DOMINIC Grieve neatly describes Boris Johnson as a “vacuum of integrity”.
The former attorney general’s remark suggests a moral void on legs that hoovers up old colleagues and alliances, ex-wives and sometime bits on the side purely for self-advantage. Or that’s my take on his words.
Grieve was speaking after the prime minister was asked to explain who paid for the expensive refurbishment of the Downing Street flat. Dominic Cummings, Johnson’s spurned special adviser, turned the heat up under that one by way of revenge. It’s tricky to take sides in Johnson versus Cummings, as the Brexit conniving of the latter is the main reason we’re lumbered with the former as our shabby prime minister.
Like flies on the sniff, potential scandals seem to buzz around Johnson’s head.
One concerns James Dyson, the billionaire producer of vacuum cleaners. At the start of the pandemic, Dyson’s company, which he relocated to Singapore, offered to make ventilators for the NHS – but his first step was to text Johnson and check that no one in his company would have to pay extra tax.
When this story leaked last week, Johnson blathered and bellowed about how he wasn’t going to apologise for trying to save lives.
A noisy distraction from the nub of the matter. Which is that any passing billionaire with the prime minister’s private number can hop over the usual barriers and go directly to the man himself to beg a favour. Seeing as Johnson is said to use his own personal mobile with a number he’s had for years, he probably first has to check it’s not an old girlfriend calling.
Here is your useful plot rehash: Dyson never did supply any ventilators; firms that knew how to make ventilators and PPE appear sometimes to have been overlooked in favour of those with Tory connections; and Johnson wasn’t saving lives at the time but endangering them with his chaotic handling of the pandemic.
The return of Tory sleaze is no surprise to those of us who caught that movie first time around. Few of us who fidgeted in the flea-pit of politics at the time will be shocked to learn that David Cameron has seemingly been up to something dodgy in an apparent attempt to become even richer than he already is.
But with Johnson, plenty of voters seem to accept that he’s a liar and a breaker of rules. With him, bad behaviour is factored into the deal, allowing apologists to shrug and say: “Oh, that’s just Boris being Boris.” Or even worse: “Boris is doing his best.”
Fooling everyone in this way is the only mark of the man’s political genius.
Two further examples of Boris doing his best surfaced this morning…
EXAMPLE ONE: The Tory-supporting Daily Mail today carries the astonishing (but anonymously sourced) claim that Johnson said he would rather see “bodies pile high in their thousands” than have a third lockdown. Did he really say that? Downing Street’s our-lies-versus-your-lies department insist he didn’t, although it does sound like just the sort of thing he would say. This afternoon, Johnson is insisting he said no such thing, as he would.
EXAMPLE TWO: The Guardian and the BBC report that Johnson’s government is pushing back against an inquiry into pandemic mistakes, as demanded by grieving relatives. Now is not the time, apparently. And now never will be the time so long as there’s a chance that Boris Johnson might have to carry the can for something.