Brought to heel

Go, Johnny, go!

Watching Johnny Mercer leave his post as Veterans Minister is like watching a penny drop in slow motion. The government is, the former soldier told Times Radio on Wednesday evening, “the most distrustful, awful environment I’ve ever worked in”. And keep in mind, this is a man who served three tours in Afghanistan.

At one level, the sketch sympathises. But on the other hand, if one of us had pitched up next to Mercer at a forward operating base in Helmand a decade ago and commented that it was the damnedest thing, but the locals kept shooting at us, he might not have been all that sympathetic.

Mercer is a Labrador of an MP: energetic, enthusiastic, sleek-coated, and liable to wander off with the first stranger to pat him on the head and offer him a treat.

Which brings us, as ever, to the prime minister. Readers will be shocked, shocked to learn that he may have led Mercer to believe he was 100% behind him on issues when the truth was that it was more like 70%.

OK, 40%.

Actually, 10%.

In fact, look, Johnny…

As Johnny now looks up at us with those big soft eyes, his betrayed expression asking what sort of person mixes rat poison into Pedigree Chum, there’s a part of us that just wants to stroke his head and promise that the vet will make it all better. And there’s another part that says: “Come on, Johnny, even in Afghanistan they must have heard of Boris Johnson.”

And so the penny continues to fall. “This place has taught me a lot about the government, a lot about my colleagues,” he went on. “Let’s say shooting straight is not one of their finest qualities.” This is indeed just one of the many ways in which the prime minister is not someone one would want to share a foxhole with. Except possibly to use as cover.

And Mercer insisted he had been on a journey. “At some point, everyone has to grow up a bit,” he said.

But here’s the thing about Labradors, and the sketch has owned a couple: they aren’t great at learning from their mistakes. They see a sock just like the one the vet had to remove six months ago, and they think: “Tasty!”

So it proves with Mercer. “I think Boris Johnson is deeply committed to this agenda,” he said. “I think he wants to deliver it. He recognises the injustice of it. But…” Go on, Johnny, astonish us. But? “…the truth is that nothing has been done.”

Does that tell you something, Johnny, does it? Does it? Who’s a lovely boy? Yes you are, yes you ARE. Does it tell you anything at all?

“I think one of the biggest challenges of leadership and strategic leadership is the people you surround yourself with,” Mercer went on.

Now, maybe the sketch is being cynical, but it’s just possible that the prime minister’s problem is not his bad advisers. We are, after all, on the second complete set.

Or perhaps the issue is with ministers. Is that what it is, Johnny, is that it? “He should expect his ministers to be as committed to the manifesto as he is.”

At some stage, and it’s going to be a crushing moment for him, Mercer may realise that the problem is that Boris Johnson’s government is, by and large, exactly as committed to Boris Johnson’s promises as Boris Johnson is.

Has the penny got there yet? It doesn’t seem to have. Keep watching, everyone. It’ll get there.

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