Guernsey Press

OPINION: Pride before a fall

Lord Digby Jones considers three recent news stories with a common thread

Prime Minister Boris Johnson. (30500514)

A NIGHTMARE for any newspaper editor or the producer of any TV or radio news programme is to have an absence of a main story with which to lead that day’s edition. Hence there are days all over the world when rather mediocre stories elevate people into a limelight they neither wanted nor for which they were prepared.

But the other week the world’s editors and producers were faced with something of an embarras de richesses, a veritable feast of competition for the main headline to the point that they were searching for this different angle or that exclusive insight.

Three huge stories were running at once, each with enough legs to run and run and stage the Derby all on its own.

First up was the UK Prime Minister and her husband ... oops, bit of a Freudian slip there – sorry Miss Carrie Antoinette. First in the tilt at the headline was Boris and Partygate, AKA ‘Hell hath no fury like Dominic Cummings scorned’. The old eye-tester of Barnard Castle wouldn’t understand hypocrisy if it got up and bit him.

Second to enter the lists was the Duke of York and all his travails. While it is difficult to find much support for him, there is sympathy by the truckload for the Queen and the sense that there are a fair few circling hyenas in the pack who already have the deafening sound of cash registers resonating between their ears. I think one is entitled to suspect the motives of the plaintiff and also m’learned friends (and their equivalent over the pond) are never far from the smell of the weekly refresher.

Third, but by no means least, was the apparently unending saga of Novak Djokovic. When you read that back in Serbia it was being reported that this unjabbed demi-god was being ‘tortured’ in the conditions in which he was being kept in an Aussie hotel room and that his ‘trial’ was being likened to Jesus appearing before Pilate, any editor or producer just knows she or he is onto a winner.

Not a twofer in the headline stakes, then, but a threefer.

Yet I saw a common thread in these different stories from different parts of the world. It appeared at first that different sectors of society – sport, politics and the royal establishment – weren’t singing from the same hymn sheet ... or were they?

Boris, Andrew and Novak all showed by their conduct that they felt rules didn’t apply to them. Rules and regulations were for others to obey, for the little people to follow. There was a common sense of privilege and entitlement in the actions of all three. They appeared to feel that they were really above all that stuff. Indeed, living by the rules that the rest of us live by probably never ever actually crossed their minds – and that is the crux of the matter in all three cases.

Rarely has there been a better example of ‘Don’t you know who I am?’ than the world’s number one tennis player just assuming that, because he’s the defending champion and biggest crowd-puller, he’ll be able to rock up Covid-jabless and play in a country that has had one of the strictest border control regimes for nearly two years and whose population (who vote in elections) have tolerated amazingly stringent rules. When he comes up against the affrontery of politicians and officialdom telling him he’s going to be treated just like every other Bruce ’n’ Sheila, the dissembling begins and the excuses start flying.

He is brilliant at his job and he earns squillions, but where in his lexicon of serve and volley are the words ‘role model’? Or are the Covid border entry requirements for the little people, Novak?

And don’t get me started on Premiership footballers. Five million quid a year and you think it’s OK to be filmed kicking your cat in front of a child? No one in that over-remunerated firmament ever says no to them. Rules are for everyone else to obey, so they remain jabless and test positive and games get postponed, clubs lose income, so do TV channels, and the fans are denied what they pay for – and the little darlings don’t lose a penny. Say no to a Premiership footballer? Remind him of what ‘role model’ means? You’re ‘avin a larf.

The Duke of York did or did not do that of which he is accused by the female plaintiff in the American civil action – not criminal, as there is currently no involvement of the American or British criminal justice system. The terminology sprayed around by barrack room lawyers and also some commentators who should know better often wrongly merge these two very distinct areas. It will be for the civil law system to take this forward.

The Duke is not presently guilty of anything at all in any court in any country. But you can be excused for thinking ‘why have you arrived in this mess?’ I guess this is where that old Irish response to an enquiry for directions applies – ‘well, I wouldn’t start from here’.

There appears to have been behaviour by the Duke consistent with believing that rules or conduct did not apply to him, that the normal societal strictures of living were somehow not for him. Who advised him that it would be fine to explain to millions of ‘ordinary’ people via interviewer Emily Maitlis that he was at ‘an ordinary shooting weekend’? Or that it was fine and dandy to go walking in the park in broad daylight with a convicted paedophile having flown 3,000 miles ‘to do the honourable thing’ just to tell him he couldn’t continue their friendship? I guess the answer is that no one did. His assiduous efforts to be found guilty in the court of public opinion would have been all his own. For he really does not believe he lives by the same rules as thee and me. He behaves as if the rules and norms that his mother’s subjects abide by are not for him.

The pervading whiff of a sense of entitlement is frankly too recognisable for comfort.

Lastly we come to the Right Honourable MP for Uxbridge and South Ruislip. Someone who turned chaos theory and deceit into an art form.

In the cross between Ladbrokes and the London Palladium that is Westminster, it is not difficult to find politicians who are, to quote the late MP Alan Clark, ‘economical with the actualite’. But this is Premier League stuff.

To have as the Prime Minister of the sixth largest economy on the planet, and a nuclear power to boot, someone who doesn’t even recognise such a situation is unacceptable. In Boris Johnson the country has someone who really does show by his conduct, in many ways, on more occasions and in more situations than one can count, that he does not acknowledge that the rules (some of which his government has created and enforced) apply to him.

Individualism, personality and humour certainly have their place in public life, and there is too much frightened greyness around for the good of all of us for sure, but there are limits – some written and some unspoken.

In the UK’s 55th PM we have someone who not only does not recognise those limits but has no means, no radar, no understanding, no empathy and no humility to see that those limits apply to him as well.

It’s not that he sets out to disobey, to mislead, or to deceive – his finely-tuned sense of self-entitlement and almost post-Machiavellian belief that the end justifies the means unconsciously, indeed sub-consciously, delivers that result au naturel.

Politics is a rough old trade and the First Lord of the Treasury is about to discover that the system has chewed up and spat out fatter and more tasty morsels than him over the centuries.

Which one of these three simultaneous examples of the same affliction made it to the main headline of a particular edition that week would have ultimately been down to the personal taste or opinion of the editor. But whichever one caught your eye or ear that morning a few weeks ago didn’t actually matter, for all three had that common thread of hubris, self-entitlement and disregard for the ordinary person.

It’s up-front-and-personal pride, I guess – and we all know what follows that.