Floundering Boris leaves no doubt: our PM is a showman out of his depth

John Crace

We’ve reached the point where the only way to understand the state the country is in is to realise that it has become a banana republic.

A failed state run by a bad joke of a prime minister, who prioritises the job security of his elite advisers over the health of millions. A man who sees no need to be across the most basic points of government policy and is so inarticulate that he can’t even start a sentence let alone finish one.

It’s normal for a prime minister to appear before the liaison committee – the supergroup of select committee chairs – at least three times a year. This was the first time Boris Johnson had bothered to turn up in more than 10 months. And you could see why. Even with Dominic Cummings sitting just off screen – Boris’s eyes kept darting to the right, desperate for help – holding up placards with something approximating an answer, Johnson was lost for words. The great populist who doesn’t even realise he has long since lost the support of the people. A mini-dictator surrounded by yes men locked inside the No 10 bunker.

What made this even more pathetic and desperate a spectacle was that Boris clearly believed he had prepared thoroughly. If he had, then his short-term memory is completely shot. More likely though, Boris’s idea of preparation is just a quick 10-minute skim of a briefing note.

Boris is the supreme narcissist – the apogee of entitled arrogance in which other people are there only to serve his needs. A fragile ego, disguising an absence of any self worth.What’s more, you sense he knows it. That in the wee, wee hours he looks through a glass darkly and sees the blurred outlines of his limitations and failure.

The session started with questions from committee chair, Bernard Jenkin, and Boris was clearly expecting friendly fire. Only to many people’s surprise – possibly even his own – Bernie turned out to be no patsy. Instead he went straight to the point. Why was there to be no cabinet secretary inquiry into Dominic Cummings’s clear breach of the government coronavirus guidelines.

“Um... er... well,” Boris blustered looking frantically to Classic Dom for help. Up went the placard ‘It’s time to move on.’ “Um... er... well ... I think what the country wants is to move on,” he said.

What the opinion polls have clearly shown is that at least 70% of the country think that Laughing Boy is basically taking the piss – one rule for the elites, another for the little people. Only Boris somehow ignored that, believing that he knew better what the people really thought than they did. Who would have guessed that Boris would have ascribed to the Marxist idea of false consciousness?

Six times Boris insisted that the country wanted to move on. Something I’m sure the families of those who have died – not to mention the many thousands who could yet die as the prime minister trashed his own public health message to protect a chum – must have been delighted to hear.

Pete Wishart, Meg Hillier and Yvette Cooper all went in for the kill. Had Boris actually seen the evidence that Cummings had provided for his special and different Covid-19 fortnight away on his father’s estate? Boris nodded fiercely. He had.

And the evidence was that it was Dom who was running the country and he didn’t have the power to sack him.

Nor could he explain the difference between deputy chief medical officer Jenny Harries’s clear instructions to stay at home and the supine advice of several cabinet ministers who had insisted that maybe having to look after your own child constituted exceptional circumstances. Boris’s best guess was that maybe Harries hadn’t been as clear as he would have liked her to be and he hoped that she would come on message in the near future.

He ended the section on Cummings by insisting that all the stories that Dom had corroborated in his rose garden press conference were essentially false.

Things didn’t improve when Jenkin moved on to other areas of the government’s handling of the coronavirus. Boris had only the sketchiest idea of how the new track and trace system that was meant to come in to operation the following day would work. A nation panicked. He even said he was forbidden from making any promises on dates for reaching government targets. Let that sink in. The prime minister is forbidden from making his own policy. If we had been in any doubt who was running the country we weren’t any more.

Boris didn’t even know the basics of how his own benefits system operated. This was Government 101 and the prime minister was still out of his depth. During the worst health crisis for a century we are lions led by dead donkeys.