“Ruthless and truthless.” The words are true not just of Boris Johnson, but of Labour’s triple election winner Tony Blair, says Ferdinand Mount in the London Review of Books. The key to Blair’s success, as it is to Johnson’s, was centralising power in 10 Downing Street. When Mrs Thatcher was PM, fewer than 70 people worked there. Under Blair, the number rose to 225. The increase was made not “simply in the interests of better government, but of dominating ‘the narrative’ – that postmodernist vogue word which was unknown in British politics before Blair”.
No one worried if the narrative was accurate. To justify going to war with Iraq in 2003, Blair’s right-hand man, Alastair Campbell, compiled the “Dodgy Dossier”, at the heart of which, as of Blair’s subsequent statement to the Commons, was “a deliberate untruth” – that Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction. The “facts” were fixed to fit the policy.
As with Blair, so with Boris Johnson, a politician who is also happy to stretch the truth. Take his claim during the Brexit negotiations that there would be no border checks between Great Britain and Northern Ireland. He also insisted our fishermen would be protected, but the agreement he signed “preserves a huge share of the catch for Continental fishermen”. Blair got away with everything thanks to his “softening charm”. Johnson gets away with it – with his “oafish betrayals” and “shameless self-contradictions” – by playing the clown. But neither of them, as Peter Oborne vividly shows, is a great respecter of the truth.
Peter Oborne’s The Assault on Truth: Boris Johnson, Donald Trump and the Emergence of a New Moral Barbarism is published by Simon & Schuster (£12.99). Read the full review here.