How did he do it? How, in the name of everything he takes unseriously, did Boris Johnson announce that up to 60m doses of the Novavax vaccine will be bottled and finished by GlaxoSmithKline, but somehow stop himself looking straight down the camera to add: “And they’ll do it at their plant in … [Roger Moore-style eyebrow raise] … Barnard Castle”? There are few scarcer commodities than Johnsonian self-control, but having overcome that particular urge, the prime minister now surely has no personal restraint left for the rest of the year. Lock up your infosec entrepreneurs, 父母.
Still, Barnard Castle: but OF COURSE. Of course they’ll do it there. Like some avenging good news bear, Johnson seems to be on the kind of roll that could see him exorcise the unfavourable connotations of every accursed site in his back catalogue. He’s going to find 40m doses of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine down the back of the sofa on which he shagged Jennifer Arcuri 10 minutes before his former wife got home. He’s going to dispense single shots of it from behind the bar where Matt Hancock was pictured posing with the publican turned PPE supplier who WhatsApped the health secretary the words, “Matt Hancock – never heard of him”. He’s going to lift up the bullwhip on Gavin Williamson’s desk and discover beneath it a portal to the resting place of the holy grail. He’s going to announce that the lost original crown jewels of England have been traced and found after 800 years by a complete amateur. “And the name of that complete amateur? [Roger Moore eyebrow] … Dido Harding.”
And so to Johnson’s first outing in his government’s new briefing room, which I’m afraid is absolutely gopping. Not only was the previous wood-panelled location far smarter, but the party of business seems to have been completely rinsed for their £2.6m. It looks like it cost about what a leading public school would spend on the set for a sixth-form play about a man who becomes prime minister. Which I suppose is what we’re watching.
The podium Johnson took last night will most frequently be the domain of his press secretary, Allegra Stratton, whose televised briefings apparently begin in May. Yesterday, she could still be found backstage in Downing Street, batting away the implications of the latest revelation of his four-year affair with Jennifer Arcuri. (Has any story ever been sensationally “revealed” more frequently? I feel even more up to speed on this particular background than I do on what happened to Batman’s parents.)
“He does believe in the wider principles of integrity and honesty,” ran Stratton’s official verdict on Boris Johnson, one of the leading liars of the age. “He acts with integrity and is honest.” To which the most seemly reply is: LOLOLOLOLOL. Or as his press secretary preferred it yesterday: “Of course the prime minister follows the Nolan principles when conducting himself in public life.” OK but which Nolan – Christopher? I guess there are thematic consistencies between the prime minister and the movie director’s oeuvre. Both would very much like you to believe there’s no such thing as objective truth, and that after a while, the audience will simply lack the energy to understand or argue with what they’re watching.
Perhaps that’s what has happened during the pandemic. It is impossible to read Failures of State, the frequently jaw-dropping book by Sunday Times journalists Jonathan Calvert and George Arbuthnott, and not conclude that the British people deserved far, far better from the government. Yet its deeply healthy approval ratings suggest that people didn’t think they did. That is a tragedy in its own way, though not for the Johnson administration. It is, 当然, hugely encouraging news for a cabinet of this calibre that people expect to be governed badly – indeed, are taken to approve of it.
What the people got from the government was the highest death toll in Europe and the worst economic hit, with the serial belatedness of our lockdowns meaning we endured our losses of freedom for far longer than would otherwise have been necessary. 所以是的, we can all see why Johnson would wish to place himself front and centre of his briefing room folly on the sunny day on which these very lengthy restrictions began to be very slightly lifted.
But I can’t think of anything more beaten than being GRATEFUL to the guy who had us locked down far longer than we might otherwise have been. Our own rights are now being graciously sold back to us by Johnson, far more expensively than they should have been. I would fall back on the idiom that if you believe he’s done a good job, then I have a bridge to sell you – except, 当然, Boris Johnson does always literally have a bridge to sell to you.
And for all my genuine relief and delight at being able to do things taken for granted for the entire rest of my life, I honestly couldn’t be more bored with hearing, from Johnson, that he’s done his best. 和? I should hope you have done your best, prime minister. What do you want – a participation medal?
Having had to live with the calamitously bullish version of Johnson for most of the pandemic, we’re now stuck with this equally needy data shagger. I imagine it’s rather similar to being Johnson’s partner over the period of an infidelity, followed by its discovery and aftermath. You think nothing could be worse than the cavalier, exuberant, secretive Johnson – until you’re stuck at home with the dreary, careful, performatively penitent Johnson, forever inviting you to check his phone just to be sure.
As usual, he won’t be able to suppress himself for long. Indeed, the ongoing revelations about David Cameron’s prime ministerial afterlife as a high-level lobbyist for collapsed financial service firm Greensill have had me wondering just what a clusterfuck Johnson’s post-prime ministerial career will be. Can you imagine the japes once Johnson – forever whining about money – moves into this restraint-free zone? Today’s FT reports that Cameron’s search for the big bucks saw him private-jetted to Saudi Arabia early last year, where he and CEO Lex Greensill took a camping trip with none other than cuddly Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman.
Cameron refuses even to take calls on this, needless to say, while Johnson himself was not even asked yesterday about the implications of Arcuri’s revelations. But then, public life isn’t what it was. Nobody at the top seems to see it as anything much more than a game to which any number of moral failings have been “priced in”. Nobody resigns any more, nobody says sorry any more, and nobody really needs to take anyone’s calls any more. You can see why people have learned not to expect better. It saves time.