You realise now that for the last four weeks of the Tory leadership contest we’ve all been stumbling about in the dark. Our eyes had become accustomed to it, our pupils dilated. We had accepted these blurred shapes in shades of grey as our reality.
And then Andrew Neil stormed in like an angry dad, ripped back the curtain and oh my God the absolute state of it in here.
First Hunt, then Johnson. It was like Whac-a-Mole but with actual pieces of bulls**t. Every time the dreary old lines made their dreary way up they were obliterated with deadly impact.
There was Boris Johnson, doing his usual dreary thing of not answering a single question he was asked and going off instead on some tangent of untruth, except this time, here was Andrew Neil, telling him, “This sort of bluster might get you through the hustings but it won’t work with me. You’re here to face scrutiny. I expect you to answer the question I asked you.”
There was Jeremy Hunt, saying, for the 10,000th time, “I’m an entrepreneur.” And here was Andrew Neil, telling him, “You keep saying you’re an entrepreneur – you’re not exactly Steve Jobs or Bill Gates, are you?”
And Hunt became the immaculate little school head boy crumbling in the face of the first ever telling-off he’s ever had. “No”, he said. “No, I’m not”. If he’d been given the chance, he might even have said sorry.
Before becoming a politician, Jeremy Hunt made some money setting up a website that sold teaching courses. For the last month he has talked this up like a deluded Apprentice candidate, to the point where the nation really was starting to believe that the moderate success of a teaching website was certain proof that Hunt and Hunt alone can lead the country through the most complex and perilous negotiation in its history.
“You’ve got no track record on this stuff, have you? “ Neil asked him. Another mole dead.
And once the whole artful edifice came crumbling away, Neil just carried on stamping about in its ruins.
Boris Johnson was coming out with his usual drivel about “Gatt Article 24 Paragraph 5b”, and how the EU and the UK can just carry on trading as before like nothing had happened.
“But what about Paragraph 5c?” Neil asked him. “Do you know what’s in Paragraph 5c?”
Johnson’s protracted grasping for an answer was almost a work of art. It was like watching the late great Harold Lloyd dangling from the big hand of the clock 12 storeys above the New York traffic. Except that, ultimately, there was only one answer he could give: “No.”
Short, sweet, and in a word, perfect. Here on the primetime BBC schedule was a liar, a phoney, a fraud and a charlatan, coming up several leagues short, completely unprepared for the task in front of him. Boris Johnson knows that bluster is all he’s got. There is nothing else. But Boris Johnson is so arrogant, so entitled, so overwhelmingly full of himself that there is no room to consider that bluster won’t be enough. And here he was, finding out that he doesn’t even have enough of that.
How was he going to get a deal out of the European Union by mid-September? How was he going to persuade the EU to reopen the withdrawal agreement and take out the backstop, something they continue to make abundantly clear they will not do?
“There is now a new focus to the negotiations, a new optimism,” he said, before finding himself reduced to blabbering about “the tone of this interview” being “typical BBC doom-mongering”.
It was laughable stuff. Laughable, that is, until just under a fortnight’s time, when we find out the joke has always been on us.
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