It’s a real life version of Shameless – the TV series which glorified talented chancers, truth dodgers, and con tricksters. On both sides of the Atlantic we find power held in the hands of men for whom integrity is a concept fit only for mugs and “losers.” That they should have the support of those who benefit from their blatant flirting with the rich and “entitled” is scarcely a surprise. Those members of the Grand Old Party who seem set of acquit Donald Trump of his high crimes and misdemeanours when the impeachment trial begins in the Senate, largely comprise that constituency who eagerly pocketed his tax rises for the wealthy.
Those rich Boris backers who have confirmed their faith in his withdrawal deal by buying themselves a new European passport thanks to a compliant Cypriot scheme for anyone with a couple of million to spare. Why not an each way bet eh? Chuck the price of a modest semi in London into the Tory campaign, but keep your own ease of European movement. Brexit is just for the little people.
What an unlovely crew they are. The European “Research” Group, who strangely only found time to research fiscal loopholes for themselves. Brexit fans like James Dyson who promptly announced his operation would move abroad to sources of cheaper labour. Very fat cats like Rees Mogg whose financial operation handily moved to Dublin. A man whose second home in Mayfair was seriously downmarket from his missus’ ancestral stately pile on which the taxpayer expended north of £7m on renovations. So far, so typical. In some quarters, noblesse oblige went out of fashion a very long time ago. What is so dispiriting is the slavish devotion to deeply flawed leaders by those who are either doomed to be most damaged by them, or who once roundly condemned behaviour a fraction as deplorable as the new normal. The potent brew of ignorance, mendaciousness, and scarcely believable narcissism which characterises the US President makes him as disreputable as he is dangerous. Yet amongst his most fervent adherents is a caucus of evangelical “Christians” who profess to believe, despite all evidence to the contrary, that their leader has been sent by God. A God who presumably works in highly mysterious ways!
These are men and women who despised Bill Clinton for betraying his wife and indulging in oral sex with an intern. Men and women who brayed for his impeachment because of conduct unbecoming in a US President. Yet those self same god botherers seem strangely unmoved by the sexual history of a serial philanderer and thrice married, self confessed groper. Alongside them are members of the poor, largely white, working class who swallow the demonstrable nonsense that the future still lies in coal and steel, and that the self styled billionaire in the White House will find them well paid jobs and a route out of poverty.
Over the weekend I watched some of them interviewed on US TV. Their collective gullibility was nothing short of tragic; buying every dishonest soundbite in the book. Destined, like their leader, to take their world view from the fantasies spouted by the anchors at Fox News, surely one of the great media oxymorons. All the interviewees were word perfect in Trump’s most repetitious tweets. And, as we know from our own recent election, if you recite a lie often enough it will lodge in voters’ minds. Meanwhile, back on UK shores, the newly empowered Prime Minister has wasted little time dismantling those parts of his much vaunted withdrawal deal which turned out to be little more than window dressing for the folk in the North of England who needed temporary wooing.
No more nonsense about safeguarding workers’ rights and conditions. Keeping up food and animal welfare standards? Well let’s see first what that nice chap in Pennsylvania Avenue needs in a trade deal. As for refugee children? Why take in the kids of the poor huddled masses when there are friends in the city to be schmoozed? No accident that after the election and on the eve of Christmas the Prime Minister confirms that he is selling off a highly sensitive British defence concern to a US equity company with absolutely no track record. (Except in buying up, asset stripping and selling on stuff at a handsome profit.)
This should have caused national outrage but hasn’t because the official opposition is still in intensive care, and, in any case, there is so much flaunting of once acceptable norms that nobody seems able to keep track. And here, yet again, Johnson finds support from the very demographic most at risk from his cavalier approach to government, and inability to engage with longer term strategic thought. Some of those who turned the red wall blue in the North of England were interviewed post poll and thought that here was a man who could sort out lives blighted by low wages and dodgy contracts. Working folk reduced to food banks and payday loans. When, in truth, his government were the principal architects of their misfortunes, and his promises have a shorter shelf life than milk.
It’s difficult to remember that Barack Obama was once the subject of media ridicule because, gasp, he once wore a tan suit. And because he had half a dozen games of golf, mostly on his holidays. His successor, who once claimed he would be working too hard ever to leave his office, has cost the US taxpayer millions underwriting his constant golf weekends, playing at his own properties but with no mates rates for the entourage. Difficult now to recall a time when a UK politician would be routinely expelled for telling lies to the Commons. Or would have 12 pages of ordure dumped on him by the Sunday tabloids for having had a fling with a secretary. These days it’s apparently OK to tell porkies to the Queen, have serial extra marital affairs, an indeterminate number of illegitimate offspring, and, finally divorced, install the latest mistress in number 10.
These are unlovely times, with unlovely men handed power in part by those for whom they have no respect and little care. They may ultimately crash and burn – but will the immorality they have wrought on public life and service die with them?
First Published in The National on December 23rd