LIZ GERARD: I’m frightened this nightmare has just begun
- Credit: PA Wire/PA Images
An obedient press and a parliamentary recess have given Boris Johnson a free hand. LIZ GERARD is very, very worried.
First I was scared of Brexit.
Then I was scared of no-deal Brexit.
Now I'm scared for the whole of Western society. Putin must be having the time of his life.
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In May 2016, with the Leave campaign(s) making fantastic promises and the Remainers all over the place, I wrote that we were sleepwalking to Boris Trump. Well, now we're there. And it's every bit as frightening as the prospect seemed back then.
Chris Mullin's 1982 A Very British Coup and Russell T. Davies's Years and Years don't feel quite so fictional any more. Trump is busy locking up children. Johnson is crying "Do or die", with the strong likelihood that many will indeed die as a result of his vanity project - whether through poverty, lack of medicines or in street violence.
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For the next nine weeks he has a free pass for unfettered electioneering. With no election called, he won't have to worry about Electoral Commission spending limits. With Parliament in recess, he won't have to explain himself to the Commons. With a docile Press, he will find far more willing cheerleaders eager to fill empty Silly Season pages with his propaganda than serious journalists examining further evidence of possibly illegal collusion between Cambridge Analytica and Nigel Farage, Arron Banks and UKIP.
It's started already. Last week The Sun hailed the new Prime Minister's arrival in Downing Street on the hottest day of the year by turning his face into a bright yellow sun emoji above the splash headline "Johnsun". The accompanying subheads declared: "New PM promises a golden age" and "And he gives Corb a roasting".
This is why the newspapers resisted Leveson II - because it would hamper the free Press and its ability to "call those in authority to account".
On Sunday, The Sun told readers that Johnson was to spend £10m leafleting every household to prepare the country for a no-deal Brexit. It was, an insider said, "sensible planning". Johnson felt there was nothing to fear from leaving without a deal, but it would be "nothing short of folly if we failed to keep the public informed". No one else seemed to find this noteworthy.
Yet in 2016, Leave campaigners and their Press allies were apoplectic that David Cameron should spend £9m of our money on a referendum leaflet that carried the fateful sentences: "This is your decision. The government will implement what you decide."
"Send it back as junk mail," urged The Sun. The Mail agreed. The Cabinet was at war, it reported, and Michael Gove had "savaged the nakedly political attempt to sway the result of the vote", calling for the money to go instead to the NHS.
"It's crazy," said one Boris Johnson. "Given that I think it's very likely that it will be very biased and hysterical and warning unnecessarily about the risks of leaving the EU, I think it's a complete waste of money."
But what's nine or 10 million these days? Small change when you look at last Monday's Telegraph, which reported without so much as a splutter that the Prime Minister was planning a £100m Brexit ad campaign. This, it wrote, would be the biggest advertising blitz since the Second World War, dwarfing the saturation-coverage "Tell Sid" gas privatisation and "Don't die of ignorance" Aids campaigns of the Eighties. (Does this figure include the hundreds of Facebook ads hidden in plain sight yet virtually untraceable?)
Meanwhile Sajid Javid has found another £1bn for no-deal preparations, while his new master processes round his domain like a saviour emperor, scattering £50 notes and sweeties in his wake.
With no MPs and few newspapers or broadcasters willing to challenge these activities - to force an answer to the question 'how did we go in just one weekend from "a million-to-one chance" of no-deal to it being the "default position"?' - how can sensible people resist this bombardment?
By hand-wringing in social media echo chambers? By marching? By signing Change.org petitions? By pointing to opinion polls, to the sliding pound, to the evidence from the CBI, the IMF, car manufacturers, economists, scientists? None of this is cutting through. There must be a more effective way.
By turning to Jeremy Corbyn? If only. His Labour party is more interested in picking fights with the new Lib Dem leader or running Twitter polls on which of its own MPs should be kicked out first than in taking aim at the more obvious target.
It was, Labour said, "childish" of Jo Swinson to urge the Leader of the Opposition to table a vote of no confidence in a new prime minister with a majority of two and a lot of unhappy backbenchers behind him. Maybe it was the wrong time - but there is very little time left, right or wrong.
Still, we can take comfort from Corbyn's assurances that he has a summer campaign ready. If only the other side hadn't had theirs up and running for the past six weeks.
And it's commendable that he's putting so much emphasis on green energy. Climate change is, after all, the biggest problem facing the world.
But there's an even more pressing one at home that needs to be sorted first if he's to have any hope of putting his plans to save the planet into practice.
With Corbyn's abdication, there is faint hope of the rainbow Remainer alliance that might stop Johnson's clattering train and its crew of liars and charlatans. The prime minister knows this and is becoming more brazen by the day - as demonstrated by bringing Dominic Cummings into No 10. Never mind that he is under investigation for breaches of electoral law or that his attitude towards the very Parliament he was supposed to be fighting for was denounced as "appalling" by MPs in 2016.
Blatant lying is par for the course now. We're used to it from Johnson, but look at Dominic Raab blithely telling Radio 4's Today programme that a prospect of a no-deal Brexit was mentioned almost daily during the referendum campaign. Er, no. It wasn't. Most people's recollection of the words "deal" and "Brexit" in the same sentence were along the lines of the "easiest deal in history" and "we'll get a great deal".
Johnson has certainly energised the Government, the flurry of activity has created a buzz and made him look dynamic after three years of May torpor. The Boris Bounce is already wooing back voters who had defected to Farage's lot. Set against the patronisingly lethargic Corbyn - even before the Press have sharpened their election knives - he must be a good bet for an election win. Then there would be a lot more than Brexit to worry about.
Instead of wising up after 2016, both the US and the UK have doubled down, so that there is a very real chance that Boris Trump will be in power until 2025.
And that's why I'm scared.
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