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26 May

We are being gaslit by Boris Johnson’s government

Faced with so many untruths and contradictions around partygate, our anger quickly turns to confusion and then exhaustion.

By Zoë Grünewald

I’m as confused as you are.

Boris Johnson’s appearance at Prime Minister’s Questions and his statement on Sue Gray’s partygate report yesterday (25 May) were a mess of contradictions and empty words.

Johnson appeared to apologise but then stuck to the line that he wasn’t aware of anything that unfolded in Downing Street over those months. He took “full responsibility” for everything that happened under his watch but, apparently, that wasn’t very much at all.

He appeared contrite, even humbled by the scandal until he launched an attack on Keir Starmer, reminiscent of boarding school “banter”, labelling him “Sir Beer Korma” (which even got an “Oh God, he said it” glance from Dominic Raab).

For the past few months the government has been waging a culture war on civil servants. Having ordered them to get back to work in offices, as if the country hasn’t been running on fumes for the past two years, Jacob Rees-Mogg started leaving passive aggressive notes on empty desks. Not long after this, No 10 briefed the media that it was considering cutting 90,000 civil service jobs – 20 per cent of the workforce – for “efficiency” reasons.

During Johnson’s statement yesterday, and in his previous statements regarding partygate, he heavily implied that any gatherings at No 10 had gone on behind his back as a result of a few naughty civil servants, with whom he would be having strong words.

But then, during the same day’s press conference, when asked why he attended said gatherings – with photographic evidence of him giving speeches, fizz in hand and looking rather sad while holding a paper plate, Johnson mustered an unbelievable defence. He felt he had to “say goodbye to valued colleagues”, and implied that No 10 staff, who had worked so hard over the pandemic, deserved to blow off a little steam.

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You would be right in thinking that these two arguments are contradictory. But Johnson doesn’t care and he knows it doesn’t matter because the Tories have figured out how to flit from narrative to narrative, depending on which way the wind is blowing – and according to whichever defence will work better for their latest discretion.

Today, Rishi Sunak finally announced a series of measures to help alleviate the worst impact of the cost-of-living crisis. This included Labour’s long-standing proposal of a windfall tax, but when Starmer asked Johnson during PMQs if the government would adopt this measure, the Prime Minister obfuscated and accused Labour of “loving” taxation.

Starmer then pointed out that there have been 15 tax rises under Johnson’s government, leading to the highest tax burden in 70 years. The PM laughed it off.

The Labour leader’s attack was true but it doesn’t matter because the point has moved on again, almost as quickly as it has been said – and Johnson paid it no mind. It’s confusing, bewildering for the public, but there is little we can do. It’s one lie after another. And nothing is of any consequence.

Gaslighting is official government policy. Faced with this many untruths and contradictions, our anger quickly turns to confusion and then exhaustion. Things seep into the past as quickly as they come to the forefront. The government’s refusal to resign, apologise or acknowledge the severity of its actions is nothing short of manipulation. We doubt our sanity – we lose momentum. Was it really that bad?

And at the end of it all – we go to bed. Confused and angry. And then we wake to another day of terrible news, to which government members will raise a glass of champagne, pat each other on the back and say, “You know, I think we got away with it.”

[See also: Boris Johnson has proved once again that he has no shame]

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