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8 January 2020updated 09 Jan 2020 11:34am

Evening Call: Boris Johnson deigns to drop by

 Thanks, Boris. Great to have you on board.

By Jonn Elledge

Boris Johnson is back! The Prime Minister, who left Britain for the Caribbean on Boxing Day and declined to cut his holiday short to deal with the small matter of the threat of a massive war in the Middle East, has been seen in public for the first time in weeks.

He was hard at working in Downing Street yesterday, we are told; but the first actual evidence any of us had that he wasn’t still working on his sunburn was when he showed up at the Palace of Westminster for PMQs earlier, carelessly blocking off a cycle lane as he did so. Thanks, Boris. Great to have you on board.

The consensus seemed to be that the Prime Minister bested Jeremy Corbyn at PMQs. (You can read Patrick’s write-up here.) And in some ways, keeping his head down over the five days since a US drone strike killed one of the most senior leaders in Iran seems to have paid off. In a sensitive international crisis like this one, a clumsy comment from a world leader could easily spark disaster. That goes double for a world leader as clumsy as Boris Johnson, and in an age where US foreign policy seems to be determined by whatever Donald Trump last heard from Fox News.

So this is one of those times when inaction, even inaction rooted in laziness, may have been the right choice. To quote Ronald Reagan, which I really don’t make a habit of doing: sometimes the right advice for a politician is, “Don’t just do something – stand there.”

And yet. A big part of leadership is, well, leading. A Prime Minister’s job lies during a crisis not just in the decisions they make or the statements they issue, but in their visibility, in reassuring the nation they have a handle on things. On that metric, Boris Johnson simply hasn’t been doing the job that he spent so many years plotting to get himself.

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More than that, the whole affair brings those niggling questions about his lack of accountability to the fore once again. Jeremy Corbyn has been raked over the coals for his attitudes to Iran and to foreign policy more broadly over the last week. Why is it that an opposition leader who will never again put himself forward as a candidate to lead the government has faced tougher questions than the Prime Minister who left his post unattended to go sun himself?

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Not for the first time, I find myself thinking that the problem with the British media isn’t that it’s too tough on Labour. It’s that it’s not nearly tough enough on the Tories.

Good day for…

Keir Starmer who, not content with having the highest support among Labour members in a recent YouGov poll, is leading the race to get MPs’ nominations by a country mile: at time of writing he has 26, compared to 11 for the next contender, Rebecca Long-Bailey.

But, Stephen notes in this week’s politics column, the real Keir Starmer remains elusive. Is he a lawyer who stood up for the powerless? Or is he the tough-as-nails director of public prosecutions who stood firmly behind the police? Read more of Stephen’s great thoughts here.

Bad day for…

State school pupils, over 200,000 of whom are stuck in schools which have been performing badly for at least 13 years, according to new figures from Ofsted. Schools Week’s Freddie Whittaker explained what’s going on here.

Quote of the day

“I want to pay tribute today to all those British people who contributed so much to the 45 years of European Union membership.”

EU Commission president Ursula von der Leyen waves goodbye in a speech today at the LSE. A single tear rolls down my defeated Remainer cheek.

Everybody’s talking about…

The threat of World War Three, which continues to loom, especially in the minds of those of us who were foolish enough to still be awake last night at the point when Iran decided to fire missiles at US airbases in Iraq.

It was reassuring, then, to wake up to Jeremy’s take on the matter under the soothing headline, “Iran’s retaliation for Qasem Soleimani’s killing does not spell war”. You can read it here.

Everyone should be talking about…

The strange case of Paul Zimmer, the influencer who quit social media in disgrace, before seemingly making a comeback as an entirely different person. Sarah reported on the deeply weird affair here.


Questions? Comments? Drop me an email.

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