King Leer

Johnson is approaching the Raving On A Heath stage of his leadership

Artillery Row Sketch

“If we find the person responsible, well I don’t know what we’ll do with them,” Boris Johnson was promising vengeance on the unnamed MP who had suggested that Labour’s Angela Rayner was putting the prime minister off during debates by crossing her legs. Searching for a punishment, Johnson suggested “the terrors of the Earth”, though on past performance, Conservative MPs’ response to identifying a leering sexist in their ranks will be to see if they can make him leader.

It was interesting that Johnson opted to quote King Lear. A narcissist who surrounds himself with flatterers and blames others for problems he has clearly caused, the prime minister has of course been writing a biography of Shakespeare for some years. Like his publishers, we can only hope he’ll soon have more time to work on it.

After all, Johnson surely must by now be approaching the Raving On A Heath stage of his leadership. Traditionally, he would be accompanied by a Fool for this, but the sheer number of Cabinet members ministers who could brilliantly perform that role means the job may end up being covered on a rota basis. Jacob Rees-Mogg can take the first shift when he’s finished leaving passive-aggressive notes on the desks of civil servants.

The problem is the abundance of suspects

The Fool of the Hour, though, is the Tory MP who told the Mail on Sunday that Johnson spends his hours at the dispatch box trying to look up the skirt of the deputy leader of the Labour Party. Perhaps he does, but you’d have to be a very particular sort of person to think it would enhance the prime minister’s reputation if more people believed it.

The MP also claimed that Rayner “can’t compete with Boris’s Oxford Union training”, which is the sort of thing said by people who think the most brilliant thing in politics is to be able to plausibly argue things that you don’t believe. On the contrary, it’s quite clear that Johnson has absolutely no idea how to respond to Rayner.

The article caused outrage, well, just about everywhere, both the comments themselves and the way they were reported. Lindsay Hoyle called the article “misogynistic and offensive”, and has demanded a meeting with the paper’s editor. Hoyle is very reluctant to intervene in such matters, and that he’s opted to do so gives some indication of the strength of feeling being directed at the paper.

For all Johnson’s vague threats, it’s not clear whether the party is taking any action to identify the MP who made the comment. It’s hard to imagine that they want to find the fool, but even if they did, the problem is the abundance of suspects. There are 359 Conservative MPs. We’re looking for someone slightly dim, with 1970s attitudes, for whom the Oxford Union represents the summit of human achievement. That simply doesn’t narrow things down enough. Johnson himself has disowned the words, though if his record on parties is anything to go by, this means we’re a week away from a video emerging of him writing the Mail on Sunday story himself.

Technology minister Chris Philp had earlier issued a Crimewatch-style appeal for information, telling the BBC that “if anyone has information” about who it is, they should “come forward”. If you were around Stranger’s Bar last week and think you saw an MP huddled in a corner with a journalist, do call the Government Whips Office. You might earn a reward, though it’s equally possible you’ll be told to keep your mouth shut. And the rest of you: don’t have nightmares.

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