I fear his evisceration of Johnson won’t matter. Men like him thrive because they know that hardly anyone cares about the detail enough to go to the Treasury select committee website and watch its members expose him.
Johnson understands that in the 21st century a pat joke and a cheap stunt can take you a long way, maybe all the way to Downing Street. Lies take time to unpick, and by the time your accusers have finished unpicking them, the bored audience has clicked on to another screen.Nick Cohen writes in tomorrow's Observer about Boris Johnson's encounter with Andrew Tyrie, but he could just as well be writing about Matthew Parris's slaying of him in The Times this morning.
The whole thing is lodged behind The Times paywall (you may find samizdat copies on Twitter), but a Guardian article has some of the more damaging charges:
“Incompetence is not funny. Policy vacuum is not funny. A careless disregard for the truth is not funny. Advising old mates planning to beat someone up is not funny. Abortions and gagging orders are not funny. Creeping ambition in a jester’s cap is not funny. Vacuity posing as merriment, cynicism posing as savviness, a wink and a smile covering for betrayal … these things are not funny.”And:
“But there’s a pattern to Boris’s life, and it isn’t the lust for office, or for applause, or for susceptible women, that mark out this pattern in red warning ink. It’s the casual dishonesty, the cruelty, the betrayal; and, beneath the betrayal, the emptiness of real ambition: the ambition to do anything useful with office once it is attained.”I sense Matthew Parris felt it was his duty to write like that in an attempt to save the Conservative Party from Boris Johnson.
Is he already too late? Nick Cohen thinks so.
Cohen's analysis reminds me of an article by the novelist Jonathan Coe in the London Review of Books.
He is critical of the ubiquity of satire in modern Britain and suggests that Boris Johnson has seen where this has taken us:
Boris Johnson ... has nothing to fear from public laughter at all. These days, every politician is a laughing-stock, and the laughter which occasionally used to illuminate the dark corners of the political world with dazzling, unexpected shafts of hilarity has become an unthinking reflex on our part, a tired Pavlovian reaction to situations that are too difficult or too depressing to think about clearly.
Johnson seems to know this: he seems to know that the laughter that surrounds him is a substitute for thought rather than its conduit, and that puts him at a wonderful advantage. If we are chuckling at him, we are not likely to be thinking too hard about his doggedly neoliberal and pro-City agenda, let alone doing anything to counter it.Maybe it is not too late. I sense that his leadership of the Leave campaign is exposing Johnson to proper scrutiny for the first time and that he is not enjoying the experience.
If we stop laughing at him and treat him like any other politician, we may yet be spared having Johnson and his shabby act as our prime minister.