The Boris Johnson Show appears to have reached the point where the scriptwriters hate the central character so much that they’re competing to see who can humiliate him the most.
Jumping the shark? The prime minister can only dream of being asked to do something as quietly dignified as water-skiing over a shark. The daily humiliations are so much worse.
It’s quite subtle. The words seem mild on the page. “This Christmas it’s vital that everyone exercises the greatest possible personal responsibility,” he told a press conference on Wednesday afternoon. A bit headmaster-before-school-trip maybe, but fair enough. And then you see who’s being asked to deliver them.
Every word out of the prime minister’s mouth sounded like a brutally sarcastic attack on the prime minister
Has there ever been a spokesman more miscast than Boris Johnson in the role of Captain Actions-Have-Consequences? Every word out of the prime minister’s mouth sounded like nothing so much as a brutally sarcastic attack on the prime minister. “Avoid staying away from home overnight if you can,” he said, as the production crew bit on their fists to suppress their sniggers.
“The overall situation is alas worse and more challenging than we had hoped,” Johnson explained, offering what might as well be his administration’s slogan.
“We are all collectively across the UK, governments at every level, asking you to think hard and in detail about the days ahead,” he said, reminding us of an approach to the days, weeks and years ahead that his government has, on the whole, decided sounds too much work.
“Please think carefully,” Johnson, the poster boy for casual thoughtlessness, told the public.
Maybe the prime minister’s hairdresser hates him, too
It had been the same earlier in parliament, at prime minister’s questions. Johnson arrived with his hair spiked in all directions, as though he’d spent the previous ten minutes clutching a Van De Graaf generator. How bad was it? Well, the first question was from Michael Fabricant, a man with famously striking locks, and it was still Johnson’s hair people were talking about.
Was the hair a dead cat, we wondered? I don’t mean, was it a political device to distract attention from bad news, I mean, was it a dead cat? Maybe the prime minister’s hairdresser hates him, too.
Again, the scriptwriters had done their cunning worst. “At every stage we followed the scientific guidance,” Johnson opened, and I felt as if millions of scientists suddenly cried out in anger and were suddenly silenced by his sheer nerve.
On he went, attacking Keir Starmer for changing positions on the best way to fight the virus. Can Johnson hear the words as he says them? Is there any inner monologue, howling in anguish, and if so, what did it do when he got to the bit where he accused Starmer of wanting to impose “endless lockdowns” on the country?
Maybe that inner voice was what we were hearing when Johnson told Starmer that what the nation really wanted to hear at Christmas time was the Labour leader saying nice things about his government. There’s an odd neediness to these constant demands that even his opponents should love him.
Back at the press conference, the writers were hitting their stride. Johnson was asked how quickly the vaccine might be rolled out.
“I’ve always worried that we shouldn’t overpromise,” the prime minister said, and somehow Chris Whitty, standing next to him, managed not to guffaw. “I don’t want to jinx things by overpromising.”
How do you top that? Boris “it’ll all be over by May/July/September/October/December/Christmas” didn’t want to jinx things by overpromising. Where can you possibly go? “I’ve always said that loyalty is the most important virtue”? “I cannot tell a lie”? “I think he’s behaved a bit badly, if I’m being honest”? It’s hard to know what they’ll offer us at his next outing.
Meanwhile, what would be the worst way that Johnson could end his opening statement, the writers wondered? The absolute worst, somehow completely in character and completely failing to address the seriousness of the situation. Something with the gravitas of a Radio 2 DJ announcing nuclear war? Got it! “Have yourselves a merry little Christmas – and I’m afraid this year I do mean little!”
Now, here’s Wham!
Enjoying The Critic online? It's even better in print
Try five issues of Britain’s newest magazine for £10Subscribe