In 1992, the ministerial code was formally introduced for the purposes of balancing the highest level of government against the accountability and standards expected of those capable of doing the job. Every company, organisation and group has its code of conduct, and if you are unable to meet these high standards you’re likely to lose your seat at the table.
Under a leader too weak, corrupt and lazy to hold his ministers- and himself- to the quality we should expect the UK is set to sink beneath what the government can muster themselves to do: not what they must do for the good of us all.
In every iteration of the ministerial code, themes have run concurrent: honesty and integrity. Transparency has always been absent- but when you imagine the weight of some of the information that passes through the office of the prime minister that suddenly seems acceptable. We don’t ask for every last nuance of political upheaval to be hauled before the masses and nor should we: but politicians have slowly become masters of extrapolating not telling the truth with lying and with building a bonfire of integrity, edging closer and closer to the fuse, all the while assuring us that we could expect the required & requested levels of the opposite from them.
The fact that it took until 1992 to introduce a code of conduct amongst politicians should have been the first alarm that something was not all well in British democratic discourse, and even having a code or a constitution doesn’t prevent political meddling: looking briefly to the shores of America we see the desperate thrashing of the left against the ever increasing radical right- no constitution prevented an attempted Coup in January 2021. These tenets are as tall as the clouds; but as wide as a strand of hair- though you can’t directly progress forward, it’s easy to step around should you be motivated to do so, and one could not ever accuse Johnson and his cohort of lacking motivation to circumvent vital scrutiny- we’ve read alarming tales of their fervour for being able to overturn judicial decisions, we saw them drop the reformations asked for out of the paterson scandal, they stripped back our right to voice displeasure through protest, they tell us to hold them to account at the voting booth whilst making that more difficult, they allegedly pay “bungs” to newspapers to report, or not report, what they need in the press.
Looking at this behaviour the idea that democracy and justice were a bulwark of protection becomes as fantasist as it is: all we have ever had to hold our upper echelon to account is the promise that they would adhere to this code and anything beyond that is illusory- so – every last one of us must stop expecting this low standard. If we cannot expect honesty of them we must demand it.
Johnson’s desperation to obscure his actions from vital scrutiny point to the idea that he must alter the very fundamentals of what scrutiny he is allowed to endure is a tacit admission that he cannot rise to the heights a prime minister must reach- instead he seeks to lower the bar so he can clear it and with that action he does not even ask the people our thoughts, he tells us that he knows best and we must sit back and watch- with the air of the misogynist husband who tells his angry wife to calm down, Johnson has put his finger to the lip of the nation in our fury, in our confusion and in our resistance, and shushed us: are we truly the nation who would take this slight?
The exsanguination of truthfulness
Honesty is a necessary part of the office of the prime minister, and something we could argue that many prime ministers long before the era of the Johnsonites has failed us on. Blair blustered us into Iraq, Cameron ran a referendum on EU membership to stop some of his MPs defecting to UKIP, selling it as a decision the people deserved to make when it was merely his attempt to wrench power back. May, a staunch remainer, flailed against the EU fruitlessly for months because she believed it was wrong to do what she was hired to do and she was deposed for it, all the while slated in the media as the lacklustre PM who was letting us all down even as she kept on top of other domestic affairs outside of Brexit: ultimately, her lack of fervour for the destruction of our relationship with the rest of the EU was her pyre – all of these events were a precursor to the level of dishonesty we now take as tacit from the office of the prime minister.
There is a method of torture known as death by 1000 cuts which is exactly what it reads as- a slow death, a shallow slash at a time. The person cannot escape and slowly, slowly, their blood drains until their body can be sustained no more. We were slowly bleeding from 900 wounds before Johnson’s government’s premiership- then he emerged and delivered the last 100 blows in quick succession.
If the lifeblood of a truly free country is truth, only an infusion could save us now- but the ambulance is in a nine hour queue to a hospital fit to burst with backlogged patients: will we survive this haemorrhage? Just like any wound, the longer we bleed, the less that is likely.
Dishonesty has, as we well know, dogged Johnson’s career as he has tumbled from vexatious attempts at literacy to being the laughing stock of a Brussels politician and somehow found the tenacity to scramble his way, always on the backs of those more talented and clever, to the office of the prime minister of the United Kingdom. So lacking in talent is Johnson that he may be the prime minister who initiated the deconstruction of the United Kingdom. Soon he will be the man who rules over a country who despises him, not the leader who unites several nations- all because he lacks the modesty to follow the true will of the people. It is easier for Johnson to feed the press machine that brought him to prominence and that he uses as a shaking podium, asking them to constantly press forward the storyline that everyone loves his caddish brand of politics and then to simply place his fingers in his ears and scream a bastardised version of the national anthem- as always backed up by his baying choir, the front bench MPs. Even as a huge proportion of the nation quakes in unleashed rage against the entirety of the administration, they continue to tell us collectively that we must move on from their betrayal: that is precisely what we must never do, for they will never dictate to us where we stand, why we kneel- or why we fight.
Integrity- democracy- illusory
One may have always disliked the politics of the conservatives. That is, of course, understandable- their politics was, and is not, for many. But one could never accuse them of the unparalleled heights of hypocrisy plain to see now. Years ago, an illicit affair would be enough to dismantle a politicians career and paint the entire party with the deep stain of shame- but politics has been gamified by a media that must exist by pushing salaciousness as our bread and butter.
The public love scandal- and politicians have been all too eager to give in, to align with a media who publicises every tawdry detail and as we have watched, agog, politicians have gone from the best amongst us, the smartest and most moral amongst us to affair having, children starving, fat shaming, law breakers- even now, the reports of the Sue Gray report contain a barely concealed glee that politicians drank, fought and had sex behind the black door of number 10 which Starmer recently rightly called a representation of our democracy. Integrity was not just respected, expected- it was required.
Thatcher never recovered from the lies she told as PM, nor did Blair- and rightly so. Their legacy is written against the lies they told- but Johnson? His legacy IS the lies he has told, for it is all he has done- from the moment he was placed in office he has plied the public with so much dishonesty, rhetoric, obfuscation and technicality that we can no longer discern- or rather, we don’t know where to focus on to find the truth for everywhere you turn is a lie.
The issue with fighting this level of political dishonesty is simple to explain, and can be applied to everything from brexit to election promises to the daily besmirching of the people’s office.
The truth is a stubborn thing, as unchangeable as bedrock because it is, and it exists only as itself- it cannot change; you can put a coat of paint on the truth but it will always still be the truth.
A lie can be anything you want: if you can lie with an air of plausibility you can sell almost anything- let us take brexit as an example- take a peoples who have suffered under austerity for several years and use media to repeatedly push the idea that you are poor, your mortgage is expensive, your roads bad quality, your food expensive because of your EU membership (see the stupidity of straight bananas) and suddenly you have people desperate for a brexit that doesn’t benefit them- but of course, many will see through this, so then you bring in the rear guard on a different line of attack- anyone who still wants to stay in the EU is a traitor, doesn’t believe in the UK. Not only do you forment the blaming of the EU for people’s poorer lives but the very idea of questioning that makes you a traitor. Add to this a deepening sense of the nationalism that tells you two contradictions: Britain first, British people are better and Britain is the best it can get- and people who want better for Britain through any means other than waving its flag and declaring its wonders are traitors.
The problem we face is thus: all we ever had to fight back against governmental malice was the hope that they were the best of us: now we know better than ever that this is not the case- but what will we do about it? Starmer continues to try to assail Johnson using the rules he has already gleefully destroyed, so how could this ever work? We must change tactic- but here, my thoughts run out of steam. I am simply not smart enough to articulate the next move, and I don’t know it. Starmer’s advisors are old guard labour members, active since the 70s, 80s, 90s and they too cling to the idea that the archaic modus operandi can hold Johnson et al to scrutiny. They will fail -so we must shift attack. But how? What do we do? Let us not forget that shame, contrition and genuine remorse were the weapons we wielded in the past against governmental malfeasance. This government does not, can not- will not, feel the sting of these weapons. So what weapons will penetrate their hide: how do we re-arm ourselves and win the battle they have dragged us into?
Currently, a worrying proportion of the American further and far right are floating the idea that they will provoke a civil war against the left- and as they are the side who wholeheartedly back a lack of gun control, they truly believe it is a war they will win.
Guns are weapons- and so is knowledge, and both can be wielded to wreak havoc, but only one can truly be wielded for good. So how do we harness the capability of knowledge, weaponise it to turn the tide of this war we find ourselves in?
Only those in charge may tell- but tell they must, and soon or dire consequence will befall us- not may, but will. Knowledge cannot deflect gunfire, so we must start our deployment now, and fight back against the ignorance that will lead to it: not just in the US, but in the UK- in all the countries who claim democracy, yet only hold their leaders to the standards they can be bothered to uphold. The deepening storyline that the left want to take away freedoms even as the right does so, that the left want to force you into a body you don’t want as the right force you to carry pregnancies you don’t want, that the left want to censor speech as the right ban books about LGBT+ people or flatly refuse to report on governmental failure, that the left want to come after your children as prominent right wing politicians both here and in the US are jailed or investigated for child sex offences- somehow we must break through this cloud of hypocritical disinformation and expose the depths of right wing political corrosion to people willing to prop up governments who hurt them all to fight back against an enemy who doesn’t exist- of course, amongst right wing supporters are those who know the truth and don’t care, or know the truth but want it to be this way, but amongst them are those whose eyes can be opened to the simple fact that this polemical politics poisons them against those who want honestly what is best for all of us.
If we can reach those on the right who have been consumed by this saturation of us vs them narrative, I have hope that the real enemies of truth, those who must rely on diversion over talent will become clear to them, and we can add them to our side.
At least once a week, I write that we deserve better in the UK: we deserve better from all of our governments- but we don’t just deserve better, we need better and without it we face a dark and uncertain future, where the meeting of the lowest standards is not only acceptable- it is applauded. This is Johnson’s legacy- the 8 feet under lowering of societal standards, integrity, honesty, freedom, and on the tombstone shall be carved “here lies the UK- we could have done better- but we didn’t”.
Daviemoo is a 34 year old independent writer, radicalised into blogging about the political state of the world by Brexit and the election of serial failures like Trump and Johnson. Please check out the rest of the blog, check out Politically Enraged, the podcast available on all streaming platforms and share with your like minded friends! Also check him out on ko-fi where you can keep him caffeinated whilst he writes.