The stench of hypocrisy rising from the Tory leadership election is matched only by the bluster and evasion of Boris Johnson, the favourite to win it.
He refuses to take part in an adversarial televised debate with his rival Jeremy Hunt, but then is afforded a less confrontational one on one interview by the BBC (the Back Boris Corporation) with its political editor Laura Kuenssberg.
Even in this format he reveals a duplicity and ignorance that his only matched by his consummate arrogance. His history of racist attitudes reflected in numerous comments are batted away as irrelevance. He brazenly promises additional funding for schools, police and infrastructure and tax cuts for the poor, having previously promised tax cuts for the rich that would have benefitted only the top 10 percent.
His installation as prime minister would “change the equation” in his dealings with the EU that would enable him to get a Brexit deal, but he has no idea as to how this would be achieved. He was forced to acknowledge that it would depend on the co-operation of the EU but offered no evidence that that would be forthcoming.
His claims were scrutinised in a forensic analysis by the Financial Times (admittedly a strongly pro-Remain paper). His boast that Britain would leave on 31 October was punctured by EU and British officials alike who regarded it as an impossible time scale.
His claim that a trade deal could be negotiated during the implementation period after withdrawal was trashed when it was pointed out that the implementation period was part of the withdrawal agreement.
He argued that trade would not be disrupted in the event of a no deal because of the provisions of GATT 24 (a WTO rule that allows trade measures to be introduced before a deal is finalised) when it was pointed out to him that this would only apply after a deal was agreed in principle.
Finally, he deemed the existing withdrawal agreement negotiated by Theresa May “defunct” and said he would cherry pick the good bits of it. Again, this flies in the face of the EU’s determination that the terms of the deal cannot be reopened.
Johnson’s hypocrisy extends to his personal life. When a neighbour’s recording of an altercation between Johnson and his partner was made public, he asserted that he never discussed matters of personal life out of consideration for his “loved ones”. But lo and behold a few days later he arranges for a photo of them both, apparently in harmonious intimacy, which is duly reproduced in the media.
Even if, or more likely when, Johnson is elected leader (by an electorate of less than 150,000 Tory members, which is predominantly white and male with an average age of 57) he will come up against the brick wall of parliamentary arithmetic.
The balance of numerical representation of the political parties will remain the same. There is no majority for a no-deal Brexit. What’s worse for Johnson is that there is an increasing number of pro-Remain Tories, coalescing around Dominic Grieve, who have said that they would not only refuse to vote for it, but that they would also not support Johnson in a confidence vote if he tried to push Brexit through without a vote in parliament.
Prominent Conservative journalists Max Hastings and Mathew Parris have written excoriating criticisms of Johnson, the former declaring that “he is unfit for national office, because it seems he cares for no interest save his own fame and gratification”.
Bear in mind also that he has been anointed by Trump, advised by Steve Bannon and courted by Nigel Farage, who in a volte face has committed to co-operate with him to deliver Brexit. A marriage made in hell!
None of this of course should lead anyone to the conclusion that Jeremy Hunt, Johnson’s opponent in the election, will be any better. He has already fallen in behind Trump’s foreign policy agenda and promised to increase defence spending, not to mention his legacy of accelerating the privatisation of the NHS when in government. He also thinks the abortion time limit should be lowered to 12 weeks.
As the tagline to Alien vs Predator put it, whoever wins, we all lose. But while the Tories are busy appointing the new prime minister, we need to spend the summer preparing for an autumn of resistance — starting with the students’ and workers’ strike for the climate on Friday 20 September.