Johnson is a controversial character who has over the years inspired salacious gossip, severe criticism and high praise – all in equal measure. Then-Prime Minister David Cameron once said “there is no point trying to contain Boris” and former Chairman of the Conservative Party Chris Patten described him as a “mendacious character”. This is the man that broadcaster Jeremy Clarkson called a “talking teddy-bear”, about whom Ian Hislop, editor of Private Eye has been quoted saying “people always ask the same question, they say, “Is Boris a very, very clever man pretending to be an idiot?” And I always say, no”.
People always ask the same question, they say, “Is Boris a very, very clever man pretending to be an idiot?” And I always say, “no”. – Ian Hislop
But in recent months, the “talking teddy-bear” has been noticeably absent. It started with his disappearance into the ICU (Intensive Care Unit) of St. Thomas’s Hospital in London: he was, at the time, the first world leader to show seriously concerning symptoms of Covid-19.
Despite a supposed recovery, Johnson was noticeably absent from the Black Lives Matter campaigning that inspired the nation to defy social-distancing measures in preference of social justice, following heinous murder of George Floyd in May this year. The peaceful protests were countered by hideous scenes from the alt-right and the politically disturbed in Britain’s capital city. But still, as statues were toppled and crowds became increasingly violent, there was little sign of the Prime Minister. We were issued with an anaemic pre-recorded statement, rather than a physical, live appearance from our leader.
“I must say clearly that those who attack public property or the police –who injure the police officers who are trying to keep us all safe – those people will face the full force of the law; not just because of the hurt and damage they are causing, but because of the damage they are doing to the cause they claim to represent. They are hijacking a peaceful protest and undermining it in the eyes of many who might otherwise be sympathetic.”
Where was the bouncy Boris, we knew and – in some people’s cases – loved? The man with the broadest of shoulders, who could bat back any question without the blink of an eye? Standing before us was a diminished man. And so sparked the rumours of his weakened cognitive capacity: the rumour mill swirled and twirled and spat out theories about Johnson’s poor health, his short-term memory, and questioned his ability to run the country.
I have never met anyone so boosterish for Wales than the Secretary of State for Wales. – Boris Johnson
At the same time, opinion polls demonstrated that his popularity had plummeted, which is no surprise given the global pandemic, coupled with his absence. According to the global public opinion data company YouGov, in mid-April the Prime Minister carried an approval rating of 66%, which had plummeted to 44% by the beginning of July. Surely aware of this downturn in favour, Johnson gave a deeply embarrassing interview to the Mail on Sunday newspaper in which he discussed nappy changing (his partner Carrie Symonds gave birth to his son in early May) and was photographed demonstrating his virility by way of press-ups on the floor at Number 10.
And yet, in Prime Minister’s Questions last week, Boris was back. Here was the rambunctious, boisterous Boris who broke through the red wall with unparalleled self-belief. He answered questions with his customary barbed humour: “not a jot, not a sausage, not a twaddle,” he shrugged, merrily.
When Liz Saville-Roberts, Westminster Leader of Plaid Cymru asked Johnson if he could explain why the Welsh Secretary argued that “Wales is too poor… to be successful”, the Prime Minister responded in his typical cavalier attitude “I have never met anyone so boosterish for Wales than the Secretary of State for Wales”. He then promised “we will provide the Vicks inhaler to the nostrils of the Welsh dragon and get Wales moving”.
For a while, it has felt to most as if we were on board a rudderless ship. But for now, it looks as if Boris has ingested his Vicks inhaler, and is moving once again. If the ship is sinking, at least her Captain is back.
Constance Watson is Assistant Editor of the Catholic Herald. She also contributes to The Spectator, The Telegraph, Standpoint and The Oldie.
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