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The British establishment chose Boris Johnson as its weapon to defeat the Left

Boris Johnson’s disastrous time in office has spluttered to an ignominious conclusion. Many of those now deploring his record sided with Johnson when it really mattered because they wanted to block a left-wing government that could transform British society.
by Daniel Finn  

Part 6 - That’s Why They Pay Them the Big Bucks

The Conservative victory in December 2019 was so decisive that it came to seem inevitable with the benefit of hindsight. However, that clearly wasn’t the way Johnson’s supporters in the media saw things while the election campaign was still in progress. The 2017 result had been a major shock to the system, and there was evidently a nagging fear that it might happen again. As a result, the right-wing press threw caution to the wind, even promoting far-right, antisemitic conspiracy theories that were directly sourced from neo-Nazi groups in a bid to tarnish Labour.

Journalists who were nominally supposed to be impartial displayed the same recklessness. During the campaign, the Tories kept Johnson away from spontaneous, unstructured public appearances as much as possible, evidently worried that his true personality might come to light in an unguarded moment. An episode in the last days of the election showed why they were right to be concerned.

The Daily Mirror published a photo of a sick child who had been forced to sleep on the floor at a hospital in Leeds. It immediately went viral, dramatizing the severe strain on the National Health Service after a decade of Tory cuts. When a reporter asked Johnson to comment and held up the image of the child on his mobile phone, Johnson bizarrely responded by putting the phone in his pocket. His evident lack of concern for the well-being of others, which verges on outright sociopathy, had imposed itself on the campaign.

The Tories sent Johnson’s health secretary, Matt Hancock, to the hospital on a damage-control exercise. Their spin doctors then began telling senior figures in the British media that a mob of angry Labour activists had confronted Hancock and violently assaulted one of his aides. Every detail of the story was a brazen lie, but that didn’t stop the BBC and ITV political editors, Laura Kuenssberg and Robert Peston, from circulating it through their Twitter accounts to an audience of millions.

Fortunately, there was video footage of what really happened. Kuenssberg and Peston had to retract their claims and apologize, but the Tories had successfully diverted attention from Johnson’s behavior. Neither of these amply renumerated correspondents made any attempt to explain why they offered themselves as conduits for disinformation at a time when accurate reporting was so vital. Peston explained that he had received the story from “senior Tories,” but did not name them or even pledge not to rely upon their off-the-record briefings in future.

Soon after the election, Peston welcomed Matt Hancock as a guest on his show without pressing him to explain where the story of the assault came from. Now that the danger of a left-wing government had been averted, nobody wanted to talk about the methods used to achieve that goal. Broadcasters like Peston and Kuenssberg could go back to presenting themselves as nonpartisan figures who simply wanted to inform their audience about the world of politics.

Boris Johnson is an odious character who deserves every last drop of humiliation that circumstances can pour upon his head. But his personality is much less important than the political culture that enabled him to reach a position of power. A wholesale transformation of that culture and the economic system it upholds is the only way to prevent new Johnsons from beating a path to the very top.



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