Artillery Row Sketch

The Nine Billion Names of Boris

Calm, Zen, Relaxed, Unfussed, Unagitated, Boris, Flip, Cripes, Oo-er

Your sketch was delighted to read on Thursday morning that Downing Street staff – especially those who worked on the Vote Leave campaign – believe that one of their strengths is that in high-pressure situations, they stay calm.

Rishi Sunak has only made three emergency statements in four weeks

Who can dispute that, if they had to choose a single four-letter word to describe Boris Johnson’s administration, it would be “calm”? A millpond smothered with oil couldn’t be less disturbed than this government is by the troubles surrounding it on every side. Zen Buddhists have embedded research groups in Downing Street that sit there open-mouthed, gazing in awe at all the sheer calmness swirling around them. Homeopaths prescribe Essence Of Number 10 to patients for whom Rescue Remedy has failed to deliver results.

Among the things about which the government is so calm that it’s nearly comatose is the economy. Why, Rishi Sunak has only made three emergency statements in four weeks.

Thursday’s parliamentary moment of tranquillity saw the Chancellor doing a lot of the things that people have been telling him to do for quite a while, expanding grants to businesses here, reconfiguring the Job Support Scheme there. To the uninitiated, this sort of course reversal probably sounds a bit panicky, but we know now that it’s a sign of deep serenity.

Boris Johnson looked very much the portrait to Sunak’s Dorian Gray

Sunak himself was superbly self-assured. He has, I suppose, racked up quite a lot of practice at these events in his few months at the helm. His jacket, just the right shade of navy, matched as always his thin, thin tie. His sculpted jet-black hair, barely troubled by grey, shone under the lights. His script was neatly arranged on the despatch box in front of him. Next to him on the front bench sat a dishevelled figure clutching a red folder, tie all over the place, collar rumpled. It was Boris Johnson, looking very much the portrait to Sunak’s Dorian Gray. Maybe he’s exhausted by all the calm.

“I make no apology for responding to changing circumstances,” Sunak said, although the circumstances haven’t really changed that much since last month. Some of the measures he was announcing would be backdated to August, effectively giving Manchester’s Andy Burnham one of his key demands. Only a government quite as calm as this one could write cheques for billions of pounds and let the opposition get the credit.

“I have been listening,” Sunak said, and was there an emphasis on the reference to himself? Were we being invited to make a comparison to other members of the government who may have been less attentive, who had been so chilled that they ended talks with Burnham over a sum that was barely a rounding error in Thursday’s announcement? In your calm, do not sin, as Paul almost told the Ephesians.

Responding for Labour, Anneliese Dodds was not calm. “For months, we have urged the chancellor to get ahead,” she said. She laid into Johnson, leading a government, she said, that was “always running to keep up.”

Sunak was unperturbed, explaining again that he would never make any apology “for acting fast as the moment demands.” Beside him, Johnson looked exhausted by all the running and fast-acting. Maybe the calm is getting to him.

Let us part, then, with the old Gaelic blessing:

Deep peace of the weekly SpAd briefing to you,
Deep peace of the SAGE meeting to you,
Deep peace of the Brexit negotiating tunnel to you,
Deep peace of the daily press conference to you,
Deep peace of the NASA-style command bunker to you.

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