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UK Politics

It’s the small lies that get you

Johnson on the Brexit campaign trail. Christopher Furlong/Getty

Historians will find the “swift fall” of Boris Johnson puzzling, says Simon Jenkins in The Guardian. He was brought down by lies, but politics “has long been a conspiracy of mendacities”. Johnson seized power, after all, by lying about the benefits of freeing Britain’s economy from the EU’s single market – and history might imagine this played a part in his departure. But no: he is going because he lied about parties and what he knew of the misbehaviour of his deputy chief whip.

The truth is that politicians can get away with “grand” lies. Tony Blair lied about the threat from Saddam Hussein and “took the nation to a needless war”, but he didn’t need to resign. Anthony Eden survived, albeit temporarily, his “fabricated narrative” about the Suez Crisis, whereas Harold Macmillan’s reputation was “devastated” when John Profumo, one of his ministers, lied about an affair and was subsequently found out. A degree of falsity is needed to underpin the faith people have in democratic politicians; leadership is about “plausible illusion”. To get elected it helps to promise the earth even if you “know it is rubbish”. Johnson was adept at that. But big lies about the future cannot immediately be tested. The lies that brought him down were relatively small but they were “instantly falsifiable”. In the end he told one too many.

♻️🙄 Johnson doesn’t think he’ll be out of Downing Street for long, says his former advisor Tim Montgomerie on Twitter: the outgoing prime minister has been telling aides “he’ll be PM again within a year”. Red wall Tory MPs have reportedly been inundated with emails from constituents warning that they won’t vote Conservative again without Johnson at the helm.