MITCH BENN: How reason and balance depend on what side of the fence you sit

PUBLISHED: 07:07 30 June 2019

Activist Carrie Symonds takes part in an anti-whaling protest outside the Japanese Embassy in central London. PA Wire/PA Images

Activist Carrie Symonds takes part in an anti-whaling protest outside the Japanese Embassy in central London. PA Wire/PA Images

PA Wire/PA Images

If you're making excuses for someone on your team you wouldn't make for someone on theirs, you're part of the problem says MITCH BENN.

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Let's get one thing straight before we start; I don't know what was going on in Carrie Symonds' flat in Camberwell the other night, and neither do you. Nor indeed do Symonds' next-door neighbours, for all that the resultant clamour was both audible (and recordable) through the adjoining wall and sufficiently alarming to prompt them to call the police. Nobody knows what precisely was happening in that flat apart from the two people concerned, and at the time of writing neither of them has made any public comment on the issue.

One of the two people - the one who's currently odds-on favourite to be prime minister this time next month - was asked to comment on the matter by the relatively friendly inquisitor, staunch Brexiter Iain Dale, at a hustings debate the next day (one thing we may have to get used to is that populist politicians tend not to grant interviews to anyone they suspect might send them a curveball). Not only did Boris Johnson (in case you're still wondering who this is about) refuse to discuss the matter, a contingent in the audience booed Dale for having the temerity to bring it up and cheered Johnson for loftily dismissing him.

It was only to be expected that large parts of the Conservative establishment, and its representatives in the media, would seek to belittle Getoffmegate as a big fuss about nothing.

But the fact that they weren't content to stop there, that they cut straight to screaming about a 'Remainer plot to smear Boris', is genuinely troubling, even by the generally troubling standards of our times.

The word 'Remainer' is being slung around by the Tory press much as the word 'communist' was by the House Un-American Activities Committee in the early 1950s. It's a byword for disloyal, sneaky, treacherous, not one of us.

The (apparent) fact that Symonds' concerned neighbours voted against Brexit has been trumpeted as clinching proof that this is all a foul conspiracy to besmirch the previously stainless reputation of Alexander Boris De Pfeffel Johnson by implying that his relationship with the woman 24 years his junior might be going through a rocky patch.

One Telegraph columnist (and, as such, a colleague of Johnson's) has gone so far as to call for the neighbours to be publicly shamed and humiliated, prompting a panicked response from the Metropolitan Police who pointed out that the couple in question were simply following oft-repeated requests to report apparent incidents of domestic strife, such as might otherwise go unaddressed until it's too late.

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Indeed, the message from the political and law-keeping establishment has been, for these past few years of heightened alertness, that good citizens should always report any suspicious or possibly criminal activity. 'If You See Something, Say Something', remember? Turns 
out that what the political establishment, at least, really meant by that was 'If You See Something, Say Something Unless What You See Is One Of Us Doing Something Dodgy In Which Case Mind Your Own Business You Impertinent Vermin'.

Ah, say the defenders of Boris (or at least the suckers-up-to of Boris), the neighbours didn't just call the police, though, did they? They recorded the row and sent it to the Guardian. Despicable behaviour!

Well I'm sure we all recall how the right-wing press and Tory politicians were similarly scandalised a few weeks ago when someone took a creep-shot of Diane Abbott sipping a crafty mojito on public transport, an image that was subsequently used in the media. I'm sure we remember how that citizen journalist was pilloried in the papers, with pundits demanding that he/she prove that he/she had never been caught drinking on public transport. Don't we?

It's a depressing story on so many levels, but what's truly depressing about it is the degree of utter partisanship it's exposed in our politics and commentariat.

Right now, the only question anyone seems to ask when any public figure - and this is not an issue that only relates to Johnson - is suspected of anything iffy is 'are they on our side?'.

If so, then yes, it's fine. Whatever it is they are accused of, it's okay. Serial adultery, lying to the Commons, anti-Semitism, vote-rigging, Islamophobia, bullying, selling us out to the Russians, grabbing a woman by the throat live on camera, anything. If they're one of us, it's fine.

If they're not one of us, then they're a bastard. Using a slightly contentious turn of phrase, wearing a shabby overcoat, calling the police when your famous neighbour and his girlfriend's ding-dong sounds like it's getting out of hand... Bastard! How dare they? Who do they think they are, one of us?

This absurdity, this proud deployment of naked double standards... it doesn't just outrage common sense and fairness, it denies reality. Either something is okay or it isn't, regardless of who's doing it. If you're making excuses for someone on your team that you wouldn't dream of making for someone on theirs, then right now you're part of the problem. But such is life in this sundered, Brexit-stricken country.

Whatever happens in the next few years, if sanity is ever to be restored to our society we're going to have to rebuild a lot of burned and broken bridges and patch things up with a lot of people. Including those who are not one of us, whoever 'we' may be. Resist.

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