Under Henry VII, the then Archbishop of Canterbury John Morton devised an ingenious way of raising tax revenue. He developed a line of reasoning that argued that a profligate man must be able to pay more tax (since he clearly has money to spend), but that a frugal man must also be capable of paying more (since he evidently has money saved). Thus, whether you were thrifty or thriftless, you were compelled to increase your contribution.
This form of reasoning became known as Morton’s Fork – originally referring to two lines of reasoning that lead to the same unpleasant conclusion, it now describes a choice between two equally unpleasant alternatives.
This election is a classic case of Morton’s Fork. Because who, if they were really honest with themselves, could not find countless reasons not to support the person for whom they’ll wind up voting on Thursday. Johnson and Corbyn are, quite obviously, the two worst candidates for Prime Minister in living memory, and yet on Friday morning one of them will be running the country.
Let’s start with the incumbent. The factors that ought to disqualify Johnson from high office are almost innumerable, and have been repeated frequently. It’s worth repeating them again though, so nobody can claim they didn’t know what they had coming.
100 days under his premiership was all it took for state-sanctioned disinformation to become the new norm in British political discourse. Johnson constantly gaslights the population by denying what is plainly true and by disowning what he has previously said. His public interventions are like a game of Two Truths One Lie, except he’s forgotten to do any truths.
His manifesto is even more concerning. Quite apart from being a dismally unambitious pamphlet that barely refers to anything beyond the first year of his premiership, it contains some seriously disturbing waffle.
Take the claim that, ‘we also need to look at the broader aspects of our constitution, the relationship between the government, parliament and the courts; the functioning of the royal prerogative, the role of the House of Lords.’ Disputing and threatening the independence of the judiciary and attacking the pillars of our constitution is just what you’d expect from this tousled Trump wannabe.
Perhaps it would be more tolerable if he’d retained some of his mid-noughties charm and humour, but he hasn’t. These days he doesn’t even bother showing up for the main set-piece media engagement of the campaign, having tricked all the other party leaders into taking part. What cowardice.
It’s really not asking too much of a man who wants to run the country to answer a few questions about what he wants to do with it. I mean, honestly, even Tory voters must realise how miserable and pathetic his decision to not defend his views is.
Corbyn, on the other hand, did turn up for the interview, and managed to spend 30 minutes letting the public believe that he’s a racist. His failure to apologise properly for antisemitism is not only morally repugnant, but demonstrates his political ineptitude. How prospective Labour voters can support a man who 87% of Jews believe to be racist (nearly 50% of them have said they would leave the country were Labour to form a majority government) is beyond me.
I don’t care how keen you are for his programme of increased public spending and renationalisation – it still doesn’t justify voting for a man who Jews deem anti-Semitic.
Although honest about his lack of remorse on antisemitism, Corbyn is mendacious on Brexit. His ‘neutral’ stance on the defining issue of the era might have passed muster had he said it three years ago, but he didn’t, and it now looks like a fudge (mainly because it is).
He appears to despise the press, and his tendency to yelp ‘can I finish?’ when interviewers try to put us out of his misery by asking another question renders him, remarkably, even less charming than Johnson.
Therefore, I’m hoping, begging, praying for a hung parliament. This is not to say that I particularly admire the likely coalition partners: I don’t believe in Scottish independence and I think Jo Swinson is an unappealing politician who has concocted an even less appealing policy by promising to revoke Article 50.
But at least a coalition would harness the executive power of the two despicable front-runners. It would also compel a discourse of compromise that has been sorely lacking since the horrors of Brexit were unleashed.
As the saying goes, compromise is not a dirty word. Especially in these polarised times, when people prefer to return to their Twitter echo-chamber rather than put their head above the parapet, a coalition might just force people to find areas of commonality rather than points of difference. And although a coalition might satisfy nobody, at least the wounds in our society would be painfully bandaged rather than opened up even further.
Fundamentally, we get the politicians we deserve. Anyone who’s cynical enough to make it to the top of politics is easily cynical enough to appeal to their supporters’ worst instincts. Therefore, for as long as Conservative voters chuckle at and defend their obnoxious bully of a party leader, and for as long as Labour supporters are willing to be accessories to racism, we will be mired in this mess.
Good luck to us. Come Friday morning, I fear we’re going to need it.
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