I can’t quite decide if this reboot of ‘Yes, Prime Minister’ is funnier than the original or if I’m laughing in all the wrong places, what with it having adopted the pseudo-documentary style of ‘The Thick of It’, a tactic which can throw the viewer. This week’s was a classic episode, however; in case you missed it, that rather implausible comic character called Boris had a blazing row with his girlfriend – though unbeknownst to him it was being recorded by a Remainer neighbour, who then flogged it to the Guardian! All kinds of hilarity ensued, with Boris, under pressure from his weedy workplace colleague Jeremy (the) Cunt, refusing to answer questions on the matter via the rib-tickling route of talking over whoever asked the question. Well worth a watch if you can locate it on the iPlayer.
I would say ‘but seriously’ if that didn’t seem out of kilter with the comedy narrative – but seriously, this would be a highly entertaining shit-show if there wasn’t so much at stake. With Michael Gove suspiciously edged out of the race, the sole obstacle between Boris Johnson and No.10 would appear to be Boris Johnson – and whilst Boris’s team are doing their best to present him as a responsible politician with a vision as they prepare for his coronation, there’s only so much they can control once the man himself is under the spotlight they’ve tried to keep him out of. At the same time, there are some unsurprisingly dirty tricks at play on both sides right now; the tactical voting that eliminated the man who destroyed Boris’s bid three years ago belatedly brought a touch of Westminster Dark Arts to proceedings.
Smarmy little troll he may well be, but Gove was the one contender who could have really gone for the jugular – and Boris’s team knew it. However, the convenient timing of last weekend’s developments has shown the Hunt camp is taking a sneakier approach. Knowing all-too well that Bo-Jo’s chaotic private life is as prone to gaffes as his public life, his enemies have probably been on stand-by ever since the race gathered pace, anticipating an incident that can then be weaponised as further evidence of Boris’s unsuitability for high office. They didn’t have long to wait. They received it thanks to the unique Neighbourhood Watch scheme in operation on Carrie Symonds’ street; and the added bonus of a ‘domestic abuse’ angle also gave the green light to opportunistic Opposition gobshites like Jess Phillips to accelerate the anti-Boris campaign.
However, simplifying the contest to a one-sided battle between the school swot and the school bully tends to obscure the ammunition that could be used by the favourite against the outsider. As a relatively loyal member of Mrs May’s far-from devoted Cabinet, Jeremy Hunt offers a similar ‘safe pair of hands’ option that the outgoing PM presented in 2016. But it says a lot about where we are now that Hunt’s shameful role in News Corporation’s attempted takeover of BSkyB back in 2011 – not to mention his far-from illustrious record as Health Secretary – has been barely mentioned by his opponent’s team, so confident of success that they haven’t even thought it necessary to hurl a few stones from their glass house. The irony is that Hunt has more than enough skeletons in his closet to keep them busy, and they may have to resort to them if the headlines continue to bring Boris’s numerous failings into focus.
Tony Benn’s wife Caroline once said that Prime Ministers generally fall into one of three categories: Pedestrians, Fixers or Madmen. What we know of both the former Foreign Secretary and the incumbent one suggests neither fits the middle description, so the choice would appear to be Pedestrian or Madman. A strong Opposition would have rendered the Tories’ squabbles irrelevant, mind; they’d be so far behind in the polls that a successful vote of no confidence in a no-deal Brexit Boris would trigger a General Election and throw the party out of office – giving Boris the shortest premiership in history, breaking the unenviable 119 days of George Canning in 1827 (though the duelling PM did have the excuse of his tenure being curtailed by death). But, of course, this isn’t a Labour Party led by Harold Wilson that can boast heavyweights of the calibre of Jenkins, Callaghan, Castle, Crosland, Healey, Benn and Foot; it’s Jezza’s frontbench of Watson, Starmer, Abbott and Thornberry. This is the team the Tories are so terrified of that they will back Boris at all costs. This is what it has come to.
Under normal circumstances, Bo-Jo presents any opponent with such an embarrassment of riches to use against him that the mere thought of him running for PM would be a non-starter from the off; under normal circumstances, he would never have got this far. But these are not normal circumstances. Lest we forget, three years ago a majority of the electorate voted to leave the EU; three years later, we still haven’t left. The ramifications of Brexit have now claimed two Prime Ministers and judging by Boris’s performance on the hustings, a third scalp is on the cards. After one disastrous dullard, the Conservative fear of a Corbyn Government will most likely avoid another and instead opt for a rogue – even if there’s more to it than a straightforward scrap with Mr Nice Guy on one side and Mr ‘I wouldn’t trust him with my wallet or my wife’ on the other.
Then again, it’s not as if we haven’t had rogues at No.10 before; the gallery of past Prime Ministers lining the wall beside the Downing Street staircase contains its fair share of reprobates even Boris Johnson would struggle to compete with. The Duke of Grafton (PM 1768-70) paraded his courtesan mistress around society whilst his wife the Duchess had a baby with her paramour; Lord Melbourne (PM 1834-41) had been married to Byron’s insane lover Lady Caroline Lamb and had himself been blackmailed in a sex scandal; and Lord Palmerston (PM 1855-65) was known to have fathered his own ‘love children’ as well as being cited in divorce proceedings. So, it’s fair to say we have been here before. But, certainly in the case of Palmerston, there was substantial substance beneath the superficial surface; can that honestly be said of a self-serving, ideological vacuum like Boris, whose track record in office is laughable?
By disregarding its traditional support systems and courting the favour of minority metropolitan causes, the political class on both sides has created the monster that is Boris, just as American Democrats created Trump. Whether Tories abandoning the small-c conservative shires or Labour doing likewise with the deindustrialised working-classes, this abandonment has had its ultimate expression in Brexit; the fact that, three bloody years on, we still haven’t moved proves the political class has learnt nothing. The impasse that is entirely of the political class’s making has given the kiss of life to Nigel Farage and is poised to make Boris f***ing Johnson Prime Minister. You reap what you sow, Westminster. It’s just a shame the rest of us will again have to pay for your wretched incompetence.
© The Editor