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Alastair Campbell on the Owen Paterson U-turn: ‘The point of this is that it is about principles – and Boris Johnson has none’

The government is doing irreparable damage to the country, its global standing, and its democracy.

Boris Johnson defends changes to the way MPs are policed put forward by his government. Photograph: House of Commons/Jessica Taylor.

Is it too much to hope that the last 24 hours will be seen as the moment when the country finally woke up to the reality of this venal amoral government? For the past two weeks, I have referred in my New European column to a speech I made in Germany recently on the concept of sado-populism. I made the point that I felt Labour leader Keir Starmer was wrong when he said at his party conference that he saw Boris Johnson as a trivial man, not a bad man. 

As I said in Hamburg, “If we are looking for a new geostrategic dividing line in the next ten years, might it be less East v West, North v South, left v right, than democracy v authoritarianism, and within democracy, serious government aimed at improving the lives of people, against sado-populist government which makes life worse.

“It is democratic accountability versus impunity, in which the powerful feel there are no checks, legal, cultural, political, to their power. Both democracy and dictatorship can come in many different forms; and dictatorship can creep up on us all too quickly.

“Impunity can come in large doses and small, but stems from the same notion – that the powerful set the rules, but apply them to themselves as they please. So in the UK, government is supposed to be governed by seven inviolable principles – Honesty, Openness, Objectivity, Selflessness, Integrity, Accountability and Leadership; Johnson violates them on a daily basis.”
I have been banging on about HOOSIAL for months.  So have others but sadly they are few in number, and too few of them in parliament and the media. Most of the media echoes and amplifies the Johnson lies, rather than challenge them, they cover up for his failings and incompetence rather than pursue them with the vigour they merit. Even today, yes the Mail rightly leads on the Johnson/Paterson scandal and gives it plenty. The Sun decides a spat between Anne Robinson and Rachel Riley on Countdown is of greater news value.

The Express will be busy preparing its ‘Boris listens’ headline and hoping the agenda moves on  The Telegraph is doubtless still glowing in the love Johnson showed them by jetting back from COP to break bread with them.

And the BBC, while giving substantial coverage to the story last night, could not resist signing off with the No 10 line – the hope the public will care more about their own jobs than that of an MP.

The point about HOOSIAL is that they are principles. And the point about Johnson is that he has none. What we are seeing is the direct consequence of having a man of his character at the head of the government. We are seeing the truth of the old line about fish rotting from the head down. 

And please spare me those Tories telling their constituents and their opponents how heavy their hearts were as they voted for sleaze and voted for corruption.

It is the pattern of behaviour that matters. If a government in the developing world was bringing in new laws to curb the role of the judiciary, and the right to protest, to limit protection of whistle-blowers and journalists, to curb the power of the Electoral Commission to investigate wrongdoing by parties, to limit academic freedoms, to make it harder for poorer people to vote, I know what Tory MPs would call it. Yet they have recently voted for all of those things, none of which is trivial. 

They fell in line to defend Dominic Cummings when he went to Barnard castle, only to fall back in line in a different direction when he had to go. They fell in line to “form a square around the Prittster” when the home secretary was found to have broken the ministerial code. They fall in line, pretty much all of them, all of the time. Far from being there for the people’s priorities, they are there to do the bidding of a morally corrupt, sado-populist tinpot Orban. They are in their own way even worse than he is.  

And so now, a ‘u-turn’, so we are told. Perhaps a change of gear might be more accurate. A new narrative will be constructed. But it will be hewn from the same amoral morass that passes for government. 

Labour needs to get tough and stay tough on this. Because this is a corrupt government doing irreparable damage to our country, our democracy, our standard of living and our standing in the world. Recovery can only begin when Johnson and his whole rotten Brexit cabal are gone.