Boris Johnson continues to baffle me.
It’s not that I wasn’t ready for his kind of Prime Ministership. We all pretty well knew what we were getting when a majority of us didn’t vote for him. He avoided all scrutiny except that of the police during the leadership campaign – Jeremy Hunt proved himself the much more reasonable and mature candidate – and then made like a fishfinger, hiding at the bottom of a fridge during the December election, which he was gifted through the equally effective work of the right-wing press and a left-wing bozo. Boris had it all easy, as is usually the way with all things Boris.
Yet when he won, I thought we’d see two changes take place. The first was that he’d revert to type and become the big inclusive liberal One Nation Tory he’d always claimed to be. This was made more obvious because of the manner of his victory in November. He couldn’t stop saying enough nice things about the North. The North bit would largely be forgotten as the government got down to muddling its response to the pandemic, but the Chancellor’s largesse has been surprisingly generous. Money for everybody [footnote: except those that really need it]!
The other thing I expected was a serious knuckling down to the job of being Prime Minister. All the trademark Johnsonisms would go, or, at least, get a trim. He wouldn’t look such a shambolic mess all the time, would master his briefs (or at least tuck them in), and wouldn’t resort to stupid stunts in order to make meaningless headlines. If there was one doubt that everybody had about Boris it was that he wasn’t mature enough to lead the country. His career had been marked by laziness but also a reliance on the likability of his big bumbling character. Surely, this time would be different…
Yes, it was naïve ever to think that.
So far this week, we’ve had a front-page splash of Boris doing cock push ups before he became the first big guest on Rupert Murdock’s newest venture, Times Radio. Boris turned up at the studio looking like he’d spent his night wrestling with the ghost of Teddy Roosevelt, before attempted to recast himself as a latter day Franklin D. He promised the spend like crazy to avoid the inevitable job losses after this pandemic. Doing so, he resorted to his typical formulations, heavy on the alliteration. “We really want to build back better, to do things differently, to invest in infrastructure, transport, broadband – you name it.”
Bloody bootiful! Boris boosts Britain’s bounty!
Alliteration really is the cheapest rhetoric trick. And that’s the problem with Boris. His first six months in office have been characterised by tricks, tics, and utter banality in the face of perhaps the biggest crisis to hit the country since World War 2. Would Churchill have dropped down to give us ten to prove everything was alright? Or would he have put on his serious face and provide a symbol of maturity at a time when people needed to know that the bright people are in charge.
This Boris completely fails to do. His clown act bores even us clowns. I don’t believe a thing he says and much as I despise myself for being so cynical at a time like this, I think cynical me might have a point.
It’s made worse by the fact that whilst Boris acts like he’s next in line for the bouncy castle, his administration is going about dismantling the Civil Service, replacing a supporting pillar of our establishment and replacing it with a tower made of Dominic Cummings’s cardboard coffee cups. It’s beginning to feel like that episode of Fawlty Towers when the builder turns up and asks what kind of lintel they used, only to be told a “four by two”.
Meanwhile, Brexit remains the runaway septic tank, trundling towards the local reservoir. The water will sure taste good next year, with no significant trade deals made and a No-Deal Brexit the outcome most of us predicted.
And I haven’t even mentioned the Russian Report, the stench of which is even noticeable this far North. At the very least, it’s getting really difficult not to suspect it contains something particularly critical about Johnson’s relationship with Evgeny Lebedev.
Yet perhaps the abiding suspicion I have is that there’s really nobody in charge. People joke about Cummings being the real power behind the throne but I suspect that dog he bought as a whizzo idea to woo the media spends more time on the throne that its master. There’s big talk about rebuilding schools and getting everything back to normal in September but not much evidence that the government are implementing the kind of short-term changes that would make that possible. Their plan to produce thousand of hours of videos to replace teaching should the schools not open seems, from here, to be an almost unconscious admission that anything more comprehensive might not be possible. There’s talk of the entire nation being vaccinated by Christmas when they’ve taken months simply to get testing off the ground.
A quote comes to mind by Tom Werner, the American producer behind Mork & Mindy, Soap, and Taxi, and now chairman of Liverpool FC. He said over the weekend: “We want to undersell and overdeliver.” This they have done. They never promised fans any titles, but they did say that they would always take sensible measures to put the right people and processes in place. It’s exactly the opposite to how this government operates. They overpromise and underdeliver, with a conspicuous absence of the right people and processes in place. We just have Boris, scruffing up his hair, and trying to woo us some bafflingly banal bumbling braggadocio, aka bollocks.