It’s possible I have written on more than one occasion that Boris Johnson has become his own Greek myth. Just like King Midas, but with the slight twist that everything he touches turns not to gold but to actual human s***. Families mainly, at first, but eventually whole countries.
The analogy doesn’t quite work, of course, because everything turns out just fine for our very tragic hero. It’s only the people stupid enough ever to have trusted him who are left either to pick up the very many pieces, or just die instead.
So in some ways it is disappointing that the myth has reverted almost to its fully traditional type. At time of writing, the prime minister really is spending his evenings having to consider whether this latest bit of feckless over-reaching, of thinking oneself above the rules, might bring him down. And he is doing so quite literally surrounded by gold wallpaper, and it’s the wallpaper that’s done it.
Naturally, he’s hoping all this will just go away, but it won’t. He has already lost his temper once about it in the House of Commons, and his anger is already trickling down the ministerial food chain.
There was a faint note of tetchiness in the voice of vaccines minister Nadhim Zahawi on the Today programme this morning. He wasn’t there to be asked who initially paid out the £58,000 bill for the Downing Street refurb. He was there to talk about the vaccine rollout.
Same with Matt Hancock, at the press briefing the night before. He wasn’t there to be asked who initially paid out the £58,000 bill for the Downing Street refurb either. He was there to talk about Covid-19.
Just like Johnson himself, during Prime Minister’s Questions. He definitely wasn’t there to talk about who initially paid the £58,000 bill for his Downing Street refurb either. Because he was asked that question five times, and used his answer to provide a long list of suggested topics he would rather talk about, instead of providing the very simple answer to the very simple question.
We have, in a sense, been here before. Johnson owes everything to first inflicting the interminable misery of Brexit upon the nation, and then, three and a half grim years later, promising to make it all go away again.
He would appear to be hoping that the public can be so maddened by this infuriating subject not going away that it will then just go away. The only other strategy would be to answer the question. But he won’t answer the question, which means there are now two official inquiries underway, having to take the painful, expensive and slow way towards finding the answer the prime minister has yet to give them.
And it doesn’t matter if the public gets bored or maddened by it all. The Electoral Commission, for example, is not investigating the public’s level of interest in the matter.
No one cares and it’s all just Westminster bubble nonsense, the prime minister is goading the public into believing. Well, maybe. But the sources of politicians’ money do matter, because these sources probably don’t do it out of the goodness of their hearts, they probably do it because they want, or rather expect, something back in return. If you rack up your debts on someone else’s credit card instead of your own, well, they will be sure to extract some kind of payment in kind, in the end.
The details of the case are bleak. Details generously provided to journalists date the saga as having begun more than a year ago. Johnson routinely complains to friends and colleagues about the bills being run up for the refurb. “She’s spending tens and tens of thousands,” he is alleged to have said, referring to the now mother of his child, Carrie Symonds. She then, it is alleged, appears to have applied pressure to have a civil servant sacked for standing in the way of the bill being settled by someone other than the prime minister.
That the woman should be blamed is no surprise. This is how these things work. Few of us know the couple personally, or know anything about the nature of their relationship. It is a matter of public record, however, that one of their domestic arguments has had the police called to it.
Even the blunt facts of it all defy belief. He has spent every waking second of his adult life trying to become prime minister. She was the Conservative Party’s head of press, a job which has only one purpose, which is to secure favourable media coverage for the Conservative Party. And yet, here they are, in their flat of gold, unwilling or unable to answer the most basic questions about how they came to live in a flat of gold, and the very unfavourable media coverage about the flat of gold has gone on for days and is getting worse, not better.
The vaccines minister, in charge of a truly rare bit of real, world-beating success, can’t go on the radio without instead having to come up with ever new ways of not answering a very simple question, and getting agitated while doing so.
Of course, it might not seem important in the grand scheme of things. Not when there are so many greater acts of egregiousness that could be investigated. But when you spend a lifetime running up debts on other people’s goodwill, it doesn’t have to be an especially large item that summons the bailiffs. Everything has to be paid back in the end.
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