Boris Johnson has underestimated the intelligence of the average Brit

An Irish comedian can’t find the funnies in Boris Johnson

Peter Flanagan left Ireland in 2016 to perform stand-up comedy in London. He has worked as a writer and comedian in Britain and Europe

Until recently, my disdain for Boris Johnson had been a little performative. I viewed him as a political grotesque, but he wasn't worth losing sleep over. This is, after all, a world where Bashar al-Assad, Alexander Lukashenko, and Kim Jong-un exist.

To paraphrase British Labour Party leader Keir Starmer, Johnson wasn't a bad man; just a clownish, crooked man in charge of very serious things. But as the deluge of stories about Tory stooges going on the lockdown lash continues to emerge, my feelings, and the feelings of many others it seems, have soured.

London was a shocking place to be locked down. The city can be a lonesome place at the best of times. But strip away the after-work booze-ups, breezy canalside strolls with pals, the giddy din of comedy clubs and you’re often left with dinky flats without gardens or shared living spaces, loomed over by towers of brick, steel and glass.

The story of Johnson’s birthday celebration hurt the most. I spent my 31st birthday alone. No one turned up with a cake. The excuse given by my friends - that a virulent airborne disease was killing thousands - did not soften my disappointment. I did get a Skype call from my parents, which was a baffling, sad experience for all involved. My father looked a little bit out of it, which I presume is how Johnson looks when an aide tells him to sober up, put on his pants, and wish one of his estranged children a bon anniversaire.

The accusations of incompetence and sleaze have made Britain look like the kind of developing country that its elite used to look down upon

Partygate cuts through in a way other scandals haven't. As Prime Minister he presided over the highest Covid-19 death rate recorded anywhere in Europe and the National Audit Office in the UK has reported that £10.5 billion worth of Covid contracts were awarded without proper tendering processes, with Tory-linked firms being the main beneficiaries.

The accusations of incompetence and sleaze have made Britain look like the kind of developing country that its elite used to look down upon.

Until now most of the English electorate seemed happy to give Johnson the benefit of the doubt. Stories of political wrongdoing are often just background noise, drowned out by the relentless clacking sound of real-life problems.

The nitty gritty of the electoral commission corruption inquiry was difficult to get your arms around, but the Prime Minister breaking his own lockdown rules is different. The lockdowns were rare moments in history where an entire population suffered the same hardship simultaneously, shouldered a burden more or less equally. Johnson’s misbehaviour shatters that illusion like it was furniture at a Bullingdon Club drinking bout. It comes with a simple, easily digestible narrative: while you were stuck at home, the people in power were laughing at you. In party hats.

Johnson’s ability to survive as leader from here depends on how much stink the Conservative backbenchers can bear.

It feels like yesterday he was untouchable. A sort of Tory answer to Tony Blair, he delivered the kind of election landslide not seen since the New Labour surge of 1997.

His magic lay in his appeal to both Northern working-class patriots and Southern libertarian toffs. He could do this because didn't really care about either

His magic lay in his appeal to both Northern working-class patriots and Southern libertarian toffs. He could do this because didn’t really care about either. Johnson’s ideology was a festive void, a union jack circus tent onto which voters could project fantasies of a new Britain.

The Tories know they will face a challenge at the next election without Brexit Whisperer Johnson. Multi-millionaire Rishi Sunak is a classic fiscal conservative and unlikely to attract a broad coalition of supporters. His one popular policy decision - handing out free wonga like a cartel boss in a shantytown - was something he hated doing and will not do again.

Liz Truss is popular with the Tory party faithful, but the man on the street has no idea who she is. Her attempts to remedy this, like the time she was pictured in a military tank in Estonia, have made her look less like the next Margaret Thatcher and more like a Butlins Vladimir Putin.

Michael Gove, once a political heavyweight and leadership contender, doesn't seem to have it in him anymore. The last time he made headlines was when he abruptly split from his wife, before being pictured at a Scottish nightclub asking to be let in for free. If Gove wants the job, he'll need to stop projecting the energy of a divorcee sleeping on his mate's futon until he hears back about a job at B&Q.

The hesitation of his backbenchers is only allowing Johnson to further poison the party’s reputation. The strategy now seems to be to deny, wait, and slander his opponents with dangerous lies.

He has, I believe, underestimated the intelligence of the average Brit. The people here are furious, and after more than half a decade of referendum-related acrimony, they’re tired too.

It took 10 years and the Iraq war for the shine to come off Blair, but for Johnson it has taken less than three years - and some tinsel. Johnson’s ideology was a festive void, a union jack circus tent onto which voters could project fantasies of a new Britain.

Read More

Recommended