Were I to do facile stand-up comedy about the news that Boris Johnson is due to give a speech at a conference about blockchain, the tech that forms the basis of cryptocurrencies, I would open with something like this: “Hey, it makes sense to me! One of them was meant to change the world and make everything better then crashed and burned in the most dramatic fashion… and the other one is blockchain!”
Sadly for me – and happily for those imaginary audiences – I remain chained to my keyboard for the time being. Still, it is funny isn’t it? The former Conservative prime minister and old Etonian classicist Boris Johnson speaking at a conference – sorry, an “international symposium” – on “blockchain advancements”.
It’s wonderful. Can you imagine 2012 Johnson, mayor of the greatest city in the world, darling of the press and guilty pleasure of many a liberal, being told about the way his future was headed? He probably would have walked straight into the Thames.
Actually, it gets better. Do you know what the tagline is for this symposium? Because I can tell you. It’s “A New Interoperability Dimension Coupling DeFi And CeFi”. I laughed out loud when I first read it. I have no idea what it means. I would be ready to bet every penny currently in my savings account that Boris Johnson doesn’t either.
Can you imagine our former prime minister saying those words out loud and pretending he understands the noises coming out of his mouth? It’d be like witnessing a monkey having to reckon with the sudden knowledge of its own mortality.
One person who probably knows how one would go about coupling DeFi and CeFi is gmoney, Johnson’s fellow speaker. gmoney – yes, all in lowercase, obviously – is an “NFT Curator & Thought Leader”. There isn’t a picture of him on the symposium’s website; instead, he is represented by a heavily pixelated avatar of a monkey wearing a little hat. Boris Johnson is 58 years old. He was, until this summer, the leader of a G7 nation.
He was also, until really all not that long ago, a person people liked. That was always his thing, right? Boris Johnson wants to be liked and loved, there’s this neediness quite obviously leaking out of him from every pore, and people indulged him for a while.
[See also: Will the crypto crash bring down Bitcoin?]
He was on television and he edited a magazine and he ran a capital city and he was a secretary of state and he ran a country. He lied to people and annoyed them and told them what they wanted to hear then did whatever he wanted, but he got away with it, mostly. Not always, but often enough.
Last month it looked like he was going to return, ready to play one last trick and come back to repair the Conservative Party he’d broken. He had the numbers to run, we were told – MPs wanted him back and so did the members and god, could you hear the people sing? They were rejoicing at the prospect of the blond mop once again doing what he does best.
Or were they? We’ll never know. He didn’t run in the end. Didn’t really want to. Did the grown-up thing. Whatever he wants to tell himself. It doesn’t really matter.
What does is that Boris Johnson needs one thing even more than he needs to be liked, and it is money. He never was a rich man, at least by the standards of the circles he’s always inhabited. It sounds silly written down like that but it’s the truth – compared with your Osbornes and your Camerons, the Johnsons may as well be merry peasants.
They have no mounds of cash and no great titles. There’s just hair and hope, and a genetic inability to feel shame. It’s just as well, given what Johnson now has to do to keep the lifestyle he never could entirely afford.
I do wonder if he does feel shame, though. Not about what he did as mayor or foreign secretary or prime minister, but about the depths to which he has lowered himself both in search of and as a result of his longing for power.
He was the boy who wanted to be world king and he got his wish, or at least a more realistic version of it, but his allies are not the good and the great. They are people like Nadine Dorries and Jacob Rees-Mogg and the organisers of a conference about cryptocurrencies.
He was the man who wanted to be Churchill but all he could manage, in the end, was to be Pyrrhus. Really, it’s wonderful.
[See also: The uncertain future of the Tory party]