AFTER deceiving his wife by sleeping with a showgirl, and Parliament by denying this, senior minister and likely Prime Ministerial contender John Profumo was never again active in politics. His (Conservative) party’s reputation was also greatly wounded, and soon after Harold Macmillan was voted out of Number Ten.
Less than fifty years later, another rising ‘Conservative’ figure was revealed to have cheated on his wife, the mother of his four children, and to have lied to his boss, then Tory leader Michael Howard, about this. An allegation that an unwanted child had been aborted was thrown into the mix. Howard sacked his front-bencher, though he insisted that the sacking was ‘nothing to do with personal morality’ (why should it not have been?) but merely about the destruction of trust (itself a matter of morality). Had history repeated itself, this would have cut short another promising career in politics. Several alleged affairs later, however, ‘Boris’ Johnson was elected leader of the Conservative Party, and then prime minister. This is as great an evocation of the party’s position today on the family unit, and on general morality, as there can be.
Following the most recent gossip about Johnson’s ‘love’ life, a number of Right-wing columnists have written that the PM’s philandering ‘doesn’t really make a difference’ (Rod Liddle in the Sunday Times), that virtue doesn’t matter in such a position, and that Johnson ‘looks positively saintly’ compared with some of our past PMs anyway (Dominic Sandbrook, UnHerd).
Even if other commentators took the opposite view, I doubt if the papers would have published them.
The Mail, Times and Telegraph are about the only publications conservatives have left in the world of mainstream journalism, and in many respects, they have gone to the dogs. They would much rather run stories telling how ‘I hit my sexual stride in midlife – and so can you’ (not to mention Mail Online’s schoolboy-like ‘sidebar of shame’) than ones proclaiming the importance of Christian morality. Perhaps that tells us more about their readerships, and society generally.
That’s not to say that every paper should be filled with editorials about how flawed the PM is – the same arguments could be made about all of us. But surely the point should be put to print (as, at least, it has been time and again by The Conservative Woman) that Johnson’s actions prove he is anything but conservative.
Peter Hitchens put it well following the Tory election win in 2019. ‘Mr Johnson’s mind is not conservative. He is a North London bohemian, a social liberal who can barely understand the arguments for lifelong marriage.’
We shouldn’t be surprised, then, that this social liberal, North London bohemian has been at the helm during what has been termed ‘the year of abortion’. In his mind, the expansion of DIY abortions was an acceptable cost to pay for the maintaining of ‘public health’. All par for the course. So too was the separation of long-standing, loving married couples – a concept which he is clearly confused by, anyway. His private dealings made it clear that he would not treat these matters with unwavering respect and care. So why have ‘conservatives’ chosen to ignore them? Are they seriously fooled by the spin (itself a choice word for ‘lies’) issued by the Tories at election time on the importance of the family unit?
Johnson’s libertarian/non-conservative (and maybe pre-Christian as Iain Martin has suggested recently) mind impacts his approach to all other issues, too – and not least trust and truth, as has been so evident in his capricious toying with the population over lockdown rules and vaccine exits while he continues to enjoy a sybaritic lifestyle.
That in my view is why the forgiving commentators are so wrong – they miss that clear character defect that cuts across both his private and public actions.
Even if society is to insist that morality itself doesn’t matter, can’t we at least agree that it can be used – in extreme circumstances such as this one – as a window into the mind? A conservative litmus test, if you will. On this basis, ‘Boris’ fails.