The Curtain Fallson the Boris Johnson Show
The former Prime Minister’s appearance before the Privileges Committee exposed – once and for all – the great charade behind his buffoonery, writes Otto English
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As comebacks go, Boris Johnson’s appearance before the Commons’ Privileges Committee was less ‘Elvis Presley, live from Hawaii’ and more ‘washed up soap star doing off-season Panto’.
The buoyant Boris of old was absent. There were no witty one-liners, gags about buses, or the shape of bananas and even his tie, for once, sat firmly un-askewed.
Presiding over affairs, the committee’s chair, veteran Labour MP Harriet Harman, sat stony-faced, decked out in a giant chain necklace which, intentionally or not, gave off strong ‘Jacob Marley’ vibes. For perhaps the first time in his life, Johnson sat before a group of individuals who were singularly impervious to his charm.
There was a brief early break, to allow the former PM to go off to vote against the Windsor Framework, put forward by his successor to remedy the nightmare which his own ‘oven-ready’ deal had unleashed on Northern Ireland; and then the proceedings proper began.
Johnson swore to tell “the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth” on a King James Bible and, over the course of four hours, as he prevaricated, insinuated and claimed ‘hand on heart’ that he had done nothing wrong, it was a wonder frankly that the good book did not go up in flames.
At stake was nothing less than his political future and even that of his Conservative colleagues, who made up the majority of those on the committee.
With his lawyer, Lord Pannick, looking ever more bemused by his side, Johnson trotted out unconvincing excuse after excuse.
Dominic Cummings had “every motive to lie”, the leaving drinks were all above board, Downing Street had been the very model of social distancing, he hadn’t even spotted the famous Union Jack birthday cake – and anyway it had been eaten by someone else. Of course, he was innocent. Blame someone else. How could he not have known his own rules? He had been given the wrong advice.
He managed to stop himself saying ‘look chaps, do you know who I am?’ but clearly he was thinking it. It was like watching an inept contestant on the BBC panel show Would I Lie to You? failing spectacularly to play a convincing round of the game.
We have been here a thousand times before with Johnson. But there was one critical difference. Because, for once, it was clear that even he didn’t believe it. What we were witnessing here was nothing short of the end of the Boris Johnson Show.
Now of course, he still has his defenders. Tame client journalists, fans and lackeys. Jacob Rees-Mogg was among those who attempted to dismiss the proceedings as a ‘kangaroo court’ and Sarah Vine in the Daily Mail immediately trotted out a fantastical piece about how Boris was “as agile as a cat” – but to anyone else watching it was clear that the metaphorical feline was dead.
Whatever alternative truth Johnson and his defenders might wish us to believe, the reality is this. While his wife was dancing about to ABBA, while his staff were carting wine into Number 10 and having piss ups in the garden, while Spads were vomiting down the wall and knocking out karaoke hits, the rest of us were doing the right thing.
We were trying to stop the spread of the Coronavirus, cancelling weddings, funerals and birthday parties and making all sorts of sacrifices while we tried to save each other and the NHS from the excesses of the pandemic.
Finally afforded the job that he had chased his entire life; finally gifted the chance to lead this country through a crisis, just as his great political hero Winston Churchill had done, Boris Johnson failed – spectacularly – to step up to the mark. He blew it and he blew it badly. Just as many of us – particularly in the pages of this newspaper – predicted that he would.
If there is any lesson from this farce it is that good leadership matters and that placing an entitled, incompetent Bullingdon clown on the throne can have disastrous consequences. You know that, I know that, his Westminster colleagues know that and now – it seems – everyone else has finally caught up with it too.