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29 November 2019updated 09 Jul 2021 7:19am

Evening Call: Hide & Seek With Boris Johnson

By Jonn Elledge

It’s easy to be critical of Boris Johnson – honestly, it’s really easy; try it – but it’s important also to be fair. And if you were a Prime Minister running for re-election, and you had a tame newspaper on which you’d been a columnist which was happy to splash on your opinions as if they were gospel, could you honestly say in all fairness that you wouldn’t also duck out of every public appearance that might involve answering difficult questions?

Two stories have brought questions of scrutiny and the lack thereof into the spotlight over the past 24 hours. One was last night’s Channel 4 imbroglio, in which Boris Johnson declined to attend the climate change debate, sending his dad and, slightly less bafflingly, and Michael Gove in his place.

The producers had already decided to empty chair the PM, replacing both Johnson and Nigel Farage with ice sculptures (though not, sadly, of the men themselves), which proceeded to melt under the hot studio lights in roughly the same manner that the ice caps are melting while our politicians totally fail to tackle climate change.

Meanwhile Gove, who had brought his own camera along in a manner that suggests that this was the plan all along, then filmed a clip wrongly claiming that the other partiers had said “they do not want a Conservative on the platform” – rather than, more accurately, that they didn’t want him personally because he isn’t the party leader and sending him along in Johnson’s place was a calculated insult. It’s difficult to identify a winner in all this, but the loser, I fear, was the electorate.

The other Boris-running-scared story concerns his continuing refusal to sit down with Andrew Neil who, whatever his own political views, remains one of the toughest interviewers in the business. As of lunchtime, Buzzfeed’s Mark Di Stefano was reporting that the BBC had declined to give Johnson a slot on this weekend’s Andrew Marr Show until he had confirmed a date to speak to Neil. How Marr feels about being seen as the easy touch interview is a matter on which he has sadly yet to comment.

The most depressing thing about this is not that the PM wants to avoid scrutiny – even politicians with far less to fear from it than Johnson rarely enjoy that – it’s that he’s going to get away with it. While all this may be a hot topic in the bubble, there’s little sense that this show of contempt for the entire notion of accountability is breaking through to the voters, and the Tories poll lead remains strong.

What’s more, it’s not just Johnson’s character that’s escaping scrutiny, but his plans for the country. As the politics team discuss on this week’s NS podcast, the Tories are successfully spinning this election as a choice between radical economic change under Jeremy Corbyn or safety first with Boris Johnson. But the hard Brexit deal the latter is offering will represent an unprecedented shift in the economic model the UK has pursued for the last half century. Nobody can say for sure what that means – but it’s really not clear that the voters understand what’s coming down the track, or the choice being presented to them.

There are 13 days to go.

Good day for…

Capitalism. It’s Black Friday, the day after Thanksgiving, which for decades has been a major sales bonanza in the US, roughly akin to the Boxing Day sales, and which has somehow become a thing in Europe despite the fact we don’t do Thanksgiving and yesterday wasn’t a holiday.

There’s a reason, beyond frustration with American cultural imperialism, to be annoyed about this imposition. Researchers at Which? have found that just 5 per cent of Black Friday bargains are actually any cheaper than they are the rest of the time. Anoosh reported on the “great black Friday swindle” here.

Bad day for…

London commuters. Research from King’s College London, published in the journal Environment International, have found that tube passengers breath in higher concentrations of fine particles of the sort that can really muck up your health (asthma, lung problems, the whole shebang) than drivers, cyclists, or users of other subway systems around the world. Still, the mice down there seem to be thriving, so.

Quote of the Day

“I love my children very much but they are not standing at this election.”

Boris Johnson responds to LBC’s Nick Ferrari asking how many children he has. Well, we all forget things, I suppose.

Everybody’s talking about…

Who’s winning the election because, let’s be honest, it’s going to remain the big question until at least 10.01pm on Thursday 12 December. The NS politics team debated the matter in their weekly web chat this afternoon.

Everybody should be talking about…

Lynton Crosby, the Australian political strategist, whose protégé Isaac Levido is running the Conservatives’ election campaign. The Atlantic’s Tom McTague has noticed that the party’s strategy this year looks suspiciously like the one Crosby advised it to follow in 2017. Perhaps, after that debacle, the Tories have decided he knew what he was talking about after all. Read more here.


Yesterday’s Evening Call was written in less than ideal circumstances, which meant that I mucked up at least some of the links. Here’s the correct link for Sarah’s piece on the rise of the TikTok boyfriend.

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