When Boris Johnson is accusing others of ‘opportunism’, you know he’s hit rock bottom

Tom Peck
·3-min read
'Opportunism is the name of the game for the party opposite,' claimed Boris Johnson at PMQs (PA)
'Opportunism is the name of the game for the party opposite,' claimed Boris Johnson at PMQs (PA)

When it comes to coronavirus, it’s very important you make your interventions at the right time, and really Boris Johnson, for once, has gone too early.

Too early, that is, to lean across the despatch box of the House of Commons and call Keir Starmer “an opportunist”, as he did at prime minister’s questions.

We’re barely into the second wave, there are months of this to go, it’s going to get worse, and already Boris Johnson has hit what really should be rock bottom.

Where does he go from here? Next week, when test and trace is still dysfunctional, when the “three tier” lockdown system is making no difference, will we see the prime minister jab his finger in Keir Starmer’s direction and say, “It is time the honourable gentleman came clean. We have a right to know. How many children does he have?”

The charge of “opportunism,” as you may already know, came as a direct result of the Labour leader having had the temerity of agreeing with the government’s own scientists, instead of ignoring them, as Boris Johnson has chosen to do.

Johnson introduced his “three tier” system of localised restrictions on Monday. It was publicly disowned by the chief medical officer precisely zero minutes later, in the sense that it was disowned at the very press conference at which it was announced.

All of which led us to here. “Opportunism is the name of the game for the party opposite,” Johnson said. It’s possible he even meant it. That he really does think it’s a transparent, cynical piece of political positioning that has prompted Keir Starmer to trust the scientists’ view on how to contain a viral outbreak, over Boris Johnson’s.

If you can try and ignore, for just a second, that the stakes in all this are large numbers of deaths and even larger amounts of economic ruin, it would be possible to enjoy it just for the sport. While Johnson spoke, a 29-year-old MP called Jonathan Gullis was appearing on talkRADIO, to blame Keir Starmer for not “having the prime minister’s back”. Clement Attlee had Winston Churchill’s back, apparently, yet Starmer doesn’t have Johnson’s.

It is difficult to comprehend what might go through the mind of an actual, sentient human being before consenting to come out with this stuff. That wave after wave of failure, of incompetence on a scale never before seen, can be pinned on the other guy for failing to be sufficiently supportive of it. That all of this might go away if Keir Starmer could just stop saying how terrible it all was.

This, alas, will be the way of things for months to come. It is an evolution of sorts. Until now, the best Johnson could do was blame Starmer – week in, week out – for “undermining public confidence” by pointing out how bad things were. Now, every time Johnson ignores the advice he’s very clearly been given, anyone who agrees with the advice, and not him, is guilty of “opportunism”.

Opportunism means little more than to exploit a situation for one’s own personal gain. We are all opportunists, in our own way. We’re all looking to get ahead in life, Boris Johnson very, very much more than most. But his opportunistic days are over. Sometimes a kind of opportunism has to be deployed just to stay alive. That is what’s known not as opportunism but as desperation. And that is very much where Johnson is now.

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