Solipsism is one of those words that has to be looked up. It means, as a quick search confirms, “the view or theory that the self is all that can be known to exist”.
A less philosophical meaning is “the quality of being self-centred or selfish”.
So how do we slip from solipsism to the government’s Fix Your Bike website crashing overnight due to high demand for £50 repair vouchers?
According to the BBC website, “the vouchers would typically cover the bill for a standard service and the replacement of a basic component such as an inner tube or cable”.
Whoever came up with those vouchers must last have been in a bicycle repair shop when they used to wobble off to primary school. Fifty quid doesn’t buy much oily-fingered expertise nowadays. My last service cost around £230, a surprising sum but one that performed a mechanical resurrection on an old but treasured bike that had become impossible to ride.
“It’s like a new bike but at about half the cost,” as the mechanic put it when he saw my face go white.
Solipsism comes into this because we have a prime minister who appears only to become interested in a thing after he has been affected by it. So Boris Johnson became a heartfelt supporter of the NHS after he was struck down with Covid-19; he became interested in fighting obesity because he discovered he was overweight; and he became interested in getting people on their bikes because he used to cycle to work when he was Mayor of London.
Oh, not forgetting how he looked at his own life and became interested in the state chasing down feckless men who father five or six children with different mothers (this one may not be quite right).
Worrying about obesity, loving the NHS and getting everyone cycling are all worthy aims, so long as new funds are genuinely involved rather than the shuffling around of existing money and the dusting off of old gimmicks.
Beyond this, though, it is possible to wonder if the Johnsonian solipsism suggests a deeper lack of empathy. After all, a leader should be able to see the size and shape of a problem without having encountered it personally. You shouldn’t need to have been treated by the NHS to appreciate its importance, although it probably does bring it home.
Perhaps we should ask him, although Johnson isn’t that keen on talking to journalists (even though, like Michael Gove, he used to be one).
According to Christopher Hope of the Daily Telegraph, Johnson is looking for someone to do the talking for him. Hope tweeted yesterday:
“EXC Boris Johnson has launched the search for a new £100,000-plus a year spokesman to become the face of the Government in televised press conferences from this Autumn. A job ad asks for someone to ‘communicate with the nation on behalf of the Prime Minister’. Apply by Aug 21”.
Previous prime ministers used to speak for themselves but Boris Johnson wants us to stump up £100,000 or so he doesn’t have to. Why can’t he save money and do it himself?
Apparently the idea is that we should have a US-style daily political statement/show in which a TV personality speaks the government’s words.
How dispiriting, but I am under-employed at the moment. Perhaps that’s the job for me.