In the light of recent articles in The Spectator, I think it is vital I should point out here and now that I thought Boris Johnson was crap long before Toby Young and our editor, Fraser Nelson, did. I remember suggesting more than a year ago that the entire Johnson clan was a bit thick and borne aloft simply by depthless ambition and droit de seigneur. I felt a bit bad about it because Boris was a former boss of mine here and also a kind of mate. But you have to be ruthless in this job, get in quick with your bludgeon, even if it’s your own granny on the end of it.
I thought I had been very quick off the mark but received no recognition for my insight, and then, ages later, suddenly Tobes and Fraser are being quoted in broadsheet editorials and there is nothing saying ‘Also, Rod Liddle said he was quite shite last year.’ Journalism is an incredibly competitive environment and oversights like this hurt both emotionally and professionally. It is not so long ago that another colleague and friend, Douglas Murray, won some kind of award for being the most Islamophobic person in the country. Everybody knows I’m a more deserving winner, excellent though Douglas is. But overlooked again. I’ve also missed out on Stonewall’s prestigious Bigot of the Year Award, despite having put in the effort, put in the slog, hammering the deviants all over the place.
I think the problem is that, unlike some of my colleagues, I am not terribly good at self-promotion. Nor am I particularly wily. My mother used to say to me, when I missed out on prizes at school which I clearly deserved: ‘Rod, you’ve got to push yourself forward. This is a hard world.’ How right she was. I have a suspicion that Toby and Fraser probably rang up editors and said, ‘I’ve just written a piece saying Boris is hopeless, might be worth a mention in your editorial, nudge nudge.’ Wouldn’t surprise me. I may have to start doing the same thing. Tell a few newspaper bosses I’ve just written an article casting doubt on the desirability of Black Lives Matter’s agenda — go on, mention it in your leader, will you? I was writing nasty stuff about BLM when Toby, Douglas, Fraser, all of them, were probably down on bended knee, fists in the air. Sorry to sound bitter, but this business rankles with me. Black Lives Matter is far more damaging than Covid.
The clever thing now would be to say: ‘Actually, I think Boris has handled this crisis incredibly well.’ The trouble is that not even Boris would be capable of such a delusion. Desperately slow to recognise Covid’s criticality, horribly remiss in not closing the borders, slow to lock down — and that was just the first month. Since then he has appeared haggard and directionless: inane or confused in the House of Commons, blusteringly awful on TV, staggering from U-turn to U-turn (12 of them) and introducing inordinately costly measures which to anybody with a rational frame of mind make no sense whatsoever. Pubs to close at ten: why? Is that when this capricious little virus wakes up? The rule of six — in your own house? But you can still attend a pub with 120 people in it?
He was fantastically stupid in exhorting the entire country to go out from 4 July (and, even more ludicrously, later subsidising us to do so). The policy from May onwards should have been to gradually and gently remove the government from the fray, place the responsibility on the rest of us to behave with moderation and consideration for others, and allow the economy to slowly recover. And yet the opposition parties within the House of Commons are demanding Boris should be still more stringent, exert more social control, more intervention. Indeed, the only mainstream political party to be genuinely aghast at our new lockdown is my lot, the Social Democrats, which bemoans both the breakdown of community occasioned by these fatuous laws and the shackling of individual freedom.
Disconsolate and frankly over-stretched by the demands of his job, Boris has the countenance of a man who would much rather spend the next six months working as a pox doctor’s clerk than attend another Cobra meeting and then make up some more stupid policy on the hoof. A man who wanted to have been prime minister, but not to actually be the prime minister, as some writer recently put it.
Meanwhile, the shape-shifting, wraith-like Labour party leader, Sir Keir Starmer,continues to rise slowly in the polls and is now neck and neck with the Tories. He was admirable and dignified during the early days of the pandemic but has since hunkered down into a reflexive and thoughtless position of always insisting the government ‘must do more’, no matter what it does. Nor do we have any clearer indication of what Starmer thinks about anything else. He is competent in the chamber, he has purged most of the Momentum idiots from the front bench and he is brighter than Jeremy Corbyn: that’s all, really. Yet given the government’s incompetence, it’s all he needs for a while.
Last week he attempted to reach out to those red-wall voters in the North who deserted Labour for Boris in December. But that will require a change of culture within his own party, away from the repellent identity-obsessed mindset which infests every branch — it is not just Momentum. Here are two statements with which those older, working-class, defecting voters would in general sign up to. There is no structural or institutional racism in the UK, unless you count so-called ‘positive discrimination’; and a human being in possession of XY chromosomes, a beard and a todger is a ‘man’, no matter what he might wish the rest of us to call him. Getting the Labour party to sign up to either of those statements is surely beyond him.