Boris is leading a parade of the puny through a Tory fantasy land
Johnson is the star turn in this ninth-rate sitcom, says Matthew Norman
If this Tory leadership election was a fifth-rate spy novel, the double agent would have blown his cover by page three.
Boris Johnson’s pledge to raise the threshold for top rate income tax to £80,000 would reveal him to the dimmest reader as the mole – a socialist sleeper planted in the Conservative movement long ago, with the mission to propel Labour into power when the time was right.
But it isn’t a fifth-rate espionage novel. It’s a ninth-rate sitcom, twice as broad and archaic as When The Whistle Blows, Ricky Gervais’s pastiche in Extras, and thrice as witless.
So it would stretch Einstein’s definition of insanity beyond breaking point to keep treating whatever verbal dysentery is flowing, from whichever mouth, as worth examining for its future relevance.
Not being a Corbynite sleeper, Boris can have no intention of raising the tax threshold if and when (though “if” appears to have ridden out of town) he becomes prime minister.
It’s an idea of such self-destructive lunacy that no Tory with pretensions to staying in power would countenance it in the real world. It would gift-wrap the next election and present it to Jeremy Corbyn with a bow on top.
“Tax Cuts For The Well Off” might be a viable re-election platform for President Donald J Gump. But, as his ma probably never said, stoopid is as stoopid does. When the British are screaming for conventional wealth redistribution, it gets no stoopider than offering to redistribute the other way. That isn’t an electoral platform. That’s a hangman’s scaffold.
In the fantasy world of this campaign, Boris’s tax cut makes sense in this one limited way. The last obstacle between him and No 10, albeit fast receding, is that Conservative backbenchers will summon the minimal decency to keep him out of the final two.
They earn £77,000, which is close enough to £80,000 to make you wonder if he alighted on the figure less haphazardly than the form book suggests.
If a tax bribe targeted at them doesn’t encourage backbenchers to listen to their consciences and back somebody else, nothing will. And it won’t.
For one thing, they are the hostages of the membership. The MPs might not be seduced by the carrot of a £3,000 tax rebate. But they will be influenced by the stick of deselection if they are even suspected of defying their constituency associations by blocking Boris.
For a second thing, just look at the rest of them.
The problem with Michael Gove playing opposite Boris in this Men Behaving Badly reboot is that he is cast wildly against type.
Revelations never harm politicians when they confirm the image. If the Society for the Bedfellows of Boris announced that, due to ticket demand, it was shifting the annual convention from the O2 Arena to Wembley Stadium, it wouldn’t hurt him a jot.
Revelations do damage when they flip the preconceptions. If you’re a proud warrior against drugs, a little blow goes a long way. When you’re Swatty McSerious (“serious” being the euphemism used by himself and Jeremy Hunt for “Not Boris”), ribald details from the distant past go further.
The latest tranche from the new biography includes a student “five-in-a-bed romp”; a revenge attack on a love rival (his weapon of choice: scrambled egg); some hilarious gay stereotyping during his inexplicably brief career as a TV satirist (“Gays attract each other by dressing in a certain way. Cropped hair, moustache…”); and the news that he gloried in the nickname “Donkey”.
And glory in it he apparently did. “It’s a bit chilly, isn’t it?”, the author of Michael Gove: A Man in a Hurry relates him observing one winter’s day in 2000. “It’s so cold my cock has shrunk all the way up to my knee.”
With his leadership chances shrunken beyond the Hubble’s powers of detection, the desperate willy-waving from the other no-hopers continues.
Esther McVey is playing the Liver Bird card that has tended not to be an ace in Tory circles. Her dream is that “a giant Brexit-coloured wrecking ball will be heading to Brussels very soon, and I hope it has a Scouse accent”. You don’t have to be Lorraine Kelly to lapse into an embarrassed silence about Esther.
Matt Hancock’s latest attempts to formulate a grammatical English sentence came on this morning’s Today programme. The relief for him was that the claim about a torrent of new supporters was subjected to John Humphrys rather than a polygraph.
The sitcom moved from network prime time to late night cable when Hunt was reunited with his asterisk. Victoria Derbyshire became the third BBC broadcaster, following Jim Naughtie and Andrew Marr, to use it on behalf of the entire NHS.
In this race, *unt is morphing into Roger Black after the 1996 Olympic 400m final. After trailing in miles behind the technical gold medallist, Black claimed victory on the grounds that Michael Johnson was unbeatable.
Detached from the frontrunners in an outside lane, meanwhile, Rory Stewart plugs on in valiant isolation, offering some appreciation of the complexities of the task, and some understanding of the mortal threat his party faces from an electorate that will regard a tax cut for MPs as a poorly timed bribe.
There’s an old political saw to the effect that huge historic challenges inevitably produce huge figures to resolve them… but looking at the titans now in view, the moment must either not be as big as it first appears, or perhaps we are witnessing the definitive rebuttal to that age-old aphorism.