MICHAEL WOLSEY: Boris, Brexit and a taste for Bisto nostalgia
THE roll-call of English prime ministers is long and distinguished, stretching back 500 years and more.
It takes in my own namesake, the Great Cardinal, who was first minister to Henry VIII. It includes the Cromwells, Thomas and Oliver; Robert Walpole; the Pitts, father and son; Gladstone and Disraeli; Churchill and Atlee; Margaret Thatcher.
You don’t have to admire these people, or approve of their actions, to recognise that they were leaders of substance, who made England – and, in time, Britain – a power to be reckoned with.
It now seems that the name of a buffoon will be added to their ranks.
Boris Johnson looks like a clown and talks like an exile from the Teletubbies. He leaves his home looking like he has been pulled through a hedge and shuffles into parliament with his shirt tail hanging from under his jacket.
His mind is more changeable than the weather; he has a ferocious temper and conducted a row with his girlfriend so loudly that neighbours called the police.
Individually, none of these faults should automatically rule him out as prime minister. Collectively, they suggest a man who is not worthy of the job and who will demean the office.
Britain, the country that once ruled half the world, has been in decline for many years. Boris Johnson is a symptom of that decline, which has increased in pace since the Brexit vote. The nation that ran a vast empire now seems incapable of organising the proverbial piss-up in a brewery. I suppose Boris might be suited to that last role. At least he looks the part.
Britain is being brought low by the determination of a slender majority of its electorate (less than 52%) to drag the country out of Europe and back to a past that never truly existed – not really the past of empire, but of a strange misty land with cobble stones and seaside piers, warm beer and Hovis, cricket on the green and honey for tea.
It is what the great British journalist, AA Gill, called ‘Bisto nostalgia’, and it is strongest among the elderly members of the Conservative Party who seem set to give Boris the job regardless of what he says or does.
They are readers of the Telegraph, the newspaper for which Mr Johnson writes. They would once have read The Times but that instinctively conservative organ is too radical for current Tory tastes.
Any who did turn to it last Saturday will have found an illuminating feature in its magazine section. It presented 61 quotes and asked readers to guess which ones had been said by Boris.
It turned out he had said them all, except one – and that one was no madder than the others.
They were incredibly inconsistent. For instance: “We cannot turn our backs on Europe. We are part of Europe.”
Or, from a man about to divorce his second wife and who has two children by other women: “I lead a life of blameless domesticity and always have done.”
If Boris drags down Britain, there is a danger he will take Ireland with it, so I would like to think that his opening quote in the article was an accurate prediction: “My chances of being PM are about as good as the chances of finding Elvis on Mars, or my being reincarnated as an olive.”
Sadly, like so much else the man says, that is nonsense.