Yurt alert: how the holiday PM dodged the great British exams meltdown | Marina Hyde

You’ll have heard that Boris Johnson is on vacation. The most nuanced rejoinder is: lol, a vacation from what?

Enormous thanks to the Daily Mail for tracking down Boris Johnson to a clifftop Scottish cottage, with some naff sort of yurt clinging on gamely in the garden. I thought it must be the chilliest place the prime minister had ever secluded himself, until I remembered he hid in a fridge during the general election.

Still, you’ll have been aware for some time now that Johnson is on holiday. The most nuanced rejoinder this deserves is: lol, a holiday from what? He really is the Tamara Ecclestone of government. Like me, you probably thrive on keeping up with Bernie Ecclestone’s kajillionaire daughter, as she makes her stately and seemingly unceasing progress from not being at work here to not being at work there. “I see Dubai got too much eventually,” I find myself remarking to the latest set of pictures. She’s had to go to Croatia to recover. I suppose the difference between Tamara and the prime minister is that he is running a slightly larger concern. She once had a chain of blow-dry bars, but they’ve shut down now.

Last year I read in a fancy magazine about a couple who explained they were spending August at a house in Tuscany, but added that they were going to leave their children there for a week and take a few days’ break a deux in Mallorca. Incredible, I marvelled. They are going to go on a holiday from their holiday! Will this inner holiday in turn become something that needs to be got away from, forcing them to escape to some even more relaxing destination, journeying through every layer of the holiday matryoshka until they reach the secret innermost holiday, many removes from the holiday on which they began? If so, I bet it’s a yurt. (And a massive eyeroll from the inhabitants of the Mongolian steppe, who I’m given to understand prefer to holiday in Westminster townhouses.)

Unless it involves self-advancement, of course, Johnson has always been workshy. Present, but not involved. When he was London mayor, he appointed deputy mayors who did his entire job for him, freeing him up for technology lessons and so on. The only bit he had to do was figurehead stuff – and yet, when his own city exploded in riots, who couldn’t be arsed coming back off his holiday but the mayor himself. The pattern has been repeated for every crisis, from floods to Covid Cobra meetings.

This time, the silence is so deafening that Downing Street has been reduced to trailing work the prime minister might do in future. Some No 10 official promises Johnson will be jointly pushing the back-to-school drive with recently deceased minister Gavin Williamson, insisting: “There is barely an issue he has been more personally associated with.” Like that means a lot. Even now, as the union looks in deep trouble, being asked to consider Johnson’s holiday destination as significant suggests we’re deep in bare-minimum territory. The only thing he can think of offering Scotland is to go there privately and do nothing in it. What ho, Bonnie Scotland! Let me slide my leisure time into you.

Of all the preposterous fairytales to have attached themselves to Boris Johnson during his long and relaxing career, then, perhaps the greatest is the myth of hard work. Ever since he first became an MP, Johnson has been accused of being overstretched, or spread too thinly, or run ragged by his various professional commitments. People have discussed him – admiringly or disapprovingly, but always seriously – as a man who is “working two jobs”. Whenever I read this I always shrieked with laughter. Do me a favour. One of those jobs was NEWSPAPER COLUMNIST.

Look: no one more than me understands the realities of a backbreaking few hours down the whimsy mine. But let’s be real here. Writing his longtime Monday Telegraph column would have involved Johnson getting up on a Sunday morning, locking himself away in his study because he’s working, so “can’t do the kids”, then spending a couple of hours tossing off some repetitive flimflam about this or that while someone else makes lunch. This is not “working two jobs” in any remotely recognisable sense.

Or, to put it differently, my attention was recently drawn to a way of distinguishing between white- and blue-collar work in the US – “the America that showers before work” and “the America that showers after work”. Newspaper columnists are very much the Britain that showers before work - but also sometimes during work. Even by the UK’s exacting standards, electing a newspaper columnist to run a country is still one of the maddest and most self-loathing things we’ve ever done.

On the few occasions where Boris Johnson has had to work hard, he appears to have had almost a nervous breakdown. His leadership contest really took it out of him, culminating in a memorably deranged visit to a police academy shortly after having become prime minister. Here, Johnson appeared so out of it that the fact he avoided taking the podium and shouting “Good evening, Philadelphia!” was regarded as an achievement. His speech was so bad a police officer fainted. Then, last December, he was widely reported as having been “exhausted” by the election campaign. But HOW? He only did about one event a week. Two if you count chiller cabinets as a separate venue. He wasn’t like every other prime minister of yore, out on the campaign trail daily from dawn. Johnson is a strange beast. Mind of a show pony, body of a Shetland pony.

It should stand as a permanent mark of shame that the PM has not bothered to record so much as a 10-second video about the educational future of the hundreds of thousands of children his government has so chaotically failed. But he HAS made sure his officials brief out that his own holiday reading includes Lucretius’s On the Nature of Things - which should be the absolute last word on the nature of Boris Johnson.

• Marina Hyde is a Guardian columnist


Marina Hyde

The GuardianTramp

Related Content

Article image
For young people, this summer of nothing days has been a test of our resilience | Sarah Mulgrew
We knew results day would be a fiasco. My generation has shown itself to be robust and ready to make change, says Sarah Mulgrew

Sarah Mulgrew

29, Aug, 2020 @6:00 AM

Article image
Welcome to Gavin Williamson's disasterclass – where incompetence is core curriculum | Marina Hyde
The education secretary’s handling of the A-levels results has all the hallmarks of Johnsonian government. He’ll probably get promoted, says Guardian columnist Marina Hyde

Marina Hyde

14, Aug, 2020 @1:18 PM

Article image
This year's A-level results will only exacerbate existing inequality | Zoe Williams
Parents investing in private education will feel pretty satisfied with the grades – but not those who can’t afford to, says Guardian columnist Zoe Williams

Zoe Williams

11, Aug, 2021 @4:49 PM

Article image
English universities are in peril because of 10 years of calamitous reform | Stefan Collini
Higher education has become a de facto endorsement of our class-divided society, not the cure, says academic Stefan Collini

Stefan Collini

31, Aug, 2020 @5:00 AM

Article image
Labour will scrap predicted grades to make university admissions fairer | Angela Rayner
Students should apply for higher education courses once they have their A-level results, writes Labour MP Angela Rayner

Angela Rayner

14, Aug, 2019 @4:59 AM

Article image
Yes, Covid played a big part in this year’s fall in A-level grades – but so did poverty | Nadeine Asbali
Teaching in some of the most deprived areas of the country, I’ve seen how austerity has affected the chances of young people, says Nadeine Asbali

Nadeine Asbali

17, Aug, 2023 @1:44 PM

Article image
Universities want ‘bums on seats’ because you created a market, minister | Smita Jamdar
The rise in unconditional offers has upset the universities minister. Perhaps he should speak to his colleagues about it, says Smita Jamdar, a lawyer specialising in education

Smita Jamdar

27, Jul, 2018 @10:00 AM

Article image
This exams fiasco gives the lie to Boris Johnson's 'levelling up' agenda | Justine Greening
The government must now take this opportunity to overhaul a system that does not allow talent to shine through, says Justine Greening, founder of the Social Mobility Pledge

Justine Greening

25, Aug, 2020 @5:00 AM

Article image
Social class still stops too many pupils from fulfilling their A-level potential | Mary Richardson
A record number of disadvantaged students have been accepted into university this year, but there’s a long way to go, says educationist Mary Richardson

Mary Richardson

15, Aug, 2019 @4:15 PM

Article image
Our children are over-stressed. This is how we can protect them | Gaby Hinsliff
Governments can do more; so can social media companies. We parents might stop projecting our anxieties too, says Guardian columnist Gaby Hinsliff

Gaby Hinsliff

18, May, 2018 @4:10 PM