It’s totally OK to break laws in England – just ask the MPs who make them | Marina Hyde


Another day, another tranche of Partygate fines from the police. You’ll have heard the adage that politics is showbiz for ugly people. So let’s be real: the Conservative party’s reaction to lawbreaking in Downing Street is the Oscars slap for ugly people. Think back to what we saw on our TVs. A whole class of pretentious narcissists, so terminally in hock to a corrupt system of golden job offers and preferment that any moral code could only ever take a distant second place to the impulse to worshipfully close ranks. And Hollywood’s no better.

Every day, ministers who go on the airwaves to defend Boris Johnson over Partygate are doing the equivalent of the standing ovation in the Dolby theatre – a community of hilariously absurd people rising to their feet and applauding someone they know full well has behaved appallingly, because … because what? Because some things are more important? Bollocks. They’re applauding because they’re totally ridiculous and vain people. Those who felt slapped in the face when the multiple party stories first emerged just have to suck it up. We’re all Chris Rock now. I’m only waiting for religious wingnut Jacob Rees-Mogg to claim that the devil comes for prime ministers when they’re at their highest. Yesterday, it emerged that the government’s former ethics chief has been fined for attending a lawbreaking karaoke party at which there was apparently a drunken brawl. You laugh, but she’ll probably get a Grammy for talking about it next year.

With each endlessly pious lecture that we should “move on”, ministers cleave closer to the characteristics of the remote Hollywood entertainment elite who are forever chiding the little people to look away from their foibles. This trend has been visible for a while. It’s not just things like Boris Johnson taking a private jet from his own climate conference – has anything more preposterously Tinseltown ever happened? – but the constant expectation that politicians should be allowed to “grow” despite holding positions of huge power and responsibility. Cut them some slack – they are works in progress! In fact, it feels more like they are trying to eliminate the very idea of disgrace.

The overall impression is that we are governed by people to whom the usual rules do not apply, because they are special. Like celebrities. They are an elite community, unmoored from the constraints by which normal people are bound. Even their outside-politics behaviour appears to be becoming more celeb-y. With increasing regularity, one or other MP issues a non-apology apology, or some mad health advice, or a statement responding to accusations of reprehensible behaviour in a self-pityingly modern fashion. On Sunday, a Conservative MP called David Warburton was accused of sexual assault and pictured allegedly posing next to some cocaine (he has denied any wrongdoing). On Monday, it was announced that he had checked into a psychiatric hospital suffering from “severe shock and stress”. I see. I know I have to say I’m sorry he’s in a state and everything, but this is a man accused of multiple incidents of sexual misconduct. I can’t help but remember that Harvey Weinstein’s reaction to a number of accusations was to seclude himself in some kind of Arizona head-spa. As Harvey put it to reporters shortly before being admitted: “You know what, we all make mistakes … Second chance, I hope.”

Weinstein was of course suffering from the severe shock and stress of being found out. I say “found out”, but it turns out that Conservative whips were informed of some of the women’s allegations against Mr Warburton two weeks ago, but did not take action against him – a modus operandi which will be familiar to those who know how hard Hollywood works to protect its menfolk.

I wonder which politician will be next to check into the equivalent of somewhere called Pathways or Meadowlands, following an incident or incidents that to ordinary people simply looks like rotten behaviour, and not something that can be conveniently clinicalised because you’re in a hole? I wouldn’t give it long before some MP reacts to being caught bang-to-rights by entering a clinic for sex addiction, at which point it’ll be mandatory to salute him and say we hope he finds the space to work on himself. (As Chazz Michael Michaels observes in Blades of Glory, it’s a real disease, with doctors and medicine and everything.)

The era of a disgraced politician looking contritely over their garden gate while their wife wears a rictus is ever more passé. Still, there’s such a fine line, isn’t there, between progress and evading responsibility. Consider the parliamentary rise of another Hollywood favourite: aggressive lawsuits. Only in the past fortnight, long after he was handed a jail sentence for sex offences against two women, did the former Tory MP Charlie Elphicke finally drop his four-year libel claim against the Sunday Times over the story that a woman had told the Tory whips and police that he had raped her but investigators had taken no action.

And yet, for all their showbiz tricks, it still feels truly mad that ministers are out there defending lawbreaking BY THE PEOPLE THAT MADE THE LAWS. Not just any laws – the most draconian restrictions on freedom in peacetime, which saw people unable to be with their loved ones as they died horrible deaths alone, and all the other horrendous things a whole lot of British citizens have not “moved on” from, whatever their progressive overlords might wish.

Every elite hypocrisy or plea for special treatment suggests these politicians are becoming more and more detached from those they are supposed to represent, most of whom have moved on to a cost of living crisis in which “personal growth” has become an unaffordable luxury. After his calamitous spring statement, it feels completely apt that chancellor Rishi Sunak should be spending his Easter holiday in Santa Monica. Hopefully he’ll go the whole hog and spend new year in Aspen with Barry Diller.

As for how these various pretensions will go down with the electorate, I imagine quite badly, in the circumstances. Nobody goes to the movies to watch stuff like this. Are ordinary people allowed to go to a clinic for having to choose between heating and eating? Can they justify lawbreaking on the basis that laws are, as Rees-Mogg whined on behalf of the prime minister, “unkind and inhuman”? No. Or to put it another way, this high-status behaviour by a governing party is increasingly unrelatable. That’s a problem. People don’t accept being told what to do by hypocritical Hollywood stars. And unless politicians realise without exception that they are subject to the same rules, people eventually won’t accept being told what to do by them either.


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