Taking Boris to Court is Really, Really, Stupid

I can’t believe how many people on my social media feeds are cheering on the unbelievably anti-democratic and morally wrong court case against Boris Johnson over the notorious £350m a week bus slogan. But even for those who can’t see this as wrong, the stupidity of giving a master charlatan and showman like Boris Johnson his day in court should be obvious.
I have wider worries than Boris backflipping his prosecutors and using this case as a means to getting into Number 10, however. Those who want the courts to regulate political speech can only be working on the assumption that the courts will always share their basic values. A quick glance across the Atlantic should be a wake-up call about how much folly that presumption involves; the judiciary, like all institutions and the people who make them up, is profoundly fallible. The judiciary is ultimately also profoundly shaped by the dominant political ethos of the time, at least of the classes of people that supply the judges, even in a country like the UK where the judiciary is not party political. That dominant ethos may not, indeed almost certainly will not, always be the socially and economically liberal one that has prevailed for the past couple of generations. Remember, Lord Denning’s ‘appalling vista’ disgrace in the first Birmingham Six appeal? That was within my lifetime.
The immediate future continues to be very unpredictable in this decidedly disUnited and dysfunctional Kingdom. There are circumstances foreseeable by a reasonable person in which the country could be run by a Nigel Farage channelling Orban and Salvini – for example, an overconfident new Tory leader calling a snap election and having it blow up in his/her face, with the liberal-to-left vote split across too many feuding parties. Such a scenario is far from impossible.
In that dangerous context too many liberals are cheering on: firstly taking political opponents to court over campaign statements; secondly, low-level physical attacks on opponents. It does not take a genius to work out where all that might end.

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