I had the title in mind when thinking a bit about Boris Johnson and the various news we've heard in the last couple of weeks about things that he has probably done wrong (accepting money to pay for decoration) but that we have not yet had confirmed one way or the other. You can tell that something has been done that, if it gets out, will get great mileage for any anti-Johnson sentiment, and particularly in the week of local elections, it seems that all manner of lying, part-truth and ignoring the question is being deployed to try to spike this particular gun. What's really interesting about the whole story is that, in the grand scheme of things, the money spent on doing up what is inevitably a temporary residence for the occupant is trifling. It's not a small sum in the context of salaries, wage increases and benefits, but it's a small sum in the context of the untold millions spent on enriching private interests out of the public purse (probably). Why has this one got traction, where any number of reasonably clear-cut corruption stories have not? Is this the work of Dominic Cummings, manipulating newspapers behind the scenes?
Well, get ready for an analogy.
Lots of folk were disappointed by last night's relative sedate ending to Line of Duty. I thought it was spot on, and the reason is basically that the story of corruption within the police is pretty much analogous to the story of corruption within the current government. You're never quite sure who is at the root of it, and indeed when you get your answers it turns out that there's a lot less planning and infrastructure to the whole thing and a lot more making-it-up-as-you-go-along. Twitter exploded with a bunch of people feeling cheated of their mastermind, their supervillain. What we wanted was Dominic Cummings, scheming and twisted, up to his eyeballs in evil. What we got instead was a mixture of incompetence and greed. Boris Johnson. A man who clearly had the right stuff to make progress in his chosen field, despite a series of warning signs being there all along. A man who has a record of being involved in corrupt practices, but which seem to have been overlooked by the people doing the promoting. What the fourth man lacks that Johnson has is limited to a belief in his own divine(ish) right to be in charge. Johnson, as far as I can tell, simply can't compute that there are people out there who have principles other than their own enrichment, empowerment and glorification. He can't see why, when it comes to rules, they should apply to him; the rules exist to govern the common man, not him. And that is the problem currently: he is in charge of deciding what to do about forthcoming enquiries into his own behaviour. If they conclude that he has broken the ministerial code (as the one into Priti Patel's conduct as Home Secretary did, in fact, conclude) he is free to follow what is now established precedent and simply state that the conclusion of the report is wrong (as he, in fact, did in the case of the Priti Patel enquiry). It doesn't need hidden laptops and re-routing through Spanish IP addresses to stink of corruption, and even if Patricia McDonald (or James Cleverly, take your pick) is there to constantly remind us that there is no evidence of institutionalised corruption, you just know there is.
So Boris Johnson is like Donald Trump in that set of ways at least. A chancer who believes that every decision made was rather the result of inherent superiority than a system stacked in his favour. Someone for whom criminality is a concept that only really applies to others, those governed, rather than those doing the governing. What is astonishing is how each has risen to wield power in the way that they have. We can only hope that the beginning of the collapse of Johnson's power is near, because that drive to decouple the machinery of state that prevents those doing the governing from doing so in their own interests alone has already had a profound effect. It is easy to sneer at Conservative voters, particularly the ones who would be better served (in a variety of ways) by a more left-leaning administration. It is easy to caricature them as immigrant-hating, as Union Flag worshipping, as infuriated by those scrounging of the benefits system. But that hides the real truth. People seem to vote Conservative not so much because they want to be represented as they are, but that vote is cast as if they had reached their idealised version of themselves. It is as if they imagine themselves to be a part of the club that really holds them outside, needing them to achieve its power, but discarding them mercilessly once it is achieved.
What do you do? My approach so far has been to do what I can by teaching people to be good, and hoping the rest looks after itself...
When to the sessions of sweet silent thought