Some had dared to suggest it was a historic occasion. Not merely a new Foreign Secretary, addressing the house from the despatch box for the first time, but Boris Johnson, addressing the house from the despatch box for the first time. So historic was it that arguable as many as twelve more members were in attendance at the emergency debate on the ongoing disaster in Aleppo than were at the concurrent debate happening in Westminster Hall, on the recommissioning of the royal yacht.
But this was not a historic occasion. For all the dishevelled hair and immaculately conjugated jokes, all the tripwire zipwire politics, Boris Johnson has finally arrived on the government front bench, three years older than the recently departed Prime Minister, and with a political legacy that amounts to a cable car to nowhere that is having to sell alcohol to break even, a £1m-a-go windowless, commuter superheating Routemaster tribute bus, and victory in a referendum he intended to lose.
Probably, Boris Johnson never intended to spend quite so many years doing the jokes. In his mind, he should have been Prime Minister long ago. Trouble is, there is no comedian whose fans yearn for them to get down to the serious stuff. No one with all the Billy Connolly Live DVDs on the shelf is yearning for another series of his road trip round New Zealand on his quad bike, or another costume psychodrama with Judi Dench. No one who came to love Russell Brand via the Big Brother spin off show and sell out stand up tour is desperate for him to do another interview with Ed Miliband.
Listening to Johnson attempt to weigh his own gravitas down upon the suffering of Syrians is rather like what one imagines a Twelve Years A Slave starring Joe Pasquale might look like.
Johnson has never been much of a commons performer. This is not an audience of the party faithful, or after-dinner sycophants, of even well meaning journalists happy to be amused. The view from the despatch box is, by definition, a hostile crowd, even on a subject with as much cross party agreement as the Syria crisis. But he gave it his best shot.
“Intentionally attacking a hospital IS a war crime,” he boomed, thumping his fist against the despatch box as he did so. The debate was three hours old by this point. “ALL the available evidence points to Russian responsibility for the atrocity... Russia is determined to help Assad’s onslaught against the women and children of Aleppo... I believe that great country is in danger of becoming A PARIAH…”
Trouble is, it’s barely a week since he was tripping the bants loltastic with the Birmingham conference crowd, regaling them with his japes with the Russian Foreign Minister, Sergei Lavrov at the UN General Assembly, taking the mickey out of him as he did so. “So I said to Sergei, Sergei said to me…”
What he didn’t say to Sergei then, at least as far as he has admitted, is that Sergei, or at least the government at which Sergei is a part, has been turning a blind eye to war crimes. Facilitating them even, perhaps actively committing them.
But if Sergei and co can turn a blind eye to that, they can certainly turn a blind eye to this, the latest in this strange new wave of supposedly scary clown attacks terrifying the nation. But it’s not likely to terrify Vladimir Putin.Reuse content