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Voices: Captain Boris will go down with his ship of make-believe

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No one should have been surprised to see Boris Johnson in an ebullient mood in the House of Commons, two days after taking the kind of public beating that would finish off anyone with so much as a nanogram of shame.

It told us only what we already knew, which is that Boris Johnson is going to carry on living in Boris Johnson World until the very last. He is the captain of his own ship of make-believe, and he will go down with it, jabbering, bloviating and just generally making it all up, even as the waves of truth close over above him.

This is the point of Johnson, and he is rather good at it. British politics has been defined for a very long time now by the undoubtedly impressive salesmanship of one man, shifting tickets to his own magic world of the palpably untrue. And all that’s happened in the last two and a half years, but even more so in the last six months, is the dawning realisation among the punters that it’s all been a con. And that’s not going to change.

He possibly does really believe that Partygate’s had a line drawn under it now. That it’s all over. But then, one doubts he retains the capacity to believe or disbelieve anything. True liars, epic liars, which is to say, sociopaths, don’t really see the world in this way.

They don’t see any difference between a lie and the truth, between what is true and what is potentially true and therefore can be claimed to be true. Both things are simply cards in their hand, to be deployed in whatever way suits them best.

There is no surprise that Prime Minister’s Questions proceeded as it almost always does, and no doubt always will. At one point, Keir Starmer read out some horrifying stories, about a young man having to crowdfund for a private knee operation because he was in too much pain to wait two years for the NHS to do it. And another from a young man, who called 999 six times to find out where his mother’s ambulance was. On the sixth call, after he’d been waiting over an hour, she was dead.

In Boris Johnson World though, none of this matters. Because in Boris Johnson World there are “50,000 new nurses” and in Boris Johnson World, everything’s going to be fine because we have a “robust and strong economy” precisely because of the action Boris Johnson has taken.

In the real world, while he was speaking, the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) was publishing its latest forecast, in which the UK will have the worst economic output in the developed world next year, the highest inflation in Europe, the largest fiscal retraction. None of this matters to Johnson though, because these things don’t exist in Boris Johnson World. His biggest problem is that he is now in so deep in a world of his own, he can’t even see that nobody believes him anymore.

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What has certainly helped him is that for three entire years, between 2016 and 2019, politics and public conversation was allowed to live in the land of make-believe, principally because a decision had been taken – Brexit – but hadn’t actually happened yet. So preposterously optimistic predictions (and also, in fairness, absurdly overegged doom-mongering) took hold like it was real.

We spent so long in the land of the imagined that it is really only now that reality is getting a look-in, and this is what is prompting Johnson’s own party to panic. Johnson is very good at banging on a lectern and telling fatuous lies about the future. But he’s finding it much much harder to lie his way out of the present, and there is quite a bit of concern about that he’s not going to find it any easier at any point soon.

The time at which you can just say the economy’s great when it very clearly isn’t has passed. You can’t just say that the NHS is doing great under your “record investment” when people up and down the country know that none of it is true.

Reality matters, in the end. Johnson will be in denial to his final breath. But the voters won’t be, and his own party won’t be in denial about that forever.

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