politics

Boris Johnson’s at Peppa Pig World – but it’s Britain that’s being taken for a ride | Marina Hyde


You may have heard the odd lie fall from the lips of Boris Johnson, but few are more solidly outrageous than Monday’s claim that he “loved” Peppa Pig World. Sorry, but no. I refuse to believe any adult human has attended this attraction and not spent a significant time in the queue for Miss Rabbit’s Helicopter Flight Googling “Mirena coil” or “vasectomies near me”. I know Johnson’s desire to bring unspecified numbers of children into the world is thus far irrepressible, but here, surely, is where these urges meet their Waterloo. The entire place reeks so powerfully of the nudge unit that I don’t even believe its genuine purpose is a theme park. It’s just a massive, brightly coloured loss leader for Big Snip.

Anyway, by now you will be well across the prime minister’s speech to the CBI, in which he lost his place for more than 20 agonising seconds. This in itself feels a bit of a warning sign. As a public speaker, Johnson is such a determined recycler of his old stuff that every podium address constitutes little more than another extremely familiar dive into his greatest hits. “Losing his place” in his speech is a bit like Gary Barlow losing his place in Back for Good. Embarrassing in the short term, yes, but probably the reminder you need to book that cognitive function test. In the meantime, perhaps Johnson’s No 10 team would consider putting The Basic Speech on a thumb drive, allowing the prime minister to simply lip-sync and do the arm gestures.

But what of the precious “cut through” – the trendy way of thinking about government that says anything from corruption to ritual sacrifice is fine as long as voters don’t notice it? Well, no one normal has the faintest interest in what happens at the CBI, obviously, but it’s not great when Ant and Dec open Monday night’s I’m a Celeb with a pisstake of the prime minister.

Or as a senior Downing Street source reportedly told the BBC on Monday: “there is a lot of concern inside the building about the PM … It’s just not working. Cabinet needs to wake up and demand serious changes otherwise it’ll keep getting worse. If they don’t insist, he just won’t do anything about it.” Is that … Is that a positive review? Again, doesn’t feel brilliant, particularly when set next to the government winning its social care vote later that evening with a majority of just 26 and multiple pointed abstentions.

As for other crises, it’s strange to think that almost a year ago to the day, Boris Johnson was greeting a report finding that home secretary Priti Patel had bullied staff and broken the ministerial code by ignoring said report, allowing the resignation of his standards adviser and telling his MPs that it was “time to form a square around the prittster”. Can’t help suspecting it will soon be “time to form a concrete overcoat round the prittster”, as Patel’s failure to deal with the government’s small boats issue becomes more and more of a liability for Johnson personally.

It was as recently as August 2020 that the Johnson government was boasting: “At the end of this year we will no longer be bound by the EU’s laws so can negotiate our own returns agreement” for migrants. Like a lot of other things, this seems to have been less of a post-Brexit triumph than billed. As many Tory MPs will attest, the daily arrival of boats across the Channel is by miles the biggest thing they are buttonholed about, with anger at radioactive levels. Widespread failure to understand or care why most migrants reaching Europe tend to be young men is matched by widespread failure to understand or care that the migration crisis is simply going to get more pronounced, with surging numbers fleeing humanitarian crises such as that in Afghanistan merely the prelude to climate displacement. Yet apparently, “get used to it” isn’t the reply that their constituents are looking for.

Alas, even in the short term, the timeline can always get worse. Enter Nigel Farage – or rather, re-enter Farage, given the former Ukip/Brexit party leader has had more farewell tours than Kiss, Barbra Streisand and Cher combined. Nigel last quit politics “for good” in March 2020. He currently has a slot on GB News – the secret-diary version of a Vegas residency – as well as a lucrative side-hustle on Cameo, where he can be easily tricked into recording pro-IRA greetings for cash.

But now, he announces he’s mulling a return to frontline politics – by popular demand, of course. According to Farage, he has been “approached by several high-ranking donors”. Sperm donors or financial donors? He doesn’t say. We’ll go with financial donors for now, with Nigel assuring us they’re asking him “if I am considering getting back into the political arena”, with renewed Tory fears he will once more outflank them on the right.

So with multiple complicated crises developing, and vaccines taskforce heroine Kate Bingham warning that Britain is put at risk by civil service groupthink, it seems fairly wild that the limit of much Tory diagnosis is that “the prime minister desperately needs a big moment where everyone says, ‘boom, he’s back’”.

That is really the absolute last thing the country needs. The entire Johnson premiership has consisted of people veering between suggesting he’s unassailable for 10 years, to suggesting he’s had his worst week ever and is on his uppers. To misquote Gordon Brown, it would be nice to think we could end “boom-he’s-back” and “boom-he’s-bust” politics. I’ve lost count of the number of times we’ve been up and down on this ride, but – given the scale and complexity of the challenges – strongly recommend refusing to queue for it again.





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