Even if you didn’t support Boris Johnson there is no cause to despair

Congratulations to Boris Johnson. This is his victory, and I’m afraid it is an advertisement for what a flamboyant advocate, not afraid to dissemble and to stretch the rules can sometimes achieve.

There are plenty of reasons to worry about what he has in store, but even for those of us who did not vote for him there are also reasons not to despair, and even to be cheerful.

It goes without saying that Corbyn’s defeat has saved the country from the risk of bankruptcy, Venezuela-style . Practically any alternative was preferable to that.

So far the signs are not very encouraging but there is perhaps now some chance that after its catastrophic defeat the Labour Party will come to its senses, move back towards the centre, and begin to look like a credible government in waiting, or at least that it will provide a serious opposition.

And there are two other tiny crumbs of comfort.

1. Zac Goldsmith lost his seat

One of the very few Conservatives to lose their seat, Zac Goldsmith was one of those who most deserved to do so. He ran a nasty, borderline racist, campaign to become Mayor of London and he was – almost as much as Tom Watson – a promoter of absurd VIP paedophile conspiracy theories. Good riddance.

2. Chris Williamson lost his seat

His pitch as “the only pro-Corbyn candidate standing in Derby North” didn’t save him. Good riddance and good news for the Treasury’s Consolidated Fund which will now receive his £500.00 lost deposit.

Admittedly, lots of good people lost, and lots of bad ones won, so the defeat of these two is a fairly small consolation.

What of the bigger picture? Things don’t look especially promising, but there again …

3. We don’t know what will happen

Nobody knows. I think it’s fairly common to find that most things turn out to be not quite as bad as you had expected. I’ve often spent months dreading some tricky case, losing sleep, worrying and fearing the worst. Generally speaking, even if things go badly, the worst doesn’t happen. Sometimes it does of course.

In politics much the same is true. So cheer up, it may never happen.

And perhaps Mr Johnson will turn out to be not so bad after all.

Older readers will remember Margaret Thatcher and Ronald Reagan. Both came into office widely regarded as dangerous war-mongers. Both were also considered, even by many of their supporters, as heartless economic dogmatists which perhaps, to an extent, they were. Reagan was not just considered heartless but almost a buffoon; personally charming perhaps but extremely stupid and quite unfit for high office. I had an aunt by marriage who used to play poker with him and would watch others, if not herself, take thousands of dollars off him in every sitting: “oh what an idiot he is,” she would reminisce.

Yet together Thatcher and Reagan helped bring about the collapse of the Soviet empire. Domestically their policies unquestionably brought about unemployment and suffering but also, eventually, unprecedented prosperity. You can of course argue over whether their overall legacy was good or bad but on any view they became towering figures of the late twentieth century, a prospect that many would have ridiculed when they assumed office.

(My aunt, by the way, died suddenly at a relatively young age, long before Reagan, whereupon it was discovered that she had been covering up a number of, shall we say, financial irregularities in her own life. Her evidence about the poker games would consequently need to be scrutinised with particular care).

Boris Johnson is not stupid though even his closest friends could hardly deny that he is a buffoon. His vices are manifest: many of his principles are weak to the point of non-existent, he lies regularly, he betrays his allies – witness his abandonment of the Northern Ireland Unionists – he is a coward (look at how he has avoided difficult interviews), he is reckless over the details of policy, and in his private life he may well be a scoundrel. These are serious faults – though he is not the only politician to possess them – and may well prove his undoing. Yet he is not, as his more extreme detractors like to depict him, a “fascist,” or even especially “right wing.” I am not ignoring the “piccaninnies” the “bum-boys” or the “letter boxes and bank robber” columns. Buffoonery? Certainly. Nasty? Yes. But as recently as July of this year, for example, he supported an amnesty for illegal immigrants: it’s hard to imagine Mussolini doing such a thing, or even Viktor Orban.

Having won a huge election victory he is no longer beholden to the right of the Conservative Party, to whom he was obliged to pander in order to win the leadership. He is already stressing that he is a “One Nation Conservative.” His lack of principle might yet morph into a respectable conservative pragmatism. A lack of interest in detail may not matter much if he appoints strategically wise, and not just tactically cunning, advisers. His cowardice may turn out to be sensible caution and as for his private life, well perhaps it is none of our business.

4. There won’t be a second referendum

Even many of those who supported a second referendum were rather ambivalent about it, seeing it as the lesser of two evils, but an evil nonetheless. It’s bad to be leaving the EU, but it would also have been very bad and perhaps– who can really say – worse to have endured a second referendum.

The only such referendum actually on offer was the Labour model, with the proposed choice of withdrawing from the EU on terms that absolutely nobody wanted, or remaining. It would, rightly, have been seen by Leavers as rigged and a betrayal, and it would indeed have torn the country apart. Voters acted entirely rationally in rejecting such a stupid idea.

If a fairer referendum, setting Johnson’s deal against Remain, had somehow been engineered in a hung Parliament, it would have extended the agony and probably would have been won by Leave anyway. Even if Remain had won, it’s hard to imagine that we would simply have put the whole ghastly business behind us and carried on in the EU as though nothing had happened. It would have been a running sore. That is one reason why “Get Brexit Done” was such an effective slogan.

Remainers have lost, but in reality perhaps we’ve just been put out of our misery.

5. Attacks on human rights law may never happen

There is that rather worrying section in the Conservative Manifesto:

We will update the Human Rights Act and administrative law to ensure that there is a proper balance between the rights of individuals, our vital national security and effective government. We will ensure that judicial review is available to protect the rights of the individuals against an overbearing state, while ensuring that it is not abused to conduct politics by another means or to create needless delays.”

It all sounds a bit ominous, but it’s also far too vague to amount to a commitment to do anything very much. The one thing it is not is a commitment to repeal the Human Rights Act, although admittedly “updating” could cover virtually anything up to and including emasculation.

And what about the next sentence?

In our first year we will set up a Constitution, Democracy & Rights commission that will examine these issues in depth, and come up with proposals to restore trust in our institutions and in how our democracy operates.”

Another name for this Commission might be “the Long Grass Commission.” The coalition government – yes I know it was in a much weaker position than Mr Johnson’s – set up a similar Commission to advise on the contents of a “British Bill of Rights.” It got bogged down and eventually completely stranded in the difficult process of agreeing exactly what should be in such a Bill.

One of the Commissioners then was Martin Howe QC – soon to become (what he remains) something of a legal eminence grise amongst Leavers – and he actually proposed additional human rights that should be included in a British Bill of Rights. For example, his proposal would have extended existing Article 6 rights (which deal with the right to a fair trial) to cover “non-criminal proceedings for the imposition of a penalty.” What a good idea.

Nor does the Manifesto contain any proposals to withdraw from the European Convention on Human Rights. Any attempt to do so would create plenty of problems, and it would throw petrol onto the smouldering problem of the union with both Scotland and Northern Ireland. We shall have to wait and see whether Mr Johnson has the appetite for such a conflagration. When the Cabinet Secretary enthusiastically congratulates him, Sir Humphrey-like, on his “courageous” policy, might he tremble and take the hint?

In any case, I doubt whether he wants to be known as the Prime Minister who broke up the Union, although of course there is a fairly high chance that that will in fact be his legacy. My hunch is that his own inclination might be to encourage the Commission to “examine these issues” in such great “depth” that no specific proposals ever actually surface, or that they do so only when there is no longer any time available to implement them.

We shall see. I can’t say I am very optimistic about the future but from now on, at least, there will be no-one to blame if everything does indeed go the shape of one of those mythical bendy bananas that Mr Johnson lied about all those years ago.

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Author: Matthew

I have been a barrister for over 25 years, specialising in crime. You may also have come across some of my articles I have written on legal issues for The Times, Standpoint, Daily Telegraph or Criminal Law & Justice Weekly

20 thoughts on “Even if you didn’t support Boris Johnson there is no cause to despair”

  1. I see no point in congratulating a winner. Do you congratulate a defendant who has managed to persuade a jury to acquit him? I don’t propose to congratulate Donald Trump if he manages to avoid impeachment when the Republican members of Congress block it, through self-interest.

    The Tories have no plans to increase spending on legal aid, or to pay criminal barristers and solicitors a decent fee for their services. The Tory plans to increase spending on criminal justice are geared towards crowd-pleasing initiatives, more police and prisons, and no politician has ever made an effort to defend lawyers and judges. Priti Patel is an unimpressive Home Secretary. Boris has a very weak grasp of detail, so he definitely won’t understand the details of the Brexit Agreement that he got his civil servants to draft for him, and for which he assiduously claims all the credit. The nation must hope that eventually Boris will be replaced by a new leader with the same work ethic and eye for detail as Margaret Thatcher, and the ability to promote talented people rather than those most likely to support his garden-bridge building efforts. And is Remain really doomed? Dominic Grieve said not, last night, but the presenters chose to ignore his words. We have a new PM who has a huge majority and a five year term, no longer beholden to anyone for favours, no longer under pressure to make deals with the right or left of his party. When the civil servants come back to him with the latest Yellowhammer assessments, Boris might actually have the courage and gumption to call a halt to the slow moving procession towards the cliff edge. We need a five year plan, maybe a ten year plan, to implement a decent Brexit.

  2. I’ve been in a total state of shock tbh…..really didn’t foresee such a landslide victory for the Cons. Makes me ashamed to be British….yeah, real risk Corbyn would end up bankrupting the country….but I figure that would have been worth the risk and necessary to offset several decades of the exact opposite.

    So the nasty racist vile people are going to get what they want….and with us out of Europe real risk bankrupt the cuntry anyway. + distinct possibility that Trump and his ilke will end up ‘owning’ us…

    But I have never been allowed to vote in my entire life…I wonder how many others? I really do wonder if there is any semblance of actual democracy left in this country….it’s just a fascade, i’m pretty sure….

    1. “I have never been allowed to vote in my entire life…”

      Have you spent your entire life in an institution?!

      By the way do “liberals” realise that even “Democrat” Joe Biden has said Boris won because the opposition were too far left!!!

  3. It is depressing and worrying that ten million people voted for a Labour party led by Corbyn. But it is reassuring that some left-wingers and Remainers (I am assuming you fall into these categories) are gracious in defeat and can see the severe flaws in Corbyn’s policies and the idea of a second referendum. Thank you for this optimistic article.

  4. I’m no fan of Labour, but I’m not feeling optimistic at all, for the following, extemporaneously mustered reasons:

    1) The Tory party is no longer the moderate Tory party I could have put up with.
    2) Boris and the ERG are at the helm. The deal on the table is (arguably) worse than the deal they rejected three times because it was too soft for them. I don’t trust Boris and his cronies to stick with a deal that was negotiated hastily as part of a game of chicken, no doubt with the primary aim of saving face for Boris. I wonder whether the unrealistic timetable he has set for us to secure a trade deal may be deliberately geared towards failure so that a hard Brexit can be justified further down the line. The clean break that I suspect they really want will mean we’ll have to compete harder to retain and attract businesses and that some of the reasons for unrest that have existed since the financial crisis (e.g. major corporates not paying their fair share of tax) will be even harder to address.
    3) We might now have to face another five years of food banks, in-work poverty, zero-hours contracts, long waiting lists for mental health treatment, a crumbling NHS (and yes, why wouldn’t they sell it off via the back door?), ex-servicemen having to be looked after by charities, soaring homelessness rates, putting profit before the climate emergency, understaffed police, derogatory comments towards women and minorities, residents of high-rise towers feeling unsafe in their homes, no affordable housing, more taxpayers’ money thrown at the housing market to inflate the value of MPs’ property portfolios and move us ever closer towards a situation of serfdom. And, if Boris does decide to impose a hard Brexit on us all and GBP plummets permanently as a result, lasting inflation.
    4) Boris and the ERG with a whacking majority presiding over the adoption, amendment, etc. of laws as we leave the EU.

    I found this election painful. I almost wanted an extra box on the ballot paper saying ‘none of the above under any circumstances’.

    1. People, well, “liberals”, keep whinging about food banks.

      Do they realise that France and Germany had food banks before us, have more than us, and more people using them.

      Also that nowhere in the EU, in fact nowhere in the world, that has a nationalised NHS type health service.

      They all have privatised, co-payer, insurance based, etc, based health care.

      Hmmmmmm, maybe we need closer integration into the EU!

      1. @Mr B J Man

        I’m Dutch and I’ve lived extensively in Germany, the UK and (of course) the Netherlands. I can’t speak for France, but the UK has more than double the number of food banks than Germany despite having only two thirds the population. And no, the Germans don’t have more people using them, because their society (like the Scandinavians) has been engineered in such a way that the gap between rich and poor is not so pronounced.

        The more insular folks in the insular UK seem to assume that all private healthcare systems in the world are on a par with that of the Americans. That simply isn’t the case. Again, I can only speak for the Dutch and German systems. These are indeed insurance-based systems, but the insurance isn’t more than the Brits are typically paying in National Insurance and governments tightly regulate cover levels, excesses, what must and must not be provided, and they also ensure that those on low incomes and/or benefits receive a fairly extensive range of basic healthcare cover. The benefit of the private systems is that hospitals have to compete for the business. ‘Consider our hospital for your operation. Our waiting list is only five days compared to their 10 days.’ Etc. No postcode lotteries, no months-long waiting lists, etc. Efficient, socially minded.

        I have no idea why you think liberals have a monopoly on disliking the need for food banks, nor why you feel it necessary to refer to lamenting that need as ‘whinging’. It seems to me that your use of the word liberals here is less accurate a designation and more in ad hominem territory.

  5. The country has spoken and given Johnson a thumping majority. Lots of theories around about Johnson’s proposed direction of travel but I would hope that at the very least he addresses the problems in the NHS, in Education and in Social Care.
    Labour has been roundly defeated and the reason is clear – Corbyn’s unpopularity. Whatever his merits (and he has some) he was regarded as a deeply dangerous figure by many. My hope is that the Labour Party will now address the twin questions of leadership and strategy in a way which gives the Party some chance of a sniff at power within the next 10 years. Elections are never won from the hard left and if that point is not understood now it never will be. One party rule over a decade is never good. The country deserves a decent Opposition.

    1. One thing that “liberals” seem to struggle to grasp, and Communists and Marxists like Mussolini and Hitler recognised quite early on, was that the workers were never going to be revolting enough to overthrow the establishment because they were too patriotic (note that until the winning Soviets and their useful idiots in the West rewrote the history books and dictionaries the definition of patriotism and nationalism were identical) and so adapted INTERnational Socialism into its evil-twin sibling rival NATIONAL Socialism!

      That’s also why the ivory tower Marxist intellectuals who adapted their ideology into Cultural Marxism, despite their success with children and students, created the backlash of Trump and Brexit.

      Of course, in reality, Boris is neither, but hopefully an opportunist rather than a subversive.

      Like his father, siblings and girlfriend he’s a screaming liberal environMentalist!

      And before anyone comes up with any “quotes”: Boris was a parliamentary sketch writer type columnist, not a political or economic reporter.

      He produced satirical lampooning verbal cartoons.

      And even ignoring that fact most, if not all, of the “quotes” are misquotes.

  6. I’m afraid you have it backwards. Even if you did support Boris Johnson, there is cause to despair. You are looking at what a Johnson government might mean in terms of legislation & negotiations, but that’s not the full story.
    Presuming you’re correct about Johnson not going full fascist, we will have another election at some point. But consider what Johnson’s victory has shown. It has shown the way to win an election is to tell obvious and provable lies, hide from any serious scrutiny and treat voters as morons that can be won over with repeated use of an empty slogan. That’s not good for our democracy.

    1. Is this the full Fascist Johnson who built death camps in London when Mayor?

      Are these the lies like the ones about food banks and the NHS (see my earlier comment December 14, 2019 at 2:20 pm).

      Or perhaps you’re still on about the £350M pw?!

      Yes, OK, it should have been £363M pw, sorry.

      Oh, you weren’t.

      No, you DON’T deduct “EU” (our tax) “grants” (for EU supported projects):

      You should ADD the “value” of the grant as we have to match-fund the”grant” with yet more of our own taxes!

      And you can’t deduct the rebate either as the EU decides and grants that in arrears.

      Perhaps you’re still obsessing about Leave “lying” about 60 odd percent of our laws coming from the EU when Remain told the truth that it was “only” something in the teens.

      Except that both figures came from the same House of Commons Library report.

      The Remain figure was only one category of EU laws.

      The leave figure was the total for all laws directly attributable to the EU.

      And when you add in all the indirectly promoted EU laws it’s 80 odd percent.

      As various mainland EU politicians and apparatchniks have boasted.

      Or maybe you’re just referring to all the project fear type stuff?

      Oh, wait, that was Remain/ “liberal”/ “democrat”/ socialist lies too!

  7. We should not despair, rather be thankful.

    On Thursday, I performed official duties as a Poll Clerk. At the polling station at which I was based, I witnessed our precious democracy in action. The polling station was scrupulously fair in its operation and was visited by the police, local government inspectors, observers and tellers. There was a healthy, co-operative atmosphere.

    Despite the weather, there was a good turnout and all those with disabilities were well catered for. All efforts were made to allow people to vote.

    Out of around 700 people who voted, I received 2 complaints that we were, in some way, up to no good. One was that we held a secret database as to how people vote, the other was that we rubbed out pencil marks on ballot papers, so he had brought a permanent marker pen.

    The most badly behaved visitor was, by far, an overindulged and grumpy Labrador.

    Let us not lose sight of what we have.

    1. The polls are indeed run well and by people who make it a pleasure to turn up and vote (I go early, perhaps they’re a bit more grumpy by the end of the day). Disabilities are catered for and few people give the people who staff the polling stations any grief. Polling fraud is very low indeed, at a level down in the noise where it won’t have any effect on overall outcome.

      Despite this the government intends to make voters produce photographic identification, something that will disenfranchise some and create the potential to dispute eligibility at a point where it’s too late to do anything about it. Why do you think this they want this and do you think it’s a reason to be thankful rather than to despair?

  8. I have always assumed that everyone who votes in an election does so by selecting the least of the evils on offer. This election was depressing in having a choice bwteen two bad candidates.

    Boris’ flaws are as the blog states, his record glib self serving dishonesty and a near absence of principles.

    Corbyns flaws are total incompetence and a strange narcisistic moral attitude, smugly claiming moral superiority while simultaneously avoiding making the difficult moral choices required of a political leader in the real world and taking a naive utopian view of anyone who opposes mainstream western policies whatever they are. The labour parties economic policies promoted by Corbyn were totally incredible and would have been devestating.

    My faint hope was that we would have another hung parliment and thereby both flawed leaders would be neutralised but if one had to win it was better that Corbyn was defeated. That I as a left leaning northener who has no respect at all for Johnson should wish that Corbyn fails to win explains the result.

    The big question is wether the labour party can change trajectory and recover or is doomed. It is important there is effective opposition and eventually a vacuum will be filled but it could take a long time and in teh meantime we will be worse governed for it. I believe the labour party is beyond recovery but I hope I am wrong, or that it collapses quickly a prolonged and slow decline will be bad for everyone.

  9. I’ve always wanted to see the Labour Party destroyed so that British politics can revert to God’s intention i.e. Whigs vs Tories.

    Johnson currently leads the Whigs: where are the Tories to come from? And how are they to emerge while the carcass of the Labour Party is yet to be tidied away?

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