a Nearly four months ago, when that column was interrupted and I was on vacation, Boris Johnson’s death was widely considered imminent. So imminent, in fact, that I was anxious to postpone my departure lest I miss the moment. So imminent that my expectation at the time that the Partigate might matter a little in the short or medium term seemed to sway under a seemingly irresistible weight. Critics were sure that the press supporting Johnson was running out of avenues of justification, and voters were too crazy to act.
A lot has happened since then: resignations, fines, Sue Gray’s harsh report, election losses, a vote of confidence. But in terms of the big thing, the only big thing that really matters, nothing happened. Johnson’s resignation or ouster – and the consequent restoration of some semblance of standards and values in British politics – remains imminent.
I may not feel it, but I am here, an Ephesian sleeper, to tell you that after a long slumber I found that things were more or less as they were a year earlier. But with an extra dash of danger.
Because while we wait and take some comfort in the fact that Johnson is a dead man, two things happen. At first, political norms became elusive. Expectations of the consequences of dishonesty and misconduct in senior positions began to fade. The standards we hold for our politics are beginning to matter less than the standards that politicians adhere to. New standards begin to replace the old and then become difficult to undo overnight.
Check leniency No. 10 toward former Vice President Chris Pincher, who was suspended from the party only after filing a complaint with the Parliament’s Conduct Inspectorate, and from which new allegations of sexual misconduct are still emerging. Pincher is reluctant to step down as a member of Parliament, perhaps in a nod to a prime minister who is slow to exercise discipline or serve himself.
Here’s the thing about standards: they coalesce over time. They are not objective standards of behavior; It is shaped by what the government and the people have become accustomed to over a period of time – in this case a period when lies, corruption, and nepotism go unpunished. Restoring those standards will require more than a new leader installed by “good” conservatives, whatever that means. And it would take more than one Labor to passively wait in the wings for Johnson’s show to stop (very slowly). The earth shifts and tilts and rolls every day in a direction where the only thing standing between a successful lie of office and accountability is not the electorate or other politicians, but how brave and brazen each bastard must strive. The stark contrast.
When there is such a difference between crime and punishment – seven months and counting now since Partygate first reported it – it’s not really possible to recover. The January 6 Commission hearings and the Roe v. Wade ruling are a good example of toxic half-life. Donald Trump lost, but left the door wide open for his allies and impersonators to sow mischief and run for office by fostering a culture of grievances that led to an actual uprising, for which no politician was punished, only the citizens. A country torn apart by a man that no god can bring together.
This is the second thing that happens while waiting to drown
Johnson and his own version of the Conservative Party – Laws are passed and events with powerful influence unfold long after their heroes have come forward. Johnson’s dysfunctional administration may seem a farce, but it retains the power of the executive branch to make decisions that have a real impact on real people. These choices turn disastrous when they embark on even more ruthless and brutal policies in a crude and passionate attempt to throw red meat at the so-called red wall and repeat those early days of love before all promises of compromise come to naught. And so the scheme for moving immigrants abroad was pieced together, like a bouquet of apology flowers sent to a guilty lover who actually prefers lilies.
It’s tempting to see this as a drama, but the script has terrible tangible implications. She sees desperate people being dragged aboard planes out of desperate confinement as an act of public order. You see a trade war on the horizon on the government’s reckless plans to suspend the Northern Ireland Protocol; risk it Shaping the country’s future – signs of this most dangerous time.
Talking to a friend about this stalemate, this terrible contentment, he said, “It is as if we were all on a plane assured that we would soon land as soon as conditions improved, without realizing that we also ran out of fuel.” As for Hemingway’s description of default, British policy goes bankrupt in two ways: little by little, then all at once.
Today, as it was four and even seven months ago, I feel reassured, sometimes gently, that it is only a matter of time before Johnson leaves and the reset begins. But within a time – or, as Keynes said, in the long run – we are all dead. Change, of course, takes time, but as James Baldwin pointed out, he urged white people to be patient with the slow pace of change in American race relations becoming: “It took my father’s time. My mother’s time. My uncle’s time. The time of my brothers and sisters. How much time do you need?” to advance you?”