It is arguably disappointing that Boris Johnson chose to use his last proper speech as prime minister to re-advertise his services as a newspaper columnist – but can you blame him, really? It is publicly assumed – and quite possibly even true – that the guy is in desperate need of a few quid, what with having dropped two hundred grand decorating what turned out to be a very short-term rental flat.
He had, in theory, gone to Suffolk to approve £700m of funding for a new nuclear power station. But mainly he’d gone to remind the nation’s right-wing comment desks that he’s definitely still got it. He’s always had it, really. The trouble is the same as it’s always been. The more you burnish your journalistic credentials as a weaver together of largely specious arguments, doing verbose pirouettes around arresting factoids that turn out to bear no scrutiny at all, the more you advertise, yet again, your complete unsuitability for the high office from which you have just been very publicly defenestrated.
The usual tropes were all there. This country’s built no new nuclear power stations for 25 years. “Thanks a bunch, Tony,” he said. “Thanks, Gordon.”
It’s futile to point this out, but just for the record and all that, there is this nuclear power plant thing called Hinkley Point, which is still not finished, and which, in 2015, Johnson described as a “disgrace” that was “costing an extraordinary amount of money”. But he was machinating against David Cameron, then – so that was fine.
He also, while still existing as prime minister, had absolutely nothing to offer on how on earth people will pay their energy bills this winter – but he did explain how much you could save if you bought a new energy-efficient kettle for £20 (answer: £10 a year). It is, yet again, futile to point this out, but during the Brexit referendum, EU proposals on energy-efficient kettles were deliberately elevated to the status of a declaration of war on the British cup of tea.
It’s arguable that Johnson should have had more to offer, given the month he’s had to think about this truly terrifying crisis. Something a bit more helpful, a bit more reassuring, than a kettle-based analogy. Naturally, he’ll say that it’s not up to him. There’s nothing he can do. He’s out of a job in a week. Yet he did still seem able to draw on whatever authority is required to approve the building of a huge new nuclear power station that could take 15 years and cost £20bn.
Johnson still likes to talk about building a new nuclear power plant every year, for eight years, which is completely impossible – but if that didn’t stop him while he was actually in government, it’s hardly going to stop him now. You can’t open eight new nuclear power plants in eight years for the same reason that – as Warren Buffet once said – you can’t produce a baby in one month by getting nine women pregnant. Johnson, to his credit, has at least given the latter a try.
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None of this bodes well for future national life. That Johnson really was able to govern for three full years while existing entirely in the land of make-believe should make everyone worry about where on earth he’s off to next, now that there is no thread at all – however frayed – tethering his words to that annoying little thing called reality.
One might say that, in the cruel months ahead, it would be a shame to waste his considerable talents. If the Daily Telegraph comment pages can possibly spare their star man, it might be an idea to hook him up directly to the national grid. Who needs Hinkley Point or Sizewell C? We already have Johnson, a man who arguably knows more than anyone about how to achieve power entirely through getting a reaction.
And that will surely be his legacy. Not quite the political cold fusion most of his party really do still imagine him to be, but more a kind of uniquely British Chernobyl, the fallout from which the rest of us will be cleaning up for decade.