Silvio Berlusconi, the former, frequent, Prime Minister of Italy died this week. Because of his personal conduct, he was frequently in conflict with Italian institutions. He blamed them when he should have looked in the mirror.
An admirer of Vladimir Putin, Berlusconi was a true precursor to Donald Trump and Boris Johnson. Berlusconi can no longer endanger the stability of Italy. Trump, and to a lesser extent Johnson can. History tells us how potent and dangerous politicians can be when they create a devoted following of people who are prepared to disregard flagrant disrespect for institutions in pursuit of populism.
It is particularly vital that people who value our courts, legislatures and the rule of law stand up to such people. The “West” including Australia and Japan are facing a larger group of countries from Russia and China, Iran, Saudi Arabia and much of Africa who have no respect for democracy. This is not surprising in some ways when they see Americans wearing horned caps invading the Capitol Building and the United Kingdom losing its place in the world as a country lead by calm respected politicians.
Which brings us to the resignation from parliament this week of Boris Johnson. I first reported on him when he was forced to come to Liverpool to apologise for a notorious article he’d written accusing the city of having “victim status”. It was an insincere circus and a month later he was sacked from Michael Howard’s Shadow Cabinet for lying over his private life.
Johnson’s fragile relationship with the truth has been a theme of his career, some far more serious than others. The claim that millions of Turks would soon be heading for Britain helped us leave the European Union and the claim that no parties were held in Downing Street during lockdown has led to the most serious judgement ever made against a British Prime Minister. Boris Johnson lied to the Commons and then impugned the integrity of the Privileges Committee whose members have needed enhanced security.
At the same time in America former President Trump facing federal charges about mishandling of top secret documents went on a similar attack against the institutions of America.
And yet, and yet, Trump remains favourite for the Republican nomination for 2024 and Jacob Rees-Mogg (who curates an image of eighteenth propriety) warns his party there will be a civil war if Conservative officials bar Johnson’s re-entry to the Commons. Supporters of Trump and Johnson need to urgently think about what they are doing.
It is a low time for public life in this country. The ultimate spectacle is Nadine Dorries first quitting parliament, peeved at not getting a peerage, then delaying her resignation to embarrass the Prime Minister. The Tories have run out of all credibility and need to clean off in opposition. Finally, a word of praise for Warrington South MP Andy Carter. A Conservative member of the Privileges Committee, he will have been under huge pressure in doing his job. He is now seeking the Chester South and Eddisbury nomination. Will he be rewarded by the local association for upholding decency in politics or punished for helping to get a liar out of the House of Commons?