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Voices: As Boris Johnson mopes around his golden flat, the UK is facing a cost of living crisis

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  • Boris Johnson
    Boris Johnson
    Prime Minister of the United Kingdom since 2019

Cast your mind back, if you dare, to late summer 2020. The country was in what turned out to not even be the middle of a brutalising pandemic, and “friends” of Boris Johnson were letting it be known, with somewhat stunning timing, that right at the top of the prime minister’s list of concerns was his own lack of cash.

As tens of thousands of people were dying years or decades before their time, why would “friends” of Boris Johnson be quietly letting the newspapers know that the prime minister was working himself up into something of a state every time he had “friends” round to Chequers for dinner, over how he would pay for it all?

The identity of these “friends” became a subject of much fascination to Westminster insiders, because most Westminster insiders know that the prime minister doesn’t actually have any of what anyone normal would describe as “friends”. And as such, these “friends” were in fact trying to damage him yet further.

Well, said friends, whoever they were, have played something of a blinder. All this, don’t forget, was even before details of the £100,00 flat refurbishment and the shameless attempts to talk Tory donors into paying for it.

Eighteen months or so ago, we would learn how Johnson doesn’t think he can get by on less than a million quid a year. He has an unknown number of children to support, though we do know that number has risen by two in the last two years.

Such comments, one suspects, may not play well in the coming months, when the cost of living crisis, which is already occurring, turns into what economists are already calling a cost of living catastrophe. When energy bills rise, in April, by what is expected to be an average of £700 per household, one suspects the image of the prime minister, moping around his golden wallpaper flat, wondering how to make ends meet on several hundred thousands pounds a year and a range of grace and favour properties, may make their way back in to the public conscience.

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There are also the jovial anecdotes, to take but one random example, of his favourite red wine, Tignanello, which is priced at £180 a bottle, not that he knew. “Someone bought me a crate of it and I had no idea how expensive it was,” he said in 2019, explaining how he had just been glugging it back in the evenings without a second’s thought.

We are months away from normal, not even especially low-income families having no idea how they will meet newly soaring prices for everything (when energy prices go up, it’s not just energy bills that go up, it’s absolutely everything). It may be that jovial anecdotes about being given a twelve hundred quid crate of wine without even realising it may not prove that relatable. A man who lets it be known that he can’t get by on less than £1m a year may not be capable of providing the kind of leadership that might be required of the moment.

Still, if he is still as glum now as everyone said he was back then, then you never know. Things could certainly turn around for him. His humble sacrifice may not have to go on much longer.

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