So, in the least surprising plot twist since Sleeping Beauty said “I’m just going for a lie down”, it turns out that Boris Johnson is a liar. (And before anyone writes in, I don’t think we need to wait for a report by Sue Gray, Sue Ellen, Sue Barker, Runaround Sue, A Boy Named Sue or anyone else to tell us that, do we?)
I mean, who could possibly have seen this coming? Apart from literally everyone – including, if they’re honest, most of the people who voted for him.
It’s at this point that those of us who’ve spent years pointing out Johnson’s chronic unfitness for public office – because he’s twice before been sacked for lying, because he conspired to have a journalist violently beaten up, because his entire Brexit ‘strategy’ was built on a tottering pile of untruths, and so on – should be practising our smuggest, most triumphant “I told you so” faces. Except, of course, that we have to live in the mess he’s created, just like everyone else.
In fact, if I’ve learned anything in recent years, it’s that being constantly proved right about everything is absolutely no comfort at all. (And, just to be clear, I’m talking about the big political choices of the day here: on a domestic level, as my wife will attest, I’m rarely proved right about anything.)
What’s particularly depressing, for me, is this apparently constant urge – by politicians and large swathes of voters, egged on by the right-wing press and their bloviating columnists – to test every single lunatic theory to destruction:
“Climate change is an existential threat to the planet and our way of life,” said the scientists. “Well, let’s just wait and see, shall we?” said the policy makers and the newspaper barons. “It might not be as bad everyone sa…. Oh.”
“Brexit will make us all poorer,” warned the economists. “Project Fear!” cried the nationalist tub-thumpers. “There won’t really be higher prices and a chronic shortage of workers and miles of queuing lorries and… Oh.”
“Donald Trump is insane, and potentially an actual fascist,” warned… well, pretty much everyone. “Oh, I’m sure he won’t be that bad,” shrugged 63 million voters, riled up by the grievance politics of Fox News and their ilk. “Let’s at least give him a chance to…. Oh.”
“Boris Johnson is a notorious charlatan who…”
Well, you get the idea.
Honestly, think of the time and energy we might have saved – and the world we might have got on with building – if we hadn’t insisted on reaching all these blindingly obvious conclusions in the hardest, most painful, most damaging way possible.
And the worst thing is, while the public usually end up feeling buyers’ remorse (or not, in the case of Trump’s increasingly unhinged base), the shameless grifters who encouraged them – the advocates of chaos, the reckless lords of misrule: they never seem to learn a thing. They never look back at the trail of destruction behind them with so much as an inch of humility. If I’d made as many calls that history has subsequently proved wrong as, say, Nigel Farage, Toby Young, Laurence Fox and Allison Pearson, I’d maybe consider just shutting up and keeping my head down for a bit. But no, now here they are being noisily wrong all over again in the coronavirus culture wars.
And for those of us who history has placed on the right side of these arguments – what do we have to show for it? Nada, that’s what.
As a result, I find myself caught in a near-constant state that’s somewhere between smugness and depression. Let’s call it smugpression. I’m smugpressed about the state of the world. And I suspect you are too.
Sometimes it’s difficult to know whether to laugh or cry at the latest Whitehall farce that’s engulfing the country. One day we’re told Boris Johnson was “ambushed by a cake” – an actual sentence that was actually said by an actual MP – the next we’re told there was no cake. Forget Schrödinger’s cat, meet Schrödinger’s Colin the Caterpillar. Did Carrie Antoinette let them eat cake in the Cabinet Room or not? Maybe Sue Gray is interviewing Colin as we speak.
Anyway, it’s all really quite funny. Except, of course, it’s not, actually. Not if you weren’t able to spend time with a dying parent, or hug your loved ones at a funeral.
And it’s hardly as if this whole scandal is an isolated incident. Rather, it’s yet another chapter in the endless Tory psychodrama that has dominated – and diminished – British public life over recent years. Forget making Britain great again – who’s up for making Britain boring again?
Extracted from a column published in the Cambridge Independent, February 2, 2022