One last heave – in all senses of the word – for Boris Johnson, Britain’s worst ex, who tomorrow flops himself out in front of the privileges committee and asks it to consider an auto-satirical question: did the foremost British liar of the age tell a lie? If you want a sense of our self-respect as a nation, an entire parliamentary investigation has spent 10 months gathering evidence on that question, while £220,000 and rising has been spent by the taxpayer on Johnson’s legal defence. It is, let’s face it, a long way to go to reach the conclusion, “Lol of course he told a lie – it’s BORIS JOHNSON?!?!?!?!?”
Strip away the incidental details of this latest adventure in a career of turbo-fibbing and you are faced with a reality as old as bullshit itself. Johnson, who last told the truth during the Reagan administration – and then only accidentally – has somehow got the government to fund state-of-the-art lawyers to prove he wasn’t aware of parties happening in his own house, attended by his own self, against his own rules, and in at least one case against his own laws, having gone on telly every single night to tell people that compliance to the letter of said rules and laws was a matter of life and death. Please bear this in mind if you tune in to his appearance tomorrow afternoon, along with the question: does our country have a path to dignity? Because this ain’t it.
Wednesday’s spectacle in the bollocksseum promises to be yet another poignantly belated cautionary tale. Most sightings of Johnson since he was dragged out of office have served as a sobering reminder that – having been politically roofied by him – this really was the man we let be prime minister for three years. Despite raking in millions in the past few months, Johnson still dresses like he buys his outfits in 10kg sacks printed with the words ASSORTED CLOTHES. Far from being winsome, the famous hair increasingly tends toward the “specialist” end of the unkempt spectrum. As he runs down his sixth decade, Johnson is one pair of Reactolite glasses short of looking like something off the beast wing at HMP Full Sutton. Having submitted his supposedly “explosive” defence dossier yesterday, 48 hours before his scheduled appearance, the ex PM and his team were outraged that it wasn’t rushed immediately into publication by the privileges committee – the sort of affront that gives off huge Norma Desmond energy. Our star has simply failed to grasp that he isn’t in the priority lane any more, and that people will get around to him when they get around to him, and not before.
That hotly defensive defence dossier has now been published, and the overwhelming feeling is … stop whining and wanging on and weaselling out. You were the actual prime minister – man up. Johnson has lied so much and for so long and in such varied arenas that he presumably doesn’t even know he’s doing it any more. In many ways, the true disappointment is that his lawyer, David Pannick, has not advised him to go with a plea of diminished responsibility. Admittedly, Johnson’s delusions are shared, albeit by fewer and fewer people. There remains a rump Westminster fandom that still believes there’s a superior version of his prime ministership back there, if only the suits would release it – a sort of Snyder cut of governing. There isn’t. We all lived through the reality. Though significantly dwindled in number, these fans are no less toxic than they were. You might have noted one of them pre-emptively referring to Wednesday’s hearing as an “organised lynching” – a way of putting it that suggests we can look forward to Nadine Dorries storming the committee room while singing Strange Fruit.
Naturally, anyone can see why Johnson’s sense that his political career is not yet over remains so incredibly powerful – it is, quite simply, the only thing in which he has ever truly believed. You know this hearing really matters to him because he isn’t even on holiday for it. Do recall that last October’s fall of Liz Truss was the only time in his entire political career that Johnson returned home from holiday for a crisis – and how telling that it was a crisis in someone else’s leadership, and consequently an opportunity for him. As London mayor, he carried on with his American road trip while his city rioted. As prime minister, he skipped multiple Cobra meetings at the start of Covid to focus on his Shakespeare book/divorce/lack of focus. Later, he couldn’t be arsed returning from some Scottish yurt-based break to deal with the exams crisis. So tomorrow’s date-with-destiny exposes the tragically serious reality that the clown act seeks to keep hidden – he is still in pursuit of the only job in which he has ever made sense to himself. And yet, this pursuit feels decidedly doomed these days, vibes-wise. Whereas last October a comeback seemed at least a possibility (however lunatic), Johnson now feels inescapably yesterday’s man. You can’t quite put your finger on exactly why, but the air has gone out of it all. Of course, he’ll have his closeup tomorrow, and his memoirs will give him a few more when they’re published. But the phrase that was always used to give him licence – “that’s just Boris” – now sounds bored and dismissive. Oh, that’s just Boris. That’s just Boris, just another clapped-out warlord living in Knightsbridge, trying to make his father a consul or give a horse a peerage or something. You know what he’s like – and the caravan has moved on.