Richard North, 18/12/2021  
 


Of the torrent of comment following the Conservative by-election defeat in North Shropshire, I don't think anyone has been more revealing about the reasons for that defeat than the prime minister himself, in the now notorious Sam Coates interview.

What struck me about it is the degree to which Johnson regards omicron as his "free pass", dismissing other issues as of little importance compared with the great task that he has set himself in saving the nation from the dreaded Omicrons.

I have seen a number of partial renditions of the interview but nothing quite conveys the flavour of Johnson's demeanour as the whole interview, taken as a whole. No doubt there are transcripts available, but I haven't seen one so I've taken the time out to produce one myself, which starts with the Sky News deputy political editor asking Johnson whether he takes any personal responsibility for the defeat. The interview proceeds from there:
BJ. Clearly the vote in North Shropshire is a very disappointing result, and I totally understand people's frustrations. I hear what the voters are saying in North Shropshire and in all humility I've got to accept that verdict. Yes, Sam, and what I would say is of course I understand that what voters want us as the government to be doing at all times is to focus on them and on their priorities. My job as prime minister is to get the focus onto the stuff that really matters to all of us, so – not just the vaccine rollout "getting boosted now" but what we're doing to fight crime, to sort out our borders with the Borders Bill, the Human Rights Act and what we're doing to keep the economy going – we've got the fastest growing economy in Europe, more jobs now than there were before the pandemic began and what we're doing to train up our country and prepare our economy for what I hope will be a great recovery. But, y'know, I totally understand why people were frustrated and are frustrated in North Shropshire.

SC. I think viewers just heard you not accept personal responsibility and instead deflect with a list of other things your government is doing, so .. do you accept that you are to blame?

BJ. Look, I'm responsible for everything that government does. Of course I take personal responsibility …

SC. What things that went wrong under your watch that are your responsibility are partly to blame? For instance, do you think the absolutely cavalier approach to lockdown rules by you and your staff in Downing Street played a part in last night's defeat?

BJ. I think that people are frustrated and I understand that what the … basically what's been going wrong, Sam, is that in the last few weeks some things have been going very well but what the people have been hearing the is just a constant litany of stuff about politics and politicians and stuff that isn't about them and isn't about the things that we can do to make life better. And so, to that extent, of course you're right. And I think the job of the government is to make people like you, Sam, interested in the booster rollout and in skills and in housing and in everything else that we're doing. And unfortunately, you're totally right, we haven't been able to get the focus on those issues.

SC. Prime minister, it sounds to me like you're quite clearly blaming the public for being focused on the wrong things …

BJ. No!

SC. … and the media for reporting the wrong things. So can I try again and ask … of any of the following are responsible.

BJ. I think that's very unfair …

SC. This is what Tory MPs are saying to us. So forgive me, this is what your colleagues believe. Do you believe that .. er … you trying to change the sleaze rules in favour of you and your colleagues – which triggered the by-election which caused this defeat. Do you accept hands-up responsibility for that?

BJ. I do, because I think that it goes back to exactly what I was just saying, Sam, which I think it comes into the overall category of politicians talking about ourselves and those issues and seeming to be focused on those issues at the expense of the things that really matter to people. And so I think my job is to get over what we're doing more effectively and to show people that as a result of the fastest vaccine rollout and the fastest booster rollout in Europe, that we got more jobs than before the pandemic began, and I've got to put my hands up and say "Have I failed to get that message across in the last few weeks? Has it been obscured by all this other stuff? Yes, I'm afraid it has".

SC. So what needs to change given that it was your advisors laughing on video about breaking Covid rules. You got a Tory donor to pay for the refurbishment of your flat. How do you stop those things happening again. That's the question Tories are asking …

BJ. Yes, I know. With all humility and respect to you Sam, those questions are exactly the kind of questions about politics and politicians and all those kind of things on the running of government that I'm going to have to fix, of course, but the real issue that I think people want to focus on is what we're doing to sort out NHS investment bill we're putting in to get us through a very tough time, and what we're doing to tackle the pandemic. And that is the number one priority for the government. Because if I may say, respectfully, omicron is a – if I can move on to that for a second – omicron is a very serious threat to us now. We are seeing a considerable wave coming through and people have got to be prepared and they've got to understand what it entails and that's why the best thing everybody can do is not just follow the guidance, the advice we've set out but get boosted now. That is the crucial thing that we need to do. We've now as of yesterday vaccinated 25 million people with a booster, which is a great number, but we need to do a lot more. And we've got the … everybody's coming forward to help and you've got the Army here, er, giving massive assistance, you got volunteers, the teams are expanding the whole time. We have the capacity to deliver the "get boosted now" campaign. What we need is for people to realise the urgency and come forward themselves.

SC. Prime minister, Tory MPs say the dysfunction of your administration is having real world consequences about exactly what you're talking about. For instance, your cabinet ministers are contradicting your scientific advisors over the rules and over the guidance. Should people be cancelling social events in the run-up to Christmas? Yes or no?

BJ. I've said already that people should be cautious but what we've also said is that people should decide on what they want to do. It's a matter for their personal choice. We're not closing things down, but we do think people need to be cautious and we can see that …

SC. (unintelligible) … further and get people to prioritise. Is he right?

BJ. Look, I think what both Chris and I, Chris Whitty and I are saying is that there is a big wave of omicron coming through. People need to be prudent and they need to think about .. y'know you need to think about your budget of risk, as it were, Sam, but what we're not saying, we're not in a position that we were in last year of closing everything down and trying to mandate exactly what people do. We want to leave much more to people's responsibility and choice but we want them to be aware of the facts. And the facts are that omicron, it does represent a very considerable risk and people need to be aware of that risk. They need to take the steps and above all the need to get boosted now.

SC. Final question. Tory MPs are saying publicly that conversations have begun about your future, whether you should stay in that job. If it was in the interests of the country, if it was in the interests of the Conservative Party, would you resign?

BN. Sam can I just remind you everything I have been saying throughout this interview, which is that is exactly the kind of question that qualifies, that breaks the golden rule. What we're focusing on is getting the job done. What we're focusing on is trying to make sure that we not only have the fastest vaccine rollout in Europe, the fastest booster rollout, as we've already done. We're able, because of the "get boosted now" campaign, to avert some of the more damaging consequences of omicron. That is what the government is engaged in doing now. That is what I am focused on. And do you know what, that is what I think people would want me to be focused on right now.
It should be noted that, towards the end of the interview, when commenting about breaking "the golden rule", Johnson got very angry, showing a side of himself that the public rarely see.

Clearly, he is irritated by the media line, and one has a certain sympathy with that, but one senses that Johnson doesn't want a free press so much as a propaganda organ which lauds the achievements of The Great Leader (himself). He would be happier, it seems, in North Korea.

However, while some commenters take from the interview an admission that Johnson does take personal responsibility for the defeat, I don't see it that way. Essentially, to accept responsibility for everything, in the generic way that he does, means that he takes responsibility for nothing specific.

Rather, one sees a man complaining about the media for its "constant litany of stuff about politics and politicians", instead of focusing on his achievements, and about the voting public for being selfishly concerned about their own priorities, failing to realise that The Great Leader is focusing on "the stuff that really matters to all of us".

Above all, this is a man who desperately wants to move on, something which he is not going to be allowed to do, as further embarrassing leaks continue to emerge.

From his "Teflon" period, when nothing of his many transgressions would stick, Johnson is now hurtling into his nightmare phase, where he seems to be able to do nothing right. And, having sucked up the omicron Kool Aid, it can only get worse.

The personal tragedy for him is that, having quite evidently employed the Omicrons as his "dead cat", to deflect attention from his sins, he now believes that he is confronting the greatest threat to civilisation since the last greatest threat to civilisation, and has cast himself as the great saviour who will lead us to the path of salvation.

Given his own self-image, it is hardly surprising that he is pissed off with the media for failing to fall down and worship him, and for the ungrateful voters who clearly don't appreciate what he is doing for them and the nation.

The worst of it though is that Johnson has now become so absorbed in his own persona that he has lost any capability objectively to evaluate his own performance, or accept any criticism from any source. As such, he has broken the golden rule of rules: never believe your own bullshit.

If North Shropshire was the turning point, this interview was the moment when Johnson revealed to the world that there is no way back. His successor needs to be booking the decorators.

Also published on Turbulent Times.






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