How easy lies the man who wore the crown. In a farewell note to supporters, Boris Johnson once again demonstrates how to do power in a post-truth world.
The billet-doux, or rather billet-did-not, was undoubtedly penned either in a Slovenian spa or on a Greek beach because, heavens knows, the prime minister, who insisted he needed to hang around until a new leader was chosen, has spent precious little time at his Downing Street desk since his churlish resignation-not-resignation a lifetime of meaningless hustings ago in July.
It’s understandable: August is not really a party month so there was probably not much going on to keep him hanging around the gloom corridors of power.
And to be fair, it would be a petty soul who would begrudge the man some time off after all he’s done. In case anyone might have forgotten, he listed the many, manifold and multifarious achievements of his three years in office in his farewell note to alleged supporters who allegedly wrote to thank him for his alleged service.
It’s worth reprinting the note in full because … well, it’s not very long.
“I would like to thank you for your kind words of support which have been heart-warming to read. Serving as the Prime Minister has been an incredible privilege and honour. I am immensely proud of what we have achieved during my time in Office. Including getting Brexit done, levelling up the country, navigating us all through a pandemic, delivering the fastest vaccine rollout in Europe and leading the West in standing up to Putin’s aggression in Ukraine.
“I will truly miss working for you in what I see as the best job in the world. However, I have every confidence that the UK will continue to shine and grow as we move into this next chapter here at No 10. Thank you once again, for taking the time to write.”
A for effort, perhaps. But there are a few factual errors that will drag his overall mark down.
First of all, the idea of Johnson serving any cause or person other than himself stretches credulity. His was a mercifully short but nonetheless destructive premiership fuelled not by ideology and principle but by ruthless personal ambition. As a child, Johnson wanted to be World King. In a hereditary monarchy, prime minister was clearly the next best thing.
It’s worth noting the capitalisation of Office because it led the mind of this reader to The Office and the excruciating antics of that other master of bombast, David Brent. The subliminal nod to the British sitcom is painfully apt although sadly the joke is on the British people this time. I guess, them’s the breaks.
And now for the achievements, or as Johnson and his supporters sometimes say, the Big Calls.
Getting Brexit done. If there is one thing almost everyone agrees on now, it’s that Brexit is not done. Brexiteers blame Remainers, including underhand EU-loving civil servants. Everyone else blames the Conservatives. The UK is locked in dispute with the European Union over everything from science to Northern Ireland. Trade with our neighbours is collapsing. Businesses are moving abroad. Brexit is nowhere near done because it turns out Brexit is not a destination. It is an endless journey and we’re all trapped on the train.
Levelling up the country. The only explanation for this claim is that Johnson did not mean to put the word ‘up’ in there.
The families of the 250,000 people who died from Covid may take issue with Johnson’s claim to have navigated the country through the pandemic. They may remember the late lockdowns, the missed COBRA meetings, the parties, the fraud and the overpriced PPE equipment. The vaccine rollout was impressive but it had nothing to do with Johnson. More a case of him just getting out of the way.
US president Joe Biden may be among world leaders who might raise an eyebrow at the claim that Johnson led the West in standing up to Putin. There can be no denying that Johnson did much for Ukraine – in case we might forget, he visited Kyiv again this week, sparking rumours that he might also visit Britain before leaving office – but he was not the only one. And Ukraine did as much for him as he did for it. The war likely saved his premiership back in February when it seemed his lies were finally about to engulf him.
Strangely enough, Johnson does not mention another historic achievement in his note: becoming the first prime minister to be fined for breaking the law in office. It must have slipped his mind. One might also have expected an outgoing leader to extoll the state of the country, compared to when he took office. But perhaps Johnson didn’t want to draw attention to NHS waiting times, ambulances queues, the biggest interest rate hike in 27 years, inflation already above 10% and trending higher, anaemic growth as well as the thousands of striking workers on picket lines.
Reading through the final sentences of this poor attempt at a mea culpa, a keen-eyed examiner might also take issue with the use of the word “working” to describe the prime minister’s time in The Office but then again, the pandemic redefined so many things about work, and work events. Who can really be sure what is or isn’t work anymore?
It seems a little on the nose for Johnson to refer to the UK continuing to “shine and grow” when the country is actually heading for recession with real fears that the lights may go out this winter. But then Johnson was never one for detail. That’s not why he was elected. Everybody knew that. He was charming, he was upbeat, he could win elections. How crass of the country to expect him to govern as well.
Johnson says he will truly miss what he sees as the best job in the world. If he honestly thought that, and I realise honesty is not his strongest quality, surely he would not have debased the role quite so thoroughly.
In the end, his farewell note could have been even shorter. But then “sorry” is the hardest word.