Sorry saga of broken contracts



Stuff NZ Newspapers


These are perilous times for Brits in elevated positions. Boris Johnson’s precarious hold on power might even be an enviable one from Prince Andrew’s perspective, escorted from even a back-row position on the balcony of the family firm, no longer to be called His Royal Highness. Both face the consequences of the mounting contempt of a public making their own judgments, not only about allegations of bad-to-reprehensible behaviour, but the haughty and unconvincing nature of the defences being mounted. The British prime minister’s explanation that he showed up, and stayed a while, at Covid rulebreaking drinkies at No 10 Downing Street, thinking this was a ‘‘work event’’, was a terrible call that insulted the common sense of his electors. This party rubbed salt into the fresh wounds of so many people who had suffered to obey the Covid rules. His attendant apology-of-sorts communicated only that he regretted generating public fury – undeserved though he clearly felt it to be. Indications are that the inquiry by senior civil servant Sue Gray will find no evidence of criminality, but she may lament the blurred lines between work and socialising in Downing Street, and recommend actions against some officials and special advisers. As for Johnson, Gray is expected to admonish him for a lack of judgment. This would miss the mark, and not for the first time, because the very real issue for the public is far more the prime minister’s lack of integrity. Another case in point comes from the revelations about the funding of his Downing Street flat’s revamp, and his failure to pass on relevant WhatsApp phone messages to the investigation. These extend the series of scandals that collectively stand as a caution not to take much of what Johnson says at face value. Given Johnson’s low standing in the polls, based on the management of Covid and those daft expectations from Brexit, it may seem hard to see how he can keep hanging on much longer. Prince Andrew has, quite simply, become a man overboard. The Queen and the family have finally made the call. Not only is he no longer to be addressed (by those still doing it) as His Royal Highness, but his remaining military patronages have been removed, including one with the Royal New Zealand Army Logistic Regiment. It’s a humiliation and a brutal one, but necessarily so, and it underscores the message that he must stand as a private citizen as he faces the civil prosecution in the United States that he had sex with a teenager trafficked by disgraced financier Jeffrey Epstein. The step is also a reaction to the visceral level of public revulsion. Long gone are the times when the royals’ standing relied on antiquated notions of god-given status or unassailable tradition. The continued esteem, or at least fondness, of the public is crucial and Andrew’s position has become untenable. This is not solely because of the allegations themselves, which he denies, but the less-thanrighteous approach he has taken since, through trenchant non-cooperation with the process and then his failed bid to have the prosecution dismissed on the basis of a settlement contract between Epstein and Virginia Giuffre. As if what mattered was not the alleged bad behaviour of the powerful among the young, but that contracts had subsequently been entered into. Contracts do matter, but let’s be clear what has been happening here. Two powerful men have broken their contracts with the people.