I don’t care about partygate. It’s time for a lockdown amnesty
Boris Johnson is expected to explain his party fines to Parliament tomorrow in what some are calling a ‘constitutional crisis’. Strangely, I don’t care. Not a hoot, or a fig, or a fucking tuppenny (I don’t know what that is, but if I had one I wouldn’t give it away).
I don’t care so much, I don’t have the energy to figure out why, so I was grateful to have watched an old interview of William F Buckley, the great American conservative, from 1973, when asked why he stood by Richard Nixon during Watergate – or at least wouldn’t call on him to resign. I’ll let Bill (who at the time didn’t know the extent of Tricky Dick’s crimes) speak for me.
The interviewer said: Conservatives are supposed to believe in small, clean government, but Nixon (like Boris) first built government and then broke its rules. Isn’t it hypocritical for a conservative to support it?
Buckley replied: I wish our leaders were pure, but no one is. Believing in original sin, most conservatives are the complete opposite of naive. At the same time, they are practical, and it is precisely because presidents or PMs are so powerful that the consequences of forcing them out of office have to be weighed. If Winston Churchill had run a red light in 1942, would it have been proportionate or sensible to force him to resign?
Prime Ministers were asked to resign even during a war, but Neville Chamberlain was replaced by Churchill: the loss was slight, the replacement was an improvement. If Boris resigns tomorrow, in the midst of the Ukrainian crisis, the conservative parliamentary party does not know who will replace him.
Rishi Sunak, maybe, but he was also fined. Liz Truss or Ben Wallace, maybe. But what do they really represent? Boris hasn’t so much changed the Conservative Party as he has shaken it up, leaving it uncertain of what there is to do besides keeping Labor out of power. With no obvious electorate to fill its shoes, the party no longer has a clear philosophy to fall back on in an emergency – and much of the old establishment machinery has been compromised or broken (often by Boris himself). Conservatives are stuck with this charming devil because he’s the one they know best.
Then Buckley confessed his cynical glee at Watergate, confirming what conservatives have always warned that most politicians are crooks and government is a criminal enterprise. What is tax if not legalized theft?
The left worships the state as an engine of social change; he must believe that politicians have the best motivations. But if the right is right that human beings are imperfect, it’s better to keep the state small so that our leaders can do as little damage as possible.
The left tends to despise Boris because he broke the rules, while many on the right are annoyed with him because they think he shouldn’t have written those damn laws in the first place, and the fact that ‘he couldn’t or wouldn’t, join them proves they were stupid.
Are we seriously supposed to believe that in the middle of a pandemic, if you sat in your office and never spoke to anyone, you were safe – but the moment you turned to a colleague and said ” happy birthday”, have you become a danger to life and physical integrity?
In a weird way, I’m grateful to Boris for inadvertently making such a mockery of lockdown that I hope we never experience that again. That said, I’d rather not think about it at all. Covid and the lockdown have been traumatic, and my therapist says it’s unhealthy to dwell on things that upset me, like illness, death, or the exorbitant cost of therapy. So please declare a blanket lockdown amnesty – and move on.
Easter had a deeper meaning for me this year as we received the call that my aunt was near death. I traveled to the south coast to sit with her for a few hours. With Classic FM gurgling in the background, I pulled a chair closer to her bed and read poetry aloud. AA Milne, Lewis Carroll; John Betjeman seemed to fall well. He is, like my aunt, deeply English: light and fun to the ear, but sadness runs through him like Brighton rock. We all loved a Joan Hunter Dunn, “furnished and polished by Aldershot Sun”. We all lost one too.
Why does God let us suffer? I read silently to myself, because it’s far too dark to share with the dying, “In Church” by RS Thomas. It’s one of the best articulations from a particularly Anglican, angsty point of view.
Thomas, a vicar, sits in an empty church and listens to the silence. “Is this where God is hiding from my search?” he asks. No answer comes. “Bats are taking over their business.”
When I was younger, faith was idealistic; loud and clear. Now I consider doubt a sign of maturity – after all the horrible things I’ve seen, who couldn’t doubt? – and belief can feel like unrewarding work. Thomas describes the stones of his church as “the hard ribs / Of a body our prayers have failed / To animate”, yearning for resurrection, for proof that all of this is true, that we have been heard, understood and loved .
My aunt’s ribs heaved gently. She mostly looked out the window, where the sky was blue and cloudless. We heard children playing in the street.