Blackadder: George, I’m in trouble here … I’m not sure your particular brand of mindless optimism is going to contribute much to the proceedings.Blackadder 4, Episode 2: “Corporal Punishment”
George: Well, that’s a shame, sir, because I was planning on playing the mindless optimism card very strongly.
Sunday morning is the worst time to be an insomniac. Not only are you awake when everyone else is having a lie in, there’s also nothing to do. Everything’s closed outside and there’s little on the radio. And then, when you’ve made it to 9am, the earliest acceptable tine to turn on the television in a sleeping household, on BBC1 you get the bland horror of Andrew Marr and his less than incisive brand of political questioning. He should really be writing about the latest TV star’s home makeover for Hello magazine, not engaging in debate on the important matters of the day with senior political leaders.
Last Sunday (3 January) the centrepiece was a cuddly interview with Boris Johnson. Marr barely finished asking a question before the Prime Minister launched on another of his rehearsed fumbling speeches on how wonderful life is going to be in Britain. The country is in desperate need of leadership after the onslaught in 2020 of constant U-turns over schools, complicated lockdown rules and lies over the Brexit deal. And what did we get? Complaints about Marr’s “characteristic gloom” when asked a vaguely challenging question, and more mindless optimism of the Blackadder type above: “there are lots of reasons to be very positive about this otherwise gloomy New Year”.
This is, of course, insulting and insensitive to all those families of the more than 75,000 victims of Johnson’s delayed, half-hearted attempt at lockdown last year. It’s also entirely in character. On Brexit and the pandemic, mindless optimism is the order of the day, well, every day actually.
36 hours after the Marr interview, Boris Johnson was on national TV informing us of an imminent lockdown. Yet another U-turn. One six year old girl was inconsolable on Monday evening when Boris announced that schools would now close. Does he not realise the agony his inconsistency causes?
It was the same attitude in the trade negotiations
It was easy to see that Britain was going to get the worst end of a deal with the EU. Our trade “experts” (I use the term loosely), without serious experience for nearly 50 years while we were in the EU, were faced with the daunting prospect of agreeing any future Britain – EU relationship with the World’s most seasoned trade negotiators. At their first meeting, Michel Barnier and his team turned up with some weighty binders full of information. David Davies didn’t come with anything more than a schoolboy’s sheepish grin; he didn’t even appear to have a pencil to take notes.
Getting a bad deal doesn’t fit with Johnson’s narrative, of course. So, it was no surprise when he described the pre-Christmas agreement with the EU as enabling the UK to have its cake and eat it; it’s a “cake-ist treaty”. Bizarrely, he refused to acknowledge it will mean new barriers to trade, ignoring the extra administrative burden of customs declarations, and export health, regulatory and rules of origin checks and all the rest. It also doesn’t include services – good luck with negotiating future arrangements when Frankfurt and Paris are pushing for a slice of London’s lucrative financial services cake. The government is hoping a financial services deal will be done in 12 weeks, which would be an impressive improvement on the years of negotiating the trade deal took.
Johnson once said that when it comes to cake, he is “pro having it and pro eating it too”. He doesn’t want to make the hard choices necessary to govern. He also doesn’t want to be honest with us.
In his first days as Prime Minister in July 2019 he introduced “boosterism” as his new economic strategy, with plans to recruit 20,000 new police officers, a promise to build new hospitals and previewing a plan to fix Britain’s social care system and build a new railway line between Manchester and Leeds.
The false optimism continued
Those plans were understandably stopped by the pandemic. What hasn’t stopped is the boosterism. On 20 May last year, he said “we have growing confidence that we will have a test, track and trace operation that will be world-beating and yes, it will be in place by June 1.” That’s twelve days after he made that statement. It wasn’t, of course. He was either hugely misinformed by those around him or he must have known then that this wasn’t going to happen. In July he said the disruption of the pandemic would all be over “in time for Christmas” and now is the time to “look ahead with optimism”. By Christmas itself, he was saying that “by April, things will be much better”.
This is a dangerous time for this country. Many people are rightly scared in a way they never have been before. Johnson’s Bertie Wooster act (or as I like to think of it his “Wertie Booster” act) has to stop. We need to get real. And I need to find a way to sleep until Andrew Marr has gone off air on a Sunday morning.