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The ‘Boris is trying his best’ brigade are tying themselves in knots

The limping Big Dog needs to be urgently retired to a farm in the countryside, far from the apparatus of national decision making

Harriet Williamson
Wednesday 19 January 2022 10:18
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Tory minister says people 'furious' over 'partygate' but should await investigation

“Boris is trying his best” has been a constant refrain from his supporters throughout the pandemic. No matter the dither and delay over recommended measures, no matter the callous comments about “letting the bodies pile high” and no matter the death toll, which now stands at over 152,000, Johnson’s backers would excuse every misstep – and there were many – with variations on the same phrase.

There were moments when I wondered whether our prime minister was in fact an adult man, or a particularly incompetent five-year-old, just about muddling through with one finger up his nose.

With the mood of Tory MPs apparently hardening towards their beleaguered leader, who is now more of an embarrassment than an asset, the “Boris is trying his best” brigade must be struggling to regroup. What if he wasn’t, all this time, trying his best? What if he was just hurtling along, making a gigantic mess, thumbing his nose at the elderly and the vulnerable and the NHS? What if he was too busy squeezing people via WhatsApp so they’d shell out for his £840-a-roll wallpaper to really try his best?

Partygate has inspired an outpouring of public anger – including last night from a stranger on the same train as me, who bellowed into her phone that Johnson’s “nobody told him” the 20 May BYOB party was against the rules excuse was straight up “bulls**t”.

It’s strange that we, as a nation, have readily swallowed so much throughout Johnson’s chaotic leadership, from the bungled pandemic response which resulted in so many avoidable deaths, to the murky Owen Patterson lobbying scandal, but Partygate appears to be what is really sticking in the country’s craw.

Everyone has their limits, I guess. It just might’ve been better if our collective limit had been, say, the roundly-debunked lies plastered on the Leave bus or the repeated, racist gaffes or the unlawful proroguing of parliament, or even when Johnson hid in a fridge so he wouldn’t have to answer questions.

Alastair Campbell calls Boris Johnson 'worst prime minister we have ever had'

There were plenty of opportunities for moments of introspection, where the idea that this Boris bloke might not be up to the job of being mayor of London/foreign secretary/prime minister of the United Kingdom could’ve flashed across the collective consciousness. But political expediency, the protection of vested interests and fear of free broadband and a four-day working week ultimately won out.

Operation Save Big Dog and Operation Red Meat are both reportedly underway, as Johnson loyalists, including Culture Secretary Nadine Dorries and Home Secretary Priti Patel, attack the BBC and attempt to force the Royal Navy into “illegally” pushing back small boats carrying refugees. Perhaps some Tory MPs, unsure whether the PM is sufficiently weakened and unpopular, will seize on these shiny attempts at distraction and choose to forget, momentarily, that Johnson is a liability. Perhaps they won’t.

The limping Big Dog needs to be urgently retired to a farm in the countryside, far from the apparatus of national decision making. With as many as 20 Tory MPs reportedly planning to submit letters of no confidence to the 1922 Committee chair today, it’s looking more and more like a matter of when, not if.

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Riding high on a tide of right-wing populism, with just casual bigotry, a mop of unbrushed straw and bags of ultimately empty, but pleasingly Latin-sprinkled rhetoric to recommend him, Johnson has enjoyed the public’s goodwill for far longer than could be rationally expected.

He has been given more chances than any leader deserves, but the road is running out. Now the voters who bought into the convenient narrative of Bumbling Boris Tries His Best (a terrible early reader book if there ever was one) are beginning to feel like maybe they’ve been taken for mugs. For much of the Tory party, Johnson is a dead weight. It must be so unbelievably embarrassing to have to answer for his behaviour in the media and to face constituents.

If Johnson truly has been “trying his best” for the past two and a half years, stumbling into boozy parties in his own residence and finding them indistinguishable from work meetings, then I’d really hate to see what his worst looks like.

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