Lies are the Legacy of Johnson. Parliament has lost respect.

Polly Toynbee is saying what we all know. Johnson worked on the old adage that if you repeat a lie often enough people will believe it. I think people are now so used to politicians lying that they take it for granted. The saddest thing is that they think that all politicians are the same and as bad as each other. They are patently not. While there is an element of self-serving greed on both sides of the house the Tories have taken lying, sleaze, corruption and dishonourable behaviour to a whole new level. It’s become the norm with them.

There should be clear accountability with exacting penalties for lying. Where is the scrutiny? Where is the penalty?

Abbreviated from Polly Toynbee, Guardian, 21 February.

Here’s the true legacy of Boris Johnson: dishonesty is standard, the Commons has lost sight of the truth.

“Johnson’s shameless reign seems to have opened the way for greater public dishonesty. Evidence from scrupulous and impartial checkers at ‘Full Fact’ suggests lying in parliament has become more commonplace. When errors or deliberate untruths are pointed out, shockingly few ministers or MPs correct the record or even acknowledge the complaint. Silence is their usual response. Who polices parliamentary honesty? Only MPs themselves, not the Speaker, which is why Johnson’s fate stays in the hands of a Tory-dominated House, just as it’s their own rule that bars calling an “honourable” member a “liar” on pain of suspension: it would be bandied about too often!

Sunak may rue promising “integrity, professionalism and accountability”, as he falls into Johnsonian habits. For example, at prime minister’s questions earlier this month he threw out a bizarre accusation that the Labour party and Keir Starmer were “bankrolled” by Just Stop Oil. Full Fact, after thorough research, concludes: “We can find no evidence that this is true,” demanding, as it always does, that “he either backs up his claim with evidence, or admits his mistake and corrects the record”. Will Moy, the head of Full Fact, says No 10 failed to respond at all, so he calls on people to sign a demand that he does. Sunak also failed to correct a claim that a “record” number of new homes had been built last year: it was, in fact, fewer than the year before and way off the record. It’s easy to misspeak in the heat of debate – and very easy to correct: ministers only need send an email to Hansard but they rarely do. Inexplicably, that route isn’t available to ordinary MPs, though they can correct themselves on Twitter.

Johnson was a serial offender: he repeated 10 times that more people were in work than they had been before the pandemic, even after being reprimanded by the Commons’ Liaison Committee: in fact, there were more than half a million fewer. He said Starmer had voted 48 times to overturn Brexit: not true. He said the warm home discount was worth £140 a week: it’s only £140 for the winter, so why not correct it? 

Michael Gove was the first to claim wildly that, ‘New post-Brexit trade deals were worth £800bn:’ untrue, as almost all deals are existing deals. It is misleading to describe the £800bn figure as a measure of ‘new global trade’ resulting from the recent deals. That would imply that there had been no trade with these countries before the recent deals and that there would be none now without them.

Full Fact checks many other sources of untruth, including government press offices and charities. Journalists such as the great Tim Harford, of the BBC’s More or Less, pick up questionable figures: he called out “the spectacular bullshit” of Jeremy Hunt’s (uncorrected) claim of 11,000 excess NHS deaths at weekends. Peter Oborne’s excellent website keeps a running tally of MP untruths not just in the House, but in media appearances such as Lucy Frazer on Question Time parroting Johnson’s frequent lie that “we have 40 new hospitals”: they are a phantom.”

Who should police political truth? Chris Bryant, recused from chairing the privileges committee for the Johnson case, suggests the Office for National Statistics should demand a legally enforced correction from any MP using mendacious figures. 

More parliamentary turpitude is on its way with Johnson’s honours list feared to be full of rogues, chums and donors. But his worst legacy may be MPs’ realisation that nothing usually happens when they utter untruths. With public trust at a low ebb, a future Labour-dominated Commons could tighten its rules. Above all, it could create a culture change to shame those who refuse to apologise for what Winston Churchill was first to call “terminological inexactitudes”.


6 thoughts on “Lies are the Legacy of Johnson. Parliament has lost respect.

  1. Personally, I think that any politician or government official caught lying to, or misleading, the people they are supposed to be serving, deserves to be dismissed, lose pension rights and be barred from any employment by government ever again.

    As should any MP that acts against the interests of the “constituents” who elected him, or supports any policy that goes against their interests.

    All this should apply to local government, too.

    1. I’d support that 100% Neil. I’d also make them culpable for the costs! Scrutiny and accountability should be at the centre of all public office!

      1. You’re absolutely right on this one, Opher. Johnson must be made to pay compensation to all those he caused to be wronged. So should Major, Blair, Brown, Cameron and May. And all the rest of the establishment. As to Sunak, we shall see, but he’s not started well.

I'd like to hear from you...

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.