Senior officials said he responded with a lack of concern, to joke
“Pincher by name, Pincher by nature.” (An official spokesperson refuse
comment on that.)
Johnson didn’t mention any of this in his farewell. Pincher’s story had so taken Westminster by storm in the days leading up to it that it drowned out everything else. Even Johnson’s admission to parliament
that he met a former KGB colonel with no officials present as Foreign Secretary in 2018, in itself a potentially sacking offense (fellow Tory MP Priti Patel was forced to resign
as international development secretary for a similar offense in 2017), took a back seat.
Johnson’s reluctance to retread such unflattering ground was understandable, but what was far more striking was the ease with which the public, the MPs who had resigned in fury and the candidates vying to replace him as leader, also dropped the story.
Some of the immediate distractions were relatively superficial, but in a country where every utility feels broken
each confirmation of a deficiency of our legislators draws fire.
A video clip of new Education Minister Andrea Jenkyns giving the middle finger to crowds waiting outside Number 10 last week sparked a storm of excited outrage that was only intensified
by the sullen and poorly worded letter of so-called apology that followed. Meanwhile according
According to the Times Education Commission, schools across Britain are “currently failing on every measure”. Johnson’s farewell vote of faith in Jenkyns to fix them was absurd and insulting enough to divert our attention from his own disastrous management.
As the Tory leadership race got underway, the diversions grew more serious and took a bigger hold on the news. MP Nadhim Zahawi, whom Johnson appointed Chancellor when Rishi Sunak resigned in protest at Pincher’s story – and nevertheless added his voice in the choir
demanding the Prime Minister’s resignation only 48 hours later – quickly threw his hat in the ring
. He had barely done it before questions about tax
have surfaced, along with the revelation that they are currently the subject of an unresolved investigation by Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs. Zahawi protested that he was “dirty”, but the story proved deadly for his candidacy.
The remaining leadership hopefuls
have their own problems. The main issues of concern to the country – a cost of living crisis
, massive queues
for NHS treatment, a backlog of criminal cases
suffocating the justice system, and of course Brexit – are difficult to tackle head-on, given that they have been members of the ruling party for a decade.
The frustrations of the British public are amplified almost every hour by the red herrings of some candidates, including favorite answers
when asked how they plan to return the country to prosperity, they included promises of sweeping tax cuts and forays into the culture wars
too insane to be overlooked.
MK Kemi Badenoch, one of the more right-wing aspirants, has declared herself a leading figure in a “war on revival” with a zeal almost convincing enough to make us forget no one asked for it. His ban on gender neutral toilets
during his leadership launch fueled more news than his speech, which relied heavily on quashing “social justice concerns” and defending “free speech.” Her rejection (and the resulting online backlash) was quickly followed by a jibe from rival Penny Mordaunt that Westminster is “be tied
on trans issues – which generated even more headlines.
Elsewhere resurfaces pictures
of a young Sunak, currently the favorite to win the race, showed it in 2001 laughing and retracting his own suggestion that he might have “working class friends”. The clip had social media rolling in ways its opponents could only have dreamed of, prompting retweet
after retweeting alongside complaints that a man so completely out of touch could never hope to understand the financial struggles of the British public. (Sunak told BBC Radio on Thursday
“I don’t judge people by their bank accounts, I judge them by their character.”)
The result of each of these memorable embarrassments is always more noise from all corners – and a self-promotional frenzy of retaliation that pushes Chris Pincher and his alleged misdeeds further into the shadows.
This, truly, ends the ignominy of the past fortnight in British politics. Pincher’s story has gone through a long and insidious cultural problem
of sexual misconduct at Westminster, which Johnson appears to have chaired during his tenure with little personal discomfort.
In April this year, in response to news that 56 MPs (about one in 11 of those in office) were under investigation
for sexual misconduct, Green Party MP Caroline Lucas asked
Boris Johnson whether such behavior was grounds for dismissal. Johnson replied, “Of course it is.”
By then, Johnson had already appointed Chris Pincher to the whip’s office, the place where staff would theoretically go to report the kinds of abuse Pincher allegedly committed. This choice illustrates the failures of a politician who has always processed rules
as an inconvenience at best, and pointless at worst. The national mess Johnson left in his wake and the clamor to fill the power vacuum caused by his own failure to govern with integrity have overshadowed what should be a damning legacy of complicity and neglect.
The solution to the problems facing Westminster and those facing the general public is the same. We need a leader who does not need to be held accountable.
Judging by the run so far, our chances don’t look good.