A wave of panic rippled through Conservative campaign headquarters as Labour announced plans to deliver free full-fibre broadband throughout the UK by 2030. It was hard enough already preventing some of its dimmer cabinet ministers from posting idiotic election videos on social media. Just imagine the damage they could do if they had access to a superfast 5G network anywhere in the country. The Tories would never get elected again.
The worst offender had been Matt Hancock, the neediest man in politics, who would literally do anything for a Facebook like from a teenager. First he had managed to leave the camera operator behind when being filmed getting into his SUV en route to watching a wheel get reattached to a hospital trolley. “Part of our ambitious plan to update every hospital in Yorkshire,” he had squeaked. Days later he had looked earnestly into his iPhone – he looks about 12 but has a mental age far younger – and declared that the Conservatives’ commitment to not meeting any of its A&E targets proved why Labour could not be trusted with the NHS.
Then there had been Stephen Barclay. CCHQ had fondly imagined that the Brexit secretary (motto: “He says it best when he says nothing at all”) would use the election to catch up with The Apprentice, so it hadn’t been paying much attention to him. So it was sod’s law that Barclay had woken from his Mandrax-induced coma to release a video that showed he understood neither Premier League football nor the immigration system.
Just as well, then, that Priti Patel’s film of herself calling for the deportation of her own parents had buffered – thank you, thank you, Virgin Media – and that Dominic Raab had forgotten to press record on his unique take on Michael Portillo’s Great PsychoTrain Journeys. It wasn’t the best idea for the foreign secretary to pootle around the country revisiting the scenes of unsolved murders that he definitely had not committed.
There was only one thing for it. To send the prime minister out in front of the media again so the public weren’t given even half a chance to remember how useless the rest of his team were. OK, so Boris Johnson hadn’t proved a great hit on his restricted public outings – he’d managed to piss off people wherever he’d gone – but at least he was a known liability. Sure, he was no leader, kept getting caught lying, was not trusted by any of his family and was only in politics for his own career advancement, but everyone already accepted that. Boris always had a free pass to be as hopeless as he liked without it affecting his poll ratings.
So just after 10am, Johnson wandered in to the Radio 5 Live studios to take a series of questions from the public. As so often, it was far easier to keep track of the truths than the lies. Mainly because there weren’t any of the former. Over the years Johnson has learned to instinctively mistrust the truth. The truth can only cause trouble and difficult explanations, so it must be avoided at all costs. Just tell everyone he would be getting Brexit done and that negotiating a free-trade agreement with the EU by the end of next year would be a piece of cake, and deal with the fallout later. Tomorrow may never come.
Boris warmed up with a series of go-to lies. Five Easy Pieces. And counting. All fish sold in the UK would be British fish with British passports. The garden bridge proved he was committed to major infrastructure projects. He definitely hadn’t made an entirely unnecessary visit to Afghanistan to avoid the Heathrow vote. He had apologised to the family of Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe even though they couldn’t remember any such apology and he didn’t have anything to apologise for. He was a trained neurosurgeon who had devoted his life to the NHS. He had won the VC for his gallantry in killing Osama bin Laden. With Boris, literally any old shit will do.
The presenter Rachel Burden, whom Johnson had initially mistaken for the show’s producer, tried to keep him honest but it was a pointless task. When she pressed him on immigration statistics and VAT – subjects on which there are huge gaps in his knowledge – he just invented something. One listener was ecstatic. He was fed up with politicians pretending to know things. He wanted a clown prime minister who was happy to know nothing.
Just at the end, though, Burden slipped in the killer question. How many children did he have? Here Boris fell silent. Because even a narcissist like him could see that this was a question that demanded a straight answer. And he really wasn’t sure. As with Donald Rumsfeld, there were the known knowns, the known unknowns and unknown unknowns. Across the country dozens of overweight children with bright blond hair fell to their knees and prayed that a paternity test wouldn’t reveal Johnson to be their dad.
John Crace’s new book, Decline and Fail: Read in Case of Political Apocalypse, is published by Guardian Faber. To order a copy go to guardianbookshop.com or call 0330 333 6846. Free UK p&p over £15, online orders only. Phone orders min. p&p of £1.99.