Shall we begin merely by attempting to process the news that Britain’s brand new government began life on Friday morning with a fun game of call-and-response blatant lies around the cabinet table?
“Forty,” they all shouted back, so we are told
“How many more police officers?”
“How many more nurses?”
It’s not that you already know that all these claims are lies, though we will go through the motions now in any case. (”20 new hospitals” are upgrades of 6 that already exist; the 50,000 new nurses include 20,000 already doing the job; and the 20,000 more police officers will not replace the 21,000 that the Conservatives have cut since 2010).
It’s that the people chanting them like cyborgs back at their Liar King know that their lies as well. If this were merely some dystopian horror film, one imagines this horrific scene would be a plot point of some significance. Our hero, though at this stage, God knows who it is, might realise they’re in too deep. That this really isn’t what they signed up for.
So it is especially tragic to have to remember that it is real life. Your life. My life. For two months, being venal enough to trash your country in service of your own personal ambition is the price of entry for a Conservative MP. That’s why, to name but one, Matt Hancock gladly carries on, in service of a Brexit he knows is horrific. That’s why Liz Truss gladly ploughs on as Secretary of State for International Trade, despite proclaiming in June 2016, when she was a Remainer (she still is a remainer) that leaving the EU will not lead to better trade terms with any country, anywhere in the world. She was right then; she’s wrong now. But she’s still in a job. and that’s the main thing.
Getting all the way to cabinet though, we now know, has even higher requirements. They’re the guys and girls (though mainly guys) who’ll say and do absolutely anything. And how better to test their mettle than to bring them into one of the most hallowed rooms in government and make them desecrate it by barking out what they know to be total bollocks?
It does seem a bit cruel. In the army, they just shave your head. We must assume Dominic Cummings felt that to be insufficient, for obvious tonsorial reasons.
At this point, we turn our attention to one such new recruit, Suella Braverman, the brand new Attorney General.
It is, in some ways, a thing of wonder that you can replace the Attorney General whose legal advice led to you having to apologise to the Queen for illegally shutting down Parliament, and the newbie is universally considered to be a downgrade of exponential proportion.
(The last guy, of course, was Geoffrey Cox, who, barely more than a year ago, was quoting Milton at Tory Party conference, calling Brexit, “a Nation rousing herself like a strong man after sleep, and shaking her invincible locks.” How unfortunate the first thing the strong man has done is squish little Geoffrey like a fly.)
Whenever the name Suella Braverman is mentioned in Westminster circles, it is usually amid a discussion of who is the stupidest MP in parliament. This seems a little harsh. Though it cannot be believed, it also cannot be denied that, from a very ordinary background, Ms Braverman graduated from Cambridge with a law degree and has spent many years holding down a job as an actual barrister.
There is a tendency, among the public, to imagine that MPs are not all that bright, because they tend to encounter them through the medium of hostile television interviews, and hostile television interviews are very hard. It is, for example, unfortunate that Suella Braverman has an almost unsurpassed capacity to have what is known as her arse handed to her, every time she appears on television; particularly, though by no means limited to, a short chat with Channel 4’s Krishnan Guru-Murthy, in which she boldly refused to reveal which Conservative MPs are members of the European Research Group, even though it is publicly funded.
As I say, hostile interviews are hard, and success in them tends to be a measure of how much you have paid for your education, as opposed to intelligence.
We have no reason to expect, for example, that a practising barrister of ten years' experience should be any good at arguing her case.
We should also, of course, forgive her for accidentally mentioning in a speech in Westminster last year, that she, and other right-wing people, are “engaged in a war against cultural Marxism”.
Anyone can say something stupid. Anyone can say “cultural Marxism”, without knowing that it is a virulently antisemitic term found almost 1,000 times in the manifesto of white supremacist mass murderer Anders Breivik. Anyone can make a mistake. Anyone can say something they don’t understand. The country’s most senior lawyer, it turns out, can be human, too.
Still, it would not be strictly accurate to say she is only in the job because she’ll do as she’s told. After the government was quite rightly and quite correctly humiliated by the Supreme Court in October, murmurings of revenge have grown ever louder. When the December election purged the Conservative Party of absolutely everyone with any common sense (or at least those who aren’t happy to pretend they don’t have any – hello again, Matt Hancock), lawyers perished more than most.
David Gauke, Ken Clarke, Dominic Grieve: these are people who don’t want to smash up the independent judiciary, because they know such a course of action would be incredibly unwise.
There is a word for “taking back control” from the judiciary and giving it to “the people” – which is to say, giving it to politicians. One doesn't use it lightly, but it begins with f.
Ms Braverman appears to have no such concerns. When the government loses a court case, it is because the judiciary has politicised itself. As she made clear in an article two weeks ago, Brexit was also, apparently, about “taking back control” from the judges. The ones, no doubt, who were denounced as “enemies of the people” on the front of The Daily Mail.
A lawyer who’ll smash up the courts for political gain is hard to find; one well-qualified enough to be this stupid is even harder. In this government of call-and-response bullshit, Ms Braverman will go very far indeed.