It would take a lot to have me clutch my pearls in girly horror at it all. (Not least because I’m no longer a girl and I don’t have any pearls!) But I’ve been around enough political blocks to be genuinely aghast at what now apparently passes for acceptable behaviour at the top of the greasy pole.
This last week, the media has been following up a genuine Sunday Times scoop that Boris Johnson, still, for the moment, the Prime Minister of the still, for the moment, United Kingdom, was involved in promoting and helping find finance and trade opportunities for a young American woman who has variously been described as a former model, a pole dancer and a tech entrepreneur.
Admittedly these incarnations are not mutually exclusive for a woman with the requisite time, energy and a talent for multi tasking. Last weekend, the same newspaper alleged that Mr Johnson’s many visits to her then London flat were not occasioned by his late developing desire to acquire greater facility with internet use. Apparently, they suggest, we could reasonably stop that sentence at “developing desire.”
And here of course, the hopefully temporary tenant of number ten has considerable form. His cv is littered with philandering and infidelities; alleged casual encounters and gropings. He turned up at his party conference with his latest much younger arm candy with whom, you remember, he recently had a noisy, late night altercation occasioning the arrival of the polis.mThis followed a divorce from his second wife, who has just recovered from cancer. Mr Johnson was not at her side during this ordeal, she has written. He was, in fairness, terribly busy announcing his candidacy for the Tory premiership.
A previous mistress, opined in print that he was not very comfortable with monogamy. Unlike the latest revelations regarding Ms entrepreneurial pole dancer, now the subject of several investigations, the ex mistress’ accusation could not really be filed under scoop. She has since been on the airwaves explaining how old hat family values are. Then there is Mr Johnson’s troubled relationship with the truth. During his bid for the Tory crown, involving, you may recall, a somewhat small, self selecting electorate, his former colleagues lined up to accuse him of telling serial porkies.
A former editor of his, Max Hastings, not exactly a swivel eyed lefty, suggested he wouldn’t recognise the truth if he met it in an identity parade. So when we rightly condemn his bully boy blustering in the Commons, I’d argue that more serious than rabble rousing – dangerous and disgusting as that is – is the utter lack of morality in his personal dealings.
I have no way of knowing whether his own sister’s allegations that he may be in hock to hedge funders betting on a no deal crash out are true. But I do know that throughout his entitled life he has had little regard for what most people still regard as the rules of basic decency. He is what another generation might have styled an absolute rotter. And he is, for the moment, still the Prime Minister.
There was a telling photo opportunity for him in New York last week, before Lady Hale chucked the solid matter at the Supreme Court fan. Sitting side by side, flag by flag, with Donald Trump. Still, for the moment, the President of the United States. On your left a tawdry Prime Minister caring for little but his own aggrandisement and facing multiple challenges to his leadership. On your right, a tawdry President worthy of the same description.
Like Johnson, Trump has a proven track record as a habitual liar. Sometimes his lies are so obviously at odds with the truth that you wonder about his mental equilibrium. One venerable US broadsheet has been trying to keep track of his economy with the actuality. As of late summer, the lies and reckless false statistics were north of 12 thousand.
And where to begin with The Donald’s personal morality? Way back in the late 80’s, there was a handsome young candidate for the Democratic nomination. Gary Hart was miles ahead of his rival contenders in the polls and a comfortable 13 per cent above the first President Bush. He was done for when someone published a photograph of a young woman sitting on his lap on a boat infelicitously named “Monkey Business.” And the “scandal” blew his candidacy right out of the water.
After the Hart debacle feminist writer Betty Friedan predicted the future and it was good. “This is the last time a candidate will be able to treat women as bimbos”, said Betty. That didn’t age well. In the early noughties one time vice Presidential nominee John Edwards was indicted for using campaign funds to cover up his affair with a campaign worker whose child he fathered. He too bit the political dust
So historically, there has been no shortage of high profile politicians having trouble keeping their trousers zipped. Presidents Kennedy and Johnson were no strangers to extra marital affairs, and President Clinton narrowly dodged impeachment over the Lewinsky saga. It didn’t hurt that Hillary decided to stand by her man.
But Betty was not alone in thinking that time had been called on adultery being acceptable in high office. So when the notorious tape emerged of the thrice married Trump boasting that he could grab women by the privates and that with power came sexual entitlement, most of us thought his game was up. How little we knew.
So here we are in 2019 with two of the most powerful jobs in the world being held by two of the shabbiest human beings. Time to locate our inner Betty Friedans. And make it finally long past time powerful men can treat women as bimbos.
A version of this first appeared in The National on 30.9.19