Harrington: Off he goes, but he’s right about the herd

Friday, 8th July

Boris Johnson resigns_July 7 2022

Photo: Kyle Heller/Downing Street

THERE was a sort of carnival atmosphere in Whitehall yesterday as crowds gathered to stand not quite near enough to the gates of Downing Street to hear Boris Johnson finally concede that his party wanted him to step down.

He did not actually say the word “resigning” – and you never know with that guy – but the prime minister’s emergence from his bunker was enough for much off-camera barking and hooting.

Later, cheeky advertising vans drove up and down the thoroughfare exploiting a national day of memery: a pet insurance company suggested Mr Johnson could destress by getting a cat and then hiring them to cover any costs, while Burger King beamed a sign towards his expensively decorated central London flat joking that he had too many whoppers.

On a different day, for a different person, a man who was happy to stand up in the House of Common and call his chief Labour opponent “Sir Beer Korma” – yes he really said that out loud –would have admired how the nation spent the day thinking up quips of varying levels of imagination and creativity to mark his agreed departure.

Everybody landed on the same one: maybe he’s written two speeches, one to stay and one to remain.

Suddenly, the political correspondents who line Downing Street under the lights – when not agreeing with each other that it had “been quite a day” – were ready with pasty eulogies about the man and his downfall.

Johnson was now being accused of lacking humility in what was likely to be the first of many goodbye speeches if he has his way, and marked down by the pundits for blaming everyone else for the chain of events that led to his unwanted date with the lectern.

Why did they sound so surprised? If anybody should have been monitoring and challenging Johnson’s awful behaviour over these last chaotic years, it surely should have been them. Instead, our most recognisable reporters happily allowed the following lines of nonsense to regularly go unchallenged: that the prime minister could at least claim to have both delivered Brexit and the Covid vaccine programme.

If Brexit is done as is boasted, poor Northern Ireland. Poor – literally – everybody actually.

And how many times will it be allowed to be said with straight faces that the UK’s vaccine success should be marked down as a glistening triumph for Johnson.

Each time it goes to press unchecked, we skim over the fact that it was only possible to give millions of people this protection by enlisting volunteers. It was these people who answered the call and gave up their time – and lots of it – to save lives with vaccine jabs each day. Remarkable, selfless action powered this route to some form of recovery.

And while they were working round the clock, Johnson… well we now know how he spent some of his lockdown days.

On the same subject, when do you hear questions about how many doses of vaccine the UK ended up throwing away? We had a stockpile too big for demand, while other countries had to pick and choose who would be immunised. Triumph!

But in his blaming of everybody else, the sad truth is that Johnson isn’t so far off the mark.

With his inability to concentrate on anything longer than a couple of minutes, he could not have clambered into the seat of prime minister without everyone else helping too.

“When the herd moves, it moves,” he claimed.

Accomplices who should be sharing the blame for us all having to live through a brief but too long Johnsonian age will lie low for about… two minutes… and then be enquiring about the vacancy.

Think back and remember the “oh it’s just Boris being Boris” softball treatment he received from both his party – and the media.

The herd had agreed that Johnson could be PM and even when he was making reckless decisions or plunging people further into poverty, it was still more important for our brave journalists to find out which allotment Jeremy Corbyn was tending or whether there was any dirt on Mick Lynch.

Very many intelligent people knew exactly what they were getting with Johnson long before he was close to power, and yet still enabled him to do so.

They made excuses for the use of racist and homophobic terms, the duplicity, the blunders that fuelled catastrophes – perhaps Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe spent more time locked up in Iran than she might have due to his careless freestyling.

They knew how he behaved – and they still allowed it to happen. He became PM. So he’s right – that it is the work of a herd.

Same too for the journalists, who you often saw guffawing at his long-winded choice of words, sprinkling of Latin and half-drawn history lessons.

All those tiresome attempts at humour – and it was somehow ok that he hadn’t answered any question of substance. He made great copy.

His downfall may seem like it’s related to his hiring of Chris Pincher, but this incident has similarities with incidents he had breezed through in the past.

The difference is now that people don’t see the funny side of any of it when they have no money to feed their children. The Tories and their most slavish allies misread the threat of industrial action too as simply unions making cheeky requests for pay rises. In fact, there is a lot of sympathy for each cause.

You can’t take away the £20 uplift to Universal Credit and leave people needing food banks even when they are in work, and expect them to just laugh along at a waffly joke. Johnson ran out of road because this herd had finally realised that the hungry and unemployed need and are eloquently demanding change. The PM dismissed it as normal midterm hiccups but this borough should have been held up to his face as the warning sign in May. Losing Westminster City Council to Labour was not a bump in the road, it will be viewed as a historic disaster for the Tories.

He tried to laugh it off, style it out – but the gags had worn too thin.

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