In the end, what did for Al Capone wasn’t the bootlegging, the murders, the protection rackets or even the extortion. What got him in the end was something much more mundane. The falsification of his tax returns.
To be fair to bold Alfonse, at least he never pretended to be anything else than the gangster that he clearly was. Which is much more than you can ever say for a certain Alexander Boris de Pfeffel Johnson.
Is Johnson about to meet his own Elliot Ness moment? I hae ma doots.
After everything that has happened – sacked from several newspapers for lying, conspiring to have a journalist beaten up, misleading the head of state, an appalling Brexit that has seen trade plummet and the return of violence in Northern Ireland, racism, homophobia, sexism, the funnelling of taxpayers money to a lover, a test and trace system that cost roughly twice as much as the entire Scottish block grant and didn’t work very well; Covid PPE contracts worth millions awarded to companies despite them actually being confectionery manufacturers, pest controllers or, in one case, insolvent; the dreadful mishandling of the pandemic and the reports that he’d “rather see the bodies piled thousands high in the street” than announce another lockdown; and one of the worst Covid death tolls in world.
On top of this, we might add his slashing of the overseas aid budget, the illegal suspension of parliament and the support for a special advisor who trashed a crucial public health policy by driving to Northumberland to check his eyes at height of a pandemic.
And yet, despite this, it might be that something relatively small might finally signal the end. After everything, the thing that might finally do for him is, em, wallpaper.
The story – the source of the funding for a £200,000 refurbishment of the Prime Minister’s Downing Street flat – sounds like a slightly bizarre Westminster fixation that ought to pale in comparison to the tsunami of sleaze and corruption that ought to have seen him resign many months ago. Certainly, if the pictures of the property interior are anything to go by, his partner’s taste in soft furnishings is about as good as her taste in men. But it feels like an important story nonetheless. Because by refusing to say who initially came up with the cash, he denies us our rights as taxpayers and voters to know who he owes – and what hold they have on him. This matters.
But here’s the most alarming thing. Nobody seems to care. The opposition have failed to lay a glove on him. The Conservatives hold a double-digit lead in the polls. And I worry that he’s eleven points ahead not so much despite of who he is – but precisely because of it.
The concern is that when England votes, as it normally does, for the Conservatives, they have already factored in the character of their leader. A bit like America voting for Donald Trump, you know exactly what you’re getting. It’s on the label, in plain sight. It’s all part of the package: “baked-in”, as the Americans say. So when Johnson is reported to have said he’d rather see dead bodies in the street than a fresh lockdown, we aren’t nearly as outraged as we ought to be, because it aligns with what we already know. We know we were far too late to lockdown. Perhaps now we know why.
These remarks over lockdown – like his litany of other statements, like calling the Good Friday Agreement a “ghastly business” (and remember this was the guy in charge of a Brexit that threatened that deal) aren’t “gaffes”, as apologists often say. There’s a long pattern of deeply reactionary behaviour here. “When people show you what they are”, said Maya Angelou, “believe them the first time”. Well, I believe Boris Johnson, which may well be a first.
I truly believe that we have moved beyond the era of post-truth. We are now in the age of post-shame. I was thinking about various scandals and their outcomes. I remember the late Scottish Conservative leader in the early days of Holyrood, David McLetchie, resigning over mistakenly claiming an expense for a taxi fare that ought to have gone through his own legal firm, and Labour First Minister resigning over the wrongful sub-letting of a flat – “a muddle not a fiddle”, was how he put it. Small stuff really, but he walked. And it’s often forgotten that John Profumo spent the rest of his life post-scandal raising millions for charity partly to atone, one imagines, for his transgressions. To step aside is human, wrote Burns, and all three cases revealed flawed human beings with a robust moral compass.
I suspect I’m not alone in watching events in Westminster almost from a remove, as if his isn’t my Parliament, at least not one I recognise. But, in a week that Scotland goes to the polls, here’s the problem. It still is.
Despite – (because?) of the character of Boris Johnson, his party is comfortably ahead in the polls and an eighty seat majority means it can pretty much do anything it pleases, and there isn’t a damn thing we can do about it, apart from what we always do, which is employ the limited powers we currently have to mitigate against the worst of the carnage. And even our ability to do that will be further eroded by anti-devolution measures like the internal market bill.
The problem for Scotland – and indeed for liberal minded people across the UK – isn’t necessarily Johnston but a system so fundamentally broken that it actually allows someone so unsuitable to become Prime Minister.
So we have to accept that a neighbouring country at least ten times as big as populous as us is quite happy to elect on our behalf someone to legislate who flagrantly breaks the rules. There’s long been a deep deference amongst the English electorate, and not just towards the monarchy, and it filters right down to the UK Government. They get away with it because they can and because it’s what they have always done. It’s not so much they’re above the rules. They are the rules. And if the consensus of our neighbours is that this is fine, then Scotland has no chance on stopping this. None whatsoever. And that’s something to bear in mind every time Willie Rennie or Anas Sarwar or Douglas Ross promises to change things. They can’t, because they are utterly dependant on an English electorate and a devolution settlement that ties one hand behind our backs.
Continuing to put up with this makes us complicit. But we have a chance to get out for good. Which is why it’s so important to get out this Thursday and vote to allow Scotland to finish its journey and become the normal, outward-looking, self-determining democracy that it must surely aspire to be. Because, frankly, I don’t care for the alternative.
Stay safe good people. I’ll meet you further on up the road.