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Boris Johnson may win the election. The rest of us will lose

To secure his victory, Johnson has sunk lower than any prime minister in modern times
Prime Minister Boris Johnson listens to a question at the Nato summit in Watford, north of London, on 4 December (AFP)

A week to go until the UK election, and Boris Johnson’s Conservative Party is winning the popular vote hands down. He’s cruising.

If the polls are right, and I guess they are, Johnson is set to move back into Downing Street with the most commanding Conservative victory since Maggie Thatcher secured a majority of 102 in 1987. 

As a lifelong Conservative, I should be delighted. Instead, I feel despair. To secure his victory, Johnson has sunk lower than any prime minister in modern times. Far lower.

Exploiting tragedy

Take his reaction to the murder of the young man and woman on London Bridge last Friday. Johnson promptly announced he would cease to campaign in a mark of respect to the victims. While observing the formalities, in practice he did nothing of the sort.

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Instead, Johnson went into overdrive to secure every possible electoral advantage he could from the deaths of the two young people. This was in direct defiance of the express wishes of the father of one of the victims, who wrote on Twitter: “My son, Jack, who was killed in this attack, would not wish his death to be used as the pretext for more draconian sentences or for detaining people unnecessarily.”

The prime minister is pursuing a policy of lying and cheating to secure a parliamentary majority. The scale of this deceit is without precedent in British public life

The Conservatives sought to exploit the tragedy regardless. Johnson blamed Labour for the early release of the attacker. He wrote an article in the Mail on Sunday, titled “Give me a majority and I’ll keep you safe from terror”. How does the prime minister promise to achieve this? By introducing more draconian sentences. In Johnson’s words: “These criminals must serve every day of their sentence, with no exceptions.”

The prime minister is pursuing a policy of lying and cheating to secure a parliamentary majority. The scale of this deceit is without precedent in British public life. For this reason, I have set up a website to list the lies uttered by the prime minister. Keeping up is a gruelling task. He tells so many lies that it’s impossible to keep pace.

Lies and falsehoods

Every time Johnson appears on the television or radio, he utters more lies and falsehoods. It’s the same when he makes a stump speech, or when he writes articles in the newspapers. His propaganda machine makes sure these lies are disseminated extensively online. 

A recent example was the prime minister’s weekend appearance on the Andrew Marr Show on Sunday. Johnson claimed there would be “no tariffs and no checks” on goods from Northern Ireland to the UK after Brexit. His own Brexit secretary, Stephen Barclay, says otherwise. He told Marr that Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn “wants to scrap MI5”. Rubbish.

Nor should it be overlooked that Johnson - as David Hearst exposed in a brilliant column for Middle East Eye last week - has been guilty of racist comments far uglier than anything Corbyn has ever been accused of. 

Johnson and other officials arrive at the scene of the London Bridge attack on 30 November (AFP)
Johnson and other officials arrive at the scene of the London Bridge attack on 30 November (AFP)

In normal circumstances, Johnson would never get away with this deceit. He would be exposed and shamed by the press and media, which police British public discourse. Yet Johnson pays no serious price, because he’s being protected by client media that systematically fail to challenge his lies, to expose his racism or even to question him seriously about his plans for Brexit.

Johnson dodges questions about donations by Russian oligarchs to the Conservative Party, some with links to Russia’s feared state intelligence service, the FSB. According to the chairman of the Intelligence and Security Committee, Dominic Grieve, the report was ready for publication before the calling of the general election. Johnson has suppressed the report until after the vote.

He continues to resist an independent inquiry into the virulent problem of Tory Islamophobia, despite undeniable evidence that the problem stretches right to the summit of the organisation. 

Dark days for UK journalism

We have entered one of the darkest periods of British political journalism. Johnson has banned the Daily Mirror, the one national newspaper that unequivocally supports Labour, from travelling on the Tory campaign bus. This is something that no British party leader has ever done before. 

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One can only imagine the outrage if Corybn had done something similar. To their shame, British political reporters went along with this ugly tactic. Even with their Mirror colleagues excluded, they got onto Johnson’s bus. 

Twenty-five years ago, when I was a political reporter for the Conservative-supporting Evening Standard, I am convinced we would have stayed off the bus in solidarity with our fellow journalists. But the current generation of political journalists apparently failed to understand that Johnson’s attack on the Daily Mirror is an attack on all journalists and their right to report freely. 

This hostility towards a free press was there from before Johnson (a former journalist) took office. At the launch of his leadership campaign in June, Conservative activists booed Sky News political editor Beth Rigby when she asked a question about Johnson’s Islamophobic comments. They received no rebuke from Johnson. 

A heavy price

By contrast, when Labour supporters jeered the BBC’s Laura Kuenssberg at the party’s manifesto launch, Corbyn immediately intervened, telling the audience: “We don’t do that. All journalists will be heard with respect.” 

Broadcasters that challenge the Tory machine pay a heavy price. Johnson was the only party leader, apart from Nigel Farage of the Brexit Party, to boycott Channel 4’s televised debate on climate change a week ago. 

It would appear Johnson is looking for a mandate to put himself above the law

As for the state-owned BBC, it has apparently allowed the prime minister to choose which interviewers he faces. Corbyn, Liberal Democrat Jo Swinson, and Scottish Nationalist Nicola Sturgeon have all been interviewed by the feared Andrew Neil, under the apparent understanding that all the party leaders would do so. 

But Johnson has so far refused to appear. Instead, he was interviewed by Andrew Marr in a programme that received a number of complaints over Marr’s failure to challenge false claims made by the prime minister.

Meanwhile, as I exposed in an article for the Guardian last week, too much BBC reporting has been partisan in favour of Johnson. 

Abandoning decency

There are other reasons to worry about the direction of Johnson’s campaign. The Conservative Party’s manifesto has largely been dismissed as unambitious. But on page 48, there is a sinister statement: “We will ensure that judicial review is available to protect the rights of the individuals against an overbearing state, while ensuring that it is not abused to conduct politics by another means or to create needless delays.” 

It would appear Johnson is looking for a mandate to put himself above the law. Fairness and decency have been abandoned by people who ought to know better. 

Johnson and his Tories may well win next week. But they will have won through deceit and bullying. In the long term, they will pay a price. So - sadly - will the rest of us.

The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Eye.

Peter Oborne won best commentary/blogging in both 2022 and 2017, and was also named freelancer of the year in 2016 at the Drum Online Media Awards for articles he wrote for Middle East Eye. He was also named as British Press Awards Columnist of the Year in 2013. He resigned as chief political columnist of the Daily Telegraph in 2015. His latest book is The Fate of Abraham: Why the West is Wrong about Islam, published in May by Simon & Schuster. His previous books include The Triumph of the Political Class, The Rise of Political Lying, Why the West is Wrong about Nuclear Iran and The Assault on Truth: Boris Johnson, Donald Trump and the Emergence of a New Moral Barbarism.
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