Just how sorry is Boris Johnson really?

IT’S an old habit and old habits wear thin. I look every morning at the review of the newspapers on the BBC website, as if unable to start the day without a sniff of newsprint.

Those front pages are often the same, as if cut and pasted by a central committee, or put there after Boris Johnson’s minders twisted the editor’s arm. Or whispered in the proprietor’s ear, who then set about manipulating limbs.

Today’s front pages offered a fine example of this failing. Most went with the prime minister being sorry – nay, “deeply sorry” – that under his watch 100,000 people had died from Covid-19.

A number so shocking it’s hard to get your head around; and a political failing so immense, you might have thought the newspapers would raise at least an admonishing finger. Instead, there was Johnson looking sad but framed in a sympathetic manner.

Now I am sure he is deeply sad this has happened, but you can never escape the impression that he’s deeply sad this had to happen on his watch.

The trouble is most of those front pages made Johnson’s sorrow the main thrust of the story, rather than all those people who have died. The Sun even had Johnson, head bowed, above the headline: “We shall remember them.” I rather doubt that he will.

The Times, a newspaper often friendly to the Tories, was a noble exception, running with the sobering headline “100,000” deaths” above a mosaic of photographs of some of those who have died. A factual headline, rather than one designed to make us feel sorry for Boris Johnson.

Imagine for a moment that Jeremy Corbyn had won the election. An unlikely scenario, I know, but there he is at Number 10, rather than just having moved into a new allotment site (it was on Twitter).

And imagine that he’d handled everything as badly as Johnson has. The headlines would have been endlessly hostile; Labour would have been roundly condemned.

Instead, Johnson ricochets from one bad decision to another – too early, too late; too recklessly confident, too blunderingly cheery – and escapes censure. There is criticism, of course, but not much.

The newspapers have mostly always leaned to the right, and it’s one reason why we end up lumbered with governments like the one we’ve got now. Another reason lies on the shoulders of that man with a new allotment: he was never going to win an election, was he?

Sadly, Johnson did win and now he insists he did everything he could to avoid the situation we’re now in. And if you find that excuse hard to swallow, you clearly haven’t been swallowing the daily anti-vitamin pills known as the front pages.

THERE is something jarring about the way Boris Johnson uses language, too. It’s as if a teacher at Eton once mentioned he had a good turn of phrase, and he’s never stopped turning it since. Perhaps he’ll still be turning it in his grave.

It is tempting, when writing, to play with words, to chisel out a phrase. You can do this too often, as many columnists and bloggers do.

As an over-paid columnist, Johnson was a lively writer, although a one-trick pony. And it is just wrong to use such verbal flourishes in his present job. Saying, as he did, that he’d “exhaust the thesaurus of misery” talking about all those people who’ve died was just so jarringly wrong when addressing a topic so serious.

It’s as if he still wants a pat on the back, when what he needs is a kick up the arse. Sorry about that, but really.

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