Max Hastings, the historian, journalist and newspaper editor, has a sharp pen and intellect. Writing about the character of Boris Johnson, he has delivered a devastating critique of the British Prime Minister’s character, proclivities, and weaknesses. All his criticisms rang true, coming as they did from a man with extended dealings with Johnson over many years. Disavowing any malice, Hastings in effect warned the Tory party and the world that Johnson is wholly unsuitable to hold the public office to which he was elected.
If half of what Hastings describes as the true Boris Johnson is correct, the inescapable implication is that the United Kingdom is now governed in large part by a deeply flawed opportunist with little or no commitment to the public good – something which he is incapable of distinguishing from his own sense of ambition and entitlement.
The power of most of British print media and their slavish support of the Tory party and heretofore of Johnson himself raises the question as to whether they have led the UK into political disaster from which it will be very hard to retrieve itself.
Tory-supporting editors seem torn between their desire to keep the Tories in office and their desire to propagate the notion that the UK is still a world power. Conversely, they fear that Johnson will bring the Tories electoral defeat in the form of a Keir Starmer–led Labour government. If Johnson imperils the Tory grip on power, they will ruthlessly abandon him. If there is still some reasonable hope that Johnson will survive and stave off Labour government, they may still back him.
Nowhere is this deep-seated ambivalence more evident than in the editorial policy of Rupert Murdoch’s media. So far, those papers have refrained from advocating deposition of Johnson. Murdoch’s underlying aim is to leave Johnson a lifeline so long as that is remotely consistent with the pursuit of Murdoch’s overall quest for influence, power and a direct say in international affairs.
Across the Atlantic, we see the recrudescence of Trumpism in all its ugliness. Murdoch’s Fox News is largely to blame for the shocking polarisation of US politics which first took the form of the Tea Party and thereafter the cause of Donald Trump. Trump, ably abetted by Murdoch, has successfully planted an enormous lie in the minds of four out of ten American voters at least that Trump actually won the 2020 election and that Joe Biden cheated his way to office by falsifying and subverting American democracy.
Trump’s shameless persistence in this lie, even to the extent of condemning his Mike Pence for failing to abort the 2020 election and his recent promise to pardon the January 6th Capitol insurrectionists, is worthy only of the lowest grade politics of a third rate tinpot dictatorship. But that is what is now on offer to American voters as the alternative to the faltering Biden presidency.
The malign influence of Rupert Murdoch cannot be doubted, as manifest in the US and in the UK. We should not forget that Trump supported by Murdoch set out to destroy the European Union politically and economically. Nor should we forget that the current occupation of Ottawa is inspired, financed and justified by the Trump movement in the United States. Murdoch must bear serious personal responsibility for plunging the free world into an existential crisis in which he and his friends offer crude and dangerous populism as the only way out for anxious voters. It’s Ottawa or Portland, folks.
Murdoch, Trump and Johnson share a predilection for division, polarisation and cynical exploitation of political fear rather than loyalty to civic cohesion, solidarity and the rule of law.
Murdoch knows as well as any that Johnson’s decision to support Brexit was based on a knife-edge evaluation of where his own political advantage lay rather than any deep-seated convictions about the wellbeing of the UK. But the weaknesses of Johnson and the dangerousness of Trump are prices that Murdoch seems willing to pay in pursuit of malign personal power and influence at national and international level.
As Max Hastings pointed out, Vladimir Putin and his cronies just laughed at Johnson’s recent efforts to deflect domestic attention from his own unsuitability for office by seeking to champion the people of Ukraine as their interlocutor with the Kremlin.
As I wrote here recently, the alliance between Xi’s China and Putin’s Russia officially anointed in the run up to the Beijing Winter Olympics, now threatens freedom and liberal democracy across the globe.
The canary in the coal mine of UK democracy is an independent BBC. That too is high on Murdoch’s target list.
There is something truly Orwellian about his relentless buy-out and subversion of political decency and the inconvenience of objective truth.