The Malta Independent 26 June 2022, Sunday

Having a liar for your leader

Noel Grima Sunday, 22 May 2022, 08:09 Last update: about 2 months ago

When the story first surfaced the official reply was that there had been no parties held at No 10 Downing Street during the Covid lockdown. Now on Thursday the Metropolitan Police announced that no fewer than 126 fixed-penalty notices are going to be sent in this regard but Boris Johnson will be getting one only and no further action is expected to be taken.

And there were no fewer than 12 parties while Downing Street was insisting with the country to obey the health authorities and stay indoors. No wonder the whole country is up in arms and Ian Blackburn and Keir Starmer called Johnson a liar to his face at Prime Minister’s Question Time. Had it been in any other parliament the small distance between them could be easily covered by an aggrieved person.

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Instead, Johnson went into his well-honed default position when cornered. Like a schoolboy caught skiving school he mumbled an apology and spoke about how the economy is booming. But no one was taken in – he is an unashamed serial liar.

It’s the country as a whole that’s being affected, the credibility of the former Empire on which the sun was never going to set, the fiercest ally of Zelensky’s Ukraine, the champion of Brexit which was going to make England big again.

Heavily beaten by the local elections at the beginning of this month, holding on to his post for dear life, Johnson may be crossing the red line anytime soon.

All this shows how thin is the line that separates credibility from distrust in leaders and politicians (and a host of other persons, not forgetting us journalists).

We live in a world where news flashes from one end of the world to the other in less than a second, where news can be hidden only in a country as vast and as controlled as Russia (and imperfectly at that). We live in a world (or at least that part of the world) where people are now far more liberated than they were just a few years ago and their new-found freedom gives them the right to comment and pass their judgement on anything and everything.

We may disagree with many of these comments and conclude that people can be manipulated and their opinions turned but if a leader loses credibility he (or she) is toast.

Where do our leaders stand in the credibility stakes?

The fact that the majority of the Maltese who voted chose to have Robert Abela lead the country shows that he is credible at least to them. There were some concerns expressed just before the election about his still unfinished ranch (to be pedantic within the limits of Marsaxlokk, not Zejtun) and the price paid and declared but they do not seem to have swayed people especially when used so heavily by Bernard Grech in the last days, as if he had run out of arguments. And anyway everyone who buys property tends to under-declare.

Then there was the allegation he had sold a power boat to the Agius brothers (Maksar) long years ago, long before the Daphne murder. Again, this allegation does not seem to have stuck, not because Abela is Teflon-skinned but perhaps more because many lawyers come into contact with persons from the criminal fringe – though they do not get to become prime ministers.

He is still on thin ice. To go back to the Boris Johnson case, we have to wonder and be amazed at the way the Metropolitan Police handled the investigation. This, we can say with certainty, would be unthinkable in Malta.

What about Bernard Grech? A random search shows he is very liberal with claims Abela and PL use lying as a preferred tool and weapon but then Grech has his own way of dealing with adverse claims from inside his party such as by former minister Jason Azzopardi or the PN mayor of St Julian’s – he gives them (or he gets the party’s top body) 24 hours to substantiate their claims. This is the tough stance he is posting before the leadership election next week but does it make him more credible?

Whatever, the Boris Johnson case should be a warning to one and all. Just a few months ago Johnson was deemed credible by the British people. But today?

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