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Alastair Campbell’s Diary: Boris Johnson and Liz Truss have no shame

Both left office in disgrace and dishonour. Yet they still believe a resignation honours list is their right

Image: The New European

Integrity. Professionalism. Accountability. The three watchwords that Rishi Sunak, standing outside 10 Downing Street as he took office, promised to govern by in his time as prime minister.

That he is not as dishonest as Boris Johnson, nor as economically illiterate as Liz Truss, goes without saying, but it is such a low bar as to be almost meaningless in trying to form a judgement of Sunak. Johnson beat all his predecessors combined in the lying stakes, while Truss cost more to the taxpayer per day in office than any prime minister in history.

Thankfully, Truss’s utter unsuitability for high office became clear all too quickly, even for the Tory numpties who foisted her upon us. With Johnson, it has taken the general public a little longer to get to the place which I and doubtless many others who read this newspaper reached long ago; namely the understanding that he is a dishonest narcissist driven primarily by his own interests, who has done enormous damage to the two professions he has disgraced – journalism and, more importantly, politics.

At the London Palladium last week, where Rory Stewart and I did two live shows, on both nights I asked for a show of hands on the question of whether Johnson was honest or dishonest. Night One: Honest 1, Dishonest 2899; Night Two: Honest 0, Dishonest 2900.

The BBC Question Time audience, with doubtless a higher proportion of Tory voters than came to see The Rest Is Politics, offered an almost identical judgment. How sad it is though, that it has taken so long for this universal view to take hold, given the damage done by his lies and bluster en route: Brexit, the normalisation of lying and corruption, the NHS on its knees, an economy stuttering, the fantasies of Levelling Up and Global Britain exposed for what they always were – slogans without substance.

In these circumstances, it frankly defies belief that either of Sunak’s predecessors, both forced out of office in disgrace and dishonour, should even think about submitting a resignation honours list.

Tony Blair was Labour’s longest-serving prime minister, and one of the most successful and change-for-the-better-making PMs in history. Yet he had enough good sense and humility, given the controversy over the Iraq war in particular, to avoid further upsetting his critics by shipping off a few loyal servants to the Lords. Added to which, the synthetic nonsense that came to be called “cash for honours” meant he had heard enough about the outmoded systems of patronage that mean so much to so many. Like me, he could never quite understand why a certain type of person was desperate for a title before or after their name.

Johnson and Truss clearly have neither good sense nor humility, hence their belief that a resignation honours list is their right. So non-Lord Dacre, non-Lord Rees-Mogg, and non-Baroness Dorries have the Lord and Ladyship promises in the bag, and now debase themselves as last ones standing in the fight to pretend there is a shred of decency in their discredited peerage sponsor.

As for Truss, if Matthew Elliott of electoral law-breaking Vote Leave fame, and Mark Littlewood of the 55 Tufton St Sovereign Individual HQ, are sent by her to the House of Lords, I fear it might be time to go a bit more French in our protest style. There are limits to our tolerance of total piss-taking.

Sunak can put a stop to all this at a stroke. I suggest he arranges for the whips to set up a Labour or sane Tory MP to ask him: “Does he agree with me, given the circumstances of his two immediate predecessors’ departure from office, that it would be wholly inappropriate for either to have a resignation honours list?”

“Yes,” is all he needs to say by way of reply, then sit down. Thereby, in one three-letter word, he can indicate that the commitment to Integrity, Professionalism and Accountability actually means something. If not, he will be as tainted as Johnson and Truss when the ermine lands on the undeserving shoulders of their donors, cronies and intellectual bag carriers.

As Brextremists rejoice at Emmanuel Macron’s troubles, a reminder that the French president’s proposal to raise the pension age from 62 to 64 was a promise made when he won re-election. Time was, we respected politicians who tried to implement the programme on which they were elected. The triumph of the Brexit lies and broken promises has changed all that.

When Martin McGuinness was alive, he and I used to swap pictures of Scotland and Northern Ireland, with me boasting Scotland was more beautiful, and him trying to find beauty spots that suggested the contrary. At the weekend, Fiona and I went to west Wales and belatedly in life, I realise there is a serious contender there; the Pembrokeshire coastline.

There is so much that is wrong with the UK at the moment, but long after the current government are gone, we will still be able to say there is no country on earth in which the distances between areas of very different but genuinely stunning landscapes are so small.

Neil Kinnock, who subscribed to this paper from week one, and is among our most avid cover-to-cover readers, occasionally complains that I bang on too much about my recently discovered obsession for cold-water swimming. But given his bias in favour of all things Welsh – he once told me John Charles was a better footballer than Pelé or Maradona! – I hope he won’t mind me saying that Stackpole Quay, and the Blue Lagoon near St Davids, are right up there among the most beautiful swimming spots we have ever found.

We stayed in St Davids, the UK’s smallest city, population 1,850, where Fiona was speaking as part of a panel on education at the Festival of Ideas, in, yes, City Hall. Welsh education minister Jeremy Miles was alongside her, proudly setting out the Welsh Labour government’s plans to increase Welsh-medium education.

At the moment, around 16% of Welsh children attend Welsh-only schools, with another 10% in schools that are bilingual. The government’s goal is to raise the proportion of each school year group receiving Welshmedium education to 30% by 2031, and 40% by 2050.

With Gaelic having been my Hebridean father’s mother tongue, I have long had an interest in the non-English languages of the UK. And though the number of Gaelic speakers in Scotland is growing, it stands at roughly 60,000, around 1% of the population, whereas in Wales, more than half a million speak Welsh, almost 18% of the people living there. As Welsh-medium education grows, so will that number.

Not everyone is happy though. The headteacher of an English-medium school warned there was a risk of her school closing, as middle-class children in particular moved into the Welsh-medium schools, with free bus travel thrown in.

It is a fascinating area for debate, with elements of culture, class and identity at the heart of it. One for Peter Trudgill in a future column perhaps?

PS: The only private Welsh-medium school is in… London.

Albanian prime minister Edi Rama, at just over two metres, is the tallest head of government in the world, added to which his frame has bulked up considerably since his days as an international basketball player. Rishi Sunak is one of the smallest, and slightest, and the pictures of their handshake outside Number 10 set off an avalanche of Little and Large memes.

Foreign Office minister Lord Ahmad therefore took no chances when he and Rama did an event together the following day. He stood behind a large three-sided lectern, his feet firmly planted atop a large red box. Suddenly he was six feet four inches tall, just three inches down from Rama.

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