Voices: The PM’s response to a cold, hungry pensioner tells us all we need to know about Boris Johnson

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Boris Johnson did his best to sit there in dutiful silence (ITV/Good Morning Britain )
Boris Johnson did his best to sit there in dutiful silence (ITV/Good Morning Britain )

It was 1,719 days since the prime minister last appeared on Good Morning Britain and, on this morning’s evidence (no pun intended), it will be at least that until he does so again.

Boris Johnson did his best to sit there in dutiful silence, live from his own Downing Street study, while Susanna Reid told him a story about a 77-year-old woman called Elsie, who has featured on Good Morning Britain, who has been reduced to eating one meal a day, who is losing weight, and who spends her days getting up early to get out of the house and ride around on buses so that she doesn’t have to have the heating on at home.

The prime minister’s response was to remind Susanna Reid that the “24-hour freedom bus pass was something that I introduced”.

Reid, if anything, seemed less flabbergasted than the rest of the watching nation, pausing only to point out ask, “So Elsie should be grateful to you for her bus pass?” To which the prime minister answered “no”, even though he had made abundantly clear that he believed the answer to be “yes”, not three seconds previously.

And this was hardly the worst of it. At one point he even said, in the span of two sentences, “We are doing everything we can… but we can do more.”

Most prime ministers, most people even, would not consider being publicly embarrassed about a pensioner who rides the bus to nowhere, just to keep out of her cold house, to be an opportunity to brag about a minor local policy tweak they introduced 14 years ago. But most people are not like Boris Johnson.

Some people are, though, and one immediately springs to mind. When Donald Trump was interviewed on live TV on 9/11, he infamously bragged about how the Trump Tower in Manhattan’s Financial District, “used to be the second tallest, now it’s the tallest”.

That little Trump vignette went almost unnoticed for 15 years or so. No one cared that much. Why would they? But people in the public spotlight usually find it hard to conceal who they really are, and under the most piercing spotlight of all, Johnson is resoundly failing.

Johnson’s former editor at The Daily Telegraph, Max Hastings, warned in June 2019 that, “the “Conservative Party is about to foist a tasteless joke upon the British people – who will not find it funny for long”.

On the ropes with Reid, he resorted to his usual schtick. Out came the finger pointing, the waffle, the over-talking, all the dreary dribble that one of his own MPs was thick enough to describe as his “Oxford Union debating skills” while making sexist, snobbish and generally hateful comments about Angela Rayner to The Mail on Sunday.

At the end, with Reid trying her level best to puncture the wobbling word blancmange so she could hand back to Lorraine in the studio, Johnson stopped to say, “Who’s Lorraine?”

It’s not worth pausing to consider for very long whether you can really claim to have a clue what’s going on in the country you nominally lead if you’ve never heard of Lorraine Kelly (though when Jeremy Corbyn was unable to recognise a photo of Ant and Dec, the abuse went on for days).

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If the prime minister does want to get himself up to speed on popular culture, he could start with the bit where the hitherto unknown Lorraine Kelly rips into one of his old flings on live TV, mainly for having refused to answer any questions at all about why it was that her businesses received tens of thousands of pounds of money from various local London accounts while she was having an affair with the mayor. Who knows, maybe he’s forgotten all about it. He was very busy at the time, doing something or other with bus passes for which absolutely no one seems to be in the least bit grateful.

He was trying and – as is customary, failing – to be funny. Everyone who knows Johnson grows weary of it, but the trouble is, the last audience left is the public, and they, as Hastings wisely prophesied, have grown weary of it too.

And as Johnson has discovered for yet another time – and there will be more – the clown act doesn’t go down so well when everyone can see that you’ve just had your extra large pants pulled down.

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