As newspapers and broadcasters are currently focused on comprising a list of Boris Johnson and his 40 competitors who all want a role that many people would argue will end their political careers, it seems worth asking the 12 Sussex based Conservative MPs which names on the list they will endorse? So far the MP for Wealden, Nusrat Ghani is supporting Jeremy Hunt and Amber Rudd has suggested she would be keen to work with whichever of the people is chosen so in public at least, she is refusing to endorse anyone. That leaves the remaining 10 MPs whose views would no doubt be of interest to their constituents and other people. Of course one of the strong barriers that is beginning to be erected between Johnson and the door to No 10 is the court case that is underway which has been developing for some time so it is certainly not an attempt to prevent him from winning this race. Nevertheless it has proved fascinating to see how a number of his supporters or pro Brexit colleagues are demanding that the court case is torpedoed. The Welsh MP, David Davies claimed “Deeply sinister that Brexiteers like Boris Johnson face being dragged into court” and his lead campaigner, Jacob Rees Mogg stated that “politicising justice is a really bad idea and it’s actually what happens in totalitarian regimes where people get prosecuted for free speech. So the issue of free speech completely overwhelm this bogus case…It’s trying to use the courts for political purposes, which I think is a mistake and allowing this prosecution to go ahead is politicising justice, which is a further mistake” The view from Johnson is that the case is a “politically motivated attempt to reverse Brexit” and his lawyers claim it is “a stunt”.
It does seem reasonable for people who now know that many of his Vote Leave claims were false, to be able to challenge them just as society needs to explore what should happen whenever MPs and Peers and even non Parliamentarians make untrue statements in an attempt to persuade people to support their campaigns. The irony of Rees-Moggs defence of Johnson is that he has admitted that £350m a week could not possibly go to the NHS because it is a gross sum rather than the net payment and so it must be challenged. After all these are the same people who have demanded that the Labour Party which did not get elected in 2017 should stick to their manifesto which was of course was prepared as a set of promises (or claims) of what they would do if elected as our Government. Indeed there are many clear examples of Governments that have failed to deliver what they promised in their manifestos, let alone holding opposition parties to deliver on their discarded manifestos. All of these false promises and statements can easily lead people who are entitled to vote to lose confidence in our democracy or in the parties they have previously voted for or are even members of. The impact of this in the last two elections is unlikely to extend so heavily into the next General Election, but some of us who have voted for most of our lives for one party, once we have chosen to change our behaviour on several occasions may not return to the same place we once felt comfortable in.
On the subject of court cases for false statements made by candidates and campaigners, it was very helpful in the last few days to be reminded by Michael Crick of an event that took place less than 10 years ago. After the court case against Phil Woolas whose 2010 General Election campaign told lies about his Liberal Democrat opponent, Charlie Falconer stated ‘look, we’ve got to be very, very careful about that in future’. Clearly people like Davies, Rees-Mogg, Johnson and many others have managed to avoid being so careful and have overlooked this particular case which was the first for 99 years at the time. It is clearly not the last! Indeed Davies went on to state “EU supporters falsely claimed that a leave vote would collapse the economy. No action being taken against them..” In one sense I agree with Davies. The reality is that at the referendum, both Leave and Remain campaigners told us very clearly that if our nation voted to Leave, we will do so immediately after the referendum. This was a clear and uncomplicated implicit claim that a plan for our departure had been made by the Government. This lie is surely the biggest one of the lot?