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Along for the ride at Boris Johnson Land


Mercifully my own children were too old for Peppa Pig World by the time it opened some 10 years ago, but I have had my share of being dragged around other theme parks in either driving rain or sweltering heat. So I found myself in a rare moment of sympathy for the prime minister when he messed up his Monday-morning speech on November 22, the day after his weekend was interrupted with a visit to the aforementioned toddler park.

I do not wish to disparage Peppa Pig World, not least because I have not been there, but it is not hard to imagine that, left to his own devices, the PM might have found other ways to spend a weekend. It is not that Boris Johnson lacks a sense of fun or a taste for theme parks. He has spent many happy hours wandering through Zac Goldsmith’s Expensive Foreign Mansion World and Mystery Donor’s Luxury Mustique Villa-land. Yet neither of these can capture the full British-theme-park-in-winter experience.

Our own day trips were more often to Legoland or Chessington World of Adventures, where we would stand in lengthy queues and eat terrible food. And these were the good ones. Don’t get me started on Gulliver’s World or The Milky Way in Devon.

The first visit to Legoland was reasonably good. The sun was shining; the spawn were terribly excited. With each subsequent tramp around the park, however, the joy eroded just a tad more. The only pleasure to be had in places like this is seeing the excitement on the spawn’s faces as they shake hands with Peppa Pig or secure top toys at the gift store. And even this can dissipate surprisingly rapidly in the face of an overenthusiastic spouse encouraging the little ones to make you take them round again. The only thing worse than a damp theme park in winter is a partner cajoling you to get into the spirit of this outing. 

So, as I watched the PM’s bizarre catastrophe of a speech to the CBI the following morning, for once I felt only kinship for a man trapped on the trail of human misery that is a British amusement park.

I have to say that if I had spent my Sunday off shuffling between Grandpa Pig’s Little Train and Mr Potato’s Playground, I too might have loused up a speech to the nation’s primary business organisation. Johnson made a fist of pretending to have enjoyed it but the subtext was clear: I’m supposed to be the bloody prime minister, but I spent the day on Grampy Rabbit’s Sailing Club. And if I had to suffer, you can too. For his speech was nothing more than the mutterings of a 57-year-old man who has spent an hour too many waiting for his turn on Peppa’s balloon adventure and was damned if he was going to spend the rest of his day practising his speech for a bunch of CBI members.

Presumably, the Johnsons at least had access to the Premier Pig Pass allowing them to jump whatever queues there were on a cold Sunday in November. As a result we got to see a woolly hatted Johnson sitting on some cartoon train that presumably represents the latest plans for the Transpennine upgrade. Witnesses also recounted his disappointment when the Peppa cars failed to respond with a satisfying level of torque when he floored the pedal.

At one point in his bizarre speech, Johnson reflected on how no Whitehall civil servant would ever dream of creating Peppa Pig. This seems a curious observation, though undoubtedly true, because, well, why exactly would we want civil servants dreaming up plans for a cartoon pig? Furthermore, there is no obvious political scenario in which an official rushes in to a much-harassed secretary of state with the immortal words: “I’ve got it sir, Twirlywoos Town”.

Even so, his line got me thinking that perhaps we need more of this kind of outside-the-box thinking. The time has come for Boris Johnson Land. The more cruel among you will doubtless offer up politically pointed rides such as Boris’s Brexit Jaunt (temporarily closed due to lack of staff), Half-finished HS2 or Owen Paterson’s Absolutely No-Sleaze Ride. 

But I like to think of this as a happy place, a wildly optimistic land where people can come and imagine a nation full of delights. Wander across the bridge from Scotland to Northern Ireland. Hop on to the new Royal Yacht cruise or visit William Shakespeare Land, where anyone can come and help the prime minister finish his long-overdue biography of the bard. Amble through the magically funded Downing Street refurbishment. Catch an upgraded northern train sometime after 2040 or enjoy a nutritious meal at a freeport.

Johnson joked that, in Peppa Pig World, everything works. Streets are safe, schools are good, healthcare excellent, there are novel forms of transport and, presumably, the speeches all come with numbered pages. I’m not sure Peppa Pig would say the same about Boris Johnson Land if she were invited to give next year’s CBI speech. But then his amusement park is still something of a work in progress.

Follow Robert on Twitter @robertshrimsley and email him at robert.shrimsley@ft.com

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