Boris Johnson is boycotting the difficult interviews – but even the ‘easy’ ones are an embarrassment

That expanding half-second on BBC Breakfast was the kind of thing movie scriptwriters call a ‘beat’. An immeasurable moment in time, in which the cacophonic whirring of the prime minister’s brain seemed loud enough to down an aeroplane

Tom Peck
Political Sketch Writer
Tuesday 14 January 2020 17:28
Boris Johnson admits he does not have a worked-up plan to end the social care crisis

The Boris Johnson government continues to boycott BBC Radio 4’s Today programme, because it doesn’t like the questions its presenters have the temerity to ask. It is also boycotting BBC Newsnight, because it doesn’t like one of the journalists it has hired.

It boycotted Andrew Neil during the election campaign, of course – a key part of the now well established Sir Lynton Crosby strategy, known as the “Complete Moral Cowardice Package”, as purchased by three Tory prime ministers on the trot (some with better results than others).

But it isn’t boycotting breakfast. That would be too much to ask. BBC Breakfast, that is, which has now conducted the first proper sit-down interview with our new majority-wielding prime minister.

There is, in fairness, some strategic thinking behind this. Nothing cuts through to the general public like the 8am slot on BBC Breakfast – and nothing cuts through like doing everything you can to limit the likelihood of being asked any questions you don’t actually want to answer.

That was the strategy. Except, it didn’t quite work like that.

There are, as the BBC’s Dan Walker made clear, many different ways to expose an absolute 42-carat fraud. Indeed, so blatant is the truth that Boris Johnson is incapable of telling, it is close to impossible not to expose him. One imagines waiters in restaurants have been known to expose him as a liar before even moving beyond the “still or sparkling” question.

You know he’s lying when he’s smirking, and he’s smirking all the time. It’s his resting face. It’s hard not to imagine him smirking while reading out that WH Auden poem at a close friend’s funeral.

Would the killing of Iran’s Qassem Soleimani affect the potential release of Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe, he was asked – a case, as Walker reminded him, he had “been involved in” while foreign secretary. “At the FCO we all worked very hard to secure the release of a number of consular cases including Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe,” he said. A flash of smirk now, of course. And what choice do you have but to laugh, when you’re coming out with that, at the same time as knowing that you’re the guy who didn’t work hard enough to actually read the briefing notes handed to you, and so accidentally had her detention extended?

“We’re putting 50,000 more nurses into the NHS, we’re building 40 new hospitals.” Lies lies lies lies lies. Those nurses aren’t real. Nor are the hospitals. Not that anyone cares.

When this moved gently on to the promise to sort out social care “once and for all”, Walker did gently interrupt the prime minister. “You stood outside this building and said there was a plan. Where is that plan?”

A flash of silence. A micro grimace. There had been no overbearing interruptions. No “Can I finish, can I finish?” The prime minister had been allowed to finish, for 20 long minutes by this point. It was a sotto voce defenestration.

That expanding half-second was the kind of thing movie scriptwriters call a “beat”. An immeasurable moment in time, in which the cacophonic whirring of the prime minister’s brain seemed loud enough to down an aeroplane.

Jesus Christ. Even this guy’s found me out. Is there nowhere I can go?

Unfortunately no, there absolutely isn’t. Because he did stand outside No 10 last summer and say he already had a plan for social care. The number of social care plans he claimed to have was, unlike his number of children, not a secret. The number was one.

Except that it wasn’t, was it. The number, of course, is zero.

It was, as ever, all bluster. The smirk briefly died away. “Well, we’re bringing forward a proposal, erm, it’s important to get it right, erm, err.”

Oh well. Nothing anyone can do about it now. This is our fate. We chose it. The last laugh, of course, is going to be on us – for five long years, if not 10.

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