Mordor? Hardly, Boris Johnson’s team hopelessly inept at dark arts - Lesley Riddoch

The ‘Dark Tower’ inflicts misery on so many unfortunate people every single day, writes Lesley Riddoch.
New Prime Minister Boris JohnsonPhoto by Jeff J Mitchell/Getty Images)New Prime Minister Boris JohnsonPhoto by Jeff J Mitchell/Getty Images)
New Prime Minister Boris JohnsonPhoto by Jeff J Mitchell/Getty Images)

Mordor. Well, I’ve thought of many ways to describe Westminster, but a parallel between Tolkien’s fabled epicentre of evil and the self-declared ‘Mother of Parliaments’ had never actually occurred to me. But now that ‘a Conservative insider’ insists this malicious metaphor must be exterminated, I cannae get it out of my heid.

The ‘senior Downing Street source’ told Sunday papers; ‘There will be subtle changes in messaging… moves away from defensive language around defending our precious union.’ So far, so tediously normal. But the adviser added; ‘The SNP have managed to paint Westminster as Mordor and we need to change that.’

Mordor. Really?

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An SNP creation? The Tories shouldn’t be so modest. This vivid paint job is definitely one of theirs – and therein lies the rub.

How do you get folk to think ‘Not Mordor’, when you’ve created the image in the first place? Tell someone not to imagine a pink elephant and what do they think?

Exactly. Mordor.

Not, Not Mordor.

And if the idea of Westminster as Mordor has been inadvertently unleashed on an unsuspecting world then so too has the idea of Boris Johnson as the evil Sauron – also known as Lord of Gifts and The Deceiver – whose grinding compulsion is to rule the whole of Middle Britain. Sorry Middle Earth.

How did this spectacular vision of southern apocalypse emerge from the fevered imaginings of Boris advisers? Are they a reserve troupe of trainees who’ve wandered a bit out of their depth? Are they alright? After all, no confident, worldly-wise, 49-year-old, moving as easily among the common people of Barnard Castle as the high fliers of Downing Street would make the awful mistake of placing such a negative depiction of Westminster in the minds of the general public. Dominic Cummings must have been on holiday.

If present, he would surely also have vetoed the idea of a third Boris trip north of the Border on the grounds that a flurry of appearances in a country usually ignored is like a series of visits to a hitherto neglected elderly aunt – the surest sign that beady, assessing eyes are on her ‘much-loved’ financial assets. For the Prime Minister in Scotland, less is definitely more.

You’d also wonder if crafty cybernats hi-jacked the account of Lord George Foulkes this weekend. He’s made a formal complaint to BBC Scotland over the First Minister’s daily coronavirus briefings, claiming they break Ofcom rules. Surely a man of His Lordship’s calibre would realise just how bad that sounds? Whether citizens love or loathe Nicola Sturgeon, few actually want less communication from government during a pandemic or argy bargies with opposition politicians while the FM issues the latest scientific advice.

But even if these stunning faux pas were not mistakes and actually conscious efforts to promote the union, all is not lost. Who could possibly have a totally inaccurate message about Westminster placed in their minds – albeit by a member of Boris’ own team – if it’s not true?

So, is Westminster a benign, democratic and kindly place or is the bleak image of Mordor – a ‘land of shadow’, a place of evil and environmental degradation in contrast with the Shire and the beautiful elvish forest of Lothlorien – all too appropriate?

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It’s tempting to dwell on the superficial resemblance between Mordor and Greater London – where people are obsessed with the One Ring, (M25) and ‘surrounded by three mountain ranges, to the north, west, and south which both protect the land from invasion and keep them from escaping’. It’s also amusing to see the headlines writing themselves on social media. ‘Mordor seeking to improve its reputation in The Shire with another high-profile visit from a Black Rider,’ is one of the best.

But let’s not trivialise the misery Westminster actually inflicts each waking day, far beyond its boundaries. Last week, Westminster’s long shadow crept over Ugandan asylum-seeker Mercy Beguma who had lost her job and thus all right to public support. Her body was found in a Glasgow flat with her baby son lying crying beside her. Nicola Sturgeon said she felt “consumed with sadness” and anger over the young mother’s tragic end. Boris Johnson said nothing.

Whose stance more closely represents the people of Scotland? And how many visits to food-processing factories will it take to erase the memory of the PM’s studied silence?

Ewan Gurr has helped pioneer a network of Trussell Trust foodbanks in 118 Scottish communities which provided support to almost a quarter of a million men, women and children in 2019. During lockdown he has produced ‘stories behind the statistics’ on Twitter. Here are two entries.

“Week 35/52: When a single mum who lost her job during the pandemic and is in receipt of Universal Credit notifies her work coach, she will miss her appointment because of a job interview and is sanctioned for her entire monthly entitlement [£317.82].”

“Week 32/52: When a single mum of two wee ones claiming UC is put on 16 hours per week ‘work preparation’ by DWP, collapses malnourished at the supermarket, ends up in A&E, misses appt and receives a text on hospital bed saying she has been sanctioned.”

As UN rapporteur Philip Alston put it in his 2018 report, Britain’s welfare system is ‘cruel and inhuman’. This dark shadow over countless lives is the creation of Westminster.

But fair’s fair. Apart from regular assaults on the dignity of its citizens and luckless asylum seekers, Westminster has a few stronger cards to play – like the apparently affable Chancellor Rishi Sunak. He has a unique status for a Tory in Scotland – a positive personal rating. He also has what Tories believe to be a compelling argument – that only Britain could afford a sizeable Covid furlough scheme. But almost every other European country has done the same. And now the Tories Big Money argument is being challenged by academics like the professor of international economics Mark Blyth. He’s become a new convert to Scottish independence; “because the UK growth model is unsustainable and Scotland can do better than simply subsist on inter-regional transfers”.


Mordor is a place where practitioners of the dark arts excel.

On this woeful showing, I agree. Any comparison with the hopeless ineptitude of Westminster is completely unfair.



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