Crime and punishment

In a piece in the Guardian yesterday, Vernon Bogdanor reflected on how history may judge Johnson’s period in office, recalling Churchill’s remark that “history would be kind to him since he would be writing it”, and suggesting that

Johnson, an admirer of Churchill, may feel the same, and will no doubt seek to polish his record. He should be allowed to do so, free of the vindictiveness and self-righteousness which so often disfigures the liberal left. Loss of the premiership is punishment enough.

There are three problems with this.

The first is that however much you polish a turd, it is still a turd.

Second, it will never be a case of ‘allowing’ Johnson to polish his record. He’s never felt that he has needed anyone’s permission for anything. And so he is already hard at work. You only had to listen to his farewell speech this morning.

And last, why should loss of the premiership be punishment enough? Johnson is a conman – entitled, slippery with truth and facts, a rule breaker, and above all indulged: by his family, his friends, his party, the media, the public. As Bogdanor notes, the central weakness of his administration was Johnson’s belief that “rules are for others, not for him.”

The failure effectively to call him out has got us to where we are – we should not be precious about holding him to account.

Practising deceit

I was very struck by one particular answer John Moulton gave in the 20 Questions column in last Friday’s FT. He was asked, “Have you ever lied at work?” and his answer was “No. I detest deceit”.

This is the answer we probably all hope we would give, and indeed all think we could give. If you were to ask any lawyer which virtues he or she would consider fundamental to lawyering, my money would be on ‘probity’ and ‘integrity’ as two that would rank very high. Trust is, or should be, the foundation upon which we build our careers as lawyers.

And yet, and yet: deceit is never far away. Our ability to negotiate, whether in litigation or in transactional work, is one of those core skills that we lawyers also need. This in turn may involve, as Lord Armstrong remarked in the 1986 Spycatcher trial, our being “economical with the truth”.  The maxim  is from Edmund Burke: “Falsehood and delusion are allowed in no case whatsoever: But, as in the exercise of all the virtues, there is an economy of truth.”

At the end of our careers (although I am not suggesting for a moment that this is where John Moulton is) it would be good to be able to give that answer. It may, however, be difficult.