It was reported gleefully that Boris Johnson was booed as he entered St Paul’s Cathedral for the Jubilee Thanksgiving service last Friday. This was true but – as the BBC did add, though sotto voce – he was also cheered. Listening to the recording, I thought the cheers were a bit louder than the boos, but obviously neither has any statistical significance. What the mixture may indicate, however, is a problem which will arise if – which is likely, but by no means certain – he does have to leave office in the coming months following his weak victory in the no-confidence vote. The cheerers will feel cheated. The myth will develop that the duly elected Boris was destroyed by the establishment. And myths, though not the same as the truth, are also not the same as lies. There undoubtedly has been an establishment attempt, in part concerted, to stymie Boris. It began the moment he led the Leave campaign to victory in the 2016 referendum. It included Michael Gove’s successful effort to wreck his candidacy for the leadership after David Cameron’s resignation, the behaviour of the Supreme Court over prorogation, the behaviour of Mr Speaker John Bercow on all occasions and Theresa May’s efforts to achieve Brexit in name only. It includes the continuing interest of George Osborne in affairs of state long after he left office, the behaviour of the European Commission and Emmanuel Macron, of the FT, the BBC, the vice-chancellors of virtually all universities and the permanent secretaries of most government departments. It even includes Dominic Cummings, a genuinely anti-establishment character who accidentally switched sides when, having fallen out with Boris, he decided that the unelected have the right to overthrow the elected. The rancour caused by this belief will do great and long-term damage.
By complete chance this weekend, I opened an old folder which contained the newspaper announcement of the birth of our twins in April 1990. The splash headline of that day’s Daily Telegraph said, ‘Labour’s lead soars to 24pc’, adding below, ‘Thatcher’s popularity rating the lowest ever recorded.’ This prompted some contradictory thoughts. The first is that Boris’s electoral position now (at roughly the same point in the cycle) is by no means as dire as hers was then; so there may be no electoral need to get rid of him. The second is that the change of leader in the autumn of 1990 did accomplish enough recovery for John Major to lead the Tories to victory in 1992. The third is that the manner of Mrs Thatcher’s ousting – like this one, a coup by MPs against a never-defeated leader – caused such bitterness and division among Conservatives that it brought about a quarrel which has not ended yet and keeps damaging the country. None of these thoughts proves that Boris, who has made so many mistakes, should not go, but it does very strongly suggest that the price of his going in this undemocratic way may be punitively high.
Nick Robinson of the BBC devotes his considerable energies to removing Boris. Presumably with this confirmation bias, Robinson kept repeating on Today on Tuesday that Johnson’s vote was ‘worse than Margaret Thatcher’s in 1990’. This was an odd thing to say, partly because they were different types of vote (his a no-confidence one, hers a leadership election), but mainly because it is untrue. In 1990, Mrs Thatcher received 204 votes from an electorate of 372. In 2022, Boris Johnson received 211 votes from an electorate of 359. I am no statistician, but I make that more votes, both proportionally and absolutely, for him than for her. In the same programme, the political editor, Chris Mason repeated LBJ’s dictum that the first requirement in politics is to be able to count. He politely did not point out that his illustrious predecessor in the job seems to lack that skill.
A reader who recently visited Turner Contemporary in Margate was surprised to be confronted by 12 or more ‘blackboard-type panels inscribed in serial chalk-type script with written propaganda about Black Lives Matter. Nothing else. No art, just political propaganda.’ I feel my correspondent deserves a rebuke. Does he not understand that a gallery’s duty to Black Lives Matter is much higher than its duty to art? He also complains that there is nothing by Turner in the gallery, though there is a handful of books about him in the shop. Again, he misunderstands. I have looked up the website of Turner Contemporary and it has a very full list of anti-racism resources. There are seven American anti-racist funds to which you can donate, an online reading list of 12 titles (e.g. ‘75 things white people can do for racial justice’), five works ‘On Protest’ (e.g. ‘In Defence of Looting’), 14 ‘On Prison Abolition’, 13 videos, 25 books (e.g. There Ain’t No Black in the Union Jack), seven memoirs, four international anti-racist organisations, five ‘Netherlands-based’ and 11 UK-based ones and 18 ‘Independents and Individuals’. On the bookshop section of the Turner Contemporary website only 53 books are in stock, of which a minority are about art, unless you classify video-gaming as art. Others include Happy Fat, Brit(ish) and How to Be an Anti-Racist. This is all as it should be. My correspondent must be one of those retrograde people who think universities should be centres of learning, police forces should catch criminals, and the civil service should serve the public. They fail to understand that the chief purpose of all modern institutions is to enforce Diversity so firmly that we will all chant in unison: ‘Black Lives Matter.’
A friend of a certain age makes me realise that I wrote insensitively against showers last week. For many old people, he points out, baths are impossible. They therefore need showers. Belatedly I see that this must be the chief explanation for the shower explosion: the power of the grey pound.
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