Normally it’s Dominic Raab who keeps turning up at crime scenes. There’s something about unsolved murders he finds irresistible. But for his last rally of the election campaign, Boris Johnson couldn’t stop himself from returning to the Olympic Park in London. The location of the stadium that ran hopelessly over budget and still costs the country £20m a year thanks to Boris negotiating a piss-poor deal with West Ham. The venue that he recently insisted had launched a nationwide shagfest. It hadn’t.
Half of the Copper Box Arena had already been partitioned off, but there were still plenty of empty spaces among the 700 or so Tory activists who had been bussed in for the occasion. These were what was left of the hard core – the true believers – but even they had been caught up in the general sense of fatigue and disenchantment. Minders would occasionally prod them to raise placards saying “Get Brexit Done” and “Vote Conservative” and urge them to shout some support, but there was no sense of this being a triumphant homecoming. The Tories may still get a majority but it will have been given grudgingly. There is no love left for UK politics. Just despair.
The torpor was momentarily broken by some flashing lights and the prime minister’s “Love, Actually” campaign video was played on two large screens. Boris knocking on the door and holding up placards to the woman who answers. “I’m sorry I’m late with the child support.” Then out came James Cleverly, who was either incredibly anxious or had had a couple of quick stiffeners. “We’regoingtogetBrexitdone,” he slurred. Cleverly got the throat-cut sign and made way for Michael Gove – the man who was so sure of Boris’s talents, he stood against him to be party leader on two occasions. If Gove is the best you’ve got, then you know the talent gene pool is almost empty. He is a man who has the unique touch of being able to inspire mistrust in everyone he meets.
“I’d like to thank James for running a wonderful campaign,” Mikey oozed. By which he meant that Cleverly had successfully managed to keep the entire cabinet of idiots out of sight and protected Boris from having to answer tricky questions. Gove’s one highlight was a few Pavlovian boos for mentioning Jeremy Corbyn and Nicola Sturgeon. They weren’t going to be allowed to destroy the union. That was the job of the Tories by creating a border down the Irish Sea.
Priti Patel came and went, still unable to locate a single brain cell in her head. If it wasn’t for her vicious stupidity, she would be most remembered as an absence than a presence. She fulfils the Chris Grayling function of making everyone else look marginally more competent. She did promise to be tough on law and order. Especially on phone theft. Boris would be going down for years then. So not all bad.
After another excruciating video in which Dilyn the Downing Street dog again pleaded to be rehoused, Boris finally took centre stage. He tugged his hair – as sure a sign he’s about to start lying as moving his lips – and looked towards the cameras. His eyes were bloodshot and he had the bewildered air of a man who couldn’t quite understand that his sense of entitlement had been challenged. He’d always imagined he’d only have to turn up to a few gigs, do his faux man-of-the-people act, and he’d get to be prime minister for another five years. Now the polls were suggesting he might have more of a fight on his hands. This wasn’t Boris’s natural order.
His speech was just a regurgitation of the same lies and the same bad gags he’s been telling for the past six weeks. And it’s getting progressively harder for him to get any laughs or any love. If he does remain prime minister it will only be because people want Corbyn even less. The country is in a race to the bottom and Boris is marginally ahead.
So we got the same shit about the Brexit deal that he hadn’t negotiated because he and Theresa May had already rejected it. The same shit about 50,000 nurses. He got applause for mentioning Labour’s antisemitism, but he declined to address his own Islamophobia, racism and homophobia. But hey, why bother when you can always get a snigger for saying Diane Abbott’s name in a funny accent? He even had the cheek to imagine a conversation Corbyn might have with Michel Barnier. This on the very day that Barnier had said Johnson’s chances of agreeing a trade agreement with the EU inside a year were approximately zero.
It all ended in something of an anti-climax. Much like the election as a whole. The country breathed a sigh of relief that one of the most depressing campaigns was finally over. On another day, we might have taken heart from the Office for National Statistics reporting life expectancy was growing. Now it just felt like a further punishment beating. Only the road to perdition is left.
John Crace’s new book, Decline and Fail: Read in Case of Political Apocalypse, is published by Guardian Faber. To order a copy go to guardianbookshop.com or call 0330 333 6846. Free UK p&p over £15, online orders only. Phone orders min. p&p of £1.99.