Boris Johnson struggles to answer questions about Queen’s speech – audio
So people of Britain and beyond, a question: which kind of car crash do you prefer? There’s the Diane Abbott kind of car crash, where she, debilitated as we now know by complications from diabetes, flounders in that now infamous interview with LBC’s Nick Ferrari. It makes news; boy does it make news. The media replays it endlessly, the focus groups remember it as an indicator of Labour sloppiness, voters raise it on the doorstep. It adds in a malevolent kind of way to the gaiety of the nation.
Then, of course, there is the Boris Johnson car crash. Funny about Boris Johnson. He is a highly intelligent bloke, but he has a lot of these interviews when he hums and haws and yammers and dissembles and truly, madly, deeply doesn’t know what he is talking about. Last night’s encounter with Eddie Mair on Radio 4’s PM was a jewel even for him. Mair asks him about those issues flagged up by Theresa May very recently as matters of “burning injustice” and addressed in the manifesto which either weren’t mentioned at all in the emaciated, post-election Queen’s speech, that is, the programme for government. Johnson is immediately at his most discombobulated.
The foreign secretary, one of the most senior members of this government, indeed a man touted as he always is as a potential leader, clearly doesn’t know much of what was in the manifesto and certainly cannot differentiate between those promises and what emerged in the Queen’s speech. “Hang on a minute,” he pleads with Mair, the former mayor desperately gulping for air and playing for time. When one answer belatedly occurs to him, he tries to answer it, ignoring the fact that there have been several in the interim that clearly left him clueless. He resorts to banter, a drowning man clutching for a lifebuoy. Mair slaps him down: “This is not the Two Ronnies.”
Listening to his discomfort, which Mair – as is his way – does nothing to assuage, one feels the same embarrassment engendered by the Abbott interview; the same sense of shame that one is rubbernecking an individual’s very open grief when the kinder thing would be to close one’s ears and look away.
Diane Abbott struggles to answer questions on anti-terror report
And here’s the thing; Abbott’s disastrous interview mattered. It mattered to the media. People cited it when revealing how they were going to vote. But Johnson’s won’t matter. It will be filed in the folder marked the Joy of Good Old Boris. Abbott’s brain fade played into all sorts of perceptions society has about her as a tad too assertive for its taste, about women who take senior roles, about black Britons who dare to peer over the parapet. You have to be twice as good if you’re outside the cohort that runs the world, our parents told us. Parity doesn’t cut it. That doesn’t stop women or minorities reaching positions of great importance in modern Britain for in all sorts of ways we have made great strides. But the stakes are different. God help you if you get it wrong. Brace for the hardest impact.
By contrast, Johnson, as a character, as a very obvious member of the privileged cohort that runs the world, has the luxury of a soft landing. All manner of safety nets. Unlimited parachutes. Sure he messed up, but that doesn’t say anything about him. He’s just Boris Johnson. That doesn’t say anything about the cohort. Our perception of them is embedded. Still we talk of him and them, in the face of all the evidence, as types well-suited – perhaps destined – to running the country. Still, Tory MPs, knowing as they must his unsuitability, threaten at regular intervals to inflict him on the rest of us in the self-serving belief that good old Boris Johnson humming and hawing might nevertheless save their party and their jobs.
So, to the question, which kind of car crash do we prefer, the answer is clear. It doesn’t reflect well and it doesn’t seem to hinge on the severity. It seems to depend on who’s driving.