Boris Johnson turned up at PMQs, but how do you interrogate someone who's not even pretending to tell the truth?

The Independent Opinions 0 month ago

A novel experience, on Wednesday at noon, when the prime minister rose at the despatch box for what is known as Prime Minister’s Questions. Boris Johnson is over three months into the job but has only got round to doing it the once.

The last time it happened, technically, was three weeks ago, at the precise moment he was giving his party conference speech, an unfortunate timetabling clash that was the direct consequence of his having tried and failed to shut down parliament. 

That was considered a democratic outrage, at the time, but anyone tuning in today could hardly fail to see the upside in such a strategy.

The purpose of these occasions, we are led to believe, is for the whole House, and in particular the leader of the opposition, to scrutinise the government by asking the prime minister difficult questions.

Traditionally, Johnson’s tactic in such situations, over many years in public life, has been to create what he calls a “blonde wall of noise” – to just overwhelm all would-be challengers with a tornado of bluster.

That doesn’t work so well in the House of Commons as it does in television interviews, but he has a new tactic, which is equally effective. And that is just to lie.

It really works. How can anyone hope to land a blow on you when you’ve liberated yourself from even the most basic requirement to say anything that anyone might conceivably think to be true.

There he stood, stating with complete clarity, on many occasions, that the government is still committed to “leaving the EU by October 31st.” As he spoke, the Conservative party was sending out a little tub-thumping email to all its members, saying “Labour has delayed Brexit again.” He also spent the morning both in a meeting with Jeremy Corbyn, where the two of them failed to agree on a new timetable for Brexit, and on the phone to EU leaders, discussing the request for a delay to Brexit he had personally sent them, in a letter he had refused to sign, like an unimaginably petulant toddler.

It was, in its way, prime minister’s questions in the style of Pirates of the Caribbean: At World’s End. That movie loses much of its dramatic tension once death stops becoming an obstacle to life. How much edge is there to be found in a sword fight, for example, when the vanquished party just pops over the edge of the world and then comes back reborn?

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And so it is, for us, forced to listen to or otherwise analyse the words of Boris Johnson, when none of them can have any meaning at all, because he knows and we know and absolutely everybody knows that they slipped the surly bonds of truth so very long ago.

That he’ll say absolutely anything, at all.

It is like watching a man delivering election slogans the day after the election is lost. He is, at time of writing, “still committed to leaving the European Union on October 31st” even though he knows it can’t be done.

And now that that can’t be done, even though he’s still claiming he’s going to do it, he and his No10 pals next ruse is to claim he will be “calling a general election before Christmas.” He’s already tried and failed to call one of those. There’s absolutely no reason at all to imagine anything has changed that means he can just call one now. He can’t.

It’s all just noise and shouting. Say whatever you like in the hope that someone’s listening. Doesn’t matter that none of it’s true because the person who hears it probably won’t know that.

There will be a general election, at some point, and we know that this will be the strategy. Dominic Cummings has done it before and he’ll do it again. Already we have seen the Conservatives’ posters, pumped out on Facebook last night and already shared 17,000 times. 

“Boris’s Brexit deal has passed Parliament, but Labour have now voted to delay it,” it says.

It is painful to have to point out that if it had passed parliament, it would already be law. It hasn’t even come close to passing parliament. They know it, but they also know the people they want to lie to don’t.

It’s clear, right now, in late 2019, that big electoral events in big democratic countries happen at the mercy of social media, which nobody has yet worked out how to regulate or control.

No one quite knows when the general election is happening, but one thing we do know for certain. It will be yet another thermonuclear explosion of fear, lies and loathing. It is the Cummings way. The rest of us just have to live with the consequences.

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