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The jeers for Boris Johnson at St Paul’s Cathedral on Friday tell you nothing that the polling won’t. Despite the delusions — or lies — of his fast-receding tide of allies, his administration is over. Labour is 20 points ahead in Wakefield, where there is a by-election on June 23. Tiverton, also due a by-election on that day, looks almost as vulnerable to the Liberal Democrats. We have a vote of confidence tonight.
Whatever happens, he will be a one-term prime minister — a fate which fits him perfectly. For men like Johnson, the wanting is better than the having. Campaigning is romantic, but governing is real. But since few people read polling data, it was good to hear the people sing the song of angry men. No one can call the sort of people who haunt royal thanksgiving services dangerous revolutionaries or “woke warriors”. (We must resist invented wars or fate will give us real ones). Even the most optimistic Downing Street staffer will call them Conservative leaning. It was another poll, shouted, and it was archaic, as if they had jostled his carriage to throw down a gauntlet. That will speak to the pseudo-historian in him.
If his ending was in the mirror of royalty, so was the beginning of the end. When I read that there was a party in Downing Street the night before the Duke of Edinburgh’s funeral, I knew Johnson would not be forgiven this time. Republican or not, it is impossible to argue that the Queen has been anything other than an effective constitutional monarch. We all have a Queen of our invention — that is an essential part of her gift — but when I watched her stand for four hours in the rain for the silly flotilla at her Diamond Jubilee, I was genuinely moved. If it is not humility, not empathy — who can say what is in her heart? — it is certainly the diligent practice of it. And so, of course, when she was offered a relaxation of the social distancing rules for the Duke of Edinburgh’s funeral by Johnson, she declined — presumably because she vowed to uphold the law.
Johnson didn’t uphold the law, which he made himself. That’s a fascinating insight into his character. I have always found him self-loathing, treating risk as a drug to avoid himself, but it doesn’t help us beyond that.
That is how he went from the victor of 2019 — over Jeremy Corbyn, it is true, just as his mayoralty victories were over Ken Livingstone, which makes his electoral magic seem like yet another illusion — to a man who is jeered by monarchists outside cathedrals.
If they tried to teach him a lesson, so did the Queen. The reading he gave at the service, suggested by the Palace, was on truthfulness. The Queen of my invention is witty too.
But it is too late now. I think the Johnson era will be remembered as a misunderstanding: we of him, and he of us. You may find pageantry charming or awful, but there was unexpected value in this one. The song told us something beautiful: that people cared that others died alone, though he did not.
In other news...
The praise for Queen Elizabeth II is sometimes absurd. What can you do with a god but praise it? Even so, I think I have something. She can act. Of course she can. She has been acting for 70 years. The look of collusion as she revealed that she had a marmalade sandwich in her handbag in the Paddington film for the jubilee was perfect. Her defensive flirtation with James Bond in the clip for the 2012 Olympics — she wore feathers and scowled at his handsomeness — was perfect. And so, I try to imagine what other British film franchises she could grace. Not Harry Potter — it’s a competing kind of magic. Not Richard Curtis — it’s too emotionally flimsy. I’d love to see her with Michael Caine, but I think her truest destination is a Carry On Elizabeth, in which she sits on a cardboard throne under a wobbling crown, necking Dubonnet and giggling at the absurdity of it all.