Even by his own standards, the hypocrisy of Boris Johnson’s attack on Jeremy Corbyn’s motives is breathtaking.
It was, as a piece of naked hypocrisy, so brazen one could almost stand back and simply admire the sheer chutzpah. Almost.
Boris Johnson’s response to Jeremy Corbyn’s setpiece Brexit speech, delivered – inevitably – in the form of a tweet, was contumelious, to employ a word the foreign secretary might enjoy. “Crumbling Corbyn betrays Leave voters – and all because he wants to win a commons vote. Cynical and deluded”.
Crumbling Corbyn betrays Leave voters – and all because he wants to win a commons vote. Cynical and deluded.
— Boris Johnson (@BorisJohnson) February 26, 2018
Let’s just park the Trumpian nature of the tweet, the playground “Crumbling Corbyn” a very British spin on the president’s Crooked Hillary and Lyin’ Ted Cruz.
Corbyn’s motives deserve a little more scrutiny. In executing a screeching u-turn and backing the UK being in a permanent customs union with the EU, the Labour leader has been variously described as softening his views in the face of evidence and of shifting policy in the hope of hastening Theresa May’s departure from office following a lost Commons vote.
Or there’s a third explanation – Corbyn just wants a quiet life. The man who said before the referendum he was “seven, seven-and-a-half” out of 10 as to how bothered he was about Brexit has hardly had a Damascene conversion. He still looks bored talking about it. It’s not what drives him. Placing the capable Sir Keir Starmer in the shadow Brexit secretary role was less a piece of astute political thinking and more landing one of the soft left willing to serve with a brief not worth the candle.
As such, it’s entirely possible Corbyn had been ground down enough by those adults left at the top of the party to concede the customs union point – with a bit of wriggle room on state aid rules so as not to derail his nationalisation agenda – and then get back to those things that do fire him up. Having selfies taken with adoring fans, getting his name chanted, making vague threats to the press, losing Blairite general secretaries.
But that’s not really the point. The point is that he was ACCUSED OF ADOPTING A POSITION HE DIDN’T GENUINELY BELIEVE FOR SHORT-TERM POLITICAL GAIN BY BORIS JOHNSON.
This is being accused of outstaying one’s welcome by Arsene Wenger. For when it comes to adopting positions one does not genuinely believe for short-term political gain Boris Johnson has been there, done it and painted it down the side of a four-and-a-half-metre-tall bus.
The man who wrote two separate articles for the Daily Telegraph before deciding which would propel him most rapidly into Downing Street. Who hitched his wagon to a Leave campaign he, as a natural supporter of immigration, couldn’t have felt entirely comfortable with then looked white as a ghost when it won.
Who won the votes of liberal, urbane, cultured Londoners by posing as one of them as mayor and now flies the flag of the European Research Group as he seeks the votes of Bill Cash and Peter Bone in an upcoming Tory leadership battle. Who said he wouldn’t visit parts of New York for the risk of meeting Donald Trump and then attacked the “collective whingerama” over his election as president. That man.
Johnson was not alone in his hypocrisy. Brexit secretary David David wrote of Corbyn’s adoption of the customs union: “If it looks like snake oil, and it smells like snake oil, don’t expect it to make you feel better.” Davis wrote in 2016 that “within two years, before the negotiation with the EU is likely to be complete, and therefore before anything material has changed, we can negotiate a free trade area massively larger than the EU”. That looks and smells a bit wriggly and wet.
But Mr Johnson’s cant, for its purity, its brazen brass, its sheer audacity, is head and shoulders above all. It’s almost art. On the awarding of the 1973 Nobel Peace Prize to Henry Kissinger, Tom Lehrer said satire had died. It had its last jolting death throes yesterday as Boris Johnson hit ‘tweet’.