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by Mandy Rhodes
28 August 2022
In these most serious of times, we are led by donkeys

Liz Truss is expected to replace Boris Johnson as PM

In these most serious of times, we are led by donkeys

What a year 2022 has proven to be. Plague, pestilence, and the perversion of politics. A world in turmoil. A war in Europe. The planet burning. A mutating virus killing millions. Life as we know it turned on its axis.

And in Britain, a prime minister who likes to party. And lie about it.

In serious times, death-defying times, we have truly been led by donkeys. But is this how this political farce ends, with the clown leader exiting No 10 still in denial, likely pocketing a lucrative advance for writing his memoirs – a true comedy of errors – that edits out the grim reality for the rest of us, left to pick over the ruins of a democracy degraded and defiled by this thoroughly dishonourable man?

And what is so depressing about Johnson’s place in history is that while he aspired to be World King from such an early age and has undoubtedly been a profoundly influential figure, whether for ill or good, it was all Emperor’s new clothes. Even he couldn’t live up to his own self-inflated view of his abilities. He is a conman. 

But so many were taken in. Just look at that majority. And yet there was nothing beyond the superficial. The promise of taking back control, of the great things to come, of building back better, of making Britain great again, it was all artifice. Words. A game to him.

And he is, in the end, exposed as a greedy, trivial figure. A lazy intellectual. A liar. And a vainglorious charlatan who, in a short space of time, has managed to destroy all that is good about what it means to be British and to completely redefine what it once meant to be European.

It’s an insult to us all that someone of so little aptitude to be prime minister has managed to lead this country into one changed beyond all recognition in terms of its discourse, to reshape serious debate in his own shallow reflection.

A mocking, frivolous, self-indulgent, narcissistic, self-interested character, given to trifling, avarice, and playing to the room.

This isn’t Great Britain, but it is Johnson, and it was all a sham.

The Johnson of the primary school classroom doesn’t even need to be imagined; he’s standing there now. The man that has never grown up, still basking in the adoration of the foolish blinded by their own desire to be touched by power.

And looking back, what will we remember from the Johnson era, what will this defining year of 2022 have meant to you?

For some, there will be no getting beyond the sheer debasement of politics. Of a prime minister who broke the law, who was willing to prorogue parliament, who threatened peace in Ireland, became a recruiting sergeant for Scottish independence, and who hollowed out one of the greatest democracies in the modern world.

And there is no doubt that Johnsonism – the lies, the deceit, the disinformation, the Trumpian approach to the truth, and a disrespect for law and decency – have become hard wired into our political dialogue, and for all our sakes that must change. 

But with our new prime minister likely to be Liz Truss, division across these islands will be hard to appease. Truss was part of a government that emboldened the playground politics of Johnson. She was a cheerleader for his japes. An apologist for his antics.

And even now, she still supports him. She has already aped him, showing such an early disdain for Scotland’s democracy, throwing constitutional red meat to her Tory membership simply in a bid to walk in Johnson’s clown shoes.

She says the “jury is out” on whether French President Emmanuel Macron is a friend or foe,   describes the first minister of Wales as a “low-energy Jeremy Corbyn” and says first minister of Scotland is an “attention seeker” who should be ignored. And in terms of a second referendum, and much else besides, this is a lady not for turning.

For Truss to turn the clock back on a terrible year for politics, she must do more than channel the Iron Lady; she must make an early stand for decency, for truth and for transparency, and that starts with apologising for disparaging devolution. She must level up, not level down.

But leadership contests aside, this will also be the year that record temperatures hammered home the reality of climate change. A year on from COP26 and with wildfires burning across London, this is the year that politicians were still arguing about licensing new oil fields, opening up coal mines and dragging their feet over the speed at which to transition away from fossil fuels. 

For others, it will be a year dominated by the unthinkable: a war in Europe. An invasion too near home. And a reminder of the self-harm inflicted by us leaving the EU and all that it stands for in terms of solidarity in the face of aggression. 

This is the year we optimistically opened our hearts and our homes to women and children fleeing the horror of that Russian invasion. But equally, had to wrestle with the paradox of how others seeking sanctuary on our shores were treated with such disregard and a government that became mired in the barbarism of sending asylum seekers to Rwanda.

This is the year we willingly sanctioned the export of military aid to the Ukraine and gave the green light to offering financial support. But as a cost-of-living crisis captured the domestic attention, bringing acute anxieties to a population overwhelmed by the choice between eating and heating, the connection between energy insecurity and food shortages at home with what was going on abroad was lost, and Ukraine dropped further down the agenda.

For others, this will be the year that we knew Covid was now woven into the fabric of our future lives with an ongoing fear about mutations, protections, and the consequences for our long-term health.

We experienced a new-normal baked into our ways of living, working, and loving that meant distance took precedence over the need to hold each other tight. And a bleak understanding that this virus demands we must permanently change.

This annus horribilis of 2022 might eventually just be a footnote in the annals of time but it must be a watershed that signals a more honest way of doing politics across all these isles and that must too start at home.

This article is taken from Holyrood's Annual Review: A look back on the parliamentary year

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