It has been a long time coming, but someone has called out the Prime Minister for lying in parliament. Dawn Butler MP used a speech in the chamber yesterday to draw attention to a video which catalogues some of Johnson’s most glaring mistruths.
The video in question, which has been viewed many millions of times, has been bouncing around social media for several months and was shown to Good Morning Britain viewers a few weeks ago.
In it, lawyer and trade union activist Peter Stefanovic catalogues a number of mistruths uttered by Johnson since he took office almost exactly two years ago today.
But rather than pull back from repeating the central allegation of the video - that Johnson is a liar - in keeping with parliamentary rules, Butler said it several times, despite increasingly stern nudges from the deputy speaker to retract.
Crucially, because she used the words “lie” and “liar” she was then asked to leave the chamber. Cue debates about civility, grandstanding, honesty and convention.
With her speech, Butler not only exposed the PM as untruthful, but also the conventions of the House of Commons as being entirely outdated. Shocking revelations both, you will surely agree.
The rule is almost certainly a bad one. There are those who would argue that without it parliament would descend into a non-stop slagging match and nothing would get done. To them I ask, when was the last time you actually watched a parliamentary debate?
That being said, in this instance I’m glad the rule exists. Not because it is a good rule, but because in breaking the rule, Butler has drawn greater attention to the issue than she otherwise would have done.
In the aftermath of the move, some seem to be very confused about Butler’s intent.
Ostensibly in a bid to defend her against accusations of grandstanding, some seem to be suggesting that she didn’t know this was the protocol and/or she would be ejected from the chamber for doing it.
Those people should perhaps consider whether Butler would thank them for implying that, despite first being elected to parliament in 2005, she’s unaware of such a well-known convention.
On the opposing side of these arguments are people who seem to think that Butler was ‘playing politics’ with her speech and knew exactly what she was doing. Their contention, it would seem, is that a politician doing politics is somehow wrong, or a bad thing? (The clue is in the job title).
Let’s be clear, Butler knew what she was doing and that she would be ejected from the House. That is both why she did it, and why it was effective. She was absolutely ‘playing politics’, and, judging by the significant reaction her intervention has prompted, playing it pretty well.
Perhaps too well, if anything. From the backbenches, Butler has scored a more memorable and news-grabbing takedown of Johnson than Starmer has managed in the many PMQs of his leadership so far. Despite much talk of solidarity from many of her Labour colleagues on Twitter yesterday evening, a message of support from her boss, the leader of the opposition, was conspicuously absent.
It seems unlikely that the intervention will make much of an impact on the polls. Any voter who by now is shocked to hear Johnson accused of dishonesty can only have recently awoken from a years-long coma - and in that instance, they probably have more pressing concerns, like what is a Covid, and why is everyone wearing surgical masks (or not) at the supermarket?
But sometimes a line has to be drawn. Sometimes things have to be said, if only so they can be heard aloud by those who know it to be true.
The prime minister is a liar. That someone has been punished more for pointing out this truth, than he has for his aversion to it, is a damning indictment of our politics.