Voices: Them’s not the breaks, prime minister, them’s the result of having no one to blame but yourself
As the Downing Street door opened and its downstairs toilet flushed out its familiar payload for the final time, it’s important to point out, in the interest of balance, that not everyone in the crowd was booing. Quite a lot of them were simply shouting “arsehole”. Sometimes they could not be heard at all, drowned out beneath a sound system on the back of a lorry, driving about and playing the Benny Hill Show theme music.
It could hardly have been more appropriate. The day had begun in a fashion more farcical than anything Benny Hill ever dreamt up. Nadhim Zahawi, chancellor for 24 hours, publishing a letter on Treasury-headed paper and then tweeting it, telling the prime minister he had been defending on air, the day before, that it was time to go.
Nadhim Zahawi had gone on air and told people that Johnson was an honest person, that he told the truth, that he had integrity. And here he was, a day later, telling Johnson he had to go. And there is only one reason he is being made to go – because he has publicly demonstrated his complete lack of integrity. Zahawi fancies himself as the next prime minister. With this kind of judgement, he should be out of the running already.
Someone called Michelle Donelan resigned as secretary of state for education, having been in the job for just over 24 hours. Arcane rules mean she will still be eligible for a six-figure payoff. James Cleverly’s been appointed now, and if the next prime minister doesn’t fancy keeping him on, then so will he. Public money, that. What an absolute joke.
In the hours before this final, absurd speech, Johnson and his team had been frantically texting loyal Tory MPs, begging them to come and stand behind him in a show of solidarity. In the end, around 20 out of 360 could be summoned. History, if it can be bothered, may wish to note that Christopher Chope – you know, the guy who blocked the bill for upskirting – remained loyal til the end.
Andrea Jenkyns came out at the end, pointed her finger in the air and berated the crowds. “He who laughs last, laughs loudest,” she shouted. Such dignity, while the rest of the space cadets marched out after her. Daniel Kawczynski, MP for Shrewsbury, had seen fit to honour the gravity of the occasion by not holding a lemon.
For people who’ve not followed all this very closely, it might seem more than a little mad. There’s been a once-in-a-100-year pandemic, there’s a terrifying economic crisis in progress and the first major land war in Europe for 80 years. And Britain is chucking out its prime minister over a few cheese and wine parties and an appalling incident at an appalling private members club which, while appalling, did not involve him.
So it was a courtesy, really, in this rarefied moment, for Johnson to provide such a clear reminder of exactly why this has happened. It’s because of who he is. His staggering dishonesty. It is a mess totally and utterly of his own making. The root cause of what has happened has not and will not be better articulated than by Virginia Crosbie MP, who in resigning from her job as third in command at the Wales office, told the prime minister that the public “have made the simple calculation that you can’t be trusted to tell the truth”.
You can’t govern like that, and despite his truly ridiculous attempts to carry on, he now won’t govern like that.
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As the crowds booed and he waffled on, we would be told of the “eccentric” decision his MPs had made to remove him. That he wanted to carry on but “them’s the breaks”. But they’re not the breaks, prime minister. Johnson has not suffered the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune. He has shot himself squarely in the face. He has absolutely no one to blame but himself.
Could things have been different? Could he have just told the truth about all those parties? Did he really have to stand at the despatch box of the House of Commons and pretend not to know anything at all about a party that he had personally attended? Did he have to pretend he didn’t know all about Chris Pincher, an even more preposterous claim than the first?
The answer to those questions is a straightforward no. It was bulls**t on the way up and so it would always be bulls**t on the way down. Johnson was a great bulls**t rocket that never achieved escape velocity and so has now crashed down into the earth. He was rewarded for his bulls**t at every stage of his life’s journey, so that even now, bulls**t is absolutely all that he has got.
We’ve seen far too many of these moments in recent years. Surely never before has any such moment elicited such little basic human sympathy. He has got what he deserved. The rest of us, probably, deserved better.