As a clarion call, a sounding of hosannas, a piece of fiery rhetoric to hold puissance over the soul of the nation, ‘Build Back Better’ is a raspberry. It is a stock that will never sell, a verbal wreck. It lacks zing and pep and, above all, Boris. If Lenin had disembarked from his sealed train and told the frenzied crowds that he would ‘Build Back Better’, they would have packed him back to the Huns.
Having said that, there were times yesterday when Boris riffed on the theme and seemed a bit more himself. ‘Build Back Beaver,’ he said. (Was Carrie backstage?) And even ‘Build Back Burger,’ which sounded encouragingly like the Boris of yesteryear that we have missed so sorely. That’s when a thought struck me. What my old friend needs is a personal renovation of the most extreme kind. We have to Build Back Boris — and soon. It’s a mission of national importance.
This task should, of course, be supervised by a fine arts committee, as one would with the restoration of what had once been a beloved national monument held in affection by millions. I concede that, in days gone by, Boris was a bit overdone as a construct, a trifle baroque and at times rococo, with a few flakes of paint coming off. But he was designed to reflect the taste of the average Tory voter, surrounded by magnificent balusters of low tax, individual responsibility and personal freedom.
How he stood out on the English skyline, to the disgust of Labour politicians and their magic money trees, promising to eat the very ID cards that the strange new Boris was proposing to introduce only a few months ago. Old fashioned he may have been, and occasionally an adherent to the nasty party architectural guidelines. But Boris, the national monument, was a masterpiece that lacked cloying sentiment — from LGBT, for instance, to wind farms and small animals. Indeed, it once sat on my dog.
Most of us will agree, of course, that national institutions are often in need of improvement. A bit of scaffolding. A modern paint job, a bit of a buffing up to protect it from political elements and the passage of time. Instead, with Boris, the bulldozers were brought in. As Goldfinger did to do the cars of his victims, Boris was taken to pieces, removed from his plinth by crane and driven to the nearest scrap heap.
He has been lost for some time. Search parties were first sent out years ago when our beloved landmark began to look suspiciously unlike itself. Bewildered spectators noticed woke arcades, gender fluid bellcasts and bargeboards of otters. After the G7 Summit, when it appeared to speak of a ‘more feminine world’, even Scotland Yard abandoned their enquiries.
Boris’s friends have not given up hope, though this week was a serious setback for his nearest and dearest. In Manchester, the construction we loved had been hit by a wrecking ball. Its speech, though it contained some old Boris jokes, espoused everything Boris hates; the highest tax burden for 70 years, untrammeled wage rises, runaway inflation.
Yesterday, Margaret Thatcher was invoked as a supporter of the hard left. The Iron Lady, said the remnants of Johnson, would not have ignored ‘the meteorite that was Covid’. Somehow, I doubt she would not have responded with another meteorite. As one of her cabinet ministers pointed out, her solution to economic crises was to lower taxes, not raise them.
The Boris I knew would be the first to agree that the new Johnsonian economic policy is palpable insanity. Yesterday evening he would have been composing a newspaper column attacking himself in the harshest and least uncertain terms. He would be writing about his frequently quoted and beloved Laffer Curve, the proven theory that lower taxation creates more revenue.
But Boris no longer agrees with himself. Perhaps, from time to time, he even feels that the new Johnsonian political philosophy is wisdom of an occult and superior sort. To the rest of us, including the Tory Heartlands, it sounds like the simian gabble of closing time in the Welsh Valleys. Boris is becoming the William Jennings Bryan of British public life when he was born to be its Clarence Darrow.
He must be built back now. On the double. I suggest his foundations are reinforced with a bit of Tory scum, which is catnip to most Conservative voters. I would suggest a plinth promising to bring taxes down again, a few anti-inflationary buttresses, an arch of gilded anti-wokery, and large and populous signs forbidding Carrie from setting foot on the construction site.
Conservative voters’ affection for the new Boris is not inexhaustible. It is all very well to say they have nowhere to go, but that is palpably untrue. They can go to the Lib Dems, as they did at the Chesham and Amersham by-election, or not vote at all. Until Boris is found, reclaimed and built back, I will not vote Tory again. And as long as he speaks the mumbo jumbo of gender fluidity he is not using my loo, either.