‘Stand up if you hate Boris’ – how darts fans hit the bullseye

Very few things do actually ‘cut through’ – but the Downing Street parties certainly have. The PM has lost the dressing room

Rupert Hawksley
Tuesday 21 December 2021 11:33
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Crowd chants ‘stand up if you hate Boris’ at darts world championship

To give you some idea of what it’s like at the darts, let’s go back to 2012, to Butlins in Minehead. For it was here, at the Cash Converters Players’ Championship, that a young Australian man called Nathan Grindal was escorted off the premises for disrupting a match between Phil Taylor and Kim Huybrechts.

Grindal had done nothing wrong, you understand. It’s just that he had long hair and a beard. So of course the crowd began to chant: “Stand up if you love Jesus” and, a little more bluntly, “Jesus! Jesus! Jesus!” The noise was so loud that the players were unable to focus, and Grindal was hoofed out by security. Taylor was later reported to have said, “If I ever see Jesus again, I’ll crucify him myself.”

All of which is to say that darts is not an obviously political pursuit. Fans, for the most part, are there to enjoy themselves. This is particularly true of the PDC World Championship, which takes place every December at Alexandra Palace in London, and is a fine opportunity to dress up before Christmas – Where’s Wally; Santa Claus; Scooby Doo – and get off your face. It doesn’t tend to get much more complicated than that.

Except that, last night, it did. During a match between James Wade and Maik Kuivenhoven, the crowd started chanting, “Stand up if you hate Boris”. Not the most nuanced protest song, granted, but it certainly gets the point across. There were also signs being held up with “All round to Boris’s after” and “This is a business meeting” written on them.

Having watched quite a bit of darts, I can confirm that this sort of thing is rare. For context, another chant last night involved the crowd turning to Sky Sports presenter Laura Woods and singing, “We love you, Laura, we do, oh Laura, we love you”.

Political pundits like to talk about “cut through” – the point at which the public sits up and starts to take notice of what is happening in Westminster.

Very few things do actually cut through. Others might take a different view but I don’t believe that the Downing Street flat renovation (£800-a-roll wallpaper and all) cut through; nor the Peppa Pig speech (amusing as it was); nor the Owen Paterson sleaze debacle (even if it did, in a roundabout way, lead to the Tories losing a seat they had held for nearly 200 years). Voters would see this stuff and think, “that’s just Boris”, or, “well, they’re all the same anyway”.

The Downing Street parties have changed all that. Since The Mirror revealed in November that some of Boris Johnson’s staff had gathered in Downing Street for a Christmas party (cheese, wine and a Secret Santa) in December 2020, when the rest of the country was effectively locked down, the story has stubbornly refused to go away.

Each day seems to bring more evidence of alleged illicit Tory parties. Yesterday, a photograph from May 2020 emerged,  showing Johnson, his wife Carrie, Dominic Cummings and principal private secretary Martin Reynolds enjoying cheese and wine in the Downing Street garden. Other members of staff, including the-then health secretary Matt Hancock, are merrily chatting away in the background.

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It stinks, yes. Of course it does. But it also hurts – and that, I think, is the difference. The public is used to expenses scandals or politicians not always being quite straight. We factor that in. What we can’t stand is being made fools of. And that is exactly what has happened. While we were making sacrifices – and everyone will have their own story – those in power were sitting around sipping good claret (or whatever it was). It’s the feeling of being conned, mugged off and laughed at that cuts through.

And so we return to the darts. You can absolutely guarantee that almost every single person there last night will have suffered over the past couple of years, whether that means losing a loved one to Covid, not seeing family at Christmas, homeschooling children. The list is endless.

And you can also guarantee that the opportunity to chant about Boris Johnson was not why they bought tickets to the PDC World Championship. But here’s the thing: when you’ve had a few pints and the atmosphere is lively and you’re among friends at the darts, you tend to chant about what’s relevant, what’s on your mind. In 2012, it happened to be a bloke that looked a bit like Jesus. In 2021, it’s the prime minister.

“Stand up if you hate Boris” – bullseye.

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