Great Britain, Journalism, Politics

Political Accountability …

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson, he of the rumpled suit and head of hair that looks at all times as if he’s just rolled out of his bed, has had a bad few days.

Fined for breaking the law by having a crowded, boozy party at his official residence while all of the UK was in Covid lockdown, Johnson apologized, at least sort of. The mess has been dubbed “Partygate.”

One of Johnson’s parties occurred while Queen Elizabeth, strictly observing the government’s lockdown rules, sat alone at her husband’s funeral. Members of his own party have called on Johnson to step down. He’s adamantly refused.

The British prime minister at “question time”

It’s not difficult to make a 96-year-old hereditary monarch more sympathetic than a boorish and bumbling Boris Johnson, but this one was literally no contest. Boris is the first prime minister in British history to be cited for breaking a law while in office. Potentially even more damaging for the PM is the growing belief that he lied to Parliament about the booze parties. Imagine that – a politician held to account for a lie.

Johnson is additionally under fire for a hare-brained scheme to transport some UK asylum seekers to Rwanda for “reprocessing.” The idea was immediately denounced by, among others, the Archbishop of Canterbury, the leader of the Church of England. Johnson then privately criticized the archbishop, and the comments leaked. Of course they did.

Meanwhile, Johnson made a much-publicized trip to Ukraine recently to show solidarity with that beleaguered nation’s president and people. The trip was a not so thinly veiled attempt to divert attention from the scandals swirling around Johnson who is this week off to India for the same reason.

Amid cries that Johnson should “pack his bags and go,” the prime minister endured 40 minutes this week of that wonderful British tradition – question time. With support for Johnson eroding among his own Tory Party, but without, at least yet wholesale abandonment of their leader, the opposition pounded away. Oh, to have such debates in our system.

As the Conservative back benchers tried to shout down demands for Johnson’s resignation, opposition leader Keir Stamer couldn’t resist twisting the blade: “The party of Peel and Churchill reduced to shouting and screaming in support of this lawbreaker!”

Britain’s opposition Labour Party leader Keir Starmer /Jessica Taylor/via REUTERS

At one level this story confirms that British democracy – and British voters – are every bit as capable as American democracy and voters of electing clowns. But what is different between these two old and venerable democracies is the apparent willingness of the British ruling class – we’ll see soon enough if Johnson survives – to hold politicians to account for their actions, separate from merely relying on voters to eventually correct their silly mistakes.

If Johnson is ultimately forced out of office, it will be because his own party has had enough of him and his nonsense. American conservatives should take note.

The former American president has been credibly accused of inciting an insurrection. There are hours of videotape of what happened after he sent a mob to the U.S. Capitol on January 6, 2021. His words of incitement are on the record. We now have text messages and phone logs confirming much of the basic story line, even a recording of the former guy demanding that election officials change votes to allow him to win in Georgia. A federal judge recently determined that the former president “more likely than not” was engaged in a criminal conspiracy to obstruct Congress and derail the process that certified Joe Biden’s presidential victory.

What Boris Johnson did and eventually admitted to pales in comparison to our recent attempted coup. Nevertheless, the British political system, including elements of Johnson’s own political tribe, are trying to hold him to account. The police already have held him to account, rendering a verdict that the most important politician in the country violated the very law he put in place.

Additionally, as he did this week, the prime minister must stand, uncomfortably and often awkwardly, before his critics and absorb their brickbats. His job is to give back, if he can, a coherent response. It’s all carried live in television. By contrast, we may never hear directly from our own inciter-in-chief about his actions before, during and after January 6.

This American problem of political accountability has metastasized and grown more serious. Most politicians now routinely avoid any regular interaction with journalists or real voters. They gravitate to friendly talk radio shows where a tough question would be “what did you have for breakfast?”

Reporters in Montana have noticed that the state’s Republican governor routinely demolishes his own schedule after it’s been published, showing up an hour early for an event typically including a handpicked audience, and safely avoiding reporters. Veteran Idaho politicians who once would have climbed over their mothers to get in front of a TV camera are stiffing long established debates where they have to face opponents and answer pesky questions. The current occupant of the White House rarely holds a news conference or sits for tough questions.

There are a few notable exceptions that should more correctly be the norm. Oregon Senator Ron Wyden annually holds all-comer town hall meetings in every county in his state, as does Senator Jeff Merkley. Together they have held over 1,500 such events. Iowa Senator Chuck Grassley visits every one of the 99 counties in his state every year and is often confronted with pointed questions. The video of many of the exchanges is both informative and gratifying for what it says about political accountability. Good for Grassley that he thinks it’s part of the job to keep showing up.

Grassley did say at a recent town hall that he supports term limits. He’s been in the Senate since 1980 – 42 years.

American democracy has a lot of problems. Too much face time between voters and politicians isn’t on the list. Submitting to pointed questions from journalists isn’t some quaint tradition that can be discarded by someone seeking the public trust.

Holding bumbling public officials to account for mistakes, law breaking and disregard for common sense is the very essence of democracy. Answering questions about their plans and blunders is a minimum requirement for public office. If politicians won’t comply, they don’t deserve your vote. And that is what accountability should look like.

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Additional Reading:

Some suggestions …

Mike Lee’s Role in Trump’s Attempted Coup

Mike Lee and the scandal behind his text messages

This is a truly amazing story about the senator from Utah, one that has received a fraction of the attention it deserves.

“In short: Lee outlined paths for Trump nuts to reverse the election. But, after giving these clowns all his attention, time, and effort, he didn’t, in the end, like how the Trump nuts tried to reverse the election. His disagreement was about tactics, not the mission. But his error was accepting the mission at all.

“And somehow Lee’s defenders look at this and say, ‘BOOM! Hands clean.'”

Here is Amanda Carpenter’s opinion piece from The Bulwark.

And here is a report on the interview the senator gave to his home state newspaper, The Deseret News. Read them both: what happened and the attempt to justify it.

As I said – amazing.


Opinion | The Jan. 6 Committee Can Make a Difference: Simply by Revealing What It’s Found

A good assessment here on what to look for in the public phase of the congressional investigation into the events of January 6.

” … the committee’s principal focus should ultimately be on how to present its investigative findings to the public, irrespective of a referral. The committee may indeed have a good deal of information that the Justice Department does not — depending, again, on the scope and intensity of the department’s work, which even the committee and President Joe Biden do not seem to know. The committee should lay out that information straightforwardly and professionally, just as it did recently in a lawsuit concerning Trump’s legal adviser John Eastman, who tried to withhold emails from the committee.”

I personally think a criminal referral is warranted and necessary, but getting the full story – or as much of it as possible – in front of the public is essential. From Politico.


Will Putin Use Nuclear Weapons in Ukraine?

Hard to believe we are really thinking about this, but we certainly are.

“In plain English, as the Russian war effort to subjugate Ukraine falters and as the West pours in more weaponry, Putin is more than ready to brandish the nuclear saber. This is precisely the kind of development that haunted George F. Kennan during the Cold War—and should haunt contemporary Western statesmen as well.”

A very sobering read from National Interest.


Jackie Robinson was a Republican until the GOP became the ‘white man’s party’

Jackie Robinson’s parents named him “Jack Roosevelt Robinson” after Teddy Roosevelt. Robinson was a Republican until the party moved away from him.

Robinson in October 1960 with then Vice President Richard M. Nixon

“By 1968, Robinson was done with the GOP. He refused to support Nixon when he ran for president again in 1968. He also became more active in the civil rights movement and appeared with King on frequent occasions.

“Robinson also became a prolific writer, including a column for the Amsterdam News, a weekly Black newspaper, where he further developed his fierce opposition to the Republican Party.”

A very interesting piece on Jackie’s politics and activism. What a great American.


All the best. Be well.

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