A familiar scenario for our Prime Minister: a book-lined room in a historic building, joined by a sceptical woman who calls him a liar. He’s used to this, isn’t he?
Boris Johnson was last interviewed on Good Morning Britain 1791 days ago, as GMB repeatedly and huffily kept telling its audience. Appropriately, the Prime Minister was late. We watched the Downing Street door for a while. We waited. At one point every political journalist in the country was forced to watch the segment proceeding the interview — a conversation about borders between Richard Madeley and Patrick Kielty. “They’re just implicitly surreal aren’t they,” Madeley mused, “unless they’re Hadrian’s Wall, or a… mountain range?” Kielty agreed: “There’s a lot of humour in the idea of borders.” For the first time in months, the appearance of Johnson was going to be a relief to everyone.
Well, not for Susannah Reid. She said she had at least a hundred questions for the Prime Minister, a stressful-seeming number. The scheduled interview was to last twenty minutes. To get through them all she’d need to ask a question every two seconds. I think she probably managed it, as Reid never seemed to stop talking. Her approach was described by one journalist as “forensic” on Twitter. Maybe if forensic means facing a body on a mortuary slab and hacking it to pieces with hand axe.
They talked — babbled over each other — about Ukraine, the cost of living crisis, this week’s local elections, and Partygate. Johnson looked exactly like his father, and retains the unteachable ability, possibly learned from endless chidings at school, of going all hangdog, and making you feel sorry for him.
The segment on Ukrainian refugees was mystifying. Reid kept repeating the phrase women and children at Johnson, and he kept saying £300 million. We were holding up women and children said Reid. Well, £300 million said Johnson. Reid slapped down her rhetorical trump card. We weren’t just holding up women and children, we were holding up screaming babies. Johnson wasn’t allowed to answer that one.
“Are you in touch with what voters are experiencing,” she asked him, as they moved from lachrymose toddlers to expensive bills. Of course, the whole point of Johnson’s appeal is that he is not in touch with any reality, in this or any other dimension. If he knew what the price of milk was he’d never have been Prime Minister. Anyway, he said that the cost of chickens was “crazy” and that it was “insane” to pipe energy into the UK from France.
Reid told a sad story about a pensioner whose energy bills had risen by several thousand million percent recently. Johnson looked at the floor and shuffled about. This pensioner, said Reid, now uses her freedom pass to forlornly ride the bus all day to minimise heating bills at home. Johnson raised his head. “Well! I did actually introduce the freedom pass,” the Prime Minister said. Watching that reply, you imagined Guto Harri screaming somewhere in an oak-pannelled room.
As usual the major domestic questions were ignored. The UK’s chronically low productivity — ignored. The UK’s great wage stagnation — ignored. The huge rise in taxes as a share of GDP — ignored. The average price of a house significantly outstripping wage growth — ignored. Record numbers of people in their thirties living with their parents, not able to have children — ignored.
But we do know that the Prime Minister thinks the cost of chickens is crazy. A win for Good Morning Britain and Susannah Reid.