The New European’s Editor-at-Large has something positive to say about the PM – but not when it comes to public money and possible misconduct.
This may well be the first time, and in all probability the last, that I have anything positive to say about Boris Johnson, albeit that the positivity will be heavily qualified. Here goes… he has energy. And he has balls.
Going first to the cruder definition of the B word – think testes, not courage – might it be a combination of the energy and the balls that creates his apparent difficulty in keeping his hand from falling on nearby female inner thighs, or in pushing aside the belief that yet another woman, whatever the costs or the consequences, may wish to be planted with the Johnson seed?
But enough, for now, of what Andrew Marr referred to, when deliberately avoiding a question that merited asking of Johnson’s relationship with Jennifer Arcuri – namely “prurience”. Marr’s Sunday morning joust with the prime minister was a deeply frustrating interview, partly because Johnson is a deeply frustrating interviewee, not least because of the energy and the balls. It takes energy to get up early after another long day, look reasonably well rested, and bulldoze your way through, sufficient for Marr to observe several times that all he was doing was “repeating your own talking point”. Indeed he was… I suspect his team was backstage playing word bingo and adding a tick every time “surrender” passed the Johnsonian lips.
It takes balls – think chutzpah, not courage – to sit there, knowing the questions about Arcuri are coming, presumably not sure what they will be, and be ready and confident enough to bat them off.
For once, I must say, I felt the “prurient” question – “have you ever had sex with Ms Arcuri?” – could and should have been asked, and it is a failure of journalism that Johnson managed to bluster through a wide range of conference interviews without the public being given the chance to get the look of his eyes when he tried to bat that one off too.
I do not much care what Johnson gets up to in bed, or with whom, and don’t particularly want any such thoughts or images inside my head. But we should care when public money and possible misconduct in public life are involved. Provided MPs, London Assembly members and the non-toadying press continue to do their job, Johnson may yet come to rue this particular relationship, and his statement to Marr that “there was no interest to declare”.
‘The non-toadying press…’ – from which must surely be excluded the Sunday Express, which last weekend led on a ‘story’ that Johnson could win an election even if he ran the campaign from inside prison; the Mail on Sunday, which without a shred of what might be termed ‘evidence’ led on a ‘story’ that MPs behind the Benn Act “colluded with foreign powers”; and the Sunday Telegraph, which led on a ‘story’ that Johnson – sorry ‘Boris’, as he must be called in BarclayBrothersLand – was planning to build 40 new hospitals.
It is clearly an advantage to Johnson to have tonnes of sycophantic, lying drivel pumped out daily by the Brexit Lie Machine; partly for the direct impact on readers, but perhaps more significantly for the impact on broadcasters who remain more trusted than the print media.
Here, the energy and the balls are given megavitamin and super strength Viagra supplements by the cowardice this bias tends to instil in much of the media.
Having won the Brexit referendum by lying about the NHS – no need here to restate the big black lie on the big red bus – it takes some balls – think cheek, not courage – to come up with another big NHS lie to kick off your party conference.
It strikes me there are three ways for non-toadying media to come at the huge spending promises splurging out of Johnson’s mouth… Why, given the lies told about the NHS in the referendum, should we believe you now? Will these infrastructure projects be more or less successful than Boris bridges, Boris Islands, and all the other vanity projects that went nowhere? And thirdly, how does a Tory Magic Money Tree differ from a Labour Magic Money Tree?
It didn’t take long for the Sunday Telegraph splash to fall apart, with the news that even on the Tory Magic Money Tree, only six hospitals were accounted for, and many of the so-called 40 were refurbishments, not new builds. But by the time that particular pledge collapsed, Johnson had some new ones, dutifully reported across the TV and radio, as though they might actually happen.
It has been tragic to watch the transformation of Matt Hancock from modernising Cameroon to nodding dog Johnson mouthpiece, shifting effortlessly from the view that leaving the EU without a deal would be a red line for him and a calamity for the country, to supporting the lie that it is what the country voted for and clearly what it needs.
But at least he appears prepared to act, belatedly, on the growing crisis created by the anti-vaccine conspiracy theorists. I do hope that the Channel 4 suits are keeping a close eye on the programmes being made by former Mail editor Paul Dacre. He is not far behind Dr Andrew Wakefield in the list of guilty men on this one, and must not be allowed a free platform to spout his bile, unless also called to account for his role in promoting measles across his beloved (sic) middle England.
Should we not, as a country, feel ashamed when, night after night, we see politicians and journalists from around Europe, appear on our news programmes speaking accented, but otherwise flawless English? Though a languages student, I share some of the shame, for though I have largely kept up my French, sufficient to do live telly, much of my once near-fluent German has been lost for lack of practice since leaving university.
I used my French a fair bit last week when asked to take part in programmes paying tribute to former president Jacques Chirac. Of course, I recalled some of the bruising rows between Chirac and Tony Blair, notably over Iraq. But there were many lighter moments to reflect upon, all adding to the sense of the colourful, lovable rogue, loathed by many French people when in office, but adored by most of the same people since.
Unsurprisingly, Chirac loved food. He also loved dispensing flattery. No meal was complete without him asking for the chef to be called to the table and showered with adjectives… délicieux, impeccable, fantastique, parfait…
So when we entertained him once in Wales, and worked our way through a rather tough piece of lamb and watery vegetables, washed down with Welsh wine passing French presidential lips for the first time, we were somewhat nervous when he asked to see the chef. He did not disappoint… délicieux, impeccable, fantastique, parfait, he lied.
But there was another time, when his real views about our cuisine came out unexpectedly. The UK was chairing a European summit. Chirac had spoken, followed by then foreign secretary Robin Cook. Chirac had forgotten to press the button turning off his microphone, which meant the interpreters continued to translate him as he spoke to his neighbour, German chancellor Helmut Kohl. His ‘intervention’ was translated roughly as follows… “this chap Cook is from Scotland, Helmut. Have you been to Scotland? It is so beautiful, but my God, the food! Yuk… They eat something called haggis … do you know haggis, Helmut?”
“Avoid it, my friend. It looks like shit, but tastes worse.”