'I heart/hate Boris': Allison Pearson is a study in deranged political fandom
The latest episode from a woman who's never knowingly hinged.
In April 2020, Allison Pearson rewrote the eucharist with Boris Johnson in place of Jesus Christ. The Prime Minister was hospitalised with Covid and Pearson howled in a column headlined We need you, Boris – your health is the health of the nation:
How is Boris? For millions of people, that was our first thought upon waking yesterday. And our last thought before we fell asleep the night before. The prospect of losing our Prime Minister was profoundly shocking. “He won’t die, will he?” a friend texted at 11.18pm. “My heart will break.”
It’s rare for a politician to inspire such emotion, but Boris is loved – really loved – in a way that the metropolitan media class has never begun to understand. Hearing reporters and doctors on TV talking about the PM’s admission to the ICU at St Thomas’s Hospital, discussing the likely effect on his lungs and “other vital organs”, was horrible; the picture of naked vulnerability it painted so entirely at odds with our rambunctious hero barrelling into a room with a quizzical rub of that blond mop and a booming: “Hi, folks!”
… Yet, make no mistake, the health of Boris Johnson is the health of the body politic and, by extension, the health of the nation itself. All 66 million of us are metaphorically pacing the hospital corridor, desperate for news.
This derangement — a Prime Minister treated like a popstar by a rattled romance novelist — was always going to curdle. Putting aside the hilarity of a columnist with thirty years in the rotten saddle lashing out at “the metropolitan media class”, Pearson’s words were never those of an analyst but of an acolyte.
Later in the same piece, she wrote:
Boris Johnson has always been larger than life; now we are counting on him to be bigger than death.
And lo’ the mendacious messiah was resurrected.
But the living breathing liar was always going to disappoint Pearson in a way the bumptious ‘Boris’ of her overheated rhetoric never would. Two years and two months later, Pearson’s latest column tells of why her “love affair with Boris is over”.
She joins a not insignificant number of women who can offer their accounts of failed love affairs with the blustering blimp, albeit that hers was entirely one-sided, born of projection, political expediency and her paper’s editorial line. If The Daily Telegraph was still swooning over its former (and future) columnist, Pearson would be too. In fact, she was still hedging her bets in a column from April this year (“Given a chance to redeem himself, Boris might surprise us.”).
Pearson, like every other British columnist, would no doubt assure you that no one tells her what to write. They don’t need to; the columnist is an opportunistic creature and Pearson is chasing her readers’ opinions and the Telegraph’s changed tone. The contents of her WhatsApp messages — real or invented — offer a pretext:
“Boris should go,” says one of the formidable Conservative women in The Rantypants Club, a WhatsApp group I belong to. ”You ask the reason why? It’s because we don’t love him any more.”
“He’s Left-wing economically, sticking with the green stuff in the middle of an energy crisis FGS and busy incinerating his own majority,” says another Mrs Rantypants, who campaigned passionately for Brexit. “I’m totally fed up with Boris and Desperately seeking a Susan.”
Rantypants is an appropriate nickname for Pearson, whose output is the journalistic equivalent of a toddler filling their potty and pointing to the steaming results with an expectation of applause. The Boris Johnson she once hailed as a “rambunctious hero” was the same charlatan that she now rails against. She continues:
I suppose that all the women in our group, once fervent Boris fans, feel a bit like a long-suffering wife with a faithless husband. He takes your adoration and loyalty for granted, then rubs your nose in his infidelities with policies you hate. He tells you not to worry your silly little head when you fret that he’s not the man you voted for. Just look at Boris addressing his Cabinet on Tuesday. No sincere apology for things he got wrong. No commitment to swerve right and be the sensible, low-tax government we crave. Not a sign of humility. What he said was the Tory party “needs to draw a line under the issues our opponents want to talk about”.
This is an idiot’s confession. Pearson is livid now because she feels Johnson is lying to her. That Boris Johnson is incapable of apology or guilt was clear from every detail of his biography long before he made it to Downing Street. But when she was required by her employer to be Johnson’s salivating propagandist, Pearson wrote after his first speech as Prime Minister that:
[He] may know ancient Greek, but on his first day in power he chose to speak the people’s language and the people’s priorities with a force and conviction we haven’t heard for a long time.
… Like the illusionist Derren Brown, Boris peppered his paragraphs with can-do words. Nerve, pluck, ambition. It was as if he were trying to hypnotise an exhausted, riven country into a state of self-confident belief, just as Churchill did. It sounded like a wartime speech. We haven’t had leadership for so long that we had almost forgotten what it looks like.
The clues were there in her own words — “illusionist… trying to hypnotise” — but now the trick has not produced the rabbits she expected (and promised), Pearson will not admit that she was wrong. Tactical amnesia is a vital professional skill for a columnist, so she’ll simply ignore what she said before, no matter how easy it is to search the archives. It’s not that she boosted a bullshitter but that he has changed.
Adults don’t “love” politicians. Pearson’s Eva Braun-style idolisation of Johnson was always part put-on but there is also a genuinely unhinged quality to her writing. Even in her latest column she confesses:
Millions of Conservatives are desperately sad that their most entertaining and energetic performer has come to this sorry pass. Much as I am disappointed in the prime minister, and increasingly angry at the casual disrespect he shows Tory voters, I loathe his enemies more. (His enemies are my enemies.)
After all the party shenanigans, after the shameless waywardness with the truth, after policies which are anathema to any right-thinking person, part of me still wants to defend him. At his best, Boris Johnson championed our creed like no other and spread the gospel far and wide.
Even compared to the rest of Pearson’s catalogue of some of the most embarrassing prose every published in Fleet Street, this is mortifying stuff. Her final line makes it even worse:
In 2019, Conservatives played their Joker, and won. Now, we need to find an ace up the sleeve, and win again.
This is not someone simply changing their mind but a person unpicking their bizarre parasocial relationship with a politician in public. Pearson is far from the only one in the British media engaged in this unedifying spectacle but she is among the worst.
They should not be allowed to get away with it. The propagandists who sold Boris Johnson as a “Heineken politician” shouldn’t now be able to cast off their uniforms and slip into the crowd. Pearson told us Johnson was Jesus, when anyone with eyes knew he was a Bullingdon Barrabas all along.
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