Morning Call: pick of the papers

The ten must-read comment pieces from this morning's papers.

1. Raise a glass to gay marriage – all our lives are better for it (Guardian)

The journey from section 28 to same-sex weddings has been truly radical and rapid – it can be a model for progressive change, writes Jonathan Freedland.

2. How Blair conned the Tory party into selling its soul (Daily Mail)

The Conservatives have ended up looking and sounding like a poor imitation of New Labour, says Simon Heffer.

3. Monetary Mandate (Times) (£)

The Bank of England’s remit of price stability is too narrow, argues a Times leader. It should target growth as well as inflation.

4. MPs: get back to the day job (Guardian)

Our politicians should spend less time in select committees, and more in the chamber of the house, argues Geoffrey Wheatcroft.

5. Cameron shouldn’t fear the EU wolf (Financial Times)

Tory detractors fail to take account of their leader’s radicalism, says Michael Portillo.

6. Gay marriage is not a conservative choice (Daily Telegraph)

David Cameron’s proposals for gay marriage show that he hasn’t thought very hard about it, says Charles Moore.

7. The real James Bond needs policing (Independent)

The security services have been used in ways that contradict all that Britain holds dear, says an Independent editorial.

8. We'll hunt down the tax avoiders (Guardian)

There should be no hiding place for the proceeds of crime, corruption and tax dodging, writes Vince Cable.

9. State of the unions – getting weaker (Financial Times)

Michigan’s right-to-work law marks a shift in the political landscape, writes Christopher Caldwell.

10. The seeds of another GM row are sown (Daily Telegraph)

Owen Paterson's outburst at opponents of genetically modified crops and foods seems set to revive a decade-old war, writes Geoffrey Lean.

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Leader: Boris Johnson, a liar and a charlatan

The Foreign Secretary demeans a great office of state with his carelessness and posturing. 

Boris Johnson is a liar, a charlatan and a narcissist. In 1988, when he was a reporter at the Times, he fabricated a quotation from his godfather, an eminent historian, which duly appeared in a news story on the front page. He was sacked. (We might pause here to acknowledge the advantage to a young journalist of having a godfather whose opinions were deemed worthy of appearing in a national newspaper.) Three decades later, his character has not improved.

On 17 September, Mr Johnson wrote a lengthy, hyperbolic article for the Daily Telegraph laying out his “vision” for Brexit – in terms calculated to provoke and undermine the Prime Minister (who was scheduled to give a speech on Brexit in Florence, Italy, as we went to press). Extracts of his “article”, which reads more like a speech, appeared while a terror suspect was on the loose and the country’s threat level was at “critical”, leading the Scottish Conservative leader, Ruth Davidson, to remark: “On the day of a terror attack where Britons were maimed, just hours after the threat level is raised, our only thoughts should be on service.”

Three other facets of this story are noteworthy. First, the article was published alongside other pieces echoing and praising its conclusions, indicating that the Telegraph is now operating as a subsidiary of the Johnson for PM campaign. Second, Theresa May did not respond by immediately sacking her disloyal Foreign Secretary – a measure of how much the botched election campaign has weakened her authority. Finally, it is remarkable that Mr Johnson’s article repeated the most egregious – and most effective – lie of the EU referendum campaign. “Once we have settled our accounts, we will take back control of roughly £350m per week,” the Foreign Secretary claimed. “It would be a fine thing, as many of us have pointed out, if a lot of that money went on the NHS.”

This was the promise of Brexit laid out by the official Vote Leave team: we send £350m to Brussels, and after leaving the EU, that money can be spent on public services. Yet the £350m figure includes the rebate secured by Margaret Thatcher – so just under a third of the sum never leaves the country. Also, any plausible deal will involve paying significant amounts to the EU budget in return for continued participation in science and security agreements. To continue to invoke this figure is shameless. That is not a partisan sentiment: the head of the UK Statistics Authority, Sir David Norgrove, denounced Mr Johnson’s “clear misuse of official statistics”.

In the days that followed, the chief strategist of Vote Leave, Dominic Cummings – who, as Simon Heffer writes in this week's New Statesman, is widely suspected of involvement in Mr Johnson’s article – added his voice. Brexit was a “shambles” so far, he claimed, because of the ineptitude of the civil service and the government’s decision to invoke Article 50 before outlining its own detailed demands.

There is a fine Yiddish word to describe this – chutzpah. Mr Johnson, like all the other senior members of Vote Leave in parliament, voted to trigger Article 50 in March. If he and his allies had concerns about this process, the time to speak up was then.

It has been clear for some time that Mr Johnson has no ideological attachment to Brexit. (During the referendum campaign, he wrote articles arguing both the Leave and Remain case, before deciding which one to publish – in the Telegraph, naturally.) However, every day brings fresh evidence that he and his allies are not interested in the tough, detailed negotiations required for such an epic undertaking. They will brush aside any concerns about our readiness for such a huge challenge by insisting that Brexit would be a success if only they were in charge of it.

This is unlikely. Constant reports emerge of how lightly Mr Johnson treats his current role. At a summit aiming to tackle the grotesque humanitarian crisis in Yemen, he is said to have astounded diplomats by joking: “With friends like these, who needs Yemenis?” The Foreign Secretary demeans a great office of state with his carelessness and posturing. By extension, he demeans our politics. 

This article first appeared in the 21 September 2017 issue of the New Statesman, The revenge of the left