There's a terrifying pattern of mendacity to Boris Johnson's government
Like an even more demented Willy Wonka than the one envisaged by Roald Dahl, Boris Johnson launched his election campaign with the Wonkaesque invite to “come with us” into what could only be described as his world of pure imagination.
But given this was in the same week that his government was blasted for falling foul of the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) for peddling lies over its flagship welfare reform agenda and for basically gaslighting the poor by dismissing their proven claims of suffering as “negativity and scaremongering”, then the electorate must judge whether swallowing Johnson’s sweet talk is an act of national indulgence or one of Veruca Salt-style self-harm.
The Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) spent £225,000 of taxpayers’ money on a nine-week advertising campaign which included a full wrap-around cover ad on the Metro newspaper along with a four-page advertorial designed to dismantle “myths” about Universal Credit and to “set the record straight”.
Instead, the campaign prompted numerous complaints to the ASA, which upheld that the advert was “dangerous to the health and financial security of disabled people” and was “misleading”.
Johnson is a shameless and repeated abuser of the truth
The ASA also found the claim that people moved into work faster on UC than under the old system could not be proven and that two other claims – that the Jobcentre will pay an advance to people who need it; and that rent can be paid directly to landlords under UC – to be unsubstantiated.
It is no small thing for a regulator to slap down the government so resolutely, but in addition, it ruled that the DWP must in future provide “adequate evidence to substantiate the claims in their advertising”.
In other words, it must tell the truth.
There is a terrifying pattern of mendacity to this Johnson-led government. And in the same week that the ASA blasted it for its fallacious claims, it was also under fire for obstructing the release of a report on Russian interference in British elections. It doctored an interview with Labour’s Keir Starmer. It was only stopped by impartiality rules from using Treasury research to attack Labour’s economic plans. It claimed it would build 40 new hospitals when there will only be six. It pledged to put 20,000 extra police on the streets when that only replaces those it had removed. It saw a minister resign for denying he knew a former aide’s role in the “sabotage” of a rape trial when he actually did. And the PM continued to claim that he didn’t want another general election, having voted for it multiple times.
And worse than the lies was the rude reality that this was also a government made up of over-privileged, pampered, petulant and out of touch egomaniacs who sit in contempt of those that they deem beneath them.
Clever people know when to keep quiet
The sight of Jacob Rees-Mogg reclining in the House of Commons as he listened to a debate about Brexit seemed, at the time, the very embodiment of entitlement. When the country’s economic and social fabric was tearing apart, and with fears of worse to come with a hard or no-deal Brexit, with people starving, homeless and dying as a result of a government voting record that has enabled and accelerated a damning social inequality in the UK, Rees-Mogg was complacent and bored.
And he willingly provided more.
On the same day the ASA’s damning judgement was made public, Rees-Mogg implied he would not have died in the Grenfell fire because he was cleverer than the people that did. It was an unforgivably cruel comment made by a man who has never understood the psychological consequences of the oppression forced on others by class, money and status. This is a man who, at the age of 27, was accompanied to Scotland, when he was selected by the Conservatives to contest the seat of Central Fife in the 1997 election, by his nanny, for God’s sake. Describing people on benefits then as the “scourge of the earth”, he showed last week that his worldview, steeped in a sense of inherited privilege and gross entitlement, has grown no kinder with the passing decades.
Adding insult to injury, his words were defended by party colleagues who said politics needed clever people. But clever people do not dismiss the underlying factors that paralyse someone from heading for the door when they see fire or when someone in authority tells them to stay put. Clever people are not people that have only lived on an estate with servants rather than in one with damp, broken lifts and no sprinklers. And clever people are not people that in an unseemly enthusiasm to always have an answer – smart or otherwise – speak before they think of the 72 souls who perished when a fire broke out in the 24-storey tower block that had defective cladding, purely because it was cheap and they were poor.
Clever people know when to keep quiet.
The Tories need the working classes to vote for them in this general election and so depend on a divisive politics that is casting Johnson as the man of the people while pitting him against a parliament that he portrays as being undemocratic.
Johnson is a shameless and repeated abuser of the truth and it takes a certain chutzpah to pitch yourself on the side of the common man while simultaneously defending billionaires. But then Johnson heads a government that was willing to pay to publish lies about a welfare system that introduced such a vexatious policy as Universal Credit and still expect the people it lied about to back him.
Johnson tells us that this is the most important election in a generation. I fear Friday the 13th could yet prove it to be our unluckiest.