Boris Johnson was interviewed yesterday in Grimsby fish market. He was kippered by a reporter called Pike, a pleasing conjunction.
The ITV Calendar reporter Joe Pike asked the slippery haddock about a photograph on the front of yesterday’s Daily Mirror. This showed four-year-old Jack Williment-Barr being treated on the floor of Leeds General Infirmary.
With his usual bullshit bluster, Johnson barged the question away and started regurgitating the Get Brexit Done script he’d been force-fed by his handlers weeks ago. Waffle-waffle, record NHS funding, blather-blather, burp Brexit.
Pike stuck to his question: “I’m talking about this boy, prime minister. How do you feel, looking at that photo?”
Johnson declined to look and bumbled: “Of course. And let me tell you … I haven’t had a chance to look at it.” Pike asked Johnson if he like to look at the photograph now. Johnson said: “I’ll study it later.”
Pike didn’t give up, but Johnson was sellotaped to his script: “If you don’t mind, I’ll give you an interview now. What we are doing is we are taking this country forward, and we are investing in the NHS.”
In a bizarre turn, the empathy-free zombie from No 10 apparently snatched the phone out of Pike’s hand, shoving it in the pocket of his own coat.
The doughty Pike said: “You’ve refused to look at the photo, you’ve taken my phone and put it in your pocket, prime minister. His mother says the NHS is in crisis. What’s your response to that?”
Johnson always gets his interviews and his monologues muddled. He thinks an interview is where he spouts off uninterrupted for five minutes.
The prime minister having a bad day cheers me up at a time when not much else about this dire election does.
The story of the four-year-old patient on the floor took a few more weird turns. Health secretary Matt Hancock was sent to Leeds General Infirmary, where the Tories claimed that one of Hancock’s aides was “punched” by a left-wing protester.
The political editors at the BBC and ITV tweeted about the punch, having been tipped off by unnamed Tory sources. This “punch” was later shown on video footage to involve the aide walking into the protester’s outstretched arm.
Johnson later flourished an on-the-hoof policy about abolishing the BBC licence fee as a distraction. And it worked. The faithful newspapers this morning avoided the embarrassing interview and put the BBC licence fee on their front pages.
The bad day unfolded at great speed on Twitter. First came all the retweets for Joe Pike’s clip of the embarrassing interview, said to have been viewed 2.3m times in three-and-a-half hours.
Then later in the day, the Daily Telegraph columnist Allison Pearson claimed the story of the four-year-old boy was false. She said paediatric nurses had told her the photo was “100% fake”. The same claim using the same words under different names then spawned across Twitter and Facebook, suggesting the setting up of fake accounts to spread this version of events.
The conspiracy theories popped up on the other side of the fence, too. The commentator Craig Murray suggested the story wasn’t trending on Twitter thanks to some sort of shady deal under which tech companies avoid paying much tax. Yet at that very moment, Jack Williment-Barr was trending. I’d spotted the name and clicked out of idle curiosity.
Jeremy Corbyn flourished the Mirror story at a rally in Bristol. This plays well to his NHS theme, yet there was something routine about his anger, as there has been about his campaign.
Two footnotes to the story of Jack Williment-Barr.
ONE: His mother has asked for her son not to become a political football, and that is understandable.
TWO: While the Mirror is credited with the story about Jack lying on a hospital floor, the original story was by Daniel Sheridan of the Yorkshire Evening Post. A reminder that even in tough times for regional newspapers, a good reporter will still find strong stories.
Oh, and an unconnected footnote.
Johnson is going about suggesting that joy will be so uncontained over Brexit that a baby boom will follow. He bases this on what he says happened after the London Olympics. Yet there was no such baby boom, as BBC Radio 4’s More Or Less and others have been pointing out (the birth rate actually fell). Johnson appears to have invented this baby bump, alongside much else.