Richard North, 19/09/2020  

I'm sure the fanboys on the Spectator are still in love with their hero Boris – except that Fraser Nelson (who I think is the editor) doesn't seem to be able to recognise the object of his desire in the shambling figure currently masquerading as a prime minister.

Thus, the poor, lost lamb ends up writing a sad little lament, asking: Where’s Boris?

It's not that his hero isn't there, anymore. Little Fraser has actually noticed that physically, the clunking oaf is still around, usually dressed up in a hard hat and a hi-viz jacket. If he has to meet Ed Miliband in the Commons again, he might as well wear the same get-up there. If ever a man needed PPE, it's Boris.

But the problem is that Boris isn't Boris. Whatever the thing is, it's not 'the effervescent, bombastic, energising leader MPs thought they'd elected'. That man is missing, Fraser morosely observes. There is, he complains, 'a conspicuous - and baffling - lack of leadership'.

The likes of Fraser, however, are supposed to be leaders of political thought. This man-child is amongst the elite, to whom we are supposed to defer, and to whom politicians of great rank pay attention.

Yet still he doesn't get it. Boris Johnson is to leadership as a colander is to water retention. If a colander was any good for carrying water, it wouldn't be a colander. But if Boris was any good for anything – other than inflating his own ego - it would be a miracle.

At least Toby Young seems to get it. But then he's only an "associate editor" of the Spectator, so not quite up there with the gilded elites. But, being closer to the plebs (although not that much closer), he doesn't have to go through the pretence of arguing that Boris has somehow metamorphosed into a lumbering oaf, and is able to admit that he was a 'bad 'un' all the time.

Thus, the contrite Young is able to write a little confession, saying: "I admit it: I was wrong to back Boris", as he lays out the rationale for his folly, as if it gets anywhere close to excusing it.

The fact that Johnson was going to be an abject failure as a prime minster, he sort of admits, shouldn't have come as a surprise. Boris's supporters, he writes, cannot claim they were unaware of this risk. His inability to focus on anything for very long was constantly flagged up by those who’d worked closely with him, most recently at the Foreign Office.

Young's response, when this was put to him by Johnson's [many] detractors was that he had been preparing for the role of prime minister all his life, had a heroic conception of himself as a world-historical individual and wanted to be installed in the pantheon of immortals as one of Britain’s greats. Thus, even if it was only for vainglorious reasons, he would apply himself in No. 10 in a way he never had before. Hal would become Henry V, not Henry VI.

So let's get this right. We have a sexually incontinent sociopath who is shit at just about everything he has ever done, who lies for a living and makes betrayal his trade-mark. But apart from that, it's reasonable to expect that, despite being totally unqualified for it, when he's given the top job, he will suddenly emerge as the "great leader", just because he has ambitions to be seen as "one of Britain’s greats".

By that token, I suppose if I wanted to be the world's greatest concert pianist, even though I might struggle with a kazoo, if I really wanted it badly enough, I should be strapped to a Steinway and allowed to let rip in the Albert Hall. Seriously, what do people like Toby Young do for brains?

At least he does have the humility to write that he "should have been better prepared". In future, he adds, "I will not be so naïve". Naïve? The man was born in 1963 … he's 56, and he's still naïve?

But then, according to his Wikipedia entry, this is a man who was awarded a First in Philosophy, Politics and Economics, and then worked for The Times for a six-month period as a news trainee until he was fired.

He was sacked for hacking the computer system and circulating senior executives' salaries to others around the building, and impersonating the editor Charles Wilson. This was followed by a two-year period at Trinity College, Cambridge where he carried out research for a doctorate that he did not complete. You can quite see why he has an affinity for bombastic Boris.

Young, however, has managed to get further down the line of self-awareness than has the ineffably self-important Allister Heath, who actually thinks that Johnson still has six months left to save his premiership.

Despite the lamentable performance of this lumbering oaf, the great Heath has it that it still isn’t too late for this pretend prime minister. The reality, he writes, "is that Johnson has six months to save his legacy and his premiership, and force himself back into the pantheon of the greats". These people really are on a different planet.

But then, if these are rats departing or about to depart from the sinking ship that is Boris, it seems that another rodent is about to take the plunge, in the unexpected form of the Financial Times.

In a piece entitled, "Johnson reels after mis-steps on Brexit and coronavirus", it tells us that the prime minister’s relations with many of his Tory MPs have reached breaking point. He has had so many dire weeks as prime minister, that Conservative MPs at Westminster sometimes appear punch drunk. "It's driving me bonkers", said one veteran Tory MP. "We're in one hell of a mess".

After listing some of the less than glorious achievement of the prime minister, the paper reminds us that he still has staunch defenders among recently elected Tory MPs, but some backbenchers feel estranged from him and bewildered by what is going on.

At the heart of Johnson's problems, the paper says, is a mutual sense of distrust, and sometimes loathing, between Tory MPs and 10 Downing Street. "The parliamentary party always dislikes the centre, it was the same under David [Cameron] and Theresa [May]", says one influential MP. "The difference now is that Downing Street doesn’t give a fuck in return".

Charles Walker, vice-chair of the 1922 committee of backbench Conservative MPs, went public on this broken relationship in a passionate speech in the Commons: "If you keep whacking a dog, don't be surprised when it bites you back", he says.

Mr Johnson’s allies argued that Tory MPs chose him as their leader because he was a "winner" not because he was a consummate party manager. "He's never been a House of Commons man. He’s never hung out in the tea-room", says one supporter, according to the Financial Times.

But, the paper says, the prime minister's remoteness from his own MPs - summed up by an ill-fated Zoom call last week with Conservative MPs in which his internet connection failed and he refused to take any questions - could become increasingly problematic in the months ahead.

Surprisingly, some might think, the mood is now febrile. Some Tory MPs believe recent speculation that Johnson hasn't fully recovered from his bout of Covid-19 - strenuously denied by Number 10 - and will walk out before the next election.

This would be a useful alibi for those naïve creatures who thought Johnson was the dog's bollocks. They can pretend that he has changed, just like they pretend that Edward Heath took us into a trade agreement with the "Six", whence it suddenly morphed into a political union with ambitions of becoming the United States of Europe.

But, while some of his dwindling band of supporters insist that Johnson will be determined to prove his critics wrong, some are worried. "I don't understand what’s happened to Boris", said one. "He now seems to be a shadow of his ebullient self".

It could be, of course, that the man is totally out of his depth, finding anything more than dressing up for his latest walkabout to be way beyond his intellectual capabilities. But it's taken an awfully long time for his MPs to notice – which tells you something about the modern Conservative Party.

However, observes the FT, the next general election may still be four years away, but there is likely to be a reckoning for Johnson's premiership long before then. "If necessary, we know what to do", said one longstanding MP, referring to the Conservative party's tendency to regicide.

But it really is a pity that this thing was ever let near the reins of power. Johnson was a wrong 'un from the get-go, and it really is inexplicable that so many people should have been so "naïve" as to be taken in by him. The sooner we are rid of him the better and, at last, more people are beginning to realise that.

Also published on Turbulent Times.

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