EU Referendum

Politics: decline and fail


We're back to Matthew Parris again, with his theory that "Flight Bojo2019 has begun its final descent". And, to use Parris's analogy, prime minister Johnson has passed the outer marker and is well-established on the glide path.

But, from the evidence of his widely publicised train-wreck speech yesterday to the CBI, he's just cut the engines, pulled the stick back hard and given the aircraft a boot-full of rudder.

Mind you, I'm not sure modern flight systems will allow such a manoeuvre - ending up in a terminal spin and a rather large, smoking hole in the ground – any more than political systems are supposed to allow a prime minister to self-immolate in public.

However, given that we have a man who seems to think that the rules don't apply to him, it should come as no surprise that a very public performer should play out his own demise in a very public forum.

The crucial moment, which will doubtless live in people's memories, occurred just after he had lost his place in his speech, uttering "blast it!" followed by multiple pleas to "forgive me" as he riffled through his papers. At that point he regaled his baffled audience with a eulogy about Peppa Pig World, telling the captains of industry, "Peppa Pig World is very much my kind of place".

Previously, we've often seen Johnson visiting schools and, while he may be hazy about the words of songs about busses, he seems to be more at home surrounded by nursery-age children than he is when in the company of adults – other than when he is raiding his dressing-up box, that is.

Thus, is should be no surprise at all that this shambolic man should have been so taken by his visit to a kiddies' theme park that he felt compelled to share his experiences with his audience, not least because it seemed to offer some of the very things that his government had failed to provide in the real world: safe streets; discipline in schools; and heavy emphasis on new mass transit systems.

Needless to say, the Guardian has gone overboard, declaring it its report: "Johnson ‘losing the confidence’ of Tory party after rambling CBI speech", amplifying this with a sub-heading that observes: "Senior party members concerned after chaotic fortnight, with PM said to be losing his grip over key policies".

The paper retails the view of a "former cabinet minister" stating that there was "an accumulation of things building up, really relating to his [Johnson's] competence and that is beginning to look very shaky" after a "pretty bad bloody fortnight". It cites another senior backbencher saying that the speech had been a "mess" while a third Tory MP said: "I thought today’s performance was the most embarrassing by a Conservative prime minister since last week's PMQs. Someone needs to get a grip. He is losing the confidence of the party".

That much we would expect from the left-of-centre press, but something is definitely up when the ultra-loyal Telegraph chips in with something very similar. Its headline reads: "'It’s just not working': Concerns grow about Boris Johnson after bizarre Peppa Pig speech", with the sub-head telling us: "Disquiet grows about potential dysfunction at Number 10 after rambling CBI speech which Prime Minister says 'went over well'".

That last bit is possibly the most incongruous part of the whole affair. Having so publicly demonstrated that he was losing his grip, later in the day when he was asked by a solicitous BBC reporter, "is everything ok?", Johnson ducked the question and referred to his speech, saying: "I think people got the vast majority of the points I wanted to make. I thought it went over well".

Even then, the paper tried to salvage something from the wreckage, having the confused Tim Stanley trill that: "Boris Johnson's rambling Peppa Pig speech was an inadvertent success", on the grounds that it got "coverage most speeches to the CBI conference can only dream of".

Unfortunately for Johnson, though, he's not an actress, for whom there is no such thing as bad publicity. Yet, one has to marvel of the desperate attempts of the paper to shore up their hero, with Stanley writing: "There was a knife-edge moment when he lost his place and a few seconds of rifling through the pages, before he appeared to make the rest of it up - but only us professionals would notice. Joe public never clocks a thing".

There we have this embarrassing interlude making virtually every television news bulletin in the country, and abroad as well, while the whole episode can be revisited on YouTube under the heading: "The moment bungling Boris Johnson loses place during CBI speech". But this is something Stanley would have it that "only us professionals would notice".

As to the content of the speech, this is someone overshadowed by the "shambolic" delivery, contradicting Stanley's view about the degree of coverage.

And yet, on another day when wind generation was being bailed out by fossil fuel, Johnson was boasting that when he was a kid, 80 percent of our electricity came from coal, in 2012, we were still 40 percent dependent on coal while, "today – only ten years later – coal supplies less than 2 percent of our power".

The day previously, coal had actually supplied an average of 5 percent of our generated electricity and at times yesterday it had ramped up to an average of 7.3 percent. By 2024, Johnson says, it will be down to zero. If that year coincides with a general election and we have similar weather conditions, we will be voting in the dark and Johnson will be history – if he even lasts that long.

One could hardly guess that this is the fate awaiting this man as he fantasised about a "new epoch", where – amongst others - the young people of today, "the disciples of David Attenborough", were to force radical change to: our cars; our trucks; our buses; our ships; our boats; our planes; our trains; our domestic heating systems; our farming methods; our industrial processes; our power generation; and much else besides.

Wrapped up in that fantasy world, he "confidently" predicted that "in just a few years' time it will be as noisome, offensive to the global consumer to open a new coal fired power station as it is to get on a plane and light up a cigar". Clearly, neither Modi nor chairman Xi have got the memo.

But if ever there was an illustration that this man is imbued with the zeal of a convert to a new religion, this was it. The speech itself was embarrassing for its gushing embrace of greenery, as he eulogised about the "row after row stretching out to the North Sea, of beautiful white mills as we claim a new harvest, rich and green from the drowned meadows of Doggerland".

It was only a few days ago, however, that we saw a report telling us that the much lauded Dogger Bank development would be "unprofitable" for its Norwegian developers, with the view expressed that "Committing to a very large capacity in bottom-fixed offshore wind is putting too many eggs in one basket — possibly also not in the right basket".

Nothing of this will ever percolate the hazy brain of prime minister Johnson. Way past his sell-by date, his incongruous comments in his speech were a testament to a cluttered, disordered mind.

In this context, the reference to Peppa Pig was perhaps significant. A few years ago, when my daughter Emma was completing her art degree, she was tasked with painting a picture showing a discordant contrast between two objects. She chose a child's Peppa Pig bag holding an unexploded bomb (illustrated).

In his own way, Johnson painted himself an unexploded bomb yesterday. It is one which, in time, will blow him out of office. Not for him will there be the glidepath to a gentle touchdown. With a boot-full of rudder, his will be a screaming descent with a smoking hole in the ground at the end. Despite the probability of collateral damage, it cannot come too soon.

Also published on Turbulent Times.