Tetchy Boris tries to play down shortages as bumps on the Brexit road | John Crace

There had definitely been small print, it’s just that no one had got round to reading it

Rejoice. Queues at petrol stations. Food shortages. Gas price rises. If you thought they were a sign of the country falling apart then think again. They’re actually a pointer to just how well things are going. Rather than moaning about people panic-buying diesel, we should be thrilled so many want to make sure they’ve got enough fuel to get them to the HGV training centre. Same with empty supermarket shelves. A symbol of just how much everyone is now eating. As for the gas price rises? Perhaps it would be best to ignore them as they don’t quite fit the new normal. An outlier.

Not that Boris Johnson seemed that thrilled to be given the opportunity to explain how everything was going entirely to plan on the Andrew Marr show in the traditional leader’s interview on the first day of the Conservative party conference. Rather he seemed tetchy and defensive, as he so often is these days. His self-confidence is a paper-thin veneer that can’t disguise a man with no self-worth.

Or self-awareness, for that matter. It’s hard to tell if he’s merely a pathological liar these days or if he just has a desperate need to reconstruct reality to accommodate his narcissism. Earlier that day he had been photographed going for a run in a white shirt and black walking shoes. We now have to accept that he’s possibly not just a fun-guy oddball but someone having a breakdown before our eyes

Marr looked understandably perplexed. Not only had the Road Haulage Association written to the prime minister warning of problems back in June – their letter had been ignored – but almost everything Boris was saying was total doggybollox. He talked of cheap overseas labour not being the solution, seemingly unaware his own government had offered emergency short-term visas. Anyone who wanted a Christmas dinner was advised to go abroad to buy some mechanically reclaimed turkey.

Nor were wages keeping pace with inflation, there was no hint of a pay rise for public-sector workers – presumably doctors and nurses were supposed to retrain as lorry drivers, assuming they could get ahead of the queue of Germans living in the UK who had also been invited to try life on the road – and taxes were now at their highest sustained peacetime levels. Most people weren’t getting richer. They were getting more and more broke.

Having first tried to claim that lorry driver and food shortages were a global problem – Marr was quick to challenge him on that – Boris then did an about-turn. We should take pride in things being so shit because they were teething problems en route to a glorious Brexit future. There had definitely been small print on the side of the Brexit bus, warning there would be a bumpy few years until the UK became a high-earning, full-employment economy. It was just that the print had been so small no one had got round to reading it.

Most curious of all was Johnson’s analysis of the labour shortages in the farming industry that were set to result in the imminent cull of 120,000 pigs. “Oh those,” he said. The thing about them was that they were going to die anyway. So they might as well be incinerated on the farm and saved from the abattoir. If people cared so much they could just turn up at a field and have their own hog roast. From farm to fork, missing out all the middle-men. It was what the pigs would have wanted. Just like all those who were going to croak on cancer waiting lists. Far better to die in the pursuit of an ideological hard Brexit than live with some kind of compromise.

At times like this it is hard to believe Boris is prime minister. But luckily he had the conference itself to remind us why. Because the gene pool of talent within the Conservative party is staggeringly low. An array of single synapses looking for another with which to make contact. This year the Tories have gone for a scaled-down auditorium of a few hundred seats and even then none of the cabinet can fill the hall. The party faithful are rather brighter than those who represent them.

First up was the newly demoted Oliver Dowden, who tried to pretend he was thrilled to be the new party chairman. He went down to stony silence and became ever more desperate as those inside the room could hear the noise outside and realised everyone else was having a better time than they were. Then you’d have more fun queueing for petrol.

Dowden, whose natural persona is of a crap maitre d’ in a third-rate hotel restaurant, tried to generate a bit of excitement by declaring war on woke – I wonder what he would have made of the West Midlands mayor, Andy Street, refusing to appear on a DCMS panel because all the speakers were male – and ended by saying the Tories would win the next election because his co-chair, Ben Elliot, would rustle up loads of cash. Drawing attention to Elliot, who is at the centre of a “cash-for-access” scandal, didn’t seem the brightest of moves. But then Oliver isn’t the sharpest of minds.

Next up was the new foreign secretary, Liz Truss. In Tory polls she regularly comes top in popularity ratings – copy and pasting existing trade deals is an under-rated talent – but her ability to lose an audience precedes her. Fair to say that public speaking is not one of her core skills: she acts like a shopping channel presenter on the graveyard shift and approaches each speech as if English were a third language. Liz managed to muddle her way through some basic jingoism – don’t mention the EU, was her mantra – and the irony of her insisting countries must uphold their international obligations when the UK is threatening to ditch the Northern Ireland Brexit agreement that it had signed seemed to bypass her completely. Then most things do. Her speech was so bad that no one – especially her – seemed to realise it had finished. She briefly checked to see if there wasn’t a page missing before wandering off in near silence.

The closest she came to reality was promising to “bang the dumb” for Britain. Boris must feel so proud of his cabinet. Labour traditionally sings The Red Flag at his conference. For the Tories it’s “we’re shit and we know we are”.


John Crace

The GuardianTramp

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