Boris Johnson’s disastrous performance in Yorkshire proves it – his calculated ‘average Joe’ act is dead

Sean O'Grady
Boris Johnson’s disastrous performance in Yorkshire proves it – his calculated ‘average Joe’ act is dead
Boris Johnson talks to a woman during a visit to Stainforth, Doncaster: PA

Politicians have always been heckled. The better ones are usually able to return fire with some half-witty, withering retort, like Jimmy Carr or Ricky Gervais would. The rest just have to put up with it, seemingly dumbfounded that anyone could fail to find their shtick unconvincing and unfunny.

Like Boris Johnson, who looked almost hurt when he finally decided to show his face in flooded-out Yorkshire on Wednesday.

Looking like he had just emerged from the Tardis on some strange new world, his young assistant Carrie by his side, he was barracked heartily by t'aliens with: “Where’ve you been?” and “You took your time”. Johnson was left looking bewildered, although that’s because he is, most of the time.

So went Johnson’s first contact of the campaign with the general public, the very folk he is asking to install him for a full five-year term in Downing Street with a big majority so he can do whatever the hell he likes – the only state of existence in which he is truly happy.

Johnson may beat Jeremy Corbyn on most of the personal ratings in the polls, but there is a reason why his minders try to keep him away from the electors. He really does lack the “common touch”. The public is, perhaps, learning to sense it.

Take a look at his election campaign video on YouTube – the first in what may prove to be a remarkably short series. In it, we see Johnson bumbling around what we assume is a Conservative campaign office, but might be the old Wernham Hogg set from The Office, with Tory slogan posters blue-tacked around the walls in rather too neat a way for it to be happenchance, chatting to an off-camera mockney mockumentary interviewer, the man on the Clapham Boris Bus, you might say.

He is so obviously an actor it is wincingly painful to listen to his line of alternatively “popular” and proper political questions – whether he likes Marmite (yes), following why do we need this election (the usual stuff about parliament getting itself stuck, rather than his opportunistic dash for power on another sham manifesto, and before Brexit turns into a protracted economic recession).

The video is a useful political artefact only because it makes blindingly clear quite how out-of-touch this product of Eton and Balliol actually is, a man who has never known want. As his girlfriend Carrie was reported to have perceptively told him during their wine-stained row: “You just don’t care for anything because you’re spoilt. You have no care for money or anything.”

The Johnson vid is like what would happen if David Brent or Alan Partridge suddenly found themselves running the country, except that Brent and Partridge are more real than Johnson’s impersonation of a “regular guy”. He is not any such thing, as we ought to know. His promises are empty, his politics a charade, his persona as carefully crafted as his dishevelled hair.

Sometimes there are glimpses of how little he cares about anything. Even Our Glorious Dead. If, for example, Corbyn or Jo Swinson had turned up at the Cenotaph for Remembrance Day looking like they were suffering from a particularly brutal hangover, coat undone, forgot their cue and left the wreath upside down, the press would have wet themselves with indignation.

(The BBC, albeit accidentally, helped Boris out by playing a previous clip of him at the ceremony, minimising some of the damage).

The truth about Johnson is that everything about him is as confected and invented as any teenage pop group star. Even his cute puppy is an artfully placed prop (and no, I don’t believe he bags up its muck each morning). If Johnson lost this election, poor old Dilyn the jack russell​ would find himself sent off to the vets to be euthanised, while he tells the reporters some story about the little fella being happily rehomed.

I don’t believe, either, that he paints buses with jolly passengers onboard onto old crates of wine. I don’t really reckon he spends much time listening to The Clash either. When he told the blokey bloke on the video that he’d cooked steak and oven chips for himself and Carrie the night before, I found myself wanting proof. Even then, I’d consider it staged.

Johnson reminds me very much of what Harry S Truman once said about Richard Nixon: “Richard Nixon is a no-good lying b*****d. He can lie out of both sides of his mouth at the same time, and if he ever caught himself telling the truth, he’d lie just to keep his hand in.” The only thing I am prepared to accept about Johnson is that he has the morals of a tomcat and is fond of red wine. Too fond, I should imagine.

If he wins? If he takes us for the fools we would be to trust him? After a year or so he will find he can’t afford to do the things he said he’d do because he will have delivered such a hard Brexit, including the growing possibility of a no-deal Brexit (as promised to Nigel Farage). Thus, there will be no growth and no tax revenues to spend on the “people’s priorities”. There will be no money left for more police, new hospitals or better schools. He will cut services and benefits even as he is reducing taxes for the wealthy. He will erode workers’ rights, forget about climate change, and just run the country for the benefit of – in the following strict correct order – Johnson himself; the Conservative Party; the Conservative Party’s friends and major donors; his current girlfriend(s); and er, that’s it.

Alexander Boris de Pfeffel Johnson might be better with the public than Theresa May, but not for the right reasons. She was hopeless at the old sympatico routine, but she never pretended to be anything other than the brittle, suspicious, shy figure she actually was. Johnson will do and say anything to anyone to be popular, but none of it is for real. He follows the Bob Monkhouse doctrine: when the old comic was asked what was the most important quality in life, he answered “sincerity”. Because, as he explained: “If you can fake that, you can fake anything.”

“Boris” is an act, a fake. He is also like the Incredible Hulk he once so ludicrously compared himself to, you really don’t want to know him when his true character is revealed.