“I no idea,” Boris Johnson began. He could have talked about anything, but his specific area of confusion was why he was making a motion of confidence in his government in Parliament. Lindsay Hoyle, the announcer, helpfully reminded him that he had asked for it.
Thus prompted, the prime minister, as he almost still is, although he seems to be working flexibly these days, set about defending his term of office. He started with his two big triumphs, the 2019 election and Getting Brexit Done (terms apply).
It was a trip back to Borisland
There was an awkward gear change as he suddenly went to Covid. Cheering Tory MPs calmed down as they realized this was the serious part. Johnson slid straight to the vaccine via the tricky lockdown stuff. His party has agreed on a formula for this time to talk about this time, again used on the occasion that “we got the big calls right”. This works well because it hides the fact that they disagree on what those big calls were. Did they lock or refuse to lock? vaccination records? mandatory test? The tricky issues they wrestled with – as anyone would have – are now simply skimmed over.
It was vintage Johnson in that it was totally detached from reality. Was there a hint of self-doubt? A moment of recognition that on every issue from lockdown to opening to testing for care homes, his government had vacillated back and forth, providing advice and direction that often changed from week to week? Of course not. Listening to him, one would think that a unified Tory party has charted a resolute course, albeit vacillating from the opposition, rather than being so divided that it was often only able to push through measures with Labor Party support.
“To the extent that the opposition had any ideas at all, they would tremulously call for more lockdowns,” he explained, “while we trusted British science.” The Halloween lockdown? The Christmas lockdown? Didn’t happen.
There was more. “We’ve managed the economy sensibly,” Johnson said, indicating he hadn’t been following the leadership debates. Michael Fabricant intervened: “Thanks to his intervention, Kyiv is still part of Ukraine and not part of Russia!” Would Johnson point out that the Ukrainian army deserves some of the credit? Not a bit of it! Maybe he feels it’s really his fault. Finally, they also serve those who stand and mate.
The Tory benches weren’t what you would call packed but those who turned up loved it, cackled and cheered. It was a trip back to Borisland, where supermarkets gave away a gallon of petrol with every loaf of bread and a well-loved Prime Minister bid farewell after two decades of glorious rule.
There was not a word of remorse, no acknowledgment that he had gambled away that election victory and personally and unnecessarily tarnished his party’s reputation until his MPs could bear it no longer. The closest he came to boasting was that “I’m more popular on the streets of Kyiv now than I was in Kensington.”
“Boris Johnson: not as bad as Joseph Stalin”
He continued with an anecdote about his weekend jaunt in a typhoon. For so long, Johnson’s fantasies were confined to his speeches. Now he’s using his final weeks in office to live them out in a series of disguise days. This one had been Boris “Big Dog” Johnson, a loner recalled for one last do-or-die mission. Enraged aides try to tame him – “Your wife writes checks Lord Bronlow can’t cash” – but Big Dog knows you’re dead if you think up there. And if you think re-enacting Top Gun’s dogfight scenes is bad, tomorrow he’s re-enacting the beach volleyball scene.
“I flew over the North Sea,” Johnson said. The pilot had told him he could take the controls. “I did a loop and a barrel roll and an aileron roll.” He was delighted with it all, as sure he really had flown the Typhoon as any Make-a-Wish kid is allowed to be in the cockpit of a multi-million pound fighter jet. In a way, it was a metaphor for his preferred form of government, having his picture taken while someone else was actually in charge.
Eventually, he completely removed himself from reality. The “deep state,” he said, will now undo Brexit. Parliament will give up its support for Ukraine. Après moi, le déluge, as they say at Checkers soirees.
Keir Starmer had none of it. “The madness never ends,” he began. The past fortnight has been what Typhoon pilots would describe as a target-rich environment for the Labor leader, and he has thrown his bombs wide. The Tory TV debates have been so embarrassing that even the candidates are withdrawing. When the Conservatives heckled, he urged them to “reread their letters of resignation.”
“He was expelled in disgrace,” said the Labor leader. “Considered unworthy of his position and unfit for office by his peers and peers.” As he reviewed the indictment, Johnson sat like a schoolboy receiving a final announcement on the last day before departure, slumped, bent over, arms crossed , rolling his eyes and shaking his head. MPs shouldn’t be outright accusing each other of lying, but Starmer kept using the word. Finally, Hoyle half-heartedly appealed to more moderate language. It made little difference.
Johnson was, according to the Labor leader, “a vengeful squatter mired in scandal”. It was “made possible by a corrupt conservative party, every step, every scandal and every party along the way”. Johnson began to babble, and Starmer addressed him directly: “They don’t trust you. That’s why you’re leaving.”
Sir Edward Leigh later claimed that Starmer’s speech was the meanest he had ever heard in Parliament, suggesting he had not heard many of Johnson’s. “Where is a sense of kindness or magnanimity?” Leigh pleaded. “Why do we have to throw these insults around?” People, he said, suggested the prime minister was “history’s worst mass murderer.” It was, as he said, “complete rubbish”.
And that should be a lesson for all of us. Maybe we can add it to Wikipedia. “Boris Johnson: not as bad as Joseph Stalin.”