Photographer: Chris J. Ratcliffe/Bloomberg
Artillery Row

My sordid tryst with Boris

What promises is the Prime Minister actually going to deliver on?

Mea culpa, mea culpa, mea maxima culpa.

Well, it’s the thing to do, isn’t it? Confession. Our new secular religion demands it. Child saints lead doom cults, heresy against the orthodoxy prompts the immolation of reputations and careers and, recently, we’ve added public genuflection to the canon of modern acts of faith.  So, I admit it. If only to ensure the mercy of a garotte as the flames grow higher. I backed Boris and it is many months since my last confession.

I backed Boris and it is many months since my last confession

It isn’t entirely my fault. The devil, you see, he came to me and whispered “Daily Telegraph” in my ears and, alas, my faith was not strong enough to resist. I first came across BJ many years ago when that august organ was run from Canary Wharf. I ran corporate affairs for the group which encompassed, as it still does, the Sunday title as well as The Spectator.

I liked Boris. He was light and approachable and, among what was nicknamed the ‘club class’ of comment and editorial, I shall only say that this was not always a characteristic. Morning conference would shake to rumbling Johnsonian sermons on the iniquities of the European Union. So I knew that later charges of being a sceptic of convenience were surely false.

It was at Manchester’s Tory Party conference that I last came across him, special guest at a fringe meeting with the DUP, staunch allies in the fight against a pusillanimous parliament and the counter reformation of Remain. Charming, funny, popular:  “Boris! Boris!” they thundered. Oh, if only I’d listened to the convent sisters! The Devil has all the best lines and comes in many guises. Somewhere Arlene Foster is writing something similar, though maybe with fewer nuns.

I resisted the regular visits of the Farage sect. Banging on my door with their professions of purity and their claims that Boris was a false idol. Unfortunately, the smell of sulphur from them was strong indeed.  And when push came to shove, Nigel’s faithful deserted him en masse, flocking to Johnson’s crusading banner. If there was a new Jerusalem to be captured, it was surely Boris who was going to take it. And so he did.

An 80-seat majority and, oh, bliss it was in that dawn to be alive, The Daily Telegraph was, quite literally, running the country. Europe lay prostrate before him. The Woke dragon cowered in its lair. The north was once again ours. No more May day. Boris, the father, was in his heaven, Cummings, the son, was at his right hand and the only ghost was the Labour Party, exorcised and at last in its grave.

But there’s an old joke. A dying soul is visited by Saint Peter and Satan, each selling their eternal holiday destination. Saint Peter shows the man a vision of worthy peace and tranquillity, a neon-lit brilliance of calm contemplation and peaceful bliss. Down in the infernal, the handsome Devil shows our man a wild party. All his friends are there, the booze is flowing, the girls are willing and the Rolling Stones are playing Sympathy With the Devil. Unsurprisingly, our soul opts for ‘the man of wealth and taste’. On arrival, however, things have changed. The bar is shuttered like a late-night ferry. There’s a smell of old beer and ash trays. The girls have gone and the band has packed up. Beelzebub, looks hung over and ugly and is sweating in the heat. ‘B-b-but…?’ stammers our damned eternal pilgrim. “Oh the party?” Groans the demon “ Well, yesterday you were a prospect. Today you’re only a client.” And thus I find myself. Deceived.

There’s mitigation of course. ‘Events, dear, boy, events’. A pandemic. And one which came close to carrying poor Boris into the beyond previously mentioned. But here lay opportunity. How better to illustrate that the notion of dilettante incompetence put about by his enemies was the latest falsehood than by top class management of the crisis? But no. A government elected largely on the back of ignoring experts failed to take its own advice and forgot an immutable law of political physics. One they practically invented: ‘To every expert there is an equal and opposite…expert.” Select with care.

So Boris, clean bowled early in the innings, looked to his tail to wag. What he found was that they didn’t bat down the order. The comms has oscillated between confusion and such efficacy that it has pinned the population in a permanent state of overwrought terror. A paralysed population is lotus-eating at home. A state of forgetful lassitude brought on by a glorious May, furlough money, payment holidays and the perfect cover in ‘protecting the NHS’.

So Boris, clean bowled early in the innings, looked to his tail to wag. What he found was that they didn’t bat down the order

Cummings and Levido then – traipsing back to the pavilion early, caught out by either their own behaviour or a tendency to reductive messaging. Raab, ostensibly vice captain, sweaty and terrified at the prospect of taking the crease, scandal-prone Jenrick kicking over his own stumps, Hancock eking out an uncertain innings of undoubted endeavour but relying on singles and getting away with an awful lot of played and missed. Only the promising young tyro, Rishi Sunak, looks comfortable and he has been joined in the middle recently by Priti Patel whose footwork on Labour attempts to exploit the BLM issue has been deft and her batting aggressive. Meanwhile the Opposition have been strengthened by the emergence of a decent captain in Keir Starmer who, never failing to learn from what worked previously, can’t stop writing op-eds for The Daily Telegraph. A collapse is surely imminent.

Ignoring, if only momentarily, the fact that the national economy has just shed an entire fifth of its gross domestic product, the blob is back and badder than ever. Teachers’ unions are using the ultimate ‘safetyist ‘ technique of ensuring that a return to education is patchy if not impossible on the basis that it’s too dangerous for children to return. They can, however, go to Thorpe Park or be served by people in shops. Who are presumably expendable.

Meanwhile, parents are pinned at home, deepening the economic damage. Children in private education, whose on-line endeavours have never ceased, are pulling away still further from their less privileged counterparts who won’t see a teacher on-line or otherwise until at least September. Union protestations that this is born of social concern simply don’t stand up.

Elsewhere, school and grass roots sport is at a halt. Our fat population gets fatter and, therefore, more vulnerable. As Boris himself knows.

A race incident in the US has managed here to stir genuine protest, outright criminality, student boredom and cultural Marxism into a corrosive attack on Britain’s history, society and rule of law.

‘We shall never surrender’, said Boris’s hero Churchill. Today, Winston is boarded up. Kulturkampf achieves what Mein Kampf couldn’t.

And all watched over by a police service whose appeasement of any and every social cause has left them on their knees, bereft of moral certainty and unable, apparently, to understand that the law of the land cannot be selectively applied dependent on victim group. Once a force, the police are now a service in which the customer is always right even as he throws a bike at its horse or tears down a statue in front of it.

Broadcast media, operating in the sure and certain knowledge that they themselves have supplied the personalities which form their regulator, peddle qualified headlines, partisan tweets and conveniently cropped photographs with an impunity that flies in the face of their duty of impartiality. At LBC, Farage is cast out while O’Brien gloats. Piers Morgan daily proves that whom the gods wish to destroy they first make mad.

Far left and far right square up in the streets, Weimar style. God knows what will happen when we also get their economics.

And yet none of this was supposed to happen. Back when the discussion was Brexit, Boris was the only likely lad. Liberal enough to be the anti-Farage. Popular enough to win an election. Eurosceptic enough to ‘Get Brexit done’. Telegraph enough to convince the solid folk of non-metropolitan middle England that their views were not, in fact, some sort of aberration but actually representative of the mainstream. And Tory enough to be an effective antidote to the incipient anarchy of Corbynomics and Corbyn’s sympathies.

The cultural colonization of British life by the Left was to be halted. Quangos, regulators, the Civil Service and the BBC were to be reformed and, with a belting and unarguable majority behind him, the country was at last supposed to settle down into the good-humoured, optimistic and largely liberal independent trading nation that most of us – it is most of us – quite fancied. A sort of national Boris.

And so, Father, to that confession. I am having a crisis of faith. It is being tested and, with each day, found more wanting. Sometimes, I can’t tell the difference between the Saviour and the Devil. Among our Brexiteer sect this has always been the case with the Tory Party. It offers salvation but is it the Prince of Promises? Increasingly it looks like the Lord of Misrule.

Boris, Boris, have you forsaken us?

Enjoying The Critic online? It's even better in print

Try five issues of Britain’s newest magazine for £10

Critic magazine cover