If Trump loses, it won’t take long for us to wake up to who Boris Johnson really was all along

Mark Steel
·5-min read
Boris Johnson leaving the Foreign and Commonwealth Office and walking to Downing Street on 23 October, 2020 (Getty Images)
Boris Johnson leaving the Foreign and Commonwealth Office and walking to Downing Street on 23 October, 2020 (Getty Images)

Our test and trace system was going to be world-beating. And it is, because nothing in the world can have had as big a gap between the promise of what it could do, and the useless shit-heap of a failure it turned out to be.

It’s as if the new James Bond film was hailed as the most thrilling extravaganza ever, but when it came out it was a picture of a cat on the back of a letter from the council, drawn by a small child with a purple felt pen.

Baroness Harding, the Tory in charge of test and trace, must be the worst person ever at testing and tracing. I expect if she pops round to the neighbours to give them a parcel she took in, she fails to track and trace them, and accidentally gets on a train to Shrewsbury.

The trouble is we’re used to this level of hopelessness. In February, the prime minister told us we would stay open throughout this pandemic, as the “Superman of Europe.” In March, he declared the virus would be beaten in 12 weeks. The bigger the disaster, the more outrageous was his claim it was all turning out magically well, so when Track and Trace collapsed he announced we would soon be enjoying a system so modern it was called “Moonshot”.

He must think if you take what’s happening, what he says will happen, and take an average of the two, that’s reality.

If the sick are squashed into Tesco shopping trolleys in hospital car parks, while dead bodies are slid away on ironing boards, Boris Johnson will say “I am proud to reveal our new Astro-Galaxy Virus-zapper is on course to make us the healthiest nation in the universe by February, using the water that’s been discovered on the moon.”

They excused their chaos by claiming they were “guided by the science”, but on the issue of the first lockdown or wearing masks, they ignored it.

He’d have been following the science just as much if he’d announced: “I have excellent news. We will shortly have the gravity number below 1, so Britain can bounce more easily, getting to work quicker by hopping over buildings, and reducing the need to pick up dog mess as it floats into the trees, so we can lead the world in everything.”

Our rates were rising fastest, he said because “we’re a freedom loving country.” That’s why we had the worst infection rate in Europe, we just couldn’t curtail our adventurous spirit. We tried to stay home in our bubble, but our British genes took over and we all sprang out of the door and onto a ship to discover New Zealand.  

Now all the government’s rules change every few days, so no one can work out what they are and no one would trust them if they could. Johnson might as well have fun with it and say “No one can meet a member of their bubble unless they speak in an Italian accent and carry a jar of marmalade.”

But the main reason Johnson’s government believed it could get away with this is because they’ve been taking inspiration from Donald Trump. He had changed the rules. If he’s caught lying, instead of spluttering and resigning, he just tells a bigger one. Now, every day he makes statements like “I studied Joe Biden in a science thing and he’s 95 per cent ant, believe me, he lives in a mound of soil” and no one takes any notice.

If thousands of people were dying, he’d say “the funerals are fake news, they’re fine, they’re only buried because they’re vampires, I know Dracula, he’s a fantastic vampire.”

Up until now, he appeared to get away with it, so Johnson was a little Trumpette, trying to play a similar game here.

This is one reason it will make such a difference if Trump loses. And it’s why so many people have fallen into a terrible habit of checking any news from America, and being violently sick because of an opinion poll showing Trump is only two per cent behind in Arizona.

Despite all the evidence that Trump will probably lose, millions of people round the world are still in a state of panic, and daren’t believe it. I‘ve heard so many people say he’ll win because “it will be just like Brexit”, or “I’ve got a queasy feeling”, and they might as well add this is a valid point of view because it’s “Guided by the science.”

This is the jittery place millions of people have ended up in, where if they were on the news to give their assessment on the US election, they’d say: “President Trump’s support appears to have declined, and most surveys put him way behind. But he’ll still win, I just know he will, because people are stupid, and everything always goes wrong, it was the same when I got overtaken in a swimming gala right at the end when I was 12. He’ll get the Russians to win it for him, they’ve got special lasers that can change where a cross is on a piece of paper, and even if he loses he’ll refuse to go, I read online how there’s a law that if he glues himself to the bins in the White House for a month he’s allowed to carry on forever. This is Brian Piddleton, Miami, News at Ten.”

But if Trump does lose, Johnson will have lost his most important supporter, and the main reason he can claim he can behave as he does and always get away with it.Maybe the biggest disaster for Johnson if Trump loses, is that people will remember how to hope.

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