“Demonstrably untrue,” declared Mr Johnson with little elaboration after Sir John warned that “deliberate lies to Parliament have been fatal to political careers and must always be so”.
Yet, while politicians are adept at ignoring their opponents, and often the truth, it’s harder to dismiss critics when they are of the stature of Baroness Betty Boothroyd OM.
Nearly 30 years after Yorkshire’s greatest parliamentarian became the first female Speaker of the House of Commons, the nonagenarian’s public interventions are now rare.
However she’s still so esteemed that her views, when she does speak her mind in her own indomitable way, command even more respect because they have been so carefully considered – she still cares passionately about the UK’s democracy and Parliament.
And this is why her intervention in The Yorkshire Post today is so significant as she warns that “Britain’s frail democracy” is in a “pitiful state”.
She defends the right of past premiers like Sir John to speak out and urges them to ignore their critics who tell them to “shut up”.
She reminds us that “free speech and respect for the law are the core of British values” – an unspoken hint that she, too, is deeply uneasy over Downing Street’s ‘partygate’ scandal.
And she also implores public figures to “listen” to their opponents.
They’re strictures that are even more prescient because Baroness Boothroyd was Speaker when the Major government imploded over a succession of sleaze scandals – and both fear that the duplicity of today, by comparison, is a far greater threat to Britain’s democracy.
Far from being ‘out of order, it’s a salutary warning that should be heeded by all.
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