Boris Johnson and the Stasi

A front page of the Evening Standard, with the headline "Boris's show of unity" with a picture of Johnson and his girlfriend Carrie Symonds, sitting on wooden chairs in a garden looking at each other.
Today’s Evening Standard, the London evening paper also known as the Evening Boris.

So, last weekend the story broke of a row between Boris Johnson, the man who looked until then as if he was certain to become the leader of the Tory party and Prime Minister, and his girlfriend at her house in south London, which was reported to the police and then taped by the neighbours and the recording sent to the Guardian. As I was on a delivery run to Kettering and Dartford last Saturday, I spent much of the day glued to Radio 4 which ran an interview with the author of a critical biography of Johnson, who had worked with him in Brussels and told us that he was notorious for his temper, and Allison Pearson of the Daily Telegraph who compared the neighbours to the Stasi, the former East German secret police. Over the weekend, Twitter was abuzz with two different narratives: one saying that many women have died because neighbours heard fights and other signs of abuse and did not call the police or otherwise intervene and that women have been saved because they did, and the other making Johnson out to be the victim of a politically-motivated action by nosy neighbours acting like self-appointed secret police and to take one example, from a pro-Brexit radio presenter:

I found the reference to the Stasi grotesquely inappropriate. The Stasi, like other secret police forces in other dictatorships, did not principally spy on their communist bosses but on ordinary people and particularly for any signs of dissent; it was an organ of the state and consisted of people employed by the state. Although it did use information sourced from ordinary people, it also relied on paid spies and informants and on people tempted by inducements and blackmail. What was reported in this case was not Boris Johnson using crass racial slurs, printing inflammatory nonsense about a minority community or expounding ridiculous theories about Britain’s place outside the EU; he does that in public, often in the same newspapers that have been backing him. It was a domestic argument that disturbed his neighbours and gave them concern for the welfare of his girlfriend, who (despite being of similar political mind to him) said things that ring true with many people: that he is selfish, spoiled, and unconcerned enough with money (because he’s never been short of it) that he thinks red wine on the sofa is no big deal.

Let’s not forget, the Tory press (and the smaller liberal tabloid press) have themselves behaved in a manner reminiscent of a secret police force over the years, relying on malicious stories, employing people to search people’s bins, using material from people who illegally access others’ voicemails, and using outright harassment with packs of reporters waiting outside people’s doors and following them down the street, such that people have sometimes had to be bundled into a car with a blanket over their head to avoid their demands. They ruin lives and end careers. Only a few weeks ago the Daily Mail ran a front-page story (and several pages inside) to an “expose” of Jeremy Corbyn filled with tittle-tattle about petty details of his private behaviour from so-called friends and maybe one of his ex-wives. If this is appropriate treatment for Corbyn, an incident of actual inconsiderate and possibly abusive behaviour from Johnson, who unlike Corbyn is likely to be appointed prime minister within a few weeks without a public vote, is just as much in the public interest. Come to think of it, another common feature of a dictatorship is a cowed or sycophantic press which is full of propaganda and this is exactly what the Daily Telegraph in particular looks like right now: one front page after another praising Boris Johnson, who has a high-profile weekly column, and attacking his critics.

I don’t think this incident would have become public knowledge if it were not for the fact that Johnson is likely to become prime minister without a public vote, and were not so obviously unfit for the job; if he had not displayed racism so repeatedly, if he had not sowed the seeds of discontent about the EU by fabricating stories while employed at the Telegraph, if he had not embarrassed this country repeatedly with his ridiculous remarks and exposed British citizens abroad to danger. His supporters seem at best absolutely blind to his faults and at worst they regard them as strengths, or as a sign of how powerful they are that they do not need to worry about pesky minorities that he has offended or, worse, endangered. The prevailing attitude among them seems to be: never mind the snowflakes. I even heard Vanessa Feltz today suggest that Johnson is the opposite of what Theresa May was accused of being, the “Maybot” always reading from the script and reciting stock phrases again and again; it was suggested that his “colourful” character inspires people rather than boring them. The Tories’ attitude to ordinary people was also prevalent in the assault by Mark Field on a Greenpeace activist who protested at a bankers’ and politicians’ banquet last Friday, which prompted a stream of Tory politicians to excuse an obviously unnecessary act of violence.

I don’t think that, politically, there is much to choose between Jeremy Hunt and Boris Johnson; they are both Brexiteers, open to a no-deal exit from the EU, and both slavishly devoted to the US president and willing to follow Trump into war with Iran. Johnson is just more openly racist, a proven liar, a philanderer and a man with zero diplomatic ability. After seeing the disaster with Trump I do not believe anyone should be taking chances by calling for people with a vote to vote for him in the hope that he will lose a general election, or his seat; we cannot guarantee that there are not enough Labour members with an “anyone but Corbyn” attitude or Labour Brexiteers fearful for their seats to keep him in office. This man is simply unfit for any position of public responsibility whatsoever; he should not even be an MP, let alone prime minister, and it sickens me that he has got away with so much while people have been expelled from the Labour party for things interpreted as anti-Semitism which are much milder than the things Johnson has come out with in mainstream journals again and again. So, well done to the people who leaked this to the Guardian. If the Tory party had not been about to foist this wretch on all of us, it would not have been necessary. As it is, the disaster may have been averted.

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