A small Victorian schoolboy has been naughty - or not done his homework - and is being chastised by a ferocious schoolma’am brandishing a switch. From “Peter Parley’s Annual - A Christmas and New Year’s Present for Young People” published in London by Darton & Co in 1851.
Artillery Row

A very naughty boy

We have to stop indulging Boris

“Can he come back?” There’s some kind of madness that overtakes people when they think about Boris Johnson. He resigns from Parliament, and ITV’s political editor immediately starts asking interviewees if he will be allowed to stand again as a Conservative MP. He is the subject of a report so damning that it is without precedent, and Sky’s political editor asks MPs about the possibility of his return. 

We don’t do this with anyone else. Court reporters didn’t do two-ways with the studio about whether Fred West would be able to get a new B&Q loyalty card. We don’t even do it with other politicians. MPs’ careers have been declared finished over far less than a finding of having repeatedly and deliberately misled Parliament. And yet somehow Johnson’s toddler tantrum statement is taken as a sign not of a man who has completely lost his grip but of a statesman gearing up for a return. Good old Boris!

We have to stop indulging him

We have to stop indulging him. The reason that, as his teacher famously put it, Johnson thinks the rules don’t apply to him is that they don’t. If I had fabricated quotes as a reporter, I would have been fired. The Telegraph gave him a job, and then spent three decades encouraging him to make more things up. He is, according to his former editor, Max Hastings, “a brilliant journalist”. Not if he’s making the stories up he’s not, Max. That’s not how it works. 

Even when Johnson wrote for the Telegraph as a former foreign secretary, and made-up statistics, the paper explained that no one was expected to take him seriously. I’m sure someone will pop-up to tell me I’m a po-faced bore, but I think it matters if journalists lie, even if their lies are terribly funny.

It matters if prime ministers lie to parliament, too. If any other PM had treated parliament like this, then “Sir” Jacob Rees-Mogg would have been on his high horse, riding round in front of the cameras talking about the importance of democratic accountability. But “Sir” Jacob catches a flash of blond hair and his scruples go out of the window. 

Other Tory MPs may feel they’re better than “Sir” Jacob, as they begin to edge away from Johnson. Rishi Sunak wants us to know that he stood up to his predecessor, though as ever he can’t quite explain the details. But they made him their leader in 2019. “Only Boris Johnson Can Save Us”, Sunak wrote in The Times, eyes already on the bump up the ministerial ladder that this would give him. Well, they knew who he was. Not a single thing he has said or done since then has been a surprise. Character was destiny.

Now Conservative MPs are said to be debating how they will vote on the Privileges Committee’s report, as though “should prime ministers lie to parliament?” is a question that would have had Edmund Burke scratching his head. Perhaps, some whisper, they can courageously abstain, as though this is an issue on which one doesn’t have to pick a side. 

Let’s be clear: the Conservative Party failed a test in 2019. It knowingly appointed as its leader a man every bit as unsuitable to be prime minister as Jeremy Corbyn was. There will have to be an accounting for that. But on Monday Tory MPs face another test. If they cannot stand up for honesty and accountability in public office, then they have no business sitting in parliament. 

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