2 May 2021
When you’re in the wrong, you should never lose your temper; when you’re in the right, you don’t need to.
This old saw was proved all too clearly by Boris Johnson at Prime Minister’s Questions on Wednesday when Sir Keir Starmer asked some simple questions that Johnson was too embarrassed to answer and he got visibly angrier till he humiliated himself by losing his temper. Even the pictures of him jabbing a finger at Starmer show clearly that Boris was stuck: he daren’t give truthful answers to the questions and he daren’t lie to parliament.
Later the same day, Matt Hancock refused to answer questions about whether ministers who break electoral law should resign and volunteered that it doesn’t matter if Johnson resigns. His actual words were “It is important that there are questions, and there were endless questions in the House of Commons earlier on some of the issues that you raised … but you’ve also got to concentrate on the big things that really matter.”
Johnson had a busy week:
- he refused to set up a public enquiry into his handling of the pandemic, despite pressure from the Institute for Government (the leading independent think tank on the effectiveness of government) and the King’s Fund (an independent health and care charity) who, for some reason, seem to believe it should be done now so we can learn lessons from it, rather than when it’s too late and even more people have died; and the Lord Speaker, who spent 11 years in Conservative cabinets and is a former chair of the Conservative Party, is calling for a public enquiry to be set up “as soon as possible”.
- he inadvertently gave his reasons for refusing the enquiry when a small number of people near his office heard him shouting “no more fucking lockdowns – let the bodies pile high in their thousands”. He has naturally denied saying this, knowing that ‘the science’ has estimated his delays in March and September last year have already increased the number of Covid-related deaths by 10,000-20,000 ‘bodies’.
- he now seems likely to be subject to an investigation by parliament’s sleaze watchdog for having reputedly spent £200,000 to stop his flat looking like “a John Lewis nightmare” (sounds good to me) according to a friend of his fiancée* or “a skip” according to Sarah Vine, a right-wing columnist who is also Michael Gove’s wife and, apparently, an expert on skips; all he’s said is that he paid for it himself and refuses to deny rumours the Conservative party lent him £58,000. By a strange coincidence, much of the paperwork which would show who originally paid for the stuff has gone missing.
- he briefed various media that Dominic Cummings was behind the leaks and Cummings responded with a blog making new allegations about Johnson’s improprieties.
- his closest allies were accused of awarding government contracts worth millions to their friends and relations and we learnt that his predecessor had lobbied for funding for Greensill Capital, a company that then went belly-up.
- he said the government “would be working very hard” to secure the release of Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe after she was sentenced to a further year in prison in Iran this week and he added “I don’t think it is right that Nazanin should be sentenced to any more time in jail. I think it is wrong she is there in the first place, and we will be working very hard to secure her release from Iran … The government will not stop, we will redouble our efforts and we are working with our American friends on the issue as well.”. What he forgot to say was that the secondary reason she’s already served 5 years (for a different ‘crime’) was because he told a parliamentary select committee in 2017 (when he was Foreign Secretary) that “she was simply teaching people journalism”, which the Iranians quoted in evidence against her, and Johnson had to apologise for the “distress and anguish” his comments had caused the family. The first reason is that Britain is still refusing to pay the money it has owed Iran for decades.
So, not a good week for Johnson (in a good week, he just gets the skitters) without even mentioning all his earlier lies and deceits. And he’s the man who was elected by his party members to ‘lead’ their party into a time of peace and harmony in the post-Brexit world.
In the world of late-stage capitalism, the case against two former executives at Serco collapsed because the Senior Fraud Office failed to disclose some evidence to the defendants and the judge didn’t allow the SFO’s request for the case to be adjourned to a retrial. One of the accused, Simon Marshall, subsequently said “The allegations against me were entirely without substance, as is now clear”, which seems a rather over-optimistic interpretation of a case that failed because of a judicial technicality rather than his having been judged ‘not guilty’.
Serco had previously had to pay £12.8m to the Ministry of Justice as part of a £70m civil settlement in 2013 and £22.9m in fines and costs in 2019 after admitting three offences of fraud and two of false accounting on electronic monitoring contracts.
This week also saw publication of a report by human rights experts from 11 countries that describes the systematic killing of unarmed African Americans as a crime against humanity and holds the US accountable for a long history of violations of international law.
America’s approach is exemplified by the fact that capital punishment is still legal in more than half the states and only 40% of the people on death row are white while 72% of the population identify themselves as white. The death penalty itself is not prohibited by international law but how it’s used gives a measure of the decency of the country itself and, in America, what are considered as “cruel and unusual punishments” proscribed by the Eighth Amendment.
It also allows reflection on the ages of those allowed to be executed. In 1944, the 14-year old George Stinney was electrocuted in South Carolina after being found guilty of the murder of two children. The case was based on circumstantial evidence, he maintained his innocence throughout and the verdict was subsequently overturned and he was pardoned. Posthumously. Better never than late.
It wasn’t until 1989 that a Kentucky case said there was a general consensus that people under 16 shouldn’t be executed and this has since been confirmed by the US Supreme Court.
However, many states under Republican control are still buying drugs used in executions from illicit dealers (pharmaceutical companies are not allowed to sell their products to be used in executions). Arizona has, for example, ordered $1.5m worth of such drugs and said they must be shipped in “unmarked jars and boxes”.
And so to this week’s good news: according to a report in Biological Reviews, there are about 100,000 wasp species worldwide but only a third of them sting, and they are all valuable plant pollinators.
* I wonder why Carrie Symonds** is still his fiancée and not his wife. She doesn’t look like someone I’d want to upset so perhaps it’s in case he discovers he’s inadvertently spawned yet another child with somebody else and wants to be able to walk away again.
** Did you know her paternal grandfather was a former Labour MP, now probably spinning in his grave?