Why is it so difficult to prosecute for the sale and purchase of peerages?

7th June 2021

A person is in the news because they donated £500,000 to a political party days after taking a seat in the house of lords.

This post is not about that person.

I have no idea about the circumstances of that appointment. and so I do not make any allegations in respect of those circumstances – and this is not just safe libel-speak, I genuinely do not know, and nor (I suspect) do you.

(And anyone commenting below who makes an allegation of criminality in respect of that appointment – or anyone else – will not have their comments published – this is not Twitter, you know.)

This post is instead about the legislation that is usually mentioned when such appointments are made: the Honours (Prevention of Abuses) Act 1925.

It is a curious statute – not least because the offences it creates appear hardly to have ever been successfully prosecuted.

(The one early exception appears to be Maundy Gregory.)

 

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The legislation has one substantive clause that in turn creates two offences.

The first offence is (and in language itself as cumbersome as the name, title and style of any obscure peerage):

‘If any person accepts or obtains or agrees to accept or attempts to obtain from any person, for himself or for any other person, or for any purpose, any gift, money or valuable consideration as an inducement or reward for procuring or assisting or endeavouring to procure the grant of a dignity or title of honour to any person, or otherwise in connection with such a grant, he shall be guilty of a misdemeanour.’

Let’s try to make sense of this word-soup.

This first offence relates to the person who is (in effect) on the supply-side of a relevant transaction – the person ‘accepting or obtaining’ the ‘inducement or reward’.

This supplier has to be shown to (a) accept, (b) obtain, (c) agree to accept, or (d) attempt to obtain [x] in return for [y].

The [x], in turn comprises two things: (a) any gift, money or valuable consideration which also has the quality (b) of being an inducement or reward for procuring or assisting or endeavouring to procure the grant of [y].

This means proof of a ‘gift, money or valuable consideration’ is not enough: there also needs to be proof of its purpose.

The [y] is the most straightforward: ‘the grant of a dignity or title of honour to any person, or otherwise in connection with such a grant’.

What all this means is that showing there is cash and an appointment is not enough: there has to be proof of intention to the criminal standard of proof – that is (in general terms) beyond reasonable doubt.

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The second offence deals with (in effect) the demand-side:

‘If any person gives, or agrees or proposes to give, or offers to any person any gift, money or valuable consideration as an inducement or reward for procuring or assisting or endeavouring to procure the grant of a dignity or title of honour to any person, or otherwise in connection with such a grant, he shall be guilty of a misdemeanour.’

There is no need to unpack this like the first offence – but you will notice that again there is the need to prove that the ‘gift, money or valuable consideration’ is for the purpose of bing an inducement or a reward.

So, as before, showing there is cash and an appointment is not enough – there needs to be proof of intention.

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Those with good political memories will recall the ‘cash for honours’ investigation of 2006-2007.

This investigation included the extraordinary moment of a dawn-raid on the home of a government official and the questioning by the police of the then prime minister.

All very dramatic.

But nothing came of it.

No charges were brought.

The Crown Prosecution Service provided detailed, legalistic reasons for their decision not to prosecute.

The CPS averred that not only did it need to prove intention (on both sides) but also that it also had to prove that there was an agreement:

‘If one person makes an offer, etc, in the hope or expectation of being granted an honour, or in the belief that it might put him/her in a more favourable position when nominations are subsequently being considered, that does not of itself constitute an offence. Conversely, if one person grants, etc, an honour to another in recognition of (in effect, as a reward for) the fact that that other has made a gift, etc, that does not of itself constitute an offence. For a case to proceed, the prosecution must have a realistic prospect of being able to prove that the two people agreed that the gift, etc, was in exchange for an honour.’

These CPS reasons were compiled and endorsed by some very clever criminal lawyers – though the rest of us may struggle to see the absolute need for proving an agreement under the 1925 Act.

Nonetheless the CPS insisted:

‘In essence, the conduct which the 1925 Act makes criminal is the agreement, or the offer, to buy and sell dignities or titles of honour. Section 1(1) is drafted in wide terms and captures any agreement in which a seller agrees to procure a peerage in return for money or other valuable consideration. Section 1(2) is also drafted in wide terms and captures any agreement in which a buyer agrees to provide money or other valuable consideration, in order to induce a seller to procure a peerage.’

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If the CPS are correct in this interpretation and construction of the statutory offences, then this makes it hard, if not impossible, for the offence ever to be prosecuted successfully.

And, even without the CPS gloss, the requirement to show intention made the offence hard to prosecute in the first place.

There may be other laws which may apply – for example, fraud legislation – but not the one piece of legislation that actually has the sale of honours as its dedicated purpose.

For, as long as those involved make sure there is no paper-trail and that the choreography of nods-and-winks are done in the right order, there is no real danger of any prosecution under the 1925 Act.

What the 1925 Act prevents is the blatant Lloyd-George style of an open market for the sale and purchase of honours.

For a statute to only regulate (in effect) the seemliness of the trade in peerages and other titles is a very, well, British (or English) thing to do.

Otherwise, the 1925 Act is an ornament, not an instrument – and so it is as much a mere constitutional decoration as any ermine robe, and is just as much use.

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No Home Secretary should be using police raids as photo ops wearing a quasi-police uniform

21st May 2021

Under section 1 of the Public Order Act 1936 it is an offence to wear political uniforms.

And section 90 of the Police Act 1990 provides that it is an offence to impersonate a police officer.

But politicians do like dressing up.

Here is a Labour politician – an elected police and crime commissioner in 2017.

His Conservative political opponents were scathing:

But partisanship is the foe of consistency, and so we now have a Conservative politician dressed in quasi-police kit:

The remarkable thing is that the Conservative politician in question is the actual Home Secretary.

We have the Home Secretary dressing up in a quasi-police uniform and going on operations where coercive force is used.

When I re-tweeted a gloss on this significant picture yesterday, I was told-off because the original tweet had got the nature of the police operation wrong:

The nature of the offence, and of the police operation, is irrelevant.

The Home Secretary could be attending the arrest of the most notorious criminal in the land, and it would not make a difference.

There is something wrong – and crass – about Home Secretaries using such operations as photo opportunities.

And there is something sinister about doing it in a quasi-police uniform.

Not even Churchill did that over a hundred years ago as a similarly opportunistic Home Secretary (and he was more entitled to wear a uniform, as a former soldier):

(And even John Terry had some claim to be able to wear his Chelsea kit in that famous 2012 incident.)

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Exploiting – indeed weaponising – police operations for political purposes is unwise and illiberal – whether the politician is Conservative or Labour or even Winston Churchill.)

It points to the misuse and abuse of law and law enforcement – that certain things are being done not for the straight purposes of justice and due process.

It also speaks to the increasing authoritarianism in our political culture.

There is, of course, a good reason why impersonating a police officer is banned.

And there is a very good reason why in 1936 – of all years, if you think about it – the wearing of uniforms for political purposes was banned.

Nationalistic populist authoritarianism is something to be opposed, not encouraged.

And that, at least, was something Winston Churchill (despite his many manifest faults) got more right than his current day Conservative successors.

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What is Force Majeure? And why is it now being mentioned in the context of Brexit?

18th May 2021

A historian of ideas – probably Isaiah Berlin – once averred that most philosophical systems were ultimately simple affairs.

What made them complicated, it was said, were the elaborate defences and anticipations of objections so as to make the arguments advanced harder to attack or dismiss.

I have no idea if this is true, as I have no head for philosophy, but I have often thought the same can be said for contracts.

Most agreements are also relatively simple – and most of us, every day, enter into oral contracts which are nothing more than ‘I give you [x] in return for [y]’.

Written out, such contracts would not need to be longer than one sentence – a single clause.

What makes a legal agreement complicated – and what can make a written contract go on for hundreds of pages of clauses and schedules – are the provisions dealing with what will happen if one party does not do [x] or the other party does not do [y].

This is because most written contracts are not there for when things go well: they are there for when things go badly.

The more provisions that are in a contract, the more allocations of risk and protections for the parties if there are problems.

For high-value or significant agreements, teams of lawyers will painstakingly (and often expensively) go through every possible and foreseeable eventuality, and will then allocate risk accordingly as between the parties.

There will also be detailed provisions setting out the processes for resolving and remedying problems.

In most circumstances, those provisions will not ever be used.

(As a general though not universal rule, the more effort that goes into putting a contract together, the less scope for genuine disputes later.)

But sometimes a thing can happen to disrupt an agreement that has not been addressed in the agreement.

This disruptive event can have three qualities: (1) it will be outside the control of the parties (else all you would have is a potential breach); (2) it will be outside of the allocations of risk in the agreement (else the agreement already deals with what will then happen); and (3) it will affect the performance of obligations under the agreement (else it would not matter).

In legal language, such a disruptive event is said to ‘frustrate’ the agreement.

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In English contract law, such frustrations often lead to unfair and uncertain results – and every law student will know of the so-called ‘coronation cases’.

Lawyers elsewhere, however, approached this sort of predicament differently and developed the doctrine of ‘force majeure’.

A force majeure event is a thing that (1) is outside the control of the parties; (2) is outside of the allocations of risk in the agreement; and (3) affects the performance of obligations under the agreement.

If the doctrine applies there is then some certainty of what will then happen in the event of a force majeure event – sometimes the consequences can be agreed between the parties, or the consequences may be provided for under the general law.

Force majeure, however, is a residual thing – if the parties have foreseen the particular risk and allocated that risk then the terms of the agreement should take priority.

This means (generally) the more detailed the agreement, the more limited the scope for force majeure.

The analysis set out by me above is from the perspective of an English commercial lawyer but the doctrine also exists in what is called ‘public international law’ – that is the law that regulates relations between countries (and also international organisations):

You will see the public international law document quoted provides that a thing cannot be a force majeure event if (a) it is because of the conduct of the state seeking to rely on it and (b) the risk of it happening has not been allocated.

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What all this means is that it is often difficult in practice to rely on force majeure when there is in place a detailed and specially negotiated agreement.

This is because the parties will have foreseen and addressed most practical problems.

And even if there is a force majeure event, that also does not mean it is a ‘get out of an agreement free’ card – as all that may result is a temporary relief from fulfilling an obligation until the force majeure event is over.

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The reason why force majeure is in the news is because David Frost, the United Kingdom minister responsible for Brexit negotiations, appears to think that force majeure can be relied on to relieve the United Kingdom from its obligations under the Brexit withdrawal agreement and its Northern Ireland protocol.

The news report says:

‘Force majeure is a legal concept through which a party can demand to be relieved of its contractual obligations because of circumstances beyond its control or which were unforeseen.

‘The suggestion is contained in a 20-page letter the UK has sent to the European Commission.’

To which the response should be: good luck with that.

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In practice, any reliance on the doctrine of force majeure by the United Kingdom will come down to two particulars: (1) what is the (supposed) particular force majeure event, and (2) what is the particular obligation that is (supposedly) affected by that event.

Until this is known, one cannot be completely dismissive.

But.

It is difficult to believe that there is any event that (1) affects the performance of a particular obligation under the Northern Ireland Protocol which (2) is not within the control of one of the parties and (3) is not addressed in the protocol.

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And in response to the thread on Twitter on which this blogpost was based, this scepticism was endorsed by Jonathan Jones, who was the United Kingdom’s chief legal official during the Brexit negotiations:

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That the United Kingdom government had not thought through or cared about the detail of the withdrawal agreement was not unforeseeable.

It was, to use another technical legal term, bleedingly obvious.

It is difficult to conceive of anything that could be a force majeure event that is not already subject to the provisions and processes of the Northern Ireland Protocol.

On the face of it, therefore, the resorting to ‘force majeure’ by the United Kingdom looks desperate – a makeweight argument deployed for want of anything more compelling.

There is, however, the delicious legal irony in the circumstances of the United Kingdom seeking to rely on a French legal doctrine used to cure the inadequacies of English law-making.

*****

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The age of the three referendums – why we are only partly through this significant constitutional moment

15th May 2021

One of the more refreshing shifts in historiography was when historians turned from ‘the English civil war’ to ‘the war of the three kingdoms’ – acknowledging that the conflicts of the mid-1600s were more to do with the politics and conflicts of Scotland and Ireland than a purely English affair.

Future historians looking at the age of Brexit may similarly have to see how Scotland and Ireland were causes of immense political instability and potential constitutional crisis.

For the referendum we all know about – and the one we are all preoccupied about – may for historians seem to be just the first of three.

And those historians may group together the 2016 Brexit referendum with a yet-to-come Scottish independence referendum and border poll in (Northern) Ireland.

It will be the fall-out of the three referendums taken together which will be the end and beginning of a chapter in our constitutional and political history.

This is not to predict the outcome of those referendums – or the outcome of what would then (if anything) that follows those referendums.

In this time of unwelcome and unexpected political surprises, few can be confident in forecasting what things will happen next.

But the 2016 referendum may be seen as just one move of a gear in something more complex – the recasting of the state of the United Kingdom.

The one thing which may be certain is that the (perceived) mandate of any referendum result now has a greater charge than before.

Brexit was carried through at speed and with no real planning in the face of opposition (and of reality) because of the purchase of a referendum result.

It is therefore difficult to deny, if either or both of the upcoming referendums (if they happen) vote for change, that such a change can be opposed on the basis of a higher priority for the will of parliament.

We may find that one cannot pick and choose the ‘will of the people’ – if there are to be referendums, then the expectation is now (more than before) that the results will be implemented.

But we also may find that the experience of Brexit will turn people against voting for further drastic changes – that the next referendums are reactionary rather than radical in their nature.

Of course: there will be those historians – like there are for the civil wars – who will say, with hindsight, that the outcome was inevitable all along.

Those of us here at the time, however, can only seen uncertainty and multiple contingencies.

 

Boris Johnson is not like Winston Churchill – he is far more like Benjamin Disraeli – and this should worry liberals and progressives

14th May 2021

To adapt what Tolstoy once said about unhappy families, each successful politician is successful in their own way.

No two successful politicians are exactly alike: each one prevailed in a unique fact situation which required their distinctive qualities.

But: as long as one does not take it too seriously, comparisons can be interesting.

And the thought struck me the other day that the current prime minister is not like his proclaimed hero Winston Churchill but instead like another Conservative prime minister Benjamin Disraeli.

If this comparison is sound then the opposition parties should be worried.

This is because Churchill was only successful in general elections when he was in his dotage as a national treasure.

Disraeli, on the other hand, took on William Gladstone in his prime and won – and he also placed the Victorian Tory party on a popular electoral basis that it has never really lost since.

Disraeli, in short, is perhaps the most formidable Conservative leader progressives in this country have ever faced in electoral combat.

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There are four points of comparison between Johnson and Disraeli.

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The first is how Disraeli weaponised an issue that he himself did not especially care that much about, one way or the other, so as to destroy a prime minister and thereby to promote his own career and leadership admissions.

For Disraeli this was the corn laws and his target was Robert Peel, and for Johnson it was Brexit and David Cameron and Theresa May.

In particular, Disraeli could quite easily have written two pamphlets – for and against the corn laws – before going with the one which mobilised the better political support, just as Johnson wrote his infamous two newspaper columns for and against Brexit.

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The second point of comparison is how Disraeli gamed the constitution in 1867 so as to suddenly provide the Conservatives with broader, urban-based, populist political support – with the huge extension in the electoral franchise.

The gaming of the constitution was against (supposed) Conservative principles – as contemporaries such as the young Lord Salisbury averred – but Disraeli did not care, as political expediency trumped political consistency.

And again, that is what Johnson is doing now – and not only with Brexit but with the the various attacks on constitutional norms, from the independence of the judiciary to the prorogation of parliament.

One can imagine the ghost of Disraeli nodding in admiration, at this continual dishing of the latter-day whigs.

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The third point of comparison was Disraeli’s unrivalled knack of sensing that urban and/or working class electors are open to populist Conservative politics.

Although progressives assume that people should vote progressively, often the people do not and vote against the way progressives think they should.

Disraeli knew this – and Johnson knows this – and this is why both are formidable opponents to progressives, pulling the electoral rugs from beneath the toes of more earnest progressive sorts.

And one can easily imagine Johnson making his Queen the Empress of India, if he could.

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And the fourth point of comparison is that Disraeli did all this while generally being looked down on by the media and political elite of his day both for his public and non-public life and for his somewhat chaotic lifestyle.

This was/is because of their charisma and their skill with words.

Indeed, both Disraeli and Johnson were/are skilled wordsmiths.

(A ‘skilled wordsmith’ is what a skilled wordsmith calls what a good writer would just call a ‘good writer’.)

Both show that cleverness and (perceived) personality go a long way – even when almost everyone in their political and media worlds regarded them as utter chancers and charlatans.

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Of course: there are many points of contrast.

They had different backgrounds, and did different things and in a different way.

But it is easy to posit differences between any two successful politicians.

It is less easy to to identify things in common.

Disraeli only won one major election outright – while, in a way, Johnson has totted up three – the referendum, the 2019 general election and the elections last week.

And Disraeli’s political legacy was supercharged by the fall-out from the Irish Home Rule Crisis after his death – which also contributed to Conservative political hegemony in the twenty years after his death.

But.

In being willing to opportunistically weaponise an issue to defeat political incumbents, to game the constitution so as to win popular mandates, to appeal to populism, and in his defiance of political and media censure, Johnson to me seems similar to Disraeli.

If this is a sound comparison, then radicals and progressives will have a hard job competing for votes.

A Disraeli is the last sort of Conservative leader that radicals and progressives should ever want to be against.

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Liz Cheney’s important statement about constitutionalism and politics

6th May 2021

From time to time an utterance by a politician becomes more important than the here-and-now of practical politics.

Such an utterance is an opinion piece in the Washington Post by the conservative congresswoman Liz Cheney.

This blog is written from a liberal perspective, and so there would normally be little if anything that this blog would politically commend about Cheney’s various policy positions.

But this is also a constitutionalist blog, and what Cheney says is spot-on – and it needs to be heard and understood by conservatives in the United States and elsewhere.

Cheney avers:

‘Trump is seeking to unravel critical elements of our constitutional structure that make democracy work — confidence in the result of elections and the rule of law. No other American president has ever done this. The Republican Party is at a turning point, and Republicans must decide whether we are going to choose truth and fidelity to the Constitution.’

She continues:

‘I am a conservative Republican, and the most conservative of conservative values is reverence for the rule of law. Each of us swears an oath before God to uphold our Constitution. The electoral college has spoken. More than 60 state and federal courts, including multiple Trump-appointed judges, have rejected the former president’s arguments, and refused to overturn election results. That is the rule of law; that is our constitutional system for resolving claims of election fraud.

‘The question before us now is whether we will join Trump’s crusade to delegitimize and undo the legal outcome of the 2020 election, with all the consequences that might have.’

And concludes:

‘…if Republicans choose to abandon the rule of law and join Trump’s crusade to undermine the foundation of our democracy and reverse the legal outcome of the last election.

 

‘History is watching. Our children are watching. We must be brave enough to defend the basic principles that underpin and protect our freedom and our democratic process. I am committed to doing that, no matter what the short-term political consequences might be.’

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As this blog has set out before, constitutionalism is about there being constitutional principles that are distinct from and more important than political expediency.

The moment of truth for a constitutionalist is when one sees a distinction between the integrity of the constitution and political advantage and then sides with the constitution.

Constitutionalism is thereby, in this way, about choice.

It is easy – as some fogeys do – to say the words of constitutionalism: blah blah common law rights blah blah Magna Carta blah blah freedom under the law.

It is quite another to elevate constitutional principles above party and partisan advantage in a given practical situation – to say that a course of action should not be taken because it would violate constitutional norms.

One of the more unfortunate features of the authoritarian populist nationalism (and there are other words for it) that has been dominant recently in the United Kingdom, the United States and elsewhere recently, is that there has been no constitutional self-restraint.

Cheney’s article is a reminder that conservatives – as well as liberals and progressives – can take constitutionalism seriously too.

Perhaps the Republican Party will ignore this principled stand – and carry on with its frenzy of Trumpism.

But if that frenzy ever does come to an end, it will be because of warnings such as this from Cheney.

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The crown at a constitutional crossroads – my Prospect column this month

5th May 2021

My column at Prospect magazine this month is about the monarchy.

Please click here to read it – and leave any comments below.

In particular, I would be interested in any views on my broad point that – regardless of the succession – the monarchy is likely to have to change anyway, as the current model was very much a response to the specific (and challenging) conditions of the mid-twentieth century.

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Genuine accountability, mock accountability, and the lies of Boris Johnson

28th April 2021

Today’s prime minister’s questions was extraordinary.

On the two issues of the moment the prime minister Boris Johnson was relentlessly unconvincing and evasive.

In respect of the alleged ‘dead pile high’ quote, it is plausible and – according to the media – well-sourced.

In respect of who paid for the Downing Street decorations, the verbal dodges to the simple query of who initially paid for an invoice were painful to watch.

But.

Not many will care.

A significant number of the population will, no doubt, sympathise with the sentiment which the prime minister expressed about lockdown, and more than a few will agree with the actual wording.

Similarly, the question of the refurbishment invoice will not matter to those who do not mind who paid as long as it was not the taxpayer.

Perhaps there will be hard evidence – either compelling on-the-record testimony or even an audio recording – to prove Johnson as a liar.

Yet even then the only surprise would be that he has been so starkly caught out.

The sad, inescapable truth is that Johnson conducts himself as if he is free from accountability.

And the reason he is able to do this is simple: it is because he can.

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Let us look at the available mechanisms of accountability.

Johnson and his government will avoid, as long as possible, any formal inquiry as to their conduct in respect of the coronavirus pandemic.

The prospect of an electoral commission investigation is difficult to get excited about, given their impotence in respect of the lack of compliance during the referendum.

And Johnson just freely lies to parliament.

The examples – all of which are documented and verifiable – just accumulate.

Almost nobody cares.

We have more internal ‘inquiries’ – which may or may not report, or even be heard from again.

Few people keep track.

And as Fintan O’Toole observes, Johnson is not now even bothering to lie in prose:

‘It’s not when Boris Johnson is lying that you have to have to worry. If he’s lying, that just means he’s still breathing. No, the real danger sign is the gibbering. It’s what he does when he can’t be bothered to think up a lie.’

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Against this pervasive mendacity, those organs of the state that are able to check and balance the executive are being undermined or removed: the independent civil service, the diplomatic corps, the independent judiciary, and so on.

All because – at last – the United Kingdom now has a prime minister willing – and shameless enough – to exploit to the full the (ahem) opportunities that the prime minister has with a parliamentary majority.

Eventually, of course, Johnson’s hubris will meet nemesis – just as he himself eventually came to meet the costs of the Downing Street refurbishment.

And here we are lucky – for if we had a political leader who was as serious in retaining power as, say, Vladimir Putin, we would have few constraints to look to for checking and balancing power.

Johnson is what we get, however, when politicians stop believing (or affecting to believe in) the ‘good chaps’ theory of the constitution.

Tuttery is insufficient – and the tutting could be three times as loud, and it would still make no difference.

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There are indications that political and media supporters of Johnson are moving against him.

If so, there could be a mild political crisis and that this may be enough to dislodge Johnson from office.

But this would not be through any application of any constitutional check or the operation of any constitutional balance.

For all of Johnson’s sheer and endless casual dishonesty, there has been nothing the constitution could do to stop him.

Even if he was proven to have lied to parliament, that would mean nothing politically if he still had support of the majority of members of parliament.

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And on a final note.

Usually at this point of this sort of exposition, someone will aver that all this shows the need for a written (that is, codified) constitution.

The universal panacea for every political ill.

But.

A written constitution is as likely to entrench executive power than to limit it.

The problem is not the type of constitution.

The problem is instead a related one: the failure of constituionalism.

And while Johnson’s brazen disregard for constitutional norms is tolerated, there is no point changing the rules of the game, for he would disregard those rules too.

The problem is a political one: and the solution is thereby to show that this conduct means he loses power.

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Why do prime ministers so often forget Hubris meets Nemesis? And why we should be glad that they do forget.

27th April 2021

The current prime minister Boris Johnson assures us that the public will not be interested in some current scandal.

He may well be right.

Johnson, like almost all those who become prime minister, is an exceptional politician – and one does not climb to the top of the greasy pole if one slips easily.

But – again like many former prime ministers – this political durability and steadfastness is converting into a sense of invincibility and infallibility.

Because a senior politician can survive some setbacks, they come to believe that they will survive all setbacks – that they are immune.

Margaret Thatcher in about 1988 was like this – introducing the poll tax to chants of ‘ten more years’ from delegates at party conference. 

Tony Blair also was like this about the time of the Iraq invasion.

But it never lasts.

Even prime ministers such as Thatcher and Blair, both of whom won three general elections, were unwillingly replaced.

Why is there always this hubris before nemesis?

Why is there this apparent sense that it will turn out different this time?

Part of the answer, of course, lies in politics and personalities – and thereby it is a quality of those who gain and retain political power.

But part of it must also be – at least in the United Kingdom – how insulated a prime minister is from actual accountability.

For a prime minister with a sizeable majority has few restraints on their political freedom of movement.

They can personally change policy and impose it on cabinet; they can force through almost any legislation; they can conduct foreign policy; and they can appoint and sack at will.

Perhaps we should not be surprised that some prime ministers go mad with power, but that they do not go madder.

But such hubris will always meet its nemesis – and what practically brings a prime minister down will often be their arrogance of being untouchable.

And so perhaps the politicians to fear most are not the hubristic ones – for they are merely creating the means of their own political destruction – but the ones that are acutely aware of the fragile nature of power and never forget it.

For they are the scary ones.