The Daily Telegraph
Boris’s haters have destroyed British politics
In the most shameless way, they sought to demolish his character for narrow political ends
Itook a holiday last week and swore off politics, so imagine my annoyance when I was surfing the television for a Columbo and caught 30 seconds of Boris Johnson taking part in a police raid. I’m done with him. He was grinning from ear to ear, looking less like the Prime Minister, more like a schoolboy who Jim had fixed it to spend the day with the Flying Squad. Later, if he was good, he could sit up front in the panda car and put on the siren.
An odd man; funny, intelligent, but constantly cocked-up and couldn’t say sorry without making you think he’s got even more to hide. Yet I’ll regret his sacking on a couple of counts.
One: it’s a victory for the worst people, the elite Remainers who thought Brexit was so self-evidently stupid no one would vote for it. When over half of us did, the only explanation they could comprehend was that the voters had been fooled by a master manipulator. “Boris stole our country from us!” they wailed, all while he set about building the Britain they have always wanted. High-tax, low-carbon, gender-neutral, uncontrolled borders. The war against Boris flattered the Left’s belief that it is an anti-fascist underdog – papering over the fact that after 12 years of Tory government, the woke still run almost everything.
But what I truly resent is the tawdriness of Boris’s fall. It leaves you wondering if it’s possible for anyone to lead in an era of such profound silliness.
Have you heard saying: “No man is a hero to his valet”? The philosopher Hegel made the point that this is not because the man isn’t a hero, but because the valet is a valet: if you see a great person entirely from the perspective of his alcohol intake or his dirty socks, you won’t appreciate what makes him great in spite of that stuff. The problem, argued Hegel, is that since the 19th century, with the rise of biography and the beginnings of psychoanalysis, we have all become valets, seeing public figures not in terms of what they believe or do, but what they’re like behind closed doors.
It’s an egalitarian impulse. It means no statesman is better than the rest of us; indeed the very fact that I don’t want to conquer Asia or have hundreds of concubines might make me superior to Genghis Khan. But historical figures stand out, argued Hegel, when they are willing to trample on consensus, and a society governed strictly by bourgeois morality, policed by Commons committees and Twitter, cannot foster greatness. I’m not Hegelian; I cherish Christian ethics and wish our leaders would, too. But the crusade against Boris might in the long-run prove pyrrhic. His enemies have established that it’s acceptable to deconstruct and destroy a man’s reputation in order to win – a precedent that could in the future be applied to Labour – and in this hideous context who in their right mind would enter politics? Only a sociopath with no sense of shame. Or, worse, a puritan with no sense of fun.
Politicians will only put up more walls. Boris was always reluctant to give himself away. He denied access to his family (rightly) and had so little to say about his private life that when asked what he does in his spare time, ridiculously replied that he turns wine crates into model buses.
Never has a PM been so instantly recognisable and yet, after all these years, so little known – but for a cartoon myth that suited him and his critics.
The idea that Britain has been governed for three years by a lazy clown flatters the conceit that Brexit was inherently foolish, while also deflecting from the reality that the many disappointments of Brexit are due to decisions taken by the Tories that were serious and flawed. The same goes for lockdown. We have talked ad infinitum about Boris breaking the rules; we have yet to ask if the rules themselves were correct. Obsession about one man’s sins thus allows the wider moral consensus to go unexamined.
My holiday was a curate’s egg. I
left it until the last minute to book anything; by the time I sat down to try, the prices were jacked up and it was 400 quid even to fly to Belfast.
So I drove off and stayed at a spa hotel in east Kent. My horizons are narrowing with age. Not only did I not leave the country, I did not make it out of the county.
It was fine: nice walks, good food. The other guests were interesting. On the second night, around 11pm, my neighbours had a domestic – and I think she might have stabbed him. He banged on the door and said, “Let me in Ange, I’m bleeding quite badly.”
“Go away!” Ange shouted back. Being English, I respected their privacy and turned up the TV. From what I heard later, they made up without any help from me.
Missing the dog, I returned home early and asked the sitter if I could have him back. Thus reunited, we caught up with world events, including the premier of Laura Kuenssberg’s chat show, which was improved enormously by the booking of Joe Lycett, a comedian clever enough to qualify to be on a news panel but also to recognise how silly it is to put a comedian on a news panel. He sent the whole thing up.
Asked earnestly what he thought of an interview with Rishi Sunak, he replied: “Well, he’s not going to be prime minister so you may as well have interviewed Peter Andre.”
Cruel but true? Stay tuned! Today, we shall find out.