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9 December 2019updated 08 Jun 2021 9:29am

Evening Call: Does Boris Johnson care about anything but winning?

By Jonn Elledge

It’s been easy, these last few weeks, as the prospect of a hefty Tory majority began to look more and more real, to slip into despair. But the last two days have brought a pair of news stories about everyone’s favourite Honey Monster tribute act, Boris Johnson, which can save us from that by replacing dull, frustrating feelings like depression with far more active and positive ones like uncontrolled rage.

Story one. Yesterday on Sky News, the Tory leader took the opportunity to tell Sophy Ridge how brilliant his post-Brexit plans to reform Britain’s immigration policy would be. Here’s the money quote:

“You’ve seen quite a large number of people coming in from the whole of the EU… able to treat the EU as though it’s basically part of their own country. And the problem with that is there has been no control at all, and I don’t think that is democratically accountable.”

In some ways this is nothing new. It’s a fairly accurate description of how the EU’s freedom of movement policy, a fairly big driver of Brexit, actually works. Even the emotive language is familiar from the Leave campaign – remember the “breaking point” poster?

It’s also not so much a dog-whistle as a foghorn, designed to get voters who don’t much like immigration to line up behind the Tories. Even the widespread disgust at the xenophobic nature of the comments from the other half of the electorate is not a bug, but a feature: when Remainers are rightly angered by such comments, the fact we’re all stuck in a culture war means that it risks signalling to Leavers that they should go ahead and vote Tory.

None of which is to say such comments are in any way justifiable, because these are real lives that Johnson is playing with for a momentary political advantage. Several million people who’ve made their homes in Britain, and have been left hanging through three and a half years of Brexit negotiations, have just been told, again, that they aren’t welcome. Stephen put it best, as he so often does, tweeting: “Thank god, this epidemic of people coming here from the EU, making friends, falling in love, involving themselves in the community, paying their taxes and doing their jobs has been getting out of hand.” Indeed.

Story two. Earlier today Johnson did an interview with ITV’s Joe Pike, during which the reporter repeatedly asked him to look at a photograph taken from the Mirror’s splash: a four-year-old boy with suspected pneumonia, who, due to a lack of beds, had been forced to lie on a pile of coats on a hospital floor. Johnson declined, several times, before going so far as to irritably grab Pike’s phone and absent-mindedly pocket it, all the while talking about how the real issue at this election was the need to (all together now) get Brexit done.

That Britain has a Prime Minister who is so entitled that he accidentally steals from interviewers live on camera is, from some angles, incredibly funny. Perhaps it’ll even cut through, and become a dementia tax or bacon sandwich moment: the New Statesman’s story has been very widely read, and the traffic is coming largely from Facebook (where real people reside) rather than Twitter (where they don’t).

But the whole affair is a reminder that the consequences of his policies don’t seem to impinge very much on Boris Johnson’s thoughts. For all the talk of moving past Brexit to focus on Britain’s real priorities, there is little sense that Johnson is interested in the NHS or the people who use it. Like those 3 million EU migrants, the rest of us are little more than chess pieces to be moved around at will, extras in the background of the real story, in which Boris Johnson crusades to lead his party to its first sizeable majority in decades. If there is any way in which those of us who actually have to live in the country that he governs matter to the Prime Minister then, as with so much of his past or his family life, he’s keeping it very quiet.

Oh wait, I was wrong. There’s the despair once again.

There are three days to go.

Good day for…

Unconvincing professions of unity. In what feels like a misguided attempt to get everyone to hold hands and come together again, the BBC has published a list of ten reasons why we’re not a divided nation. They include faithfulness to our partners, supporting same-sex relationships and believing in the NHS.

Something missing from the list is any shared commitment to racial equality. But I’m sure that was just an oversight.

Bad day for…

Zac Goldsmith’s grip on reality. The man running for re-election as Tory MP for Richmond Park tweeted his thanks to the Green Party for stepping aside in the constituency, a move he implied would gift him, the one-time editor of The Ecologist, votes. Alas, as the Independent’s Benjamin Kentish pointed out, the Greens had actually stepped aside on behalf of Goldsmith’s Lib Dem rival. We all make mistakes.

Quote of the day

“This contrasts with various Lib Dem defectors who risk being stuck on Friday with a load of nearly-new orange clothes they don’t really like.”

Mark Wallace of Conservative Home explaining why ex-Tory and would-be independent MP David Gauke has chosen maroon for his campaign colour: apparently he already owns a lot of maroon clothes. Same, David, same.

Everybody’s talking about…

Social media. (Not that I’m one to talk; look at this email.) In the dying days of the campaign, the Tories have been pouring a small fortune into YouTube ads. Chris Stokel-Walker explains why.

Everybody should be talking about…

The climate crisis, which has been mysteriously absent from most of the TV debates and indeed coverage, at this election. One group that is talking about it, however, are the kids, who are alright. Our special projects editor Alona Ferber has written a great piece about the growing trend of school strikes intended to highlight the danger to the environment.

God, it’s like they don’t even want to come of age on a burning rock that’s no longer capable of supporting human life. Bloody cheek. They’ll be eating avocados and failing to buy houses next, you mark my words.


Questions? Comments? I’m over here.

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