Richard North, 30/11/2019  

There is something quite chilling about this video clip where Alexander Boris de Pfeffel Johnson is asked by ITV's Paul Brand whether he could "look me in the eye and tell me that you have never lied in your political career".

Without so much as a blush, Johnson looks Brand in the eye and, shaking his head, says: "Absolutely not, absolutely not. I have never tried to deceive the public and I've always tried to be absolutely frank". Pressed again, he continued: "I may have got things wrong, I may have been mistaken, but I've never tried to deceive people about the way I see things".

Predictably, the fanboys over at the Telegraph were silent on this event, which was broadcast on Thursday, but it was picked up by the Independent yesterday, with a story headlined: "Ridicule and disbelief as Boris Johnson insists he's never told a single lie in his whole political career".

Apart from the "lie on the bus" over Brexit, and the thoroughly dishonest claim about getting Brexit done, critics remind us of the decision in 2004 by then Tory leader Michael Howard to sack Johnson from his post as shadow arts minister for lying over an extramarital affair.

Revisiting this event, which was reported on 14 November 2004, almost exactly 15 years ago, there is no equivocation about what came to pass. A spokesman for the party leader is cited as saying that Johnson "was removed for lying about claims of an affair". He was also dismissed as party vice-chairman.

The matter had first come to public attention when the Mail on Sunday and the News of the World had claimed that Johnson – then still editor of The Spectator - had had an affair with the magazine's columnist Petronella Wyatt. The stories had including a claim that Wyatt had become pregnant and that the Johnson had paid for her to have an abortion at the Portland Hospital.

Typically, in responding to the claims, Johnson had resorted to bluster, dismissing them as "an inverted pyramid of piffle". But when more allegations were due to appear in the following Sundays, Howard decided that the replies he had been given by Johnson about the affair "were not entirely candid and honest and therefore there were questions about his integrity".

Michael Ancram, at the time the Tory party's deputy leader, told the BBC: "It wasn't about his private life, it was about something more central than that. Michael Howard for a long time has been talking about the need to restore people's trust in the honesty and integrity of politics. Where Boris was less than frank, that was what could not be sustained. In the end Michael, when he realised Boris had not been frank with him, had to let him go".

But what is doubly interesting about this is that The Spectator's then political editor – none other than Peter Oborne - was interviewed by BBC News, whence he declared: "Boris Johnson is a superb figure, very much part of the Conservative Party's history, really inspirational, one of the few Tory MPs that everybody can relate to". He added: "I am not clear that this was a suitable reason for somebody to leave the front bench. The Tory party must have gone mad tonight".

This is the very same Peter Oborne who recently wrote in the Guardian under the heading, " It’s not just Boris Johnson’s lying. It’s that the media let him get away with it".

And, as we recall, a year later after these most egregious of lies from Johnson, Peter Oborne went on to write a book, The Rise of Political Lying, telling us that, "Britain now lives in a post-truth political environment. Public statements are no longer fact-based, but operational. Realities and political narratives are constructed to serve a purpose, dismantled and the show moves on".

As I record in my recent piece, the only reference to his boss was a fulsome note in the acknowledgements thanking him for allowing him to go on a sabbatical "as well as providing instruction about Greek philosophy".

Now, of course, it is convenient for Oborne to wax indignant about Johnson's many lies but, at this stage, we have to concede that the prime minister in office has excelled himself, adding to his long list of lies the added lie in the form of the denial that he has ever lied in his political career.

In a sense, though, if Johnson is the sociopath that we believe him to be, then technically he isn't lying. To lie, there must be intent to deceive, but this is a man who is unable to tell the difference between truth and falsehood. Even when not telling the truth, as we see in the video clip, he convinces himself that he has " never tried to deceive the public" and that he has "always tried to be absolutely frank".

But, whether serial liar or sociopath, the difference is moot. This is a man who is utterly unfit to hold the office of prime minister. It is an affront to decency that we, the voters, should have been put in the position of being asked to vote for his party, in an election where success would lead again to him becoming prime minister.

Coincidently, this "lie upon lies" comes at a time when Johnson is apparently evading an interview with the BBC's Andrew Neil, seeking instead a soft-focus interview on the Marr show this weekend. It says a lot for the uselessness of Marr as a political interviewer that Johnson should prefer him.

Neil has of late acquired a fearsome reputation as an interviewer, although how he will fare against a pathological liar such as Johnson is yet to be seen. To have a serial liar who can look you in the eye and deny that he is a liar puts him in a different league to the blundering Corbyn who recently performed so badly.

But, aside from the headline issue of Corbyn's refusal to apologise for his party's antisemitism (which in some sense was a cheap shot, because Corbyn could never have conceded the point on the programme), the most effective barb was on technical matters, when Neil demonstrated Corbyn's economic illiteracy in failing to appreciate that issuing bonds was creating government debt.

Bearing in mind that Johnson wants to keep the focus on Brexit, however, one is not so sure that Neil will be able to perform so effectively on a technical level in this domain.

An illustration of Neil's fragile grasp of Brexit (and EU) issues came early last year when Corbyn was reported as complaining that the EU Customs Union was "tariff heavy against quite a lot of very poor countries, and in some cases protectionist against developing countries".

Corbyn was, of course, wrong. The EU's "Everything But Arms" (EBA) programme grants full duty free and quota free access to the EU Single Market for all products (except arms and armaments) to every country listed as a Least Developed Country (LDC) by the UN Committee for Development Policy. Countries do not even need to apply to benefit from EBA. They are added or removed from the relevant list through a delegated regulation.

This could have provided Andrew Neil with a strong rebuttal had he chosen to intervene – which indeed he did. But, instead of tackling this obvious point, he replied, saying:
Mr Corbyn seems to think a Customs Union avoids tariffs between EU members. That's the single market. A Customs Union involves common external tariffs for all EU members vis a vis non-EU members.
This technical illiteracy is typical of journalists and politicians, and Andrew Neil is evidently as much prey to ignorance (and hubris) as the best of them. As a forensic journalist, the man is over-rated. Given Johnson's skills at lying, one might think that he has little to fear from being interviewed by Neil.

The watching public, therefore, are being confronted with the formidable combination of a skilled, serial liar up against journalists who are quite obviously not up to the job of taking him down. Even Paul Brand, who could have eviscerated Johnson, didn't follow through, leaving the liar's lies unchallenged.

We deserve better.

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