The lord chancellor and park yobs agree: it’s all about how many mates you’ve got | Marina Hyde

On Monday, the prime minister could be found gibbering at the camera on a factory visit, wearing not just a hard hat and a hi-vis jacket but also a white lab coat. Finally, he possesses all three Infinity Garments. I’m sure he’ll wield his power responsibly.

In fact, Johnson attempted to claim credit for removing Matt Hancock from his position as health secretary when news of his affair broke. “That’s right,” said the prime minister, “and that’s why when I saw the story on Friday we had a new secretary of state for health in on Saturday.” I mean … at least when Trump did this sort of thing he wasn’t dressed as three kids’ TV characters at once. What actually happened, you’ll recall, is that Johnson didn’t sack Hancock, and his official spokesman repeated a single line multiple times: that the prime minister had accepted Hancock’s apology, and considered the matter closed.

Yet last Friday is now a movie that upset even Johnson’s fandom, and therefore needs to be retconned by Monday, like it’s The Last Jedi or something. Ideally, screaming fanboys will soon be arguing over which version of Hancock’s departure from government is actually canon. Is it the one we all saw with our own eyes on Friday, where the prime minister was too wet and personally compromised to do the obviously right thing and sack Hancock? Or is it the one the prime minister retrospectively reframed on Monday, where he kind of sort of did sack him?

The problem with what we might call The Rise of Shitetalker is that these untruths are moving too quickly even for Johnson’s most agile ministers. On Monday, Michael Gove explained to reporters that Johnson had done the right thing by not sacking Hancock, sadly unaware that the official implication was now that Johnson had sacked him. Honestly Michael: get your head in the game. What’s the matter with you?

Perhaps the answer to that question lies concealed somewhere in his wife’s most eye-catching column for the Mail on Sunday, in which Sarah Vine explained how, apart from David Cameron, literally every politician she’d ever known treated their wife and family like shit (I paraphrase – but only like the prime minister does, so it’s fine). This, we learned, was not a prudent way at all to treat one’s wife. “The problem with the wife who has known you since way before you were king of the world is that she sees through your facade,” remarked Sarah mildly. “She knows your fears and your insecurities. She knows that, deep down inside, you are not the Master of the Universe you purport to be. And some people don’t like to be reminded of that.”

Well, now. I can’t help feeling that if we keep hacking away at this thorny thicket of prose, we might eventually come upon a sleeping princess of meaning encased therein. Either that, or Sarah will drop a fully formed visual album on Tidal one of these nights.

In a crowded field, though, easily the grossest defence of Johnson came from justice secretary Robert Buckland, who kicked off this week in politics by explaining to the Today programme that Johnson’s popularity should be the only arbiter of morality. “The public are not interested in this issue because it has no bearing on the public interests,” claimed the actual lord chancellor. “It’s what’s going on out there that matters, and that’s why the prime minister has his finger on the pulse of the nation … the truth is, a lot of people just don’t like the PM and they can’t get over the fact he’s popular in the country.”

So we move on – they always want you to just move on – to the video of drunk idiots harassing Chris Whitty in a London park. This is a very depressing piece of footage. Of course, there have always been idiots. But there is something rather Johnson-era about this sort of clip, where a yobbish disdain for boundaries feels increasingly part of daily life. Written on the laughing, leering faces of Whitty’s tormentors is a set of assumptions: that it doesn’t matter how many passing members of the public can see their behaviour and clock it for what it is, that their behaviour doesn’t actually matter, that it’s all a laugh, and that being popular online is miles more important than being decent.

I think we can be fairly confident these two weren’t listening to Radio 4 at 8.10 that morning – but if they had been, they’d have heard the justice secretary imply pretty much the same thing. Funny that government ministers are now calling for them to be brought to justice. After all, we got a glimpse of the lord chancellor’s apparent worldview on Monday morning. Are these guys popular? Do they have a load of mates? Then stop banging on about it – they haven’t done anything wrong.


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