Sanity as a Sense of Due Proportion

Sanity as a Sense of Due Proportion
British Prime Minister Boris Johnson delivers a speech on immigration, at Lydd Airport, Britain, April 14, 2022. (Matt Dunham/Pool/Reuters)
James Bowman
You may remember that, way back in January, I remarked on the then-exciting British scandal known as “Cake-gate.”

Boris Johnson, the Conservative prime minister, was said to have attended a garden party for staff at Number 10 Downing Street in honor of his birthday—and possibly even consumed a bit of birthday cake—during lockdown when such social gatherings were forbidden to ordinary people.

The calls for his resignation, even from many from his own party in Parliament, became for a while all but deafening. It was far from clear that he could survive a proposed vote of no-confidence, despite a substantial Tory majority in the House of Commons.

One Conservative MP even quoted against him the words of Oliver Cromwell to the Rump Parliament in 1653, which had been previously quoted against Neville Chamberlain after the fall of Norway to Nazi Germany in 1940: “You have sat here too long for all the good you have done. In the name of God, go.”

Let’s see: Birthday party equals fall of Norway? Surely there is some slight disproportion here?

Whether for this reason or, more likely, because media-generated scandal tends to die down when not constantly fed with new revelations of wrong-doing, Cake-gate was soon overshadowed in the headlines by the war in Ukraine—which also, as it happens, gave Johnson an opportunity to redeem himself, at least in some measure.

Not only was the prime minister in the forefront of Western leaders offering military assistance to the beleaguered Ukrainians, he actually flew to Kyiv shortly after the Russian siege was lifted and was photographed walking the streets of that city along with President Zelensky—who was clearly delighted to have him there.

A video of their walkabout, along with a small security detail, was posted by Fox News and almost immediately garnered 1.6 million views.

Ordinary Ukrainians were shown approaching the British prime minister to thank him effusively for his help. “It is nice to meet you,” said Johnson, “and it has been our privilege to help. You have a remarkable president, Mr. Zelensky, who has done an outstanding job. We simply wish to keep supporting the people of Ukraine for as long as it takes.”

As the Ukrainian cause in the struggle against Russia is overwhelmingly favored by the British people, the fillip that this excursion gave to his popularity back home was thought by some to have enabled him to put the Cake-gate scandal behind him.

But here’s a little known truth about media-generated scandals: they are rarely, if ever, about what they are said to be about. Even Watergate was largely a pretext for the left to go after Richard Nixon, whom they had hated since, as a member of the House Un-American Activities Committee in 1948, his investigations had been instrumental in putting Alger Hiss, a darling of the liberal establishment who turned out to have been a Communist spy, behind bars.

Russia-gate, which did so much to cripple the Trump administration, was not only a pretext but a manufactured one, as John Durham’s investigations continue to make clear, designed to do just that.

In Boris Johnson’s case, Cake-gate is essentially the revenge of the British establishment for what they see as his betrayal over the Brexit vote of 2016, and his subsequent leading of Britain’s negotiated withdrawal from the European Union.

Thus, on his return to England from Ukraine, the scandal was given a new lease of life by a police notice of a fixed penalty fine of £50 (about $65) for attending the birthday party. There was also the chance of further fines up to £10,000, depending on the results of further police investigations into his possible attendance at other parties during lockdown.

As a result, he was forced into making another apology to the House of Commons, and members of the Labour opposition party renewed their calls for his resignation. On Thursday a motion to refer the matter to the House privileges committee was passed unopposed. The committee will decide whether the prime minister deliberately misled Parliament in previous statements about the party and, therefore, whether he should be forced to resign.
Within his own party, however, there were signs that the war in Ukraine had done something to restore a sense of proportion. The Guardian reported that “many of those who had previously submitted letters of no confidence—Sir Roger Gale, Andrew Bridgen, and Douglas Ross—said now was not the time to change leader given the instability caused by Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.”

A more cynical anti-Johnsonian was quoted as saying, “The war gives others the absolute abdication of responsibility they are desperate for.”

It seems to me a bit disproportionate to put an alleged “responsibility” to treat so trivial a matter as a hanging offense ahead of what would once have been the generally acknowledged responsibility owed by the prime minister to the people who elected him to do the job.

But that’s scandal for you. Disproportion and the media’s power to exploit it by making scandals of trivialities and (as in the case of Hunter Biden’s laptop) trivialities of scandals is the way the left have chosen to exercise their control over the information ecosystem, purging those like Johnson and Trump, who pose a threat to their agenda, and promoting those, like Joe Biden, who promise to enact it.

Of course that control is not complete, and people will eventually begin to see through the hype—as President Biden’s approval ratings suggest they are beginning to do in America.

If I were in his shoes, I would be a little worried that last month’s acknowledgment by The New York Times that the Hunter Biden laptop is real is an early indication that the media are now prepared to cut him loose and drop the comprehensive protection from scandal they have hitherto afforded him—become a drag on the Democrats’ brand going into the mid-term elections.

He may yet have to learn that, like fire, or money, scandal is a good servant but a bad master.

Views expressed in this article are opinions of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of The Epoch Times.
James Bowman is a resident scholar at the Ethics and Public Policy Center. The author of “Honor: A History,” he is a movie critic for The American Spectator and the media critic for The New Criterion.
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