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Politics: an ugly man

I’ve never liked Johnson and, as the years have passed, I’ve come to loathe him with a passion. I can’t stand watching him on video and it is as much as I can do to look at still pictures of him. Thus, I am the very last person to offer a clinical or dispassionate view of the man.

However, in terms of generalities, I think it’s fair to say that, as people get older, more and more of their character shines through. It’s almost as if temperament moulds the body (and especially the face), reflecting the inner person. As a result, really kind and considerate people tend to look nice.

From that, one might not be out of order in commenting on the prime minister’s physical appearance and how it has developed. In his earlier days, as a carefree journalist, some might have been taken by his ‘boyish charm’ and his jocular irreverence, and found it quite attractive.

But what is quite remarkable about Johnson as he currently presents himself is how ugly he has become (pictured). He really has a quite unpleasant look to him – presenting a thuggish, ill-tempered demeanour. The inner man is showing through.

It is axiomatic, however, that we should not judge by appearances (although we often do), but in the case of Johnson, we don’t have to. His behaviour and his speech is as every bit as ugly as he looks.

One might get that impression from reading John Crace in the Guardian, who seems to have as much love for the man as I do – i.e., none at all. This certainly shines through in his latest column, covering yesterday’s PMQs, where one might also detect a certain amount of partisanship.

The interesting thing, though, is that you don’t have to go to the likes of Crace for an opinion of the man. One can go direct to Hansard, for a record of yesterday’s exchange between Johnson and Starmer, and see how the sheer nastiness shines through, without needing any sort of filter.

Crace puts it quite well though. “You can sense the growing disbelief and anger”, he writes…

The thing is that you don’t have to take the word of the obviously partisan Mr Crace. Even in Johnson’s fan club journal, the Daily Telegraph, we see parliamentary sketchwriter Michael Deacon having a pop.

He writes under the headline: The Opposition’s job is to question and criticise. Has Boris Johnson forgotten?”, with the sub-heading reading: “At PMQs, the Prime Minister seemed increasingly affronted by Sir Keir Starmer’s habit of asking him difficult questions”.

Deacon tells us that, when Starmer asked six questions about the government’s handling of the pandemic, the prime minister seemed to grow more and more put out by the minute:

This, one might suggest, is the Tory sense of entitlement showing through, the arrogance that seems to afflict most senior Tory politicians – and a lot of others besides. But Johnson seems to have refined it and brought it to a new level, reacting to even the most anodyne questions as if they were mortal insults.

Crace, though, puts it better. Not for the first time, he observes: “Boris isn’t as bright as he has come to believe he is. In fact, he’s quite dim”. With a weak leader of the opposition, as we had with Corbyn, this wasn’t so obvious, but with an even halfway competent interrogator, Johnson falls apart.

During their first few outings, Crace writes, “much was made of how Boris crumbled in the face of the Labour leader’s forensic questioning”. But now, he says, it’s clear Johnson can’t cope with any kind of questioning at all. Because even when Starmer isn’t at his absolute sharpest, Boris begins to fall apart. It’s as if he knows he’s up against a man of greater intellect and morality and his only defence is to lash out.

In the process, Crace suggests that “Boris has become his own worst enemy”, but there’s so much competition for that post that I couldn’t be sure. One is reminded of a tale about two Labour politicians, Ernest Bevin and Herbert Morrison, where it is said that someone once remarked of Morrison that he was his own worst enemy. Bevin immediately butted in to say “Not while I’m alive, he ain’t”.

Line up Johnson’s enemies and you’ll have a bigger queue than they had in the zombie parliament for the recent vote. It’s a competition no-one can possibly win.

But all we have left is a “charmer turned charmless”, “Mr Happy turned Mr Angry” – an ugly man who is not up to the job, was never up to the job and should never, ever, have become prime minister. The truth is, says Crace, “Boris is a beaten man even before he stands up to speak at the dispatch box. He knows that. Keir knows that. Worst of all, the country knows that”.

That makes Johnson’s unpleasantness “just empty, white noise” – a distraction from his own limitations. And that is not good at a time of national crisis, when you need someone who knows what he’s doing at the helm, and is on top of his game. Even at his best, though, Johnson is not good enough.

There was a time, of course, when he got away with it. He did, after all, win the election with a stonking majority of 80 seats. But that was against Corbyn. It’s not going to happen again, not with Starmer, and not with Johnson’s lamentable performance on the Covid-19 epidemic – and it’s a long way from being over.

One senses though, weary resignation and, in the print media, boredom: today, the national newspapers, almost without exception, major on the Madeleine McCann story. Johnson has lost the capability to dominate the headlines, and his bluster is no longer entertaining.

This, though, is just the start. Johnson’s own MPs are beginning to lose faith, and for the first time in many moons, we’re seeing reports of rebellions, as yet another policy unravels.

Starmer himself is picking up the mood, observing that, in this week, of all weeks, where public trust and confidence in the government needed to be at its highest, the director of the Reuters Institute, which commissioned a YouGov poll this weekend, said, “I have never in 10 years of research in this area seen a drop in trust like what we have seen for the UK government”.

When he asked, “How worried is the prime minister about this loss of trust?”, he didn’t need an answer. It showed on Johnson’s face. The ugly man who has only one direction to go. The liar, the blusterer and the braggart has run his course, even if we are still lumbered with him.

Typically, Johnson really did not “see the purpose of his endless attacks on public trust and confidence”. What he doesn’t realise is that more and more people don’t see the purpose of Johnson.

Also published on Turbulent Times.


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