The long awaited Sue Gray report investigating the multiple allegations that Boris Johnson attended numerous parties in Downing Street during lock down looks like it’s going to be even longer awaited. Although earlier this week it was reported that the report was imminent, as of Thursday there is still no sign of it and there are signals from government sources that its findings may not be made public until next week. There are also signs that the government may not publish the full report, but only a summary of its findings, giving Johnson and his supporters the opportunity to cherry pick the findings that suit their agenda and to assist Johnson in wriggling off the hook. The longer this process goes on, the more opportunities Johnson’s party machine has in order to browbeat, intimidate, blackmail, and bribe Conservative MPs into supporting him and as public attention starts to move elsewhere, the steam will begin to come out of the Conservative revolt and the better Johnson’s chances become of surviving a vote of confidence.
It is notable that despite the gum bumping of some of his Conservative critics, and claims that they already have “almost” the 54 signatures needed in order to trigger a vote of no- confidence, no overt move has been made against Johnson yet. That can only mean that Johnson’s opponents realise that not only do they not have enough signatures yet in order to start a formal vote against Johnson, there is still no one in the talentless and charisma free void that is the modern Conservative party who comes close to having sufficient support both amongst MPs and amongst the party membership to be able to replace him. For the most part the Tories are doing a Mundell and keeping a low profile until they see what way the land lies. Although if Scottish Tory MPs had any lower of a profile they’d be a pit at the entrance gate to Hades, which not coincidentally is where Andrew Bowie has his constituency office.
It looks like we are headed for that very typically British non-event, similar to the long running investigation into Tony Blair’s blatantly illegal war-mongering, fabrication of false evidence, and lies to Parliament which led to UK involvement in the invasion of Iraq and the disastrous and lethal consequences which ensued. Despite considerable hype and expectation, the report arrived with a “meh”, and Blair was able to escape any meaningful consequences. From the point of view of the British establishment the Iraq report achieved exactly what it was supposed to achieve – to create the impression that those in power in the UK can be held to account, without actually holding them to account.
The Sue Gray investigation smells very strongly of being the same kind of trick. Supporters of Johnson are loudly insisting that it is an independent investigation. In fact it is no such thing. It is an internal Downing Street investigation in which Sue Gray is looking into allegations levied against her boss’s boss. She has not been tasked with coming to any conclusions or recommending any actions to be taken, that is left to Johnson, who is to be his own judge and jury.
Boris Johnson is a thoroughly despicable individual, even by the standards of the modern Conservative party, and that in itself is a remarkable achievement. He is dishonest, corrupt, entitled and narcissistic. You know that he is lying because his mouth is moving. Attending parties during lock down counts amongst the least of his failures. His incompetence and chaotic callousness directly led to the unnecessary deaths of many thousands of people during the early part of the pandemic, but far from learning from his mistakes he doubled down on them and repeated them, even yelling that the bodies could pile high in their thousands before he’d agree to another lock down.
In any properly functioning democracy, a lying chancer like Johnson would never have got close to the highest office in the land. He would not merely have long ago been removed from office, he would be facing a court on charges of criminal negligence. But this is not a properly functioning democracy, this is the UK, which bears the same relationship to a proper democracy as Ye Olde Britishe Pubbe in Disneyland does to an authentic night out in a real village pub. It’s a carefully contrived facsimile of the real thing, without any of its substance.
Much as Johnson is to be despised, and for all the havoc he will continue to wreak in office, part of me hopes that he will after all survive a leadership challenge, because his survival will only assist in the longer term destruction of the Conservative party. Whoever does replace him will be equally cruel, equally jingoistic in their opportunistic Anglo-British nationalism, and equally hell bent on the destruction of public services and any remaining checks and balances which allow the Prime Minister to be held to account. It will provide the false reassurance that the UK is a properly functioning democracy while reinforcing the Conservatives’ grip on power. Nothing of substance would change. It would be left to the Conservatives to choose a new Prime Minister. The British Prime Minister already has presidential powers with few effective constitutional checks and balances. For the Tories to select a new Prime Minister for nothing more than their own selfish party political interests would be a travesty of democracy.
Johnson’s survival will place Douglas Ross and the Scottish Conservatives in the impossible situation of being an anti-independence party which has condemned the British Prime Minister and their own party leader as being unfit for office while at the same time denying Scotland the ability to do anything about it. Ross will either have to resign, or he will simply give credence to Rees Mogg’s jibe that he is a lightweight. The Scottish Tories will then be forced to defend the indefensible as they go into the local elections in May, and you’d need a heart of stone not to laugh.
As we await what is most likely to prove to be the very British non-event of the Gray report, it is worth remembering that whether Johnson survives or falls this unedifying episode only serves as a valuable lesson that the Westminster system is rotten to the very core and is incapable of being reformed. As supporters of Scottish independence that only strengthens even further one of the strongest arguments or independence. It is only with independence that the people of Scotland can get the government that they elect and which is accountable to them and them alone.
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