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Will the HOOSIAL principles catch up with Boris Johnson?

They may not matter to Boris Johnson and the same old faces from the Brexit campaign, but these principles cannot be discarded.

People with a Boris Johnson cardboard cut-out taking part in the Million Mask March 2021 in Parliament Square, London. Photograph: PA Images.


OK, not the most enticing intro I have ever written, but it matters.
I have been banging on about it for quite a while, certainly since Boris Johnson was throwing protective rings around Dominic Cummings and Priti Patel, while merely pretending to throw them around care homes, or the broader population.

HOOSIAL – I wrote it seven times to remind you there are seven of them, they being principles of public life. Honesty. Openness. Objectivity. Selflessness. Integrity. Accountability. Leadership. The last is the only one Johnson vaguely meets, but not in the way Lord Nolan intended when he designed them back in a previous epidemic of Tory sleaze.

He meets the L in HOOSIAL in that by his words and deeds he sets the example which encourages his ministers and MPs to join him in disregarding the other six, of which he is serially contemptuous. His “rules are for others” handling of the Owen Paterson saga, and the cash-for-peerages scandal, showed it once more; it was not the first, and won’t be the last time, as he tries to wriggle free from the consequences of his own corrupt, croneyistic, possibly criminal endeavours.

The thing about a principle is that it guides how you behave, in matters large and small. Belief in the rule of law. Belief in democratic accountability. Belief in parliamentary sovereignty. These are principles, and my God did we not hear a lot about them before, during and after the Brexit referendum?

For Johnson and the Brexit cabal, however, it transpires they are not principles at all, but narratives of convenience. They can be used in one set of circumstances, discarded in another. But principles cannot be discarded. That is what makes them principles.

What is becoming clearer to many, something known already to those who know him well, is that Johnson is a man devoid of principle.

As for the cabal, how grim and grisly was it to see the same old faces from the Brexit campaign centre stage in the Paterson saga – Paterson himself and Johnson, of course; but Andrea Leadsom, Mark Francois, David Davis, Bernard Jenkin, Charles Moore, Kwasi Kwarteng, Jacob Rees-Mogg … the Brexit brotherhood, for whom there would seem to be no limit to the damage they can do.

An interview I did some months ago, for the High Performance podcast hosted by sports broadcaster Jake Humphrey and Professor Damian Hughes, went out last week, just as the stench of Tory sleaze was rising to match the stench of the post-Brexit effluent the Tories are pumping into our rivers.
We talked mainly sport, strategy, leadership, campaigns and mental health.

But we did standards in public life too, and I pointed out that when a senior politician leads and wins a campaign as significant as the 2016 referendum, when proven lies are at the heart of that campaign, when that same politician, far from being punished, is rewarded with one of the great offices of state, and goes on to knock out the person who appointed him, and becomes prime minister himself, then that is indicative of a very unhealthy democracy.

There has to be a cleansing of what happened. That is why, ultimately, our politics and our democracy will continue to be damaged, until Johnson and the Brexit cabal are gone.

My GDR (Greta Disapproval Rating) for the week was moderate to poor. Lots of trains, two car journeys, two flights (London to Belfast, return the next day.) Sorry, Greta; though at least I didn’t lecture the entire world about the need to change habits, then catch a private jet from Glasgow so I could join a bunch of Telegraph hacks and ennobled chums for a blah, blah, blah dinner at a men-only club in London.

As the plane into Belfast descends over landscapes that never cease to stun, I think back to the many times I made that journey with Tony Blair as he led the peace process towards and through the Good Friday Agreement. And now, Johnson and his smug unelected bureaucrat “Lord” Frost, their wretched Brexit and cavalier Brexit politics are destabilising the place.

Show of hands time, folks; this time at the Northern Ireland Chamber of Commerce, not in my experience a militant organisation.

Brexit going well: ZERO hands in the air. Brexit going badly: 100%.

Trust Johnson: 0. Don’t trust Johnson: 95% (a few sat on their hands.)
Respect Frost: one hand. Don’t respect Frost: Everyone else.

Respect the Irish team of Varadkar/Coveney 80%. Don’t 20%. That is remarkable.

Think the UK government takes business interests seriously: 0% v 100%.

Think there will be a Sinn Féin first minister for NI in the foreseeable future: 85% yes, 15% no.

Think the Northern Ireland protocol is working well: 90% No, a few don’t knows, one yes.

Think it could have worked well: 95% yes, a few no.

Most to blame for not working well? UK government 85%, EU/Commission 15%.

A serious government with a serious prime minister would be genuinely worried at the state of opinion here. Sadly, we have neither, and that Union is paying a very heavy price, and faces real uncertainty about how it all unfolds.

Think Johnson cares about Northern Ireland. 0% v 100%.

Remember that he is prime minister of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland, and let that figure sink in.

I got a very good sense of the demographic for Sky Arts’ Portrait Artist of the Year after it went out … middle-aged, middle-class couples keen to know “do you get to keep the one you choose?” The answer is yes!

It is a really nice format, and the people who love it really love it. It is not, however, without moments of violent humour! As when judge Tai Shan Schierenberg was commenting on the size of my “splendid Roman nose,” adding that my conk “really gives the artists something to get their teeth stuck into.”

Footballers have been given a red card for less.

Obviously, I believe in fairness and justice. However, Burnley getting a point at Chelsea, who frankly could have been five up by the hour mark, made me rejoice at the many shades of fairness and justice.

On the morning of the match, I went to the team hotel for a coffee with Sean Dyche, pound for pound (I am talking player budgets) the best manager on the planet. I chatted to several of the players, all of whom said they fancied getting something from the game.

Even as we were being bombarded with literally dozens of shots, with Chelsea just one up, I kept saying that if we stay in the game, we will get one chance and take it.

Chelsea fluffed a few sitters, we defended resolutely, and goalkeeper Nick Pope made four outstanding saves. Then we got the equaliser and in injury time, we could have won it.

I love games like that, totally dominated, yet we get that precious point against one of the most expensive teams of all time.

These big clubs seem to think that our job is to roll over.

I didn’t like the way Chelsea head coach Thomas Tuchel moaned at every tough challenge, and then celebrated their goal in front of our bench.
They should show a bit more respect, as our first team coach Steve Stone rightly pointed out in very colourful Anglo-Saxon.

It made the point all the more enjoyable that they didn’t.

“How do you watch that shit every week?” harangued a Chelsea fan as I left the stadium. “Call that fing football?” asked his bald, beery-breathed, beer-gutted friend “No,” I said. “I call it fairness and justice, and a defeat for lack of respect.” I fear my analysis was somewhat lost on him. “Fing twat,” he countered, the abuse barely audible over the sound of Burnley fans singing their way to the waiting line of buses.

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