On the Richter scale of Boris Johnson’s failures, some text messages to James Dyson register barely a single tremor

There very well might be texts but it’s hard to get worked up about it, isn’t it, especially when tens of thousands of people are dead

Today's daily politics briefing

In March last year, Boris Johnson failed to act fast enough to introduce a lockdown despite clear evidence from comparable countries of the consequences, and the UK ended up with the highest coronavirus death toll in Europe.

Shortly after, he exchanged text messages with vacuum cleaner pioneer and tax-avoiding Brexit fantasist James Dyson over some ventilators that, in the end, were never built.

Later that year, Boris Johnson ignored advice from government scientists to introduce a second circuit breaker lockdown. There was another wave of Covid, far more deadly than it needed to be, and tens of thousands more people died. These hundreds of thousands of deaths are estimated to have cost their victims an average of 10 years of life. That’s more than a million years of life lost.

Around about this time, the prime minister may also have been receiving text messages from Mohammed Bin Salman over the purchase of Newcastle United Football Club, which in the end never happened.

You may detect a certain amount of scandal in the above. Areas where “mistakes were made” and where lessons should be learned.

In recent days it has “emerged” that Boris Johnson has had the same mobile phone number for years, and people he knows have been texting or WhatsApping him on it, possibly, some of them, asking for favours.

It’s not ideal. Times change. Tony Blair never had a mobile phone, not even by the time he left 10 Downing Street in 2007. All he has found himself able to say on the subject of Boris Johnson’s mobile phone messages is that it’s “hard to get worked up about”.

It was also around a year ago that Richard Desmond bought a ticket to a Tory fundraising ball, sat next to the housing minister, Robert Jenrick, and hey presto, within a matter of days various problems Mr Desmond was having with a very large housing development of his own were smoothed away, leaving him tens of millions of pounds less liable in tax.

Asked about this on the radio, the now vaccines minister, Nadhim Zahawi, said that this was all fine, nothing untoward had happened, no preferential treatment had occurred. Absolutely anybody, after all, had the freedom to speak to ministers about their private business concerns. All they had to do was buy a ticket to a Tory fundraiser in the normal way, which absolutely anybody can do.

It’s not merely that it’s hard to get worked up about because on the Richter scale of Boris Johnson’s seismic failures and wild corruption, a few texts from James Dyson over ventilators register less of a tremor than a dropped blancmange.

It’s that mobile phones are a fact of life and, on the available evidence, not being able to send a text message to a pliable Tory cabinet minister just means you have to donate for access instead (which is fine, by the way, as previously explained. Course it is).

And which is worse? A text message can at least be screengrabbed. It leaves behind a trail of hard evidence. Anybody remotely savvy whom I have ever dealt with in the realm of public life has the wit never to send a text message that could potentially embarrass them at any point in the future. It is extremely common to ask someone a question over text and get a phonecall back. The spoken word does not leave an indelible mark on the record in the way a text message does.

Deprived of his mobile phone, the prime minister would surely be more of a liability, not less. Even more promises made, even more, as his aides constantly say, finding himself in agreement with the last person he spoke to.

But, most of all, who cares? Boris Johnson, and his political and personal preference to downplay the risks posed by Covid-19, and minimise the mitigation to prevent its spread, has caused tens of thousands of British people to die long before their time.

At various points, over years now mercilessly passed, when it looked like Donald Trump might be about to accidentally end human civilisation because he hadn’t fully understood something he’d seen on Fox News, people liked to point out that small children born into a nuclear winter would have to have it explained to them that all this had happened because Hillary Clinton had sent some emails from a private account.

Look, there were emails. There really were. And look, there very well might be texts. Hard to get worked up about it though, isn’t it, especially if you’re dead.

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