Pissed-off Toff’s disenchantment with Boris Johnson is complete.
The one time I have ever seen Boris Johnson in the flesh was when I was in my last year at Eton and he had just arrived. It was some time in the morning, and the whole school was on the streets between lessons, making their way from one classroom to another. Shuffling towards me along the pavement, there appeared a new boy in his King’s Scholar’s gown, a pile of books tucked in disorderly fashion under one arm. With his head of dishevelled hair so yellow that it was almost luminous, this diminutive figure was unmissable. And despite the fact that he was walking alone, he wore a broad grin on his face, as though contempating some hugely enjoyable private joke. Who, I briefly wondered, was this comic young ‘tug’? Who was this clown in the making?
But when, some forty years later, Boris Johnson became Prime Minister, I was one of the few people among my acquaintance who was unambiguously in favour of him. It did not bother me that he had a proven track record as a philanderer. That was not my business; and at least it showed that he was in possession of a pair of balls. Nor did it bother me that many saw him as an empty vessel; or as a dangerous and unscrupulous opportunist, even. How else, after all, is a man to climb the greasy pole of politics? Nor, less seriously, was I much bothered by the ubiquitous presence of his ghastly attention-seeking father Stanley, whose genes he so evidently shares; or, come to that, of his only slightly less ghastly sister Rachel, obsessed as she is by fame, status and money.
None of these or the many other objections to him mattered. For me, one thing only was of importance. Namely, that Boris had nailed his colours to the mast and was going to use his thumping parliamentary majority to take us out of the European Union … and as far as I was concerned, the harder the Brexit, the better. For that, I – like Nigel Farage – would have happily signed a pact with the Devil himself.
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Nor, it turns out, would that have been such a bad idea; because not even the Devil on cocaine would have wreaked the destruction that Boris Johnson has engineered in just a few months. So much so that I can hardly bear to look at any photograph of him in the papers or to read any report of anything he says, and have long since stopped watching the TV news.
I did, however, watch Johnson’s televised address to the nation on Sunday 10 May, one and a half months after he ordered the so-called ‘lockdown’ of Britain. This was required viewing. Lockdown was “the only way to defeat the Coronavirus,” he insisted. “It is a fact,” he continued, “that by adopting this strategy we have prevented a possible 500,000 deaths.” We were next enjoined to “defeat this terrible disease together” and to “protect the NHS” … and we were informed that the lockdown would be lifted “if and only if the science and numbers support it.”
All of which was bilge. Because the only facts were that the idiot witchdoctor Neil Ferguson conjured up the wild prediction from a now-discredited ‘computer model’ that in the event of no-lockdown, half a million people might die, and that this same fool inspired a panicked Johnson to close down the country.
And Johnson wound up with his most preposterous claim of all. We would, he said, emerge from the lockdown “more resilient, more innovative, more economically dynamic, but also more generous and more sharing.” Quite how the lockdown-induced destruction of hundreds of thousands of businesses and millions of lives and livelihoods would leave us “more economically dynamic” was not explained. So for its bluster, empty rhetoric and sheer dishonesty, this speech could hardly be beaten.
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From time to time in the weeks that followed, the national newspapers published bombastic hype cooked up by this former hack who was sacked from The Times for making up a quote (one suspects he was just winging it, as usual). Here, in the 17 May edition of The Mail on Sunday, with a strange mixture of flattery, exhortation and threats, he asks the nation to accept universal house arrest and goes on to praise the “police and prison officers keeping order on our streets and in our prisons” and “the civil servants working round the clock to implement every policy decision.”
Whereas the reality was that released from the irksome necessity of even pretending to sort out crime, the police were only too happy to whizz around the empty streets with their sirens blaring, occasionally stopping to fine innocent citizens at will. And with their public-sector jobs and gold-plated pensions entirely safe, the civil servants were more than happy to carry on receiving their full salaries while ‘working’ from home. For these agents of Boris’ new oppression, lockdown was a holiday. But of the millions whose lives and livelihoods were threatened by his new tyranny, Boris made no mention … a slippery evasion, to say the least.
And it gets even worse, with Johnson moving on to praise “the British people as a whole” who, he asserts, have “risen so magnificently to the challenge we set them: to stay at home.” Whilst a few lines later he praises “the British public’s fortitude, their perseverance, their good common sense.” In other words, having resorted to shamelessly hyperbolic propaganda in order to frighten us all into cowering at home, Johnson now praises us for our bravery. We’re used to his bullish sloganeering and his sub-Churchillian tub-thumping; but this is just contemptible.
After administering his killer dose of mendacious flattery, Boris turns to threats. “If at any stage we need to tighten the restrictions,” he writes a little later in the same piece, “we will not hesitate to act.” Then: “Nothing is more important than saving lives.” Which brings us to the central fallacy of Johnson’s argument, namely that in order to eliminate all risk of death for a few doddery OAPs from a virus which for almost everyone else is entirely harmless, it is justifiable to suspend civilisation and destroy the nation.
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And this, remarkably, is what he has managed to do. That he has made the most monumental mistake is not in question. As the Swedish example (among others) has demonstated, it is now clear that the lockdown was entirely unnecessary, the worst national blunder in living memory, with costs that we cannot even begin to imagine and which will be borne for generations to come.
Johnson knows this. He cannot not know it. And yet rather than admit it, he continues on the path of ruination; while at the same time pretending – sort of – not to be doing so. Thus even though draconian new measures make it illegal for more than six people to meet up indoors or outdoors, and even though we are now to be policed by a new breed of ‘Covid-secure marshals’, the Prime Minister insists that this is “not a second lockdown.” What, then, is it?
And thrown in with the bluster and deceit, we have the inevitable clownery, once a source of entertainment, but now less amusing. So dressed in a silly high-visibility boiler-suit, and grinning at the camera in buffoonish manner, Johnson inspects the works for HS2, now projected to cost £106 billion which we cannot possibly afford. HS2 will, he claims, create “tens of thousands of jobs.” Really? Jobs for all those immigrants who keep arriving, perhaps? Whereas more now even than before, this wildly extravagant grand projet is revealed as folie de grandeur.
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While we wonder when Johnson will release us from our servitude, and while he reportedly quips, off-stage, about the ease with which he and his accomplices have enslaved the country, there is perhaps one last chance for him to redeem himself, if only partially. I refer, of course, to the job of ensuring a clean break with the EU. But on this front as on all others, my disenchantment with him is complete, and I no longer believe a word he says or trust him an inch.
As Oscar Wilde famously wrote in The Picture of Dorian Gray, “it is only shallow people who do not judge by appearances.” And it seems that my fleeting impression of Boris Johnson on the streets of Eton all those years ago was correct: here was a clown in the making. At the time, I did not, however, know that this same boy’s childhood ambition was to become ‘world king’ … an ambition which now takes on a more sinister significance. Because Boris Johnson is indeed a clown. And a fraud. And, we now see, a tyrant.