smart operator, but because he is a journalist. He has hidden behind words all his life, creating an alternative reality in which people believe what he says simply because it is him who is saying it, in his own pompous and comedic way.
Precisely because he does this, he knows this doesn’t work in the real world. Time and again he has been called to account for making false claims which he would get away with the mainstream media because they sold papers, and the newspaper, not him, would have to publish any future retraction.
Yet he refuses to correct any misstatement, including the ones about knowing the lockdown rules were being followed at these multiple parties in his own house, which didn’t even take place, which he didn’t attend or know about even when pictured speaking and drinking at them . He takes “full responsibility” for all errors made on his watch, but then says he knew nothing about these things, didn’t know he was doing anything wrong, and now he does know, we should all forget about it.
So what does any of this mean? BoJo knows very well that an apology, or acceptance of responsibility, is meaningless when you then simultaneously deny any wrongdoing took place, or that you knew you were doing wrong. That’s the point. The whole Johnson strategy is to use his journalistic skills to ensure that words no longer have any meaning.
Johnson was supposed to be spending record levels on the NHS, and supplying all the protective equipment the staff needed during the pandemic. He wasn’t. But he kept saying he had, and nothing changed. So not only did his own words have no meaning, neither did anyone else’s. Those who knew the truth could shout it from every rooftop, but it made no difference, as it had no practical effect, even if true.
It isn’t about telling enough lies for long enough that people believe them. What does “lie” mean, if you can do it brazenly, with impunity, and actions are taken by governments, with public funds, on the basis of them? What is “truth”, if it has no effect on a person’s life, and it makes no difference to whether something is said or done?
Cold War veterans remember the days when the West portrayed itself as the side telling the truth, and highlighted all the falsehoods of the Soviet propaganda machine. The West never actually knew more than the ordinary citizens of those countries, who developed a very sophisticated sense of what their governments really meant when they said particular things, no matter which side they were on.
But we were told that telling the truth mattered. The lying was a dimension of Soviet repression. The truth was something different, with a redeeming power, and would be the basis for setting these people free, and building the sort of society Westerners wanted to believe they enjoyed – and rightly so, though not as much as they still like to think.
Westerners never developed the same capacity to crack the code of officialspeak, because they never thought they had the same need to, even if they also thought all their politicians would say anything to buy their vote and then cover themselves when they were caught out. The Soviets should have exploited that. Now Johnson is doing it for them, in yet another example of the Soviets winning the Cold War by turning the West into a latter-day Soviet Union.
It no longer matters what anyone in government says or does. None of the words have any meaning, because there is nothing you can do if there is anything wrong with them – no truth you can tell, no lever of pressure you can apply, because words have no meaning or moral content.
BoJo didn’t think he was breaking any lockdown regulations because their words weren’t supposed to mean anything. They were just something he did to serve his own ends, and could be ignored to serve those same ends. You can’t begin to argue with that when words have no meaning.
Nonsense is not substance
The 1949 British film Passport to Pimlico came out against a backdrop of people struggling under a wealth of government impositions, such as food and clothes rationing, not dissimilar to the various pandemic restrictions. It tells the story of that part of London being declared by historical documents to be part of the Duchy of Burgundy, and therefore no longer under British government jurisdiction.
The first response of the locals is simply to declare that they no longer have to follow the restrictions. They don’t make any effort to find out what new laws they will be living under, just rejoice in not being obliged to follow the previous ones. Only later do they discover the price they have to pay for changing their relations with the UK, and what sort of people are attracted to their little state by the bonfire of rules and regulations.
The Johnson Movement, of which Brexit is a part, is all about that. Tear up all the impositions and do what you like. The worse its leaders behave, the more they are freeing the benighted people, giving them a new life without the need for civilization.
Now the price is being paid by everyone else, but not the leaders. They have torn down the old, bad, rules, but refuse to follow the new ones, which were supposed to free the people. The good rules are merely different, and those who benefit are the same people who made the bad ones, just with different names.
But the game can’t be up when everything is a game. Nothing has meaning, nothing has consequences, nothing has purpose. There is only realpolitik of the most brutal kind – which has taken away rights, culture, identity and everything else the British wanted to regain by electing this corrupt, incompetent charlatan who can only survive by eroding every boundary or standard which has ever existed.