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.

The gathering storm

The trouble with parties is that there is always a party organiser. A party simply doesn’t happen without an invitation. A gathering – if you stretch the truth a little – may just occur.

This is why Downing Street and its supporters have been so particular about their language? Their gatherings, they keep suggesting, were not premeditated.

Under the lockdown rules meeting more than the prescribed number was simply to risk a relatively light fine under a Fixed Penalty Notice (FPN) but to organise and host a party means a fine of a different magnitude.

So whether or not a gathering was actually a party is important. We, the public, may have little trouble in distinguishing the two but precision is critical when it comes to law.

The most recent revelations suggest that emails were sent inviting people to the ‘gathering’ where, in Conor Burns’s immortal words, the Prime Minister was “ambushed with a cake” . . . before he later changed the story and said there was no cake. And the emails came from where? And who brought the cake? Not all parties have cake but most birthday cakes end up at parties.

So is this why the Met has suddenly put the brakes on Sue Gray’s report? Because, as always, it’s all in the numbers. Like the difference between £200 and £10,000.

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.

Bringing home the bacon

A postscript to my post yesterday on Balkan porkies. On the BBC News website this evening, a report about Hillary being pressed on her Bosnia claim, plus the video of her arriving in Bosnia. The camera never lies (unlike Clinton it seems)

Video shown on US TV network CBS shows the then First Lady walking calmly from her plane. Her campaign has said she “misspoke” about landing under fire. Aides to Barack Obama, her rival to be the party’s presidential nominee, argue she overstates her foreign experience.

What astonishes me is that she is prepared to go to the lengths she has, surely knowing that every statement will be subjected to the minutest scrutiny. And what exactly does “misspeak” mean? A facility for telling porkies clearly runs in the Clinton family.

Balkan porkies

An interesting post in The Full Feed from about Hillary Clinton and the danger she said she had found herself in in Bosnia. Well, it now appears that she “misspoke” about the immediate dangers she faced. A more accurate word might have been “lied”. Here goes,

An aide to Senator Hillary Clinton acknowledged on Monday that the New York Senator “misspoke” about the immediate dangers she faced when, as first lady, she visited war torn Bosnia. Howard Wolfson, Clinton’s chief spokesperson, said on a conference call that “it is possible in the most recent instance with which she discussed this that she misspoke, with regards to the leaving of the plane.” Later, he was more certain: “On one occasion, she misspoke.” But Wolfson insisted that the first lady’s visit was indeed perilous, as supported by “contemporaneous accounts” in the press.

In recent weeks, Senator Clinton has sought to bolster her national security and foreign policy credentials by highlighting the role she played in Bosnia. “We came in under sniper fire,” she recently told the press. “There was no greeting ceremony. We ran with our heads down, and were basically told to run to our cars.”

This is what Team Obama reported


Senator Clinton has pointed to a March 1996 trip to Bosnia as proof that her foreign travel involved a life-risking mission into a war zone. She has described dodging sniper fire. While she did travel to Bosnia in March 1996, the visit was not a high-stakes mission to a war zone. On March 26, 1996, the New York Times reported that “Hillary Rodham Clinton charmed American troops at a U.S.O. show here, but it didn’t hurt that the singer Sheryl Crow and the comedian Sinbad were also on the stage.”

And Mary Ann Akers (aka the Sleuth) in the Washington Post had an equally telling post Sinbad unloads on Hillary Clinton in (this was before Howard Wolfson fessed up on the candidate’s behalf to the Balkan porkies). According to the actor, the “scariest” part of the trip was wondering where he’d eat next. “I think the only ‘red-phone’ moment was: ‘Do we eat here or at the next place.'” I would have thought wondering what Hillary would do or say next was probably a close second.