Politics Explained

Why has the gift of the gab deserted Boris Johnson?

The PM’s oratorical gifts found the perfect fit with the Leave campaign – but the challenges of power have left him floundering, writes Sean O’Grady, as evidenced by his disastrous performance in front of the CBI

Monday 22 November 2021 21:30
<p>Jonhson talks Peppa Pig to Britain’s business leaders </p>

Jonhson talks Peppa Pig to Britain’s business leaders

Are you OK”. It’s quite routine for a prime minister to give a few interviews after an important policy speech, but not to be asked about the state of his health. It wasn’t just that Boris Johnson lost his way in his address to the CBI conference, as if he had dropped the pages of a previously unread script in the car on the way in. It wasn’t so much the fact that he took an inordinate time to finish a sentence about… well, the audience had forgotten the start before he got to the end. Some of his references were tangential, almost bafflingly so, such as the dilation on Peppa the Pig (not a euphemism), which echoed the musings on Kermit the Frog he offered the UN General Assembly a few weeks ago – but that was “normal for Boris”. It’s hard to know why he thinks that “Mother Nature” dislikes working from home, but that’s not the first mystery he’s sprung on the nation either.

It was more the PM’s physical state that alarmed some observers, and the possibility that his distracted demeanour is a symptom of some weakness in his intellectual faculties. Long Covid, for example, is known to leave sufferers with “brain fog” and an inability to concentrate. Johnson had a near-fatal pre-vaccine brush with Covid early in the pandemic, so there may be lingering effects, though not consistent. His voice sounded rather deep and husky, but perhaps he had had a late night - he has a young baby, a large workload and is partial to enjoying himself regardless, as we know.

At the CBI, he told the impertinent reporter who’d asked if he was OK that people had “got the vast majority of the points” he wanted to make and that the speech “went over well”. Maybe, but he has also been called a clown and a disgrace.

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