The Boris conundrum – why, after everything, do people still love him?


I used to share a commute with Boris. He would sit at the very front of the bus (egalitarian, or perhaps simply skint) and I would observe as he flailed his way through the morning’s newspapers in the manner of a big, blond Womble, urgently constructing some sort of nest by carelessly bunching up the broadsheet pages and clumsily folding them in the wrong place as they billowed about his head.

That has pretty much been his approach to government over the past couple of years: haphazard, lazy, dysfunctional, but so, so inimitably, idiosyncratically, splendidly Boris that he gets away with crimes and misdemeanours no other PM could survive.

Theresa May’s charge sheet largely comprised “dancing badly to ABBA”, “having a coughing fit at party conference” and admitting to “running through fields of wheat” as a child. Who knew these would be such clinchers? Boris, probably – because what he lacks in sound political judgment he makes up for in sheer self-serving savvy.

It is this inherent tension and the need to disguise his shortcomings that have fuelled the confidence trick he has played on our Covid-crippled country during these past two years.

Incidentally this autumn Kenneth Branagh will play Johnson in the new Sky Atlantic five-parter This Sceptred Isle, which recounts the first wave of the Covid pandemic. Appointment viewing. I wonder if Boris will watch from No 10 or might he have moved on? 

I’m genuinely baffled about the Boris Effect. He waffles in Latin like an overgrown schoolboy, yet he’s catnip to the ageing party faithful.

He looks like he’s been carved from blubber, yet is a ladies’ man par excellence, with “at least” seven children. Why, if only British productivity could be persuaded to emulate his libido, manufacturing output would go through the ruddy roof.

He is low on facts, tells fibs with impunity and eulogises about Peppa Pig World like a demented Mumsnetter post-wine o’clock.

But his pantomime antics and faux-naïf ramblings have lost their lustre. We are weary of his pathological need to jolly us along, raise a smile, clown about until we us warm to him. There is nothing remotely funny or clever about the shame he has brought to his office and to this country. He insults every one of us, regardless of our affiliations.

Beyond the Westminster bubble, the electorate are outraged by his breach of the lockdown rules he drew up. We continue to mourn those who died alone from Covid and the legions of cancer sufferers and elderly who perished because of the punitive restrictions imposed across our society. We have discovered first hand that loneliness kills, that isolation erodes mental health. We fear some of our children may never recover from the damage inflicted by school closures.

We are forever altered. Yet for Boris and his ilk, even as they daily hectored us to stay at home, it was business as usual as dozens of staff drank and socialised al fresco.

I entirely support Kieron McArdle, the Warwickshire man fined during lockdown for sitting in his garden with three socially distanced friends offering him support after a bereavement, who is now demanding a refund in the light of Government hypocrisy.

How else to respond to revelations that the draconian restrictions we dutifully obeyed were imperiously swept aside in the Downing Street gardens? Boris said no parties had taken place. Boris insisted no rules had been broken. Boris was adamant he knew nothing of any gatherings. He lied.

On Wednesday, after weeks of denial, he finally admitted he had been present at one such party. But still knew nothing.

Our PM expected us to be taken for fools as he adopted a chastened expression, apologised half-heartedly – and was instantly forgiven. Not by the voters, but his supine ministers, acting as though he’d been caught scrumping apples not abusing his position and our trust.

Why? Because Conservative MPs still regard – revere – Boris as their best re-election hope. They don’t care that he has no grasp of detail, is economical with the actualité, and is the sort of venal chap who begs his well-off friends to pay for his cringingly ostentatious £580-a-roll wallpaper.

It’s an open secret they don’t like him. Or respect him. Political pundits are always reminding us that Boris the politician has no loyal constituency in the party, and Boris the man has few friends in the House. (Maybe they should check Downing Street garden on a sunny day.)

The only conclusion I can draw is that, despite his idiocy, the 1922 Committee members are slavishly indulging him as a means to and end. It’s uncomfortably reminiscent of those moderate Republicans who held their noses and backed Donald Trump for the presidency; not just unseemly but immoral. Ignoble is another word that springs to mind.

Whatever Alexander Boris de Pfeffel Johnson grew up believing, leading the country is not his birthright. Whatever his Cabinet think, other potential party leaders are available – individuals who may be shorter on personality, but considerably longer on principle.

Yes, bumbling, barnstorming Boris is undeniably charismatic. But a charismatic clown is still a clown. And as for an untrustworthy clown? That is the stuff of horror movies – and I’m not sure even Sir Kenneth would be interested.


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