Telegraph pops an apology about Boris Johnson’s column into the microwave…

A bellyful of politics is going to be our lot almost until the bellyful of food interlude.

Perhaps you are sated already with the bread sauce of Brexit, stuffed with the glum pudding of another election.

Understandable, but one story this weekend offers antacid to neutralise the indigestible load. It is that the Daily Telegraph has been forced to apologise for a column written by Boris Johnson shortly before he gave up his day job of dashing off last-minute columns to become a prime minister who dashes off last-minute policies.

The Telegraph coyly avoids mentioning the prime minister by name, referring to him only as “the columnist”.

Johnson had falsely claimed something, you see – hardly surprising from a man who could swear dusk was dawn, even as the morning chorus rises to heckle him.

In his column, Johnson claimed the UK was set to “become the largest and most prosperous economy in this hemisphere”. Throwing in “this hemisphere” is typical Johnsonian hyperbole, a colourful phrase plucked from the drawer where he keeps a tattered collection (anyone who writes has one of those, Johnson’s is just deeper).

He also said the British economy would overtake Germany “in our lifetimes”. The Telegraph admitted the claim in effect was based on glancing at a real economic forecast from the OECD. It was “the columnist’s own extrapolation of this data beyond the timeframe of the forecast” – a lofty way of conceding that he’d made it up.

The data was only based on European countries, so could not justify Johnson’s boast about the UK economy outperforming all nations in the northern hemisphere.

The Telegraph had to print this apology because of a complaint to Ipso, the newspaper regulator – the third such bit of in-print grovelling in relation to Johnson’s column.

This makes me wonder if we shouldn’t have a new regulator for politicians who knowingly speak blatant bollocks – a weighty responsibility, it is true. Johnson alone deserves his own personal regulator, dedicated to correcting his lies, exaggerations and slippery evasions.

A telling anecdote about how Johnson operated as a journalist is to be found in a report on the Guardian website. This has been told before in other contexts, but here goes.

Media editor Jim Waterson reminds us that Johnson always left writing his Monday morning column until the last possible moment, leaving a brief window on Sunday afternoons, before sending it off. “His copy would often arrive shortly before the Telegraph’s print deadline, leaving little time for editors to make changes and fact-check his claims, according to individuals who had to deal with it,” Waterson writes.

A strategy to make himself the most important writer in the room – and a breezily arrogant way to dodge the rules as they apply to everyone else. A selfish but effective tactic as a columnist, but you can see how such entitled behaviour rubs into the political cloth, too.

Bluster and blab, make something up, exaggerate a shrivelled acorn into a mighty oak, and you’ve got yourself a workable policy.

Or workable for five minutes until you spot another wheeze (ban fracking, raise the pension, cut taxes, open a few hospitals, replace all those police officers your lot laid off, and so on).

Columnists like a colourful phrase, as I know. Ex-columnist Johnson cannot shake off his old habits, referring this weekend to his “oven-ready” Brexit – and yet, even then, he muddles his metaphors in rush. This “oven-ready” Brexit is ready to “put in the microwave”, which doesn’t make sense: one is ready for the oven, the other for the microwave.

If nothing else, this suggests he doesn’t know how to use an oven or a microwave.

Personally, I’d prefer a Brexit that was ready for the freezer, to be forgotten amid a frosted pile of boxes and plastics bags that have lost their labels.

Leave a Reply