What a time it is to be alive for admirers of grubby little men. If your preference is for the duplicitous and the craven, you really are spoilt for choice.
All of nyaffery is here: from the sleekit to the thick-as-pig-shit, British public life has the lot. Simply turn on any TV or radio station and your hunger for the disreputable will soon be satisfied.
Prime Minister Boris Johnson remains the pre-eminent toerag of our times – the Big Duddy, if you will – but the supporting cast of lickspittles and fools is rich and varied.
Take Johnson’s business minister, Kwasi Kwarteng, for example. Never was there a finer example of the weasel than this little fellow.
In the aftermath of a ruling by judges at Scotland’s Court of Session last week that the Prime Minister’s decision to prorogue parliament was unlawful, Kwarteng slimed into action. Appearing on BBC Two’s Andrew Neil Show, he suggested that “many people” believe judges are biased when it comes to Brexit.
“I’m not saying this,” he said, “but many people are.” Well, you might not have been saying it, chum, but your dog-whistle was working perfectly.
Kwarteng, yet another who helps make the case that Eton is at its best when shaping great future gits, was sent by the Prime Minister’s people to perform the sleazy task of impugning the independence of the judiciary and he gave it his all.
When, later, Johnson insisted that he would not quarrel with or criticise the judges in the case, adding that the British judiciary was one of the “great glories” of our constitution, he did so in the knowledge that he had people like Kwarteng to do his dirty work for him.
Politics is a competitive business, a fact which surely accounts for the decision of Tory MP Andrew Bridgen to try to out-slug Kwarteng.
Appearing on Channel 4 news a couple of days after his colleague’s shameful Neil Show performance, Bridgen railed against the “liberal elite” (ladies and gentlemen, you may now dab the top right corner of your card in this game of arsehole bingo) who were marshalling all of their forces – including the judiciary and “the mainstream media” (house!) – to thwart Brexit.
When Kwarteng said “many people” believed judges were biased, he must have been including his fellow Conservative MP.
Bridgen, like Kwarteng, is so morally corrupted by his Euroscepticism that he will gladly engage in the dangerous game of undermining judges on whose independence we depend. A puffed-up golf club bar-boor, he really is one of the grates.
How bizarre it is that politicians who campaigned in the 2016 EU referendum to Leave on the grounds that they were defending our democracy should now be so enthusiastic about dismantling it.
Nobody is saying that judges are beyond criticism – there are countless instances where decisions from the bench might provoke comment – but it is instructive that politicians such as Kwarteng and Bridgen should find that it is on the issue of Brexit – a mess of their creation – that attacks are required. One will search long and hard to find evidence of either man raising so much as a peep in instances of, say, non-violent women being banged-up for relatively trivial offences. Judges are fine, then.
The Great British legal system is fully fit for purpose when it’s dealing with the little people. But when great statesmen such as they are challenged by it, well, something’s clearly gone wrong.
But Kwarteng and Bridgen are strictly second tier in the Brexit drama of which Johnson, following the second prime ministerial regeneration of the past three years, is the undisputed star.
While his sordid colleagues expended their energies in trying to stoke up public anger against judges, Johnson continued to delude himself that voters might even begin to see him as a great, unifying leader, a One Nation Tory who will bring post-Brexit Britain together.
A jaunt to Yorkshire – where the Leave vote was strong in 2016 – was supposed to illustrate this (while, at the same time, ramming a stick into the spokes of Brexit Party leader Nigel Farage’s bicycle). But desperate-to-be-loved Johnson had a less-then-perfect day trip up north.
In Doncaster, he was confronted – as TV cameras whirred – by a woman who opined that Tory “austerity” had killed people and accused him of “having a cheek” to show his face. Later, he was heckled during a speech in Rotherham by a man who wished to know why the Prime Minister wasn’t in parliament. Footage of this voter being physically removed from the venue only added to the picture of a PM who divides rather than unites.
There is a great pathos in the Johnson premiership. He has always – despite a string of attention-grabbing outbursts in newspaper columns over the years – considered himself a liberal-minded sort. He won two mayoral elections in London by presenting this version of himself to voters, many of whom would not previously have considered backing a Conservative candidate.
His “conversion” to the Eurosceptic right was not made out of principle but because he judged that it would improve his chances of one day becoming prime minister.
Crucially, as former PM David Cameron reminds us in his new memoir, Johnson believed that the Leave campaign would lose in 2016. By leading the Eurosceptics, he would have the best of both worlds – he would have cake and eat cake, as the Johnsonian mantra goes: he’d bring the Tory awkward squad with him even though they hadn’t got what they wanted.
Now, Johnson is a prisoner of his own reckless ambition. He stalks the streets of Doncaster, looking for love, and finds, instead, that people think him a chancer. He continues to profess his One Nation ideals while, all the time, knowing that his best chance of political survival is to outflank Nigel Farage on the crank right.
Many people are saying Johnson is the most revolting, self-serving wretch ever to have held the office of prime minister and that he deserves the misery victory has brought upon him.
I’m not saying that. But many people are.