Boris Johnson will get away with it. And the media’s goldfish memory will help him.
One day, not too long from now, Johnson will get to pretend to be the wise elder.
|Mic Wright||Jan 28||3|
It’s 2040 and while a united Ireland thrives, the disunited kingdom across the Irish sea has split into separate states that fight like ferrets in a sack. In The Daily Telegraph — now little more than a pamphlet containing Allison Pearson’s lists of conspiracy theories, recipes for ‘British treats’, and letters from people still writing about why “remoaners” are to blame for the whole thing — Sir Boris Johnson pens his latest column explaining what the Prime Minister of England should do next.
What’s left of the BBC then invites Sir Boris onto the Today programme, now presented by a former TikTok star whose political lipsyncs were once definitely going to bring down the government, to explain how he would have fixed things. No one mentions the people who died during the Johnson premiership, the endemic corruption, or that his attempts to “defend the union” led the UK to finally collapse like a clown car.
There’s a special kind of liberal delusion that believes politicians who do bad things will be inevitably punished for them. It exists in the tediously repeated phrase, “All political careers end in failure,” which should more accurately be rendered as “Many political careers end in huge contracts from companies that you were suspiciously helpful to while in power.”
The punishment delusion is combined with a contradictory willingness to accept that we should “move on” from disasters, that politicians were “trying their best” and a limited capacity for anger which allows yesterday’s monsters to become today’s much-valued elder statespeople.
At the inauguration of Joe Biden as geriatric god-king of the United States, his living predecessors were all in attendance with the exception of the petulant President Trump and President Carter who, at 96, is a little older to be hanging out on a freezing podium (not even Bernie Sanders’ mittens would provide the necessary protection). Among them was George W. Bush, a man whose period in office was marked by the use of torture, the prosecution of illegal wars, erosion of democratic norms in the US, and corruption on an industrially brazen level. The TV commentators were delighted to see him.
That’s because George W. Bush is now, in the liberal imagination, a cuddly Texan guy with the funny voice, a nostalgic throwback to the 2000s. Remember those days? Trucker hats, Justin Timberlake, frosted lipgloss, detention without trial, waterboarding, the Patriot Act, Dick Cheney accidentally shooting a guy… Bush is treated as a wise old owl with a sideline in painting now, pictured being pally with the Obamas as if he’s the kooky neighbour in a sitcom about their wholesome family antics.
Tony Blair, the Laurel to Bush’s Hardy, has been similarly recast by a British media that is forever ready to plonk him in front of a microphone to make one of his depressingly common “rare interventions in UK politics”.
The conclusions of the Chilcot Inquiry might as well have been printed in Cuneiform script for all they are remembered. Chilcot concluded that Blair committed the UK to the invasion of Iraq “before all peaceful options had been exhausted”, that “military action at that time was not a last resort,” and that decisions were taken on the basis of completely flawed ‘intelligence’ reports. That dossier was sexed up more than a Nigella recipe.
And yet, it feels as though scarcely a day goes by without Blair or Alastair Campbell — now reborn as a mental health campaigner, with his daughter on course for her own slice of fame — on the Today programme, BBC Breakfast, or Good Morning Britain tossing down tablets of wisdom from Mount Hindsight.
It will be no different with Boris Johnson. He is a creature of the media. He will return to a six-figure contract for writing a column once a week. He will make mountains of cash giving jocular speeches, never mentioning all those who died on his watch during the pandemic and whatever other disasters he dithers and delays over before he finally slinks out of Number 10. He will be invited on talk shows to be ‘charming’ and after a few years have passed by he’ll be back on the news shows consulted as if he were a badly bewigged wise-man.
Of course, there will be an inquiry into the UK government’s handling of the pandemic. Some civil servants you’ve never heard of and will never hear of again will be blamed for most of the failings. The Prime Minister will mutter another one of his heavy-headed apologies and the newspapers, as they did yesterday, will spin his sorrow like lying lions assuring the rest of the animals that the crocodile’s weeping is extremely sincere.
Already the establishment’s antibody response is in full effect, preventing any hope of accountability occurring. On 5Live yesterday, Your Call, the morning phone-in segment, focused not on the government’s failings but what you and I — the public — had done wrong. The newspaper comment sections and letter pages are filled with carefully curated discussions of where we went wrong, a framing that obscures the truth — our callous, corrupt and incompetent government carries the blame for the horrific death toll. But the excuses are being made and the fix is in even before the crisis is over.
David Aaronovitch tweeted yesterday that he had “resolved not to fall into the trap of blaming the government for everything that has gone wrong” as if that was somehow a surprise. He’s the same man who wrote, in 2003, after beating the drum for the Iraq War with the rigorous enthusiasm of a five-year-old with a wooden spoon and a saucepan, “If [weapons of mass destruction are not] eventually found then I – as a supporter of the war – will never believe another thing that I am told by our government." He continues to believe things he is told by the government, every week, for money, in The Times.
If the good die young then the bad often die old, rich, and unrepentant. Tom Lehrer said, “Political satire became obsolete when Henry Kissinger was awarded the Nobel peace prize." Since then satire has been subject to so many acts of necrophiliac interference that even its corpse is unrecognisable; when Boris Johnson enjoys his post-prime-ministerial ‘reassessment’ and renaissance, satire will finally crumble to dust.